Justice in Surrender: Chapter 29

Tobias is called to the Keep, and has to hear some unwanted advice. Also: terrible dwarven porn.

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Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
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Leandra was out when Tobias arrived back at the house, and Gamlen was nowhere to be seen, which was a blessing. He was pretty sure he couldn’t have coped with the old goat’s snide commentary on top of everything else, and he relished his privacy as he hauled the wooden tub off the back of the door and set it in front of the fire. It took two trips to the pump to fetch enough water to bathe properly and clean his gear, but it was worth it.

As he sat naked in the grubby, tepid bath, the fire’s warmth licking at the edges of the tub and gnawing the chill from the air, Tobias squeezed out a washcloth and scowled at the soap, as it if it was somehow to blame for everything. He scrubbed every part of himself, the darkness behind his eyes still stained with flashes of light and fountains of blood.

He soaked his body until the heat faded from the bath, and tried not to think about the cricks in his back and neck that he’d accrued from sleeping in such a bloody awkward position. Mostly, he also tried not to think about Anders, and how that infuriating, impossible bastard was so… well, bloody infuriating.

It was hard to stop thinking about him, though. Everything he’d done, everything he was… how afraid he’d been, and how he’d changed the whole shape of Tobias’ world in the few moments he’d been in his arms.

You’re never going to own up to it, though, are you? You and me… it’s all there, but you just won’t let it out. Why? Are you afraid? D’you think you’re protecting me? I don’t need protecting. Not from you. I don’t want protecting.

Maybe it just wasn’t enough. Tobias didn’t want to believe that, not after everything. So much flirtation, so much promise and potential and gut-wrenchingly provocative possibility! He knew Anders wanted him. It was there in every look that passed between them, every supposedly innocuous word and gesture. It had been there since the beginning—unmistakeable, like it had been the night in The Hanged Man, when Anders had been so rude to Sebastian Vael. Hard to believe, Tobias thought, that he’d so relished it then; that he’d revelled in that fit of sulky, angry jealousy over His Royal Shininess, and thought it meant that Anders cared.

Maybe it did. But it didn’t change anything. A dozen princes, a hundred whores… none of it would mean anything next to the things that really mattered to Anders: his precious cause, and his beloved Underground. They were what fuelled him—what fuelled Justice—and fuelling Justice, in turn, was what propelled him.

Tobias groaned, and let the cloth fall damply to the floorboards beside the tub. The Underground…! They thought Anders was mad. Dangerous. The cracks were already showing; Creer and his Resolutionist cohorts were focusing more and more on the politics, not the personal. They talked about mages as a single entity, a brotherhood—acting for the good of everyone, for every mage—but did bugger all for those individuals who were trying to escape. The whole movement was breaking up, creaking under the weight of increasingly violent politics… just as Anders himself was starting to— no, not crack, Tobias corrected himself. He was struggling, clearly, but… he wasn’t mad. He needed support. He needed someone to help him.

So why the fuck can’t it be me?

Everything was going wrong. It was all such a fucking mess, and here he was, picking it all apart like a lovestruck fool, and ignoring the single greatest factor that coloured everything: maybe, just maybe, he couldn’t help, and that was what kept Anders shying away.

He didn’t want to believe it, didn’t want to think it could be true, but the possibility was there nonetheless, and Tobias was forced to admit—especially after the Gallows—that the extent of Justice’s power was terrifying. Maybe there was no working past that, no way of being with the man behind the spirit’s mask.

He was still hung up on trying, though. Still hung up on worrying about that infuriating, impossible, incredible bastard, no matter how many time he pulled away, or how many times he made Tobias want to throttle him.

After everything that had happened, there was no turning back, even if there was no going forward.

And where does that leave me? In the middle of the lake, with no fucking boat, that’s where. Oh, by the Maker’s pimpled arse… I could kill that man.

I hope he’s all right, though.

Tobias sighed glumly, then dunked his head to rinse his hair and got out of the tub, drying off and slipping on some old, comfortable clothes as he turned his attention to his gear. Anders would be fine… for now. He had Saryha with him at the clinic, and Selby was primed for taking charge of him, which she’d probably do as soon as she got the note Tobias had sent for her via one of the Underground’s couriers in Lowtown. He smiled mirthlessly as he imagined Selby striding into the clinic, scattering bandages and patients in her wake, and bundling Anders up in all of that sharp, uncompromising, protective loyalty of hers. Tobias was glad the healer had her as a friend, even if he wished Anders would let him half as close as he did Selby.

The memory of the night before pricked at him then… stripping Anders’ bloody coat from him and slipping him into bed, then dozing fitfully on his floor, feeling like some kind of thief in the dark, intruding on his fear and his privacy.

Tobias scowled to himself, wishing it wasn’t so easy to remember the bloodshed, or what Alrik had been doing down in the fortress’ pit… and wishing that, given everything that had happened, he wasn’t still quite so full up with memories of the way Anders had felt in his arms.

You already know you’re a fool, Hawke. No need to be an idiot as well.

He swore under his breath as he tossed his blades and a pot of polish onto the table, next to the handful of letters that had been waiting for him when he came in. Gamlen had already opened most of them. He thought his way of steaming the seals with a kettle and lifting them was sneaky, but he was either too incompetent or too lazy to ever soften the wax and stick it back properly. Tobias was half of a mind to show him how to do it right, but he didn’t want to encourage the old fart. Anyway, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t as if there’d been any coin in them. They were mostly to do with the estate: bills and reports from the joiner, mason, and cabinet-maker Bodahn had arranged. He’d been invited to go and view the progress they’d made on the main part of the house—kitchens, cellar, main hall, library, bedrooms… and that was more than enough, Tobias thought, appalled to discover there was actually an additional wing to the place, plus gardens and an undercroft—and, apparently, Bodahn was trying to sell him a number of ‘interesting artefacts’ that would ‘complement the interior décor’.

Tobias hadn’t been aware that there was going to be décor, although he supposed he should have expected it. Leandra would have her way; there would be rugs, and drapes, and upholstery, and fine china and delicate chairs that you didn’t dare sit on too heavily, and he would quietly suffocate beneath it all.

Leandra was still threatening him with a new wardrobe. She was more cheerful these days, and kept saying things that worried him; things about ‘moving up in the world’ and ‘befitting ourselves better’.

Tobias was developing an absolute horror of her trying to make him wear ruched breeches and velvet coats.

He was sitting at the table, cleaning his daggers, when she came in. At first, he thought the look she gave him was because of that—she disliked the grease and the inelegance of weapons on the table they ate at—but the paleness in her cheeks and her drawn, worried brows soon painted it as more.

Tobias put down the blade and polishing cloth, frowning as he looked up at her. “Mother?”

Leandra’s mouth bowed into a circle as her gaze found him, and she closed the door behind her, leaning heavily against the wood.

“Oh, darling… I’m glad you’re here. I heard the most horrible thing while I was out!”

Tobias was already out of his chair, and his heartbeat quickened at her words, though he tried not to let it show. “Everything all right?”

She shook her head, reaching out to take his hands and holding tight to them with her worn, slender fingers. Her eyes, blue and wide as summer skies, seemed hollow with fear. “They’re saying there was a rebellion in the Circle! People were murdered, and there were fires… it’s horrible! I’m so worried for your brother. D’you think I could go to the garrison and ask if he’s all right? No, he wouldn’t want me to do that, would he?” She pursed her lips, answering her own questions and making Tobias feel even more useless—and even more treacherous—than he had to start with. Not that she noticed. “I mean, if something had happened, they’d let us know, wouldn’t they? Oh, I can’t stand it, though… my little boy!”

Tobias bit the inside of his cheek until it hurt, focusing on that small, dark star of pain.

“I’m sure he’s all right, Mother. Take more than a few scuffles to shake Carv up, wouldn’t it?” He tried to smile, to reassure her, but his head was full of dead templars; bodies whose helmets he’d been too afraid to peer beneath. “What… what exactly did you hear?”

Leandra shook her head, as if details and facts were an annoying irrelevance. “Everyone was talking about it in the bazaar. They say a handful of mages escaped, and a Knight-Captain was killed. I don’t know much else, but I did see a detachment escorting that Formari trader to the Gallows. I suppose it’s for their own safety, isn’t it? If things are flaring up, there’ll be a lot of anger towards mages. Even the enchanters.”

She turned her gaze away from his face when she said that, he noticed. She never did look him in the eye anymore when she said ‘mage’, not that she said it often.

Kirkwall had changed her, Tobias supposed, because he never remembered her being so ashamed of magic when his father was alive.

Leandra drew her hands out of his, and moved away, unpacking her basket of shopping with a weary sigh.

“Well, anyway,” she said, shaking her head resignedly, “I don’t suppose there’s much we can do. I just we hope we hear something from Carver soon. And you shouldn’t stay out so late! It can’t be safe…. I saw Aveline’s new patrols in the square, but the guard can’t be everywhere, especially after dark….”

Yeah, and thank Andraste for that.

Tobias suppressed the urge to make a rude comment about Guard-Captain Mage-Hater and her interfering clampdown on the coast roads. It was costing the Coterie money which, in turn, cost everyone else money, too. In the past month alone, raids on port vessels had been down by a third, and hundreds of sovereigns’ worth of goods had been seized. Word in the dockside taverns had it that some of the Raiders who haunted the coast were thinking about upping sticks and heading elsewhere. Tobias only hoped that the loss in corrupt revenue would be noticed by the city’s elite—who, naturally, profited just as much from the black market trade as the pirates—before Aveline managed to clear things up so much that the entirety of Kirkwall went broke.

“I need to work, Mother,” he said, as a nominal sort of protest to the nagging she’d settled into as she set a series of irregular, hoary vegetables into a bowl, ready to wash and peel.

Oh, good. Turnips.

Leandra tutted, and he knew what was coming next, although at least giving her this well-worn ground to pick over offered a distraction from worrying about Carver.

“It’s not work, though, is it? You do this here, that there… your father always said, have a trade, make some connections. And—”

Yes, because that was really easy when we moved around all the time, running out of every village we settled in, just in case the templars caught wind of us. And Lothering… Lothering was positively overburdened with opportunities for learning a trade, wasn’t it, Mother? I could have been a blacksmith. Or a potato-picker. Or… oh, wait, no. That was it.

He gritted his teeth, and said nothing.

“—you’ll certainly need to think about the people you spend your time with, once we’ve moved into the estate.”

Tobias exhaled slowly, keeping a firm and heavily controlled grip on his temper. Leandra shook her head as she tied her apron around her waist, and tucked her neatly combed hair behind her ears.

“All I’m saying, darling, is that you need to think about how things affect you socially. I mean, those elves you’re friends with… they’re a bit… well, odd. Aren’t they? Don’t you think?”

He bit down on a smirk. ‘Odd’ was probably the mildest thing he’d heard Fenris described as in a long while. It fitted Merrill, though. He shrugged.

“They’re good people. And we’re all odd to someone, aren’t we?”

Leandra tutted again, her reproach heavy this time, though she didn’t look at him, still busying herself with whatever set of chores she’d decided needed doing in order that she not think about Carv. It looked to Tobias like she was planning on making a stew.

“I don’t think so, no. Not… well. You know. And that pirate girl of yours… I haven’t seen her around much.”

She sounded almost hopeful at that. Tobias pulled a face.

“Isabela’s still trying to find a ship. She thought she had a chance at a cutter out of Amaranthine or somewhere last month, but it didn’t work out. She’s, uh, she’s not my—”

Leandra held up her hands. “Oh, far be it from me to pry, darling. It’s your life. I just… well, you know. You’ll want to meet someone on a similar social level, that’s all.”

Tobias winced. At times like this, he really wondered if his mother was still all there. It was as if she’d slipped backwards in time to some forgotten corner of her youth, where she was talking to some other young girl with social-climber parents and a butterfly brain fixed only on husbands and dancing.

Not that I’d say no to a nobleman’s son with a fine chateau and a great big, uh, coinpurse.

Probably.

There was no sense in arguing, of course, especially when Leandra was dwelling so hard on Carver… just as there was no sense in trying to say that, whatever the rumoursmiths in the city tried to make of it, the so-called ‘rebellion’ in the Gallows had been a rescue.

No, it was better she didn’t know anything about that. He didn’t like deceiving her the way he was… but it was better than trying to bear the look she’d have on her face if she knew even half the truth of what he’d done.

With that in mind, Tobias sighed and nodded dully. “Yes, Mother.”

~o~O~o~

He still felt frustrated, sore, and unsettled. Nothing seemed to take the edge off it, and this inability to concentrate properly annoyed him, because it quickly turned into a busy few days.

Tobias started with meeting the steward and the workmen at the estate, to approve the progress they’d made. To be fair, the place was looking a lot more liveable, and he could see the grandeur some of the larger rooms must once have had. He liked the library best, he decided, although he wasn’t sure why they really needed one. It was a nice room, though: small stone fireplace, panelled walls (mostly intact, with only a few restorations needed), and a west-facing window that would catch the full fall of the sunset. Bodahn waved his hands around a lot and talked about the shelf space, and the number of volumes they would hold, and how he had a remarkable deal on an entire series of fascinating histories by one of the Chantry’s best-known scholars, complete with the most interesting little illustrations.

“I like the pictures!” piped up Sandal, the man’s idiot son, and possibly it was his open, cheerful countenance and completely guileless enthusiasm that had Tobias caving in and saying yes, all right, he’d take them, and he was sure they’d be a fine addition to the collection.

Collection? I don’t have a collection. Mother has a few prayer books and whatnot, and we buy the occasional almanac… other than that, the only books I ever have are the dirty ones of Varric’s, and that’s only because he gives me free copies to show off.

A sudden and yet very amusing vision of filling all the acres of dark wood shelves with various permutations of Hard in Hightown crossed Tobias’ mind, and he stifled a snort.

He was still chuckling slightly to himself when he left the estate, and almost collided with a courier in Viscount Dumar’s livery. Tobias’ gut pitched towards his boots the moment he saw the man, and his mood did not improve when a scroll bearing the Dumar seal was thrust towards him.

“Important business, serah,” the courier said, shifting from foot to foot impatiently. “Glad I found you here, else I’d have had to scour the whole city for you. Like as not could’ve taken all day.”

He cleared his throat meaningfully. Tobias blinked, looking up from breaking the seal on the letter, and rolled his eyes.

“What? Oh. Fine.” He pulled a couple of silvers’ tip from his purse and tossed the coins at the courier. “Thanks.”

“Much obliged, ser,” the man chirped, touching his thumb to his forehead as he pocketed the silvers and turned tail.

Tobias curled his lip at the figure retreating across the white paving stones. The sun glinted weakly off the high, pale bones of the buildings, and he still couldn’t feel at home here.

He folded the brief, curt letter in his fingers, and tucked it into his jerkin.

Well, well, well… I don’t like this one tiny bit.

He was summoned to the viscount’s office, it seemed. And by Saemus Dumar, of all people.

Not my favourite heathen. Wonder what the little shit-bag wants?

Given that he was already more than halfway to the Keep, Tobias could hardly refuse, so he swallowed his displeasure and trudged up to the top of the town, with no idea why he was supposed to be there, or what in the Maker’s name the viscount’s son wanted.

The last time Tobias had seen the boy, he’d been forcibly dragging him back to the city, and Saemus had been merrily spitting bile and vitriol, because he didn’t want to go. He’d wanted to stay with the qunari, and Tobias didn’t know whether that meant he’d been indoctrinated in some way, or whether it was a case of a noble brat desperate to piss off Daddy, or simply that—next to the kind of life of privilege and stultifying ease that so terrified Tobias himself—the Qun had looked like a good option.

In all honesty, he didn’t much care. It wasn’t his problem. He’d been tasked with providing the safe return of Dumar’s son, and that was what he’d delivered. Signed, sealed, paid for. The politics weren’t his problem.

Of course, this was Kirkwall. Politics were everybody’s problem.

Two years ago, Tobias had run foul of that when that ice-blonde Chantry bitch, Petrice, had set him up. He’d underestimated it all at the time; underestimated her, and the strength of anti-qunari feeling among certain disgruntled elements of Kirkwall’s citizenry. The city had been ridden hard by the influx of refugees, the run-off of the Blight and the Fereldan civil war, and the unrest that had seeped over from the rest of the Marches, not t mention Orlais. They needed someone to blame, and if it wasn’t mages then it would be dog-lord refugees, or grey-skinned heathens.

That hate—that viscous, palpable scum that settled over the city’s disenfranchised and coated their poverty—was easy to use. Dangerously easy for someone like Petrice, and the radical fringe elements she represented. She would have let him die, and claimed it as murder; claimed it as a catalyst to set Kirkwall in flames, as long as it meant the qunari burning too. Tobias might not have been the most devout of men, but even he was fairly sure that wasn’t a particularly Andrastean thing to do.

Fair enough, he’d thrown a curve in her plan, though it hadn’t ended the way he’d imagined. Sometimes, he still dreamed about the qunari mage, kneeling in the sand and immolating himself… burning on the coals of his own magic, but not because he was afraid, or couldn’t bear to go back to the compound; because he’d believed he deserved it, that it was the only natural, inevitable end. That frightened Tobias.

And they say mages are all demons in waiting. Huh. We’re not the bloody monsters.

We never have been.

~o~O~o~

Weak sunlight glimmered on the bronze and marble that seemed to decorate everything in the Keep’s vicinity and, as he entered the enormous, impressive sweep of the building’s first hall, Tobias was hit with a gust of warm air. They kept fires burning to stave off the cold, and the whole place somehow seemed to smell of woodsmoke and stale velvet. The guards on duty by the doors slouched in their shiny livery, and the usual roster of plaintiffs, well-heeled nobles, gentry, and merchants all crowded into the wide rooms, waiting for the seneschal’s clerks and notaries to deal with their respective pieces of civic business. Licenses, legal actions, trading charters, inter-guild matters… the bureaucracy of running a city was never-ending, and it made a goodly part of Tobias hunger nostalgically for the simplicity of a smuggler’s life. Everything was easier when all you had to know was when the ships were coming in, and how much you could sell the contraband for.

Maker, some days he even missed Athenril, no matter the poor terms they’d parted on, or the number of times she’d screwed him out of his fair share of the loot.

“But I demand to see the viscount!” piped up a man in a red doublet, not far to Tobias’ left. He was balding and rather skinny, but a wattle of skin shook beneath his chin like the comb of an irate bantam cock. “I will have my case heard!”

“Yes, messere, of course,” promised a clerk, clutching a leather document wallet under one arm, and trying in vain to usher the man towards a side chamber. “If you could step this way for just a moment….”

Huh. Busy day today, then. The pricks are out in force.

Tobias skirted the knots of people, suppressing his mix of distaste and sardonic amusement. He disliked coming to the Keep intensely. Having the estate to his name made no difference; he was never going to fit in up here, among the silks and the embroidered finery. He didn’t want to, of course. This never had been his world, and it never would be. Not if he could help it.

He wound his way through the throngs of fat-jowled, indignantly clucking plaintiffs and officious-looking hangers-on, aiming for the sweeping marble staircase that led to the upper floor. Another of the harassed-looking clerks was trying to control a young nobleman who apparently didn’t feel he was receiving a sufficient degree of attention.

“Messere, please stop kicking the wall….”

Tobias jogged up the steps, his boots snapping sharp little taps against the stone, soon lost beneath the murmur of conversation.

He had to show the letter with the Dumar seal on it to a handful of different guards but, eventually, he was let through and given leave to go up yet another staircase and along a narrow corridor lined with aged oil portraits.

Just past the wan and mournful face of Perrin Threnhold, the former viscount, his effigy now pushed into this dim and forgotten corner, Tobias came to an ornately carved wooden door. He rapped on it, and found it swung open beneath the weight of his hand.

Great. Not creepy at all.

He gritted his teeth and entered the small privy chamber.

“Ah, Serah Hawke. Thank you for coming.”

Something about the tone in that voice made Tobias’ heart sink, and he squinted warily around the chamber. There were no guards, no clerks… just Saemus Dumar, sitting behind a wide and rather ugly wooden desk, which was strangely undecorated with the kind of curlicues and ornate twirly bits that characterised most of the furnishings in his father’s office. In fact, the whole room had the dusty, cluttered and yet oddly functional air of a space that had been pressed into use against its original purpose.

Huh. Wonder what he’s up to that needs running from an old broom cupboard.

Saemus—neatly dressed in a smart green doublet and fine hose, after the Orlesian styles that had been growing fashionable lately—seemed to be sifting through a number of stacks of paper, but he pushed them aside as Tobias entered.

“Please,” he said, gesturing to a chair that stood against the wall, next to a shelf groaning beneath the weight of several leather-bound tomes, “sit down.”

Tobias shook his head, instantly suspicious of the hospitality, awkward though the young man’s manner seemed to be. “I’m fine. Wasn’t expecting a summons from you, I must say. My lord,” he added, the words injected with a calculated lack of emphasis.

Saemus looked pained by the appellation, and Tobias suppressed a smirk, remembering all the idealistic claptrap the boy had been prone to spouting about the pressures and imprisonment of his position. But then he shook his head, and a terrible clarity of sadness crossed those sharp, bright blue eyes.

“I admit,” he said carefully, his light, beautifully-modulated voice not quite managing to disguise the tension behind his words, “I am pleasantly surprised to find you came. I… appreciate it, given that we did not originally meet under, uh, auspicious circumstances.”

Tobias allowed himself a small smirk.

That’s putting it mildly. You bit my sodding leg, you little git. Drew blood and everything. I have a scar the size of a silver to this very day.

The viscount’s son cleared his throat and looked away, straightening the edges of his paperwork with one thumb. Tobias supposed he might have been embarrassed by the memories. Or, just as likely, he wanted some other grubby bit of business doing and—as people of his class often were when calling on the services of people like Tobias—he was embarrassed by the messy, inelegant solutions his dirty work required.

Go on. What is it this time? More fanatics in Lowtown? Mobs baying for the blood of mages in the Foundry District? Or is it nobles up in arms because their elven servants keep converting to the Qun and leaving them short-staffed for dinner parties?

Saemus’ gaze picked urgently at the room’s dusty panelling, as if he hoped to find answers in it, and he seemed to be unwilling to say what needed to be said. Tobias crossed his arms slowly, hoping this wouldn’t take all afternoon. It wasn’t as if he really had anywhere else to be, but every minute in Hightown was starting to feel like a penance.

Still… there was something interesting here. The boy looked different to the way he had when they’d first met, up on a wild, wind-lashed bit of the Wounded Coast, with him so desperate to run off and join the qunari, and Ginnis Winters and her bunch of Nevarran mercenaries so desperate to collect on the bounty for preventing him from doing so.

She’d been a hard bitch, Ginnis. Tobias had never really felt able to regret her death, though he supposed it could have been avoided. He’d meant to find the brat before she did—that had been the whole point of heading up there early, with Fenris and Isabela at his back—but it had ended up a whole lot messier than he’d hoped. Ginnis had killed the qunari Saemus had been with, and would probably have been quite happy to return the boy to his father in a box… or at least minus a few teeth and a pint or so of blood. She should never have mouthed off like she had, though. The way she talked, she was no better than the Tevinter slavers, and the minute things went that way, Tobias had known he hadn’t got Fenris on a short enough leash to prevent bloodshed.

They’d all been paid, though. At the time, that had been the main thing.

“I didn’t realise it was you, you know,” Saemus said, his words spooling out to fill the awkward silence. “You… obviously, you were the one who… who brought me back, and—”

Yep. The one with the leg scar. From the biting.

“—I don’t think my father ever thanked you personally, did he?”

Tobias shook his head. “The seneschal paid the bounty, but I understand His Lordship was very pleased.”

Saemus’ pale cheeks tightened, his mouth folding into a compressed line as he nodded vacantly. “Yes. He… he didn’t understand. Nobody really—” He sighed abruptly, and ran a hand through his shock of dark hair as he looked up at Tobias. “You were the one who dealt with the incident in Lowtown. The poison gas.”

Oh, Maker… this again? This is going to be about the bastard qunari, isn’t it? I don’t have the sodding time for this….

Tobias nodded slowly, trying hard to keep a lid on the frustration bubbling within him. The boy looked like he was really struggling with something; his was the face of a person torn between things they wanted to say, and things they wanted to forget. Regrets seemed to dance in his pale eyes like moths, and when he spoke again he sounded so very sad.

“Your handling of the matter was admirable, Serah Hawke. Diplomatic, even. You… did not apportion any blame to the qunari. You kept things, shall we say, calm. Quiet. I… I remember that you were much the same when… when you brought me back. Not like that woman. The one who murdered Ashaad.”

And there it was: the break in the sadness, the thorn in the centre of his words. Bitterness laced Saemus’ voice briefly, and Tobias blinked, unsure quite what he was supposed to say.

Ginnis Winters, in her customary twisted way, had implied that the boy was an admirer of more than the qunari’s spiritual values. ‘Crossed a line’ or something, she’d said, hadn’t she? Tobias hadn’t thought much about it at the time, though he had wondered, given the state Saemus had worked himself into at the death of the qunari he’d called his friend.

Had she been right, though? Maker, was that even possible? Tobias had no idea, but he was a little curious. What did the Qun say about relationships between qunari and… not-qunari? It seemed odd to think of the specimens he’d seen in Kirkwall having any kind of intimate connection with anyone. Anyway, didn’t their word for everything that wasn’t qunari basically mean ‘thing’?

You’ve got to wonder, all the same. Hulking great big, muscle-bound… well, yeah.

Hmm. Are they that big all over?

“She was cruel,” Saemus said distantly, glancing up at him again. “You… I do not think you are, messere.”

Tobias blinked, dragging his mind out of the gutter and back to the matter at hand. “Um. Thank you?”

“My point is this. The whole city knows what happened in Lowtown,” Saemus said, running his thumb down the edge of the stack of papers on the desk. “The repercussions have already begun. So far, the people blame the fanatics who set the explosion, but it is known that the formula for the gas came from the compound. My father is concerned that this may lead to further increases in tensions with the kossith, and I believe he is right.”

“They did set the formula up to be stolen,” Tobias pointed out.

“Because the Arishok is aware how many basra covet the secret of gaatlock!” Saemus snapped, quickly holding up his hands in apology, and recovering his calm. “I’m sorry. But you must see how important it is we don’t allow things to deteriorate. With the kossith confined to the city, and numbers of viddethari growing, relations are getting worse.”

You know, I think they just make some of these words up….

Tobias arched an eyebrow. “And you want me to do what, exactly?”

“I would like you to meet with the Arishok again, serah. Please,” Saemus added, as Tobias grimaced. “He was impressed with how you handled the incident before… and that you did not allow the merchant, Javaris, to escape justice.”

Tobias winced. “That wasn’t really me. The Coterie—”

“Nevertheless,” Saemus continued, with exactly the same tone of voice and exactly the same dismissive wave of his hand that Tobias had seen in his father, “you showed the kossith that people in this city are not all without honour. I have been trying for some time to convince the Arishok to send a delegation to treat with my father; something official that we can build on. I… I know I have no place in politics, especially if—”

He broke off abruptly, but Tobias didn’t pause to consider the words left unsaid. He was too busy trying to imagine a qunari peace delegation.

“Seriously? You want me to go back to the Arishok, and ask him to send men here, to speak with the viscount?”

“Yes.”

He shook his head incredulously, gazing at the heavy leather books on the shelves, and the dusty wooden panels that lined the room. No wonder Saemus Dumar was hiding up here, away from public scrutiny and the note-taking of the seneschal’s clerks.

“But I don’t see what—”

“The Qun sets value upon actions, clarity of purpose…. You have demonstrated your skill and your honour, serah.”

Tobias winced, suddenly unable to stop the scenes from the Gallows—Maker, scenes from the whole time he’d spent in Kirkwall—playing themselves over in his mind. He knew what he was. It didn’t bother him, not really, but… it still felt odd to be spoken of this way.

Yeah. Honour and integrity. That’s me.

“To the Arishok,” Saemus went on, “this carries weight. Your opinion—your support in the matter of talks—will count for something in the eyes of the qunari. Please… visit the compound and speak with the Arishok. I do not agree with many things my father believes, but in this I think he’s right: the tensions in the city continue to rise. Talks can only help matters, and now is the right time.”

Tobias bit his tongue. As far as he’d been concerned, his involvement in the whole thing had been over. The qunari had their magic powder nice and safe, and—if they were actually surprised that the city’s restlessness over their presence was reaching fever pitch—then they took even less notice of bas, or whatever they called non-qunari, than it first appeared. And that, in Tobias’ opinion, was foolish. It was their insularity, their stubbornness, that would tip Kirkwall into an all-out fight if they weren’t careful.

He knew something about stubbornness… particularly how destructive and how sodding frustrating it was.

“Fine,” he muttered gracelessly. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Saemus Dumar smiled widely, and pushed a roll of parchment with his seal stamped upon it across the desk. “Excellent. I had hoped you’d say that.”

Tobias sighed as he took the paper, and glowered at the viscount’s son.

Great. Now I’m a glorified errand boy, as well as a street sweeper and a thug.

If I could only tell Mother half of what I get up to in order to keep her in food and curtain fabric, she’d be so proud.

~o~O~o~

Tobias trudged back to Lowtown with the parchment stuffed in his jerkin and a frown lodged on his brow.

Bloody qunari. Bloody nobility. Bloody Kirkwall… bloody everything.

There was going to be no way around it. Another audience with the Arishok looked inevitable, despite the fact that he had no wish whatsoever to get involved.

He supposed he could impose upon what little Fenris had of a good nature, and see if the elf would accompany him to the compound. His command of the language and understanding of qunari customs helped tremendously, although Tobias was still curious as to where all that knowledge came from. Fenris never had been very open about his past… something about falling in with Fog Warriors in Seheron, after escaping from his old master, not that he’d actually explained what a Fog Warrior was. After a while, Tobias had grown fed up of trying to prise the answers out of him and, with the elf growing increasingly drunk and prone to smattering the conversation with grumbled digs at mages and magic in general, he’d been happy to let Fenris keep his enigmatic shroud of mystery.

Still, he could get the story off Varric sometime, he supposed.

In fact, it was Varric’s suite at The Hanged Man he was heading towards. Going home held no particular appeal, and Tobias was damned if he was going to march down to the qunari compound like a lamb to the proverbial slaughter. Anyway, he needed a drink, and he didn’t want to go to the Rose.

The sunlight was stretching out into the last threads of afternoon by the time he got there. Tobias slouched into the bar, nodded moodily at Corff, and skirted a handful of patrons who were arguing loudly about an allegedly rigged Wallop match.

He knocked briefly on the door of Varric’s suite, pushing it open even before the echo had finished sounding.

“Hawke,” Varric observed from behind his writing desk, glancing up as Tobias stomped into the room. “Huh. You look positively chirpy.”

“I’m having a bastard of a day,” Tobias announced, throwing himself into one of the generously padded chairs. “I need a drink.”

Varric gestured to the carafe of wine on the table, standing on the crushed red velvet runner amid a collection of cups, goblets, and scattered books and pamphlets. “Help yourself. I’m fine, by the way, thank you for asking.”

Tobias grunted as he leaned forward to pour himself a cup. “Of course you are. You’re always fine.”

The dwarf arched an eyebrow. “I am? Oh, well, that’s good to know.”

Tobias smirked. It was testament to their friendship that he could march in here and be a dick like this, he supposed, especially given that this was the first time they’d seen each other since parting after the Gallows. That barely even merited mentioning, though he could see the fatigue still lingering in the dwarf’s face.

The wine wasn’t bad; a little dry, with a taste like berries and cinnamon. Tobias peered suspiciously into the cup as he slouched back in the chair, wondering what it was and where it came from. It reminded him of the stuff Fenris brought out from Danarius’ cellars, but Varric wasn’t usually given to laying on expensive Tevinter vintages for the gaggles of people who swarmed his suite every night.

“This is good stuff,” he observed, watching the dwarf scrawl across a series of pages, adding signatures and notes to what looked like letters and contracts.

Everyone in this bloody city is pushing a mountain of paper. And it all seems to end up causing work for me. Funny, that.

Varric grunted, but didn’t turn around. “Yeah. I, uh, I’m glad you showed up. I figure we might have a little cause for celebration.”

“Oh?” Tobias arched his brows as he took another swig. He still didn’t drink as much as he used to—as much he had before he’d promised Anders he’d cut down—but he was missing it more these days… and what point did there seem to be in keeping faith with anything the healer had asked of him?

“Yeah.” Varric laid his pen down and leaned back in his chair, frowning lightly. “I did have a little piece of news. A rumour, more than anything. You, uh, might not want to be near anything breakable when I tell you, though.”

Tobias took a long swallow of his wine. “Hmm. This sounds good.”

“A little bird tells me Bartrand might be coming back to town.”

He snorted, falling into an eye-watering fit of coughing and spluttering. “Bartrand? Here? Back in Kirkwall?”

Varric shrugged, and leaned an arm on the back of his chair. A hardness lingered in his expression—cold, and utterly immovable—and Tobias found himself heartened by it. He’d often wondered if, should that two-faced bastard ever show up again, Varric’s sense of familial loyalty might get in the way of some good old-fashioned revenge, but the look on the dwarf’s face suggested not.

“I’ve had an ear out for him this whole time,” Varric said, his ink-stained fingers playing along the carved back of his chair. “He went to Rivain, probably because he knew I couldn’t track him there, but… just recently? Seems he’s been calling in loans in Kirkwall. I think he’s coming back. He still has a house in Hightown, and I can’t think of a better market than here for that trinket he stole.”

Tobias screwed up his face. “Would he really risk it, though?”

“Bartrand?” Varric snorted. “I think we both know what he’ll do for money.”

“Huh. Fair point.” Tobias eyed his friend dubiously. “So… you want to go and see him? I mean, I’m not complaining if you do, you understand. I’ve missed Bartrand. And we have so much to talk about!”

A hard little smile curled Varric’s lips, and his eyes narrowed. “Yeah. Bianca’s been pining for him too. I figure we should be ready to welcome him to the neighbourhood the second his boat gets in. Thought you’d want to tag along.”

“Oh, yes.” Tobias smiled mirthlessly. “I love a good welcome home party.”

It was true. Even on top of everything that had happened beneath the Gallows, and with the bitterness of bloodshed still fresh in his mind, he couldn’t deny that the prospect of getting even with that treacherous sod was appealing.

He watched the dwarf over the rim of his cup, but if Varric had any qualms about planning revenge on his brother, he must already have worked through them. He was inscrutable as he laid down his pen and turned to consider Tobias.

“Well, that little piece of good news aside, Hawke… what’s the matter with you?”

Tobias arched his brows, mouth full of wine. “Hmm?”

Varric shook his head reproachfully. “Come on. You can tell me.”

Tobias shrugged and, setting his now-empty cup down, picked up one of the books that lay on the table beside the carafe, suddenly eager for something to hide behind. It had an extremely plain cover, and he had to flip it open to read the title printed discreetly on the flyleaf.

Sinnes of a Sister: A Chantry Girl’s Tale

He curled his lip. “Nothing.”

“Ah.” Varric nodded sagely. “That nothing.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“I couldn’t possibly say,” the dwarf said flatly, sarcasm dripping from his words.

Tobias snorted derisively, pretending ignorance. He leafed through the first few pages of the book, pausing to pull an appalled face. “Oh, Maker’s balls, Varric…! ‘She pressed her lips to the soft fruit of Hypernia’s desire, sweet nectar searing her kiss, and dove into the silken depths…’. Really. That’s just—”

“Immensely profitable,” Varric said smugly, and shot him a lecherous grin.

“Isn’t it blasphemy?” Tobias wondered aloud, flicking through to the end of the chapter, and wondering whether the position on page eighty-four was in fact physically possible for two women… and how Varric would know about it, if it was.

“Only a little bit, though you’d be surprised how many copies that sells. Don’t worry,” Varric added, his smile turning mischievous. “Next time, I’ll be sure to add in a couple of strapping sailors for you.”

Tobias smirked, but didn’t look up from the book. “Hmm. How about something historical? A mighty Nevarran dragon hunter despoiling a captured virgin prince, or a Chasind warlord, locked in battle with a rival warrior? You know… all oiled up and wrestling?”

Varric tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Huh, that’s not bad.”

“I try,” Tobias said demurely, raising an eyebrow at what Sister Elara was getting up to in the confessional in chapter fourteen.

Prisoner of the Barbarian King,” Varric said, ostensibly more to himself than anything. “Hmm. No. The Captive Heart. Now, that I like….”

“Glad to be of service,” Tobias muttered, flipping back a couple of pages to scrutinise a scene with four votive candles and a string of prayer beads.

“Of course,” Varric said speculatively, “if not a dragon hunter, or a barbarian warlord… how about a surly outlaw?” He swivelled around in his seat, glaring meaningfully in Tobias’ direction. “A moody, tortured soul… I don’t know… maybe a revolutionary, set on effecting monumental change, yet finds himself pitted against unbearable powers that he can’t possibly hope to overcome, and—”

“Hahaha. Ouch, my ribs. Oh, the pain,” Tobias added solemnly, placing a palm on his side for emphasis as he looked up from the book. “Don’t, Varric.”

“Oh, come on, Hawke… where’s your sense of humour?”

“Evaporated,” Tobias said shortly. “There’s already talk in town about Alrik. They’re painting it as a rebellion, from what I hear. You know what that means. You know Meredith’s going to do.”

“So… what?” Varric narrowed his eyes. “You feeling guilty?”

“No!” Tobias shut the book, suddenly less interested in Sister Elara’s amorous exploits, and set it back on the table, his hand automatically straying to the carafe of wine. He frowned, almost rethinking it for a moment, then poured himself another cup and, grabbing it, slouched back in his chair. “No,” he said again, his mind full of dead templars who hadn’t been Carver, and apprentice girls forced to their knees. “That bastard deserved to die, but….”

He took a long gulp of the wine, taking its spicy fragrance back over his tongue and letting it warm his throat as he swallowed. Varric said nothing, and just continued to watch him in that unnerving, slightly annoying manner that said he had opinions he was probably going to share.

“Are you all right?” Tobias asked, a little more brusquely than he’d meant to.

When they’d parted, Varric heading back here and him carting the rescued mages to Selby’s place, along with the rest of the Underground, he knew he’d been distracted. He hadn’t checked in with Varric like he should, and while he knew the dwarf was more than capable of looking after himself, Tobias was also aware that they both knew exactly why he’d been so preoccupied.

“Me?” Varric splayed the fingers of one broad hand to his shirtfront. “Oh, I’m fine, Hawke. I’m always fine.”

Oh, sod….

Tobias winced. “That’s not what I—”

Varric waved his hand dismissively. “I know. But, uh… really. Our mutual friend? Is he…?”

“Anders is—” Tobias stopped, because ‘fine’ was a lie. He shrugged, staring glumly at the table and its luxurious velvet runner. “I think he’ll be all right. I mean, I hope…. I don’t know. I’m worried about him.”

Varric cleared his throat and shifted in his chair; an uncharacteristic display of awkwardness. “Yeah. So, uh, you know I hear things, Hawke. I… happened to hear you stayed at the clinic, after—”

Shit, you really have got eyes everywhere, haven’t you? Bloody dwarf.

Tobias shook his head, his mouth bowed into a bitter curve.

“He didn’t want to be on his own. I wouldn’t, either. Not after that. Nothing happened,” he added bitterly, glancing up at Varric’s politely impassive face.

Behind that mask, it was hard to tell whether his friend was laughing at him or worried for him… or both. Tobias looked away, peering up at the narrow window, where the film of dust and grease that coated the cloudy glass made it look like the sunset was pouring in through treacle.

“Huh.” The dwarf pursed his lips and looked thoughtful for a moment. Then he winced, evidently trying to find some delicate way of phrasing something, which, where Varric was concerned, was not usually a good sign.

Tobias slouched deeper into his chair, propping his chin on his palm, and lofted his brows. “What? What’s ‘huh’?”

Go on. Have a bloody laugh. I’m just glad my life amuses you, arsehole.

Varric shook his head. “No, no, I just…. Really? So… nothing happened? All right. But—and I’m speaking as a concerned friend here, you understand, Hawke—why the hell not?”

That’s right, bastard, rub it in. Thanks, Varric. You’re a real pal.

“You saw the state he was in. I— Anyway, it’s not… it’s not like that.”

“No?” The dwarf’s forehead sprouted a series of incredulous furrows. “You could have fooled me.”

“It’s about time someone did,” Tobias tossed back with a smirk, though he could tell from his friend’s expression that a little light banter wasn’t going to cut through this particular conversational iceberg. He sighed. “Fine. He… I don’t know. He says he needs time. I would have thought he’s had plenty, but— Oh, sod. I don’t know,” he said again, suddenly feeling rather small as he rubbed his hand across his face, trying to ignore both Varric’s gaze and the heat rising in his cheeks. “I… I don’t….”

“Maybe you ought to take the hint,” Varric said quietly, shrugging and holding up his hands in defence as Tobias glared at him. “Come on… I’m just saying. I mean, maybe—just maybe, you understand—this persistent desire of yours to get involved with the possessed mage? It might be dangerous. There. That’s it. I’ve said my piece… Hawke, don’t look at me like that.”

Tobias scoffed sourly, a dozen different responses running through his head. He knew Varric meant well—he assumed so, anyway—but it was hard to fight the impulse to shoot him down, to snap back as he so often did that Anders wasn’t mad, wasn’t dangerous, wasn’t… wasn’t all those things that were starting to look disturbingly true.

“He’s a good man,” Tobias said petulantly, clinging to his loyalty like a life raft. “You and I both know that. He’s just… dedicated. And he—”

“—has a grumpy Fade spirit that lives in his head and likes to rip templars into teensy-weensy pieces,” Varric supplemented helpfully.

Tobias scowled darkly at him.

“What? I’m just saying…. You know, maybe it’s not a good idea. That’s all. Maybe, before you do anything you might—”

“Regret?” Tobias wrinkled his nose. “Hmph. Chance’d be a fine thing. Anyway,” he added slyly, as Varric let slip a rueful grin, “in all the time you’ve known me, have I ever given you the impression I’m turned off by crazy?”

Varric’s grin slid into dry laughter, and he shook his head. “All right, all right… have it your way, Hawke. I just think you should be careful. Blondie, too, come to that. I… I wouldn’t want to see either of you get hurt.”

“Aw. I’m touched. And here was me thinking you were just jealous of my affections.”

The dwarf grimaced. “Sorry, Hawke. I know I’m damn near irresistible, but you’re just too high maintenance for me.”

Tobias grinned, relieved to have got things back onto a more comfortably flippant level. Or so he thought. The hoots and hollers of revelry echoed through from the bar—it sounded like the docks had discharged its workers for the evening, and plenty of them had arrived with coin in their pockets and fun on their minds—and Tobias was addressing the remnants of his wine when Varric fixed him with a disarmingly keen-eyed look.

“Are you going to talk to him, though?”

“Hmm?”

The dwarf smiled lazily. “Blondie. You’re not just going to keep on like this, are you? Because it’s getting ridiculous.”

Tobias blanched, swallowing his wine too quickly, and struggling to stifle a cough as it hit the back of his throat. “Keep—? Wh—”

“Talk to him,” Varric repeated slowly. “Use your words, Hawke.”

He seemed amused by the way Tobias cringed, the cup tilting in his fingers and a stricken look of horror plastering itself to his face.

“Var-ric! I’m a man. I can’t just… say things.”

The dwarf tutted behind his teeth. “Tch. That’s not an excuse, and you know it. But I mean it, Hawke,” he added, his expression turning solemn as he leaned forward in his chair, linking his thick fingers together, “you should talk to him. After all, there’s something you don’t realise.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah.” Varric nodded earnestly, giving his best semblance of a concerned friend. “While you two are pining over each other like a pair of horny toads, the rest of us actually have to watch it.”

Tobias narrowed his eyes and scowled at the chuckling dwarf, mouth half-bowed around something suitably abusive as he tried to pretend he wasn’t really as embarrassed as he felt.

The trouble was, Varric actually had a point.

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Chapter 30
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