The wind picks up as the sun just beginning its decent, carrying the smell of ozone and sea water. The last of the sails is secured and all unnecessary hands have retreated from the deck. By the time dusk envelopes the ship, gale force winds are bombarding the boat and crew. Isabela is shouting to he heard over the wind as she continues to give orders. Lightning flashes which illuminates the sea in a blinding white light before the low rumbling thunder echoes in the heavens. Isabela stands at the helm, tightly clutching the large wooden wheel.
“Fenris, Varric, Get below decks before the storm hits,” the high winds steal the words from her lips.
“I’ll take my chances on deck,” Fenris struggles to keep his footing as the ship begins to rock more violently.
“Angus, secure that line,” Isabela points to the line in question before addressing Fenris’ wish to stay topside.
“I will not do well below deck,” he confesses, referring to his sea-sickness.
“Just stay out of the way, and use a safety line.”
“I’ll check on Bethany,” Varric says, stumbling into a railing as a wave crashes into the side of the ship. He clutches on to the railing for balance as he makes his way down the short flight of stairs leading down from the helm. He nearly loses his balance when he reaches the bottom step as the ship keels again. Feeling a bit more stable, Varric closes the short distance to Isabela’s cabin. Another flash of lightening illuminates the dark; Varric enters the large cabin and closes the door behind him.
“Varric?” Bethany’s voice is thick and sluggish; she’d only been asleep for about half an hour.
“It’s me Sunshine. I thought I’d keep you company for a bit.”
“A storm hit.”
She is wide awake now. “We should go help,” she throws back the blankets and places her feet on the floor.
“We need to stay out of the way, Rivaini has things under control.”
“Where are my boots,” she looks around and finally snatches them from under the cot. “The last time she was in a storm, she wound up shipwrecked in Kirkwall for years.”
“True and I can see how the shocking lack of Qunari out for her blood could increase her odds for success.”
“Varric, I’m serious,” she pulls on her boots and rises to her feet.
“Sunshine, Rivaini wants us to stay out of the way. She’s been sailing the seas a lot longer than you or I so I’m going to trust her on this one.”
“He’s staying on deck; he doesn’t think he’ll do well otherwise.”
“Oh,” she understands what Varric is not saying. “What are we going to do while they’re up there?”
“Play Diamondback,” the dwarf pulls a deck of cards from his coat pocket.
“Only if it’s not Strip Diamondback, the last time I played that I lost everything…including my small clothes. Come to think of it, I never did get those back.”
“Oh this I have to hear,” he sits at the large desk and shuffles the cards.
“Nothing to tell really; I was in the Circle and some of us got together to play, when the Templars weren’t looking of course. Beltanio won, didn’t even lose his boots, anyway at the end of the game we all got out robes back in the morning and learned to not play Strip-Diamondback against an apostate from Antiva. You know I bet he kept all of the girls’ small clothes, he probably enjoyed wearing them. He was always a little strange.”
Varric burst into laughter as he dealt out the first hand.
Fenris is not happy. The rain is coming down in sheets, pelting his skin with near bruising force. The wind roars and the sound of the waves crashing against the ship is deafening. The ship rocks violently and Isabela is practically screaming to be heard over the storm. Fenris is grateful beyond words that she insisted he use the safety line just as he curses it each time it bites into him when he loses his footing. The elf watches as the dark skinned captain clings tightly to the wheel despite the weather’s attempt otherwise. His green eyes watch as she struggles to steer the ship.
“Isabella,” Fenris’ eyes widen as he watches her. “Are you steering into the storm?”
Her answer is drowned by the boom of thunder. A massive wave crashes into the vessel, and Isabela is thrown from the helm. Fenris instantly lunges forward and manages to grab her before she reaches the end of her safety rope. With his help she resumes her position at the helm and spins the wheel to regain her course towards the eye of the storm. Lightening dances in the clouds and the thunder drowns out all other sounds. The intensity of the waves increases as if the sea itself were working against the ship reaching its goal.
The ship rolls almost completely on its side and for a breathtaking moment Fenris believe they are going to capsize. Suddenly the waves change and ship is thrown upright and Fenris slams into the railing as Isabela screams obscenities to the sky. The elf clutches onto the railing and finds himself praying to the Maker.
The ship shifts suddenly and Bethany and Varric are thrown from their chairs and hit the floor with hollow, echoing thud.
“By the Maker,” Bethany tries to get to her feet. The ship lurches again and the pair tumble back to the ground. More vulgarities fill the room, this time from Varric, as Bianca comes free of her holster. Their world shifts again and they slide across the floor and hit the wall. The cards and papers on the desk fly off the table, which has been secured to the floor, and join them again the wall. Another violent movement of the ship sends the couple and anything not secured down into a nearby corner where Varric hits his head. His vision blurred and fading he watches as a chair hits the crossbow and releases a bolt. The last thing he hears is Bethany screaming before everything goes black.
It’s as if the Summergale passed through a magical barrier. The sea seems calmer here and a gentle mist, barely worthy of the name rain, covers the ship. It’s only the churning water and deep rumbling and cracking of thunder that betrays the severity of the storm. Fenris is looking about like a startled child.
“We’re in the eye of the storm,” she explains. “Tomas,” she shouts to her First Mate. “Check for injuries and damage then secure anything that might have come loose. Hurry man, we don’t have long.” The elf salutes and rushes below deck to fulfill her orders. Those that remain on deck are bustling to secure lines that have some loose and make whatever hasty repairs they can.
“If it makes you feel any better I’ve been in worse storms,” she almost cheerfully encourages.
“It doesn’t,” is the grumbled reply.
“The second half might be just as bad.”
“That’s not very reassuring.”
“It could be worse.”
Fenris curses in Arcanum and wills his stomach to settle.
She throws her head back and laughs. “You might want to take this time to check on Bethany and Varric,” she takes a moment to wring some of the water out her coat. “They might have gotten tossed around a bit.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” he confesses, doubting he could face another round above deck. He frees himself from his safety line and makes his way to her cabin on uncertain legs, swearing the entire time.
“Now you sound like a sailor,” she laughs. He glares at her, which causes her to laugh even louder. He grumbles under his breath and walks into the room she and Bethany share.
Before his mind can make sense of the disheveled room, he is immediately aware of magic being used and that there is pulling on the mana stored in his lyrium.
Everything that was not tied down is all but piled against the far wall and corner. But there is no sign of the mage or dwarf amongst the wreckage.
“Bethany,” he carefully scans the room.
“Help,” is the weak response. His green eyes snap to the corner where a pile of chairs and books are heaped in an unnatural way. She must have thrown up a magical barrier. He bolts into action, throwing books and furniture aside in a desperate attempt to reach her. With the debris overhead cleared, Bethany lowers her shield, her muscles quivering and her skin pale and sweaty from her exertions. Beside her in an unconscious heap is Varric, blood still seeping from his head wound and between them, buried in the wall is one of Bianca’s bolts.
“Bethany!” He works almost frantically to clear away the rest of the rubble. He reaches out to help free her but she refuses, insisting he help Varric first. Her words are slurred and she struggles to remain awake. Fenris pulls Varric from the rubble and gives the dwarf a healing potion before turning his attention back to the dark haired mage. He can feel the increased draw on the mana stored in his skin and his lyrium begins to glow.
He pulls her free, but she is unconscious. He sits on the floor and pulls her into his lap as he calls out her and gently shakes her in hopes of waking her. She makes some muttered responses, but doesn’t open her eyes.
“Bethany, do you have any lyrium,” he has to repeat his questions a few more times and shake her again, before she mumbles something about her pouch. He’s vaguely aware of Varric coming around as he rummages through one of the several pouches encircling her hips.
“Elf,” he’s groggy and dazed as he gently touches his head. His fingers come away bloodied, then suddenly the last few seconds come crashing into his brain. He remembers the misfire and Bethany screaming.
“Sunshine!” he scurries over, fearing the worse.
“She needs lyrium,” Fenris explains as he moves to check another pouch. Varric is relieved that she isn’t wounded. “She has overexerted herself when she cast her spell in such a weakened state. She’ll be fine, but she needs mana and sleep.”
“Thank the Maker,” the dwarf sighs.
“I thought you worshipped your ancestors,” the white haired warrior helps Bethany sip the glowing blue liquid.
“Why limit my options.”
“Isabela says we’re in the eye of the storm and that the second half may be as bad as the first half.” Fenris carries Bethany to Isabela’s bed. He lays the mage down and removes her boots before tucking her under the blankets. He secures the blankets between the mattress and the frame to help keep her in place should the storm be as bad as Isabela thinks.
“We should probably get some of this stuff tied down,” Varric grabs one of the chairs.
“With twine, of course,” he pulls the ball of twine from a pouch and ties the chair to the leg of the table. “Before she left Kirkwall, Daisy gave me a farewell gift.”
Fenris keeps his opinion of the blood mage to himself as he follows Varric’s example.
It’s difficult for Varric and Fenris to tell if the second half of the storm was indeed as bad as the first half or if they were just better prepared. Varric sits and plays Diamond Back with a very nauseous Fenris while Bethany sleeps. Exhausted and soaked to the bone, Isabela walks in.
“How long has she been out?” Isabela leans against the bed and pulls off her drenched boots.
“Since the eye of the storm.” Varric discards three cards and draws an equal number from the deck.
The dark skinned captain slips behind a changing screen to peel off her soaked clothing in favor of dry ones.
“How much longer until we reach Cumberland,” the elf asks placing his cards face up on the table. Varric triumphantly displays his cards and claims the small pot.
“Another week,” comes the answer from behind the screen. Fenris groans and declares he’s going on deck. His legs wobble and his balance is at the mercy of the tide as the ship moves.
“That tea Bethany makes for him must be wearing off,” the dwarf comments when the door closes behind the white haired warrior.
“The fresh air will do him good,” she emerges dressed in little more than a dry tunic with a blue sash. “So when are you going to tell me about Bianca?” She grabs a bottle of rum and joins him at the desk.
“Now, Rivaini you know I can’t,” he accepts the mug of rum she offers.
“I’m not asking for her story, I’m asking about her. There must’ve been something about her that enraptured you.”
“Her generous physique,” he answers into his cup.
“I’m sure it took more than tits and ass to win your heart.”
“That can be said about most men.”
“How did you two part ways,” she refills her tankard and sets the bottle between them.
“Well that’s easy. She left Kirkwall and I didn’t.”
“Why didn’t you follow her?”
“Circumstances,” he swirls the liquid in his cup
“Interfering ones.” His usual jovial, sarcastic tone changes, but Isabela either misses the subtlety or chooses to ignore it.
“Still not going to talk about her?”
“What made you think I was going to?”
“Probably the fact that we are on our way to help her,” she drinks more rum. “And you’ve been avoiding me since we set sail.”
“I haven’t been avoiding you. I’ve been observing you. I’ve never seen this side of you. I keep waiting for you to pounce on one of these hard bodied men.”
“I never have affairs with my crew,” she takes a healthy swig of rum. Varric feels relief and pride that he manages to change the subject. “Once they see you naked with your ass in the air they think they don’t have to take orders from you.”
“Now this sounds like a story I have to hear,” he tops off her mug. She immediately launches into her tale.
For the first time since the ship left Kirkwall, Fenris is happy. He’s just received news that they will be in Cumberland before noon. He sips the herbal tea Bethany made for him and stares at the small sliver of land on the horizon. He looks over his shoulder and catches a glimpse of Varric also staring at the landmass ahead. The blonde storyteller appears to be lost in his own thought. The elf catches movement in the corner of his eye and sees Bethany emerge from the Captain’s quarters with a shawl about her shoulders. She closes her eyes and enjoys the brisk wind through her hair. The warm golden glow of the rising sun kisses her face. She smiles faintly and it takes his breath away. He finds a peace in her solace and simple joy. Fenris feels an urge to go to her and talk to her, but then the thought strikes him that she deserves someone better. After all she is the baby sister and last family member to the Viscountess of Kirkwall, and he’s merely an escaped elven slave. His emotions are tangled and he’s rooted to the spot as he watches her take a deep breath. She tightens her grip on the shawl before making her way towards Varric. He finishes his tea and quietly slips below deck.
“Thinking about Bianca,” she keeps her brown eyes on the horizon.
“Kinda hard not to Sunshine.”
“Getting her letter must have brought back all those feelings you had for her. Reminded you how much you cared for her?” Her question is friendly, innocent and noninvasive.
“I never stopped caring for her.”
“Worried about the reception we’re going to receive?”
“That I will admit; our parting was,” he searching for a single word to describe the life changing incident so many years ago. “Complicated.”
“Don’t worry Varric; I’m sure everything will be fine.”
“I hope so, Sunshine.” He chuckles. “You know this reminds me of a story.”
“Oh,” her interest piqued. “I hope it has a happy ending.”
“For you, madam, endless sunsets and roses.”
The docks of Cumberland are like the docks of any other city; bustling with activity, crowded and full of sailors, prostitutes and shady characters. Sailing doesn’t bother Varric, but he’s glad to be on land again. He glances back at his companions. Bethany and Fenris are gathering everyone’s belongings, while Isabela gives the new captain a report of the ship and her crew.
He begins scanning the crowd for his contact. Nico said one of his people would meet him on the dock, a dark haired elven prostitute calling herself Rose. Varric should recognize her by the small facial scar and the rose tattoo on her left breast.
“Hey there handsome, looking for a friend,” a woman asks. He turns and sees a raven haired elf with deep green eyes leaning against a stack of crates. He can clearly see the small scar on her upper lips. Her clothes are of a poor quality, but clean. The long green skirt it pulled up on the right side to reveal her knee high black and yellow striped sock, and ankle boots. When she moves there is a flash of her thigh. Her top is a simple off the shoulder white shirt common to this area of Thedas; the long sleeves are bound with ribbon from her wrist to her elbow. The left arm has a black ribbon while the right is using a red ribbon. The top of her shirt is loose and open, revealing an impressive amount of cleavage for an elf. About her waist, an under bust corset is securely fastened, crafted from a mediocre burgundy fabric that is beginning to wear in spots. She also has a simple brown belt with two small pouches on it. Without staring Varric catches a glimpse of the rose tattoo on her left breast.
“Maybe,” he’s cautious in his response.
“Name’s Rose, for a few coppers I can be your guide. For a few silvers I can be your friend. Of course I do charge extra for groups,” she’s quick to add when Bethany, Fenris and Isabela walk up.
“I’m sure we can work something out,” Varric smiles.
“Varric,” Bethany whispers. “What are you doing?”
“Making friends,” he shrugs. “Rose, we need a place to stay. Can you take us to a tavern?”
“A cheap tavern or a nice tavern?”
Isabela and Varric opt for cheap, while Bethany voices nice and Fenris, who doesn’t care, says nothing. Realizing she’s out voted she remains silent when the dwarf reiterates a cheap tavern. Varric pulls a few coppers out and hands them to the elf who quickly makes them disappear into one of her pouches.
“For how long?”
“No more than 2 nights,” he answers, and even that seems like an impossibly long period of time. He wants to be on his way now, Bianca broke their 15 years of silence with a call for help and every instinct he has is screaming for him to run to her.
“Follow me then, I know a place. The beds are lumpy, blankets cost extra, the ale tastes like piss water, but the food is decent and no one asks questions.”
“Sounds perfect,” Varric says, swinging his bag over his shoulder.
The group follow her down the main street for a block before makes a left at the bakery and a right a few shops down. Tucked into this questionable back alley is small rundown wooden shack of a building. Above the door hangs a faded sign labeling the hovel as the Black Cat Tavern. The door swings open on rust hinges and Rose leads them into the smoky dimly lit building. The Black Cat is larger than it seems, the front room is full of people drinking, laughing, arguing, playing various games of chance and eating. The building is filled with the smells of roasting meat and freshly baked bread, which is surprise to Bethany who’s use to the less pleasing aromas of the Hanged Man. No one looks up when they enter.
“That’s Semaj,” she points to the mousy haired elf behind the bar. “Talk to him for a room and I’ll follow you in few.”
Following her instructions they talk to the elf, who is stand-offish until he hears they want a room for two nights.
“Ain’t got one room big enough for the lot of ya. How’s about two rooms?”
“Fine,” Varric fishes about in his coin purse for a few silver pieces.
“Need anything else? Blankets? Pillows,” he glances over at Bethany “I can arrange for a hot bath if you’d like.”
“I’ll pay for that,” she excitedly voices.
Varric soon puts his negotiation skills to work, haggling for a decent price on the rooms. With a rude phrase muttered under his breath, Semaj agrees and trades keys for coin. He tells the dark haired mage that once they’re settled in to their rooms he can have her bath ready in a few hours.
“No need to rush. Shortly after nightfall will work.” Semaj nods his head and watches as group head to the back of the tavern and down the hallway. The two rooms are at the end of the hall and directly across from each other. Fenris and Varric take the room on the right, while the women take the room on the left. It only takes only a very little time for the group to get settled in their rooms. Soon Bethany and Isabela make their way across the hall to meet up with Rose and the men in the other room.
“No one else has arrived from Kirkwall looking for you,” Rose reports, crossing her arms and leaning against the wall opposite the door. “But we’ll keep eyes and ears out to see if you’ve been followed. If you have been, can we can handle it.
“Followed,” Bethany already feels lost.
“Thanks. We’re also going need supplies.”
“I can arrange that too. If you’re traveling to Nevarra, going by horse is quicker than foot. There are a few merchants that will be heading that way, which will be the fastest or I could arrange horses for you, not as fast, but will allow you more anonymity.”
“Merchant caravans are target for bandits,” Fenris points out.
“But they make better time than travel by horse, and they can set up camp in any of the guard outposts that might be along the way.” The warrior nods to Rose’s experience.
“How are we going to pass as merchants?” Bethany asks.
“You don’t have too. Merchants are always hiring help when they plan a long haul like that. Technically you’ll be ‘hired help’,” she looks at Varric. “And the merchants I’ll hook you up with have no ties to the Dwarven Merchant Guild.”
“Finally some good news,” he voices, as if waiting for the downside of things.
“But you have another problem.”
“And that is?” Varric crosses his arms and leans against the door.
“Nevarra is close to Tevinter,” she looks at the lyrium branded warrior. “There’s still a bounty out.”
The warrior grumbles a slew of curses in Arcanium and begins pacing the room.
“But Danarius is dead,” Isabela points out.
“His heir isn’t.”
“Heir? Danarius had no children,” Fenris struggles to keep his emotions in check.
“But he had a successor. From everything I learned the bounty was never rescinded. It’s still active and valid, but I’ve not heard anything about this magister pursuing it. Just watch your back and lay low.”
“Any information on Bianca,” Isabela asks.
“I have nothing, but there is a contact in Nevarra who will. A blonde dwarven girl named Isana.”
“How do we find her,” Bethany questions.
“When you reach Nevarra go to the Red Rat Tavern, she’ll find you.”
“Rose, set us up with the first merchant leaving Cumberland,” Varric requests.
“Done. Anything else,” when no one speaks up she pushes away from the wall. “My boy Nevin will meet you in the morning with your supplies and travel arrangements.”