Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
When Tobias woke, everyone was gone. He’d been left alone in the tent, tucked up under two blankets and, on first waking, he felt a shudder of chagrined embarrassment at that, tinged with a strange kind of nervousness.
Odd, he realised, because it wasn’t as if he was unused to being alone. Yet, now, he felt… exposed. Almost afraid. He sat up, strafing his fingers through his hair and wincing at the taste of his own tongue, and surveyed the empty tent. Thin morning light filtered through the gaps in the heavy canvas, and the sounds of the camp came from outside the flap, quiet and unobtrusive, yet unmistakeable.
Tobias glanced down at himself, thankful for being fully clothed, and wondered where the others were. Had they already gone back down to the city? He knew Merrill never remained long among her clan—bad blood, he thought, momentarily appalled at the awfulness of the pun, until the sudden recollection of the Fade stilled his humour.
Maybe she and Aveline had both snuck off at dawn, too ashamed of their betrayals to face him.
He rose, stiff and aching, and tried to fold up the blankets. Every muscle protested at the movement, and his head had apparently been stuffed with rags. Tobias grimaced, swore to himself, and wondered why Anders hadn’t stayed. He had nothing to be ashamed of. He’d been… Justice had been… well… it had all been an experience, hadn’t it?
Tobias winced again, the blankets slipping from his fingers as he remembered in sudden, acute detail—untrammelled by the bone-shaking tiredness of last night—falling asleep with his head on Anders’ shoulder, his mind still half-wreathed in those terrible, tortuous things the demon had fed him.
Oh, Maker… I don’t talk in my sleep, do I?
It wasn’t a prospect he wished to contemplate. Neither was exactly how visible his dream had been to the others. Had he been stripped as bare as Aveline, or had the demon done its work inside his mind, painting the pictures there and just showcasing his shame with words, the way it had done with Merrill? Either way, he supposed, they all knew now. Anders knew, irrefutably, in a way that had nothing to do with all the months of flirting and drawn-out compromises, and Tobias hated himself for that.
He shivered, then looked up as a face appeared at the mouth of the shelter, dragging him unceremoniously from his guilty reverie.
“Oh, you’re awake!” Arianni exclaimed, rushing in with a wide, bright smile, and moving to seize his hands. “I’m so glad. I wanted to thank you personally, serah. We owe you so much. Feynriel’s up. He’s eating, talking… the Keeper says there may even be a way he can learn to control his abilities, if he could find somewhere to study, and that’s all thanks to you! I never imagined you would do us such kindness, I truly—”
“It’s all right. Really.” Tobias blinked, keen to extricate himself from the elf’s clammy grasp. She was already starting to make his head hurt. “Uh… yeah. Tevinter. It won’t be easy, but… I should speak with Marethari. There’ll be arrangements we need to make.”
Arrangements Anders needed to make, he corrected mentally. Getting Feynriel to Tevinter unchecked, let alone finding somewhere safe he could study—without the threat of blood magic or power-crazed magisters seeking to abuse his gifts as readily as any demon—was going to be a real test of the Underground’s power, if it was even possible.
Still, Arianni didn’t see it like that. All she saw was her son, alive, and she was effusively grateful. She ushered him to the Keeper’s aravel at once, mentioning that his ‘friend’ was still there, speaking with Marethari, and would no doubt be pleased to see him up and about.
Tobias suspected he looked confused when he stooped to pass through the doorway, and found Varric sitting at a small table with the keeper, apparently deep in conversation, and taking notes on a neatly folded piece of parchment.
“So, let me get this straight, this Elgahn guy killed the sun? The actual sun, right?”
“Elgar’nan,” Marethari corrected gently, the light of amusement twinkling in her face.
“Elgannan, right.” Varric waved his pencil dismissively. “And this—”
“—Mitthal rises from the sea and convinces him it was a bad idea—”
The keeper chuckled and shook her head indulgently. “Mythal showed to Elgar’nan the folly of his anger. At the touch of her hand, he understood his lust for vengeance had led him astray, and he vowed to undo the wrongs he had wrought.”
“Ah!” Varric exclaimed, pointing the pencil at Marethari, eyes narrowed in eager anticipation. “They knocked boots, right?”
The elf laughed—a warm, throaty, rich sound that Tobias was sure he’d never heard from her before, or even expected to hear.
Varric glanced up at him, and beamed widely.
“Hawke! You’re up. That’s good. I was getting a primer in Dalish mythology.”
“You’re honoured,” Tobias observed, as Marethari stood, swiping at her eyes with the back of one knuckle, and mopping away her laughter.
I will never cease to be amazed by the people that dwarf can charm.
“I don’t believe I have ever met one of the durgen’len with quite such an aptitude for stories,” she said, gesturing him to a seat.
“Thank you, Keeper.” He shook his head. “I should, uh, really be getting back. I—”
“Blondie headed back down to the city before first light,” Varric said helpfully. “Muttered something about, ah, making arrangements. Left this for you,” he added, proffering a folded scrap of parchment in his fingers.
Tobias took it, frowning, and peered down at the hastily scribbled words.
3 Ts, midnight. At least 250, if you can.
“Bugger,” he muttered, then glanced apologetically at Marethari. “Sorry. I mean, it… I know what it means. He’s arranging what he can for Feynriel. If it’s successful, I’ll meet with someone at… a place… tonight, and bring… the necessities. We’ll make a deal. If not, then we’ll have to find another way.”
She nodded solemnly, all traces of her laughter forgotten. “I see. Is there anything we can—?”
“I, er, I don’t think so,” Tobias said diplomatically, folding the parchment into the pocket of his breeches. Not unless you happen to have two hundred and fifty sovereigns lying around the place, anyway. “I’ll be in touch as soon as I can. Feynriel’s all right this morning, is he?”
“Well indeed,” Marethari said, though a trace of unease seemed to linger in her eyes. “The entire clan appreciates what you did for him, Serah Hawke.”
Tobias inclined his head politely, and squeezed out his best effort at a smile.
Funny, he thought, how people were always complimenting him most when he felt like death warmed over.
He looked enquiringly at Varric. “Did the others…?”
“Left early too,” the dwarf confirmed. “Fenris last night, Merrill and Aveline a little after Blondie. He made me promise to see you back safe,” he added, with the smallest hint of a smirk coiled in readiness at the corner of his mouth.
Tobias arched an eyebrow. “Oh?”
Did he? I wonder if that’s good or bad.
Still, for all the smirking, that was exactly what Varric did.
They took their leave of the camp, and headed back down into the city. The walk was, Tobias decided, a great deal more pleasant in the daytime. A light sea breeze crested the air, meeting the fresh, sharp smells of the mountain, and the hard land that lay further away from Kirkwall’s stranglehold on the sea.
There must be farmland back there, he supposed. Eventually. Once you put the docks and the crowded ledges of cliffs behind you, and started to travel north, past Sundermount and past all the old Tevinter mines and gravel pits, there must be lush places. He’d thought about trying to convince Leandra to move out of the city completely, away to some small village or market town somewhere between here and the Vimmarks, but she wouldn’t hear of it. The Marches were dangerous country, she’d said, and Tobias had been very hard pressed not to burst out laughing.
After their flight from Lothering, with Ferelden burning to ashes around them and darkspawn at every turn, after the Deep Roads, and his years of spitting teeth and shedding blood for smugglers… and she was concerned about rumours of bandits and sheep rustlers?
Besides, she didn’t want a peasant’s life again. He knew that, however hard he’d been trying to avoid the knowledge. Not even a comfortable tenant yeoman’s life. Tobias supposed he had to admit that he wasn’t exactly great farming material… but they could have got by, he was sure.
Maybe. If it wasn’t for the bloody estate.
She had it in her eyes now, more than ever, like a girl with her heart set on a pretty necklace. Every single day, the first light of dawn seemed to sparkle on diamonds for her.
Tobias sighed loudly as he walked, the breeze ruffling his hair, and Varric shook his head reproachfully.
“Hawke, please. You’re breaking my heart. It’s actually physically painful.”
Tobias grinned. “Sorry. Just thinking.”
The dwarf eyed him critically. “About the Fade? What was it like, anyway? I didn’t get much out of the others. Daisy looked upset, though.”
High overhead, a gull wheeled and screamed against the wide, crisp blueness of the sky. Tobias shrugged.
“Huh. It’s the Fade, that’s all. Nothing more or less. It’s boring and predictable and full of demons. They get into your head… show you the things you want to see, try to make you forget yourself. That’s how they get in.”
“Ah. And they did, right? Get in?”
“Merrill was tempted, yes,” he said guardedly, frowning down at his boots.
Each step crunched on the gritty, sandy ground. The path, such as it was, was fringed with the dark green, weedy plants that clung to the salt-stained, sour air up here. Embrium, Tobias noticed, and something that looked a little bit like a herb Anders had called bindwort. He wondered, briefly, whether he should cut some and take it along to the clinic, but he imagined the healer had his own sources and, in any case, Tobias wasn’t entirely sure there weren’t weird protocols about it. ‘Such-and-such only to be gathered in moonlight by a barefoot virgin’, and all of that business.
He blinked, aware that Varric had asked him a question.
“I said, tempted how? And don’t pretend you didn’t hear me.”
Tobias winced. “A pride demon. Made her believe she could be the one to save her people… saviour of the Dalish, if she gave it the power to help her.”
“Oh. And Aveline?”
“Saw her dead husband walking. Dreamed of redemption for failing to save him,” Tobias said shortly, suppressing a shudder at the recollection of Wesley’s all-too-real appearance. “The life they’d wanted… the life they should have had, I suppose. She blames—blamed, I mean, in the Fade—me, because I… well, because of what happened in Ferelden. Y’know. If it hadn’t been for meeting me, then the two of them might have got out alive.”
“Or died trying,” Varric said dryly. “I thought her husband was already as good as dead when you found them?”
“Mm-hm.” Tobias squinted at the pale jewel of the sun, glittering in the unclouded sky. “Didn’t make it easier, though. You know what I did.”
“Ah. Yes… there is that.”
There was silence for a few moments, broken only by the crunch of their footsteps. Kirkwall loomed up ahead, a series of jagged dark shapes slowly growing clearer, the way a painting yields the surprises of hidden details to curious scrutiny.
Tobias was aware of Varric watching him. The dwarf’s gaze settled on him like a weight, and he cleared his throat uncomfortably, determined not to answer the question until—or, perhaps, if—it was asked.
Bugger it. Can’t leave anything private, can you?
He shrugged. “I beat it. Didn’t succumb. So—”
“It doesn’t really matter,” Tobias said briskly, keeping his eyes fixed on the swelling vista of the city.
The closer they drew, the more he could see: plumes of smoke from countless chimneys, forges, and Maker only knew what else. Towers, crenellations, walls and the seething pits of the city gates, and plenty more besides.
Kirkwall: City of Infinite Surprises.
Of course, some of them are much less surprising than others.
“So, you’re really going to send that boy to Tevinter? You and Blondie?”
Tobias wrinkled his nose. “Blondie and the Underground,” he corrected mildly. “I’m just helping. But yeah… seems like it’s the only chance he’s got. I mean, I don’t know whether he’ll make it or not. I hope so. I hope he doesn’t end up a ravening abomination, or a blood-crazed magister or anything, but… well, what else can we do? If the Dalish can’t help him, and the Circle would kill him before they even bothered to try—”
Tobias grimaced. “He’s an apostate. And, if he’d fallen into a sleep like that there, do you think they’d have tried anything like as complicated as Marethari’s ritual? No. It would have been a sword in the chest and ‘good night, magey’ without even blinking.”
Varric chuckled quietly, then shook his head when Tobias frowned at him.
“Sorry. That’s not funny, I know. It’s just… you two sound more alike every day.”
Tobias shut his mouth curtly, and glared at the horizon.
He and Varric parted company at the edge of Lowtown, the dwarf protesting the need for a long hot bath and a stiff drink, and Tobias admitting that he ought to check in on Leandra.
She was, as he could have predicted, fuming. He got the ‘you’re a grown man now, and I don’t expect to know all the details of your life, but it wouldn’t kill you to tell me when you won’t be back, because you know how I worry’ speech and, about halfway through, he was mildly appalled to realise that she assumed he’d been at a whorehouse, or possibly with a woman. It seemed probable that, in Leandra’s mind, there was little difference.
“…I mean, it’s not as if it’s easy to bring people back here, I know,” she was saying, gesturing hopelessly to the hovel’s shabby walls, “and I can’t imagine you’d expect a woman like that to—”
Tobias blinked. “Wait, what? Who?”
Leandra gave him a withering look. “Your friend,” she said crisply. “The girl, with the….”
“Isabela,” he supplemented, wincing at his mother’s vague gesticulations in the area of her chest, and trying to convince himself that she meant the distinctive jewellery the Rivaini wore.
“The… pirate girl, yes.”
“She’s not a pirate,” Tobias said wearily. “Not really. Pirates have their own ships. Can’t be a pirate without a ship. And, anyway, she’s not—”
“Well, it doesn’t matter.” Leandra shook her head and gave him a tight, tired little smile. “You’re home now. Would you like something to eat? I expect you’re hungry.”
Tobias opened his mouth to protest, but closed it again as the sullen, empty feeling in his stomach prodded him into realising she had a point. He was tired, hungry, and wrung dry after the past couple of weeks. What with the Fade, and Feynriel, and the qunari and their bloody problems, Viscount Dumar and his manipulations—not to mention that whole business at the Rose—the days had been bleeding into each other in one great, faceless mess of chaos. It felt like the whole city wanted a piece of him, and Tobias longed passionately for the knife-edge security of working for Athenril. At least, among the smugglers, he’d been able to stay in the shadows. He liked that. He liked people not knowing his name.
It was so much bloody safer.
Still, he managed to put most of his troubles from his mind, and he sat at the rickety little table with his mother, listening to her news and the hopes she had for the estate. She served him hot tea and leftover barley stew, warmed and salted with a little dried pork, with a piece of relatively fresh bread on the side, and talked cheerfully while he ate. Another letter from Carver had arrived while he’d been out, and Leandra insisted on showing it to him.
Tobias read it obligingly, and smiled when she cooed over every little mundanity and gripe Carv had scribed down. He swallowed heavily, the thick and rather viscous barley stew forming a lump in his throat.
“Do we know how long it’ll be until he gets his knighthood?”
Leandra shook her head, folding the paper carefully as she tucked it away, nursing it as carefully as a newborn babe. She kept all the letters, Tobias knew, stored like holy relics in an inlaid wooden box in the bottom drawer of Gamlen’s writing desk.
“No. It may well be at least another year, maybe two. Well, there’s so much training, isn’t there?”
Tobias snorted, dropping his spoon into the blessedly empty bowl and reaching for the bread.
“Can’t imagine there’s all that much to sticking a sword in their hands and pushing them out of the door,” he muttered, swiping the sop around the bowl.
Leandra tutted reproachfully. “That’s not true. I mean, there’s so much to it, isn’t there? The Knight-Commander runs a very disciplined ship. And say what you like, but I’d rather he goes through as much training as possible before they let him loose out there. I dread to think of what he’ll face.”
She shuddered, genuine revulsion and anxiety lining her face, and Tobias stopped chewing, the bread sagging unheeded in his fingers.
“What? People like me?”
Leandra winced. “No, darling. That’s not what I—”
“People like Father? Bethany?”
He shouldn’t have mentioned the name, he supposed. Tobias’ gut tightened as he watched his mother pale, her lips growing thin and pursed, her eyes lanced with pain.
“You don’t have to be like that,” she muttered, looking away and brushing invisible crumbs from the tabletop with one worn, red-knuckled hand.
Interwoven threads of rage and pain spooled in his chest, and yet he couldn’t seem to bite back the words.
“People just trying to stay out of the Chantry’s way, though? Is that what you mean, Mother? Because bloody Meredith—”
Tobias sighed abruptly and reached for his tea. Leandra made a small, irritated sound in the back of her throat, and he wished he’d never said anything.
“I have to go out again in a bit,” he said, frowning at the pitted, well-scrubbed surface of the table, the wood almost bleached with its daily cleanings.
Gamlen had certainly never kept the place so tidy.
“You’ve barely been back,” Leandra said reproachfully, fingers cupped around her own tea. “You’ll wear yourself out.”
Tobias shook his head. “I need to see a man about some business, that’s all. Won’t be long. D’you need anything? I can call by the market.”
The tea seemed weak and tepid, with an aftertaste like silage. He swallowed it down anyway, and watched his mother’s face crease into a dissatisfied scowl. The dusty, grubby light that filtered in through the hovel’s small window fell with uncaring cruelty on her face, showing every line and every faded, papery plane of her skin. Her hair had grown brittle as it greyed, and her eyes dull and listless.
He wished he could believe it was just Kirkwall that it done it to her, and not the Blight, not losing the twins… not him.
She shrugged. “I don’t think so, dear. Oh, wait. No, if you’re going to be in Hightown, you could call into the draper’s. Master Linnabeck had some fabrics coming in I wanted swatches of. There was a green linen, with little white flowers on, and some nice thick velvets. He’ll have them put by for me, so you don’t need to worry. I was thinking about curtains, and upholsteries. You know. And some new clothes,” she added, eyeing his leather jerkin critically.
Tobias glanced up, wary of that analytical expression, and Leandra smiled indulgently at him.
“Well? Look at you. It’s about time you smartened yourself up.”
He said nothing. He liked the way he dressed. Besides, nice thick velvet wasn’t much good at stopping blades… not that he could say that much to her.
“You dress like a barbarian,” Leandra chided, her voice falling back into a set of old, familiar rhythms that almost made him smile. “I suppose, next thing I know, you’ll have a ring through your ear and a gold-capped tooth. Mind you, running around with that pirate girl—”
Oh, by the Maker’s hairy arse crack, woman….
“I’m not ‘running around’ with Isabela, Mother,” Tobias said wearily, and drained the rest of his tea. “I don’t even—”
He broke off abruptly, and set the mug down on the table. He didn’t know why the words wouldn’t pass his lips. The sky wouldn’t crack in two, and fire wouldn’t swallow the world… and yet he didn’t say it. Couldn’t say it.
“She’s not my type,” he muttered instead, pausing as he stood to give Leandra a quick peck on the cheek. “I’ll see you later, Mother.”
She nodded and waved him away absently, with a quiet little “hmm” of assent.
He looked back over his shoulder once as he left the house, and she hadn’t moved. Just sitting there… quiet and still.
Tobias wasn’t sure why that unnerved him so.
He tried not to think of it while he busied himself with the day’s errands. First, he dutifully collected Leandra’s swatches from the draper’s, then ran by a couple of merchants and old business contacts in the bazaar, and stocked up both on supplies and gossip. After all, Varric wasn’t the only one who could keep an ear to the ground.
There didn’t seem to be much going on. Lowtown was talking mostly about the qunari; the poison gas thing had not exactly endeared them to the city, and rumour had it a few headstrong groups of would-be militia wanted to see them burned out of their compound and sent back to Par Vollen.
That’ll be messy.
Still, Tobias supposed, it made a change from mage-bashing.
Hightown was buzzing with more genteel gossip, much of it about His Royal Shininess… who apparently hadn’t buggered off back to Starkhaven. Tobias found that peculiar in the extreme, and wondered precisely what it was about Kirkwall that—despite the city’s manifold imperfections—seemed to compel people to hang around.
He shrugged off the idle curiosity and, with the day slipping away around him, took time to pay calls and draw in a few favours. Vincento, the Antivan merchant, was just one of them.
It was his own fault, Tobias told himself. If the man had just taken a little more interest in Feynriel—shown just a little more willingness to help the boy, instead of shying away from his responsibilities—it needn’t have come to anything.
Still, the shouting didn’t break out until Tobias himself was almost out of earshot and—whistling nonchalantly as he walked away, the pouch of coins he’d lifted from the merchant’s unguarded trunk jingling in his pocket—he allowed himself a small smile, and the warm, fuzzy glow of virtue.
He stopped off at the di Bordi’s banking house and made a sizeable withdrawal from his own account before heading home, the weight of the coin purses he carried making every step seem longer.
Leandra was cleaning when Tobias got back. Gamlen was nowhere to be seen, but that wasn’t unusual. Maker only knew where he spent most of his days—like a rat scurrying about between dark holes and dead things, Tobias thought.
He set the leather bags down on the clean-scrubbed table, and enjoyed the smiles that came over his mother when she got to see her linens… even if did mean she wanted to talk about curtains, furniture and upholstery again.
She was eager for him to appoint a steward, to start the renovations and prepare for moving into the estate—and she was, in Tobias’ opinion, altogether far too keen on him taking up the interest in the mine. He wished he’d never told her about any of it.
“And what’s the man’s name?”
They were drinking tea again. It was a ritual she had—a way of chaining him to a chair with kindness, and stripping him of his defences—and Tobias couldn’t refuse it, even if he was fairly sure tea would start leaking out of his ears if he stayed home too long.
“Hm?” He swallowed heavily. Bloody stuff still tasted like silage. Maybe it was the water. “What, Hubert? The Orlesian?”
“No.” Leandra shook her head impatiently. “The steward. The one your friend—”
“Oh. Feddic. Bodahn Feddic… he’s a merchant. ’Bout as respectable a pillar of the Merchants’ Guild as Varric is, but it might work out. He was on the Deep Roads expedition,” Tobias continued, ignoring her wince at the mention of that particular escapade. “Owes me a favour or two, and Varric reckoned he’d be a good choice. We give him leave to store some goods in the cellars, he’ll probably be amenable to overseeing the work and the running of the place. Should get a good deal on supplies and materials, too, and Maker knows we’ll need them. Still trying to find a good stonemason… not to mention someone to look at the staircases.”
Leandra tutted reprovingly. “Oh, I can’t think it’s as bad as all that. It’s—”
“Been derelict for years,” Tobias interrupted. “Not to mention the slavers. They’re not exactly good tenants, Mother.”
She made another small grumble of reproach, and sipped her tea. “I don’t want to think about that,” she muttered into her cup, and Tobias stifled an exasperated sigh.
She never did, did she?
“I’ll get it sorted out,” he said. “Don’t worry.”
“Of course you will, darling. Still….” Leandra shook her head, frowning slightly. “I’m not sure I like the idea of having our home acting as some merchant’s warehouse.”
Tobias snorted. “It’s big enough, isn’t it? There’s only you and me.”
“And your uncle,” she added crisply.
Tobias winced, but managed to keep the stream of invective he wanted to spout constrained to an internal rant.
“Yes,” he managed through gritted teeth. “And Uncle Gamlen. Of course. And Carv, when he visits. I’m sure Meredith lets them out every so often to go for tea and buns.”
“Well? Anyway, the place is bloody massive, Mother. I don’t think it’d impact on anything to lease a room or two.”
Leandra’s frown deepened, and he supposed he couldn’t blame her for her reservations.
“I don’t know what people will say,” she muttered. “That’s all.”
Tobias gritted his teeth, and swallowed down the urge to snap at her. There were, in his opinion, far worse things than having Hightown look down their noses at the old Amell estate’s new occupants.
Besides, sitting on all that spare room… what else was he supposed to do with it?
“Thought I might take a bath,” he said, sneaking a sidelong glance at her. “Before I go out later. That all right with you?”
She nodded, her long fingers still delicately framing her cup, and her face set into a speculative sort of look, like her mind was still dallying down the corridors of her childhood home.
Sometimes, he wondered if there might come a time when she wouldn’t return.
“Hmm? Oh, yes. Of course, dear. Fire’s up, you can heat some water. Or do you want me to—?”
“I’ll manage,” Tobias said swiftly. “Really.”
He patted her hand as he rose from the table, and went to stash the leather bags of gold under his bed before fetching the household wooden tub and bucket, and heading off towards the pump in the square outside.
Tobias bathed, then helped Leandra with the dinner—another of her thick, lump-strewn stews—and tried his best to avoid any conversation about the estate, or the templars, or anything else even faintly contentious.
“So, where are you going this evening?”
He cringed inwardly, and gritted his teeth as she ladled stew into two bowls; a third sat on the table, awaiting Gamlen’s return. The fire was burning cheerfully, banked low so as not to smoke too much, and a few candles cast warm, dancing light into the muggy little room. Outside, dusk had settled, and the whoops and yells of children running through the streets had just about given way to the sounds of men returning from the docks and warehouses. A dog barked and, somewhere, a woman called out shrilly.
“Just out,” Tobias said blandly, avoiding Leandra’s eye. “I’m meeting someone, late. Business.”
She huffed disapprovingly. “Is it dangerous?”
“No. Shouldn’t be.”
Stew slopped into the bowl, and the smell of hot barley tugged sluggishly at Tobias’ nostrils.
“I thought you were giving all that up. You said you were.”
“It’s nothing to do with Athenril,” he said—and that was the truth, whether she believed it or not. “Or the Red River boys, or anyone else.”
“No?” Leandra didn’t sound convinced. “Well, it’s not to safe to be out all night. I just wish you’d—”
“I can look after myself, Mother.”
Most of the time. Unless I’m drunk and there’s more than three of them.
She narrowed her eyes. “I know, but I’m still entitled to worry. And I will. When will you be back?”
Tobias shrugged. “Late. I don’t know. Depends on… well, on the arrangements.”
“Whatever arrangements have been made,” he said, as patiently as he could manage. “I’m… helping someone, that’s all.”
Leandra nodded slowly. “A mage?”
Tobias stopped, bowl in his hand, and blinked owlishly at his mother. He hadn’t expected her to jump to such an accurate conclusion… and he hadn’t expected the steel in her tired blue eyes when she looked at him, demanding an answer with quiet tenacity.
“That’s what you’re doing, isn’t it? That’s why you’re so bitter about the Knight-Commander all of a sudden.”
“Huh.” Tobias scoffed, trying to defuse the inevitable and awkward questions. “Well, I was never exactly her biggest fan, but—”
The protestations died on his lips as his mother stared at him, looking so awfully weary and disillusioned. She shook her head.
“Your father would be very proud, I’m sure.”
And what’s that supposed to mean?
He held back the response, telling himself the bitter tone in her voice was just worry, just tiredness… no matter what else it felt like.
Leandra dropped the ladle back into the cookpot, and her warm, raw-boned hand rested briefly on his wrist before she picked up her own bowl and moved away.
“Be careful, though, won’t you, darling? Promise me?”
Tobias nodded. “Yes. Mother, I….”
He stopped, hearing the familiar shambling tread of weaving footsteps coming up to the door.
Always at the most inconvenient bloody time!
“That’ll be your uncle,” Leandra said mildly, setting the bowl down on the table and moving back to serve another. “Come along. Eat up, before it gets cold.”
The door opened and Gamlen shuffled in, smelling of sour wine. The intertwined light of the candles and the hearth picked out every wrinkled line and crumpled angle of his form, and he glowered at Tobias.
“Oh. Gracing us with your presence this evening, are you?”
Leandra sighed as she served her brother’s meal. “Can’t you both just be pleasant to each other for once? Is that too much to ask?”
Tobias eyed his uncle coolly as the older man shucked off his coat.
“Not for me,” he muttered, crossing to the table and taking a seat beside his mother.
Gamlen grunted something intelligible and came over to join them, pausing to toss a loaf of bread on the table before he sat.
Tobias watched it drop and settle, like a spinning penny coming to rest, the hard, soot-smudged crust making a dull scrape against the wood. Evenings like this, he supposed, the estate and all the responsibilities and privileges it entailed really didn’t sound so bad.
Dinner was predictably awkward, but Leandra’s icy peace-keeping avoided all-out verbal warfare.
Tobias grabbed a few hours of sleep, and left the house late. The full, greasy sluice of moonlight across Lowtown’s dirt-packed streets made everything look muted and unreal, with the occasional thin silver highlight running like water down the line of a roof or wall.
The hunched black shapes of bodies in doorways barely stirred as he passed. A cough or two, the mumble of someone considering waylaying a foolish night-time traveller—until they saw the blade in his belt and the determination in his gait—and that was all.
It didn’t take long to get down to the docks, where torches burned at the mouths of the alleyways, and life spilled out into the streets.
Tobias headed straight for his destination, glad of the thin cloak he’d thrown on before he left the house, and the defence it provided against prying eyes.
The Three Tuns was not one of the most salubrious taverns that lined the docks, but neither was it one of the worst.
Most of the clientele were Port Authority men, of dubious morality and a vituperatively bureaucratic turn of mind. The labourers and dockhands tended to drink elsewhere, with a few exceptions, so the Tuns generally boasted a relatively quiet and restrained atmosphere. This was probably enhanced by the fact that Fat Molly, the landlord’s wife, would beat the living snot out of any man who disturbed her house… or the quiet little operation she ran upstairs.
A hefty woman—of the kind who resembled a statue of some infamous barbarian king, but sculpted mainly from sausagemeat—Molly was the force behind the Tuns and the three things it was known for: strong beer, unloaded dice, and cheap, clean women. There were only a couple of girls who worked out of the tavern, but they offered one of the few places in Kirkwall the Coterie didn’t have a cut in and, as far as Tobias knew, because of that, there wasn’t a guild or company in the city that felt the irresistible urge to piss Molly off.
It made her place a very good, very quiet, very safe place to meet… unless she didn’t like the look of the person you were meeting. Molly could be very particular about anyone who resembled a guild man.
Fortunately for Tobias, as he slipped into the well-lit, smoky bar, pushing the hood of his cloak back, the very last thing he looked like was a respectable, well-upholstered thief. He’d spent a great deal of time at the Tuns during rough patches in Athenril’s employ, when dallying anywhere the Coterie had tendrils hadn’t been a good idea, and that lent a genuine warmth to the smile with which Molly greeted him.
“Well, well! Look what the bleedin’ cat dragged in!”
He grinned as the immense woman beamed at him, frizzy brown curls springing from the loose bun at the back of her neck and standing out from her head like a halo.
“Serah Hawke… well I never. I ’eard you was too good for us now,” she chided teasingly, leaning on the pitted wooden bar, a dirty dishrag slung over one shoulder.
Tobias spread his hands wide in a gesture of innocence, and eased his way through the comparatively genteel crush of bodies.
The quiet buzz of conversation and the clatter of plates and mugs filled the stale, warm air, and candle smoke wreathed the firelight. At The Hanged Man, a fight would probably have broken out by now or, at the very least, one of the regular drunks would be being sick over somebody.
“Me? Never, Molly! Where’d you hear that? It’s all lies.”
She cackled, her thick lips spread flat over yellowed stumps of teeth, and the wattle of her neck wobbled.
“They say you’re moving uphill, boy. Be your piss washing down to wet us next, won’t it?”
Tobias shook his head. “Not if I can help it, Moll. Still, funny old life, innit?”
Fat Molly’s laughter subsided into a squint-eyed look of intrigue, her mouth still twisted around a smile.
“Aye,” she said dubiously. “That it is. So, what you ’avin’?”
“Your best rot-gut, my dear, if you’d be so kind.” Tobias flashed her another grin. “And one for yourself. Leave the bottle? I’ll be meeting a friend.”
Molly nodded, and set two practically clean glasses down in front of him. She produced an unlabelled bottle of thick, dark green glass, uncorked it, and pushed it across to him as Tobias slid a couple of silvers towards her.
He remembered, before the Blight, back in Ferelden, when ale was no more than a couple of coppers a pint, and a bottle of spirits could be bought for less than half a silver. Sure, the price of everything had changed—refugees, plagues, darkspawn and Maker only knew what else had seen to that—but it still stung, and Molly set her rates high even given local standards. The price of impartiality was pretty damn steep, he guessed.
Nevertheless, he thanked her, and took the glasses and bottle over to a small, empty table in a quiet nook near the fire. A candle stood on the rickety table, burning low in a clay saucer. All that remained was to wait… and, ideally, not to drink too much of the rough, faintly brown liquid that Tobias suspected Molly probably brewed in a bathtub.
He watched the door for a while, and drank a couple of short measures of the… whatever it was. The familiar, comforting burn at the back of his throat made the memory of Leandra’s lumpy stew and awkward questions a little more distant, but midnight still seemed to be a long way off.
The tavern was too far from Hightown to reliably hear the chantry’s midnight service bell, but close enough to the docks to catch the ships’ mid-watch bells ringing out. Their solemn chimes drifted up—audible in the general stillness of the night—and, as if on cue, a hooded figure slipped into the tavern.
The clutches of patrons had begun to thin out, which made him all the more conspicuous. Dark folds of heavy fabric hung over a short, thin frame… not the man Tobias had been expecting to see, he realised. No shabby coat, no damp fringe of feathers; and yet whoever it was clearly knew why he was there.
The figure paused for a moment by the doors, surveying the tavern, and then headed straight for Tobias. His steps slowed as he drew closer, and a pair of lean, tanned hands rose to push the hood of his cloak back a little way, revealing a narrow sliver of a face.
Gethyn Drummer slipped into the seat opposite Tobias, and propped his elbows on the table.
“Serah,” he said, surveying Tobias coolly with those hard, black eyes.
Tobias inclined his head. “Nice to see you again.”
The other man, his hood still mostly covering his face, gave a small, eloquent grunt that suggested he really didn’t agree with that statement. “Hmm. Do you have it?”
Tobias poured out another measure of Molly’s rotgut for himself, and one for Gethyn.
“Is it arranged?” he asked, pushing the glass across the table.
Gethyn snorted irritably, but took the drink. “We don’t ask questions,” he muttered, knocking it back in a business-like manner. “Neither should you.”
Tobias shrugged. He supposed he shouldn’t be sitting here with his head uncovered, either, being so easily identifiable. Rather, he should have swathed himself up in fourteen yards of black silk, and pretended to be part of a street gang.
Bloody paranoid… and they say Anders is weird. Huh.
“Sorry,” he said lightly. “I haven’t done this before.”
Gethyn held out the glass, and Tobias topped it off, then downed his own shot and poured another. Whatever Molly made the moonshine from, it was strong stuff: the pleasant tug of light-headedness pulled at him, and what flavour the liquid had warmed his every breath.
“I still want to know, though,” he said quietly, peering at the other apostate. “Call it curiosity or genuine concern, but… I want to know the boy will be safe.”
The stub of candle burning on the table between them guttered, and a thin trail of wax began to drip from the saucer to the greasy, scarred wood.
Gethyn exhaled slowly, and glared at Tobias from within the folds of his cloak. “Of course he bloody will. D’you think this is the first run we’ve arranged?”
“No. But he’s not like most others, is he? I bet you don’t send many to T—”
“Shh!” Gethyn glanced urgently around the bar. “Are you stupid, or what?”
Tobias stifled a snort of laughter. “Andraste’s tits, man… who’s going to hear, or care, in here? I thought that was the whole point of—”
“Just be quiet, all right?” Gethyn whispered, leaning across the table.
The flickering candlelight painted shadows inside the folds of his cloak, making his eyes glitter dangerously, and shading hollows into his thin cheeks.
The smile fell from Tobias’ face, and he slumped back in his seat, raising his glass to his lips like an old habit.
“Fine,” he mumbled. “Sorry.”
There was a shuffle of movement near the front of the bar: a gaggle of men weaving unsteadily out of the door, homeward bound in the late dark. Molly wished them a loud and effusive farewell, and went back to wiping mugs with her dirty dishrag.
From upstairs, there came a few muffled giggles and the thump of a door closing.
“He did say you’d probably ask,” Gethyn said quietly, raising his glass to his lips. “Our mutual friend. He’s been busy. And yes… you’re right. Not many birds who fly that far north, if you know what I mean. That’s what’s made it difficult.”
“And expensive,” Tobias added. “Yes?”
“Yeah. So… do you have it?”
Beneath the table, Tobias’ fingers flexed on the coin purse. In total, he’d managed to cobble together nearly four hundred sovereigns—far more than Anders’ note had asked for, and far more than his last contribution to the Underground’s efforts. Obviously, getting Feynriel to Tevinter would be more difficult, and more expensive, than moving a whole group of apostates via the Ostwick road.
He only hoped it would work.
“Yes. When does he go? The boy. Because of his mother… it’ll be hard on her,” Tobias explained, as Gethyn narrowed his eyes.
“Hmph. Friend of hers, are you? Wondered why you took such an interest in this.”
Tobias winced. “I take an interest because he could be any of us,” he said, lowering his voice. “Besides—”
“They all could,” Gethyn said darkly. “And you would be best advised to learn how to keep things like this short and clean, messere. You understand?”
“Fine.” Tobias scowled. “Just tell me when it’ll be.”
Gethyn’s glare grew harder, and he hunched further forwards, brow heavily furrowed as he tugged his cloak tighter around him.
Couldn’t look less inconspicuous if you tried, could you, love?
“Within the week,” he said quietly, his voice a low rasp beneath the tavern’s bustle. “That’s all I’ll say.”
“It isn’t much.”
“No, and there’s good reason for that,” Gethyn spat. “We don’t know you. I don’t trust you. But our mutual friend does… more fool him. You’re only here because he said you’d be good for the money. So, are you?”
Scorn and ire positively oozed from his words, every line of his body set into a silent challenge.
Tobias shrugged minutely, trying to ignore the humiliating wash of angry recrimination in his veins. He should have known where he stood, he supposed.
“I have to be, don’t I?”
Gethyn’s eyes narrowed, his face a beaten quire of copper between the rough wool cloak and the jumping candle flame.
“Our friend made the deal,” he snapped. “You don’t like it, you talk to him.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t like it. I just want to know what’s going to happen to the boy.”
“Maker’s cock….” Gethyn’s face twisted into a grimace of distaste. “I told you. That’s not the way we do things. It’s safer the fewer people who know. Why don’t you just—”
“I want to know,” Tobias said quietly. “And then I’ll give you what I’ve got.”
He met Gethyn’s angry stare unflinchingly, and waited calmly for the twitching of the other man’s thin lips to subside.
“Fine,” Gethyn muttered. “I mean, he’ll probably tell you anyway, won’t he?”
He hunched forwards, leaning further than ever across the little table, his words whispered like a dark chant.
“He’ll go via Antiva, in a merchant’s train. Don’t ask how we arranged it. There’s protection all the way—two of ours will be travelling with them—then there’s a man in the north who deals with safe places. I can’t say more than that.”
Tobias nodded thoughtfully. Incognito apostates planted in baggage trains, networks of safe houses and lynchpins of organisation… well, the Underground really was a vast and sprawling network, wasn’t it?
Gethyn snorted. “Hm. Dunno why you didn’t just wait for the pillow talk. Come on, then. You got it or not?”
Tobias blinked, bridling a little on that moment of surprise that shouldn’t really have been surprising at all. Gossip, naturally, spread its tawny fingers through everything. No great wonder that half of Kirkwall thought he and Anders were screwing—and yet it felt like an insult, like an attack on one or both of them.
The Underground would use it against Anders, he supposed, when they turned on him. And they would turn… at some point. He didn’t doubt that.
He eyed Gethyn curiously, trying to find a chink in the man’s armour of prickly irritability, and found himself rewarded only with another scowl.
Tobias pushed the bag under the table, nudging it against the apostate’s knee. “There.”
“How much?” Gethyn asked, as his fingers closed on the purse and he pulled it eagerly into his lap.
“Three hundred and eighty-six,” Tobias murmured. “I can get another thirty tomorrow, but no more than that for a while. Is it enough?”
Gethyn nodded curtly, making a manful effort at disguising his surprise. If he was impressed, he didn’t show it. “Hm. It’ll do.”
He knocked back the last of his drink, and rose from the table, the coin purse effortlessly concealed beneath his cloak.
“I suppose our friend might be right about you,” he added, looking down his nose at Tobias. “He says we can trust you. He says he trusts you. ’Course, I ’spect your kind stick together, don’t you?”
Tobias arched an eyebrow. “Oh? Do we?”
“Mm. Bloody dog-lords,” Gethyn said shortly, tugging his cloak around himself and glancing towards the tavern’s door.
From behind the bar, Fat Molly was eyeing them suspiciously. She nodded in Tobias’ direction, and he inclined his head, returning the gesturely evenly.
“Yes,” he said, with a small, thin smile. “I expect we do.”