Fenris screams Bethany's name as he claws his way to the top of the earthen wall. Inch by inch he makes his way up, dread building with each moment that passes at the possible sight awaiting him. He's seen the results of Magisters’ dueling and he can't stop those memories from flooding back. As he reaches the top he can see her sitting over Dante's lifeless form, clutching her side. Even from this distance he can see the blood leaking from under her hands. She looks up and her face immediately lights up with the most beautiful smile he's ever seen. Relief floods through him as he carefully makes his way down to her.
"I'm hurt," she needlessly pulls her hands away from her side showing him the bright, slick crimson.
Fenris has to help her out of the armour in order to get a better look at the injury. He hisses at the sight, the gash is deeper than he thought and he doesn't have any healing draughts.
"It's deep," he explains just before ripping Dante's silk tunic. "If you have any health tonics you should take one." He crumples a small bit of fabric and presses it over the wound.
"I'm out," she looks up at the grey sky as a fine drizzle begins to fall again.
"Maybe this bastard…" his voice drops to a growl as he approaches the corpse. But his growls soon become obscenities at the realization that the dead mage would be no help.
"I'm sure there are some in the camp," her voice is calm despite her pain. "But first we have to get out of this," she references the makeshift arena Dante summoned.
"Isabela," Fenris' voice seems to echo off the stone walls. "She's hurt! We need to find a way to get her out."
"How bad," is the faint response from the other side of the earthen wall.
"There's a deep wound, but it's not life threatening."
"Right," Isabela shouts back. "Wait there."
"Where does she think we'll go," Bethany wanted to chuckle but the pain in side convinces her otherwise. Fenris busies himself by ripping long strips of fabric from the corpse's tunic.
"You worried me," his voice is soft as he uses the shredded silk to bandage her side.
"There was a moment there when I thought," his words trailed off. There had been too many times this adventure he had almost lost her. His forest green eyes look up at her, drips of water falling from his snowy locks. "Don't ever do that again."
She smiles, and gently presses her lips to his. "I swear," her words are soft and sincere. "That I will do all in my power to never do that to you again." She seals the deal with another kiss.
"We need to start thinking about getting out of here," he looks up at the high walls, hoping to see Isabela.
"I can't climb," she looks at her hand which is still stiff and recovering from the spider bite. "I have some dexterity, but not full strength. And I’m worried about my side," she references her most recent injury.
"How did you wield the swords," he takes a moment to collect her enchanted blades and quickly cleans them on the dead mage before returning them to their sheathes.
"Sheer determination," she slowly makes a fist. "Believe me my hand is throbbing now."
"You'll want to clean and oil these as soon as you can."
"Here," Isabela's voice rings out. "Catch," she tosses down a length of rope. "Tie it about her and we can pull her up. Once she's at the top we'll throw you the other half of the rope and you can lower her."
"That's going to hurt," Bethany says quietly.
"But I can't think of another way, can you?"
"No," she lifts her arms allowing him to tie the rope around torso, just under her arms. The drizzle became a light sprinkle which caused her tunic to cling to her body. Fenris signaled Isabela that they were ready; Isabela in turn signaled the others to begin pulling. Bethany yelped, then bit her lower lip to stifle any further sounds the sooner she got out of here the sooner they could tend to her injuries. The mage helped, for as much as she could, by finding hand and foot holds and as an unexpected bonus, her actions helped reduce her pain.
She was nearly in tears by the time she reached the top of the wall. Her voice was soft and trembling when she told Isabela that she needed a break.
"You're doing fine, Sweetness," the pirate's voice was gentle and understanding. "Take a few breaths and let me know when you're ready." The dark skinned woman takes her time gathering the rope to toss down to Fenris. "We knew this would be hard, just take a moment."
Bethany took several shaky breaths and blinked away the tears of pain as they sit straddling the wall.
“It’s almost over Sweetness,” Isabela’s voice is calm and reassuring. “Are you ready?”
The look in Bethany’s eyes and the word coming from her lips don’t match, but the pirate doesn’t question. She lowers the rope to Fenris and calls out that they’re ready. Bethany pulls her leg over and bites her bottom lip as she begins the journey down. Isabela keeps an eye on the mage and gestures to Fenris when he should increase or decrease the slack in the rope. Half way down Bethany stops and signals to Isabela that she needs a moment.
Finally after several grueling minutes, Bethany is safe on the ground. Trembling with pain she collapses into Gaeris’ arms. With Bianca close behind he carries her into one of the tents then promptly leaves the dwarven woman to tend to the mage’s injuries.
The group is huddled in the Magister’s large tent as the rain pounds against the canvas. The adventurers are discussing their next destination and Gaeris is doing his best to remain invisible. He sits quietly, mending Varric’s tunic as he listens.
“I don’t like the idea of being that close to Tevinter,” Bethany voices.
“I agree,” Fenris growls, crossing his arms over his lyrium scarred chest.
“And I don’t like the idea of sending anyone unarmed and unescorted on their way,” Bianca calmly counters.
“The Inn is only 2 days ride from here and 20 miles from the Tevinter boarder,” Varric reasons. “We escort Slim to the inn and turn around. We don’t even have to wait.”
“I say he doesn’t go back,” Isabela interjects biting off a piece of dried meat. “He’s free now. If he needs a job, maybe Hawke will hire him.”
“He wants to go back, Ravini. He has a family, a daughter, in Tevinter. I say we escort him to this inn and then go on our merry way.”
“How do we know it’s not a trap,” Isana voices, verbalizing what Fenris and Bethany have been thinking.
“My own sister and a woman professing to be my wife were willing to return me to slavery for their own gain. What assurance do we have that this is not what’s happening now?” Silence fell in the tent and Gaeris nervously looks up and is grateful no one is looking in his direction. He has no words that will assure everyone that nothing bad awaits them at the inn. He lowers his eyes back to his sewing and knots off the thread and bites the thread free of the needle before quietly he puts away his sewing kit.
“Then don’t go,” it’s the first time Gaeris has spoken since the conversation started. “If you think it’s a trap, don’t go. I’m sure I can find my way back.” He doesn’t look at the group as he pours some water into a bowl and begins washing the blood out of Varric’s tunic. “I’ll follow the highway, it will lead me to the inn and from there I can get directions,” the water is pink as he wrings out the shirt. “But you can’t leave in this weather,” he reasons, pulling a small vial from his pouch and sprinkling a small portion of the contents over the blood stain. “We might as well stay until the rain eases,” he rubs the powder into the fabric. “Then we go our separate ways.” He finally raises his eyes to the group. “I’ll be fine. I just,” he sighs. “I was afraid to travel alone,” he returns the stained section of the shirt to the water, his finger continue to work the cleaner into the fabric.
“You sure Slim? You were rather insistent earlier.”
“Everything will be fine,” Gaeris looks up and smiles reassuringly. “As you pointed out it’s only 2 days from here, just leave me with the carriage, its two horses and provisions,” again he smiles. “Everything will be fine,” the elf repeats. He pulls the shirt out of the pink water to reveal the tunic remarkably clean.
The rain had gone on for so long that they had gone out and rigged up a couple of the smaller tents in such a way to provide the horses cover from the rain. While out there Gaeris had also used a curry comb to get much of the mud off of the horse before figuring out a way to leave food and water out for the mounts to consume at their leisure. The air temperature is warm so fortunately there’s no need for blankets.
Upon their return Bethany and Isana begin cooking a meal, with Bethany using magic fire for a smoke free heat source. Varric is leaning against the tent’s center pole with Bianca sitting in front of him, her back against his chest as the storyteller entertains the group with a story. Fenris paces, eager for the rain to stop.
“If you don’t stop pacing, Elf, you’ll find yourself back in the Deep Roads.”
“I hate this. I hate the waiting. It’s been over a day how long can this rain last,” he growls, his patience near an end.
“It’s the Silent Plains,” Bethany briefly looks at Fenris. “I’m sure it will be over soon.”
Fenris growls and makes some comment in Arcanum that causes Gaeris to sputter with stifled laughter.
“I don’t have to speak Arcanum to know what that meant,” Isana teases as she stirs the stew. The group laughs, but the laughter soon stops when a cloaked figure and four armored men walk into the tent. All questions about the stranger’s identity are answered when Gaeris drops to his knees to greet his master. The group jump to their feet prepared to battle this threat; however, the mysterious intruder freezes everyone in place with a wave of a glove hand. The cloaked figure approaches Fenris and throws back the hood, to reveal a familiar red haired elf.
“Hello Leto,” her voice is soft and sad.
“Varania,” Fenris growls, surprised that the spell hasn’t prevented him from speaking.
“Before coming to Kirkwall all those years ago, I insisted Danarius have me listed as his official apprentice with the Magisterium. When he died, I was the closest thing to an heir. The Magisterium had to give me all of his property and wealth.”
“And now you’re a Magister,” hate drips from his words.
“No, I’m not. I’m just a wealthy mage whose made several enemies,” again the sad tone. “I’ve been fighting to end slavery and I’m afraid that’s made me very unpopular.”
“But you own slaves,” Bethany reasons.
“I free slaves,” she corrects. “Take Gaeris for example. I purchased him and his brother with the understanding that in ten years they’d be free men again. At the rate of a servants pay that’s how long it would take for them for me to recoup the cost of purchasing them.”
“But you purchased them,” Bethany insists.
“Their sister came to me with their situation. I agreed to prepay for their services, but when I found out you were in Nevarra,” she returns her attention to Fenris. “I offered them their freedom if Gaeris would bring you to me.”
Fenris turns his hate filled glare to the other elf.
“It’s not what you think,” Gaeris is quick to raise his hands and proclaim his innocence.
“He speaks the truth, Leto,” one of the armored men hands her a rolled scroll. “I wanted to give you this before I’m assassinated.” She frees them from the holding spell and offers him the paper. He looks at it, unable to read the Arcanum words. “It states that you are a free man in the Tevinter Empire, and are granted all rights and privileges awarded to a Liberati.”
Fenris looks at the paper, then back at his sister.
“Then why did you send Dante? That bastard clearly has no problems with slaves,” Bianca asks.
“Dante is what you would consider a mercenary. When I got a message that someone would be able to capture Leto I hired Dante to ensure that he would be brought to me unharmed. I had no idea what he would allow his guards to do and for that I’m sorry. Gaeris,” she turns her attention to the slave. “I have yours, your brother’s and your daughter’s papers back at the estate. I’ll give them to you as soon as we return.”
“Thank you master,” he smiles and bows respectfully.
“We should be leaving,” she says gesturing for Gaeris to follow.
“How do you know what Fenris was suffering,” Varric asks, suspecting her knows the answer.
“The same spell that Dante used to see through Leto’s eyes, I used to see through Gaeris’. Blood magic is permitted if both parties are willing.”
Fenris bite his tongue, keeping his opinion on the foul magic to himself.
“How did you get here through the storm,” Isana asks.
Varania looks over her shoulder at the young dwarf and smiles. “Magic,” she says with a shrug. The group follows the mage outside and are surprised to see the sky clear and the sun shining brightly. The ground is wet and soft, but it looks as if it hasn’t rained in several hours.
“You can change the weather,” Isana’s question was more to Bethany, but it was Varania who answered as she watches Gaeris secure the horses to the carriage.
“Some can, but not I. It was nothing more than an illusion spell for the past two days.” She climbs into the carriage used by Dante and Gaeris climbs into the driver’s seat.
“I wanted to tell you Fenris, but I was afraid Dante would find out,” Gaeris explains. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for tricking you.” And with that they rode off.
“Well,” Isana looks about. “Now what,” she looks around at the abandoned camp and several more horses than they need.
“We go home,” Varric pulls Bianca into his arms.
Varric and his friends have been back in Kirkwall for a couple of weeks. Bethany and Fenris spent the time saying farewell before leaving to start a life somewhere else. Bethany promised to write once they settled down.
Isabela gathered her meager crew and used her portion of the treasure from the Deep Roads to purchase a ship which named “Seaductress”. It wasn’t long before she too left Kirkwall to return to her life at sea.
Varric at the moment was feeling more than a little apprehensive. Tonight his fiancé, daughter and Aunt Rylinn get to meet for the first time and for the life of him he can’t remember why meeting at the only 5-star restaurant in Kirkwall was a good idea. At the moment he sits alone, but rises to his feet when he sees his Aunt being escorted to the table.
“Varric,” she smiles warmly and hugs him tightly. She always did worry when he left on one of his adventures. “You look thin,” she cups his face. “Come over to my house and I’ll make you one of those meat pies you love so much.”
“You do know the quickest way to a man’s heart,” Varric returns her smiles and kisses her cheek.
“Through the ribcage,” she playfully retorts while taking her seat.
“I did have another reason to inviting you here tonight,” he offers his wineglass to the waiter who fills it with a full bodied Bordeaux from Orlais.
“I assumed as much,” she waves off the offer of wine and orders a hot tea. After seeing what alcohol did to Varric’s mother she swore never to drink. “You only invite me here for my birthday and that’s months away.”
“Do you remember when the Guild had me looking an information leak?”
“Of course I do, darling, you were so upset over the whole ordeal. I’ve never been so worried about you,” she lovingly pats his hand.
“Do you remember the woman, Bianca?”
Rylinn sips her tea as she pulls the name from her memories. “Yes,” she brightly answers when her mind manages to locate the name. “She was your ‘friend’ from the brothel.”
“Well, she didn’t work at the Blooming Rose; it was just the easiest way for us to see each other.”
“What are you saying,” her brown eyes suspicious.
“Bianca was a member of the Carta and we were lovers.”
“Varric Ingress Tethras,” she hisses, her tea cup clinks loudly against the saucer.
Varric cringes; it’s never a good sign when your elders use your full name. “And I didn’t kill her. I actually helped her escape Kirkwall.”
“Waiter, wine!” Rylinn immediately suspects she’s need something stronger than tea if Varric is going to continue with this confession. She holds up her hand, preventing him from continuing. While she waits for her wine she helps herself to his, finishing the beverage on a single gulp. She hands the empty goblet to the waiter just as hers is being set down. Varric tries not to laugh at his aunt’s expression, after all Bordeaux isn’t the first beverage of choice for most people’s first experience with alcohol.
“Please continue,” her words are honey sweet and a touch slurred.
“My latest trip, the one to Nevarra, was because I received a letter from Bianca. While there I learned I had a daughter.”
“By the Stone, Varric! Didn’t I teach you anything about…precautions,” she takes a heavy drink her mind already working on the solution to an illegitimate heir and the potential money grab. “Ok, we can fix this.”
“I want to marry Bianca.”
She drops her goblet, it clatters loudly and busser rush over to clean up the spill while a waiter is quick to replace the wine. This was not the fix she had in mind.
“I love Bianca. I always have and I always will.”
“And you want my blessing?” She picks up the new glass and sips the dark red liquid, her eyes studying the now very nervous Varric.
“Is this truly what you want? Does she make you happy?”
She sets her glass down and takes his hand.
“Then you have my blessing,” she smiles. “When do I meet your lady?”
“She and my daughter have just walked in,” he points to the women being escorted to the table.
“It’s not nice to set up your auntie,” she hisses. “Give me your arm before I make an arse of myself,” Varric helps his aunt to her feet; the smile on his face melts Bianca’s fear.
“Rylinn Thethras, I’d like to introduce you to my fiancée Bianca Volkean and our daughter Isana.”
“Pleased to meet you, ma’am,” Isana nervously.
“Oh please,” the throws her arms about the girls neck. “Call me Auntie.” She pulls back and studies the girl’s face. “You have your father’s nose,” she then turns her attention to Bianca.
“I have to ask dear,” she returns to her seat and the others follow. “Her name ‘Isana’, do you realize it’s the dwarven word for lyrium.”
“It is,” the girl asks.
“Yes and yes,” Bianca answers both questions.
“The entire dwarven empire is built on the lyrium trade; if the lyrium were to disappear their empire would collapse. They would be nothing without that glowing stone, and I would be nothing without her.”
“Really,” Isana has never heard her mother talk about her like that before.
“Well, it sounds better than it was a difficult labor and that was the only word she could think of,” Varric teases.
“Varric darling,” Rylinn sips her tea. “Don’t be an arse.”
“So that’s it Aunt Rylinn. That’s the whole story,” he leans back in his chair. The warm, flickering glow from the fireplace shines its dancing light on his family. They had gathered around to listen to his tale, despite that most of them have lived through it.
His chair sits to the left of the fireplace, with its back facing the multitude of book and scroll laden shelves allowing him an unobstructed view of the entryway. Rylinn and Isana are both on the small couch, while Bianca paces, gently rocking the bundle in her arms.
“Oh my,” was all Rylinn had been able to say…for hours. Her eyes are wide as she never realized just how dangerous of a life her nephew lives. “I…I just don’t know what else to say.”
“When did she fall asleep,” he point to Isana, who’s sleeping with her head on Rylinn’s lap.
“Before you were attacked by spiders in the Deep Roads,” Rylinn answers, placing a loving hand on the teen’s shoulder. “And he,” she points to the small bundle in Bianca’s arms. “Barely made it through you requesting a boat from the Vicountess.”
“Bah,” he throws up his hands in mock frustration. “They have no appreciation.”
“Varric,” Bianca’s voice is calm, yet amused. “It’s late. Let’s get them to bed.”
“Oh,” Rylinn holds out her arms towards the 6 month old. “I’ll do it. Why don’t you two enjoy the rest of the evening,” she gentle wakes Isana telling her to go to bed. The girl rubs hers eyes and groggily makes her way up the stairs to her room. Bianca hands the sleeping baby over and the older woman takes the boy upstairs to his crib.
“I think your aunt would like us to have another baby,” Bianca sits in Varric’s lap, draping her arms about his neck.
“I think you’re right,” he kisses her. “But what do you want? That last delivery was hard on both you and the baby.” The truth is there was a lot of tearing and bleeding that the midwife wasn’t prepared for, and it took Bianca a long time to fully recover.
“At my age there are risks, and the older I get the more the risks increase. If we have a third, it’d better be soon.”
“No,” he pulls her closer and nuzzles her neck. “No more kids. I won’t risk losing you.”
She giggles as his lips explore that sweet ticklish spot behind her ear. “Then it’s a good thing I’m still drinking that contraceptive tea.”
“Is that what you were drinking at dinner,” he’s nibbling on her ear when two heavily armoured men storm into his library with an apologetic, dark haired dwarf close behind.
“Master Tethras,” the dwarf’s voice is nervous and repentant. “I’m so sorry, they forced their way in.”
“Seeker Pentaghast wants to speak with you,” one of the men says, his voice deep and it echoes in his helmet.
“It’s alright, Hugin,” Varric says as Bianca slips from his lap and moves to the hidden blades behind the chair. Her movements are so subtle it appears as if she were just a meek housewife seeking cover behind the large chair.
“Then gentlemen, why don’t we make an appointment for tomorrow morning say 9:30?”
“Seeker Pentaghast wants to speak with you now,” they move forward, drawing their weapons. From the corner of his eyes Varric can see that Bianca has her blades and is moving to attack.
“I’ll go!” He’s quick to jump between them, his arms outstretched. The men replace their weapons, but Bianca is still on guard.
“Beautiful,” Varric turns to address her.
“No,” determination burns in her fire blue eyes. “No I won’t lose you. Not after everything we’ve gone through.” Her eyes still locked on the two men.
“Look at me Beautiful,” he cups her face. “I will always come home to you.”
“No, Varric. Please.”
“I suspect I’m going whether I want to or not. This way no one gets hurt. Please,” he pulls her close and speaks softly in her ear. “For the children’s sake, don’t fight this,” she hesitates for several moments before she drops her blades and clings to him.
“If you die, I swear to the Maker I will kill you,” she whispers in his ear causing him to smile.
“Hugin,” Varric calls to his steward after several moments of holding her. “Please take my wife upstairs while I speak with our ‘guests’.”