It’s nearly dawn by the time the Merchant Guild guards reach the Bone Pit. They drop Bianca’s body and sit on an outcrop of rocks to catch their breaths.
“You wanna just call it good here?”
“We’re supposed to dump her in the Bone Pit,” the dark haired man wiped the sweat from his brow. He wasn’t looking forward to the trip uphill.
“Technically, we’re at the Bone Pit. They won’t know we dumped her here.”
“I guess you’re right. Let’s hit the tavern, first round is on me.”
As the guards retreat, Gerav and Nico emerge from their hiding places. The dwarf kneels down to examine his sister and cut her bonds. The human watches the guards to be certain they don’t turn around.
“Andraste’s tits, they done busted her up real good. I’ve seen people die from less.” Nico hovers over the dwarf’s shoulder. Gerav growls and briefly glares at the child until he realizes the boy is correct.
“Come on let’s get her to a healer.”
“What about Varric?”
“We’ve got no news for him. Let’s see what the healer says first.”
It’s early morning and Varric has finally stopped pacing. He sits in his desk chair and stares at the window.
“Master Tethras,” a servant calls through the door. “Breakfast is served.”
“I’m not hungry.” A true statement as he’s sick with worry.
“As you wish.”
He stares at the crossbow, and can only see Bianca’s face. The Council let him keep the weapon as a trophy. The only thing keeping him for destroying it is the knowledge that Bianca would want it back, if she recovers.
No, not if…When she recovers.
He ignores the gentle tapping at his chamber door.
“Varric,” the soft knocking returns, “please open the door.”
He sits for a couple of seconds before opening the door and letting his aunt into his room. She closes the door behind her and looks at her nephew.
“What happened at the meeting?”
“Hasn’t Bartrand given you all the gory details?” He can’t keep the bitterness from his voice.
“Tell me,” her kind tone and loving eyes pull at him. She’s been more a mother him than the woman who birthed him and she is the only one he could never lie to.
“They made me kill her.” His voice is flat and emotionless, but the words stung. A painful lump formed in his throat and his eyes began to water. He turned towards his open window and closes the shutters.
“Your…friend, from the brothel?” She doesn’t like such establishments, nor does she approve her of nephew’s visitations to it. She’s trying to ease his pain, so she holds back her lecture and simply listens.
“She wasn’t the spy they were looking for and they…” he couldn’t finish the statement, because it was too painful to consider the option that he might have murdered his beloved Bianca.
“Is this the first time you’ve had to kill for the Guild?”
The question catches him off guard and he turns to looks at her, unable to answer.
“I thought so,” she says, misreading his body language. She tells him about the first time his father had to kill for the Guild. She tells him about the guilt he carried, and how he buried that guilt with work. She feels it was his guilt that had lead him to fix the Provings matches, which resulted in their exile.
“You haven’t slept, have you,” she places a loving hand on his cheek.
“No,” he responds. “Not since the Council asked me to look into Bianca.”
“I’ll tell the servants you aren’t to be disturbed and have them leave food outside your door. I’ll even keep Lady Ilsa busy so you can have some peace.”
“Thanks Aunt Rylinn.”
“Please try to get some rest my dear.” She hugs him and places a tender kiss on his cheek. “If you need to talk, I’m here.” She smiles sweetly and closes his door. Varric immediately opens his window again, returns to his vigil.
“I’ve done all that I can for today,” the healer says as she slips a stray grey hair behind her pointed ear. She collapses into a nearby chair, exhausted from the healing.
“Will she live,” Gerav asks.
“Yes, but it will takes weeks for her to fully recover. The arrow to her chest came very close to her heart, it’s difficult to mend such damage,” she follows the dwarf’s gaze to the unconscious woman. “She’s sleeping now. She’s welcome to stay here and I can tend to her for a price.” Gerav reaches into the coin pouch Varric left for him and pulls out three sovereigns. The woman takes the money in her small, ancient hands with a slight nod.
“The payment is sufficient. Shall I inform the child?”
Gerav looks at her for a moment, and then remembers that Nico is in the other room. The chamber the healing took place in is small and the elven woman tried to kick both of them out, but Gerav wouldn’t leave his sister.
“No. I’ll be out in a moment to tell him.”
The woman nods and quietly slips away, leaving brother and sister alone. Gerav read Varric’s multi page letter again and then looks down at Bianca; and begins planning.
“Since Mom died, you’re all the family I have left. Sister, you have always looked out for me. You were always there to protect me even from myself and my own piss poor decisions,” he kisses her forehead. “Now it’s my turn to look after you.”
He takes a breath and goes into the next room, closing the door behind him.
“Well,” the boy is eager for some news. Gerav wraps an arm about the child’s shoulders and leads him outside, away from earshot.
“It’s not good. Bianca’s injuries are severe and the healer is doing all she can, but it will take more time. Go tell Varric what I just told you, I’ll find him in a couple of days with more news. If anyone else asks about Bianca you tell them she died and I’m,” he has to pause as the realization of how close he came to losing his sibling sinks in. “I’m cremating her.”
“Right,” the urchin nods and runs towards town. Gerav sighs and returns to the hut to talk to the healer.
It took Nico most of the morning to return to Kirkwall and then the rest of the afternoon to find Varric’s estate. The sun was beginning to set when the child finally managed to climb the wall and peek into the open window he hopes is the right one. He can see the blonde dwarf sitting at a desk, staring at a crossbow.
“Varric,” the boy whispers just before he climbs into the large room.
“Nico,” the dwarf is careful to his voice down, but is surprised that it’s not Gerav. “How’s Bianca?” He rushes to the urchin and helps him into the room.
“Is this where you live? It’s huge! This room is bigger than my whole house.”
“Tell me about Bianca. How is she?”
“Ain’t good mate. She’s hurt real bad; the healer ain’t done fixin’ her. Gerav says he’ll find you in a few days with more news.”
“But she’s alive?”
“Ancestors be praised,” his plan was working. The relief sends blood rushing to his head and makes him a little dizzy. He falls back into a chair.
“You’re sweet on her, aintcha?”
“Nico, you’re a smart kid, so I won’t lie to you, but I can’t answer that question.”
“Fair enough. Um, one more question.”
“You gonna eat that,” the child points to plate of food the servants brought up for lunch.
It’s been three days and Gerav hasn’t left Bianca’s side. The healer announced last night that she had finally exhausted all of the magical healing she can do. Currently she’s tending to Bianca’s wounds and changing her bandages.
“Was she born in Orzammar?” Gerav looks at the elf and asks her to repeat her question.
“Was she born in Orzammar? I ask because she’s more resistant to magic than most surface dwarfs.”
“Why does that matter?”
“There’s a theory among mages that the reason dwarfs are resistant to magic is because of their exposure to lyrium. Some argue that surface dwarfs are more vulnerable to magic than their underground kin, because there is more lyrium exposure in Orzammar. I had a lot of difficulty healing her and thought she might have been from Orzammar.”
For a moment Gerav thinks about not answering, after all the casteless brand should have been answer enough. But then he remembers that elf probably has no knowledge of dwarven tattoos and she has been working herself to the point of dropping to heal his sister. “Yes, she was, but came to the surface when she was still a babe.”
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Were you born in Orzammar as well?”
“No, I was born four years after she and Mom settled in Kirkwall.”
“Thank you for sating my curiosity. I’ll be back in a couple of hours with food.”
Gerav rests his head in his hands; all he can do now is to wait for her to wake up. He pulls the two letters from Varric out of his pouch and looks at the one still sealed with blue wax. He sets it down on the small table next to the bed. He reads Varric’s plan again and can find no fault in it, but if anyone knew that Bianca was still alive the couple would be hunted and executed…if they were lucky. Gerav begins pacing the room. The only way to keep them both alive, to keep them apart and keep Varric in Kirkwall, and to do that Bianca can’t know that Varric is planning to meet up with them. He rubs a hand over his tired face, heads towards the fireplace and tosses in Varric’s lengthy plan.
Bianca must never know.
He watches as the fire consumes the parchment.
Varric sits at the Hanged Man waiting for Gerav. It’s been a week and there’s been no new information about Bianca. He sent out word among his contacts that’s he looking for Gerav and now he waits for news. A sense of dread begins to grow in his gut.
Nico walks into the Hanged Man and casually makes his way towards the blonde storyteller.
“So, you remember that Cort feller I’s tellin’ ya about?”
“Yeah, the Carta member who’s gotta a girl in Hightown.”
“That’s the bloke. Turns out he ain’t gotta a thing for a girl in Hightown, he’s gotta a thing with a broad in Hightown. I done some sneakin’ around and they’s got a business thing goin’ on. I seen ‘em exchange coin for letters. I lifted this for ya,” the child hands over the crumpled papers. Varric reads the parchment sheets. His eyes widen in disbelief and he silently praises his Ancestors for his luck. The first page he reads is a detailed schedule of the Guild’s expected shipments; the second page is an assassination order, complete with Clan Rune. He knows this rune all too well, it belongs to House Saelac. This is the evidence he was hoping to get before Bianca was dragged before the Council. He begins plotting on how to get this information to the right people.
“Nico, my lad, this is worth more than you know. If you’re willing I can teach you a few tricks that will help you down the road.”
Gerav wakes suddenly to the sound of rustling paper and someone sniffling. He looks about the dim room and is surprised to see Bianca awake, and reading the letter he though he burned days earlier.
She looks over at him with tears in her eyes. When asked, all she can do is hand him Varric’s letter. He reads the words of his undying love, and the promise that he will see her soon. He learns that Varric is planning to spend his entire portion of his inheritance and cash in every favor owed to him to get her and Gerav free of Carta. They will be poor, but free to live how they choose. Her tears are those of joy, and he himself is floored by what he had just learned.
The only problem is that no one leaves the Carta. Ever. He’s heard the same rumors she has about people buying their contract back, but he’s looked into it further and none of those people were ever heard from again. Freedom is a lie.
“Bianca,” he’s always been honest with his sister before, but if he’s to save her he has to lie to her. “There’s been a change in plans.” He can’t look at her. He stands up and turns his back to her, walking towards the fireplace. “The Dwarven Merchant Guild has become suspicious and is watching Varric. He only learned of this a couple of days ago.”
“What? How long have I been out?”
“Nearly a week. Varric can’t leave Kirkwall. He’s being followed by Merchant spies, and if he leaves they will find you.”
“Surely they’ll give up soon.”
“Not Merchant spies. Varric said they’ll follow a target for years. If they find you they will torture and execute you both. He loves you, but to protect you he has to stay in Kirkwall.”
“Then I’ll go to him!” She makes a move to get out of bed, but the pain in her chest stops her.
“The instant you step back in town the Carta will kill you. There are rumors among the Carta that you fled town, and they are looking for you.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll be fine, I’ve been heading back to town every few days and made sure I’ve been seen.” He turns to look at her, this statement is true. He has returned to Kirkwall, to spread rumors of her death.
“I’m so sorry, sister,” is all he can say as she covers her face and cries.
“Nico!” Varric quickly crosses the bar and grabs the boy by the arms. “What have you learned? Are the rumors true?”
The child’s face drops. “I…I done checked everywhere, Varric, I swear. People are saying they’ve seen Gerav and that he’s been telling them Bianca died.”
The news hits him like a physical blow. Varric releases the urchin and falls into a nearby chair. He reaches into his pouch and pulls out the payment. “Here, as promised,” his words are flat and hollow
The child looks at the coins, but doesn’t take them. “I can’t take it. Ain’t right. You’s expectin’ news about where she at, and all I brought you was word that your lady…” he let the words trail off. “I’m sorry Messer,” Nico runs out of the bar. Varric covers his face as reality crashes in on him. He’s murdered the only woman he’ll ever love.
Nothing will ever be the same for him again.
Gerav has spent the past day and a half searching for Varric. He’s getting tired of hearing ‘oh, you just missed him,’ which is Varric’s code that he wants to be left alone. The dark haired dwarf is walking through Lowtown when a familiar weapon catches his eye. The gleam of polished brass and the glow of red cedar is unmistakable, Bianca’s crossbow. He snatches up the weapon, confused by why it’s sitting on a merchant’s table.
“Ah, you have a fine eye sir,” the stall owner approaches Gerav. “That crossbow has been in my family for generations. As you can see it needs some repair, new arms and such, but it’s still a finely crafted item.”
“Generations you say,” Gerav’s eyes still are on the weapon.
“Yes, but with a growing family I’m afraid I must sell it. I can let it go for 15 Silvers.”
“You’re lying,” he looks at the human.
“I would never.”
“First, I made this weapon.”
“Ah, then you truly can appreciate the fine craftsmanship,” the red haired salesman chuckles.
“Second, it’s not broken. See?” He shifts a handle and beautifully crafted arms pop out. The human snickers nervously and jumps back.
“As it’s not broken I can sell it for 50 silver.”
With another button the bayonet slides out, the sun dancing along the blades edge. The merchant takes half a step back and raises his arms, but is still trying to wheel and deal but dropping the price back to the original 15.
“I bet it’s even loaded,” Gerav cocks his head and aims the crossbow.
“Free! Why don’t you take it as my gift to you,” he nervously chuckles.
“The man who gave this to you, where did he go?”
“The Hanged Man.”
Gerav gives his thanks and tosses the man a couple of coppers before heading to the Hanged Man. He has no doubt that Varric heard about Bianca’s death and now he has to convince the man to stay in Kirkwall.
Gerav walks into the dark bar and has to give his eyes some time to adjust to the dimness. He scans the entire tavern but doesn’t see Varric anywhere.
“Where’s Varric,” he questions Nora as she passes by.
“You just missed him,” she cheerfully answers before turning to slap an elf who grabbed her backside. Gerav shakes his and heads to the bartender.
“I’m looking for Varric, and don’t you dare tell me I missed him.” To prove his point, Gerav rests the crossbow on the bar, coincidentally aiming it at the human bar keep.
“Upstairs. You can’t miss it,” is the grumpy reply.
Gerav takes the weapon off the counter and retracts the arms. The dwarf heads upstairs and immediately finds the largest and brightly lit room with an extremely drunk Varric. The blonde is finishing off what looks to be his tenth mug. He swoons drastically and leans heavily on the fireplace to stabilize himself, his back to the room’s entry.
“Varric,” Gerav has never seen his friend in such a state. Varric spins wildly, throwing a dagger at the intruder and landing heavily into a nearby chair. The Carta dwarf doesn’t move as he watches the knife flip through the air and bounce harmlessly off the floor a yard to his left before it slides to a stop under another chair.
“Are you here to kill me,” his slurred words sound hopeful.
“Why not?!” Not giving him a chance to answer Varric drops his head to the table and cries. “I killed her,” he wails. “I loved her and I killed her.” Gerav slowly moves closer to the grief-stricken storyteller, he had no idea Varric would be like this. When he raises his head, he sees the weapon in Gerav’s hands.
“Where did you get that?”
“Some stall a few blocks from here.”
“Why? Why do you have it?”
“Because it was hers,” he set it down on the long table and stands near the fireplace.
“That’s why I never want to see it again!” Varric picks up a tankard intending to drink, only to find the mug empty. Frustrated he tosses the container away. He covers his face with his hands.
“She was my heart, my soul…my everything. And now she’s gone,” he sobs.
Guilt tears at Gerav and he faces the fireplace, he watches the glowing embers and listens to his friend’s grief. Varric spills his feelings for Bianca and how lost he is without her and never notices that Gerav pulls a letter from his pouch. It’s a message from Bianca to Varric that he swore to deliver. The dark haired dwarf unfolds the note and tosses the first page onto the embers. After all, he never promised to deliver the whole message and he can’t leave Varric in this state.
“I’m not an archer, but aimed so carefully,” he drops his head again “I thought I missed, that she would be ok. I aimed so bloody carefully.”
“Your aim,” he watches the embers slowly char the last of the paper. Convinced the page is destroyed he turns to Varric. “Your aim was perfect. It was close, but you missed her heart.”
His head pops up and his reddened eyes lock onto the younger man.
“She’s…she didn’t die,” a wild mix of emotions dance across the blonde’s face at the news; relief, joy and even anger.
“Where is she? Is she ok? Take me to her,” he stumbles from the table to grab Gerav’s jerkin.
“Here she asked I give you this.” Varric clutches the paper and reads the note.
There are no words stronger than love to describe my feelings for you, so I will have to make do with that word. With all my heart I love you. I have always loved you, and I will always love you. You are my forever.
She had kissed the letter ‘B’ as she had always done in her letters to him. He carefully folds the paper and sets it on the table.
“I want to be with her. I’ll give up everything; just tell me where she is.”
“Where is she?!” Varric rushes the younger man and shakes him.
“The Carta is looking for her too,” he lies. “They think she skipped out on her contract. They suspect you two were close so they’re watching you. If you leave, their assassins will follow you and when they catch you they’ll torture and kill you both.”
“They’ll lose interest. I just need to be patient,” it’s heartbreaking to hear the hopeful tone in Varric’s words.
“No, they won’t. It looks bad when a Carta lieutenant leaves. They will make an example of her. Not even I can see her again. We have to let them think she’s dead.”
Varric falls heavily into the chair. “I want her back,” he says, looking at Gerav.
Gerav picks up the crossbow and opens a secret compartment in the stock. With curious eyes, Varric watches as Gerav produces a length of red braided hair and stuffs it into the slot before sealing it and setting the weapon down.
“She will always be with you,” he slides the crossbow over to Varric and watches as the blonde hesitantly picks it up.
“Bianca,” his fingers tenderly caress the length of the stock.
Gerav looks back towards the fireplace with a single thought echoing in his head.
Varric must never know that Bianca’s pregnant.