Over the next ten days, Hawke kept busy familiarizing herself with the household staff and servants while aiding in preparations for the coronation. She brought order to it all with surprising alacrity, finding herself grinning quietly each time she realized how proud her mother would be, not just of her rise in station, but by how well she’d fallen in line with her duties. She really did have a knack for making order of absolute chaos; if only she could that with her own life, things would be grand.
As Coronation Day drew nearer, and the city and castle began to bustle with foreign diplomats come to see Starkhaven returned to its former glory, Sebastian refused to negotiate without Kirkwall at the table beside. Even Seneschal Bran would be delighted to see how well she represented the city’s interests, inspiring several offers of financial support toward restorations, as well as volunteers to aid in rebuilding the central parts of the city destroyed during the rebellion.
It would take years to see Kirkwall set right again, and though she’d never quite thought the City of Chains her home, she was still its viscountess. People she loved were there, and she would do what she could to give them the peace and prosperity they deserved after the mayhem her actions brought to their lives.
With foreign dignitaries came news of several more mage uprisings throughout Thedas, circles dissolving, Templars abandoning the chantry, fighting in the hills and just beyond the borders of several countries. Everyone was sure a full-scale revolution was on the horizon; Hawke was convinced they were right. Still, the Templars in Starkhaven were steadfast in their watch over the few mages who took sanctuary in the chantry priory. The mages there had given no one cause to believe they intended to join the rebellion, but it worried her nonetheless that there was more going on beneath the city of Starkhaven than anyone dared to imagine. Living in Kirkwall had certainly corrupted her view of things.
At night in bed, Sebastian assured her she had nothing to fear; he would never allow what happened in Kirkwall to happen in his city. At the first sign of trouble, he wouldn’t hesitate to rout out the offending mages and put an end to them before things got out of control like they did back in Kirkwall. And he would watch over the Templars, as well, making sure they were fair and just in their treatment of the few mages who did live in Starkhaven.
She trusted him, of course, but she’d grown slowly into her wariness for mages, seen far too much bad come out of something she always believed to be good, and her experiences did very little to persuade her into being more forthright about the child she still fretted over telling him she carried.
Deep down she knew her chances of even giving birth to a mage were fifty-fifty. She either would, or she wouldn’t, and it would be years before the child’s power manifested and she even knew the difference. Bethany had been a perfectly normal little girl, sweet and kind and full of laughter… until she set her bed sheets on fire in the throes of a bad dream. If they did have a mage, however, it would be up to her and Sebastian to teach their child the difference between right and wrong. Just like Malcolm Hawke taught little Bethany, but their father was a mage. He knew what he was doing… mostly.
Everything kept coming back to her sister, to the things Varric said that afternoon in the chantry. Bethany was everything good, and bright, and beautiful in the world, the very representation of what a mage should be. There was a reason Varric called her Sunshine: Bethany shone.
Much of that was their father’s doing. Hawke remembered the lessons Malcolm taught her little sister. She used to make an effort to sit by and watch as he showed his youngest daughter how to channel her energy into a staff he crafted for her with his own two hands from an oak branch he brought back from the Brecilian Forest. She only needed to close her eyes to hear their father’s voice calmly praising his little girl for doing exactly as he told her, to feel the guilty twinge of jealousy she’d felt as a child when she worried Daddy loved Bethy best because she was more like him.
Still, she could remember every lesson, and she felt fairly confident she could pass the things she learned vicariously through her sister onto her own child—assuming that child was even a mage.
Maker, why was she so afraid?
Those fears actually guided her to the chantry, of all places, for solace and comfort. In the early mornings, before the sisters began to sing the Chant and the world’s expectations started tugging her in a hundred different directions at once, she made her way to the front row of pews, sat down beneath Andraste’s shadow, and let peace wash over her for a little while. She thought clearly there, more clearly than she ever had before, and it felt… strange.
She’d never spent time in the Chantry as a child because she learned early on not to draw attention because Father was different, and the Templars might take him away. She had it all down by the time the first spark of Bethany’s magic exposed itself, and spent the days of her early adolescence keeping close watch on little sister, who liked to meditate in the chapel every chance she got. She feared the Chantry, feared Andraste and the Maker because of the life she led as a child, but as things grew more complicated, as she began to feel more and more overwhelmed… First Carver, then Bethany, then Mother… she found comfort in the Chant, and not just because she found Sebastian in the cathedral whenever she needed him. Most of the time she didn’t even know what they were singing, but the sound of it made everything feel more… tolerable.
She didn’t know how to pray, even though she’d heard Sebastian ask Andraste for both guidance and forgiveness thousands of times over the years. If there was a method to it, she wasn’t sure, but in those quiet moments of peace she simply hoped if there really was a Maker, if Andraste did guide and watch over them, they were up there listening. That they’d send guidance, reassurance, succor.
Varric was actually intrigued, and dare she say just a little bit pleased, to discover her quietly contemplating in the chantry one morning before breakfast. She’d always known there was a silent, spiritual side to her friend, but he kept it well bottled up. He had no qualms telling her he thought she was being morose and melodramatic about the whole baby thing, worrying about things that might never even come to pass. For all she knew, he pointed out, the baby could be born with two heads, and she didn’t seem the least bit worried about that.
“Well, make no mistake,” she tried not to laugh, though it was very silly when he put it that way, “I am worried about it now! Whatever would I do with a two-headed baby?”
“You’d think of something,” he shrugged before he went on to warn her that the longer she kept it secret from Choir Boy, the harder he was going to take it when he did finally find out—especially if he didn’t hear it from her.
“Oh, you’re probably right.”
He usually was, except for that one time he wasn’t… with that piece of the red lyrium idol Bartrand brought back from the deep roads, but she was sure the two situations were completely incomparable to one another.
Each time she was with him it she realized how much she was going to miss him when the palace and city began to swell with well-wishers and do-gooders come to witness the official naming of Starkhaven’s prince and princess at the coronation. With so many bodies abuzz, Varric retreated to his rooms to work on what he promised would be his magnum opus: The Tale of the Champion. Occasionally he emerged from his chamber when he thought it might be safe, ink stains coloring his forearms and hands, splotched over his doublet and specking the beard he didn’t even realize he was growing because he was so wrapped up in his own words he forgot to shave. He drank a lot, which bothered Sebastian, who was far too worried about what other people would think of their drunk, dwarven guest from Kirkwall.
She didn’t see as much of him as she would have liked. She valued his advice and the shoulder he offered, but she understood his need for solitude as the muses danced and distracted him from the world outside his own mind. As the palace bustled, however, and word actually spread that author Varric Tethras was locked away somewhere penning his next bestseller, people couldn’t wait for him to emerge and regale them with stories and adventures that painted her in a far more flattering light than she felt she deserved.
She wasn’t sure how to feel about him writing an entire book detailing her exploits. It was one thing to tell stories in the tavern, or to entertain easily-amused nobles at some ostentatious banquet she dragged him to, but an entire tome painting their trials and tribulations for all to see… If anyone could do her justice, make her look larger than life and less like a villain than she felt most of the time, it was Varric. Nevertheless, it made her nervous.
To say the least, keeping herself busy was a fine distraction. After a couple of days Sebastian stopped worrying he was hurting her while playing the aggressor in bed, and she relished under his command. They often kept one another up long into the night making up for years of lost time spent yearning. From time to time his long looks lingered across the table at breakfast, as he no doubt tried to figure out what was going on behind the closed doors of her mind, but he kept his promise.
He didn’t push, though he did occasionally remind her he was there for her whenever she decided she was ready to talk. He was going to think her very silly, when she did finally tell him. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe his fears would match her own, and they would spend the next several months fretting they might bring an abomination into the world. And after that it would be years of watching, waiting, worrying their precious child was one finger snap away from setting the draperies in the nursery on fire…
“You’re doing it again,” Varric warned through lips pursed tight. He was horrible at whispering, the gruff sound of his voice drawing several heads around to glare at them because of how far it carried through the bustling vestibule. “You’re chewing the corner of your mouth like you do when you’re all wrapped up inside your own head. I thought you were going to tell him.”
“I can’t very well tell him with everything else going on. After the coronation,” she said stiffly, a hand reaching down to itch the stiff fabric of her pristine gown. White… the gown was white. She had no idea who thought that was a good idea; Sebastian, most likely. Carver always used to say white was the worst when it came to blood stains, one of the few things the two of them ever agreed on. Maker, was she planning on killing someone? Oh, who was she kidding? She never planned to kill anyone; it just sort of happened. A lot.
She shouldn’t even be out there, but she needed one last reassurance from Varric that she wasn’t completely insane. He didn’t give it, of course, but she still felt a little better having seen him.
She felt preposterous, a complete farce, all trussed up like a pig with all the trimmings. And she did feel like a pig, the bodice of her gown pressing tight against her stomach, which she swore had suddenly expanded twice its size since her final fitting three days earlier.
“This gown is a disaster.”
“It is not. You look very nice, Hawke. Almost virginal.”
Jabbing her elbow into his shoulder, she rolled her eyes. “I haven’t looked virginal since I was fourteen years old. Besides, you have to say nice things because you know I’m wearing daggers on both thighs and I will kill anyone who makes me feel bad about this whole charade.”
“I don’t have to say anything, and you don’t scare me.” She glared at him. “All right, maybe you do scare me a little. A lot, all right. You terrify me, but that’s not the point. The point is you better get going. Choir Boy will think you absconded back to Kirkwall.”
“Will you be all right out here alone?”
“You know me,” he shrugged. “I make friends with everyone. Maybe I’ll cozy up to Ferelden’s king, see what stories he has to te—is that… Shit, it can’t be.”
Hawke followed his gaze across the foyer, a small gasp of shock puffing through her lips. King Alistair was very handsome, the kind of handsome that made little hearts flutter ostentatiously if he so much as looked one’s way, which he did, offering an awkward sort of wave to the Viscountess of Kirkwall. He made several odd gestures, which she guessed were some kind of mime routine asking what in the world she was doing out there, but she only chuckled and shook her head, shrugging in reply from across the foyer. “He’s very funny, you know, but I get the feeling his uncle doesn’t let him say half of what’s really on his mind.” Arl Teagan stood stiffly beside the King of Ferelden, the muscles in his jaw so tight he looked like he might break his teeth if he tried to smile.
“Not him.” Varric nudged her toward the elven woman standing one the other side of Ferelden’s king in formal blue and grey Warden attire. A silver griffon shimmered across the front of her chemise, and though the guard checked all weapons before anyone was allowed into the cathedral, all three Wardens standing around the king were fully armed. “Her.” Hawke recognized the one lingering close to the elf as Nathaniel Howe, whom she’d rescued in the Deep Roads almost two years earlier. The other warden, the one with the fancy mustache and Orlesian shield, she didn’t know.
“Maker’s balls.” Hawke’s hand shot up to cover her mouth a little too late. Several of Starkhaven’s pious nobles shot glares over their shoulders at her for blaspheming in the chantry foyer. Lowering her voice, she bent down and whispered, “Is that the Hero of Ferelden?”
“Looks like,” he nodded. “I wonder what the Wardens are doing here?”
“Well, she is King Alistair’s general.”
“Did she come to offer troops to Starkhaven, then? You know, I bet she has more than a few stories to tell.”
“Anders said she and the king were some kind of item during the blight, but he dumped her when he took the throne, and then her and Howe…” How bizarre and unsettling it was to speak of the man she once called friend so casually, like betraying her own heart. She had no right to refer to him, to remember anything other than the vengeful horror he’d become before the end. The words died on her lips as she stared at the elf, wondering what a hero like her would think of the things Hawke had done, how she’d brought their mutual friend Anders to justice—no pun intended—after the things he did in Kirkwall.
Varric tensed beside her. “Go on, Hawke. Go get crowned. I’ll feel her out, get all the juicy details about her torrid Deep Roads love affair and the king who broke her heart, and then I’ll fill you in later at the reception. Maybe I’ll even introduce you to her,” he winked conspiratorially before nudging her on her way.
“But I want to sit next to the Hero of Ferelden now,” she whined.
“I’m sure you two can exchange heroics at the festivities later on, and you’ll let me take notes. Go.”
She did as Varric urged, joining Sebastian and the Revered Mother to go over the details of the ceremony one last time. She would kneel before the people, and they would accept her as the prince’s consort. There would be crownings, and Sebastian would give a grand speech about peace, prosperity, unity, and a bunch of other things he over-rehearsed in the days leading up to the ceremony. She’d heard him practice it so many times, if worse came to worst she could do it for him.
It was mid-afternoon when the ceremony started. Between the humidity rolling off the Minanter River and all those bodies crammed into the Chantry, Hawke felt like was going to melt right into a puddle on the marble floors. She wasn’t nervous, but she did feel a little dizzy. While kneeling before all of Starkhaven and a horde of visiting foreigners, she wavered a little and nearly lost her balance. Catching herself before anyone could notice, she grinned up at the Revered Mother, closed her eyes, and prayed silently to the Maker to keep her conscious until the end of the ceremony.
She swore if she just made it through the coronation, she’d suffer anything He threw at her, and she promised she would tell Sebastian everything she’d been keeping from him. About the baby, about her overwhelming fear that there was a mage growing inside her, and the worry he wouldn’t love her anymore. Maybe he wouldn’t, but she’d just have to deal with that, wouldn’t she?
The Maker held up His end of the bargain, or so it seemed, and when she stood upright again, a shimmering circlet placed among the loose braids of her ebony hair, she felt renewed, though still a little hot. Not once did she waver as she stood beside Sebastian while he received his crown, and when he cleared his throat to being his speech, he glanced momentarily over at her for support.
She’d never seen him so anxious. Not on their wedding day, nor their wedding night. Not when they stormed Vael Castle to take back his family’s city and the throne that rightfully belonged to him. But standing there in front of his people, he was terrified he’d let them down.
Hawke smiled as she met his eyes and gave an encouraging nod. Her head felt a little heavier, even though she could barely feel the weight of the crown. She suspected Varric was somehow right, and her melon had finally swollen beyond capacity, but she’d worry about her ego later. Reaching over, Sebastian took her hand in his, and then turned to address the vast crowd in front of them.
He began by remembering his family, noting with regret that though the life he now led was not the one they wished for him, he knew they would be proud of the man he’d become. He spoke of the immense hardship Starkhaven suffered eight years earlier when the Vael family was assassinated, and the long, arduous rule of a foolish, selfish man who should never have come to power. He gave the Harriman’s no due, refusing to even name them or their crimes against the Vaels. He went to talk about her then, unable to take his eyes from her face as he credited every ounce of his strength to her love, support, and guidance before promising his people their combined vigilance and protection against any storm that might threaten their fair city.
Of course, she only asked the Maker to keep her from passing out in front of all those people, so when tears began to swell in her eyes she had no one to blame but herself for not being more specific in her request to avoid absolute humiliation.
At least she wasn’t sobbing, that was always good, but two emotional breakdowns since she arrived in Starkhaven were going to merit an explanation.
Well played, Maker, or Andraste, or whoever it was making sure she had no choice but to tell him why she was an emotional wreck of a human. Well played indeed.