You didn’t want me
You never cried for me at all
You didn’t love me
Were too far above me
Then you watched me take the fall
– mesh, You didn’t want me
Anger still had her stomach in knots. She couldn’t recall ever having felt so much anger before. Anger was not something Merrill was used to. Maybe every drop of blood she used to fuel the restoration of the eluvian with, maybe every single drop took anger out of her. By all rights, she should be angry. About the Keeper’s meddling, about her clan hating her for being what she was. Her companions belittling her, in the best case, or downright insulting her in the worst.
Worst of them was Hawke. Beautiful Lady Hawke, Champion of Kirkwall, mighty warrior and friend. Or so she had thought. Pretending to care about Merrill when all she really did was toy with her. Too far above her, all a pretense. “Liar!” she whispered. Merrill slid down to sit down in front of the mirror, weak at the thought of Hawke who she had just sent away, probably forever. It was so easy to have her anger change to anguish, for it felt she lost something that was so precious, something she felt was hers, hers alone. Anger was winning though, as it would return to drown out anguish time and again. Time passed, slow as molasses, as Merrill sat there stiffly, her hands with those long fingers balled into fists, her nails digging into the soft skin of her palms.
She turned her head at the sound of the door, and in one swift motion grabbed the staff that was resting against the wall by the mirror, rising, poised to attack. She was ready to send bolts of lightning towards the betrayer, who else would it be? Anger was now burning brightly in her, actually embracing the opportunity to consume Merrill completely. The air crackled with energy.
The person who entered Merrill’s small house was not wearing plate armor, and her hair was not the color of the flames that were consuming the Dalish elf. Instead it was the lithe movement of a cat, the confident swagger of a pirate. Merrill sighed and then forcefully sat down, hitting the floor hard, her staff clattering to the floor. Anger dissipated, only an ember still alight within her, still burning.
“My my, kitten, you looked like you wanted to roast me for dinner. Have you not been eating again? Look at you, all slumped like that.” The Rivaini pirate moved to stand behind Merrill, ruffling her hair affectionately. If she sensed the anger, Isabela didn’t say.
Merrill shook her head, and finally spoke. “I am fine, Isabela. I…did I scare you? I hope not. I didn’t mean…I thought you were…” She tried to smile, for Isabela was dear to her, but it was a wan effort, quickly fading. She swallowed hard, noticing how weak her voice was. The voice of someone who was not really doing fine.
“You thought it was going to be Hawke. Don’t worry, she won’t be coming here. The Champion of Kirkwall is in the Hanging Man, drowning her sorrows as I have never seen her do that before.” Isabela crouched, to lift Merrill’s chin with a finger and to look into her eyes. “I think Hawke is drinking more right now than after we found her mother. That’s hard to believe, isn’t it.” Merrill flinched, and looked away, to see her own broken reflection in the eluvian.
Isabela rose again and started pacing behind Merrill. “Listen, kitten, I hate this. I make Thedas’ worst go-between. Mind you, she didn’t tell me to come here.” She raised her hand, because Merrill had turned around to look up at her heatedly at the thought. “She wouldn’t want me to come here. She’s too hurt for that.” Isabela kept turning around, pacing close by, her fingertips dancing over Merrill’s shoulder or her scalp, as if to soothe her, to reassure her. “She didn’t even say it was about you, but who else could it have been about. Maker knows she’s quashed every attempt of the boys and me, hah, me! No kitten, you are the only one she cares about like that.”
Isabela moved to sit on the edge of Merrill’s bed, resting her palms on those dark thighs of hers. Cocking her head, she looked at stricken Merrill, who had turned around now to sit on her knees, her back towards the eluvian. “What could you possibly mean, Isabela? She does not care about me. She is thwarting me at every turn, telling me how everything I am doing is wrong. She is sabotaging my work! She wants to see me take the fall.” Heat rose to Merrill’s cheeks, as she continued kneeling before Isabela, with raised, clenched fists held before her. Anger flared in her expressive green eyes.
Isabela did not seem to fear the anger, for she raised a hand, to gently caress Merrill’s cheek, in a gesture both intimate and caring. “Ah, kitten. Your work. I understand your loss and the need, the absolute need to keep going, until you have in your possession what you really crave. For you it is knowledge. For me it is a ship.” There was yearning in her voice, a longing so deep that Merrill could relate to. The Rivaini’s hand slid down to grab Merrill’s shoulder, the calloused hand now almost rough. “She isn’t sabotaging you, she’s watching out for you. If you can’t see this, then you are blind in your quest to achieve what you want.” She looked into Merrill’s eyes, as if trying to convey her message merely by looking at her. Merrill could not stand the look, and instead turned her head to look at the hand that was now painfully holding her.
The pirate smiled slyly now. “Kitten, you can have the Champion of Kirkwall eat from your hand.” She laughed roughly. “Not only from your hand, but that is entirely up to you, sweet cheeks.” Confusion crossed over Merrill’s face and she looked back at Isabela, not understanding that last comment. Isabela let go of Merrill’s shoulder, still grinning. “Go talk to her. You can still convince her to help you, whatever it is that you need. She would do it.” Her smile turned wry now. “I thought you cared about her too, given the puppy eyes looks you give her when you think no one is watching. The only one who didn’t see those is probably Hawke herself. Reconcile. Do it for me, kitten, if not for yourself or Hawke.” She rose to her feet, giving Merrill one of her saucy winks. “The world is your oyster, Merrill. Make it so.” She touched her taut stomach with one hand. “Sheesh, kitten, my tummy hurts now, from all that sweetness and emotional gunk. I don’t do emotions. It just doesn’t do. I hope that tells you how important you are to me.” Now it was Isabela’s turn to swallow, as if embarrassed by her admission, her face still a non-chalant expression however. Without further ado she turned to leave, and as soon as her back was turned towards the Dalish elf, her face turned solemn, her eyes full of concern. She stopped at the door, and then just called “Good night, kitten,” before walking out into the alienage.
Merrill looked after her, unshed tears in her eyes now. Still on her knees, she crouched, her palms flat on the floor now. She felt defeated and lonely, but deep in the pit of her stomach, a burning ember was still gnawing at her, her anger not extinguished, just waiting for more fuel. It was the most uncomfortable feeling the elf had ever felt in her life.
I was just beginning to trust you
But you let me down again
And it has to be said
That you’re cruel in the head
And you’re spiteful
I was just beginning to like you
– mesh, Trust you
“Another one!” It already sounded slurred, even to her own ears as Lady Hawke raised her hand to wave to the barkeep. She was flanked by Varric on one side, and Isabela now on the other. Isabela had disappeared for a good while, and since then kept flashing one of her many daggers every time the barkeep tried to refill Hawke’s mug. “What in Maker’s name is wrong with you, Isabela? I thought you are all about fun!” Hawke pounded her bare fist on the bar, and as this was the Hanging Man, it meant at least one splinter piercing her skin, considering how rough the furniture here was.
“Oh darling, I am all about fun,” Isabela said, saucily winking at Hawke. “Why don’t we go to Hightown and you show me what kinds of fun you are getting up to? Is it true, you have an enormous four poster bed? You’ve got to let me bounce on it.”
Hawke tilted her mug to get the last few drops of the sour beer they served down her throat. She then squinted at Isabela, as if she was seeing her double, then straightened. “Yeah, sure, why don’t we do that, ‘bela. I am…without any attachments after all. All sorts of fun.” She laughed, and it sounded like naked despair. She got up, her sword on her back. Her first steps were stumbling, as she tried to find her balance. Like a cavalier she offered her arm to Isabela, who just laughed, slapped it aside and instead offered hers for balance.
Varric patted Hawke’s back “Attagirl, now that’s much better. Off you go then.” Behind Hawke’s back, Isabela and Varric nodded at each other, before she led Hawke outside.
As befit her mood, it was a dark night, mostly quiet but for the drizzling patter of rain on the roofs of the cheap hovels of Lowtown. It was never completely quiet. A stabbing in this alley, a cheap whore calling out to offer her services in that alley, and thugs from various gangs mingling with everyone else, just waiting for their next weak victims to either squeeze for money or kill at their leisure. Hightown seemed impossibly far away, a glittering jewel out of reach far above Lowtown. Hawke stumbled along with Isabela, who kept looking around cooly, as if fearing attack. Hawke had to giggle. If thugs beset them, she was dead meat, champion or not. Too much liquor to be any use for anything. Too much heartache to think of anything but her own misery. “Shhhh,” Isabela whispered, and then breathed a sigh of relief when they made it to the stairs leading out of this part of Kirkwall. The climb was long and exhausting, especially as Hawke was still wearing her plate armor, made heavier by the drink she had consumed. Isabela kept tugging and prodding.
By the time they were halfway to Hightown, Hawke had sobered enough to see more clearly. “You’re not really dragging me home for fun, Isabela, are you?” The pirate laughed at this and kept going. “Whatever makes you think so, Hawke? Do you really think I would not take advantage of your addled state of mind? I’d finally have my shot..” She squeezed Hawke’s arm, and then leaned down to actually smack her on her behind.
Sighing, Hawke stopped walking. “You probably would, but I somehow think you wouldn’t. Not tonight.” The drizzle had turned into steadier rain, and Hawke wiped her face clear of water. “How is she?” Her head hung low as she started walking again, this time without Isabela’s assistance.
“Ah, no one fools the mighty Hawke, is that so? She is…” Isabela’s voice turned distant, as if she needed to sort out what she was going to say. “She is as hurt as I have ever seen her, and as angry as I have ever seen her. Merrill, angry? I had no idea she had it in her, Hawke. No idea.”
Hawke looked at Isabela quizzically. In the darkness, the lights of Hightown ahead being their only real illumination, it was near impossible to tell if it was rain on Hawke’s face, or tears. “Isabela, I do not know what to do. I…I care about her, always have, always will. I wanted to look out for her ever since I met her on Sundermount. But she’s playing with fire, and demons. I have fought demons. I don’t want her to be consumed by one. I don’t know what I would do.” The last is whispered fearfully.
“You spend too much time with Anders, listening to his whisperings. I bet he is always telling you how wrong it is to associate with her, and how dangerous Merrill is.” Hawke did not deny Isabela’s words. “You know why? He’s just thinking with his dick, like every other guy. Don’t for a moment believe he’s not saying this to tap your own treasure chest. In your pants.” The pirate’s laugh was sardonic. “I don’t know the details of what went down with you and Merrill. I know you both ogle each other any chance you get. Why you haven’t gotten laid yet? I don’t have to pretend to understand that.”
Hawke snarled at that. “It’s none of your business, Isabela. If you must know, I went to her place tonight to…” She stopped and simply climbed more steps at a faster pace, silent now. It was only when they made it to the last step, entering Hightown, that Hawke breathed out. “I wanted to reveal my feelings for her. It’s been years, I thought now would be a good time as ever. She laid into me before I could.” She pressed a fist against her eyes, to curb the flow of tears. “Weak, I am so weak.” The same fist descended on the closest city wall, hitting it in frustration. “I don’t even know what I did to her to deserve that kind of treatment. She was so cruel. So spiteful. The only thing I did was to withhold something from her that could lead to self-destruction.” She cradled the fist against her stomach, wrinkling her nose at the sting of pain she felt now. Violence was too natural a reaction for her.
“Careful there, you might break your fingers if you keep it up.” Isabela looked sympathetic, but wary. “I would say with all your angry energy, maybe the two of you should just meet up again and fuck your brains out. Maybe after that, you could sort out all your emotional garbage.” She made a dismissive motion at the latter. “Think you can make it home on your own from here? You two have exhausted me, I will need to cheer myself up somehow.” Hawke numbly nodded. “Get some sleep, Hawke. Don’t give up on her. Kitten is lost and confused.” Again, she leaned towards Hawke to squeeze her behind, with a wink. “Told you, I am not ashamed to take advantage of you.” A slap followed, and then she turned to start the long descent.
“Isabela?” The pirate stopped, but didn’t look back. She said over her shoulder “Don’t begrudge me for copping a feel.”
Hawke shook her head and smiled faintly. “You are a good friend. To both of us. Thank you.”
Isabela stood still for a moment, her face a mask, forced devoid of emotions. “Yeah yeah, Hawke. Enough with the drunken ramblings. See you soon.” Her steps were barely audible as she rushed downstairs, in a hurry to get away.
By the time Hawke made it home, she was soaked, chilled to the bone, and utterly drained. There was just this one knot in her stomach that seemed to bloom. It felt like an ember, purest anger, ready to embrace her. Bodahn and Sandal were not about, and Dog left again after wagging his tail and head-butting her fondly. Reaching for the decanter of port on one of the cabinets, Hawke walked upstairs to sit on her bed. She put the fine glass bottle directly to her lips, not wasting time with finding a glass. The mansion was empty, and utterly quiet. The smooth heat of the excellent port wine, a present from one of the nobles sucking up to her, it was the finest fuel for the burning ember, and by the time the bottle was half-empty, Hawke was full of seething, righteous anger.
If I live a hundred years
I’ll always see your silent tears
Violence is the way you live
The future’s nothing left to give
I can’t imagine how it hurts
I can’t begin to find the words
And all the things I’ve ever done
Seem like nothing now
– mesh, I can’t imagine how it hurts
It was past midnight when her front door opened, the sky outside pitch-black, the moon a thin sickle. Merrill hadn’t closed the latch after Isabela left hours ago. The Dalish had been sitting in front of the eluvian, staring at it, her stomach still all in knots. She had a knife in her right hand, but it was unused this knight, as if she lacked the power to use her blood this night. As she turned her head, Merrill gasped, and stood, reaching for her staff again.
“You did not think I would really stay away, did you?” Hawke had never looked more brooding and dangerous than she looked now. She also had never looked more beautiful to Merrill before. Hawke was still wearing her armor, plate that had been dyed black, with sharp ridges and spikes. Isabela called it Hawke’s porcupine look, but that wasn’t as funny or cute now as it was then. Merrill shivered and clung to her staff as Hawke walked closer. “Are we going to fight now or why are you holding your staff like that?” She drew her sword from the scabbard on her back, a natural, flowing gesture for her, as choreographed as a dance. Silent, efficient. Hawke looked at the two-hander, then shook her head. She leaned it carefully against the wall. Only then did she approach Merrill further, with her confident warrior swagger. Merrill smelled the alcohol on her, and steel and sweat and leather. It was intoxicating.
“I meant it when I said you should never come back,” Merrill strained to say, pressing her teeth together. “Why, Maker, why?” snarled Hawke in frustration. “What have I done to you but protect you? I don’t deserve to be treated like this.” Defense mechanism rose to the top, and the knot in her stomach exploded into heat, as Merrill didn’t back off but now herself approached Hawke. “What about the arulin’holm? What about you siding with Marethari, thwarting me at every turn? Is this what you call protection? I don’t want your protection. Get out!”
“It’s for your own damn protection! You don’t know what you are doing! You wouldn’t be able to stop the corruption. Look at all those damn mages out there, always fallling to corruption. I won’t let it happen to you.” Hawke came closer, yelling at Merrill, her blue eyes filled with fury.
The fury was matched by Merrill’s green eyes, as she flung herself against Hawke. Her fists drummed against Hawke’s shoulders, her chest, furiously. “You can’t stop me. You can’t take my heritage away from me. It’s the only thing I have left in this world. You hear me? The only thing! I have nothing else!”
This only seemed to enrage Hawke more, who roughly pushed her backwards several times, until Merrill’s back hit the wall forcefully. “How cruel are you to say that is all. I am nothing to you.” Never violent towards anyone outside of self-defense, Merrill surprised herself by reaching out to slap Hawke’s face. After the initial slap that made her hand sting, she tried to backhand Hawke’s other cheek. Her swing never hit its mark, for the Champion understood her intention this time. Instead the hand was pressed against the wall, to Merrill’s side above her head, and Hawke’s liquor breath was in her face. A mage’s strength was no match for a warrior. Merill strained, but it was futile. Mere inches separated them, the much smaller Merrill overpowered by the taller human. It seemed like eons that they stared at each other furiously, Hawke’s breathing labored as she struggled with her emotions. “Make me leave. Make me stop. This.” She kissed Merrill, her lips parting, pinning her down, with all that she had.
It felt like the elf had been drowning all her life and here was the first source of oxygen she had discovered to save her life. Merrill clung to Hawke with her free hand, kissing her so fiercely that she actually bit her lower lip, drawing blood. Hawke moaned at that that, but she kissed back with the same fire, pushing Merrill’s shoulders into the wall. The sharp ridges of her armor dug painfully into Merrill, but it didn’t matter, to either of them. Hawke’s left hand still pinned Merrill’s against the wall, but her right hand slid down the length of the elf’s body, to rest upon her hips, pushing her into Hawke. The contact was electrifying and made both of them gasp and stop their kiss. Hawke stepped back, lips swollen from the fire of their kiss, hands letting go.
Before she was able to say anything, Merrill had pushed her backwards, towards the nearby bed. Hawke’s knees hit the bed, and she fell down on it. The Dalish descended upon her, craving the contact, starting to unbuckle the armor. “Merrill,” Hawke whispered, and then rolled over, looking down at Merrill with burning eyes. They kissed again, and Merrill rocked against her. It was as if it made Hawke forget anything around her, the blood rushing in her ears. It was like being taken by the berserker rage she knew in battle, indifferent to pain, fearless and brutal. It made her forget who she was dealing with. All she felt was a primal need she had never felt in her life until this day, fueled by anger, alcohol and heartache. Her hands reached for the neck of Merrill’s tunic, and then she just ripped, from the neck down to the hips.
The garment tore under her fingers easily, revealing bare skin beneath. The sound was deafening for Hawke. She dropped her hands and pushed herself backwards, staring at Merrill, who lay there, her torso revealed, her tunic in shreds. “No. No no no no.” Hawke pushed herself out of bed, scrambling backwards against the wall, the same wall she had just pressed Merrill against. She stared at Merrill like a frightened doe, her eyes filled with silent tears that slowly spilled over. The reaver’s rage had gone as quickly as it taken Hawke.
“It’s not meant to be like this. Never like this. I…I can’t. What have I done?” Hawke’s voice was anguished, as she pushed herself to her feet. “You deserve so much better. I don’t know what came over me.” Merrill didn’t speak, but she covered her chest with the remnants of her green tunic. “I have to go. I promise, this time I will stay away. I am so sorry.” Hawke sounded choked, as she rushed to leave, grabbing her sword, then never looking back. There was no more burning ember of anger inside of her, the sound of ripping fabric having drowned that out.
The Dalish elf let her arms fall once Hawke left the building. “Ma emma lath, Hawke. Please come back.” She whispered this, touching her bruised lips. “Please come back,” she whispered more fervently, before she closed her eyes. There was no more anger inside of her, the sound of Hawke’s grief and love for her having extinguished it. She couldn’t imagine how Hawke was hurting now but she wasn’t sure. It must feel similar to hers.
In the dark, it’s right
In the dead of night,
But it spills away,
In the light of day
– mesh, In the light of day
Humming softly, Merrill sat cross-legged on the floor, surrounded by candles, books and various other paraphernalia that she usually had lying around. Spread out across her lap was one of her dark green tunics. Merrill sewed methodically, her stitches slow yet very precise. Nevertheless, it was easy to see that this garment had been ripped tremendously. Merrill was humming the Suledin, a testament to struggle and endurance. Her back was turned towards the frame of the eluvian, covered with a dark blanket that was gathering a fine layer of dust upon it. It had been a month now.
One month ago, Merrill had risen from her bed, her tunic in tatters, and she had found the nearest blanket and covered the eluvian. She had not destroyed it, but she had not touched it again since that day. It had seemed like nothing to her.
As she sat now, sewing, she pricked a finger on the needle, the first time in a month drawing blood. Merrill had not used her blood magic since she stopped working on the eluvian, though her wrists still showed the scars. She had also not been joining the Champion and her companions to continue protecting Kirkwall, with its growing rift between mages and templars. Isabela sometimes came by and spoke of their deeds, when she wasn’t urging Merrill to go see Hawke.
The Dalish lifted the tunic up to inspect it, nearly done with fixing it. The fabric she had used to repair the tear was of a different, darker color, and it looked like a beggar’s garb. Fitting for an elvhen living in the Lowtown alienage, nothing more, nothing less.
A knock sounded upon the front door, causing Merrill to blink. No one ever knocked on her door. Her companions, or rather, Hawke’s, they usually barged in. The elves of the alienage frequently spoke to Merrill out in the alienage, more accepting than her Dalish clan, but then, they didn’t know about her blood magic and all the other history. For them she was just the quirky girl who still got lost in Lowtown. They didn’t make any housecalls.
Merrill went to open the front door, poking her head out. She arched her brows in surprise and then giggled when a shemlen boy, probably around 13, shuffled his feet nervously and looked at her near desperately. “Are you serah Merrill?” he quickly stuttered, then looked over his shoulder, as if expecting to be stabbed in the back any moment. He was dressed in the finery of someone living in Hightown, and clutched a bundle to his chest. “Well, yes, this would be me. Though no one calls me serah. Just Merrill. I don’t even fully understand what it means. What does it mean?” Merrill couldn’t resist peaking at the bundle while she kept bubbling at the boy. “Are you sure you are looking for me? This must be a mistake.” She sounded excied though, because who wouldn’t want to get a Hightown delivery? It sounded unlikely though. Isabela and Varric would never send her something, and Aveline, Anders and Fenris were even more improbable candidates. The least unlikely was Hawke, and Merrill pressed her lips together, forbidding herself the thought.
The boy fervently shook his head. “Not a mistake, serah Merrill. The Champion herself specifically requested this delivery.” For a moment, he looked awestruck, at having met the near-mythical Champion himself. Merrill however paled at the notion, shaking her head slightly.
“And who exactly do you work for, or are you just running messages, lad?” The boy straightened and tugged at his rather fashionable outfit. “I apprentice with Jean Luc, maker of the finest robes outside of Orlais.” He didn’t sound Orlesian, but hearing him talk was like watching a colorful bird puff up his plumes, all pride. “Oh how lovely! I just sewed something!” The Dalish moved back into her house, to retrieve the formerly ripped tunic. “Do you think that will do?” She held her work up, and the boy took a step back, at being confronted with this near rag. “Uh…nice stitchwork.”
Looking pleased at the compliment, Merrill peeked at the bundle again. “So what is your task here, boy?” He seemed to remember and held out the bundle. “The Champion of Kirkwall sends her regards. It was specifically tailored for you, she was very precise about the size.” He smiled, full of apprentice pride. “I made the sash.”
Merrill took up the bundle and winced, because it was far heavier than it looked. The whisper of chainmail was audible as she shifted the package in her arms. “Ma serannas, apprentice. I…uh, have no change to give you.” She pursed her lips for a moment, then dashed inside, depositing the bundle on one of her tables. She then went in search of something, and when finding it, returned to the door. “Aha, here’s something!” She held up a wedge of cheese and a knife, using the latter to cut off a chunk of rather fuzzy-looking mold. “It’s a bit chewy, but quite filling.”
She blinked at the look of horror on the boy’s face, yet he took the cheese. After all, she might give him something even more bizarre than cheese if he declined. The boy nodded his head, and turned skittish, clutching the wedge of cheese with both hands.. “That is fine, erm, thank you, serah…I, uh, just hope I will make it back to Hightown quickly.” Merrill pursed her lips. His fine outfit, his young age, he was practically screaming for one of those muggings she found so exciting when first moving to Kirkwall. She whistled, the sound of a bird, and one of the young men usually talking by the tree of the alienage approached. In quick elvhen words, she requested his company for the boy, to take him to the Hanging Man. “Ask for Varric, when you get to the Hanging Man, and he shall see you back to Hightown.” The elvhen nodded, and the apprentice lad looked relieved. “Thank you, serah,” he mumbled, and now looked eager to depart. Varric would probably grumble at her and make her clean his suite as form of payment, but she trusted him enough to see this pampered boy to safety.
Once they left, Merrill turned to close the door and then walked to the table with the bundle. She lifted it, hugging the package to her chest. Her delicate arms, the arms of a scholar, trembled under the weight. “How did he carry this on his own from Hightown?” she mumbled, but her thoughts were on Hawke. An image of her flashed across Merrill’s memory. Pressed against the wall, hands pinned, Hawke’s lips hungry on hers. Hawke pressing herself against the wall, crying silent tears of shame and anguish. Merrill shook her head to shake off the memory. In the light of day, it all seemed so distant, spilling away like droplets of blood powering her spells. It was hard to remember now what could possible have caused her to be so angry, to have started this ugly torrent of fury that consumed them both, breaking them apart. Only in the darkness had it seemed right.
Merrill unwrapped the bundle after laying it down on the table, and then gasped. It was a full suit of chain mail, with fine silver links. She lifted up the chain shirt, noting its cut, which made a crease show on her forehead. The mail was lighter than other armor she had worn. It was a full body suit, with shoulder pads of silver plate, and red elbow padding. An exquisitely tailored leather robe in a creamy white color, and various shades of grey below the waist completed the outfit. A real set of armor. Merrill slipped out of her clothing but for an undergarments, and then lifted the weighty shirt over her head. She completely garbed herself in the armor. It fit like a glove. It wasn’t too tight, no impediment to any movement, no pinching, perfect fit. The Champion must have had her form memorized in great detail, which brought a rosy flush to Merrill’s cheeks and the tips of her ears. It was heavier than anything she had ever worn, but it felt like protection. With light fingers, Merrill tied the blue sash, and then moved to the only real mirror that she had. Her reflection showed her an elvhen woman, but so different from what she was used to seeing herself as. Bright and pure. Her long fingers curled against the long neck of the mail shirt. She lightly pulled, then nodded with a grim smile. No one would ever rip this shirt off her, not even the mighty Champion of Kirkwall. Was she protecting herself or Merrill though?
Merrill slowly re-dressed in her more familiar shades of brown and green, and carefully folded the gifted vestments on the table. She was not ready to wear it. “I am not bright and pure, ma vhennan,” she murmured, wrapping her scarf around her neck. She caressed the leather of the white robe with a light touch. This was the finest garment she had ever owned, but she couldn’t wear this yet. It needed to be deserved. It was time to face her demons, and it was not Audacity that led her steps as she departed for Hightown.
I just want to feel things like you
Then I could know how to love you.
If I could just see inside your head
I would know who to be instead.
But it wouldn’t be me.
It wouldn’t be me.
But just a word from you would change me.
– mesh, In the light of day
Dog let out a whine when yet another crumpled parchment sailed by his head, dramatically missing the reed basket in the study. Half a dozen or more had found a similar fate, garnished by some sheets that had actually been shredded into pieces. Initially Dog had been full of excitement about this fun game Hawke had been playing, but even Mabari dogs tired, especially when their mistress was not interested in playing fetch.
Hawke was clad in her mansion attire that drastically differed from her everyday armor, deep in thought as she sat at her desk. A smudge of ink stained her right cheek, and most fingertips. A stack of parchment sat on the left side, ink and quill to the right, and a blank parchment before her. “Why, Maker, why am I so bad with words when it matters? Why?”
She started yet another letter, slowly scribbling. Hawke’s calloused hands were not used to holding a quill, and her handwriting looked more like stabs than beautiful drafting. “Dearest Merrill. Things I want: to see you smile. To hear you ask one of your endearing questions, driving the others insane. To smell the freshness of your skin. To feel the light touch of your hands. To know you have my back when we fight enemies, just like you know I will have yours. To listen to you speaking in elvhen, which sounds so beautiful. To see your ears turn all rosy when you are embarassed or excited. To see your lovely eyes go all round and large when something dawns on you. To slyly have you look at me again when you think I am not noticing. To have you kiss me again. Maker, that. To feel your tongue against mine. To have you move on top of me again like that because that was mind-blowing. Oh no…Aaaargh, what am I writing, seriously? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?” Killing a High Dragon seemed an easier feat than writing a nice love letter. It also did not make her feel as weak as remembering their last night.
Hawke jumped up and started pacing restlessly, not heeding where she was stepping, which meant discarded parchment balls flying everywhere. She ran her hands through her short hair which was standing up all ruffled as if this was not the first time she ran her hands through it.
She whirled around when hearing steps approaching the study. “I need quiet, Bodahn, no interrupti…” Hawke stopped when she saw who was in the doorway, leaning against the door frame with her arms crossed in front of her. “It’s hard to believe that I am looking at the Champion of Kirkwall right now, that’s how frazzled you look, Hawke.” Aveline smiled somewhat sardonically, but her usual gruff concern was in her eyes. She was as close to a mother that Hawke had these days.
Hawke sighed and threw her hands up in exasperation. “I am sorry. I am trying to compose a letter, and find myself wanting to take a sword to every single attempt.” She pointed at the mess of discarded parchments that Dog had now taken to roll in.
Aveline looked sympathetic as she moved into the study and pulled up a chair. “Well, we all know that I am not very…gifted in that area myself.” Hawke laughed at that. “But you know what? All the silliness and plotting and scheming that you helped me with, it was almost for naught. Honesty, now that worked best. Have you considered maybe just…talking to her?”
Hawke rubbed her nose, blushing with embarrassment. “How would you know what kind of letter I am trying to write?” She defensively crossed her arms, standing in the center of the study.
“Maker, Hawke, who would you write a letter to that could have you this frazzled? You have ink all over your face. If you and Merrill don’t make up anytime soon, I will grab both of you by the scruff of your necks and lock you into a room.” Aveline shook her head, but then halted as she saw a flicker of panic in Hawke’s eyes.
Hawke hugged herself now, looking so forlorn that Aveline got up to put an arm around her shoulders. Her kind of caring was more the tough love of a lioness on most days so it was a rare gesture of affection.
“You never really told us what happened a month ago, when the two of you split ways. Do you really not want to talk about it?”
Aveline squeezed Hawke’s shoulders, but the Champion lifted a defensive hand. “I…really don’t want to get into it.”
Hawke started pacing again, moving away from Aveline, but suddenly seemed to change her mind. “Or maybe I should tell you, because it’s killing me on the inside.” Looking at the floor, she continued to pace, wringing her hands. “Merrill was upset about the eluvian, and then started accusing me of sabotaging her work. She actually kicked me out of her house, told me to never come back.” She sat down heavily by her desk, staring at her feet. “I got really drunk at the Hanging Man until Isabela dragged me home. Like an idiot I continued drinking here, and then went back to Merrill’s house.” She takes a deep breath. “We fought, and yelled and hurt each other. The battle rage took me…” She looked bleak now. “I stopped myself, but the harm was done, and I ran off. Since then I haven’t seen her, nor heard of her.”
The Champion looked at the guard-captain now, eyes wide-open and scared. “Do you despise me now, Aveline? That I would hurt someone as innocent as Merrill like that? If you don’t, you should. I despise myself.”
Aveline shook her head and sighed. “I don’t despise you, but I want to shake you. How could you be so stupid? So very stupid? My guards and I, do you know how many times we’re called in when a drunk husband believes he can take it out on his wife? Are you seriously telling me you would beat Merrill? I have seen how you look at her. You treat her more gingerly than a raw egg, and you worship her as if she was a saint, despite her being crazy about that damn mirror of hers. I tell you, I am not coming to Sundermount once more for her crazy schemes.”
Hawke looked uncomfortable to the extreme. “I, uh, didn’t beat her, no. She slapped me in the face once, but she’s very lightweight.”
At this her red-haired friend looked confused, sitting back down on a chair. “Then I don’t get it. You’re upset because you yelled hurtful things at each other, and that’s it?”
Shamed, Hawke touched the cool back of a hand against her burning cheeks. “We weren’t exactly just yelling, okay? She hit me, then I forced her to kiss me, and then she pushed me onto her bed, and then I…Andraste, I took her clothes off, and then I fled, okay? Maker, I /am/ stupid.”
Aveline crossed her legs as she took in that part of the story. “This is getting a little bit too much information for me, Hawke, but I still don’t understand. You kissed Merrill and then she pushed you onto her bed. That sounds, well, consensual to me. Where is the problem here?” She rolled her eyes. “I am turning into Isabela, I am talking about other people’s business. Maker, this is too much.” She looked entirely ill at ease.
Hawke stared at Aveline, and kept opening her mouth to say something, then closed it again. At about the fifth try she stopped her fish impersonation and instead touched two fingers to her lips. “She kissed me back. She did. I dream about it at night. Do I ever.” She shivered. Aveline cleared her throat. “Yes, I know, too much information.” She hesitated. “Do you think I made a mistake?”
Aveline shrugged. “I am certainly not condoning that drunk fighting and whatever else that entailed was a healthy idea for a couple that has been dancing around their feelings for years, but maybe you are beating yourself up too much. You do that.” She smiled at Hawke now, fondly. “You do that a lot, actually. All of Kirkwall’s weight on your broad shoulders. We need you back, Hawke, to fight for justice and order in Kirkwall. You and Merrill both. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss her. With all her silly talk and endless rambling. She’s got a caring heart. Like you.”
Hawke swallowed and closed her eyes for a moment. “I miss her so much, Aveline. It is so lonely without her. And how lonely she must be, alone in the alienage.” She pressed her fists together. “I wish I knew her thoughts. I wish I knew what was going on inside her head. Then I would know how to love her. I would know who or what she needs me to be.”
The guard-captain was having none of that. “You’re not still drinking, are you? Get real, Hawke. Think clearly. Maker, how many years have I watched you and Merrill now? Have you never noticed how she looks at you? As if you are some flawless creature. Maybe both of you need to realize that it’s normal to have flaws, and to see them in the other. You don’t need to be someone else for her.”
“Where was all that wisdom when you were courting Donnic?” Hawke asked incredulously. She couldn’t deny Aveline’s words.
The red-head laughed. “There’s no wisdom when you’re foolishly in love.” She stood, and then walked to Hawke to prod her in the shoulder. “Make this right. You can. Surely you can find some place to meet her and talk.”
Hawke rubbed her neck. “I can’t even send her a letter. I am trying. I…I sent her a present that I thought was perfect for her and didn’t even leave a note.” She looked like a sad puppy.
“Maker, give me strength. Alright. I’ll go to the alienage for you, I’ll ask her to come to my office. Poor girl will think she committed a crime. Maybe I should tell her she can be a guard, that should have her excited for five minutes.” Aveline laughed, shaking her head. “You guys sit in my office and talk things through. Worked for me and Donnic! Speaking of Donnic, he’s probably wondering why I am not home yet from my tour. I’ll bring Merrill in tomorrow afternoon. Be prepared.” She patted Hawke’s shoulder and then turned on her heels to leave, departing swiftly, efficiently, as was her manner.
Hawke let out a long breath and laced the fingers of both hands together. She felt a wave of relief, excitement and fear. She would see Merrill tomorrow. “I’ll figure out how I can make things right, I will.” She was talking to herself with a soft, tremulous voice.
Bodahn poked his head in the door, clearing his throat. “Lady Hawke, I don’t mean to interrupt, but I shall retire for the night. There’s a trader caravan in from Orzammar, old friends, and I’d like to visit.”
Hawke smiled. “By all means. Have fun, I’ll lock up later.” She would probably be up all night, plotting, planning, fretting. She had this weird feeling in her tummy, like the night before Ostagar, just a whole lot more personal.
Or so was the plan. About an hour after Bodahn left the mansion, another guest arrived, calling “Hawke! Are you home? HAWKE?” from the entry hall. The Champion sat up at her writing desk, gaping, for the voice was unmistakably Merrill’s.
If I could just peel the skin from you,
Then I would know how to touch you.
Give you my hands like lovers do.
I would know where to lead you.
But would you ever come with me?
Would you ever come with me?
I couldn’t take your hand and lead you nowhere.
– mesh, In the light of day
Hawke slowly stepped into the hall of her mansion, unsure of what to expect. Her hands straightened the hem of her short skirt. She was carefully guarding the expressions on her face, but felt more vulnerable now than facing the arishok on her own. Her eyes did light up though when she looked at Merrill, standing there by the entrance, retying her scarf. She hadn’t seen her for a month.
“Hawke.” Merrill spoke with conviction. “Back at my house. I should never have said…” Her voice trailed off but she then spoke firmly again. “I didn’t mean it. Not a word of it.” She pressed the flat of her palms together, as she waited for a reaction.
The Champion swallowed at that admission and then quietly said “I don’t understand what happened, Merrill. None of it. I am so confused.” The guarded expression was gone, replaced with confusion and certainly longing.
The elf started pacing nervously, rubbing her neck. “I told you, I always say the stupidest things, and they come out wrong. I…was devastated. By everything. I lost my clan. I lost Marethari. She loved me, and I wasn’t worthy of it. She tried to protect me, and look what happened to her. And it’s still not working. The blasted thing is not working. It probably never will. I have wasted all those years on nothing but selfish, greedy folly. Did I not betray you to a Pride Demon? For a broken hunk of glass.” Her green eyes seemed large and liquid, close to tears. “I took it out on you. You are too good, and I don’t want to lose you, the way I lost everyone else. You are too good. Too beautiful and clever to waste your time on me.”
Hawke shook her head fervently. “Merrill, how can you say that? How can you say I am too good? I hurt you. I grabbed you and…near violated you. I never meant that to happen. Never. I hope you can ever forgive me. I am not above begging for your forgiveness.”
Again, Merrill spoke with conviction. “Ah, Hawke. There’s nothing to forgive. Did I not hurt you just as much? I yelled at you, I hit you.” Her face was burning, when she softly admitted “I wanted your touch. I craved it. It meant more to me than anything else. I wish you had stayed. I prayed for you to come back. You never did.”
Disbelieving, Hawke was only able to stammer “I…I didn’t know. How would I? Really?”
Merrill sighed. “I say the most painfully stupid things, don’t I? It never comes across the way I want it to. It sounds so good in my head, and then I say it, and the next moment I am thinking ‘By the Dread Wolf, what did you just say, Merrill, that was horrible’. I bet you never have moments like that. You are not the bumbling idiot I am. I wish you could see me for something else.” She rambled on.
All that Hawke wanted to do right now was to take her in her arms, caress her face and stop the rambling with her kisses. But she didn’t dare. “You are not a bumbling idiot, Merrill, never. I adore you. Don’t you know? I never think less of you.”
Merrill smiled faintly, though she looked flustered and maybe slightly pleased by the words. “Oh yes, you think I am a pure and innocent, blundering fool. Thank you for the present, Hawke. I have never owned anything so precious in my life.”
Hawke frowned. “I don’t think of you as a fool. And you are…beautiful, Merrill. You are radiant. That’s what I was thinking of when I had this crafted. How resplendent you would look wearing it. How I would…be your protection when you wear it.” She chuckled, tinged with bitterness. “Who’s the rambling fool here? I think it might be me.”
The Dalish elf opened and closed her hands reflexively. Her tone changed, becoming more urgent. “Hawke, if you stick with me, you and everyone you love will be in danger. I am a risk. You are so right, I don’t know what I am doing. If anything happened to you…I can’t bear it. I just can’t.” She wrung her hands, desperation clinging to her like a fine mist.
The urge to wrap her in her arms became overpowering, but still Hawke didn’t dare. It was as if she had lost all confidence in her self-control around Merrill, in permanent fear of hurting her. “I won’t let that happen, Merrill. I will always care for you. You will be safe with me. Please let me be there for you.” The elf didn’t look at her, turning her head, pained expression on her sublime face. “Merrill,” Hawke breathed. “Please look at me.” She finally dared to lift her fingers to touch Merrill’s face, then raised her chin with one finger to make her look up, ever so gently. Hawke’s touch was a whisper, a caress, like her voice. “It’s alright, Merrill.”
Merrill looked at Hawke as if hypnotized, then finally moved. Everything was in slow motion. She reached up to touch the hand that was lifting Merrill’s chin, guiding it to the elf’s lips, kissing the fingertips. She then let the hand drop, pushing herself forward, throwing herself against Hawke, molding herself against her. Her arms went around Hawke’s neck as she pulled her down for a kiss.
It wasn’t anything like their first kiss. It was soft and gentle, like feathers brushing over skin. Hawke’s senses were reeling, heat rising to her face. But then Merrill deepened the kiss, pulling her closer, one hand running through Hawke’s hair with abandon, the other still on her neck. Lips parted, and moans rose muffled from both of them as the kiss turned more passionate.
When they broke apart, Merrill’s hands framed her face, and she was smiling up at Hawke, boldly. “I, uh, never saw your bedroom here. But I really want to. Take you. Uh, to your bedroom first. And then…” Her smile was goofy, but the passion unmistakable. Hawke held out her hand, like lovers do, and led her upstairs.
Glowing with warmth, drowsy and spent, Hawke closed her eyes. Her hand rested on Merrill’s bare arm, caressing it gently. She saw pinpricks of light on the inside of her lids, but her memory was showing her other things, different things. Fragments dancing in her mind.
Leading her to the bed. Kisses. Turning into a meek sheep led to bed by a voracious elf.
Buttons flying from her housecoat as it was impatiently opened. Eager hands. Everywhere. Exquisite. Consummate. Consuming.
Skin on skin, for the first time. Heat. Incandescence. Dampness. Sticky and sweet.
A torrent of elvhen words in her ears like the most exquisite song of the finest bards. The pointed tip of an ear under her lips. A supple spot on the elf’s neck nuzzled and grazed, making Merrill shiver all over, trembling like a leaf in the wind.
Touching and touched in places never experienced before. Kissing and kissed in places never revealed before. Feeling. Waves of pleasure. Dying. Being reborn again.
How clouded those green eyes looked when lust filled them! How sweet her giggling sounded when she found yet another place that made Hawke lose control of herself. And again. And again. How she moved against Hawke when she touched Merrill intimately. How she clung to Hawke as if drowning.
How soft the skin of her thighs was. How she tasted. Maker, how she tasted on her lips. How she called out her name. How she grabbed Hawke’s hair in her fists. How she bruised her shoulders, fingers digging in when the waves crashed over her head.
Intoxicating. Invigorating. Delectable. Addictive. Unforgettable. Meaningful. Love.
Hawke wanted to open her eyes, letting go of the fragments of memory, to make sure she wasn’t dreaming, to see that Merrill being in her arms was real.
Before she was able to open her eyes, she felt lips on her ear, and the most gentle wisps of breath. A whispering, lilting voice that she now associated with temptation. “Roll over, ma vhennan. Yes, just like that.” Moments later, Hawke was lying down on her stomach, and all she found herself able of doing was to quiver, clinging to the sheets and moaning her pleasure into the soft pillows, her crossed wrists pinned down by a delicate, yet tenacious hand.
“What happens now? What does it mean? Are we…?” Merrill’s voice was quiet and humble, hesitating. Her body was pressed against Hawke’s, a bare leg thrown over the human’s, yet her voice sounded so insecure. Hard to believe after the past couple hours.
Hawke chuckled softly, opening her eyes yet again. She would find no peace tonight, for many different reasons. “We’ll find out together, Merrill. Together.” The words flowed from her lips with a glowing smile. She had never felt this content and confident.
“Are you really not afraid?” Merrill sounded relieved, awestruck by it all. “I love you!” Her exuberance was infectious, and her embarrassment was endearing. “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that, should I? Uh oh.”
Hawke rolled on her side, laughing. “I love you too, Merrill. It’s a perfectly fine thing to say. I wanted to say it for years.” They just smiled at each other. Hawke couldn’t get enough of tracing the fine features of Merrill’s vallaslin. “Move in with me. This mansion is so empty. Share my life, please.” She was taken aback when the elf slipped out of bed and started pacing.
“Move here? With you. In Hightown. The fancy part of town without rats in it. And you. With an elf. Ma vhennan, you are crazy!” Merrill was wide-eyed, running a hand through her hair.
Hawke crawled out of bed and moved to put her arms around Merrill. “Yes, I am. Crazy about you. It’s going to be alright. It’s going to be wonderful, even.”
The elf giggled and threw her arms around Hawke’s neck. “Okay, if you are not scared, then I won’t be.” She tiptoed to kiss Hawke, thus ensuring there was still no opportunity for sleep in their near future.
Hawke’s steps were light and heavy at the same time. She had had the need to run a couple of errands earlier today. First to Aveline to cancel her appointment with Merrill. The guard-captain had clapped her on the shoulder and then dryly noted that they better get to work in helping her keep Kirkwall safe again soon.
Hawke’s second errand took her to the Hanging Man, to have a quiet word with Isabela. At least that was the plan. As soon as Hawke had entered the inn, Isabela had turned around from the bar and then laughed.
“Drinks on her, the Champion of Kirkwall has gotten laid! Look at her glow. My, look at that just bent swagger. She’s not going to be walking straight for days, I can tell. Look at those lips, sucked and nibbled on all night, hm? I think Kitten has done me very proud.” Isabela had been unable to stop laughing.
Hawke’s lips had twitched, but then she hadn’t been able to stop herself, joining into Isabela’s laughter. “I had this suspicion you had something to do with this all.” Still laughing, she had leaned against the bar, one arm around Isabela’s shoulders. Casually leaning forward to whisper into the Rivaini’s ear, Hawke had murmured dangerously low “This better not have involved hands-on demonstration, and don’t even think of taking liberties with us now.” Hawke’s fingers had dug into Isabela’s bare upper arm, quite firmly.
The pirate had near-choked on her rum, but laughed. “You really know how to kill the mood. Spoilsport. Now give me some details. Did she make your toes curl? Did she make you wet like the sea? Did she…”
Hawke had stopped her litany of nosy questions with a firm kiss to Isabela’s cheek. “Thank you.” She then had slammed down coin on the bar. “Drinks on me, indeed. Enjoy.” With a wink at Isabela and pronounced shake of her hips, the Champion had made her departure.
But now Hawke was on her way to the alienage. Merrill had asked her to come see her there. It had all been somewhat shrouded in mystery, and none of the elf’s levity had been present when they spoke after breakfast. It was enough to have a nagging worry fill Hawke’s tummy, gnawing at her.
She stepped through the gate into the separated area of the Kirkwall elves, towards the tree in its center and beyond, to Merrill’s ramshackle house. None of the elves milling about on daily business paid the shemlen any heed. She had been here often enough.
The door to Merrill’s house was open, and Hawke stepped inside, into the permanent, windowless gloom. Squinting to adjust to the candlelit illumination after the brightness of the day, Hawke noticed that it looked tidier, books stacked neatly on tables instead of lying about. She went deeper into the building, and found Merrill in her bedroom.
She had changed, into the chainmail that had been her present, and she was standing before the eluvian, covered with its blanket. Hawke swallowed. She had been right, Merrill did look radiant and elegant in this set of armor, her neck graceful like a swan’s. But Hawke did not want to witness Merrill working on the eluvian. She didn’t want to have any part in this. Merrill turned, to look at Hawke, and she smiled. Relief washed over Hawke, but fear remained.
“I am glad you came. You should be here for this.” Merrill loosely held her staff in her hands where she stood facing the eluvian. She then moved to pull the dusty blanket off it, revealing the twisted frame, and the broken shards of the mirror, jagged, cracked, never completed. There was no reflection. “I wasted years on this, for nothing. It means nothing. It will not bring Dalish stories, our glories, our victories and losses back to us. It has only cost me and others, blood and tears and loved ones. My pride and selfishness. But no more.” She looked at Hawke. “Thank you for making me see. For seeing me.”
The elf raised her staff, and brought it down forcefully, to smash the eluvian. It broke into what seemed a million shards, a million fragments. The sound of the breaking glass was the sound of relief. It was the future.