Wicked Graces: Chapter Ten

Hawke had been to many high society gatherings since reclaiming the Amell family home and making herself a prominent figure in Kirkwall. Even before she was the Champion, people seemed to know who she was, and they were always inviting her attend functions and festivities. She always dreaded going, as she more often than not wound up leaving covered in someone else’s blood, ruining a perfectly good outfit. Sebastian teasingly made her promise from the top of the stairs before descending into the party not to kill anyone, but as he winked over at her she was sure there was an actual hint of pleading in his eyes. He’d been to several of those parties with her—he knew what to expect.

“Oh stop,” she waved him off, “I’m not going to kill anyone. Not anyone important, anyway.”

“Hawke,” he warned as the herald announced their entry.

Once they reached the bottom of the stairs they didn’t have much opportunity for private conversation with one another as guest after guest made their way into the royal couple’s graces to offer congratulations, well-wishes, advice, and a couple of times she swore they were extending strange warnings. There’d been a target on her back so long, she expected it, but marrying up in station was certainly going to make that target a hell of a lot bigger. Let them come for her, let them try to tear her and Sebastian apart. Let them threaten her family… she dared them all to try.

It went on for hours, Hawke tuning back into each conversation at precisely the right moment, pretending to ignore the neglected looks from her husband as he realized she wasn’t actually standing beside him, but longing to be huddled in the corner with Varric making fun of people and their funny hats.

“Some of them are wearing very funny hats,” she managed to whisper, making him chortle a cough into his shoulder before scanning the room quickly and returning his attention to Lord Yves Montilyet of Antiva, who’d been talking about his eldest daughter… was it Jessamine? Jasmine? Something with a J. She didn’t know; she hadn’t been paying attention. She was more interested in the collection of Grey Wardens surrounding King Alistair and Varric as they traded stories that were no doubt far more interesting than Lord Montilyet’s heir.

The Hero of Ferelden looked utterly fascinated, interjecting once or twice to either agree or correct her king’s exaggerations while Nathaniel stood completely rigid with arms crossed, his guard up, and a pained expression marring his handsome features. She only just managed to tune back into her own conversation in time to agree wholeheartedly that it was a delight to meet the Antivan noble, and she would very much like to visit his family estate in Rialto to taste of the wine they were moderately famous for producing. As Lord Montilyet departed, Sebastian drew her aside before someone else had a chance to slip into the Antivan’s place.

“You’ve been amazing tonight,” he praised her, “but even I can see you can’t hold out much longer. You’re fidgeting like a child. Go,” he urged, “introduce yourself to the Hero of Ferelden and tell Varric to stop exaggerating about the size of that dragon in the Bone Pit.”

“It was a very large dragon,” she corrected.

“Well then, go over there and make sure he gets the details right.” He kissed the corner of her mouth, adding, “I’ll find you later.”

“Are you sure you’ll be all right without me? They won’t eat you alive?”

“You forget I grew up in this world, love,” he winked. “I know exactly how to handle these people. Watch.” He gave her hand a gentle squeeze before turning into the crowd and calling out to a Lord Raibart Tulach, before inserting himself into conversation with a group of men he’d apparently grown up with.

Hawke moved casually through the crowd, smiling, nodding—two things she was exceptionally good at—until she arrived just behind the Grey Wardens in time to hear the tail end of Varric’s retelling of her duel with the Arishok. He always made the whole thing sound ridiculous to the point of comedic, and swore if they ever made a play out of his Tale of the Champion once it was finished that scene would be pure slapstick complete with silly music while a horned giant chased this little slip of a woman with two really sharp blades around Viscount’s Keep until she finally managed to glide in behind him and stab both daggers into his immense back.

“I still say there isn’t enough running in that story.” She crossed her arms while listening, cocking her head and waiting to be noticed. “My calves were sore for weeks after that fight.”

“Hawke, there you are. I was beginning to think you were going to make us wait all night.”

“Hello again, Champion,” King Alistair extended a hand to her, lifting it chivalrously to his lips before asking, “or is it Viscountess now? Or Princess? I’ve been struggling to figure out what to call you all evening.”

“Just call her Hawke,” Varric insisted.

She offered a nonchalant shrug of agreement and said, “Everyone who’s anyone does. It’ll make us feel more like friends.”

“Well, all right, but only if you’ll call me Alistair without the stuffy king bits in front.” He raised a tankard of ale toward her to seal the deal. “Sometimes it’s nice to just be plain old Alistair.”

“Don’t let Teagan hear you telling people that, Alistair. You’ll give him heartburn,” the Hero of Ferelden interjected, turning her amicable grin on Hawke. She had eyes the color of lavender flowers with bright specks of gold lighting the irises. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Your Highness. I’m Warden Commander Tabris,” she stuck out a slender hand, then added, “this is Warden Stroud, and I believe you’ve already had the pleasure of saving my dear Nathaniel’s backside in the Deep Roads.”

“Kyleah, please. She did not save my ass, she merely checked on it for Delilah. You know how my sister is, always worrying over nothing.” Turning his attention to her, he grinned and offered a playful wink, adding, “It’s good to see you again, Hawke.”

“As pleasant as it is to have you all here, I was surprised to see Wardens in Starkhaven. I hope your visit is purely congratulatory, and we aren’t expecting another blight.” Because that would be really bad, and just when things were starting to look up. Lovely. It was probably a blight. She would be bringing a magic-tainted child into a blighted world—because of course she would.

The Warden with the somber mustache cleared his throat, a subtle reminder to his fellows of their staunch oaths of secrecy, Hawke assumed, then in a very thick Orlesian accent explained rather stiffly, “While we’ve no news of a blight at this time, and we are happy to congratulate Her Highness on both her nuptials and her prince’s coronation, our visit is not entirely social.”

Hawke looked to Varric, then shifted her gaze to Warden Commander Tabris before returning it to the serious man in front of her. “I see,” she said, then shook her head and confessed, “no, I don’t see. I’m sorry, what?”

“Stroud, we talked about this,” Kyleah sighed. “I apologize, Your Highness.”

“Hawke, please,” she insisted.

“What Jean-Marc is trying to say, Hawke, is that while we feel guilty about crashing your husband’s coronation, and we do genuinely congratulate you both, our visit is multipurpose. When Alistair mentioned his invitation, I’m afraid I might have…”

“Thrown her Hero of Ferelden card down on the table right in front of me,” Alistair smirked, “and reminded me that in all the years we’ve known one another she’s never once taken advantage of my royal reach or my unquestionable soft spot for her.”

Nathaniel coughed uncomfortably, forcing the king to straighten his broad shoulders and suppress a very sour look that made the Hero of Ferelden’s pale face flush the softest shade of pink. “Alistair, please.”

“Yes, Alistair,” Nathaniel added, “please.”

You may call me King Alistair, Lord Howe, or Your Majesty, if it please you.”

“It doesn’t please me. And you know full well I am no longer a lord. Some of us wardens hold to our sacrifices once we’ve made them.”

“Nate,” Kyleah’s hand came down calmly over his forearm, fingers curling around the muscle and squeezing gently to calm him, “that’s enough.”

“Would anyone like another drink?” Hawke waved the passing servant over with a tray of champagne glasses and insisted everyone take a flute. She even took one herself, though she had no intention of actually drinking it. She stood there holding it uncomfortably while her best friend took it all in. Leave it to Varric to see profit in someone else’s romantic hardships—though she wouldn’t deny being the least bit curious. Anders had told her stories back in those early years, about Ferelden’s king and the hero who put an end the blight. Apparently they’d taken great comfort in one another during the blight, only for Alistair to set her aside once he took Ferelden’s throne. He may have been handsome, even a little politically savvy, but love didn’t work that way.

“I literally can’t make this kind of shit up,” Varric marveled with a laugh. “No one would ever believe it, but please, do go on. I’m getting all kinds of inspired here.”

“Varric, not now,” Hawke sighed.

Ignoring the dwarf, Kyleah shot Alistair a hard look before returning her attention to the matter at hand. “We were going to wait until tomorrow to request an audience with you, Hawke, but…”

“An audience? With me?” Once again she sought out Varric’s eyes, but he held up his hands as if to say ‘don’t look at me.’

“We will file the proper petition with your people in the morning, of course, but you should know there is a matter of great importance we would like to discuss with you.”

“You swear it’s not a blight? Sebastian wouldn’t handle news of a blight in the Free Marches well right now, or ever really, and frankly, neither would I.”

“Make that three of us,” Varric chimed in.

“As Warden Stroud said, we have no news of a blight at present, but another matter has surfaced. One we would like to discuss with both you and Master Tethras at your earliest convenience.”

“Ah shit,” Varric muttered. “The Primeval Thaig…”

“Ah shit indeed,” Hawke agreed. She glanced a circle around all three wardens, expecting some kind of tell, but they were obviously very good at Wicked Grace. Of course they would be; what else did they have to do in the Deep Roads when they weren’t killing darkspawn? And judging from their pallor, they spent an exorbitant amount of time in the Deep Roads. “Unless it has something to do with the Vinnmark Mountains?”

The Warden Commander pressed her lips into a thin white line, which she held for several seconds, and then she said, “It would be better for all of us to discuss this behind closed doors when there isn’t a celebration going on all around us. The fewer prying ears about, the better. I will file a petition first thing in the morning.”

“I will make sure there is nothing else on my calendar.”

“I guess I should stop drinking now to make sure I actually get up in the morning,” Varric sighed.

“Or maybe you should have another drink,” she passed him her champagne, “so you can actually fall asleep tonight.”

“Good point.”

It was quiet then, unnervingly so, as the shine of meeting the Hero of Ferelden suddenly seemed to fade. She hadn’t known what she expected, but it certainly wasn’t to discover all three Wardens made a special appearance in Starkhaven to meet with her. A thousand harried thoughts rushed through her brain—memories of that Primeval Thaig, flashes of her father’s trapped voice in the Vinnmark Mountains and the story that came with it. In some ways the Wardens saved her father from the torments of life in the Circle, but the price he paid for that freedom… had it truly been worth it?

“Well,” Alistair finally spoke up, “now that we’ve officially killed the party, I think I’ll see if there are any of those fancy little Orlesian cheese wheels left.” He rose from his chair with a groan, arching his back as he stretched. “It was a pleasure to see you again, Hawke, and you have my most sincere congratulations. I’m sure we’ll speak again before I return to Ferelden.”

“Your Majesty,” she dipped her head.

“We should take our leave as well,” Kyleah noted, “before we overstay our welcome.”

Pleasant farewells were exchanged before the three Wardens made their way through a crowd that gave them a wide berth as they passed. It was very disrespectful, considering everything the Wardens did to keep Thedas safe from blights and darkspawn, but Hawke knew deep down how they felt. There was something wrong about Grey Wardens, something that no matter how she tried to put her finger on could never quite name it. Perhaps it was their free reign, their ability to recruit whosoever they chose, to commit crimes and practice blood magic all in the name of stopping a blight. Whatever means necessary…

Hawke doled her fair share of justice over the years; she even killed a few people she didn’t actually have to kill—like that annoying little dwarf, Javaris Tintop—but she knew she really had no right to play judge and executioner the way she had in Kirkwall. She lost sleep over it sometimes, a lot actually. Tossing, turning, waking in a cold sweat gasping, somehow she doubted the Grey Wardens had nightmares about the things they faced, the things they were often forced to do in the name of stopping a blight.

Then again, what did she know about any of it at all? Nothing beyond what Anders told her, and she no longer trusted a single thing he ever said to her.

“Well, that’s not going to be good.” Varric rubbed a hand along the back of his neck absently, his eyes still trained on the backs of the Grey Wardens making their way toward the doors on the opposite side of the ballroom.

“On that we agree.”

A nervous chuff escaped his throat before he gulped down the champagne in the glass she handed him. He winced and smacked his lips, grumbling under his breath before noting, “I think I’m going to need a much stronger drink than champagne.”

“You’re going to need at least two of them,” she pointed out. “Someone’s got to drink for me.”

“Isn’t that why you corrupted Choir Boy in the first place? So you’d have someone to do your bidding and fetch your drinks for you?”

“Come on,” she urged, “he keeps a bottle of really good whisky in his study.”

Before he could protest, she grabbed onto the sleeve of his shirt and yanked him out of the chair. The two of them took advantage of shadowy alcoves and pillars to move stealthily through the ballroom, ducking out the doors, and making their way down a flight of stairs to the prince’s study just off the library.

“He has his own study?” Varric marveled as she fiddled with the lock to coax it open. “I don’t know why I’m surprised. I mean, I always figured he could read, I just never imagined he actually…” She cast a disparaging look over her shoulder at him as the lock gave way. “You know what, never mind.”

“Good answer.” Inside the study, she lit the lantern on the edge of the desk and dropped into the comfortable chair behind it. She gestured toward a half-empty bottle on the opposite corner of the desk and said, “Pour yourself a double, please, and describe it in great detail as you drink.”

The dwarf obliged, uncorking the stopper, pouring a generous serving into one of the crystalline tumblers and tipping it back in three heavy gulps before depositing the cup back on the tray.

“I should have started drinking vicariously through you years ago. Imagine the number of hangovers I’d have avoided. Hit me again.”

“You don’t think he’s going to notice his precious bottle of whisky’s gone amiss, Hawke? Or that someone’s jimmied the lock on his private room?”

“Oh, he’ll notice, but once I explain the emergency of this situation to him he’ll understand.”

“Forgive me as I say you’re jumping to conclusions. For all we know they just want to congratulate us on defeating their weird magister god monster. Or maybe they want some details about the blood magic your old man used to seal those wards so they can put it into practice on some other monstrosity I don’t even want to begin imagining.”

“A full report on that red lyrium idol? Unlikely. I saw her face before she deflected, Varric. Whatever reason they’re here, it isn’t casual conversation about the Vinnmark Mountains.”

He didn’t hesitate in filling the tumbler again, splashing a few drops over the edge and onto the desk. His hands were shaking, she realized, though only noticeable because of the spill. By the time he lifted the glass to his lips she could barely tell at all how nervous he was. She reached out to swipe it clean with her hand, then wiped the droplets onto the lap of her gown without thinking. One could take the heathen out of the girl, but apparently the savage nature remained.

“Wardens don’t exactly show up at parties for the food, do they?”

“No, they don’t, although I do imagine they get tired of eating nugs in the Deep Roads. Regardless, they are heralds of bad tidings, whatever their reason for being here. Even if it’s nothing to do with blight or darkspawn, I’m sure it’s not good.”

“Yeah,” he mumbled. “I’m trying to be positive about the whole thing, but it’s not working.”

“Have another drink,” she insisted with a wave of her hand. “Andraste’s tits, Varric, I don’t need this right now. I’m… I’m not a Champion anymore.”

“I hate to say it, but you’re always going to be The Champion, Hawke. Whether you want it, or not, that title’s not passing on to anyone else anytime soon.”

“I should never have let you tell all those stories about me.”

“So what? Three Grey Wardens show up on your doorstep, and somehow it’s my fault?”

“You had to go and make me look like some kind of hero.”

“Well, you didn’t exactly give me the crappiest material to work with, you know? Maybe if you hadn’t been so damn charismatic, the stories wouldn’t have been so easy to spin.”

“Maker’s balls.” A chuff of laughter caught in her throat. “What a pair we are.”

“No two were ever so well matched as we,” he held up his tumbler.

“You’ll drink to that,” she urged, “for both of us.”

“You still haven’t told him, have you?”

Moaning, she dropped her head into her hands, the words jumbled by her fingers when she said, “I can’t think about that right now.”

He drew out the single syllable of her name in a way that reminded her of her father, the same guilt and shame flooding through her even before he could begin his lecture on all the reasons she needed to spill her secret before it became impossible to hide. “And besides,” he added, swallowing down one last gulp of whisky, “when the Wardens try to convince you your blood is the only thing holding back an apocalypse, you’ll have the perfect excuse to bow out.”

“This baby is not an excuse, Varric! It’s a person.”

“Then maybe you should start treating him like one,” he decided. “And you can start by telling his father he’s coming into the world.”

She hadn’t thought in gender terms yet, but hearing Varric call the life inside her ‘him’ rolled chills the length of her spine as she shuddered. “Or she…” she muttered.

“Either way, your time is running out, Hawke. And say the Wardens do actually want you for some creepy ass blood seal bullshit. You can’t very well do any such thing if it’ll put your baby in danger. I get the feeling Choir Boy won’t even let you leave the castle, much less go offering up your blood for any ancient Warden rituals, once he finds out.”

“One more drink for me, old friend,” she bid him. “I have a feeling I’m going to need it.”

“For you, Hawke, anything.” He poured another drink and downed it in a single swallow before replacing the lid on the near empty decanter and returning it to the desk as though they’d never even been there at all. “Come on,” he hopped down from the chair and held out a hand no longer trembling, “we better get you back to your party before someone misses you.”

 

 

About erica

Erica North is the fanfiction pseudonym for fantasy/romance author Jennifer Melzer.
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