Spring, 8431 after the founding of Arlathan
I am Merrill, of clan Sabrae, First to Keeper Marethari. I have come to Kirkwall to begin a new life, and to complete reconstruction of the eluvian that I have in my care. It was impossible to do so with my clan, so now it is my sacred task to complete it here, in Kirkwall. This is a document, to prove that I was here.
I have only been in Kirkwall for a week. It is all very confusing. The alienage is nothing like the life of the Dalish. City elves make me so sad. But still, there’s also joy here, when the elves gather at night, and I get asked to tell stories of the Dalish sitting by the vhenadahl. Sometimes. The other elvhen are distrustful but I am used to such treatment. I will restore our glory, with the help of the eluvian. It is the most important matter in my life. I wish anyone understood this.
I came here with the help of a group of shemlen. They did a task for Asha’bellanar, as was foretold, and I was very happy to assist them. I had been waiting for them, ever since we came to Sundermount. I knew my time there was limited. What an interesting group of shemlen they were! A dwarf with a crossbow he calls Bianca. He treats her like a fine lady. He seems very kind. Then there was this incredibly stern guard from Kirkwall. She looked like she doesn’t know how to smile often. Very grim. Very sad inside. There was this human girl, a mage. I was delighted. She is very pretty, but also sad. She did not really embrace her magic as she should. It’s such a gift. She was particularly shocked when she saw me use blood to break the barrier at the top of the mountain. Maybe she will come to understand that magic is not to be shunned. I would like to be her friend.
And then there was their leader. Hawke. Elder sister of the mage. I don’t know why my heart is all aflutter. It feels like I ate butterflies, when all I had today was a rind of cheese. Maybe the cheese was off. Hawke is their leader. She walks like one of the hunting cats in the wilds, always on the prowl. She wears two daggers on her back and moves more gracefully than anyone Ihave ever seen before. She’s been so kind to me. I have only known her a week, but…ah, by the Dread Wolf.
I shall focus on my studies, in this journal, surely, and not fanciful babbling.
Merrill was sitting at one of the tables in the living room of the small house that Varric had acquired for her in the alienage. She paid very little rent for it. Not much, as she did not really have any sort of income, aside from her share in Hawke’s adventures. The elf held her eluvian fragment in her hands, studying it closely. Often she felt that she looked at it so hard that all its knowledge should just explode in her head, because she was trying so hard. But things were never easy like that.
It was a damp day in Kirkwall, and the dampness could be smelled in the rotten wood of the house. The sound of dripping water was distracting, trickling from a leak in the roof into a bucket placed beneath.
She was just about to reach for her knife when a knock sounded on the door. Not really accustomed to visitors, Merrill quickly covered the fragment with a cloth and called, “Come in, the door’s open.” In came none other than Hawke herself, and Merrill was hard pressed to keep the joy from her face. “Oh, hello Hawke, how lovely of you to come visit old me.”
Hawke chuckled as she walked in. She moved into the room without any hesitation, and turned one of the chairs around to sit on it, resting her arms on the back of the chair. “I told you I’d keep an eye on you, didn’t I?” She now rested her chin on her arms, looking at Merrill from piercingly blue eyes. “You spend too much time on your own. I am here to change that.” She had a light smile on her lips, which was very different from her natural smirk. “Maker, it’s cold in here. Do you need firewood? The rain does not help, I suppose.”
Merrill was always amazed how self-possessed and charismatic Hawke was. People were drawn to her like moths to the flame. Most of the time, the Fereldan used her sharp tongue on everyone, as razor-sharp as the daggers on her back. Sometimes the words were so sharp they tore a person to shreds. They were words that left scars. Still, everyone came back for more. The elf bit her lip, sitting on the edge of her table as she studied Hawke. The only times Hawke ever seemed gentle were when they were alone. She treated the elf gingerly, compared to everyone else. Maybe Hawke had a soft spot for mage girls, like her very own sister Bethany.
“Hello Merrill, anybody home?” Hawke snapped her fingers, and then grinned when Merrill blushed. “I thought I had come to the wrong house for a moment to the wrong elf, normally you talk a lot more than today.”
The elf shook her head. “I have a lot on my mind, I am so sorry, Hawke. Would you like some water? That’s all I have. One of these days I will get you some wine or ale, so that I won’t be such a terrible host. It’s such a miracle you still come to see me.”
Hawke reached out a hand, holding it up. “Relax, Merrill. I am just fine. I am not thirsty. I can always head to the Hanged Man from here should I develop a thirst. I only came to see if you were doing well.” She looked around. “Still very sparse, but I see you get more books every time I come here.” She stretched in the chair, like a cat. “I have a couple more jobs lined up, and was hoping you’d come along. With Aveline and Varric for company. I am at the halfway mark for the expedition.”
“Oh, how exciting. Ah, you are so resourceful, it won’t take long for you to get the gold together. It would be my pleasure to join you.” Merrill could never really hide her excitement when Hawke actually chose her to come along. “The deep roads, that’s going to be so exciting for you. All that knowledge, buried deep underneath the earth.”
Hawke rubbed her chin. “It’s not really knowledge I seek, Merrill. I need profit. My mother is so unhappy, and I really would rather not stay any longer with the sleazeball that is my uncle. The Amell estate should be ours, so that my family can live there.” The enmity between Hawke and Gamlen was no secret, with him having thrown away their fortune carelessly. “But maybe you will find knowledge down there. If you want to come along when we go.”
Merrill could not deny the funny feeling in her tummy again as she looked at Hawke. “I think I would love that. Going with you. Yes.” She held on to the edges of the table and just looked at the other woman. Dread Wolf, please make her not see that Iwould do anything for her. Or maybe make her see. Merrill’s thoughts made her look at the floor in embarrassment.
“Let’s celebrate, for Aveline will be promoted to guard-captain! We have our very own guard in our pocket for real now!” Hawke raised her tankard of ale, and the other companions joined her for it. All but Aveline who crossed her arms before her. She did not like coming to the Hanged Man.
The red-haired Fereldan shook her head. “I am not in anyone’s pocket, so stop making such insinuations, Hawke. It’s not funny. Not in a guard corps where the previous captain was corrupt.” The freckles stood out on her face.
Merrill watched this all in the detached manner she usually had in the Hanged Man. She, like Aveline, did not feel at home here, but for different reasons. For the elf, there were too many people, too many confusing things happening around her, and far too many things going over her head.
What did not go over her head was that Hawke was in her cups, and that she was enjoying both the advances of Fenris and Isabela. Merrill did not know how this made her feel, but it probably contributed greatly to her feeling of unease.
Aveline soon spoke her farewells, looking to celebrate in the barracks instead of with her companions. This left Varric, who was trying to start a round of cards, a very broody Anders who watched Hawke’s flirtations with open dismay, and Bethany who also never seemed quite at ease in the Hanged Man. Or anywhere. Her eyes were always seeking the crowd for that one person to turn her in as apostate.
Merrill smiled sadly at Anders’ unhappiness. Maybe they had more in common than just being mages. Anders was usually very unkind to her, and lectured for hours about her dealings with spirits and the danger of blood magic.
The problem with being amongst people was that they usually treated her like a fool.
Varric sensed Merrill’s restlessness and put his hand on her arm. “What’s up, Daisy? Are bees stinging you? You shift in your seat as if you have the urge to go frolic.”
The elf smiled at this. “Oh, I wouldn’t mind. Feeling the grass underneath my toes would be a lot better than the cold stone of Kirkwall. Maybe I should find a garden in Hightown to frolic in.”
Hawke was staring intently at Fenris. The two of them were not really too keen on each other, with their vastly differing opinions on mages. However, this did not seem to stop them in other areas. “Merrill, when we’re back from the Deep Roads and I can buy the Amell estate, then you will have permanent permission to frolic in the garden any time of the day and night.”
Merrill’s heart would have been more warmed by the words if Hawke hadn’t gotten up at that point, leaving the Hanged Man with Fenris in tow, without any further word to the other companions. “What a generous offer,” Merrill murmured, but it didn’t feel generous right now. It felt shallow. Maybe that’s what Hawke was, shallow. And yet, the Hanged Man felt colder without her there.
Fall, 8431 after the founding of Arlathan
I miss the open sky. The warmth of sunlight on my skin. The song of birds in the trees. The breeze in the Brecilian Forest. The slopes of Sundermount. A sudden rain shower. The smell of fresh grass and wildflowers. I miss all of that.
Little did I know I would miss all of this so fiercely when we began our expedition into the Deep Roads. A week to get beneath the earth. Detours and rock falls until we finally reached the Primeval Thaig that Bartrand was so eager to explore. Too eager. He is a living warning of how greed can corrupt you. I must always take full measure of myself, to not give in to base impulse. I seek to restore the knowledge, the history of the elvhen, but I must never give into weakness and pride. I know what I am doing. I am careful.
It will be good to return to Kirkwall. I missed the city as well, and my friends there. I cannot wait to tell Isabela of what happened here. It will be good to see Aveline again. Anders and Bethany.
This is not to say that there is no beauty down here. Deep in the Primeval Thaig, the raw lyrium is growing in complex patterns. Like flowers. It was invigorating. I felt like the string of a lute, taut, ready to play the perfect song. When we fought the Ancient Rockwraith, I felt so alive.
Hawke is seated in the treasure chamber, running gold and relics through her hands, like a child that has found new toys. She has accomplished everything she set out to do here. She always accomplishes everything. She wasn’t even afraid to deal with a sloth demon. She was careful. She asked for my advice and followed it.
I feel invisible to her. For all of the expedition, she was cool, to everyone. She gets the job done. I just wish…Ah, if pigs could fly, the sky would be full of them. Ineed to prepare for the long trip back up, to the light.
It was their last night camped down here. Merrill was glad for it. Her back muscles cramped painfully on the hard rock of the thaig. Her bedroll did nothing to soften it. Crossing her legs, she sat up, rolling her shoulders to get rid of a crick in her neck. She was not tired enough to sleep, just drained from lack of sunlight, from being so far removed from what was natural to her. From a pocket she retrieved a roll of twine that Varric had once given her when she moved to Kirkwall. Simply to keep her hands busy, she started knitting the strands of twine with her fingers, creating a rough pattern. It wasn’t exactly beautiful, but it kept the mind busy.
“That looks complex and beautiful.” Merrill dropped her hands to her lap, looking up at Hawke who smiled down at her. “I hope you won’t mind my company.” The elf shook her head, then moved on her bedroll to make room for the Fereldan.
“It’s not really anything. I cannot sleep, and it keeps me busy. The Dalish, they are able to weave baskets and all other such things. Our crafters are quite amazing. My, have you ever seen the wares of Master Ilen? The finest carvings. I have seen nothing in Kirkwall that comes close. And certainly not down here, in the rock of the earth.” Merrill spoke fast, in her rambling way, always her bridge to gap her nervousness. Hawke’s presence made her so nervous.
Their shoulders were touching, and Hawke’s arm went around Merrill’s shoulders. “Relax, dear Merrill. Breathe. We’re going home soon.” Hawke’s eyes were burning as she looked at the elf. “It feels like home now, Kirkwall. I have missed my mother, my sister, and Amba, my dog. Shit, even my uncle. I must be drunk on lyrium dust or something.” She laughed. “I need to apologize, Merrill. Since the expedition started, I was so focused on making it a success that I wasn’t always nice.”
She had a frown on her forehead, thin lines that Merrill wanted to smooth out with her fingertips. Instead, the elf continued her finger knitting, more slowly now. “It’s alright, Hawke. Now you are going to be rich, Varric and you. You must be so excited.” She smiled, genuinely happy for her…friend. That’s what they were. Very good friends.
Hawke squeezed Merrill’s shoulder. “Yes, indeed. I will buy the Amell Estate, and then you can spend time in the garden. I will make sure it will have a garden. I meant what I said then. You’ll be welcome at my house anytime.” She gave Merrill a kiss on the cheek, an exuberant yet ultimately chaste one.
I could die right this moment. Merrill smiled at Hawke, cheeks lightly flushed. “I am looking forward to the fantastical garden of the Hawke Mansion.” And she was.
“I cannot wait to tell Bethany about our adventures down here, Merrill. I cannot wait.” Hawke laughed, a sound so full of delight. It was a sound that would haunt Merrill for the first week after their return.
Not exactly a merry occasion, their return. Merrill ran her hands through her hair, and smiled happily enough, seated at their usual table in the Hanged Man. She was excited to be back in Kirkwall. Isabela had hugged her until the elf had no more breath in her, and whirled her around, calling her her precious kitten. “I missed you, ‘bela!” Merrill had exclaimed happily. Even Aveline hugged them, though with far less exuberance. There was relief in her eyes. Varric had gone to buy the best kegs of ale the Hanged Man had, for their grand reunion. It was all pretty swell. Anders was smiling! Unheard of. For once he did not rail on about the plight of suppressed mages. Even Fenris seemed vaguely happy. He hadn’t snarled at Merrill at all this night. He had done enough of that in the Deep Roads.
Yet it was the one who was missing that set the mood for their reunion. Hawke was drinking the sour ale, and every attempt at conversation was responded to with a snide remark.
“Imagine, the things you will be able to do with your fortune, Hawke! Live in Hightown, all fancy like. Everyone will have to take note of the Hawke family. Justly deserved.” Aveline said this with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes as she raised her tankard to Hawke.
“The Hawke family. What’s left of it. If I hadn’t been so bloody stupid and left her here, Bethany would still be free. Yes, mother and I, we will need a whole mansion to ourselves now, for certain. Like I need your stick up my arse.” Hawke’s mouth was twisted with bitterness, and she didn’t take note of the flicker of hurt in Aveline’s eyes. So often, she was so careless with her words.
Merrill lowered her head, looking at the dregs in her cup of ale. Did ale usually have dregs? The beverage served here did for sure. When she looked up, she felt Hawke’s eyes on her, piercing into her. If I had not taken you, but her, she would not be locked away. It read like a book to the elf, clear, unmistakable.
Hawke drained her ale, then rose to leave. She held out her hand to Isabela. “Let’s take a…walk. That’ll take the edge of this day.” The pirate laughed, but seemed happy to oblige.
There was silence after they had left. Varric tried to make his usual dry jokes, but they failed to work. The evening had soured. Merrill rose, and then genuinely smiled at the companions. “It is very good to see all of you. I am glad to have returned. The air seems so fresh here. Even in Lowtown. Good night, lethallins.”
When Merrill stepped outside, she inhaled deeply, feeling the coolness of a breeze, sensing the smell of refuse and human waste. A salty breeze was rolling in from the dockside of Kirkwall. She had meant it. Better this, than the dry staleness of below the ground.
As she turned to leave, the elf passed an alley right next to the inn. It was there that she saw Hawke and Isabela. They hadn’t even bothered to move deeper into the alley. Isabela’s back was pressed against a wall, and Hawke’s hand was underneath the skimpy clothing. For a moment, the elf could not look away. She felt her face flush, her mouth open in a stupid gape, and a pit open in her stomach, ready to make her fall in. Falling, falling, forever, until there was nothing more left of her.
Merrill was only able to turn away when Hawke turned her head, seeing her. She actually smirked. She laughed, but never stopped what she was doing. Isabela turned her head as well, and then immediately pushed Hawke away from her, hissing at her. “Stop it. Damn you, Hawke, not with kitten here.”
The elf burned with shame as she turned her back on the pair. She had never felt this lonely before. Her head was bowed as she walked, careful not to get lost. Upon her return to her home, she unwrapped the eluvian, with a new fervor to solve its secrets. It was the only thing in the world with any meaning left to it.
The firm knocking on the door woke Merrill up the next morning. She rubbed her forehead, the lines of her table imprinted in the skin. “I guess I fell asleep,” she mumbled as she rose. She opened the door and found Hawke who looked at her from a face that had circles underneath the usually so piercing eyes. “Good morning,” Merrill mentioned to say, still rubbing her forehead, too sleepy to think of anything else.
“Morning, Merrill. May I come in? Please?” There was a hint of pleading in Hawke’s voice, but who would she ever plead with? Hawke teased and demanded and tricked her way through life. She didn’t plead. Merrill wordlessly opened the door and invited Hawke into her home.
The Dalish sat back down at the table she used for working. Not really a desk, more a rickety table, but that’s where she did her work. She carefully wrapped the piece of the eluvian, and waited, while Hawke paced through the room.
“Listen, Merrill. I am…” Hawke moved forward quickly and then kneeled, looking up at the elf, taking both her hands. “I am so very very sorry. I can be such an asshole. I don’t know what came over me last night. I was so very angry. But never at you. At the templars, and the Chantry, and the world. At myself. I have let down my sister.” She squeezed Merrill’s hands. “I don’t want to let you down as well. You are the only one of my friends who…who really doesn’t have an agenda with me. You have no demands, wants, wishes. You don’t nag, you don’t need this and that. You just are. You didn’t need to see me like that. I did not mean to step on you like a doormat, because you deserve much better than that.”
Merrill was moved near tears but she put on her brave face to not give a hint of it. “Ah, Hawke, it’s nothing. I don’t even know what you are talking about. It’s all good. I understand. I am very sorry about your sister. But maybe she will be happier. It’s possible. Maybe it’ll be good for her. She was always so…haunted by the thought of being captured. She deserves her peace. Doesn’t she? I think so at least.” Her rambling was distracting enough, and it seemed to put Hawke’s mind at peace. The woman relaxed and rose, leaning in for a quick hug.
All the while, a sad lonely voice was in Merrill’s head. No demands, wants, wishes. Just dreams. Pointless dreams, that you would see me, that I would be more than just the bumbling friend. Hawke was so right. She was such a doormat.
Spring 8432, after the founding of Arlathan
I am deeply ashamed. Hawke trusted me enough to have me enter the Fade with her, and I betrayed her to the first demon we came across.
I don’t know what came over me but it all seemed to make so much sense. He offered to restore our greatness. All my dreams come true. How foolish I was. I have given in to a demon and failed my companions. I have failed Hawke. I fell to my own pride.
It must never happen again. It must not. She will never forgive me. How could she? Betrayal, so bitter. How the Keeper would laugh at me, if Hawke had told her about the betrayal. She didn’t though, so it’s another debt I bear.
Merrill lingered by the edge of one of the cliffs, kicking up sand with her bare feet. A breeze from the sea was ruffling her short hair. It was a warm spring day, and the way the beams of sunlight were dancing upon the waves of the Wounded Coast was such a beautiful sight. The elf let out a sigh, then crouched, just looking out over the stretch of coast.
“You are very quiet today, Merrill.” The elf didn’t have to turn her head, she had felt Hawke’s presence before the woman spoke. Sand slowly trickled from her hand to the ground as she looked out across the water.
“I guess I am, Hawke. I am sorry, I have so much to think about. It’s very loud inside my head.” Merrill smiled faintly at her own words, and then finally looked over her shoulder, seeing Hawke walk around her to crouch at her side.
The other woman actually sat down, and then reached for a whetstone that she carried in a belt pouch, starting to sharpen her daggers. They were taking an afternoon break, before they were to continue their search for Tal-Vashoth on the coast. Isabela was actually taking a nap, and Fenris was off, brooding, always keeping his distance from Merrill.
“And here I thought you were just enjoying the view, Merrill. You seem to enjoy it.” The hint of teasing was in Hawke’s voice, even though she knew that Merrill did not usually deal so well with ribbing. For long moments there was just the sound of the ocean, the wind, the screeches of coastal birds, and the rhythmic, scraping sound of the whetstone.
Merrill finally opened her mouth. “I…just don’t understand why you still speak to me, why you still seem to…trust me, Hawke? You know I use blood magic and learned it from a spirit, and then you saw how I respond to them. Why are you here with me? Why am I here with you?” Confusion and doubt laced her voice.
The Fereldan woman snorted. “Maker, Merrill, Isabela betrayed me for a big boat. You at least betrayed me for something of significance, the heritage and future of your people.” She chuckled, starting her work on the second dagger. It already looked lethal and razor-sharp, but she used the whetstone regardless. “You apologized, Merrill. I accepted. Let it go. Life’s too short to linger on such things.”
She sat up, and put a hand around Merrill’s arm, squeezing. It was not a light touch, and even hurt a bit. “Don’t make it a habit though. You are right, I cannot afford friends who betray me. You have learned from it, haven’t you?” Hawke let go slowly, her fingers almost hesitant to leave. “I would so hate losing you.” She softened her words with a genuine smile.
Hawke rose to walk over to where Fenris was. Merrill rubbed her arm and was entirely unsure if she should be joyous that Hawke trusted her, or if she should be fearful, starting to watch her back. Hawke was a dangerous woman.
Merrill sat crosslegged on the floor, in front of the twisted frame that held her reconstruction of the eluvian. Varric had helped her when she discovered it in the Lowtown Bazaar, and since then, the Dalish elf had invested countless hours in fixing the mirror. It was no thing of beauty, but it had a certain grandeur to it, a hint of power. The gilded frame was held upright by a carved pedestal, twisted like an ancient tree, carved in strange, indescribable patterns. A horned beast crowned the frame, jumping, or rearing its head. It was hard to tell. The eluvian piece was in the center, other pieces of glass carefully fitted to it.
It was lifeless and dull, offering no reflection. It was a beginning. Merrill smiled, then ran a finger over the edge of one bit of glass that didn’t yet fit properly. The glass had an edge, cutting the elf’s finger. She focused and the blood turned into a fine mist, channeled into the mirror.
“I swear, I have seen so much blood in my time, but watching you turns my stomach still.” Hawke was watching Merrill from her bed. She was lying on her stomach, resting her chin on her hands, as she watched intently. “It must hurt.”
Merrill stopped her efforts, then dabbed at the cut with a cloth she kept by. “It’s not that bad, really. You get used to it. It’s a small price to pay, don’t you think?” She smiled, then turned around to face Hawke. She rested her hands on her knees, her finger wrapped with the cloth, studying the other woman’s face.
Hawke always looked relaxed and at ease whenever she paid Merrill her weekly visit. Despite the many adventures they had side-by-side, Hawke always found the time to pay a visit to Merrill’s home in the alienage, usually to share a flask of cheap wine, or to regale her with the latest gossip. Today, she had been here for a couple of hours, first talking to Merrill, then just relaxing and watching her work.
Hawke’s visit was the highlight of every week.
Reaching out a hand, Hawke twirled a braided strand of Merrill’s hair in her fingers, a gentle gesture. “I worry, you know. Don’t bleed yourself dry. One of these days I’ll come here and you’ll be passed out. What would I do?” Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, came to Merrill’s mind. The touch of your lips would bring me back to life. Surely. Hawke removed her hand, and sat up.
“Will you stay for dinner? I have…cheese. And we could maybe take a walk later?” Merrill gazed at Hawke intently. Sometimes it seemed…during those weekly visits, Hawke saw her, and sometimes Merrill felt that Hawke had more than just a passing interest in her. Sometimes she was more than just the elvhen friend. Or so it seemed.
“Tonight, I will get an amazing Darktown menu of fried Deep Mushrooms, lightly sauteed on a bed of rat dung.” Hawke laughed at this. “I promised Anders I would stop by. Will probably stay overnight. Who needs a mansion when you can have a cot in Darktown?”
Merrill looked away. Of course. Anders. She rose, and so did Hawke. “That sounds delightful. What does rat dung taste like? I imagine it is bitter? Or salty? You will have to tell me. Though I would rather not have such a meal myself. Does he cook it for you? Where would he cook it, in his clinic?” The faster she spoke, and the more questions she asked, the less it would hurt, clearly.
She walked Hawke to the door. The taller woman kissed Merrill’s forehead. “Thank you for the offer, sweets. I’ll take you up on that walk soon, promised.” She hesitated. “Oh, you should go sit in the garden at the mansion. You have done such a beautiful job. The roses are starting to climb the walls. It’s all quite lovely.” She squeezed Merrill’s shoulders and then left, with a spring to her walk. She always left from her visits with a bounce to her step. Either she was able to really relax in Merrill’s presence, or she was keen on departing. So hard to tell.
Merrill felt as lonely as ever. What good was the joy of Hawke’s visits, when it evaporated like mist within a matter of moments? “By the Dread Wolf, I have so much work to do.”
Fall 8432, after the founding of Arlathan
I remember how Hawke stood behind me and held my shoulders. I looked down at Pol, willing him back to life, trying to forget the expression on his face when he saw me. I hadn’t cried in years, but I cried then. He was one of my clan, and he had rather faced a varterral than face me.
Hawke kept her arm around me all the way back from the caves to the camp. Behind me I heard Fenris call me a monster and Isabela telling him to shut up, defending me. I will have to thank her for it later.
Hawke was there. She kept murmuring how it was not my fault, could never be my fault, as we numbly walked back.
I remember the pain and devastation I felt when the Keeper admitted to having warned the clan of me. What did she tell them? Why must her disapproval mean that she isolates me from the clan?
I have the arulin’holm now, Hawke saw to it that the Keeper honored the bargain. I still have my work, despite what the Dalish think of me.
I can’t bear the loneliness right now. I just cannot bear it. I must do something.
“Slow down, kitten, you will regret this in the morning.” Isabela’s voice was full of concern from where she stood next to Merrill by the bar in the Hanged Man. The barkeep was happy to refill Merrill’s tankard of cheap wine for the coin she supplied. “Trust me, booze won’t make you feel better overall. Especially not this vile stuff. Come, let’s sit with the others.”
Merrill stubbornly shook her head, and then suppressed a fit of hiccups. “Do not want. Am fine here. I don’t want to look at Fenris scowling at the monster that I am, or Anders telling me he told me so. It gets very tiring.” She drained her tankard and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “You are very sweet, ‘bela. Ma serannas, lethallin, for coming to my defense back…there.” A wave of nausea rolled through her, the wine sloshing around in her like a slow wave crashing against the shores of the Wounded Coast. Too much drink in too little time. She grabbed one of the pirate’s bare arms. “Isabela, please tell me. If you were to seduce someone, how would you start?”
The Rivaini looked perplexed and laughed. “You, seduce someone? Well, I don’t know. I prefer the blunt approach of taking clothes off. Get naked and it works miracles.” Isabela seemed amused by the conversation and of course did not take her the slightest bit seriously. Very well, it suited Merrill.
Isabela left the bar, to head to the others, murmuring something to Hawke, who rose. She had this frown on her forehead again, and seemed to feel it, because she rubbed at it with a fingertip as she headed towards the bar to join Merrill. “Hey, remember that walk I still owe you? Why not take that stroll now? Let me escort you home. It’s been a very long day.”
To Hawke’s obvious surprise, Merrill meekly nodded and moved towards the exit. She didn’t even wave to the others, she just left, safe in the knowledge the taller woman would be right behind her. She felt a bit wobbly and soon Hawke took her arm to steady her. They walked quietly, through the twist and turns of Lowtown, until they reached the gates of the alienage, and Merrill’s house. They hadn’t spoken a word, but none were necessary. Merrill felt safe with her.
Inside the house, Hawke leaned her back against the front door, waiting. “Would you like me to stay with you for a bit? Have a drink of the water you always offer, and talk?”
Merrill looked over her shoulder. “I would like you to stay, Hawke but I don’t want to talk nor drink water.” Methodically, if a bit unsteadily, she opened the buckles of her belt and chainmail, pulling her green tunic over her head.
“Then I’ll tuck you in, Merrill. You must be tired.” Hawke’s voice was full of kindness at this moment, but it was not kindness the elf was looking for. Merrill carelessly threw her tunic over a chair, and then took off the chain mail. She felt more sober now, more clearheaded with every piece of clothing that was removed.
Hawke had gone completely quiet as she watched Merrill, but followed her further into the house. It was only when the elf was about to shed her last piece of clothing that she said “Merrill, please, what are you doing?” She turned to the side to give the elf some privacy, a privacy that Merill did not require at this moment.
Merrill stepped out of her underwear, and leaned against the edge of one of her tables, looking at Hawke. “Will you please look at me, Hawke?” The other woman did, eyes widening, pupils dilating. She actually blushed and looked away again. The mighty Hawke, blushing.
Braver now, Merrill actually moved to take Hawke’s hands, and pulled her closer, towards the table. Their bodies were not touching, but they were close. “Merrill,” Hawke murmured. The elf felt that Hawke’s palms were actually sweaty. The Fereldan bit her bottom lip, desperately trying to look at Merrill’s face, but failing.
A rush of power went through Merrill when she saw this. It was not quite like using magic, but close. Her cheeks flushed with pleasure when she saw that Hawke could not keep her eyes off her lean, petite figure. Her eyes were drawn to the curve of Merrill’s hips and the contours of her breasts. The flat stomach, and the rosy tips of her breasts. The long legs, the creamy skin of her thighs. The elf actually felt empowered, felt beautiful. Merrill was still holding Hawke’s hands and pulled her closer, resting the other woman’s hands on her hips.
“Don’t do this, Merrill. Just don’t. I…” Hawke raised her head to look at Merrill with wide eyes, even while her hands already began to stray, her thumbs gently caressing her bare skin. “I won’t be able to stop.”
Merrill looked at her solemnly. “I don’t want you to stop.” She reached up to pull Hawke’s face to her with both hands, kissing her with parted lips.
The first contact was electrifying. Merrill felt Hawke’s hands dig into the skin of her hips. The tips of their tongues touched. It was as if a dam broke, the current sweeping them both away. Hawke cleared the table with the sweep of one arm, then pushed Merrill down on the surface, her lips never leaving the elf’s skin. Hands, lips, they seemed to be everywhere, caressing furiously.
Merrill threw her legs around Hawke’s hips, wrapping herself around her, wanting to feel her ever closer. She was lifted up by Hawke, carried to the bed. Clothes were shed. Skin touched skin. The world went completely out of focus, there was only the sensation of caressing each other. Merrill clung to Hawke, who was as relentless as she was in battle. Soon the waves of pleasure carried her away. Much later, much much later, exhaustion took her, and she fell asleep.
When the elf woke again, she found herself alone, but Hawke’s smell and all the memories were still with her. There had been no goodbye. I will treasure this memory forever.
Merrill had made good progress working on the eluvian this day. Maybe Isabela had a point when she mentioned the necessity of ‘scratching that itch’ because the elf felt very calm and relaxed. She could even ignore the fact that Hawke had not looked at her all day when they had investigated the disappearance of a delegation of Qunari.
She put down the arulin’holm and stretched luxuriously. Enough time with work. She would take a walk now and see if anyone in the alienage needed her for anything. That was the plan. She opened the front door, only to be confronted with Hawke standing there. They stared wordlessly at each other. Hawke looked incredibly tense. Merrill finally smiled, ready to greet Hawke with a quip so that she would be at ease. Anything to break the silence.
Her lips opened, but no sound came, for Hawke put a finger to her lips. “Shhhh, Merrill.” Hawke wrapped her hands around Merrill’s waist, lifting her, kicking the door shut behind her with a foot. She pressed Merrill against a wall right by the doorway with the full length of her body. Hawke’s lips were right by the curve of Merrill’s ear, nuzzling it gently, kissing the pointed tip. Her voice was a whisper, sending shivers down Merrill’s spine. “I could not stop thinking of you all day. You were all that’s on my mind. What have you done to me?”
Her lips left a trail of fire on Merrill’s skin, and she gasped and clung helplessly to Hawke. Teeth were lightly nipping at the tender skin of her neck. Hands found every cranny, every nook that responded to her touch, and soon agile fingers found their way beneath her clothing, curving upwards, finding her, consuming her. Her head hit the wall as she threw it back in ecstasy.
Soon they were on the floor, entwined, filling a need too urgent, too demanding to actually make it to the bedroom.
And that’s what it was from now on. From mere friendship, they had moved to a different kind of relationship. Hawke would now come by several times a week. They never wasted much time. Sometimes it was gentle lovemaking that fulfilled both of them, leaving Merrill aglow with how happy it made her. Sometimes, after particularly rough days filled with bloodshed, with crazed mages, templars and Qunari, it was frenzied. Hawke would take her like driven, frantic with urgency, eager to please her. She always placed her own needs last, pleasing the elf was her priority at all times.
Sometimes it was too much to take in, it left the Dalish exhausted, body and mind.
They never talked. It was all very cordial, very normal when the companions were along. They spoke, and laughed and discussed things, following Hawke’s leadership. None of the companions seemed to have any idea, with the exception of Isabela. The pirate had pulled Merrill aside one night, at the Hanged Man.
“What’s going on with you and Hawke?” Isabela casually leaned against the bar, but she had a booted foot between Merrill’s bare feet, effectively trapping her. Merrill knew she would have no compunctions about tripping her.
Merrill fussed with her scarf, rearranging the layers neatly. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Ah, it’s drafty in here tonight, isn’t it? I wonder if I could ask for hot spiced wine. Though maybe not, I do not want to know what kind of spices they would use here. Mouse droppings and salt?” She laughed nervously.
Isabela removed her foot, a smile curling her lips. “I think you two are being very very naughty. It becomes you, kitten. Some days you are practically glowing. That glorious, just laid look.” Glowing she was, cheeks and tips of her ears rosy as Merrill blushed at those words. “If it helps any, I know for a fact she hasn’t seen anyone else for a month now, ever since we got back from Sundermount.” The elf looked away, not sure how to feel about those words. She hadn’t known this. “Kitten?” Isabela lifted Merrill’s chin. “If she hurts you, I’ll gut her for you, I swear.”
Merrill was unable to respond to that, though she smiled, for Hawke chose that moment to join them. For a long moment it seemed like a flicker of jealousy was in her eyes at seeing Merrill and Isabela so close. Then, it was gone. Maybe it was just wishful thinking, a figment of her imagination.
Something was different, this week. It was winter, and cold and dampness reigned in Merrill’s house. The two of them were wrapped in several layers of blankets, their limbs entangled for maximum warmth. Hawke never stayed the night, she always left shortly after they were both too exhausted to continue. This week, she stayed longer, lingered, always hesitant to leave, though leave she did. They never talked. Never about each other, ever. Hardly ever about other things.
Tonight, Hawke was lying on top of her, gazing at her face, tracing the vallaslin. She looked troubled and restless. Eventually, she got up, and dressed herself. Dressed in pants and an undershirt, she put more wood in the fireplace. “You need more wood, Merrill. Your roof needs fixing. This…this place is so dismal, how can you be happy here?” She paced restively.
“I can be happy, Hawke. I have a bed, a roof over my head, books. I have a life. I have my work. I have…” You. “The eluvian. I am making such good progress.” Merrill sat up in bed, wrapping a blanket around her bare shoulders. It was cold in here.
The answers did not seem to please Hawke, who continued to pace. She had chill bumps on her skin, and picked up another shirt to pull over her head. Her hair was standing on end, a lovely mess of bed-hair. Merrill found her to be utterly beautiful and captivating. She prowled like a mountain cat. “I just worry. I think you deserve a better life than this. You deserve that people treat you more kindly. I…” She threw her hands up, looking utterly frustrated with herself. She looked like she wanted to say something else, something on her mind, but nothing came.
Merrill willed her to say it. Say that you care. Say that you see me for myself. Say that it is not just my body you come seeking here almost every night. Hawke didn’t say anything. She sat down and put on her boots instead. The elf bit her bottom lip, and then said the first thing that came to her mind. “Hawke, I miss you so.” The Fereldan stopped lacing her boots and quizzically looked at Merrill. “I…miss our talks. I miss laughing with you. I also miss working here, and you watching, being interested and curious.” She hugged herself, feeling very vulnerable right now. “I love every moment you are here with me. You…you know my body in and out. I just wish that…” You knew my heart and mind just as well. “We still talked. I wish we had both. I know this is probably too much to ask.”
Hawke had started to lace her boots again, and quietly completed dressing. She slid her daggers into their shoulder harness. Finally, she rose, and looked at Merrill with stern eyes. “I understand, Merrill. I am…truly sorry. You are absolutely right. And you deserve better than what I have given you.” Again, she looked on the verge of saying something else, but then she merely shook her head and leaned down to kiss Merrill’s forehead. “Dareth shiral.” A melancholic smile, something not usually seen on Hawke’s face. “Dearest.”
She did not return for any further visits after this night.
Fall, 8433 after the founding of Arlathan
I have seen many ghastly things since I came to Kirkwall, but never anything quite as gruesome and savage as tonight. Now I understand why everyone is so afraid of my blood magic, because so far all the mages that I have seen use it, have completely succumbed to corruption and power.
Watching that…that creation totter towards us, the rough stitches connecting Leandra Hawke’s beautiful face to the torso, it is too much to think about. I have never killed with such fury before. But now, what’s left now? His death won’t bring her back. It won’t erase the horror of her dying.
I ached for her when Hawke held that body, looked down at her mother’s face for the last time. Both of them broken, in their own way. What I would do to reverse it.
I must be there for Hawke now. She will be too proud to admit that she needs help. But I will be there for her, like I know she would always be there for me if I needed her.
Merrill quietly padded upstairs, the fall of her feet softened by the thick rug on the steps of the Hawke mansion. Bodahn had let the elf inside, wringing his hands, his dwarven face full of worry and concern. “Messere Hawke is upstairs in her bedroom and asked to be left alone.” He leaned towards Merrill, looking up at her beseechingly. “She shouldn’t be alone tonight, I think. Poor Mistress Leandra. She was so good to me and my boy.” His eyes shimmered with tears, and he tugged at his beard, all distraught. He didn’t stop Merrill from going upstairs.
The elf didn’t really know her way around here. Once or twice a week she came by to tend the garden of the estate, enjoying her time outside in it, but she had only been upstairs once, in one of the sitting rooms, for a family dinner. It was a completely different world, compared to Lowtown. It was so quiet. Lights were dimmed, only a few candles in their holders alight. Merrill looked up at the chandelier, lips curving into a smile. How much fun it would be to swing on this.
She moved straight into the first room she found, the door to it open. Merrill closed it behind her when she saw Hawke. She was seated upon the large four poster bed with its canopy, looking small and forlorn. She stared at the ground.
“Emma ir abelas, ma vhenan.” Merrill slid over to where Hawke was seated and took a seat next to her. The other woman didn’t look up, but her fingers laced with Merrill’s when the elf took her hand. She held on tightly.
“I don’t speak elvhen, Merrill.” Hawke turned her head to look at the elf, her remark snide, and cutting. Merrill deflected it easily enough, smiling sadly.
“It means that I am filled with sorrow, Hawke, for your loss. Your mother was such a good woman.” Hawke’s fingers curled, squeezing, as she listened. “We have to believe she’s in a better place now, Hawke. She loved you. We shall honor her.”
Hawke took a shaking breath, unsteady and lost. She was still looking at Merrill, and for a moment her lips curled into that sarcastic smile that she used all the time when she was dealing with the world. The smile she gave to viscounts, arishoks, grand clerics and beggars alike. The shell, her armor, protecting her better than any boiled leather would do.
Before she could put on that brave face, Merrill touched Hawke’s lips, tracing the contours with her long fingers. It was heartbreaking to see the transformation, from haughty, petulant Hawke to broken woman who had just lost her mother in the most gruesome fashion. Her face crumpled, and her eyes were suddenly brimming with tears, tears that spilled onto her cheeks. She fell against Merrill, shoulders heaving with sobs that she seemingly held in all day.
Merrill pulled Hawke’s head into her lap, caressing her face, smoothing her hair. Her fingers tirelessly caressed her, stroking the scalp, the lines of her face, the curve of her ears. The elf let her cry, soothingly speaking in elvhen. Hawke didn’t know what it meant, but it seemed to soothe her, hearing the lilting words “Ma sa’lath, Hawke. I am here for you.” Eventually the tears subsided, and she took deep breaths, holding on to Merrill, with her arms around the elf’s waist.
Sitting up, Hawke never let go of Merrill, looking at her with entreating eyes. “Merrill, don’t go. Please stay with me tonight. Will you please?” She leaned her head on Merrill’s shoulder. “I don’t know if I will be able to sleep tonight.”
Merrill stroked Hawke’s back then nodded. “Yes, of course I will. Whatever you need me to do, I will be here for you.” She rose, then went down on her knees, starting to unlace Hawke’s boots. Once that was done, she pulled the taller woman to her feet and slowly started removing her clothing. She pulled back the sheets and urged Hawke to lie down, then quickly followed suit once her own clothing was removed. Their bodies entwined, Hawke resting her head on Merrill’s collarbone, nuzzling her gently.
Merrill simply held Hawke, softly murmuring to her, and soon Hawke’s breathing slowed and deepened, sleep taking over. Outside, rain drummed against the window of the bedroom, driven against it by heavy wind. There were no leaks here, and it was toasty warm, the light from the fireplace the only illumination. No wonder she never stayed with me overnight, Merrill lazily mused, enjoying the feel of Hawke in her arms.
She was still awake when Hawke stirred, her body twitching violently. Hawke gasped and clung to Merrill, only relaxing when the elf reassured her that she was not alone. The Fereldan gradually relaxed, then rolled on top of Merrill, starting to shower her face with kisses, like rain in spring. She held the elf’s shoulders, holding on tight when their lips met and parted.
It had been almost a year since they had last been intimate.
Hawke kissed Merrill desperately, in one of her frenzies that were so overpowering. Her hands slid lower, fast and furious, as she’d done so many times, but the elf broke the kiss, wriggling out of Hawke’s grasp. In the light of the fireplace, she could see Hawke’s eyes, full of hurt at this rejection.
“Hawke. Not like this. Let me…” Love you. “Let me be there for you.” Merrill gently but firmly pushed Hawke down, then moved above her, touching her slowly and deliberately. Hawke was tensed, straining, looking up at Merrill, reaching up to touch the elf’s hair. She slowly relaxed, the breath she had held in slowly escaping. It was then that Merrill finally kissed Hawke’s lips again, with sweetness instead of furor, with tenderness instead of desperation.
It was the slowest lovemaking they had ever experienced, and when Hawke cried out her name, which she was usually not wont to do, Merrill closed her own eyes, holding in the memory of this moment, capturing it. She held Hawke all through it, riding the waves, until she finally relaxed.
The elf was so sure that Hawke had fallen asleep, but she suddenly felt her stir again, whispering in her ear. “I love you, Merrill.” Her breathing turned regular again, and sleep took her.
Merrill lay in the darkness, smiling up at the canopy of the bed. What a lovely pattern it had. How plush the pillows felt, how soft the sheets were. How warm and real Hawke felt against her. She had said the words Merrill had longed to hear. Too bad they were spoken when grief ruled supreme.
When dawn started to touch the sky outside the bedroom window, kissing the grey sky, Merrill carefully disentangled herself from Hawke and then dressed quietly in the dark. The fire had burned down overnight, and so all that was visible on the bed, was Hawke’s shape under the covers, in grayness. Hawke didn’t stir, deeply asleep. Merrill wrapped her scarf around her neck, and lingered for a moment. “I love you too, Hawke.” She quietly slipped outside, her feet padding as quietly on the rugs as they did when she first arrived.
Merrill stood with her back pressed against the cold marble of the Viscount’s Keep, a chill driven through her, despite it being the height of summer. She pressed her hands against her mouth to stifle a scream. Isabela stood next to her, cringing. Merrill had never seen the pirate so shaken. But shaken she was, watching Hawke fight the incredibly tall and muscled form of the Arishok, dueling to fight for Isabela’s life. Merrill slipped a hand through Isabela’s arm, and they stood together, both waiting and worrying. Isabela held her hand tightly, betraying her fear.
Countless gashes were visible where the Arishok’s sword had cut through Hawke’s leather armor. All that the woman had was her speed and her knowledge of where exactly to strike for maximum damage. The Arishok charged her again, but Hawke was faster, driving her daggers into the Arishok’s back, then wheeling around to drive them into him once more, like the twin fangs of a serpent. He bled from deep, gaping wounds, tiring him. Enraged, he grabbed Hawke, impaling her on his sword, driving it through her shoulder, lifting her up.
Merrill burst into tears. They had fought together so much, but in all those years, she had never seen Hawke suffer like this. I will kill you, Arishok. If you take her, my blood magic will rend you apart. I will see to it, by the Creators.
But that wasn’t necessary. Hawke slid to the ground, stumbling, bleeding heavily from her shoulder. The Arishok clearly saw himself as the victor, raising his arms in triumph, yelling about the Qun and the weakness of the Basra Vashedan. He raised his arms, and Hawke jumped him, driving her daggers into his guts. As his entrails spilled forth, he went to his knees, groaning, threatening the Qunari’s return even as he took his last breaths.
Around them, cheering began, as the other Qunari wordlessly departed. Merrill didn’t cheer, her heart wasn’t lightened. The object of everyone’s cheers was down on one knee, bleeding. When Knight-Commander Meredith made her way into the throne chamber, Hawke awkwardly rose, snidely smiling at the cool templar. “And here I thought you would never join us. Kirkwall is free.”
It was only after Meredith had left, after pronouncing Hawke ‘Champion of Kirkwall’, that the new champion’s resources finally gave in. She floundered, weak from loss of blood. As she sank to the floor, her eyes sought the Dalish. “Merrill.” The elf cradled her against herself, screaming for help. She was looking for me.
Anders finished re-dressing the bandages around Hawke’s shoulder. It would take some time for this to knit properly, despite his infusion of healing magic. Skin, muscle, nerve endings had been shredded, bones fractured. It would be alright, but it would need time. Merrill watched him closely as he leaned over the sleeping Hawke. She watched the sparks of creation magic, a school of magic completely lost to her. Hawke had more stitches, more bandages, all over. It had been a long fight. Merrill had been with her since the moment Hawke fell.
She put aside the tome she was studying on Hawke’s bedside table. One of the books that Hawke had not destroyed when discovering it, to Merrill’s gratitude. When she looked up, she saw Anders stare at her with this disapproving look of his, a heady mix of condescension, sympathy and dislike. “This doesn’t mean she will ever be with you, Merrill. Hawke is smart. She knows that you will always choose a demon over her.”
Merrill’s nostrils flared. “This may well be so, Anders. I think you would know. After all, you already chose your demon, over anything else.” He didn’t like her words, immediately turning defensive.
“Justice is not a demon. He is a good spirit.” The age-old argument he had used on her for years.
Merrill laughed and shook her head. “Anders. There are no good spirits. You chose your path. Leave me be. Hawke will be with whoever she wants to be with, or maybe with no one. It’s not in our hands. What is in my hands is to take care of her and see her back on her own feet.” He nodded, maybe in slight defeat. As he departed, Merrill picked up her tome again. Hypocrite.
Hawke slowly drank from the cup of water that Merrill was holding to her lips. When she leaned back in the pillows, some of her usual spark had returned. “I never took you up on all the offers of water in your house, so now you come to mine to make me drink.” She shifted her shoulder, wincing. “I cannot wait to be out of this. I hate feeling this weak.”
Merrill put the cup away, then took Hawke’s hand, lightly squeezing. “It’s been a rough couple weeks. By the Dread Wolf, it’s been a rough year. You have earned the rest. Mighty Champion of Kirkwall.” The elf giggled at the title and the expression on Hawke’s face, full of distaste. “You have no idea how many visitors and messengers and presents Bodahn has to fend off. It’s quite amazing. You are like the most important person in Kirkwall now. But don’t worry, he only lets your friends in. Isabela came by a lot.” Merrill’s smile turns sad. “I think she will leave once she is sure that you will be alright. She is not used to people caring like this about her. You risked your life for her.”
Hawke groaned, shifting her weight in bed. “Bah, humbug. Don’t romanticize it. I am loyal to my friends. It’s something that Isabela will still need to learn.” Her lips twisted into a sad smile. “You look tired, Merrill. Do you ever sleep? Every time I woke up, you were here, smiling at me.”
“I can sleep while sitting here. Or on the floor. I once even tried if I could sleep on one foot. I fell asleep, but I fell over. That wasn’t too much fun. I once slept in a tree. That was fun, I felt like on top of the world. Would do that again. Have you ever?” Merrill’s words tumbled from her lips, excited to actually be able to speak with Hawke. She had been out for quite sometime, a couple days. It was plenty of reason to be happy. She smiled, her eyes alight, and Hawke smiled back. “Here I am, babbling like a fool again, when you need rest.”
Hawke shook her head. “Don’t stop talking, please.” And so Merrill talked, about everything that happened since the duel, until Hawke fell asleep again, all the while holding on to the elf’s hand.
“Why did you leave?” Merrill looked up from the book, the words swimming, as she was very tired. She hadn’t noticed Hawke woke up again. She woke more frequently now.
“I didn’t leave, did I? I am still here?” Merrill pinched her face. “Yes, definitely still here, if you want to try for yourself.” She held an arm out for pinching, but Hawke didn’t smile. She looked as serious as Merrill had ever seen her.
“I woke up that morning, and I cannot describe how empty I felt. I thought…” Hawke frowned, as usual having issues expressing her feelings. It simply came down to that. Merrill was painfully aware of this. “I thought I had told you. Did it not mean anything?”
Merrill rose, to sit on the edge of Hawke’s bed, with her back to the other woman. “I don’t know if it meant anything, Hawke.” She looked over her shoulder, watching Hawke’s hands cling to the sheets, white-knuckled. “Tell me if it did. Tell me you weren’t just vulnerable that night.” She waited, sitting stiffly. If she showed no spine now, Hawke would never open up. She looked out the window, watching rays of sunlight and stripes of shadow on the windowsill. She heard Hawke’s breathing. She sensed her struggle. But it wasn’t enough. She didn’t overcome her own demons, as real as the ones Anders and the templars railed about.
“It’s time for me to go back home, Hawke. You’ll be out and about in no time. It gladdens my heart that you are doing better, ma vhenan. Dareth Shiral.” Merrill leaned down to place a kiss on Hawke’s cheek. The look in Hawke’s eyes nearly broke her heart.
There was some sort of commotion outside. It interrupted Merrill’s studies. She usually was very good at ignoring the sounds of Lowtown and the alienage, but whatever was going on was right in front of her door.
“Three cheers for the Champion of Kirkwall! Huzzah!” It sounded like a crowd was cheering outside. Merrill put her face in her hands, unsure if she was ready to face both crowd and Hawke. In particular Hawke. It had been two weeks, and her face haunted Merrill’s thoughts.
“Thank you for your kindness. My, pretty flowers. Thank you. But you know, as your Champion, I only have one request. Could I have a little bit of privacy? Like…get out of alienage while I am here? It won’t take long.” Only Hawke would have the gall to send the elves out of the alienage for her visit. The crowd seemed to disperse, and soon there was silence again.
A long silence. Merrill fully expected to open the door and to find Hawke on her doorstep, with that very focused expression on her face as she tried to sort out what to tell Merrill. She turned the doorknob, and stumbled forward in surprise when the door was pulled shut again.
“Don’t open the door, Merrill. I can’t do this right if you look at me.” Hawke’s voice sounded pressed, muffled by the door, but audible. Merrill pressed her ear against the door.
Hawke cleared her throat, and then started. “Remember back then, when you told me you missed me? I felt like a bell and you had just rang me, it resonated through me so strongly. I missed you so much, Merrill. Still do. You were always my safe haven, the place where I could let go. You had no expectations.” Oh yes, I did. “But then…when we started sleeping together, I thought that’s all that you wanted. You never told me anything else. I was used to Isabela and Fenris not wanting anything else. I thought that’s all that it was. That it was what people did.”
Merrill heard her sigh, and her voice sounded closer now, as if she was speaking straight into Merrill’s ear, with only the wood of the door separating them. “I couldn’t get enough of you. I breathed and drank and ate and lived you, Merrill. It was not until you told me that you missed me that I realized it could be so much more. But I didn’t know how.” There was a sound that could have been either choked laughter or a sob. “Yes, me, cocky, snarky, ballsy Hawke, unable to sort out my feelings and how to show you. Instead I stayed away though it broke my heart.”
Merrill felt light-headed, as if dreaming. Surely she wasn’t really hearing Hawke laying her heart on the line, out there. “When mother died, and you were there, I knew you loved me. I felt it with every little gesture of yours. I thought it would be enough if I said it then, and you would help me sort out the rest. I thought you missed me as much as I missed you.”
There was a long pause, and Merrill wanted to throw open the door and throw herself at Hawke, but she sensed there was more. And there was. “I love you, Merrill. I even found out what ma vhenan means. I love you, my heart.” More silence. Merrill quickly wiped at her eyes, never having noticed that tears had spilled over. It was a lot to take in, after three years of dreaming.
When Merrill opened the door, she was greeted by nothing but empty air, and a swirl of dust blown into her house.
The garden of the Hawke mansion was an oasis in the busy heart of Hightown. Outside the walls, there was the hustle and bustle of busy Kirkwall, but within the walls, you heard the singing of birds, the rustling of leaves in the wind, and you smelled the fragrance of the roses that Merrill had been growing here for almost 3 years. They were even climbing the walls. The garden wasn’t very neat, for the Dalish elf liked wild growth, close to nature, and even weeds had their beauty.
She was dangling her legs from the tree she sat in, enjoying the coolness despite the summer heat. Her back was against the trunk. She could have napped. She didn’t want to. She was waiting.
There were steps below, rustling in the grass. Merrill peeked down and spotted Hawke, looking around in confusion. She smiled, whistling like a bird. Hawke spun in a circle, looking up, take a step backwards when she actually espied Merrill up in the tree. “Oh my. You weren’t joking when you said you sleep in trees. I don’t think I am quite nimble enough to join you up there, not yet. Are you a squirrel?”
Merrill crouched and then hung from the branch she had been sitting on, dropping down into the soft grass, landing nimbly. “No need to.” She reached out to straighten Hawke’s tunic, then sat down in the grass. “Sit with me, Hawke. Kick off your boots and sit in the grass with me.” Hawke looked doubtful for a moment, but then did exactly that, sitting down with a sigh.
“Ever since that blasted duel I feel old. Not as spry anymore.” Hawke wriggled her toes. “It’s quite nice here.” Her eyes didn’t quite meet Merrill’s, dancing over her and then looking away.
“Hah, you’ll never not be spry. I remember first meeting you and thinking I had never seen anyone move with such grace and strength rolled into one.” Merrill picked a stem of grass and then started chewing on it thoughtfully. “I think that was the day I fell in love with you, when you faced Asha’bellanar as if she was a mere mortal. I knew you were destined to be great. How right I was.” She smiled reassuringly, reaching out to take Hawke’s hand. The contact seemed to calm them both.
“I didn’t think you would ever love me back, so I took things into my own hands, and then I wished I hadn’t because it only seemed more confusing. Not that I am full of regrets because…” Merrill blushed and laughed. “You are quite amazing and I love your ardor.” She rubbed her heated cheeks. “I have an idea, ma vhenan. Let’s start over.”
Hawke looked confused as Merrill let go of her hand and sat up stiffly, a very serious expression on her face. “My name is Merrill. I am of clan Sabrae of the Dalish. My people have come from the Brecilian Forest in Ferelden to flee the blight. And…you are?”
The Champion of Kirkwall laughed uncertainly, resting her hands on her knees. “I am Hawke. I was born in Lothering in Ferelden, and I served in King Cailan’s army at the battle of Ostagar. We fled the blight to Kirkwall because we had family here.” She looked saddened when she mentioned her family. “Pleased to meet you.”
Merrill’s eyes were dancing with eager amusement, and she felt lightheaded. “What a pleasure to meet you, Serah Hawke. Do you believe in love at first sight? I think I do, now.”
Hawke’s eyes widened and she rubbed at her neck. “Now that you mention it, I do, Merrill of the Sabrae. I do indeed.” She smiled and leaned forward. “You have the most amazing eyes. It feels as if could drown in them.”
Merrill lay down in the grass, stretching out. “I’d rather not have you drown, Serah Hawke. You are too beautiful for something like that. If I may be bold, have you ever made love in the grass? I mean, truly made love.”
Her face was in the shade when Hawke leaned over her, nuzzling her nose. “I have only ever made true love once, I think. I would like to again. If I may be that forward.”
Merrill laughed at Hawke’s bold words and pulled her face towards her. “You may, ma vhenan, you may.” When they kissed, the elf knew for sure that whatever would happen to them, they would always be safe with each other.