Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 24

A Warrior’s Problem

What had driven Du Puis and Emeric from immediate attention started the next morning when I presented myself, Merrill, Isabela, and Varric at Aveline’s office bright and early. Bela seemed immune to hangovers and Varric never actually drank much despite the constant presence of a mug in his hand but only the Guard Captain’s urgent request the night before could have roused me from the floor in Varric’s rooms.

I was thus impatient when all she did was ask me to deliver something to one of her guardsmen, a fellow named Donnic who stood in the barrack’s dining room nearby. For this she had been so agitated? But this was Aveline, a woman I admired and who had stood by me through some unsavory escapades so I agreed to do it nonetheless. It must be important to have her so upset.

You can imagine how thrilled all of us were when Donnic removed the wrapping to reveal a copper relief of marigolds. He looked at me, after my pronouncement that it was critical he open it, like one would a grown man found playing in the mud like a toddler. Had it not been for the fact that Aveline and I had rescued him from a group of bandits in our investigation of the corruption of the former guard captain he’d likely have assumed I was a complete fool.

I hemmed and hawed a little, as surprised as he, while Merrill cooed, “Oh, how lovely!” Finally Isabela pulled me out of the room and back to Aveline’s office by my elbow.

“By the Maker, woman, will you have me delivering wooden carnations to the Viscount, next?” My hangover had silenced the little voice in my head that usually kept me from losing patience with my up-standing friend. “What was all that about, then?”

“I thought it was clear,” she said, brow furrowed in concentration. “Flower are soft, metal is hard, and copper ages well.” Varric laughed out loud as Bela and I exchanged a look of confusion. What was that supposed to mean?

“I have it!” Aveline continued, scribbling on a piece of paper and ignoring Merrill, who had begun humming some elven tune undoubtedly about flowers or copper. “Here, post this duty roster for me and watch Donnic’s response. That’s key. I need to know how he reacts.”

A glimmer of her aim twinkled in the back of my pained mind. “Okay,” I answered. “Posting the roster, right over there.” The column on which they normally posted duty schedules stood a mere fifteen feet away. I gestured toward it with my chin and immediately regretted it as the room swayed around me. Varric turned me gently, seeing the way my I squinted against the nausea that surged in my belly. “We’ll get you to Anders for some help soon,” he said.

It took longer than necessary but I finally got the paper pinned into place. In the time it took me to move two paces away one of the women had already perused the roster. “Oi, Donnic!” she called, “who’ve you been greasing to get the Hightown patrol?” General laughter greeted this question and the man came rushing from where I’d left him to check for himself.

“It has to be a mistake,” he said, frustration clear in his voice. “I’m working that smuggling case down at the docks.” He shook his head. “What did I do to deserve this?”

I reported back to Aveline and she threw up her hands. “He thinks I’m punishing him?” As she paced behind her desk she tried to explain. “Everyone knows Hightown is an easy patrol. It was supposed to be a reward!” She pondered for a moment. “All right, I can fix this. Go and get three goats and a sheaf of wheat. You’ll take them to his mother.”

“Aveline, what in Andraste’s flaming ass are you talking about?” Merrill snickered as she always did when someone cursed thus and Varric was nearly rolling about on the floor with mirth. At least he knew what was going on.

“It’s a betrothal gift,” Aveline said, as though everyone in Thedas knew that but me. I gaped at her while Bela broke out into the full-throated laughter that turned every head in The Hanged Man when she let it loose. Varric finally had to sit before he fell.

“Ooh, you’re trying to court him,” Merrill said, having finally caught up to the conversation. I rolled my eyes and asked, “Why don’t you just talk to him? Surely you must have talked to Wesley before you married him.”

“I can’t,” she replied, looking utterly miserable. Varric and Isabela sobered quickly. Despite their amusement they cared about her nearly as much as I did. “How would that look, the captain ordering one of her guards to…to…?” She gestured helplessly. “I just can’t.”

“Then why not meet him somewhere, away from the barracks?” Varric asked sensibly. Bela nodded and Merrill suggested The Hanged Man, a place where all of us felt comfortable. We pooh-poohed Aveline’s reluctance and assured her that it was, in fact, that easy.

She relented eventually. “Fine,” she said, “you ask him. But he’s not to know he’s meeting me.” I agreed and the rest of us trooped back into the dining room to issue a vague invitation to the man. After the marigolds he was leery enough and our refusal to specify the event we pretended would be celebrated that night only exacerbated his caution. But in the end he agreed and we all went our separate ways for the afternoon.

I decided against swinging by the clinic for help with my hangover, in consideration of my recent exertions with Anders and our subsequent falling out. A nap sounded much less uncomfortable, particularly if I’d be up ‘til all hours enjoying some hair of the dog and Aveline’s inept beginning of a love affair. But when I arrived home, bedraggled and out of sorts, my mother had other ideas.

It started quite civilly, for an interaction between two women who’d been increasingly prickly toward one another. As I plodded toward the stairs she called me over, sounding more cheerful than she had since she’d finished picking out tapestries months before. “I’ve been thinking,” she said. “It’s about time I got married again.”

My brain slowly processed the unexpected information. “Do you have someone in mind or is this just a hypothetical idea?” I asked. There hadn’t been any strange men about the house to my knowledge but I spent most of my time elsewhere so I might have missed him…or them. Suddenly I wondered up to what my mother had been getting in my absence. I’d have to ask Sandal.

To my surprise, she blushed. “I do have a…a suitor,” she stammered. The thought of Aveline and Donnic distracted me long enough a whiplash subject change of the sort my mother had perfected. “We need to look for a suitable husband for you, as well.”

I looked at her blankly for a moment, too muzzle-headed to follow. “What?”

“It’s past time you settled down. All this running around with ruffians and drinking yourself stupid with trash at the tavern!” she exclaimed. “We have a position to maintain now, after all, and being a mercenary that spends her time playing with the underclass reflects badly on the Amell name.”

“But I’m not an Amell, mother. I am a Hawke, as I was born and as I shall stay.” We’d had this same conversation repeatedly over the past three years. The moment we’d moved back into the mansion she’d dropped my father’s name as though he’d never been. She’d arranged to have her family crest plastered all over the house and our clothes, even sending expensively-embroidered robes to Bethany in the Circle.

My brain hurt too badly to be reasonable that morning. “You may wish to pretend that you never left, that you’re just continuing the upper-class legacy of a family I never knew but I fail to see why I should. I’m not a noble or a snob and I refuse to become one. My father was a wanted apostate, a mercenary, and a farmer. That’s the family heritage up to which I want to live. If you want to live in a respectable household you’ll just have to marry up and into one, won’t you?”

My mother gasped at my bluntness. “I have been alone for six years,” she said. There were tears in her eyes but her voice was furious. “You let your father and your brother die and your sister get taken to the last place Malcolm would have wanted. And all you care about is running around like a refugee with your friends and killing more people. Clearly my happiness means nothing to you so I’ll just have to look out for myself.” She stormed out of the room before I could make things worse by pointing out that I was a sodding refugee and she damned well was, too.

After she’d left I buried my face in my hands for a moment. It seemed all of my relationships were imploding lately and it felt like my head was about to do the same. Quizzing the dwarves about this supposed suitor would have to wait. Sleep trumped just about everything for the moment, even my mother’s hurt feelings. When I could think more clearly I would take another whack at the conversation.

When I awoke some hours later, the fuzzy rodent that had occupied my mouth that morning had finally crawled out again. Mother was nowhere to be found. She’d left word with Bodahn that she would not be returning for supper. I sighed. “How is that woman actually my mother?” I asked the dog. He gave a gruff little snarf, as if to chide me. “Okay, I definitely got my temper from her. Maybe it’s being back in Kirkwall.” He snuffled at me and I scrubbed behind his ears that way he loved. “I don’t know either, boy.”

After we’d eaten I nipped over to get Fenris. We still spoke guardedly when we were alone but things were better with the others to buffer our discomfort. I wanted him and Sebastian to come to The Hanged Man with me: I had a feeling I’d be wanting a good, stiff drink after I got Aveline alone with Donnic finally and I didn’t want them to miss the entertainment in the meantime.

Not that Sebastian ever drank much. While we crawled deep into our cups he sipped for hours at a single cup of ale and wrangled cards with those of us actually paying attention to the game. He and Fenris remained staidly in their chairs when the rest of us draped over one another on benches. Unsurprisingly, Sebastian won more than anyone but he gallantly refused to accept payment on these debts. That had long been a lucky thing for Anders, an abominable player that lost his metaphorical shirt every time.

With luck the whole crew would be on hand to give Aveline the moral support she seemed to need. At the very least I could count on Varric and Isabela to be there, as neither was to be found elsewhere of an evening unless we were out hunting thugs.

Merrill had taken to spending most of her time with Isabela, as well, when she wasn’t fussing around with that stupid mirror. Since I’d refused to give her the arulin’holm she’d taken to using the strangest implements in her search for a way to fix it, none of which yielded a positive result. At some point she would devolve to teaspoons and wooden stakes. Hopefully that would be shortly before she came to her senses, gave it up altogether, and abandoned her demon.

With my friends in tow I strode into the main room of the inn. They installed themselves at a table where they could watch without being too obvious and I settled myself nearer the door. Donnic arrived only a few minutes later. Though he expressed his surprise at finding my alone he agreed to have a drink with me. Three rounds later, Aveline still had not arrived and her guardsman was making noises about leaving.

0 Response to "Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 24"

Post a Comment