The Hawke family helps hardcore technology addict Raven figure out how to exist in a world without electricity. Leandra is a surprising source of wisdom.
Previous Chapter (To Dream of Dragons – Chapter 3: It’s Who You Know)
Raven pulled off her glasses and rubbed her eyes tiredly. She’d begun the day in a tent in the woods, which really should’ve been a sign. She’d spent hours hiking. Reality went flying out the window (or it would’ve done, if they’d been in a properly climate-controlled building instead of outdoors like savages) when she discovered she was stranded in a world that didn’t exist. She got caught trying to steal someone’s clothes. The someone turned out to be Marian-freaking-Hawke, in whose home she’d then spent the afternoon and just enjoyed a pleasant evening meal.
She left Rob at the table, demonstrating cell phone photo filters to the two sisters. She was pretty sure her brother was hitting on Marian Hawke. Meanwhile, she was helping Leandra Amell-Hawke, of the Kirkwall Amells, clear the dinner table. Her boggled mind kept observing on repeat, ‘These are fictional characters.’
She couldn’t even begin to rate the weirdness level. The crazy was too damn high.
Leandra heard her sigh, and turned to take their empty mugs from her with a sympathetic smile. “You poor dear,” she said, her voice gentle, motherly, and all wrong coming out of a person instead of computer speakers. “You must be at an utter loss with all of this.”
Raven shrugged, with a soft huff of laughter. “A bit.”
“I know it isn’t the same, but I do have some idea of how you must feel.” At Raven’s incredulous glance, Leandra chuckled. “I was born to nobility in the Free Marches, far north across the Waking Sea…and then a charming young apostate mage with laughing eyes came along.” She smiled ruefully. “Things led to things, as they do, and I became with child. My parents were livid that their unmarried daughter was carrying a common, mage-blooded baby. They disowned me, and Malcolm and I had to escape to Ferelden.”
Raven didn’t have the heart to say she already knew all that, so she nodded and let the older woman continue.
“When we first left…Maker, I was a mess. The first night on the ship to Ferelden, I asked when a maid would be sent to my suite to attend me.” Raven stifled her snort of amusement, trying not to be rude, but Leandra wore a self-deprecating grin. “It’s all right to laugh; everyone around me did, with good reason! The further we went, the more terrified I was. Malcolm was sweet, and the people we were with handled all the travel arrangements. But I started realizing that not only had I left behind my whole life, I was starting a new life where nothing I knew was at all relevant.”
“Malcolm would talk about the cozy little home we’d have near Amaranthine, and all I could think of is that I wouldn’t have the first idea what to do with it. I was trained to do things like attend society functions, play the lute, and manage servants. I had never cooked a single meal, and had no notion of how to even begin. As if it weren’t enough leaving my family, bearing my first child, and traipsing through a strange land, I panicked that I’d be utterly useless, and Malcolm would rue the day he’d ever met me.”
Raven’s eyes were haunted. “You do understand.” Her words flooded out in a rush. “Rob, he was in the military where we’re from. He’ll have some adjusting to do, but he can be a fighter and fit in fine. But I…I buy groceries online and cook in a microwave and write software for a living and play video games for fun, and the reason you’re looking at me like I’m speaking gibberish is that none of those things exist here! I took a basic self-defense class once, but I’ve never been in so much as a fist fight. I have no clue what I’ll do if we run into danger…but worse, I feel like I don’t know how to do anything useful at all!” The last came out in a near-wail, and Raven clenched her jaw abruptly in an effort to keep herself together.
The group at the table looked up, as Leandra placed a comforting arm around her shoulder. Raven gave her a small smile, but moved away quickly. “I appreciate the gesture, I honestly do, but if you hug me right now I’ll probably cry, which I hate.”
Marian nodded vehemently. “Ugh, I totally get that. Nothing worse than being right on the verge of a fight with some mouthy asshat, and suddenly realizing you’re so mad that you’ve got tears leaking from your face. Hard to be a badass when you look like you need a handkerchief and a cup of tea.”
“Right?!? That is the worst! Then I end up trying to cover it by saying something smartass like, ‘No, the tears are just from the effort I’m putting into not strangling you.’ Strangely, that isn’t the kind of phrase that endears you to your boss. Who knew?”
The rogue and the nerd exchanged an unexpected look of kinship, and Raven felt a little better.
Bethany piped up, tucking a strand of her shoulder-length dark tresses behind her ear. “You’re wrong, by the way. You know something quite valuable.”
“The knowledge of possible future events isn’t exactly the basis of a great career, unless you’re suggesting I start a betting ring,” Raven scoffed.
“Not that,” the mage replied, rolling her eyes. “Given that device of yours, you’re obviously skilled in reading and writing. Lots of people aren’t. Father used to get work writing letters or managing ledgers for people from time to time, and we used to talk about me becoming some sort of scholar when I grew up, as a way to get by without using my magic.”
Raven’s eyes were wide. “That…is definitely something I could do. Bethany, you’re a genius!”
Bethany laughed. “Well, Father was, not me. I’m just a decent listener now and then. But, regardless of what my sister thinks,” she gave Marian a sharp sideways glance, “I have put a fair amount of thought into how to get by when I can’t use my primary skills.”
“Okay, okay, I get it,” the eldest Hawke sibling said, holding her hands up in surrender. “You’re not helpless, and I should stop treating you like it. I’m sorry. But I’m still not going to stand back and let you throw yourself at danger.”
“Of course not; you should stand in front of me and get hit first,” Bethany smirked.
“And Carver can be the big dumb meat shield in front of both of us,” Marian agreed.
“Well, it’s logical for him to do what he’s best at.”
Leandra shook her head with an amused sigh. “Ah, my children. Such love for each other.”
Meanwhile, Raven had gotten an idea. “Hey, do you have anything written in Orlesian, by any chance?”
“Hmm… one of my magical theory books might have some Orlesian text; why?”
“Can I see it?” Rae asked, pushing up her glasses.
Bethany shrugged, and ducked through another door in the four-room cottage, quickly returning with a heavy tome, its leather binding worn with use. Rifling through the pages, she found the section she was looking for. “Here. I don’t actually know what it says; it’s just commentary, and Father joked that we didn’t need the opinions of some stuck-up Orlesian anyway.” Her nose crinkled as she snickered.
Raven read, “The observations…of my, hmm, this must be, Fereldan, colleague are…um, baseless at the, er, at best, and…disastrous at worst. At the…no, as usual, he has made the…he has oversimplified the subject.”
Everyone in the room stared at her in astonishment, before Bethany broke the silence with, “Well, that certainly sounds like what an Orlesian would say.”
Rae smiled brilliantly, clasping her hands to her chest in relief. “I studied a language called French when I was younger; I had a feeling Orlesian might be similar.”
“So,” Marian proclaimed, “you’re a scholar, traveling to Denerim to do some research, with a bodyguard for protection. You’re from…hmm, where are you from?”
“Markham,” Leandra answered promptly. “There’s a university there. It’s a reasonable place for a scholar to hail from, and large enough that one young student might easily go unrecognized among them.”
“Ooh, good idea, Mum,” said Beth, clapping her hands. “Marcher accents are all over the place, so yours shouldn’t seem odd. And it’s an excellent reason why you’d know all sorts of unexpected things.”
“Markham’s near the eastern end of the Free Marches, though,” Leandra fretted. “I’m not sure why you’d come through Lothering if you were traveling from there to Denerim; you’d have been more likely to take ship to Highever or Amaranthine.”
“Oh, I get dreadfully seasick,” Raven said feelingly. “Nothing for it but to travel the long way around by land, especially when it gives me an excuse to stop in so many exciting places along the way.”
Rob had been watching the brainstorming with an expression that said he’d wait for somebody to explain the details at the end, but at that, he looked up with interest. “Really? I didn’t know you get seasick…”
She smirked. “I don’t.”
“So there,” Marian said triumphantly. “Problem solved. The Hawke family is honored to have you accept our hospitality, Lady Raven of Markham, along with Ser Robert, your trusty bodyguard and manservant.”
“Oh, it’s not Robert, it’s –“
“Just Rob is fine,” he cut in with a glare at his sister. “Also…manservant??”
“Well,” Bethany said reasonably, “one can hardly expect a lady of learning who’s spent life with her nose in a book to handle lowly tasks like building campfires and making dinner.”
Rob blinked. “And here I thought we were coming up with a fictional backstory for you, Rae.”
“Ha ha, very funny. Pipe down, manservant.”
As much as Raven wanted to immediately start working out how to get back, taking time to plan was a necessary evil. The Hawkes insisted they stay as long as necessary, sharing their meals, and even giving them each a set of suitable clothing. Raven tried to protest their generosity, but Leandra wouldn’t hear it. “Don’t be silly, child,” she said. “This is the best thing about being a commoner; we help each other when it’s needed instead of kicking people when they’re down like nobles do. If you still feel some need to repay us, there are always tasks around here that could use a few more hands.” Since Raven knew the Hawkes would be fleeing their home soon with only what they could carry, she decided not to argue.
Sleeping arrangements were surprisingly comfortable, and highly preferable to a tent in the woods. Bethany bunked in with her mother, and in the siblings’ room, Raven took Beth’s usual spot with Marian, and Rob slept in Carver’s bed. “I can’t believe I’m sleeping next to Marian Hawke,” Raven said that first night, when she and Rob were alone a moment.
“Me either,” said Rob with a grin. “Wanna trade?” She swatted him.
The next few days flew by as they adjusted to their new setting. Rob helped with heavier tasks that usually fell to Carver. Raven joined Leandra and Bethany, learning how to make potions. She even helped with the mending, having learned some sewing and embroidery from her grandmother as a child. Little by little, her feelings of helplessness began to abate.
Rob spent the afternoons sparring with Marian, trying a variety of practice weapons the Hawkes had carved and used over the years. The training he’d received with a riot shield and baton transitioned fairly well to a sword and shield; Raven suspected the idea of looking like a classic knight appealed to him as well. He ended up on his butt in the dirt a lot, but to Hawke’s obvious approval, he took it in good humor. Soon enough, his number of falls began to decrease.
Raven, unfortunately, was another case altogether. Despite the best efforts of Marian, Rob, and even Bethany, the would-be scholar was utterly hopeless with any melee weapon, in part because she ducked and flinched at the first hint of attack. And the time they’d tried giving her a bow…well, the best that could be said was that most of the arrows were eventually found, and the chicken she’d accidentally shot made a tasty supper. Her aim was good, but her arm was simply not strong enough. Rae began to think her only defense would be finding a big rock to hide behind.
The morning after the chicken incident, Rob was struck with inspiration. He conferenced with Marian, the pair went off to a small shed, and emerged with a large, lumpy object wrapped in burlap. “Father had a crossbow he used to use for hunting. No one’s used it much in the last few years, since Carver and I prefer longbows and Bethy doesn’t hunt. But Rob thought it might work for you.”
The crossbow was plain but sturdy. Marian showed Raven how to use the lever to pull the string back, place the bolt, hold the crossbow, aim, and pull the trigger. The mechanics were simple enough, and it didn’t have much recoil. The more experienced fighters hoped it would give her less trouble.
Raven took hold of the weapon, loaded one of the stout, wicked-looking bolts, sighted down the wooden stock, and aimed for the same nearby straw target she’d utterly failed to hit with the longbow. With luck, she thought, maybe this time she’d avoid casualties. She calmed her mind, exhaled, and pulled the trigger.
The straw dummy suffered a painfully fatal wound directly to the heart.
It took a moment for Rob and Marian’s cheers to penetrate the stunned relief in her brain. She gave Rob a shaky laugh. “Look out; my sniper skills are back. Who says games aren’t educational?” Marian grinned and gifted her the disused crossbow on the spot.
That afternoon, Rob and Raven sat outside in the grass, basking in the late summer sun and using Rob’s lantern to charge their phones. They’d been with the Hawkes for a very productive four days, but they both knew it couldn’t last. “How long can you be gone from base before you get in trouble?” Raven asked.
“I took three weeks of leave. You?”
“Meh, all I’d get is fired. I’m more concerned about you getting charged with desertion. Assuming time goes by at the same rate here, which is one of the many things we don’t know.”
“What do you think we should do?”
“The nearest place that might have any information about travel between realms is Kinloch Hold, but they’re about to experience a major malfunction of the demonic variety. It doesn’t start until at least a few weeks after the Battle of Ostagar, which shouldn’t have happened yet. But I don’t know if we could get there and find answers before all hell breaks loose.”
She continued, “In the game, travel is more or less instant, so I can only guess walking distance. A week, maybe? Then, if they let us in, and if we can find a simple way to get home in the giant library of complex magical theory books, and if we can manage it before the third week is up…” She pulled off her glasses and rubbed her eyes, feeling overwhelmed.
Rob’s reply was quiet. “Look, Rae, we’ve got enough to deal with as it is. Let’s focus on what we need to do here, and deal with our world when – if – we get back. It doesn’t do us any good to haul ass to some library if we get eaten by monsters on the way.”
“True, I guess. Besides, if we tried to rush off, Hawke would probably insist on coming to help, and she definitely can’t leave Lothering, because…she can’t.”
“So what are our options?”
She sighed. “I’ve been thinking about that. Along with our research, I feel like we need to keep an eye on major events, to make sure we haven’t messed them up. In case this place actually is real, or…” she looked away, “…if we can’t get back. There are two important chains of events that will begin here shortly.”
“One is that the Hawkes will fight their way out of Ferelden and go to Kirkwall. They’ll have to bribe their way in, and one way or another, Marian will be fighting for a year to pay off the debt. We might get to stay with her, but it’s unlikely. We’d probably have nowhere to live, and nowhere to do any research.”
It was Rob’s turn to look away; he’d obviously enjoyed his time with Hawke. “Right. What’s the other path?”
Raven took a deep breath. “The other is – God, I feel crazy saying this – two Grey Wardens will show up in Lothering soon, getting ready to gather forces to defeat the Blight. One of them is the main character of the first game. One of the things he or she will be doing is going to Kinloch Hold to solve the Circle’s little demon problem. If we can tag along with their party, we could probably use the library afterward. Whatever parts of it aren’t on fire or covered in guts, at least.”
“Sounds like there’s an obvious right choice here.”
“I’m sorry, Rob; I really like her too. All three of them, really, and not just because they’ve helped us so much.” She pushed her glasses up, thinking. “But we don’t even know for sure if we’ll be able to join the Wardens. So, if we can, we will, and if not, we’ll stick with the Hawkes. And if the Blight ends and…and we’re still here, we’ll be heading north to see her anyway.”
A ghost of a smile pulled at the corner of her brother’s mouth. “Okay.”
She raised an eyebrow and grinned. “Hey, you haven’t met Carver yet; he’s a pain in the ass. You might end up thanking me for this plan.” They both laughed.
With all of that decided, there was only one main issue still plaguing Raven’s mind. She sat with Leandra that evening, mulling it over while mending one of Carver Hawke’s shirts (because, she snickered to herself, what was one more weird detail at this point?). “I just don’t know how I should act,” she said. “On one hand, I’m terrified we’ll destroy the normal flow of events…that we may have already done that just by being here.”
The older woman nodded attentively, and Raven had the extraneous thought that even in worn nightclothes with her silver hair in a ponytail, Leandra Hawke looked more poised and elegant than Raven had ever felt a day in her life. “And on the other?”
“On the other…there are things I feel like I’d have to try to change. I mean, some bad things are probably necessary, or else everything resulting from them would crumble. But…” She glanced sidelong at Leandra. “If, for instance, I know someone is going to get hurt, I can’t just sit by and let it happen…can I?”
Hawke’s mother smiled gently. “The simple – and difficult – answer is to follow your heart. We can’t know the Maker’s plan, and insisting on trying to unravel it is a good way to drive yourself mad. If I’ve learned one thing, my dear, it’s that life is too precious to waste time wondering what might have been. Suppose you tell a man to go inside so he doesn’t get hit by a cart, and then he trips and falls down the stairs instead,” she eyed Raven shrewdly. “Did you cause him to get hurt, or prevent it being worse? Or was he going to be hurt no matter what you did? You can’t know. All you can do, all any of us can ever do, is what we believe is right. Then, if things go awry, at least we can take comfort in knowing we did all we could.”
Raven fell silent, realizing that again, this unexpected source had said exactly what she needed to hear. She was rather ashamed to remember the uncharitable way she’d viewed Hawke’s mother when playing the game. Then, she’d sometimes seen Leandra as melodramatic or petty. Now, Raven saw a woman who’d unflinchingly pursued her beloved into the wild maelstrom of fate, accepting the consequences and resolutely building an entirely new life.
And maybe, here in this bewildering turn of events, that was an attitude she needed to take to heart.
Next Chapter (To Dream of Dragons – Chapter 5: Such Sweet Sorrow)