Events begin to fall into place. Raven prepares to move on from Lothering. Rob tries to avoid thinking.
Previous Chapter (To Dream of Dragons – Chapter 4: When a Plan Comes Together)
The next day, Rob woke early. He opened his eyes, and in the soft light of dawn, the first thing he saw was Marian Hawke’s face. She still slumbered in the small room’s other bed, her onyx hair wild and ruffled with sleep. Wistfully, he wished he’d known her long enough to have the chance to maybe wake up by her side. But, if all went as planned, they’d be leaving soon and he would never see her again.
He rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling and trying to sort out his thoughts. Hawke was undeniably beautiful, in addition to being strong, capable, funny, and kind of a badass. But he knew better than to claim some deep sentiment for a woman he’d known less than a week. Especially one who, all evidence to the contrary, wasn’t even real.
He shook his head. Seriously, dumbass, he lectured himself. You’re stuck in some crazy-ass King Arthur story, with no idea how to get back to everyone and everything you know, if it’s even possible. If you do get back, you might be AWOL by then. And the thing that’s got your shorts in a twist is that you don’t get to hook up with your new pretend girlfriend?!? Drag your head out of your ass and get it together!
With a deep breath, he rolled over to get up and found his gaze caught and held by aquamarine eyes that stole his breath, surrounded by skin like a dream of clouds, above lips he was definitely not thinking about, because that would be stupid, stupid, stupid.
Rob, Raven, and Marian walked into Lothering just after breakfast. His new clothes, courtesy of the absent Carver Hawke, felt strange; the materials were comfortable enough, he supposed, but apparently the dude was made entirely of tree trunks. Rob had thought himself reasonably ripped, but apparently video game proportions weren’t constrained by a minor thing like reality. The thought put him further out of sorts, which was something of an achievement.
It helped not at all when Marian told Rae that apparently Carver’s attitude went with his clothes, and they both giggled merrily. Rob decided that if he ever met Carver Hawke, they were going out for a beer, and oh-so-witty sisters would not be invited.
They made a quick circuit of the area. Hawke’s eyes narrowed in concern at the tents that had sprung up in a small grassy area near the Chantry, holding refugees fleeing homes to the south. They hadn’t been there when he and his sister first arrived, and Rob’s tension ratcheted up a notch. It was nothing, though, compared to when they reached the other end of the village, and Raven saw a strange-looking gray-skinned giant of a man in a cage.
When Marian went to chat with someone, Rae dragged him into an out-of-the-way nook and looked up at him, eyes wide. “That’s Sten; he’s a Qunari. And if he’s already in that cage, we have less than twenty days until the Wardens reach Lothering.” But then, some discreet eavesdropping revealed that the Qunari had already been there for over two weeks. Raven paled, and cursed herself for not checking that in the first place. He reminded her that at the time, they’d expected to come right back to Lothering.
The thought drew his gaze to Marian Hawke, as if it hadn’t been on her anyway. She was leaning against a fence rail, chatting to a wrinkled, white-haired woman with an air of authority. A moment later, she scurried back over, looking as ashen as Raven…which was disquieting, because until that point, he’d never seen her rattled by anything.
“Elder Miriam says army scouts were just here, and told her Teyrn Loghain and all his men will be passing through in a few days, heading north to Denerim. They said the darkspawn overran Ostagar. That it was a…a slaughter.” Her voice wavered, and her hands were balled into fists to keep from shaking.
And Carver had been there. Without conscious thought, Rob drew her close. His jaw brushed her temple, and he held her while she tried to breathe through her fear. He didn’t let himself think about how natural it felt to have her in his arms.
From his side, Raven said softly, “It’s okay, Marian. Carver is all right. It’ll take him a few weeks to get back here, but I promise he is alive.”
At that, Hawke raised her head, blinking hard. She was slightly flushed, but her face was dry. An incongruous smile quirked his lips, as he remembered her talking with Rae about their mutual loathing of tears. Lord save him from stubborn women, he almost prayed, but even as he thought it, he knew it was a lie.
Dammit, he berated himself, releasing her like she’d caught fire. You have no business cuddling up to Fictional Badass Girl. We are leaving and will never see each other again. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Marian was too preoccupied to notice. “I don’t understand. Everyone says Teyrn Loghain is a hero and a brilliant strategist. Retreating to regroup, I could see, but why would he be leaving? He can’t mean to just abandon us to the darkspawn…can he?”
Rae’s eyes flashed with a surprising rage, and her hushed voice was fierce. “Yes, he can, because he’s a traitorous asshole. His forces were signaled to charge, but he retreated instead, leaving King Cailan and almost all the Grey Wardens to be butchered.”
A gasp of shock escaped the taller woman. “King Cailan…is dead? And the Wardens? But why? How will they end the Blight, if there are no Wardens?”
“Because, by the grace of…,” her eyes shifted sideways, “…the Maker and assorted other deities…Loghain missed a couple. There are two Wardens left in Ferelden, and they’ll have to figure the whole thing out on their own.”
“But that’s…it’s too…we have to help them!”
Raven shook her head solemnly. “You have your own path, Hawke, and the first step is waiting for Carver to get back, and then getting your family to safety.”
The rogue looked at them for a long moment. “You’re going with them.” It was a statement, not a question.
Rob looked out across the treetops, and Raven sighed. “We’re going to try. I am sorry, seriously. I wish we could all stay together. You and your family have been amazing. But we have to try to get back home.”
“We’ll all need travel supplies, then.” Marian’s shoulders squared, and her tone abruptly became businesslike. “Shops probably won’t have much, with all the refugees, but I’ll check.”
“Good. I need to look for someone in the Chantry, and,” she looked at them with a weak smile, “Rob can stick with you in case there’s stuff to carry.” Raven headed toward the church and its giant spiky sun.
The silence stretched out as Rob and Marian both examined the dirt at their feet with great interest. Finally, Rob broke the silence. “Marian, I –“
At the same moment, she said, “I have to tell you –“
They laughed awkwardly, and he inclined his head with a smile. “Ladies first.”
“Well, I…I just wanted to say that I’m really glad I met you. A-and your sister, of course.” She ran a nervous hand through her short, tousled hair. “And…I hope you manage to find a way home.”
Giving up the fight with his better judgement, he stepped closer to her. “No, you don’t.”
“No, I don’t,” she agreed breathily.
The quiet corner they stood in became its own world, as his focus narrowed to Hawke’s face. He wanted to look into her jewel-bright eyes, but his gaze kept wandering to her lovely mouth, and he got distracted wondering what it would feel like, taste like.
There was, of course, only one way to find out.
He cupped her cheek in his palm and leaned down, slowly closing the gap between them until her lips brushed his, light as a breath. He shuddered, pulse racing, but tried to be gentle and sweet, wanting to build a fond memory of this first kiss that would probably be their last.
Hawke had other ideas.
In a trembling rush, she closed the remaining space and kissed him back fiercely, the way she did everything. When her arms rose to wind around his neck, her body slid upwards against his, and he gasped, stealing a breath from her lips and wrapping her in his embrace. The tip of her tongue flicked against his mouth, so he opened it…but only to lightly nibble at her bottom lip. The unspoken skirmish for dominance was a draw. They melted into each other until their lungs rudely demanded oxygen; he rested his forehead against hers while they both relearned how to breathe.
“God, Marian, that was…unexpected, but amazing.”
“It was probably a really bad idea.”
“Yeah, I know.”
He grinned. “I just can’t seem to care right now.”
“Me either,” she burst into giggles, and he joined her.
They all returned to Hawke’s house a few hours later, with the few supplies they’d managed to purchase. Raven was tense but excited, telling them how she’d managed to speak with a red-haired Chantry sister named Leliana, who would probably be joining the Warden’s party. Rae had spoken to Leliana in Orlesian and, knowing the woman had been a bard, shared a few tales and bits of history. She’d finished by telling of her mission to do research in Ferelden, and her concern that the darkspawn threat would impede her ability to travel. She was hopeful they could build on that connection. “I feel manipulative, using inside knowledge about her like this, but I guess at least I’m not doing it to cause harm,” she shrugged.
Leandra and Bethany had been appalled to hear of the defeat at Ostagar, but Raven’s assurance of Carver’s safety helped. In short order, all three Hawkes began organizing belongings and making plans. When Rae said she wasn’t sure how much they’d actually be able to carry with them, Leandra smiled, saying that at least it gave them something to do besides worry.
They spent the evening giving Rob a crash course in basic information about Thedas. Bethany explained the distrust of mages due to their power and the risk of demon possession, and gave a surprisingly balanced opinion about the Chantry forcing mages to live in the Circle of Magi under the watchful eye of the Templars. Leandra reviewed the nations of Thedas and their nobility, and Raven and Marian filled in as needed.
They all avoided talking about the future.
The next few days were similar, though they spent more time on sparring and target practice, and less time in Lothering due to the passage of Loghain’s troops and the growing influx of refugees. They dodged a group of thugs setting up a blockade on the road to shake down travelers. Marian wanted to teach them a lesson, but Raven laughed and said the Wardens would handle it soon enough.
Marian and Bethany came along on some of the visits to Leliana, as they’d known her for some time and enjoyed her songs and stories. They claimed Raven as a friend of the family, which put Leliana further at ease. Privately, Raven thought about sharing her real story with the lively redhead, but decided it was best to wait. She did, however, mention to Leliana that a few of Loghain’s men had loudly taken up residence in the tavern, spreading unlikely rumors about the king’s death at Ostagar, and making a general nuisance of themselves. Her new friend agreed to keep an eye on it, and Raven knew she would, since that’s where Leliana would first encounter the Wardens.
Time passed quickly, until finally, they expected the Wardens to arrive within a day.
Raven, Marian, and Rob all went to their beds that night far too tense to sleep. Rob’s mind raced in the silent dark, until he heard his sister’s quiet voice.
“Marian, are you awake?” Hawke’s incredulous snort was answer enough, and they all laughed softly. “I’ve been thinking a lot, and…there are a couple of things I need to tell you. I wasn’t sure if I should at first, but I couldn’t live with myself otherwise.”
Any trace of humor vanished. They’d discussed Rae’s fear of influencing events, and knew she’d only risk it for good reason. “I’m listening,” he heard Marian say.
“When you leave Lothering, make sure the four of you stay close together, no matter what. You’ll have to fight some darkspawn. If you don’t stick to your mother like glue, Carver may do something heroic and stupid. If he doesn’t, Bethany might, and either way, it…it would be fatal.” Marian gasped, obviously stricken. “I’m sorry; I know this is a horrible thing to tell you, especially when we aren’t sure what can be changed, but I…I have to try. The normal timeline allows one of them to live, but it can be either one, so I think they both could without any major problems.”
Doggedly, his sister went on. “The other thing is similar. In a year or two, you’ll probably travel to some underground dwarven ruins. Do not bring your siblings. The outcome of leaving them behind will seem bad, but trust me, it’s better than the alternative. If they stay home, they will be okay.”
“I do trust you,” Hawke said, with a shaky sigh. “I appreciate the warnings, more than I can say. And I have to believe it will make a difference.”
“I think so too.”
The two women faded to silence, and Rob thought they’d fallen asleep, but a while later, he felt a hand on his shoulder. The dim moonlight silvered the traces of tears on Marian’s face, and she looked young and frightened in her modest nightdress. “I…that is, can…can I…” She stalled, her voice taut with emotion.
Wordlessly, Rob opened his arms and lifted the blanket so she could climb in beside him. He knew how much he’d been stressing about his ability to keep his sister safe. But Marian now knew for a fact that if she wasn’t perfectly vigilant, one of her siblings would die in a matter of weeks. It was more pressure than anyone should have to carry, and yet, he couldn’t fault Raven for laying it on her shoulders.
His arms wrapped around Hawke’s body, her face pressed to his chest, and he softly kissed the top of her head. He wished they were all traveling together so he could help protect her. But if nothing else, he thought, he could give her this small, brief oasis of safety.
They held each other quietly, and soon, they slept.
In the morning, as the Hawkes helped them finish packing, conversations barely stumbled into being before they fizzled. Rob found it bizarre how reluctant they all were to part, despite meeting such a short time ago. Leandra and Bethany now reminded him strongly of his own mother and kid sister, who were probably freaking out about their disappearance. Seeing this thinly-veiled distress at their impending departure washed Rob in guilt; he hated the thought of causing grief to any more people than he already had.
And as for Marian…well.
He looked for Raven and found her walking in the door with a handful of wildflowers. “I just wanted to leave you something cheery to look at,” she said to Leandra, who quickly found an empty vase for the bouquet. Raven went on with a strange intensity. “Wildflowers are my favorite. They remind me that somehow, life always finds a way.” She looked fixedly at Hawke’s mother. “They’re so much nicer than fancy pretentious flowers, don’t you think? Like…oh, lilies, for instance. Ugh. I could never trust a man with the poor taste to give me funeral flowers as a gift!” Her mirth seemed forced at first, but her odd tension abated as Leandra laughed and nodded in agreement.
Finally, they were ready, and it was time for them to head back to Lothering and await the arrival of the Grey Wardens. Rob reminded himself that it was quite possible that group would tell them to take a hike and they’d be back here in a few hours…but somehow he doubted it, and it seemed everyone else felt the same.
Raven thanked the women for all their help and understanding, hugging them all in turn. Marian released her, and gave her a quick but determined nod; she had her warnings, and would not waste them.
Rob gave out his thanks and hugs too, but he hesitated when he reached Marian. His smile was wistful as he moved back a fraction, widening the space between them. The rogue gave another small nod; neither wanted to make things more difficult.
Rob put back on his easy charm. “You’ve got this, Hawke. No foe could possibly stand a chance against your combination of dizzying beauty, sparkling wit, and impressive badassery.”
“You’ll be fine too, Manservant Rob,” she smirked. “As long as none of your enemies are wearing wading boots, they’ll drown in all that shite you’re talking.”
“Gasp! You wound me, madam!” In laughter, they parted, avoiding words of farewell.
Raven and Rob shoved their packs onto their shoulders and headed out. After a few minutes, Rob said, “Rae…I thought your favorite flowers were roses?”
“They are.” Her tone said the subject was closed, and they walked in silence to find their fate in Lothering.
Next Chapter (To Dream of Dragons – Chapter 6: Begin with a Single Step)