Well, his friends were going to find out sooner or later. Tobias spends time adjusting, and Leandra has home furnishing plans.
Tobias is called to the Keep, and has to hear some unwanted advice. Also: terrible dwarven porn.
The descent beneath The Gallows begins.
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.”
Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
Leandra was beside herself with glee over the estate. She couldn’t stop re-reading the papers they’d received from the viscount, and every time she did, she touched the seal like it was the face of an old friend, and beamed happily.
Tobias hadn’t seen her smile like that since before they left Ferelden.
“We should start right away,” she declared brightly, arms akimbo as she stood by Gamlen’s rickety writing desk, the papers spread out before her. “There’ll be so much to do, so many things to arrange… can you take me to see it?”
“Hmm?” Tobias, sitting at the table with a mug of spiced tea, hadn’t really been listening. “See what?”
She rolled her eyes. “The estate! Honestly! There’ll be so many fabrics to consider… curtains, carpets, not to mention measuring for furniture. I wonder if your grandfather’s chairs are still there? When I was a girl, he bought the most marvellous dining table and fifteen chairs. Antivan walnut, with painted panels on the backs. Each one of them showed something different—”
Tobias winced. “Mother….”
“—like hunting scenes, and famous battles or assassinations… well, they were Antivan. They were absolutely magnificent, though, and whenever we had people to dine—”
“Hm? What is it, dear?”
Tobias sighed heavily, and cupped his mug with protective fingers. He’d got back late after the Underground meeting, and had a run-in with some daft gaggle of would-be thugs who’d tried to mug him on the way. One silly sod had actually said ‘beware the wrath of the Crimson Hand’ as he pulled a knife… at which point Tobias had cussed in irritation, and then knocked all three of them flying with a well-placed Fist of the Maker. He’d legged it while they were staggering and yelling (very observant, street gangs these days, he thought: ‘Look out, he’s a bleedin’ robe!’), and made it home unfollowed and in one piece, which was a pleasant change.
All the same, he hadn’t expected the throb of glee he’d found in himself. It had been… exhilarating, to use his power like that. He hadn’t had to think about it for a second. Just let it out, let it spill like anger and retribution, and it had been good.
This morning, he felt tired and stretched too thin, and he kept thinking about all those shrouded faces, and the dark rumbles about Meredith, and mages made Tranquil, and… all those things Anders had said about blood, and phylacteries.
He peered up at Leandra. She was looking at him expectantly, blue eyes wide and her hair oh-so-neatly combed. For as long as he could remember, she’d started every day clean and bright as a new pin. The drudgery of cleaning and keeping house wore through her as the hours dragged on, and soot smuts or stripes of grime would mar her apron, but she’d always wash up again come sundown. Tobias remembered how, when he was a little boy, he’d curl up on her lap by the light of one fat tallow candle, and breathe in her smell of lavender water and soap as she read to him. Not so often, once the twins were old enough to crawl or toddle but, back in those early days, there had been some precious times when it was just the two of them.
He rubbed his forehead wearily. “Mother, the place has been used as an illegal slave pit for the past Maker knows how many years. It’s a broken-down, filthy wreck. We’ll have to get someone in to clean out the… mess… and probably fume it all out for a couple of weeks before you even start thinking about—” He waved a hand in the air vaguely, a little lost on the practicalities of playing house. “—carpets. Whatever. As for there being anything left, I-I… I don’t think you should get your hopes up.”
“Oh.” Leandra furrowed her brow, and he couldn’t bear that look of disappointment crowding over her face. “No, of course, you’re… you’re right, I’m sure.”
Frustration clawed at him, but the years of parental conditioning were already winning out. Tobias stifled the irritated groan he wanted to give, and knocked back the rest of his tea. Its lukewarm perfume cloyed the back of his throat; he’d never realised how different the stuff tasted when he wasn’t drinking it hungover.
“I’ll stop by and see what I can find out,” he promised as he stood up, pausing to lay a hand on her arm and drop a brief, perfunctory kiss to her cheek.
She smelled of soap and fresh linen, with just a hint of lavender, and she smiled gratefully at him.
“Thank you, darling.” Her hand covered his, her red, lined knuckles standing proud, as did the delicate traceries of veins that were beginning to rise under her skin, and she squeezed his fingers. “Are you going out already?”
Tobias smiled tightly. “I won’t be long.”
“You were back awfully late last night. I worry about you, you know… never knowing where you are, or who you’re with. You’re not still running around with that pirate girl, are you?”
A new frown began to sweep over her face, and he winced again. Leandra had only met Isabela once, when she’d dropped by on her way to the docks as part of that eternal quest for a new boat. Tobias suspected she’d just wanted to see where he lived, and he hadn’t managed to hustle her out quite quickly enough.
The two women had exchanged perhaps ten words, five of which had been Leandra saying ‘Goodness me, aren’t you chilly?’. It was just one of the many reasons he preferred to keep the people he termed friends as separate as possible from his home life.
“I was never—” He broke off, unwilling to even broach the discussion with her. “No, Mother. I’m not. I just need to see a man about some business, that’s all. Picking up a couple of payments from Varric, and… maybe a few other errands.”
Leandra’s mouth crumpled into a thin, censorious curl.
“Well, as long as you’re back for supper. I managed to get some neck of lamb. There’s dried peas left, so I thought I’d make a lamb and pea stew, like we used to have. That’ll be nice, won’t it?”
He nodded, and his smile wasn’t entirely forced.
“It will. Do you need anything while I’m out?”
Leandra shook her head. “No. Just… don’t be too late.”
“I won’t, Mother,” Tobias assured, and he let the door close quietly behind him.
It was a pleasant day. One of those ones where the sky was crisp and blue, and a light breeze tugged at the white wisps of cloud, trailing them above the flat roofs of Lowtown like paper kites. Somehow, it made Kirkwall look cleaner, as if that pale wash of sunlight could douse all the filth away. Unlikely, of course… but a nice thought, Tobias supposed.
He was finding he rather missed Fereldan weather. Back home, the year would have been getting much colder by now. In Lothering, they even used to have proper snow in the winter. In Kirkwall, it just got misty, and rained.
His first stop ought to be The Hanged Man, he decided, although it was still a little early for Varric. Even if he was up, Tobias reasoned he would probably be occupied, either conducting a little business, or penning his latest epic. Lately, he’d taken to serialising some of his more lurid stories in pamphlet form, together with provocative illustrations. Seven Veils of Seheron was Tobias’ current favourite, being the amorous adventures of a plucky and resourceful slave girl who escaped from her bondage and found love with a dissipated, swashbuckling pirate captain.
He suspected the two main characters drew more than they ought from Fenris and Isabela, albeit in somewhat disguised and gender-reversed roles, but hadn’t dared bring the matter up with either of them… particularly given some of the rude bits Varric had written. Not until the resolution of the story was published, anyway. Tobias would have hated for Fenris to kill the dwarf in a fit of outrage before he found out whether the slave girl managed to wed her captain, or if they fell foul of the wicked first mate’s plan to betray them both to her original captors.
“Morning, Corff!” he said brightly as he walked into the tavern.
The innkeeper was swabbing a rag half-heartedly over the greasy bar. He looked up and nodded briskly.
“Mornin’, messere. He’s in his suite. Would you like Nora to bring you something up?”
“Hmm, I don’t know. What’s good this morning?”
Corff looked faintly nonplussed, and glanced over his shoulder towards the kitchens, from where the smell of something greasy being fried to a uniformly crispy kind of brown was emanating.
“Fry-up,” he said, after a moment’s apparent consideration.
Tobias nodded sagely. That basically meant anything left over from yesterday that neither smelled too rotten, or could crawl out of the pan unaided, all mashed up and served as fried hash, slathered in butter and with some kind of meat product—probably made of something unspeakable, and just as thoroughly fried—on the side. His stomach rumbled traitorously, and his mouth started to water.
“Two, please. And some small beer?”
“Right you are.”
He grinned, and made his way through the empty bar towards Varric’s suite.
Morning light lanced through the high, small windows that pierced the passageway, and picked out all the imperfections in the scarred, rough-hewn wood of doors and wall panelling. Aveline—on the rare occasions her high-and-mighty captainship deigned to join them down here—expressed disbelief that, even after the Deep Roads, Varric chose to continue calling this place home.
Tobias smirked to himself as he rapped on the dwarf’s chamber door. All right, perhaps he was a little hard on Aveline, given everything she reminded him of, but one thing was definitely certain. She didn’t understand the simple, blissful pleasure in somewhere that just felt right, never mind the sawdust on the floor and the drunken brawls on the doorstep.
From within the suite, there came a noise suspiciously like someone falling over a chair, followed by a muffled curse.
“All right, all right… what?”
The door opened, revealing a rather frowsty-eyed Varric, hair a little awry and chin unshaven, his shirt open to the navel and ink staining the right cuff, along with both his hands. He frowned as he peered up at Tobias.
“Hawke? Maker’s breath… I think I preferred it when you were drinking. Never used to see you until a respectable time of day.”
Tobias pressed a palm to his chest, and affected a hurt look.
“You wound me, Varric. To the very quick.”
The dwarf narrowed his eyes. “Huh. You want your money, right?”
“Yes. But I have ordered you breakfast.”
Varric snorted. “All right. Come in. I was just putting the last few touches to—”
“Can I read it?” Tobias asked eagerly, brushing past him into the small, yet comfortable set of rooms. “Do they get away in the end? Or do they have to kill the first mate? I hope they get away. This is Seven Veils, right?”
The differences in Varric’s suite during the day and the night hours always amazed Tobias. When he threw it open for guests—when he held court, sitting back in that heavy chair of his, carved with dwarven runes and accented with gold leaf that, unless you rubbed really hard, you’d never know was paint on top of brass—it seemed so opulent and luxurious. There were all the knickknacks from Orzammar, the signifiers of House Tethras’ wealth and prestige, and the shelves full of little curiosities he’d picked up on his travels. The long table they sat around would always be groaning with wine and ale, and beeswax candles burned in the ornate wall sconces.
This morning, everything looked very plain. The table was bare, and Varric had obviously been working at the large, battered wooden desk under the far window. It was overflowing with papers, great drifts of them falling to the floor in various stages of screwed-up discard, and others stacked in large, haphazard piles.
Varric smiled. “If I didn’t know you better, Hawke, I’d swear you were just a sappy romantic at heart.”
He shut the door behind them, and gestured to one of the more comfortable, thickly upholstered chairs by the fireplace, where a small fire was smouldering dimly.
Tobias smirked. “Maybe I am. You know me: it’s all moonlight, roses, and poetry… in between the bloodletting and violence.”
“Well, a man has to have his vices,” Varric said dryly. “Sit down. Our friend from the Diamond Quarter was with me last night. Very pleased with his purchases.”
He shambled over to the screened off portion of the chambers that housed his bed, and the more secure of his trunks and chests. As the scrape and clank of things being unlocked—and the mellifluous music of coins clinking—drifted over towards him, Tobias wandered between the fireplace and Varric’s desk, tempted to sneak a quick peek at what he was writing. Thick, black lines of redaction marked the papers, version upon version scored through and rewritten in the dwarf’s broad, drunken-spider-scrawl. Tobias tipped his head, and thought he made out the word ‘nipple’.
“And you can see that when it’s finished,” Varric reprimanded, crossing the room with two large leather bags in his ink-stained hands. “It’s rude to read a story before it’s ready. Like looking at a woman without her rouge on.”
Tobias shrugged. “Mother always says only fast girls wear rouge.”
“True.” Varric smiled nostalgically. “But never so fast they’re impossible to catch.”
Tobias scoffed, and the dwarf gave him a genial smirk.
“Well, you don’t worry about that, I know. But I suppose the same applies in your case… or at least an equivalent.” Varric cocked his head to the side. “Or are you always the one who does the running?”
“Hilarious,” Tobias said, with teasing acidity. “I think my sides just split.”
Varric set the bags down on the small table, where they slouched and made very encouraging clink noises.
“Oh, now, don’t pout. Come and count your beans.”
A knock at the door presaged the arrival of Nora, bearing two plates of fried… something… and a pitcher of weak beer.
She was, as always, bright and cheerful and faintly flirtatious, and Tobias noted the alertness with which her dark eyes flicked over the coin pouches, and probably calculated their approximate weight, and value. Sharp girl, that one, he thought.
She retreated, with Varric eyeing her backside in the none-too-subtle manner his height allowed, and they ate as they discussed the money, and what the buyer had paid for which pieces.
“So, overall, more than we expected.” Varric nodded at the purse as he chewed a particularly recalcitrant lump of gristle. “Less Isabela’s cut, once it’s all divided, your share works out at just shy of seven sixty-two. Seven hundred and sixty-two sovereigns, thirty-seven silvers and four coppers, if you want to be precise.”
Tobias arched his brows, and let his fork droop in his hand as he reached out to loosen the neck of the nearest bag. His fingers dug into the supple leather, groping hungrily at the outlines of the coins within, and a grin spread across his face.
“May the Paragons strike me dead if I lie,” Varric said solemnly, then shrugged. “Or… I don’t know. Some crap like that.”
Tobias peered into the purse, shovelling in another forkful of fried hash as he regarded the dull glint of gold with happy satisfaction. Burnt, buttery crispness burst on his tongue, and there was enough money on this table to move out of Lowtown, start setting the estate right—
And save an awful lot of mages’ lives.
He swallowed, but the ambrosia of burnt crunchy bits and greasy amalgams of mushroom and bread sat heavily in his throat. Where in the name of Andraste’s flaming crotch had that thought come from?
What he’d pledged to the Underground was one thing, based on the money he expected to have, and what he knew he could earn in his usual line of work. Granted, his particular brand of problem fixing relied too much on bounties and good old-fashioned extortion to be as lucrative as smuggling had, but Tobias lacked the patience—and the manpower—to mount any serious kind of threat to the Coterie’s stranglehold on the coast.
Oh, he might still dabble a little—a man had debts to pay, and a lifestyle to finance, after all—but knocking against the territories of two-bit operations like Athenril’s, or the outcast qunari who were squirreled away in the cliffs was one thing, while seriously running his own professional racket would have been quite another. In any case, what Varric termed ‘the import-export market’ wasn’t stable income all year, but this… this, added to what he and the dwarf had already split from the treasures they’d sold, was a sizeable chunk of cash indeed.
It was almost worth Bartrand leaving them for dead in the dark.
Almost… but not quite.
“So, what are you going to do with your share?” Varric asked, taking a swig of his small beer. “Aside from looking at it like you want to marry it?”
Tobias grinned and patted the purse. “Oh, the usual. Get blind drunk and spend too much time at The Rose, I imagine.”
Varric chuckled, and peered at him over the rim of his cup. “Hah… I don’t think even you can whore your way through that much money, Hawke.”
“You’re probably right.” Tobias allowed himself a self-deprecating shrug, and raised his own flagon of beer. “Not without a couple of small breaks, anyway. You know, to change horses, so to speak.”
Varric winced. “That… gave me images I did not want to contemplate.”
Tobias chugged back a long draught of the greasy, bitter ale, and grinned afresh. “Well, you did ask. No, I think maybe I’ll treat myself to a few little toys, too. New boots, new dagger… might even start buying some fancy clothes. I’ll need ’em, now I have my own noble estate.”
The dwarf looked at him in surprise. “Oh? Reconciled to the idea, are we? I thought you weren’t interested in being Lord… whatsit.”
Tobias grimaced. “Technically, there’s no proper title. And, if you’re being precise about it, it’s Mother’s estate. But… yes, I suppose I’m getting used to the idea. I think I might even like it.”
He downed another swallow of his beer, and gave Varric what he hoped was an encouraging smile, at which the dwarf winced again.
“You know, Hawke, it’s funny. I know you’re a good liar. I’ve seen you do it. So, how come that sounds almost as believable as Fenris talking about kittens and rainbows?”
Tobias grinned at the image, and shook his head. “All right, so I don’t want it. I never did, you know that. But… Mother does. It means more to her than I ever thought.”
He shook his head wearily and stood his flagon down, fingers toying idly with its glass-jewel-encrusted stem. Varric liked his tableware to catch the candlelight, even if the rubies weren’t real.
“Hm. Tell me,” Varric began suavely, steepling his beringed fingers before him, “when you and Carver, ah… reconnoitred the mansion—”
“Broke in, yes?”
Varric smirked. “I’m just curious: did you actually leave anyone alive to report back on the mess you’d made, or d’you think the bodies are still rotting in the cellars?”
Tobias screwed up his face. “Don’t…. I don’t know. I don’t even want to think about what we’re going to find. Bloody place is going to be a money pit, I just know it. Don’t suppose you know any good renovators?”
Varric shrugged. “I can get you some names.”
“Please. It’s going to be a nightmare. Not to mention, I have no idea what I’m going to do for income.” Tobias picked up the flagon and swished the last inch of ale thoughtfully around its pewter innards. He stared moodily over at the low-smouldering fire, and frowned. “She wants to move in as soon as it’s fixed up. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for getting out and letting the Void take Lowtown, but… moving up to the hill, it’s going to impact on business, isn’t it?”
Varric regarded him coolly, and arched one sandy brow. “You don’t think your good name does enough of that already? You attract a lot of attention in this town, Hawke.”
Tobias pulled a face as he knocked back the last of the beer. “Huh. And whose fault is that?”
The dwarf spread his hands, palms up, in a gesture that might have looked like innocence on someone else.
“What can I say? I simply report the truth. After all, you do get results.”
Tobias sighed and rubbed his forehead. “I don’t know. For two pins, I’d leave this city. Go back to Ferelden, maybe. If it wasn’t for Mother… still, I don’t know. Maybe I can take some of this coin, put it into a legitimate business. What do you think? Any good openings?”
“For someone of your qualifications?” Varric grinned.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Tobias furrowed his brow. “I’ve worked! Granted, mainly farm labour, which there’s not a precious lot of in Kirkwall, but— I have skills,” he protested, his indignation only mildly exaggerated.
“Of course you do,” Varric soothed. “Largely in, uh, persuasion. And the niceties of the import-export market.”
Tobias groaned. “Fair enough. No one’s going to hire me, and taking me on as a business partner is a reasonable equivalent to spitting on the Coterie’s boots. I see your point.”
“Oh, come on. It’s not so bad. I’ll ask around.”
Varric smiled lazily, a picture of solicitousness. “Of course I would, Hawke. You know I can’t stand to see you cry.”
Tobias wrinkled his nose and looked for something to throw at him, but the dwarf just laughed.
“All right,” he averred, “maybe I am feeling sorry for myself. But you haven’t had to listen to Mother going on about curtains and chairs and Maker knows what else…. She’s going to be heartbroken when she realises what a state that place is in.” He glanced up at the window, and the way the light had broadened out, the sounds of life and the bustle of the city drifting through the single grimy, cracked pane of glass. “Speaking of which, I should get going. I’ll leave you to finish your story.”
Varric inclined his head graciously. “All right. I ought to get it done. Want to get started on the next one, really.”
“Yeah.” He leaned back in his chair, his face settling into the faint smile that usually meant he was about to say something devastating. “I have this wonderful idea for an epic. Moody, impetuous hero faces impossible odds, an idealist pitted against a steel-hearted regime he has no hope of defeating; battle to change society’s very core, dramatic struggles at great personal cost… you know.”
“Hmm.” Tobias’ lips twitched. “Sounds a bit like someone we know.”
“Does it?” Varric’s expression didn’t change. He didn’t even bother to pretend. “Hmm. How is Blondie, anyway?”
A small itch of discomfort began to work its way between Tobias’ shoulder blades. He could have sworn the dwarf knew all about last night… about the Underground, the money, and every single tiny detail. He shouldn’t do; what was there in the backbiting of apostates and mage sympathisers to interest Varric’s network of eyes and ears? His interests lay squarely with the merchants’ guilds and craft halls that, between them, had enough nefarious underbellies to keep anyone occupied. No, the only profit for him in making it his business to know about the mages would be if he was planning on selling information to the templars… and that, Tobias reminded himself sharply, was not Varric’s style. For a start, the templars weren’t the sort of people to keep any such contacts quiet or casual. They liked to believe they owned their informers, trading on the kind of religion-soaked fear and awe they could induce—particularly in a place like Kirkwall.
It might have been a good ten years ago, but the city still acknowledged as an open secret exactly what had happened to the old viscount… and why Dumar was so very careful to stay on Meredith’s good side. No, Varric was far too smart to get himself embroiled in that kind of mess.
Tobias realised that the dwarf was waiting for some kind of response, and flexed his shoulders casually. His arm was all healed up, so he was back to wearing his familiar, comfortable leather jack and a pair of bracers, and despite the warmth of the room goosebumps began to rise on his skin.
“Fine. Or as near to it as he gets, I suppose.”
“Still worrying about him, then?” Varric enquired, the acuteness of his gaze belying his genial tone.
Tobias fought the urge to squirm in his seat. Ordinarily, he didn’t particularly mind Varric making those small, pointed observations, but today they felt a little closer to home than usual.
“Perhaps you should tell him you’re going to write his ballad. Might cheer him up a bit.”
He started to grin before he realised Varric wasn’t smiling, and Tobias felt his lips curl into an, ugly half-discarded sneer.
“Mm. Trouble is,” the dwarf said quietly, “you get into these rebel outlaw things… it’s all very romantic, but the hero nearly always dies at the end.”
Tobias felt his face stiffen, and tried to pretend it was nothing. He blinked, and swallowed heavily.
Varric sighed, and leaned his elbows on the table. “Ah, well. Perhaps I ought to stick to lurid tales of denied passion and fervid adventure.”
“Mm,” Tobias managed. “Maybe. Still… you’ll be able to afford someone to write it all up for you. Can’t be bad, right?”
The dwarf smiled, and that slight hint of awkwardness that seemed to hang between them began to fade away, like mist in the morning sun.
Tobias bade his farewells, promising to drop by the suite that evening for a jar or two, and buckled the moneybags securely about his person. He didn’t much relish the thought of going through Lowtown with that much coin on him, and decided to make his first port of call one of the banking houses on the edge of Hightown. Ordinarily, he didn’t much care for what was basically an Antivan system—and, at its most essential level, involved handing his money over to someone else to guard—but the di Bordi were a wealthy clan, with strong ties to the Crows… which meant they could afford the kind of security that came with qunari mercenaries and iron-bound deposit boxes with enchanted locks. According to Varric, the di Bordi employed a number of Formari enchanters for that specific purpose.
Tobias had to admit that, on balance, the bankers promised a great deal more safety for his money than the squeaky board beneath his bunk, back at Gamlen’s place.
They could have moved out by now, he supposed. He thought about it as he walked, letting his feet chew away at the stones, and his gaze rove over every flicker of movement in the sunlit streets. The stretch between The Hanged Man and Hightown’s southern end was moderately pleasant, in the main, comprising wide, paved walkways, with the great pale cliffs of buildings rising up all around, their frontages riven with cracks and cloaked with ivy. Here and there, windows peered down onto the streets, some with dark sheets of glass glinting like squinted eyes, and in other places lines of washing stretched between the tiny balconies, flapping like pennants of drudgery against the stale air.
They could have. He could have put the very first coins he and Varric had divided between them after the Deep Roads into some small, shabby tenement in Lowtown. Could have exchanged Gamlen’s hovel for two rooms in a labourers’ boarding house, or somewhere a little further up than the old city slums, and still had enough to live comfortably on for a while. It would have been a risk, but he could have done it… only Leandra hadn’t wanted to, had she? Of course not.
Gamlen, for all his faults, was family—as she was so very fond of saying. Besides, that place had been home since they lurched off the boat. She’d shut herself up in there to grieve for Bethany, for losing Carver to the templars… and for him, Tobias supposed, when everyone had thought he was dead.
He blinked, unwilling to think even for a moment of those long, dark months beneath the ground.
I thought we’d lost you.
A light shiver traced his spine at the memory of Anders’ words, overlaid somehow with the agony of relief in his mother’s face when he’d come home. Tobias shook the mixed up, jumbled memories away. They were false, anyway. Gamlen’s place wasn’t home. Kirkwall wasn’t home. Ferelden was… Lothering, and the wheat and barley fields, waving under a fat, golden summer sun, and the way he and Carver would run through them, legs pinwheeling as they hurdled the stalks in great, leaping, shrieking bounds.
All those things that were lost, and could never be replaced.
Back to Justice in Surrender: Contents
“It’s a letter from Carver!” Leandra cried gleefully, waving the grease-smudged envelope like a pennant.
Tobias, unshaven and hungover, squinted muzzily at her from his seat at the rickety table by the fire.
Gamlen sneered. “He doesn’t want money, does he?”
Tobias slipped his uncle a bloodshot glare. The old fart was just as worse for wear as him this morning, though for somewhat different reasons. Where Gamlen was nursing a black eye and two fractured knuckles as a friendly warning not to welsh on debts to ‘One Punch’ Riley, one of the old city’s more tolerant numbers runners, he had been sampling the delights of Hightown until the small hours.
Fenris might have said that all Tevinter wines were made from the blood and tears of slaves, but it wasn’t stopping him, Varric, and Tobias from methodically drinking their way through the remaining contents of Danarius’ cellar. It had been much more fun than he’d thought, too… the weekly diamondback nights at the mansion were becoming something of an event.
“He talks all about the training,” Leandra said, unfolding Carver’s letter reverentially as she crossed the dimly lit room. “Oh, my poor baby… he’s still not enjoying the food…. Do you think I should send more dried beef and seed cake?”
Tobias grimaced. “Don’t templars have their unshakeable faith and self-righteousness to keep them feeling all full and cosy?”
She frowned and pursed her lips. “Don’t talk about your brother that way. If you’d let him have more say in that expedition of yours, he wouldn’t have run off to join up the way he did.”
Gamlen sniggered, then winced and pressed a hand to his swollen eye. Tobias gaped, not completely able to believe what he was hearing.
“If I—? Mother, it was you who didn’t want him to go. As I recall, you begged me to leave him behind. Right there, in front of Bartrand and everyone. Even whatsit, that merchant’s idiot son… Sandal… right, even he was laughing at poor old Carv.”
She flicked him behind the ear in passing—the sharp snick of a fingernail cracking against his skull—and he flinched.
Should have expected it, he supposed. It was worse when she had a thimble on. He reached up and rubbed the sore spot, with a reproachful frown at his mother.
“That is not the point,” Leandra said coolly. “Anyway, he needs more socks and smallclothes. You’re going past the market, aren’t you? You can get me some wool.”
Tobias sighed. “Yes, Mother.”
“Thank you, dear. And don’t slouch.”
Carver’s letter didn’t say much about the state of affairs inside the order, though he alluded to divisions in the ranks. Tobias had been hoping for a whisper of gossip, a sniff of rumour concerning Meredith. People said she and First Enchanter Orsino weren’t even bothering to keep up a pretence of civility these days… not that Tobias had a great deal of familiarity with matters concerning the Circle.
As far as he was concerned, the Circle still held the dark and oppressive taint his father had painted it with, not to mention the suspicion associated with authority. Tobias had been brought up to fear it, and even now—though he was aware that things were more complex than his assumptions allowed—he found he still thought of the Circle mages as ‘them’.
The things Anders had talked about didn’t exactly help alter his opinions.
The healer had never shared much of his past—as with everything else, dragging the information out of him was like getting blood from a stone—but he’d mentioned enough. Templars who played petty, cruel mind games with their charges or, in some cases, indulged less subtle sadisms. Beatings… rapes.
Tobias supposed he must have looked horribly shocked at that. He recalled the coy reassurance with which Anders had shaken his head and said he’d been lucky… only to go on and, in the very next breath, talk of a whole year spent in solitary confinement. Tobias couldn’t imagine it. He didn’t want to, either, and he’d burned at the… well, the injustice of it.
Anders had just smiled thinly and changed the subject, and Tobias had known from the slightly strained look on his face that he was having trouble keeping himself under control. Well, himself, or Justice. It still seemed to Tobias that there was a distinction between the two, and that—whatever Anders said about the greatest scholar finding no division of their thoughts or feelings—the healer and the spirit were separate entities.
He wondered, sometimes, if he just told himself that—made himself believe it—because he needed to think Anders was a man, the same as him… the same as anyone. Stupid, really, Tobias reflected. It would have been easier to pretend he really was the abomination Fenris and Carver had both called him. A monster, a… thing, instead of an imperfect human soul, capable of love and crying out for it, railing against the loneliness and the fear.
Tobias blinked, aware of having broken his own rule. There was a four-letter word there he didn’t allow himself to touch on, and he pushed it away, choosing to focus instead on cold, decent practicality.
He didn’t know what it was like for Anders. He couldn’t conceive of what it must be like to live with memories of the Tower like that, knowledge like that, and to have an awareness—a living, sentient consciousness—such as Justice sharing the same head. It was a wonder the man hadn’t gone crazy, Tobias supposed, and the thought snaked a chill along his spine.
It had been a while since he’d been to the clinic. He should head down there, make sure everything was… all right.
As ever, there were errands to run first.
Letters had to be taken to the viscount’s office, papers to be delivered for copying and then copies to be picked up and brought to the notary…. The whole song and dance irritated Tobias beyond measure, but Leandra never seemed happier than when she was talking about the estate. She’d get a nostalgic sort of look in her eyes, and drift off into some rambling story of something that had happened when she was a girl, and her voice would lose that hard, sharp edge it so often had these days.
So, he did what had to be done.
He trod a path through the bazaar with a light cloak about his shoulders and his eyes fixed on the paving stones, quite content for no one to recognise him, and made his way up to what Varric quaintly described as the gold-arsed end of town.
Seneschal Bran wasn’t in much of a mood for small talk when Tobias finally arrived in his office.
He snorted at the sheaf of papers tossed onto his desk, and didn’t even bother to look up.
“Serah Hawke again, isn’t it?”
Tobias propped a hip against the ornately carved desk and smiled sardonically down at the burnished crown of the older man’s head.
“The very same. If you don’t mind, Seneschal, I’ll wait while you sign the receipt.”
Bran glanced up at him, quill stilling in his ink-smudged fingers, and an expression of intense suspicion on his square, sharp-featured face.
“Did you bribe your way in here again? We have due process for the submission of—”
Tobias shrugged. “I got bored waiting.”
They both knew he dropped a couple of sovereigns to skip past the queues every time he came here. He wasn’t the only one… though, admittedly, most of the well-heeled gentry who clogged up the viscount’s waiting rooms with their petitions, complaints, and appeals were not also known to have had quite so much personal involvement with Kirkwall’s seamier districts.
Tobias suppressed a small smile at the thought of some of the chinless wonders he’d seen downstairs getting their pretty little hands dirty with the blood of slavers and Carta thugs. If his reputation did precede him, it certainly seemed to make the clerks that little bit keener to allow him access to the inner offices. That wasn’t a bad thing, was it?
Seneschal Bran narrowed his eyes. The older man took little trouble to disguise his dislike, though Tobias wasn’t sure whether it stemmed from personal or political motives.
“I don’t see why the Amell estate is so important to you,” Bran said, unfastening the tie that held the papers. “It’s a crumbling ruin. Wouldn’t someone like you do better to pour that new-found wealth into a more, ahem, impressive prospect?”
Tobias arched an eyebrow, but kept his face locked into the same default mask of mildly sarcastic nonchalance. So, that was it, was it? Plain and simple distaste for the nouveau riche dog-lord getting his sticky fingers into old Kirkwall. He watched the seneschal thumb through today’s batch of papers—yet more notarised copies of the deeds, the will, and sworn statements from Gamlen renouncing his claim to the estate, and disputing the legality of the gamble he’d lost it on in the first place—lip curled as if the parchment was sticky.
“Maybe. Still, say what you will about the old place,” Tobias added airily, tilting his head just enough to start making out some of the other papers on Bran’s desk, “but I rather think I’ll settle in well. When we finally get there… of course.”
The seneschal exhaled a short, stiff breath, and hastily pulled a blotter over the exposed paperwork. Tobias smiled, fairly certain he’d caught sight of an imperial Orlesian seal. Interesting. Bran scrawled a hasty receipt on a blank piece of parchment and signed it with a flourish.
“Here.” He pushed it towards Tobias. “Get that stamped. You know where. You’ll receive notification when the viscount’s office has officially logged and reviewed your request.”
“Again?” Tobias sighed wearily. “This is third time we’ve submitted the sodding paperwork.”
“It’s due process,” the seneschal said smugly, meeting his gaze directly for the first time. “And there are some distinctly dubious aspects to the case. One could argue the rightful owners are in fact—”
“If you say those bastard slavers,” Tobias snapped, his veneer of sardonic calm well and truly fractured, “by Andraste’s tits, I will spike your hand to this bloody desk.”
Seneschal Bran rose slowly from his seat, eyes twinkling with a not altogether pleasant humour, and that broad face set into a predatory smile. He wasn’t a bad-looking man, Tobias had to admit, as far as bureaucrats, or men old enough to be his father, went… and part of him did enjoy getting to lock horns on these visits.
“Ah, yes.” The seneschal bit his lower lip thoughtfully, his voice caressing the words like the hilts of weapons. “One almost forgets. Serah Hawke, whose righteous anger awaits the unjust of Kirkwall, wherever they are to be found. Foe to slavers, swindlers, and bandits, and champion of the subjugated. You have such a fondness for the dispossessed, don’t you, messere?”
His sarcasm dripped like honey on the air between them. Strong sunlight, slanting through the leaded glass windows of the chamber, threaded golden highlights through his dark auburn hair, and picked out the scattering of freckles on his redhead’s skin.
“And not just the refugees,” Bran went on. “That, I could understand. Solidarity, and all that… but it’s more, isn’t it? Seems there isn’t a minority in this city you won’t associate with. Elves, criminals, known Raiders, foreign fugitives—”
Tobias sighed inwardly. Aveline had told Fenris his occupancy of Danarius’ mansion had not gone unremarked, either by the guard or the rest of Hightown. He set his jaw, refusing to give away any glint of recognition.
“—even apostate mages,” the seneschal said smoothly, that golden-brown gaze lancing into him with the accuracy of a well-guided blade.
Tobias felt the corner of his left eye twitch, and stifled the urge to swear.
“I haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about,” he said, flexing one shoulder into a nonchalant shrug. He cleared his throat. “You, uh, you should open some windows in here, let the air blow through. It’s really very stuffy. Can’t be good for a person.”
Seneschal Bran’s expression didn’t change, though his jaw tightened just a little.
“Take your receipt, serah. Your claim will be revised and reviewed in good time and—when it is possible—you may even receive your audience with Viscount Dumar. Your mother… she keeps well, yes?”
The sudden transition of tone almost threw Tobias further off-balance.
“As well as can be expected,” he said, letting all the references he could have made to Lowtown and the old city slums hang, unsaid, in the air.
“Good. Then I must not keep you. Good day, Serah Hawke.”
Tobias bowed his head stiffly, the gesture just shallow enough to fall shy of proper respect.
Naturally, there was more waiting in line to do. More paperwork. More clerks and desks and the infernal scratching of nibs on parchment…. Eventually, Tobias wearied of being made to jump through hoops. He leaned ostentatiously against a wall outside the notary’s office, cleaning his fingernails with the point of his very plain, very well-used dagger. All the nice, respectable members of the gentry, and the representatives of guildhalls and merchants’ companies who passed by the hallway stared at him, eyes wide and mouths pursed. Eventually, the clerk came running out to see the common thug who was putting the wind up his well-heeled clients.
Tobias got what needed signing signed, and listened to the blithe assurances that the appeal would be processed with the utmost haste and diligence.
They couldn’t parcel him out of there fast enough. He was merely surprised that no one tried to make him use the back door… he supposed the keep must have one.
It was late afternoon by the time he slipped down into the Undercity, navigating the maze of tunnels and ruined passages as easily as if he was one of the poor bastards who actually lived there.
Even the smell didn’t seem as bad as it used to. He wondered whether he ought to be concerned by that, but there was actually something comforting about it.
Tobias whistled cheerfully to himself as he picked his way through to Anders’ clinic.
As ever, the lantern was lit, and knots of people passed in and out of the wooden doors. The dim, pungent air held traces of sawdust, sweat, piss, blood and vomit, along with the scent of herbal liniments and boiled elfroot, and Tobias couldn’t stop the smile creeping over his face.
There was so much about Kirkwall that he hated. It was a pig of a city, rife with crime, cruelty and casual violence. He loathed its double standards, its blind eyes and uncaring, corrupt systems. He loathed the way the city-states of the Marches, by their very nature, felt more selfish than Ferelden ever had. There was no sense of national identity, none of the muddy, squint-eyed pride that his home country had… and Tobias missed that more than he’d ever expected.
Still, it seemed strange to him that—amidst all the demons, the politics, the bureaucracy and the cheap, nasty gang wars that ripped through Kirkwall’s -underbelly—this should be the one place in the whole damn town where it felt most like he belonged.
Stupid thoughts, he told himself, as he edged around two women arguing outside the doors. Stupid, hopeless thoughts tied up with all the stupid, hopeless things he kept wanting… and kept coming back for.
You’re a fool, Hawke. And you don’t learn, do you?
It surprised him to spot a familiar face in the middle of the clinic’s busy thrum. Not Anders… Tobias’ eye was drawn to him immediately, of course, the pale figure at the centre of the throng, blond hair pinned at the back of his head, a few loose strands tucked neatly behind his ears, and a tired smile on his face. The whole place tasted of the bittersweet, metallic tang of his magic, the way frost rimes the very air in winter.
There was another figure, though… standing in front of him, hands on her hips, dark hair spilling down the curve of her back, her white tunic a stark contrast to the deep brown of her skin.
Anders glanced over Isabela’s shoulder, acknowledging Tobias’ approach with a slight nod and a widening of his smile. He turned his attention back to her and—with a glint of mischief in his eyes—raised his voice just enough to draw Tobias in on the meaning.
“Just don’t come running to me next time you pick up one of these diseases,” he said, handing over a small, squat clay pot.
Tobias was familiar enough with the type, and the contents. He’d had a jar or two of ointments for unpleasant rashes from Anders although—thank the Maker—he’d never caught a dose of anything nasty enough at Lusine’s to warrant dropping his trousers for a full inspection.
Isabela took the pot and arched one thin brow coldly. “Isn’t that the point of magic?”
Anders just grinned as, with a haughty sniff, she tossed her hair and strode from the clinic, sweeping past a crowd of waiting patients with all the arrogant grace of a woman who hadn’t just had her smallclothes around her ankles. Still, Tobias thought, nodding in response to the icy glower she gave him on her way, it wasn’t as if Isabela was often far from that state.
He tried not to think about that time in the Deep Roads. There hadn’t been a repeat of it, although she had propositioned him once or twice… the way she did everyone. He hadn’t put much store by it.
Anders, now wiping his hands on a wet rag, snorted with ill-concealed amusement. Tobias caught his eye and, for one brief moment, wondered if he’d— no, he wouldn’t have. Would he?
The fleeting visions of white skin against dark, twisting bodies and panting breath—riven with all those ale-drenched stories of the whorehouse in Denerim, and the debauched promiscuity of Anders’ early apostasy—ripped a raw, gaping wound of jealousy through Tobias’ chest. It was sudden, violent, and unexpected, and he gathered from the broad grin that spread over Anders’ face that he must look shocked.
He blinked, wrinkling his nose as if he was merely contemplating the practicalities of Isabela’s visit.
“I don’t even want to know,” Tobias said laconically, which got another grin from Anders.
Maker, that smile….
The familiar ache of desire plucked at him, and he did his best to ignore it. He smiled back, and stepped aside to allow a woman with a small child wrapped up in her shawl to pass, already clamouring for healing and attention.
Anders shot him a regretful look and jerked his head towards the back of the clinic, where the usual rank of boiling pots and anonymous assistants were making up potions and poultices.
“Sorry, Hawke. I don’t suppose you could…?”
Tobias nodded. “Sure.”
“Thanks. I won’t be long. It shouldn’t— yes, I know,” he added, addressing the woman with the child. “No, it’s not… he’s not going to— look, if you’ll just listen….”
Tobias edged away and left Anders to deal with her panicky entreaties. He looked tired again, but when didn’t he?
It was just as the shadowy, untraceable Elias had said: the people were getting used to his presence. They had taken the Darktown healer to their hearts, yes, but their loyalty bore the price of expectation. Maybe Anders had gone to the slums to hide… but they thought they owned him now.
Tobias greeted one of the anonymous assistants—a girl of about thirteen, this one, pale-faced and struggling to wield the copper full of boiling spindleweed—and tried to make himself useful. Even after all these visits, he still knew little about herbs and poultices, however hard he’d tried to learn.
He occupied his hands with stirring and lifting and pouring, as directed by the thin, nervous girl-child—even her bitten fingernails and ink-stained, scholar’s hands seemed to shout ‘Circle runaway’—and watched Anders work through his patients.
He’d said, once, that Karl was the reason he’d come to Kirkwall… that his letters had told of concerns for the safety of mages in the city.
Anders still bore the scars of that night at the chantry, Tobias suspected… still held on to the guilt of not having been able to save his former lover, and the pain of Karl’s betrayal. He didn’t speak of it—they’d never spoken of it in any detail, though there was much Tobias yearned to ask—but the signs were there. Maybe he’d sought penance in the work he was doing here. Maybe he was just trying to blot out everything.
Maybe, next to his great cause, beside the whole whirling torrent of ideals and desperation, memories of someone like Karl stopped mattering.
Tobias wondered, and yet knew he wouldn’t ask. He remembered when the spectre of Bethany’s death stopped preying on his every waking moment. There had been the guilt at the fact he’d let it happen, when—just like his mother said—he should have protected her, should have saved her, and then there had been the guilt over daring to feel less guilty. It was a strange and vicious cycle.
They’d talked about the Circle, when they were children, him and Bethany. She’d gone through a phase of wondering what it was like, and almost beginning to imagine it could be preferable to a life on the run. Tobias had thought that quite possible; somewhere safe, where you didn’t have to worry about where the next meal was coming from, or hide from templars… where there might be other people like you. Malcolm had knocked those notions out of them soon enough. Whenever the Circle had been mentioned in his hearing, his expression had grown tight and dark, that smiling mouth thinned to a taut line, his blue eyes grown hard and uncharacteristically cold.
Tobias shook the thoughts, packed them away for another place, another time, and worked on in companionable silence until Anders was finished.
He came over once the clinic emptied out a bit, nodded to the skinny girl-child, and gave her the brass key that opened the cupboard on the far wall. She smiled, scurried off, and went to deal with dishing out salves and potions to the walking… well, if not wounded, then at least moderately itchy. Obviously a healer of promise herself, Tobias decided, noting the approval with which Anders watched her go.
He sniffed, scrubbed one stained hand over his hair, and raised an eyebrow at Tobias.
“So, how are you, Hawke?”
Tobias shrugged. “Can’t complain.”
“No?” Anders cocked his head to the side. “You look a bit rough.”
“Well… it was a heavy night. You should come by the mansion sometime. Boozing, gambling… proper boy stuff,” Tobias added with a grin.
It raised a smile from Anders, albeit a slightly wan one. “I thought you were supposed to be laying off the sauce.”
“More or less. But I’m weak.” Tobias shrugged slyly. “I need you there to keep me in check.”
Anders winced. “I doubt Fenris would welcome my presence.”
“Ah, he needs to lighten up a bit.”
“Mm. It surprises me that you still… associate with him. Or he with you. The, er, mage thing doesn’t…?”
There seemed to be something slightly odd in Anders’ tone, but Tobias struggled to identify quite what. He wrinkled his nose.
“Wee-ell,” he said slowly, “I don’t know. He never mentions it. I suppose we have a… tacit understanding. I think, had I endured what he has, I’d probably think the same way.”
Anders’ expression stiffened and darkened. “You don’t think his hatred is dangerous, not to mention irrational? He’s like a wild dog, snarling at everything… he’s barely capable of control. I just—”
His mouth snapped shut abruptly, and he shook his head, obviously unwilling to say whatever it was he wanted to.
Tobias’ frown deepened. If he hadn’t known better, he’d have said Anders sounded jealous. Of course, that was ridiculous. Utterly, completely… daft.
“You just what?” he prompted.
Anders shrugged, his gaze dropping to the floorboards as he crossed his arms over his chest defensively.
“I… worry about you. From time to time. The things you do, the people you—no, forget it. Sorry. It’s not my business.”
Tobias tilted his head to the side, curiosity piqued by Anders’ sudden tight-lipped quiet.
“I know you and Fenris don’t see eye-to-eye,” he said, carefully probing the silence. “But I don’t think he’s… well, y’know… he’s got reasons to be the way he is. We all have.”
“Have we?” Anders said hollowly, staring at the floorboards.
Tobias cleared his throat, uneasy at the tension on the other man’s face. He hated it when Anders was like this; he didn’t know what he was supposed to say, what he wasn’t supposed to say… nothing he did seemed to be right.
“So, uh, we… we haven’t had much chance to talk in a while,” he said, not allowing himself to admit that he’d been avoiding Anders a little, as if he really could lull himself into some kind of numbness. “H-how are things?”
How are you? It was what he meant. Justice… the whole situation. There just didn’t seem to be a way of asking that didn’t sound awful, as if he was checking whether the insanity had kicked in yet.
Anders snorted, but he sounded more tired than actually irritable.
“Oh, you know… everything’s great. I just love what Knight-Commander Meredith’s done with the city.”
Tobias winced. That bitterness, roiling on the edge of his words, sounded strained and tight, as if he was fighting to hold on, to keep control. Tobias glanced at him, not liking what he saw. Anders’ fixed, pinched glower was unfocused, his anger apparently directed inward, a struggle within himself… a struggle with Justice, Tobias supposed. He wondered what that felt like, having the spirit’s thoughts and feelings interlaced with his—did a creature of the Fade actually have feelings?—and how hard it was to identify the different consciousnesses within your own head. It scared him, the thought of what it must be like to lose yourself that way… but it wasn’t his problem, he reminded himself.
“Curfews, midnight raids on mages’ families.” Anders curled his lip, as if the words themselves tasted foul. “Everyone I know, forced into hiding so they won’t be made Tranquil.”
No matter how he tried to hide it, his breathing was speeding up. He cleared his throat, a frown passing across his brow as he shook his head, evidently trying to steer himself away from the things to which he wanted to give vent.
Tobias noticed the white arrow of his throat flutter a little where it rose from his coat, and the hand that he lifted to his hair—smoothing down those errant few strands that always seemed to be poking free—appeared to tremble, albeit almost imperceptibly.
“Anders,” he began, aware something more than the usual must be wrong. “Wh—?”
“I-I had templars here the other night. Practically on the doorstep.”
“What?” Tobias frowned, jerked into sharpness by a sudden, cold lurch of fear. “They were after you?”
Anders shook his head again. He looked up, met Tobias’ gaze, and that moment of emotion slid away once more, tucked beneath the glib, glassy façade that he seemed to hide so readily behind.
“Me? No, not specifically. They were just checking the refugee camps. There’s a whole shantytown out there in the tunnels. But… it’s not like this place is a secret. It’s only a matter of time, I suppose,” he added, sounding strangely contemplative.
Tobias watched his brow tighten, and wondered if he was imagining the sense that Anders might be weighing something up, as if the prospect of arrest by the templars was a factor in some kind of fated game of chance.
Dread clasped his heart in a dry, rough grip, and squeezed.
“Shouldn’t tell me things like that,” he mumbled. “I might have to lock you up to keep them off you.”
Shut up. Stop talking, right now… oh, sod. Still, could have been worse. I could have said tie up.
Unbidden, tantalising thoughts pricked at his mind, and Tobias shoved the sinuous shapes away, back into the dark spaces reserved for his solitary, silent nights.
Evidently distracted from whatever he’d started to think about, Anders gave him a small, sad smile.
“Well, they’re not so much interested in me as destroying my kind and all I represent,” he said, though the glibness had started to fail, and his face darkened. “Meredith’s out of control. Even her own people have been talking about it. I don’t suppose you’ve…?”
“Carver?” Tobias shrugged. “We just had a letter from him, as a matter of fact. He doesn’t write much, but I have been getting the feeling things are… strained within the order.”
Anders nodded slowly, and he looked fleetingly apologetic, as if he regretted bringing up the name.
“I’m not surprised. Things just keep getting worse, and the templars just keep—”
Whatever had happened had him more rattled than he was admitting. There was that nervous hair-smoothing thing again, the faint quiver in those long, stain-smudged fingers. Before Tobias realised it, he’d stepped closer, reached out and laid his hand on Anders’ sleeve.
“If they want you,” he said, his voice low and steady, husky against the quiet of the almost empty clinic, “then they’ll have to come through me.”
Anders blinked, and a look of incredible peace touched his eyes. It didn’t last long, but it softened his face immeasurably, and seemed to melt away the distance between them.
Not for the first time, Tobias fought the urge to pull the other man into a hug. It didn’t have to be a full expression of anything—no grinding passion, no desperate heat—just the simple warmth of an embrace. He wanted to feel Anders’ head on his shoulder, and to hold him until the world started to seem like a safer place… however long that took.
It wasn’t his right, though. He couldn’t demand it. And now Anders was looking down at the hand on his sleeve, and Tobias just knew he was going to move away, and it was going to hurt like a knife to the gut when it happened.
Anders extricated himself delicately, shook his head, and cleared his throat.
“You’re at as much risk as I am,” he said, not quite meeting Tobias’ eye. “I know you said Carver wasn’t in the business of ratting out family, but if—”
He broke off, staring at the floorboards with a pinched, worried expression.
“What?” Tobias cocked an eyebrow, hiding the ache of loss behind a mask of scepticism. “Not worried about little old me again?”
Anders smiled wearily, raising his head to meet Tobias’ gaze, and shrugged.
“Maybe,” he admitted. “A bit.”
The wide, triumphant grin that spread over Tobias’ face earned him a reproachful look from Anders, tinged with the playful wickedness he didn’t think he’d ever get enough of seeing. It faded, though, and Anders’ face grew serious… solemn, even.
“This is your fight, too,” he said softly. “One day, the world must see us as people, not just mages. You believe that, don’t you?”
The question took Tobias aback, and he shot a nervous glance across the clinic. The girl-child apprentice was still dishing out salves and potions, though all but the last few patients had left.
Tobias blinked guiltily. “Well, yes. Of course I—”
“Then help me make it happen.”
He stared. There was such a wash of belief in Anders’ face, of impassioned conviction and bright, pure idealism, that Tobias wasn’t sure how to respond. He swallowed heavily, unable to see much beyond the dark eyes fixed on his, twin pools of need and… trust?
It was almost too much. He didn’t know where it had come from, this moment, but he was terrified of letting it go. He nodded clumsily.
“Mm-hmm.” Tobias cleared his throat hurriedly. “I mean, I… yes. Anything you want me to— anything I can do.”
Anders smiled, and that subtle curve of his lips sent shivers skittering through Tobias’ flesh. He wet his lower lip with the tip of his tongue, prepared to pledge everything he had to any cause Anders wanted to name.
It wouldn’t have been a choice. It was as easy as breathing. So much easier than having to say his chaste goodbye and walk home to a cold bed, wondering whether why they kept doing this to themselves, when it was all so bloody stupid.
“I know you’ve been asking questions,” Anders said softly. “About the Underground.”
Tobias supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised. Despite its size, Kirkwall really was a peculiarly small town sometimes. He curled his lip.
“Mm. Didn’t turn up many answers, though.”
Anders shrugged dismissively. “Don’t take it to heart. They’re very secretive. That is, we…. Look, you’ve done a lot for mages in this city. The boy, Feynriel, and all the others you’ve helped instead of turning in. I know you mean well, Hawke, and you’re a good man. We need people like you.”
He fixed Tobias with a deep-eyed look, as if there was some sacred meaning to the words, but all Tobias could hear thrumming in his veins was I need you. It wasn’t quite what he’d said—maybe it wasn’t even what he meant—but it was close enough, for now.
A small smile curved the corner of Anders’ lips, though it didn’t seem to reach as far as his eyes.
“There’s a meeting in three days. In the Undercity. I won’t say where but, if I take you with me…?”
Tobias nodded fervently. He didn’t know whether it was an expression of trust, or whether he’d passed some clandestine test or something. Frankly, he didn’t care.
“Yes! I mean—”
Anders’ smile grew a little firmer. “Right, then.”
And so it was decided.
Later, back home in the quiet of his bunk, with Gamlen snoring in the next room, Tobias would wonder whether Anders was manipulating him intentionally. If so, it was cruel… and he didn’t seem like a cruel man. Of course, people would do damn near anything for something they believed in, Tobias reflected.
He knew he would.