[ Master Post ]
Title: Assing it Up – Chapter 8
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Anton Hawke ♂, Bethany Hawke ♀, Carver Hawke ♂, Cassandra Pentaghast♀, Cullen ♂,
Rating: G- (L1 N0 S0 V0 D0)
Warnings: A few colourful turns of phrase
Notes: Letters from Starkhaven. A Nevarran visitor.
No matter how much time she spent in the library, Bethany still half expected to run into Cormac, a book open on his knee or across his desk, and she spared a sad smile for the thought before pushing it aside. Artie, at least, had been by recently, judging from the state of her larger books, and she would have to have a word — another word — with him about her organisational system and why it was not to be disturbed. For now, however, Bethany focused on her mail, sifting through envelopes on her way to her desk. She really had let the pile build up for too long, hadn’t she?
A letter from Starkhaven. No, two letters from Starkhaven, addressed by two different hands. She recognised one all too well, but the second’s mystery intrigued her. She set it down for the moment and instead tore into Sebastian’s.
More of the same, and really, that shouldn’t be a surprise. The man was pig-headedly stubborn when it came to his vengeance, and the fool was still set on marching his army into Kirkwall. "I’m still not going to Starkhaven like this, pumpkin," she sighed at the letter.
The second letter, though, caught her eye again, and she set Sebastian’s headache-inducing missive aside, for the moment, to open it. ‘Don’t tell him I’m writing, or he’ll murder us both,’ it began, and she glanced down at the signature — N. Howe. Of course, that Warden friend of Anders’s had gone back, with Sebastian, to convince him that invading Kirkwall was a poor start to his reign. Apparently, they’d known each other at some point in the past, and Messere Howe was counting on that to give him some influence in the present.
The rest of the text brought home that Nathaniel was as little impressed with Sebastian’s current intentions as she was, with references to ‘flinging holy shit at anything that moves’ and ‘nearly pounding his chest and bellowing before the Grand Cleric, like the apes of Par Vollen’. He ventured that he had no idea why a woman of such skill and beauty would have agreed to wed this ‘vapid beast’ who seemed ‘not to have aged a day since I last saw him at the age of twelve’. The margins were filled with unflattering doodles of what was presumably Sebastian, to judge by the crown on the stick figures, and Bethany couldn’t help but laugh. Really, the two of them sounded just like Cormac and Carver, albeit with far more on the line than ever went on between her brothers.
"Lady Amell?" Bodhan called from the doorway, and Bethany looked up at him over Nathaniel’s letter.
"I, ah, I’m sorry to interrupt your correspondence, my lady, but you have a visitor. Or Messere Anton does. I’m a little unsure on that point, but you, at least, are in the building."
"A visitor?" Bethany’s eyebrow twitched up, and for a moment, with their letters in her hands, she thought of Sebastian and Nathaniel, and wondered which of them might follow their letters back to Kirkwall. "Well, bring them in, then. I will entertain in here today, I think." She neatened the edges of her papers as she spoke and wondered when she’d picked up that habit from Artie.
When Bodhan returned, it was with an armoured woman at his heels. She was striking, with short hair and a strong jaw, while her chest-plate bore the insignia of a single staring eye. How curious. Bethany didn’t recall ever seeing her around Kirkwall.
"You are Lady Amell?" the stranger asked before Bodhan could introduce her, her accent softening the consonants. Her attention was divided between Bethany and the room itself as she looked around.
"I am," Bethany said.
"But you are a Hawke?"
A smile twitched at Bethany’s lips. "I am."
The woman shook her head, her sigh exasperated. "Your family confuses me."
"It confuses me too," Bethany said, rising out of her desk chair and smoothing out her skirts, her smile coolly polite. "May I ask your name? Your accent sounds Nevarran."
"I am Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast. Yes, those Pentaghasts. No, I’m not with the family any longer. Are you familiar with the Seekers of Truth?" The woman held out a hand and Bethany shook it far more firmly than expected.
"Oh, is this about the trouble with the templars? It’s so good of the Divine to get back to us after so long, but I’m afraid it’s a little late. The former Knight-Commander went lyrium-mad and launched an assault on the city, for fear of blood mages in every dark alley. It was terrible. But, I’m not the one you want to talk to about that." Bethany’s eyes danced with amusement, as she called to Bodhan. "Bring Seeker Pentaghast some tea, Bodhan, and some of those nut pastries. And the spinach ones, too. Those are good." She paused. "Sit and take tea with me, Seeker. I’ll arrange for you to meet with my brother and his husband."
"I already met your brother and his husband. He looks just like you, are you twins?" Cassandra asked, with a confused glance around the room she found herself in. The shelves wrapped all the way around and up to the second level, every one of them stacked and double-stacked with books and dotted with what she vaguely recognised as tomb sculpture.
"That would be the wrong brother, then, if he looked like me. You’ve met Artemis. Artie does a lot of work with the Alienage. He’s very much interested in elven culture." There was a smile, here, that Cassandra thought should mean something, and she couldn’t make out what it was. " You want to see Anton. He’s the Viscount of Kirkwall. The new Knight-Commander, Ser Cullen, is his husband."
"I was sent here to see Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall," Cassandra finally got out.
"Then you definitely want Anton. Sit, sit." Bethany fluttered a hand at the couch, and then rubbed at an ink stain on the side of one finger with a cloth from the corner of her desk. "We’ll have some tea, and I’ll send a runner up to the Keep, to arrange it. They’ll be so happy to see you. They haven’t seen anyone since Sister Nightingale was here. I liked her."
"Ah. Yes, I’d heard Sister Nightingale had paid Kirkwall a visit recently," Cassandra said, eyes wide but shoulders set in a way that said she was trying to not look as confused as she felt. She sat stiffly on the edge of the couch, leather armour creaking as she moved. "And… I’m sorry, but that statue, there…" She pointed over Bethany’s shoulder, at a small sculpture on the shelf, a sculpture that was missing one arm and part of its nose but was otherwise well-preserved.
"Ah!" Bethany said, brightening as she glanced at the piece mentioned. "Nevarran like you, of course. I am a scholar of Nevarran tombs, and I bought that off a trader last year. He had no idea of its worth, and someone may have falsely suggested that it wasn’t authentic." Her smile was impish.
"I suppose that explains a few things," Cassandra mumbled, relieved when Bodhan returned with tea.
"Have you been to the Grand Necropolis?" Bethany asked, inching closer as she reached for her tea. "I would so love to see it one day."
When Anton strolled into the library a half hour later, he found Bethany grilling some poor stranger on Nevarran architecture, and said stranger answered each question with either a grunt or one syllable.
"Do you have a new friend, darling sister?" Anton asked with a winsome smile, though he knew Bethany’s scholar ‘friends’ didn’t dress like that. "And I don’t suppose there’s any tea left?"
"Of course there is, but you’ll want to call Bodhan to bring it, if you don’t want to drink it cold. And some more of those spinach pastries. Those are very good, today, not that I’m surprised. Tyrone’s new cook is learning so quickly!" Bethany smiled and held a little plate out to her brother. "Call for tea and come sit. This is Seeker Pentaghast, and she’s come to ask some questions of you. And she won’t tell me, but I think it’s about the thing with Meredith. Or maybe the thing with Alrik. Or that other fool Sister Petrice used to start a war with the Qunari."
"Mother Petrice," Anton corrected, with a sigh, coming back from the door and pulling over another chair. "Kirkwall has long been ill, and the people see only the symptoms, but not the cause. My administration means to correct that failing. Did you know the templars had been ruling the city since Threnhold’s fall? Everyone thinks it was since the Qunari killed Dumar, but Dumar was placed by the Knight-Commander. Terrible thing. Blackmail and threats. The city hasn’t been safe for twenty years." He shook his head and took a bite of the pastry he’d been handed.
"And you are married to the new Knight-Commander, are you not? How is this different?" Cassandra asked, somewhat surprised that the Viscount would speak so freely.
"He didn’t appoint me. The people of Kirkwall did." Anton shrugged, stealing Bethany’s cup to wash the sticky cheese and spinach down. "I don’t mean the nobles, either. First time for everything — we asked everyone in the city who they wanted to lead, and I really wasn’t expecting it to be me. Almost wasn’t. They almost picked Varric."
"Varric Tethras? The dwarf?" Cassandra looked entirely confused at the idea.
Still chewing, Anton nodded. "And he’d tell you just how relieved he was that he lost. One point. Can you believe that? One point." He shook his head at Bethany. "Is it the chest hair? Did I lose the chest hair vote?"
Bethany patted his hand consolingly.
"So… just to be clear," Cassandra said. She’d set down her tea a while ago. "You are the Champion of Kirkwall? The one who defeated the Arishok in single combat?"
"I…" An exchange of looks between siblings. "Hm. I am the Champion, yes. Is that how Varric has been telling the story? Single combat?"
"I cannot speak to your Varric," Cassandra said, "but that is the rumour, or so I’ve heard. Is that not true then? I’d thought that might be a romantic embellishment."
"I’m not sure about romantic," Bethany replied. "I suspect that would have involved quite a bit more ducking behind pillars and running in circles."
Anton made a sound of protest around his pastry. "I had help," he told Cassandra. "But in the end, I was the only one the Arishok would deal with, and I was the one who slit the Arishok’s throat."
"I see," Cassandra said. She looked at him like she was taking his measure.
"Yes, but I still don’t. Why are you here?" Anton leaned forward to snag another pastry. "You’re right, these are good, today."
Bethany rose to take the tea from Bodhan, and to leave him with further instructions, should things get more interesting than anticipated.
"Tell me your story, Champion. How is it that a Fereldan refugee becomes the most important man in Kirkwall?" Cassandra asked, accepting another cup of tea.
"That is not the answer to my question," Anton pointed out. "And for most of that, I direct people to Varric’s novel, ‘The Tale of the Champion’, which is true enough in most parts."
"A dragon? Your brother was punched in the face by an ogre and lived?" Cassandra scoffed, sipping her tea. "It is a ridiculous tale."
"And yet, most of it is true." Anton shrugged. "Particularly the part about my brother getting punched by an ogre. I definitely expected him to die, but he survived to do greater and stupider things than that, like feeding his arm to a dragon, and then not bringing it home with him. It’s really a good thing he spent so much time with that healer."
"A … dragon. Your brother has only one arm now? I’ve met your brother. He has both arms. Unless you’re telling me you have another brother…?" Cassandra counted on her fingers as she spoke.
"My brother has both his arms, or at least he did the last time I saw him. He’s still an idiot," came a voice from the doorway.
Bodhan cleared his throat. "Knight-Commander Cullen has arrived, Messere Bethany, and Ser Carver."
"So I see," Bethany said, gesturing for the pair of templars to come in and join them. "Bodhan is brewing another pot, and there are still a few pastries left. Best get to them before Anton does."
Anton threw her an offended look over the pastry he was already biting into.
"And to answer your question, Seeker Pentaghast, yes, we have one other brother."
"Unfortunately," Carver muttered, reaching around Anton to snatch up a spinach pastry.
"Five Hawke children in all," Cullen said with an amiable if apologetic smile. "It can be a bit difficult to keep track at first. I’m Knight-Commander Cullen, by the way. Knight-Captain, up until recently. Did I hear Bethany call you a Seeker?" Cullen eyed the insignia on her chest, an insignia with which he was only distantly familiar, before it occurred to him that staring at a woman’s chest was not generally a good idea.
"Cassandra Pentaghast," she said, rising to shake his hand. "I understand you are married to the Viscount?" She tipped her head in Anton’s direction. "Just to be sure. It is, as you say, difficult to keep track. I have spent all morning trying to find the correct Hawke. Your other brother was very hospitable, but I was afraid he would try to rearrange the contents of my pockets, the way he carried on."
"Certainly not your pockets," Bethany protested, pouring tea for Cullen and Carver. "You’re not related to us and you’re not an elf. I doubt he’d be willing to get that close to your pockets."
Carver choked on the pastry, turning his back until he managed to unstick the layer of light, flaky crust from the back of his throat.
"Yes, I’m married to the Viscount. At the time, I had no idea he’d be Viscount of Kirkwall. Sort of snuck up on us both." Cullen smiled awkwardly and accepted a cup from Bethany. "If you’re looking for the correct Hawke, as in the one most likely to be right, that’s probably Bethany, though."
"Flatterer," Bethany accused, offering up a nut pastry.
"No, that’s your brother." Cullen gestured at Anton, as he suddenly found his hands full. "Now, what is this about? Bethany said it might be related to the complaints we sent to the Divine, but Kirkwall has been through some changes, since then. We didn’t hear anything back, and then things were… quite serious, for a bit. Things are greatly improved, now. I’m afraid we are currently lacking a Grand Cleric, though."
"What happened to Grand Cleric Elthina? I have heard many stories among the people, and none of them seem right." Cassandra credited herself with at least some tact, some of the time.
"It was terrible, Seeker." Bethany raised her cup to her lips again. "I was there with her. The Chantry was on unstable ground — the dwarves had been trying to reinforce it, since the ground started shaking, but … Word came that it might fall, and I went with Brother Sebastian to evacuate the building, but she refused to leave. We had to get everyone else out, but she argued with us that if the Chantry fell, it was the Maker’s will — never mind that there was a shrine to Urthemiel right under the building!"
"I was there for that part. Anton and I were both there," Cullen noted, tongue all gummy from the honey in the pastry. "That is to say, when the ground shook, the assumption was dragons — there were some in the mountains, nearby, and everyone was concerned. The Knight-Commander, ah, that is, Meredith, sent me along in case of demons — there’s still Tevinter ruins and demons under the city in some places. So, we went to make sure it wasn’t demons or dragons, and we found a …" He thought of the room full of sexual ornaments. "… shrine, as Bethany says. The only dragons were carved in stone."
"I still wish we’d put that in the yard," Anton grumbled.
"You’d never have gotten it through the door of the chamber!" Cullen protested.
"Then clearly that door was asking to be widened," Anton replied. "Seems a simple enough solution to me."
From the weight of Cullen’s sigh, Cassandra assumed they’d had this argument before. Likely more than once. "And… that is what happened to the Chantry? An earthquake?"
Cassandra spoke carefully, tone neutral, but Bethany could tell from the narrowing of her eyes that she didn’t buy that. Bethany shrugged one shoulder. "The ground shook, and the Chantry fell." She offered Cassandra the last nut pastry, which she declined. Carver scarfed it up instead, shoving the whole thing into his mouth, to Bethany’s disgust.
"I’ve heard wild tales about the sky changing colour," Cassandra said, "with debris from the Chantry landing blocks away. I have not heard of such an earthquake that could do this… and you think this was related to the shrine beneath it? I should like to have seen it, I’m sure. Were there many killed?"
"We evacuated the Chantry of all but Elthina," Bethany answered, resting her cup in her lap. "I had to carry my fiancé over my shoulder to get him out of there." She still used the term, fiancé, when it suited her. In honesty, she could not be sure how that would end, but perhaps Nathaniel could knock some sense into the fool.
"There’s no way to know exactly what happened," Cullen said and meant it. He knew Anders had taken credit, but he had no idea what Anders had actually done, other than make sure no one was inside when the building came down. "We were all at the Gallows, at the time, and everyone had been cleared out already on a tip. There was no one near that building when it came down — certainly no one near enough to speak to how it happened. Most of it kind of fell in, though, not out. Like maybe it fell through a hole in the floor. The quakes afterward were bad, though."
"That shrine opened out onto Darktown, eventually," Anton filled in. "I was down there, and the wind was incredible. The ground shook under me, and that meant the ground over me took it even worse. The Alienage took the worst of it, but no one’s reported any deaths from burst windows or split walls. We’re rebuilding, down there. The rest of Lowtown’s next, if the nobles don’t hang me for blowing the treasury on restoring the city, before that. It’s bad, but it’s been bad. The Chantry collapse just made the problems more obvious."
"And what problems are those?" Cassandra asked, as patiently as she could manage.
"Well, let me start with the root of the problems," Bethany began, holding up a hand to Anton. "Brother Sebastian discovered corruption inside the Chantry. Money that was intended to be used to feed the poor and care for the refugees was being siphoned off and fed into the Templar Order."
"And we have no idea where that money went," Cullen pointed out. "I can’t trace it to new equipment or lyrium shipments — everything’s covered by the money the Chantry’s supposed to be sending us. Someone had another project going on, and it was very, very expensive."
"The effect, of course, is that the chantry failed the people of this city. There has been no charitable outreach since the Fereldan refugees arrived. It’s as if someone was trying to make the point that the Fereldans were in some way responsible for the end of the Chantry’s charity — that they’d taken everything already. Of course, the refugees weren’t receiving any assistance, either — I can speak to that." Bethany shrugged expressively. "But, given that a Chantry Mother tried to start a war with the Qunari — a task she eventually succeeded in — I hesitate to speculate what other political motivations may have been below the surface, there."
Cassandra’s eyebrows arched higher the longer Bethany spoke. "A Chantry Mother tried to start a war with the Qunari?"
"More than tried," Carver grumbled. "Fucking Petrice…"
"Indeed," Anton added. "That is how I ended up in single-combat-that-wasn’t-single-combat with the Arishok. She was trying to start some sort of holy war and ended up with an arrow in her chest for the effort. Better than she deserved, really. But that, you see, is the point we’re trying to make. Mother Petrice was symptomatic of the Chantry’s problems. Of Kirkwall’s problems, which are, in case you haven’t noticed, our chief export."
"I’ve noticed," Cassandra assured them. "Sister Nightingale has told me as much, and it seems that things here have only become more eventful in the intervening months. I thank you for sharing your account of events." She set down her teacup and nodded to herself as though coming to a conclusion. "I think I have found what I was looking for," she said, and Anton wondered why she was looking directly at him as she spoke. "Champion — Viscount — would you mind speaking with me more at length at another time? The Chantry has some specific… concerns that I should like to discuss with you."
"Concerns," Anton said. That only sounded a little ominous. "Of course. I’d much rather the Chantry had cause to be unconcerned, but such is life."