Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 7

The Frisky Prude

When Sebastian and I arrived at the Hariman estate the front door hung open and a foreboding silence surrounded the property. The neighbors studiously avoided looking at the place when they passed and I wondered for how long everyone had been pretending it was fine. Certainly they’d been ignoring the neglect that Fenris visited on the mansion in which he squatted nearby. The residents of Hightown seemed to put self-preservation above property values.

Fenris and Varric arrived and we walked into the foyer. Sebastian told us how close the Harimans had been to his family. They would never have left their home so vulnerable when he had been regularly visiting the place as a boy. We saw no servants and no Harimans as we explored.

Something was clearly amiss in the mansion. Half of the doors were blocked from the other side and we could hear a woman shouting somewhere deeper in the building, muffled by the stone walls and tapestries.

Finally we came upon Flora, a woman Sebastian had described as a kind and gentle soul when they’d been friends years before. She looked haggard, her hair straggling across the hectic red in her cheeks. She was screeching at someone, demanding more wine and threatening violence, but she was alone in the room. Sebastian spoke to her but he may as well have been a ghost for all that she heard. Finally we moved on to the next room.

There we found Brett, another of the Hariman children, ordering a servant to round up more precious metals to melt in the slowly-bubbling cauldron that hung over an open fire in the middle of a once-gorgeous rug that had likely cost more than my sword. He promised a young elf woman cringing at knifepoint nearby that she’d be beautiful when he poured the molten gold over her.

Again Sebastian’s protests fell on deaf ears. He neatly cold-cocked the servant when he’d turned to comply with young Hariman’s request, however. The elf girl ran for her life but Brett hardly seemed to notice as he considered whether he would, after all, be a better subject for such immortalization.

I scattered the fire and hoped that at least the mass of metal would cool enough that it wouldn’t kill him, though it must have weighed enough that he’d never get it lifted over his own head in the first place. Even cooled it would crush him if it fell on his chest. Varric and I shrugged at one another and we made our way past the blockaded doors to one that led yet deeper into the estate.

A man’s strident voice came from atop yet another set of stairs. We made our way up amid giggles and half-heard cries. In the bedroom at the top we found a half-nude man being entertained by an elf woman clad in little more than a wish and a promise. His imprecations seemed to affect both Sebastian and Fenris more strongly than the situation warranted. Varric nudged me with his elbow and pointed at the unusual block in the center of the room from which shackles dangled. We exchanged raised eyebrows while Sebastian tried in vain to interrupt his old friend.

“I’m so sorry, Hawke,” Sebastian said, looking steadfastly out at the courtyard rather than meeting my eyes. “I had no idea I’d be exposing you to such things.” I decided not to point out that I was hardly as innocent as all that. I’d never been a fan of scruffy beards but the gent in question was nicely put together and a little eye candy never hurt anyone. I’d heard worse at the Blooming Rose brothel when fetching out Uncle Gamlen or pursuing less-savory targets.

Seb had turned the most delightful shade of red. His confusion and embarrassment combined to make pinching his cheeks a major temptation. “I’ve known Ruxton Hariman my whole life,” Sebastian continued. “He’s a total prude.” I tugged on one of the shiny points of his armor and drew him from the room before his head exploded.

We trooped down yet more stairs and entered the basement. There we were confronted by demons that pretended at first to be the three Hariman children. It took mere moments to dispatch the weak spirits and see what they were hiding: a rough opening in one wall led to a ruin that Sebastian swore the family had not known of before.

At the far end we discovered the Hariman matriarch berating a desire demon for failing to provide control of Starkhaven. Clearly we’d found the explanation for the murder of Sebastian’s family. She came to herself enough to recognize our erstwhile prince and spit venomous jealousy that rocked him badly.

The demon easily read the desire for the throne and the guilt that Seb carried over it. It manipulated him badly before I stepped in and killed both Lady Hariman and the demon. That seemed to break the spell that overhung the mansion. As we emerged from the ruin we found Flora wringing her hands in the basement. She’d tucked back her unruly hair but her dress still hung raggedly, crumpled and dusty.

Though she offered her support to Sebastian in retaking his lands and actually thanked us for killing her mother I doubted her sincerity. We all wanted to get the hell out of that house so we smiled, nodded, and left. Sebastian could hardly take the word of a drunk woman who had been so recently under the sway of a demon.

Upon our return to the Chantry Sebastian agonized over his parents’ betrayal by those they’d considered close friends. Elthina muttered some Chant verses meant to console him but what he really needed was a hug and perhaps a good cry. Sadly, he was open to neither. Once he’d mastered his emotions he formally thanked me and offered his services whenever I had need of them. I tried to lighten his mood with a saucy retort that earned me an uncomfortable chuckle.

“That’s not what I meant,” Sebastian said, coloring and ducking his head. He may always have that baby face but he was pretty cute when he blushed. That was probably why I kept making him do it. Who knows why he kept letting me?

We talked for a time about what the demon’s involvement meant. I argued that, if he were to truly oppose its influence in Starkhaven, he was obliged to retake his lands and restore his family’s name. Though I spoke tongue in cheek Sebastian considered my point seriously. Perhaps the idea would help him resolve his guilt over abandoning his vows by giving him a reason more lofty than revenge.

Having settled my prince to digest the day’s events I retired to Varric’s rooms at The Hanged Man once again. Fenris and Varric had already begun the evening’s festivities with Merrill. Anders wandered in some time later and settled in beside me, ostensibly helping me at Diamondback. Aveline came by when she went off-duty, as usual as much to check that none of us were dead yet as to drink.

Isabela returned from whatever unsavory activities she’d been enjoying and we all got a little rowdy in recounting the adventures at the Hariman estate. Varric and I acted out the scenes in which the younger members of the family had revealed their suppressed desires. I mischievously knelt in front of Fenris to show them how it had looked when we’d walked into the room expecting the elf to draw back as he normally did when someone came too close. But by then he’d had enough to drink that he just goggled at me as he swayed on the bench, trying to follow the conversation. “Should I ask you to use the feather?”

Even Aveline was startled into a laugh at that. “For you, Fenris, any time,” I answered. I was having a bit of difficulty maneuvering myself back to vertical between the laughter and the whiskey. To my surprise, Fenris offered his hand and I nearly toppled us both before we managed to stand. It wasn’t long thereafter that he left, declining my offer to stagger homeward with him. Aveline promised to deliver him safely and we returned to our game.

The rest of us fell asleep around the table, for the most part. I woke on the floor, tangled with Anders, Merrill, Isabela, and a blanket I assume Varric threw over us at some point in the night. My groan at the pounding of my head woke Anders and he thoughtfully did a little healing on all of us without bothering to arrange the robe that had slid up his hips in the night. His legs remained entangled with Isabela’s. “I’ll get jealous if I keep finding you in such compromising positions,” I teased.

We traded banter for a few minutes and I made him promise to find some breakfast on his way back to his clinic. I flipped the blanket over his pale, fuzzy legs, not without noticing that all of the walking my crew did kept them in fine condition, if a little thin. Isabela’s were much darker and sturdier but she did far more springing into action, literally, and used the powerful muscles in the dodging and sneaking that were so much a part of her fighting style.

The contrast was oddly appealing, however. It had been far too long since I’d indulged myself with someone, I suspected, if I was so interested in the legs of my friends. I left for home, shaking my head ruefully. One of these days I’d wake up in someone else’s rooms at this rate.

Mother, naturally, gave me hell for staying out all night again. I tossed her a bag of coins and told her I’d been out earning it which had her changing her tune pretty quickly. She didn’t give it back, though. Instead she tucked it into her skirts and changed the subject to her being unable to find me a suitable husband. It was hardly worth arguing so early in the morning. I just responded, “Yes, mother,” and kept walking. I needed a nap.

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