Sign of the Maker Part Four
"This one's a firebrand. He'll have your knob off if you're not careful."
Leave me alone.
"Oh, yeah? I know the sort. Had one like that in the Starkhaven circle. She soon learned when to shut up."
Please, just leave me alone.
"So what's he done to deserve the isolation treatment?"
"Four escape attempts so far. Talking nice just doesn't seem to be getting through to the clod."
"I'm sure I can think of something that will."
A hand in his hair, tilting back his head as his robe is parted, exposing shaking shoulders. Chained wrists can offer little resistance. Another hand is reaching beneath him, stroking upwards along his thigh; the skirts of the dirty robe riding up with it until he feels a deep shame mingling with the anger, the hatred and the fear of this place. A mouth finds his breast and, as a wet tongue traces an unseen line on his torso, he squeezes his eyes shut tight, willing his mind to take him anywhere, anywhere but this
Anywhere but this
I can make it so.
Justice, no! This isn't that place
this isn't that man
Justice, please stop!
Cortland Hawke froze, his lips still pressed against the white, trembling flesh under which he had just seen a threatening pulse of blue light. Withdrawing slightly, he let his eyes wander up the slim frame of the body beneath him. When they reached Anders's face, they widened in horror. The mage was deathly pale, his eyes scrunched shut as if he expected to be hit. His lips were murmuring words that Hawke couldn't hear and, worst of all, hot tears streaked his cheeks. Hawke's heart missed a beat. Maker, what did I do?
"Anders. Anders, please
look at me. Are you alright?" Cortland cradled the blonde man's face in both hands as his eyes frantically pleaded for the mage's own to open. "Oh, Maker, Anders, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry
what's wrong. Do you hurt?"
With a start, Ander's eyes snapped open, flashing blue momentarily before the mage's own warm amber returned; shock and fear shining out. Where? What
Silently and slowly, as if in a dream, the healer reached out a shivering hand. He brushed it lightly against the rogue's cheek before then touching it to his own; which, as his confused expression suggested, he was surprised to find damp. As his eyes moved from his own wet fingertips back to Hawke's horrified expression, realisation dawned and his mouth fell open. He was in Hawke's estate. He wasn't in the circle. The man who had been caressing him was not a templar, he was his love; his world. And Justice had nearly
With a whimper, and in a clumsy, mad scramble, the mage was on his knees; his hands reaching for Hawke's face just as Hawke's own hands still held his own. Drawing him close, Anders let his forehead lean against that of the other man, and the two breathed heavily together amidst the twisted bedsheets.
Slowly, and after a long pause, Cortland raised his frightened eyes to look at the bowed, blonde head of the apostate opposite him. What on Thedas had just happened? One minute they'd been laughing and teasing like teenagers; Anders plucking at Hawke's clothing with that lazy half smile of his that sent the brunette wild. Then Cortland had flipped the situation, literally, giggling as he saw a surprised blush creep onto the apostate's face. It had been wonderful, perfect. Kirkwall could have burned and he wouldn't have cared.
And yet now here he was, feeling like a monster for daring to touch the man he loved; the man he had shared a bed with for three years. Anger frayed the edges of his patience, but he swallowed it down, allowing the mage to speak first.
"I I can't
I'm so sorry." Anders shook his head. "I'm a disaster. You should leave me
just leave me and be happy. You deserve to be happy."
That broken tone, coming from this strong, wilful man, killed any anger Hawke had felt; his heart melting instead into a desperate sadness. Anders had been distant recently it was true, but this weakness, this fragility this was not his rebellious mage at all. And his fear of their growing apart was fast becoming a fear for the apostate's state of mind instead. Gently, but firmly, he forced Anders to look at him.
"I'm not going anywhere. And neither are you until you tell me what the hell just happened."
" the mage's eyes shifted sideways, as if he was keen to get away, as if he didn't want to be here. Cortland tightened his grip on the man's face. "Look at me, Anders! I love you. I love you and right now I'm scared to death that I'm losing you. Talk to me."
At his words, the apostate suddenly gasped and drew the rogue tightly to him, clinging to the body in his arms as if it was his very lifeblood. The pair rocked gently; Hawke's own arms encircling Anders's chest, his head resting on the healer's shoulder, his face nestled amongst blonde hair. The mage's voice was warm and caring when he found words.
"I seem to be saying the word so much, but I truly am sorry, love. You are the most important thing in my life, believe me. I know I don't show that as often as I should."
A small measure of relief flooded through Hawke as he rolled back on his heels and out of the mage's embrace. "Anders, what just happened? Is it your injuries?"
The blonde shook his head and avoided eye contact, tracing patterns on Cortland's chest with his fingers.
"I think that the cavern, that enclosed space
it awakened some memories that I would rather it hadn't, that's all."
"Of your time in the circle?"
Anders nodded. "Justice confused your touch with a memory and
" he cut off his own sentence, realising how close he had come to saying what he'd determined not to for so many years. He lifted his eyes to Hawke's face and a sinking feeling hit him as his lover's expression suggested he hadn't stopped himself soon enough.
what sort of memory could Justice confuse with me loving you?" A coldness had gripped Cortland's heart and was snaking its way through him like a poison. Just what else had this man endured in his life? And why hadn't they talked about it?
"Please," Anders pleaded, "Don't ask me about it. All you need to know is that the circle was not the sanctuary to me that they would have you believe it is. I was imprisoned, kept in isolation, beaten at times. Just, please
don't ask me to tell you any more than that. I'll get this under control. I'll pull myself back together for you, I swear it."
Hawke let out a slow breath, trying with all his might to stop his mind processing the gut-wrenching suggestions that were bombarding his imagination. "Whatever
happened in the circle, Anders, I don't think you can fully put it behind you until you talk about it."
"Don't make me
"Then not with me. I can't pretend it doesn't hurt that you feel you can't talk to me about this. Maker, it hurts like hell." He grasped one of Anders's hands with both of his own and brought it to his lips, kissing it gently as the apostate gave a broken sigh "But I want you whole again. If it can't be me, find someone else to speak to. Only please, talk about it. Get this poison, this hatred, out. You can hide a memory, but it doesn't mean it didn't happen."
And now that they are unlocked, Justice will protect me from those memories for as long as they haunt me.
"Maybe you're right." Anders let his breathing settle back into a normal rhythm, colour returning to his cheeks as he allowed acceptance in.
I need to see it. I need to know.
Sebastian's words from the cavern came back to him. He gave a grim smile. Two birds with one stone, eh?
"That blighted cave-in has a lot to answer for."
It was late in the Hanged Man and few patrons were left to enjoy the dwindling atmosphere. Sebastian hadn't been in this place at so late an hour since a happy night years before, when he and his companions had gathered to celebrate Cortland Hawke's naming as Champion of Kirkwall. It had been a fun evening, one filled with hope and promise for the future. But he had been a different man then. Naively accepting of the truths painted for him by others, he had made his decision to remain in the chantry and had imagined himself content. He had accepted his role at the Champion's side and at the Maker's call. The circle was a sanctuary, Knight-Commander Meredith was a hero, and service to the chantry was the one true path to the Maker's side. He had even quashed that hated part of him that yearned for just a little taste of his own glory; that part that wondered whether his people needed him, that wanted to be more like the heroes he had heard of in stories
heroes like Alistair; King of Ferelden.
That very man was currently waving his tankard energetically, recounting how his wife had once managed to convince even an Antivan assassin who had been sent to kill her to instead join her cause. Sebastian had to admit, the Hero of Ferelden sounded like a remarkable woman, and one he couldn't help but admire hugely, though it was clear to him that Alistair undervalued his own part in the fifth blight's ending massively.
"You should have seen the way Zev looked up at Elissa from where he lay
" Alistair's eyes were glazed as he mooned over the thought of his love, back in Ferelden, "He was obviously smitten from the first glance, though who can blame him?" He regarded his tankard fondly and smiled to himself. "I am a lucky man."
Sebastian still couldn't quite believe that he had spent the last few hours with a man he'd once worshipped as a role model. And, to his eternal joy, the King of Ferelden had proved himself more than worthy of that position. Generous, humble, courteous to a fault and with seemingly no idea of the affect he had on those around him, Alistair was every bit the unlikely, likeable hero that Sebastian had heard tales about. A simple man who had risen from being a bastard son to a grey warden, a saviour of Ferelden and finally a King, loved by his people and unquestioned in his reign. Truly, he was a man favoured by the Maker, and it did Sebastian a great honour to be able to speak with him. He had been grateful, however, for Isabella's flippant and casual manner around their guest. Without it, he doubted he'd have known where to begin conversation. As it was, she and Alistair had relived the fifth blight and memories of a shared evening that surprised the whole party (dear Maker, was there anyone the woman hadn't bedded?), before the pirate had admitted sadly that she had to keep an appointment, and taken her leave.
"I remember seeing your Queen once; long before she was a Queen of course. It was in camp at Ostagar, the night before the
Aveline stopped speaking suddenly, biting her lip as she regretted instantly mentioning Ostagar at all. She had joined the group a little after Merrill had also left for the night. After finishing her shift, the guard captain had stuck her head into the tavern to pass some information onto Varric, and had been as gobsmacked as everyone else by their unexpected drinking companion. Somehow an 'I can't stop' had turned into a good hour's talk, and here she still was.
Alistair set his drink back down on the table and shook his head gently.
"It's alright, guard-captain. Ostagar was a long time ago and it was a hard time for us all, but it should be remembered, I think. Loghain is dead, and Elissa and I gave Cailan his final rest ourselves when we returned to the site of the battle." His eyes looked sad for a moment, then he smiled "So you shouldn't feel you can't talk about a time that must have been just as hard for you as for anyone."
Aveline gazed at the table's surface for a beat before she looked Alistair in the eye with an almost regretful expression. "You know, for the longest time when I remembered that day, I couldn't help but wonder
if you and the other grey warden had been on the field, rather than up that blighted tower, would things have been any different."
The lazy smile that had graced the once-warden's face for most of the evening cracked a little at her statement, and Alistair cupped his tankard in both hands as he spoke. "I asked myself the same question
more times than you can know."
He seemed to shake himself and then, just like that, his moment of melancholy had passed. "But what's done is done. We can only look forward."
Aveline seemed satisfied at that. Bitterness had played on her mind for a long time after that horrendous battle, but she knew that it had been desperation that lead her to wonder, not practicality. Maybe she had just been jealous of the two wardens, for being spared the horrors that she herself had to witness. Whatever the reasons, her later understanding of what those same two people had gone through to save them all had left her feeling a deep shame for ever doubting them.
"To looking forward" she exclaimed, raising her drink.
"To looking forward" came the chorus.
Finally, Varric gave a yawn and stretched, his head spinning from the stories he had absorbed this evening. He had acquired lot of precious weaving material.
"Well, I am done and that seems as good a note as any to leave on. My friends, it has been an absolute pleasure." Standing, he gave a small bow in Alistair's direction and added "Meeting you, doubly so. I wish you and your lovely Queen a long and happy reign"
Alistair smiled and bowed slightly in return. "It has been an honour meeting you, Varric. After years spent with Oghren as my closest ambassador for dwarven-kind, you have done much to restore your people's good name."
Varric gave a throaty chuckle at this as Aveline also stood. She gave a deep bow, to which Alistair waved a hand in embarrassment. "I told you, we're not in Ferelden now."
Aveline levelled a gaze at her homeland's King "I bow to you, not only as my King. I bow to you as a grey warden, as a fellow veteran of the day we shall never forget, and as the man who saved my homeland from blight and who continues to safeguard her even now." A small smile tugged at her lips and she added "You'll allow me that, I hope?"
"How can I refuse, when you put it like that?" Alistair gave a jovial shrug and stood to offer Aveline a bow almost as low as her own had been. "Allow me then to bow to you, guard captain Aveline, as a beacon of strength, hope and honour here in Kirkwall. Ferelden is the sadder for your absence."
Aveline blushed scarlet and stuttered a thank you, before she and Varric finally took their leave. Sebastian hadn't seen her so shaken since that painful night when she had enlisted their services to woo a fellow guardsman. He watched their goodbyes with admiration. Like anyone, the Prince knew of the battle at Ostagar and Teryn Loghain's treachery. To learn that Aveline had been there, to know that Isabella had known Alistair and the Hero of Ferelden
he was rapidly realising that there was more to each of his companions than first met the eye. Hawke had chosen his allies well. The Maker must have brought them together for a reason and Hawke was a conduit through which His will seemed to flow. So, his mind beggared the question again, what role will the apostate play exactly?
"So, tell me, Sebastian Vael. Just what are your plans for the future and for Starkhaven?"
Sebastian's jaw dropped as he looked at Alistair. He had reseated himself on the opposite side of the table so that they were face to face. Any moves Sebastian had been about to make to leave were suddenly halted. The man's face was warm and open; there was no trace of malice in his voice. So why did his question make the archer feel so very, very uncomfortable all of a sudden?
"You know who I am?"
They had made introductions earlier in the evening of course, but he had been simply Sebastian. There was no need to burden this man with his own past, after all. Now, it seemed that the King of Ferelden knew well who he was and, for some reason he couldn't fathom, it shamed him.
"Yes, I know you, Vael. I am sorry for the loss of your family, truly. It must have been hard for you. I understand the Champion himself was the one to dispatch their murderers."
Sebastian felt himself stutter as he offered the well-practised response, "He- he did. Though, through the Maker's love, I have come to learn that my need for revenge did not bring justice to my family."
Alistair nodded, seemingly satisfied at the response. He rested an arm on the table and leaned his head into the back of his hand, so that he was looking directly at the archer.
"You've grown up, Sebastian. Not so much the tearaway lad Arl Aemon once told me about. I've heard stories of your courage and skill. So, I ask again: what are your plans for the future?"
The exiled Prince looked at his lap and struggled with what should have been an obvious response. His companions, he realised now, had always resisted the urge to question him too hard and he had been grateful for that. They were not a part of his old life. They had no firm stance to offer when it came to royalty and rule. They had accepted his choices for the most part. Alistair had no need of such subtlety.
I am a priest in the chantry of Kirkwall now. The Maker guides me."
"I'm surprised that someone as wise as the Maker would ask a man as able and competent as yourself to hide away in the chantry; especially when that man's homeland cries out for a strong leader."
Sebastian's mind reeled. He would question the Maker's will? This man, who he admired so much, would question the Maker's will? No, maybe not the Maker's will, but his own will
his own choice.
"I battled long and hard with the decision. It was not made lightly. But I cannot reclaim Starkhaven's crown and risk yet more battles while I am unsure of whether my people need that or not."
Alistair's face was serious now, though not uncaring, and his open gaze made Sebastian feel uncomfortable. Little wonder that this man had commanded armies; his will was so strong it left the Prince breathless.
"It strikes me that you will never learn exactly what your people need while you sit in a chantry awaiting an answer."
The silence was palpable.
Sebastian's heartbeat thudded in his ears. This man's words were like crossbow bolts, and each was hitting its mark with an accuracy that shook his core. After hours of talking, laughing, hearing stories of battle and of heroic deeds, the chantry felt somehow very small. After seeing firsthand what an impressive man the King of Ferelden have proved himself to be, Sebastian's notion of the 'one true path' was becoming fainter. One evening with this person, this legend, was making the structure of his life waver on foundations that Anders had already managed to loosen in their time trapped underground. The two questions that had dominated his life, and that he had succeeded in pushing down over the last three years, were suddenly back at the forefront again, burning for answers:
What is the Maker's will?
Who is Sebastian Vael?
Alistair's voice took on a conspiratorial tone, as if it went without saying that what he was about to say went no further than the two of them. "A war is coming, Sebastian. I need all the support I can get."
That was one answer Sebastian knew he could give full-heartedly. He had no doubt at all as he replied "And you have mine. I give my word."
Alistair smiled graciously at the compliment, he'd become better at handling them over the years, then he spoke slowly
"The thing is, Sebastian. Your word as the rightful Prince of Starkhaven would be worth more to me right now than that of a priest."