Justice in Surrender: Chapter 10

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Leandra was beside herself with glee over the estate. She couldn’t stop re-reading the papers they’d received from the viscount, and every time she did, she touched the seal like it was the face of an old friend, and beamed happily.

Tobias hadn’t seen her smile like that since before they left Ferelden.

“We should start right away,” she declared brightly, arms akimbo as she stood by Gamlen’s rickety writing desk, the papers spread out before her. “There’ll be so much to do, so many things to arrange… can you take me to see it?”

“Hmm?” Tobias, sitting at the table with a mug of spiced tea, hadn’t really been listening. “See what?”

She rolled her eyes. “The estate! Honestly! There’ll be so many fabrics to consider… curtains, carpets, not to mention measuring for furniture. I wonder if your grandfather’s chairs are still there? When I was a girl, he bought the most marvellous dining table and fifteen chairs. Antivan walnut, with painted panels on the backs. Each one of them showed something different—”

Tobias winced. “Mother….”

“—like hunting scenes, and famous battles or assassinations… well, they were Antivan. They were absolutely magnificent, though, and whenever we had people to dine—”

“Mother!”

“Hm? What is it, dear?”

Tobias sighed heavily, and cupped his mug with protective fingers. He’d got back late after the Underground meeting, and had a run-in with some daft gaggle of would-be thugs who’d tried to mug him on the way. One silly sod had actually said ‘beware the wrath of the Crimson Hand’ as he pulled a knife… at which point Tobias had cussed in irritation, and then knocked all three of them flying with a well-placed Fist of the Maker. He’d legged it while they were staggering and yelling (very observant, street gangs these days, he thought: ‘Look out, he’s a bleedin’ robe!’), and made it home unfollowed and in one piece, which was a pleasant change.

All the same, he hadn’t expected the throb of glee he’d found in himself. It had been… exhilarating, to use his power like that. He hadn’t had to think about it for a second. Just let it out, let it spill like anger and retribution, and it had been good.

This morning, he felt tired and stretched too thin, and he kept thinking about all those shrouded faces, and the dark rumbles about Meredith, and mages made Tranquil, and… all those things Anders had said about blood, and phylacteries.

He peered up at Leandra. She was looking at him expectantly, blue eyes wide and her hair oh-so-neatly combed. For as long as he could remember, she’d started every day clean and bright as a new pin. The drudgery of cleaning and keeping house wore through her as the hours dragged on, and soot smuts or stripes of grime would mar her apron, but she’d always wash up again come sundown. Tobias remembered how, when he was a little boy, he’d curl up on her lap by the light of one fat tallow candle, and breathe in her smell of lavender water and soap as she read to him. Not so often, once the twins were old enough to crawl or toddle but, back in those early days, there had been some precious times when it was just the two of them.

He rubbed his forehead wearily. “Mother, the place has been used as an illegal slave pit for the past Maker knows how many years. It’s a broken-down, filthy wreck. We’ll have to get someone in to clean out the… mess… and probably fume it all out for a couple of weeks before you even start thinking about—” He waved a hand in the air vaguely, a little lost on the practicalities of playing house. “—carpets. Whatever. As for there being anything left, I-I… I don’t think you should get your hopes up.”

“Oh.” Leandra furrowed her brow, and he couldn’t bear that look of disappointment crowding over her face. “No, of course, you’re… you’re right, I’m sure.”

Frustration clawed at him, but the years of parental conditioning were already winning out. Tobias stifled the irritated groan he wanted to give, and knocked back the rest of his tea. Its lukewarm perfume cloyed the back of his throat; he’d never realised how different the stuff tasted when he wasn’t drinking it hungover.

“I’ll stop by and see what I can find out,” he promised as he stood up, pausing to lay a hand on her arm and drop a brief, perfunctory kiss to her cheek.

She smelled of soap and fresh linen, with just a hint of lavender, and she smiled gratefully at him.

“Thank you, darling.” Her hand covered his, her red, lined knuckles standing proud, as did the delicate traceries of veins that were beginning to rise under her skin, and she squeezed his fingers. “Are you going out already?”

Tobias smiled tightly. “I won’t be long.”

“You were back awfully late last night. I worry about you, you know… never knowing where you are, or who you’re with. You’re not still running around with that pirate girl, are you?”

A new frown began to sweep over her face, and he winced again. Leandra had only met Isabela once, when she’d dropped by on her way to the docks as part of that eternal quest for a new boat. Tobias suspected she’d just wanted to see where he lived, and he hadn’t managed to hustle her out quite quickly enough.

The two women had exchanged perhaps ten words, five of which had been Leandra saying ‘Goodness me, aren’t you chilly?’. It was just one of the many reasons he preferred to keep the people he termed friends as separate as possible from his home life.

“I was never—” He broke off, unwilling to even broach the discussion with her. “No, Mother. I’m not. I just need to see a man about some business, that’s all. Picking up a couple of payments from Varric, and… maybe a few other errands.”

Leandra’s mouth crumpled into a thin, censorious curl.

“Well, as long as you’re back for supper. I managed to get some neck of lamb. There’s dried peas left, so I thought I’d make a lamb and pea stew, like we used to have. That’ll be nice, won’t it?”

He nodded, and his smile wasn’t entirely forced.

“It will. Do you need anything while I’m out?”

Leandra shook her head. “No. Just… don’t be too late.”

“I won’t, Mother,” Tobias assured, and he let the door close quietly behind him.

It was a pleasant day. One of those ones where the sky was crisp and blue, and a light breeze tugged at the white wisps of cloud, trailing them above the flat roofs of Lowtown like paper kites. Somehow, it made Kirkwall look cleaner, as if that pale wash of sunlight could douse all the filth away. Unlikely, of course… but a nice thought, Tobias supposed.

He was finding he rather missed Fereldan weather. Back home, the year would have been getting much colder by now. In Lothering, they even used to have proper snow in the winter. In Kirkwall, it just got misty, and rained.

His first stop ought to be The Hanged Man, he decided, although it was still a little early for Varric. Even if he was up, Tobias reasoned he would probably be occupied, either conducting a little business, or penning his latest epic. Lately, he’d taken to serialising some of his more lurid stories in pamphlet form, together with provocative illustrations. Seven Veils of Seheron was Tobias’ current favourite, being the amorous adventures of a plucky and resourceful slave girl who escaped from her bondage and found love with a dissipated, swashbuckling pirate captain.

He suspected the two main characters drew more than they ought from Fenris and Isabela, albeit in somewhat disguised and gender-reversed roles, but hadn’t dared bring the matter up with either of them… particularly given some of the rude bits Varric had written. Not until the resolution of the story was published, anyway. Tobias would have hated for Fenris to kill the dwarf in a fit of outrage before he found out whether the slave girl managed to wed her captain, or if they fell foul of the wicked first mate’s plan to betray them both to her original captors.

“Morning, Corff!” he said brightly as he walked into the tavern.

The innkeeper was swabbing a rag half-heartedly over the greasy bar. He looked up and nodded briskly.

“Mornin’, messere. He’s in his suite. Would you like Nora to bring you something up?”

“Hmm, I don’t know. What’s good this morning?”

Corff looked faintly nonplussed, and glanced over his shoulder towards the kitchens, from where the smell of something greasy being fried to a uniformly crispy kind of brown was emanating.

“Fry-up,” he said, after a moment’s apparent consideration.

Tobias nodded sagely. That basically meant anything left over from yesterday that neither smelled too rotten, or could crawl out of the pan unaided, all mashed up and served as fried hash, slathered in butter and with some kind of meat product—probably made of something unspeakable, and just as thoroughly fried—on the side. His stomach rumbled traitorously, and his mouth started to water.

“Two, please. And some small beer?”

“Right you are.”

He grinned, and made his way through the empty bar towards Varric’s suite.

Morning light lanced through the high, small windows that pierced the passageway, and picked out all the imperfections in the scarred, rough-hewn wood of doors and wall panelling. Aveline—on the rare occasions her high-and-mighty captainship deigned to join them down here—expressed disbelief that, even after the Deep Roads, Varric chose to continue calling this place home.

Tobias smirked to himself as he rapped on the dwarf’s chamber door. All right, perhaps he was a little hard on Aveline, given everything she reminded him of, but one thing was definitely certain. She didn’t understand the simple, blissful pleasure in somewhere that just felt right, never mind the sawdust on the floor and the drunken brawls on the doorstep.

From within the suite, there came a noise suspiciously like someone falling over a chair, followed by a muffled curse.

“All right, all right… what?”

The door opened, revealing a rather frowsty-eyed Varric, hair a little awry and chin unshaven, his shirt open to the navel and ink staining the right cuff, along with both his hands. He frowned as he peered up at Tobias.

“Hawke? Maker’s breath… I think I preferred it when you were drinking. Never used to see you until a respectable time of day.”

Tobias pressed a palm to his chest, and affected a hurt look.

“You wound me, Varric. To the very quick.”

The dwarf narrowed his eyes. “Huh. You want your money, right?”

“Yes. But I have ordered you breakfast.”

Varric snorted. “All right. Come in. I was just putting the last few touches to—”

“Can I read it?” Tobias asked eagerly, brushing past him into the small, yet comfortable set of rooms. “Do they get away in the end? Or do they have to kill the first mate? I hope they get away. This is Seven Veils, right?”

The differences in Varric’s suite during the day and the night hours always amazed Tobias. When he threw it open for guests—when he held court, sitting back in that heavy chair of his, carved with dwarven runes and accented with gold leaf that, unless you rubbed really hard, you’d never know was paint on top of brass—it seemed so opulent and luxurious. There were all the knickknacks from Orzammar, the signifiers of House Tethras’ wealth and prestige, and the shelves full of little curiosities he’d picked up on his travels. The long table they sat around would always be groaning with wine and ale, and beeswax candles burned in the ornate wall sconces.

This morning, everything looked very plain. The table was bare, and Varric had obviously been working at the large, battered wooden desk under the far window. It was overflowing with papers, great drifts of them falling to the floor in various stages of screwed-up discard, and others stacked in large, haphazard piles.

Varric smiled. “If I didn’t know you better, Hawke, I’d swear you were just a sappy romantic at heart.”

He shut the door behind them, and gestured to one of the more comfortable, thickly upholstered chairs by the fireplace, where a small fire was smouldering dimly.

Tobias smirked. “Maybe I am. You know me: it’s all moonlight, roses, and poetry… in between the bloodletting and violence.”

“Well, a man has to have his vices,” Varric said dryly. “Sit down. Our friend from the Diamond Quarter was with me last night. Very pleased with his purchases.”

He shambled over to the screened off portion of the chambers that housed his bed, and the more secure of his trunks and chests. As the scrape and clank of things being unlocked—and the mellifluous music of coins clinking—drifted over towards him, Tobias wandered between the fireplace and Varric’s desk, tempted to sneak a quick peek at what he was writing. Thick, black lines of redaction marked the papers, version upon version scored through and rewritten in the dwarf’s broad, drunken-spider-scrawl. Tobias tipped his head, and thought he made out the word ‘nipple’.

“And you can see that when it’s finished,” Varric reprimanded, crossing the room with two large leather bags in his ink-stained hands. “It’s rude to read a story before it’s ready. Like looking at a woman without her rouge on.”

Tobias shrugged. “Mother always says only fast girls wear rouge.”

“True.” Varric smiled nostalgically. “But never so fast they’re impossible to catch.”

Tobias scoffed, and the dwarf gave him a genial smirk.

“Well, you don’t worry about that, I know. But I suppose the same applies in your case… or at least an equivalent.” Varric cocked his head to the side. “Or are you always the one who does the running?”

“Hilarious,” Tobias said, with teasing acidity. “I think my sides just split.”

Varric set the bags down on the small table, where they slouched and made very encouraging clink noises.

“Oh, now, don’t pout. Come and count your beans.”

A knock at the door presaged the arrival of Nora, bearing two plates of fried… something… and a pitcher of weak beer.

She was, as always, bright and cheerful and faintly flirtatious, and Tobias noted the alertness with which her dark eyes flicked over the coin pouches, and probably calculated their approximate weight, and value. Sharp girl, that one, he thought.

She retreated, with Varric eyeing her backside in the none-too-subtle manner his height allowed, and they ate as they discussed the money, and what the buyer had paid for which pieces.

“So, overall, more than we expected.” Varric nodded at the purse as he chewed a particularly recalcitrant lump of gristle. “Less Isabela’s cut, once it’s all divided, your share works out at just shy of seven sixty-two. Seven hundred and sixty-two sovereigns, thirty-seven silvers and four coppers, if you want to be precise.”

“You’re joking.”

Tobias arched his brows, and let his fork droop in his hand as he reached out to loosen the neck of the nearest bag. His fingers dug into the supple leather, groping hungrily at the outlines of the coins within, and a grin spread across his face.

“Really?”

“May the Paragons strike me dead if I lie,” Varric said solemnly, then shrugged. “Or… I don’t know. Some crap like that.”

Tobias peered into the purse, shovelling in another forkful of fried hash as he regarded the dull glint of gold with happy satisfaction. Burnt, buttery crispness burst on his tongue, and there was enough money on this table to move out of Lowtown, start setting the estate right—

And save an awful lot of mages’ lives.

He swallowed, but the ambrosia of burnt crunchy bits and greasy amalgams of mushroom and bread sat heavily in his throat. Where in the name of Andraste’s flaming crotch had that thought come from?

What he’d pledged to the Underground was one thing, based on the money he expected to have, and what he knew he could earn in his usual line of work. Granted, his particular brand of problem fixing relied too much on bounties and good old-fashioned extortion to be as lucrative as smuggling had, but Tobias lacked the patience—and the manpower—to mount any serious kind of threat to the Coterie’s stranglehold on the coast.

Oh, he might still dabble a little—a man had debts to pay, and a lifestyle to finance, after all—but knocking against the territories of two-bit operations like Athenril’s, or the outcast qunari who were squirreled away in the cliffs was one thing, while seriously running his own professional racket would have been quite another. In any case, what Varric termed ‘the import-export market’ wasn’t stable income all year, but this… this, added to what he and the dwarf had already split from the treasures they’d sold, was a sizeable chunk of cash indeed.

It was almost worth Bartrand leaving them for dead in the dark.

Almost… but not quite.

“So, what are you going to do with your share?” Varric asked, taking a swig of his small beer. “Aside from looking at it like you want to marry it?”

Tobias grinned and patted the purse. “Oh, the usual. Get blind drunk and spend too much time at The Rose, I imagine.”

Varric chuckled, and peered at him over the rim of his cup. “Hah… I don’t think even you can whore your way through that much money, Hawke.”

“You’re probably right.” Tobias allowed himself a self-deprecating shrug, and raised his own flagon of beer. “Not without a couple of small breaks, anyway. You know, to change horses, so to speak.”

Varric winced. “That… gave me images I did not want to contemplate.”

Tobias chugged back a long draught of the greasy, bitter ale, and grinned afresh. “Well, you did ask. No, I think maybe I’ll treat myself to a few little toys, too. New boots, new dagger… might even start buying some fancy clothes. I’ll need ’em, now I have my own noble estate.”

The dwarf looked at him in surprise. “Oh? Reconciled to the idea, are we? I thought you weren’t interested in being Lord… whatsit.”

Tobias grimaced. “Technically, there’s no proper title. And, if you’re being precise about it, it’s Mother’s estate. But… yes, I suppose I’m getting used to the idea. I think I might even like it.”

He downed another swallow of his beer, and gave Varric what he hoped was an encouraging smile, at which the dwarf winced again.

“You know, Hawke, it’s funny. I know you’re a good liar. I’ve seen you do it. So, how come that sounds almost as believable as Fenris talking about kittens and rainbows?”

Tobias grinned at the image, and shook his head. “All right, so I don’t want it. I never did, you know that. But… Mother does. It means more to her than I ever thought.”

He shook his head wearily and stood his flagon down, fingers toying idly with its glass-jewel-encrusted stem. Varric liked his tableware to catch the candlelight, even if the rubies weren’t real.

“Hm. Tell me,” Varric began suavely, steepling his beringed fingers before him, “when you and Carver, ah… reconnoitred the mansion—”

“Broke in, yes?”

Varric smirked. “I’m just curious: did you actually leave anyone alive to report back on the mess you’d made, or d’you think the bodies are still rotting in the cellars?”

Tobias screwed up his face. “Don’t…. I don’t know. I don’t even want to think about what we’re going to find. Bloody place is going to be a money pit, I just know it. Don’t suppose you know any good renovators?”

Varric shrugged. “I can get you some names.”

“Please. It’s going to be a nightmare. Not to mention, I have no idea what I’m going to do for income.” Tobias picked up the flagon and swished the last inch of ale thoughtfully around its pewter innards. He stared moodily over at the low-smouldering fire, and frowned. “She wants to move in as soon as it’s fixed up. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for getting out and letting the Void take Lowtown, but… moving up to the hill, it’s going to impact on business, isn’t it?”

Varric regarded him coolly, and arched one sandy brow. “You don’t think your good name does enough of that already? You attract a lot of attention in this town, Hawke.”

Tobias pulled a face as he knocked back the last of the beer. “Huh. And whose fault is that?”

The dwarf spread his hands, palms up, in a gesture that might have looked like innocence on someone else.

“What can I say? I simply report the truth. After all, you do get results.”

Tobias sighed and rubbed his forehead. “I don’t know. For two pins, I’d leave this city. Go back to Ferelden, maybe. If it wasn’t for Mother… still, I don’t know. Maybe I can take some of this coin, put it into a legitimate business. What do you think? Any good openings?”

“For someone of your qualifications?” Varric grinned.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Tobias furrowed his brow. “I’ve worked! Granted, mainly farm labour, which there’s not a precious lot of in Kirkwall, but— I have skills,” he protested, his indignation only mildly exaggerated.

“Of course you do,” Varric soothed. “Largely in, uh, persuasion. And the niceties of the import-export market.”

Tobias groaned. “Fair enough. No one’s going to hire me, and taking me on as a business partner is a reasonable equivalent to spitting on the Coterie’s boots. I see your point.”

“Oh, come on. It’s not so bad. I’ll ask around.”

“Would you?”

Varric smiled lazily, a picture of solicitousness. “Of course I would, Hawke. You know I can’t stand to see you cry.”

Tobias wrinkled his nose and looked for something to throw at him, but the dwarf just laughed.

“All right,” he averred, “maybe I am feeling sorry for myself. But you haven’t had to listen to Mother going on about curtains and chairs and Maker knows what else…. She’s going to be heartbroken when she realises what a state that place is in.” He glanced up at the window, and the way the light had broadened out, the sounds of life and the bustle of the city drifting through the single grimy, cracked pane of glass. “Speaking of which, I should get going. I’ll leave you to finish your story.”

Varric inclined his head graciously. “All right. I ought to get it done. Want to get started on the next one, really.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah.” He leaned back in his chair, his face settling into the faint smile that usually meant he was about to say something devastating. “I have this wonderful idea for an epic. Moody, impetuous hero faces impossible odds, an idealist pitted against a steel-hearted regime he has no hope of defeating; battle to change society’s very core, dramatic struggles at great personal cost… you know.”

“Hmm.” Tobias’ lips twitched. “Sounds a bit like someone we know.”

“Does it?” Varric’s expression didn’t change. He didn’t even bother to pretend. “Hmm. How is Blondie, anyway?”

A small itch of discomfort began to work its way between Tobias’ shoulder blades. He could have sworn the dwarf knew all about last night… about the Underground, the money, and every single tiny detail. He shouldn’t do; what was there in the backbiting of apostates and mage sympathisers to interest Varric’s network of eyes and ears? His interests lay squarely with the merchants’ guilds and craft halls that, between them, had enough nefarious underbellies to keep anyone occupied. No, the only profit for him in making it his business to know about the mages would be if he was planning on selling information to the templars… and that, Tobias reminded himself sharply, was not Varric’s style. For a start, the templars weren’t the sort of people to keep any such contacts quiet or casual. They liked to believe they owned their informers, trading on the kind of religion-soaked fear and awe they could induce—particularly in a place like Kirkwall.

It might have been a good ten years ago, but the city still acknowledged as an open secret exactly what had happened to the old viscount… and why Dumar was so very careful to stay on Meredith’s good side. No, Varric was far too smart to get himself embroiled in that kind of mess.

Tobias realised that the dwarf was waiting for some kind of response, and flexed his shoulders casually. His arm was all healed up, so he was back to wearing his familiar, comfortable leather jack and a pair of bracers, and despite the warmth of the room goosebumps began to rise on his skin.

“Fine. Or as near to it as he gets, I suppose.”

“Still worrying about him, then?” Varric enquired, the acuteness of his gaze belying his genial tone.

Tobias fought the urge to squirm in his seat. Ordinarily, he didn’t particularly mind Varric making those small, pointed observations, but today they felt a little closer to home than usual.

“Perhaps you should tell him you’re going to write his ballad. Might cheer him up a bit.”

He started to grin before he realised Varric wasn’t smiling, and Tobias felt his lips curl into an, ugly half-discarded sneer.

“Mm. Trouble is,” the dwarf said quietly, “you get into these rebel outlaw things… it’s all very romantic, but the hero nearly always dies at the end.”

Tobias felt his face stiffen, and tried to pretend it was nothing. He blinked, and swallowed heavily.

Varric sighed, and leaned his elbows on the table. “Ah, well. Perhaps I ought to stick to lurid tales of denied passion and fervid adventure.”

“Mm,” Tobias managed. “Maybe. Still… you’ll be able to afford someone to write it all up for you. Can’t be bad, right?”

The dwarf smiled, and that slight hint of awkwardness that seemed to hang between them began to fade away, like mist in the morning sun.

Tobias bade his farewells, promising to drop by the suite that evening for a jar or two, and buckled the moneybags securely about his person. He didn’t much relish the thought of going through Lowtown with that much coin on him, and decided to make his first port of call one of the banking houses on the edge of Hightown. Ordinarily, he didn’t much care for what was basically an Antivan system—and, at its most essential level, involved handing his money over to someone else to guard—but the di Bordi were a wealthy clan, with strong ties to the Crows… which meant they could afford the kind of security that came with qunari mercenaries and iron-bound deposit boxes with enchanted locks. According to Varric, the di Bordi employed a number of Formari enchanters for that specific purpose.

Tobias had to admit that, on balance, the bankers promised a great deal more safety for his money than the squeaky board beneath his bunk, back at Gamlen’s place.

They could have moved out by now, he supposed. He thought about it as he walked, letting his feet chew away at the stones, and his gaze rove over every flicker of movement in the sunlit streets. The stretch between The Hanged Man and Hightown’s southern end was moderately pleasant, in the main, comprising wide, paved walkways, with the great pale cliffs of buildings rising up all around, their frontages riven with cracks and cloaked with ivy. Here and there, windows peered down onto the streets, some with dark sheets of glass glinting like squinted eyes, and in other places lines of washing stretched between the tiny balconies, flapping like pennants of drudgery against the stale air.

They could have. He could have put the very first coins he and Varric had divided between them after the Deep Roads into some small, shabby tenement in Lowtown. Could have exchanged Gamlen’s hovel for two rooms in a labourers’ boarding house, or somewhere a little further up than the old city slums, and still had enough to live comfortably on for a while. It would have been a risk, but he could have done it… only Leandra hadn’t wanted to, had she? Of course not.

Gamlen, for all his faults, was family—as she was so very fond of saying. Besides, that place had been home since they lurched off the boat. She’d shut herself up in there to grieve for Bethany, for losing Carver to the templars… and for him, Tobias supposed, when everyone had thought he was dead.

He blinked, unwilling to think even for a moment of those long, dark months beneath the ground.

I thought we’d lost you.

A light shiver traced his spine at the memory of Anders’ words, overlaid somehow with the agony of relief in his mother’s face when he’d come home. Tobias shook the mixed up, jumbled memories away. They were false, anyway. Gamlen’s place wasn’t home. Kirkwall wasn’t home. Ferelden was… Lothering, and the wheat and barley fields, waving under a fat, golden summer sun, and the way he and Carver would run through them, legs pinwheeling as they hurdled the stalks in great, leaping, shrieking bounds.

All those things that were lost, and could never be replaced.

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Chapter 11
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