“I’m sure that I’ve already told you what you needed to know, Seeker,” the dwarf replied unhelpfully.
Her hesitation amused him just the tiniest bit. “…am I detecting a hint of sympathy? Say it isn’t so!”
“I am not heartless, Varric.” She almost sounded offended by the insinuation. “We’ve heard rumors of what happened in the weeks that followed. I…have always been curious. About the execution.”
“Ahhh. So it’s context that you’re looking for, is it? And what makes you think I would know–that any of us would have known–what was going through her mind on that day?”
Cassandra could sense the protective edge beneath his quips. It softened her further. “I did not expect you to be a mind-reader, Varric. But you knew her, you singlehandedly filled taverns and halls with tales of her exploits. You are a storyteller, and I am asking you to give me an epilogue.”
The dwarf hesitated, stunned. And then he sighed, a sad and regretful sound. “She never spoke much to us about this, you know? And that was fine, because most of us didn’t want to know; we wouldn’t have known how to help her. The only one who refused to leave her alone was that broody, hopelessly besotted elf. Heh. Always was stubborn, that one.”
And then Varric captured the Seeker’s eyes, every inch the master storyteller he claimed to be. “I can give you my version, the way I saw her, the way that I…believed in her. But you’ll have to forgive me if I happen to take a few liberties in the telling.”
The dawn broke to a grey overcast, shadowing the barren streets of Kirkwall in a pall of solemnity. The empty cobbled paths that were usually so crowded, so brimming with life, were one of the many stark reminders of all that had befallen the city over the span of a mere decade. However, there was no place more harrowing than the site where the Chantry had once stood; the proverbial ‘ground zero’ was little more than a blackened mass of rubble and bitter loss. Nigh on one-hundred people had lost their lives, encompassing the entire spectrum of a congregation: sisters and brothers; mothers and fathers; laity and clergy; the Grand Cleric herself; and most unforgivable all– children.
Their deaths had been no accident; no, they had been murdered. The act had been so sudden, so unexpected. The perpetrator had shown signs of extremism, it was true, but not madness– never madness. (…or had she really been so blind? Perhaps…) A marrow-deep shock had gripped them all that day, when the sky had darkened with the taint of forbidden magic and the earth had quaked from the force of Anders’ symbol of defiant fury. And in that moment of shock, in that startling quiet, [Name] Hawke had felt her core finally break. (She had trusted him. By the Maker, she had loved him!)
Perhaps, that was what had driven her to side with the templars. She had never shown a great affinity for either side, but she was still a mage, was she not? And while invoking the Right of Annulment was not truly justice, her choice had still been vindicated once they’d discovered that Orsino had indeed been harboring practitioners of blood-magic, and he wasn’t above becoming a blood mage when backed into a corner…right? Even An–
No, she thought to herself. Stop that. Stop…stop questioning and wondering and analyzing and thinking.
She took a deep swig of whiskey from the bottle in front of her. Liquid courage, Gamlen had always called it; and the past seventy-two hours had proven as much to her. With a deep sigh–something that had also become habitual in the same amount of time–she pushed away from the fine, wooden desk she leaned against, and plastered on what she hoped was a convincing smile.
“How do I look?” she asked the man in the doorway, turning to face him with a little flourish. “Regal enough for a Viscountess, but not exceedingly so, yes?”
Dark eyes cautiously drank in her form, ignoring the impulsive answer of ‘Beautiful’ that sprang to the tip of his tongue. She had chosen a silk-velvet gown of deep purple: a color that typically signified royalty, but in a shade that was sombre enough to also convey mourning. He watched her closely as he told her as much, noting the brief catch in her throat. Her reaction sent a trickle of anger to roil in his gut, though the feeling was not directed towards her; his rage was reserved solely for the one who had brought them all to this point, the one she wore that damnable color for.
“It is not too much for the occasion,” Fenris assured her.
His perceptive responses still startled her, even after all these years. “That’s…good.”
She could have smacked herself for such a stupid answer, but Fenris had yet to begrudge her inner turmoil. Indeed, he even offered her a rare smile of encouragement. “The embroidery was a fine touch, as well,” he added.
That made her smile. “You noticed that, did you?”
Indeed, and her subtlety amazed him as always; there were Chantry motifs expertly hidden in the whirling patterns of golden thread, no doubt in honor of Grand Cleric Elthina. The gown was fitted to her perfectly, yet the billowing skirt affected an air of modesty. The sleeves were also fitted down to her elbows, and then loosened to form in a shape reminiscent of a bell. It was an antiquated style, but one that gave the viewer the impression of something out of the old tales of fiery warrior queens, shrouded in their cloaks of duty and stoicism.
Or perhaps Varric had been right all along, and Fenris really was a hopeless romantic. Either way, her smile had his heart skipping, even after all their long years apart. (Maker damn him, because he still loved her unwaveringly.)
She noticed the look in his eyes, damned herself for still reacting to it even now. They could not look away from one another, and for a heartbeat, each entertained the thought of forgetting, just for an instance.
Then Seneschal Bran came waltzing into the room, and just like that, the proverbial ‘magic’ was gone.
“I have procured a coronet for you to wear, Your Grace. While it is, regrettably, somewhat plain for a woman of your station, I do hope it will suffice.”
Hawke and Bran had always shared a somewhat contentious relationship, as he had always viewed her as little more than an upstart from a backwater country. As for her part, she had always found him pompous and amusingly easy to antagonize. He was not happy to serve her, and she was a little too happy to lord over him, but when it came to politics, they complimented each other perfectly. For that reason alone, they shared a certain kind of unity, and she did not expect him to stand on ceremony when they were in private.
“Thank you, Bran,” she replied with exaggerated pomp. “Your hard work is most appreciated.”
He scowled at her for calling him by his given name. “Please, Your Grace. Your kindness is as appreciated as it is nauseating.”
Fenris let out a short bark of laughter watching the two of them. Bran, unsurprisingly, pretended that the ‘loathsome vagrant’ from the streets did not exist. It suited Fenris just fine, as he was about as fond of the Seneschal as the other man was of him.
After carefully placing the golden coronet on the Viscountess’ desk, Bran gave a quick bow. “The Knight-Commander has also sent word that he awaits your order, Your Grace, as soon as you are ready.”
His statement froze Hawke in her place, and Fenris wanted to strangle the man for awakening her dark mood again. He watched her as her fingers ghosted over the engraved designs on the coronet, lost in her thoughts again. With slow, gentle movements, he hesitantly took the adornment from her hands. She started at that, eyes locking onto his own with obvious surprise.
“Y-You–” He faltered, uncertain.
“I know.” She looked so sad, so fragile. “I cannot keep them waiting. I… I know that this must be done.”
She bowed her head in silent permission, and he placed the coronet upon her brow in quiet reverence. He stood close enough to smell the lavender from her clothes, the spice from hair. And she could see him tremble just the slightest bit, could feel herself leaning forward into his warmth. His lips met her forehead, and instead of jumping away, he moved them against her skin in a chaste kiss, bowing his own head to press their brows together. Their eyes were closed tightly, they breathed in tandem, and each knew themselves for fools.
And then they broke apart, and he followed her faithfully, a steady presence in her mind.
When they brought him forward to the block, his heart lurched in terror.
I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. Maker have mercy! I DON’T WANT TO DIE!
Instinct kicked in with all the force of a bronto, with Vengeance scrabbling and clawing and screaming to break free. Anders reacted, jerking and flailing and begging until his throat was raw. They did not want to die; neither man nor spirit. Neither knew what death entailed beyond an ‘end’. They did not want an end, did they?
No! There was so much to do; so many to vindicate, so many to punish. They couldn’t just lay down and die, not now, not when victory had been so cruelly wrenched from their grasp! Someone had to pay. Hawke–the traitorous bitch–had to pay.
Fury-bright eyes scoured the crowd, seemingly of their own volition, seeking her out like moths to a flame. Coward! they roared. Did you run?!
As if she had been summoned by their taunts, she was there; standing tall and statuesque upon the stairway to the Gallows, tendrils of hair escaping her braids and curling around her ears. The elf stood with her, though he surely thought himself well hidden by the shadows. Jealousy flared to life in his veins, and Anders barred his teeth at her like a madman. So the harlot was ready to be rid of him, eh? She thought she could dispose of him so easily? Traitor! Liar! Deceiver! I FUCKING LOVED YOU!
He voiced the latter and saw her careful façade crack, eyes widening with what could only be described as agony. They glorified in her heartbreak, wishing only to reach out an snap that fragile, slender neck beneath their heels–
What? A quiet echo danced between the man and the spirit. I… I don’t want to kill her. I-I love her.
Something changed in his demeanor, and Anders could feel the fog clearing from his mind. The templars that had him grasped roughly by the arms tensed in anticipation, expecting him to fire off a barrage of spells. To their surprise, he went lax against them, his head drooping as a quiet sob wracked through his body.
“Hawke,” they heard him whisper. “Hawke.”
He repeated her name over and over, a quiet cadence building like a litany of the damned. The startled templars could do little more than lead him the rest of the way to the scaffold, and as he dropped to his knees before the chopping block, someone in the crowd of grieving Kirkwallers screamed the word ‘Murderer’. From that single exclamation, dozens of others sounded in reply, until grief became rage, and the gathering became a mob.
Having foreseen this possibility, Knight-Commander Cullen signaled his men to form a wall around the scaffold. They obeyed immediately, holding back peasants and nobles alike in wall of steel and solidarity, though their hearts raged in the swell like all the others.
“Have done with it,” Cullen barked towards the executioner.
The masked man nodded curtly, pushing Anders down. For his part, the mage was cooperative, and indeed, he seemed almost relieved to press his cheek to the red-stained block. The executioner bent down to the man’s ear, knowing that he would not hear over the crowd.
“Do you forgive me?” His voice was brusque.
Instead of verbalizing his consent, Anders threw his arms out to the side. Standing, the executioner squared himself and hefted a heavy, steel axe to one burly shoulder. He lowered it once to the mage’s neck, visualizing his target. And as the blade whistled through the air for the killing blow, the crowd went silent, watching.
Anders only smiled.
And the crowd erupted with screams and cheers and sobs.