Approx. 1360 words (2 to 10 minutes)
The next week in the Circle was uneventful. Truly, it had to be. Merrill’s escape was in a few weeks and Hawke needed to keep just enough attention on him to have it off her—same as since he walked into the Gallows, but it was hard work to not draw attention when he was… himself.
Mother wrote him about the stress of running the estate and how she couldn’t trust Gamlen to help considering how poorly he’d managed last time. Of course, she was worried about how this affecting Carver and his relationship to Garrett too. And naturally, she chastised him for his recklessness and wasting the effort they put into protecting him all those years. The most surprising thing about the letter was that it reached him at all. Really, that was just more proof for Hawke that being from Hightown did give him the advantage even inside the Circle.
As long as that kept up after his good friend mysteriously vanished from the Circle before she was discovered as a blood mage, Hawke would be very grateful for his rare good luck.
“Hawke,” Merrill’s chipper tone drew his attention from the book in front of him. He got more reading done locked away than he ever did at home, what were the odds of that? He flashed Merrill a smile, less warmly than he normally would thanks to all the blasted Templars posted in the library, of all places. Not like someone was going to use blood magic to turn a page. “Sorry, I should really keep my distance, but,” she trailed off to sit down and opened up a book on Kirkwall’s magic history. A bloody mess, that book. “You just look so lonely, is all.”
Hawke had gone back to reading, but that earned her a wry smile and raised eyebrows. “Can’t see how I’d be lonely with friends assigned to watch over me all night.”
She hummed, her distinct accent shining through even without words. And in that second, he hated that she wasn’t wrong. Reading together casually like this brought Hawke back to the estate, muttering her name in mock disapproval as he stared at bare footprints on the second floor handrail, getting a note that she’d watered his plants again, and of course reading together in the library with that creepy wall art Fenris resented so much.
But she’d be leaving soon, she had to. And Hawke would get out eventually somehow. Even if he was lonely, and Garrett wasn’t thinking he was, what good would that do? He’d be back out in the fresh, free air soon enough one way or another.
“Oh, that’s not the same, Hawke,” she half-reprimanded and half-teased. “They’re not actually your friends… Oh. You knew that. Right.” Jokes were always on the difficult side for her, but she did figure that one out without Hawke dropping hints. Isabela would be proud! “Do you think you’ll be alright?”
She snuck a peek at him as another couple mages slunk by them for new books, though they were probably old to them. Everything was old to them by the looks of things. Both strangers moved like the air was water and seemed permanently afflicted by a desire to be much, much smaller than they really were. Right, they definitely weren’t being beaten by Templars at least once a week. Anders had that part right too, as extreme as he could be: if a mage was being hurt, everyone else turned a blind eye.
“Relax, Merrill,” he brushed off her worries with a wave. “You’ve seen for yourself what I can deal with. If spirits, the Blight, and the undead didn’t get me, a few Templars won’t stand a chance.”
Whatever she was going to say dropped off once the sound of clanking armor got closer. Merrill stared at her book, shoulders tense in defiance more than fear. Come to think of it, Hawke wasn’t even sure what Merrill looked like afraid—only cripplingly nervous or guilty. He turned his attention to the Templar, probably because he recognized those footsteps anywhere.
“Carver,” he greeted far too fondly, which was really just right. Closing the book, Garrett rested forward on the table with a smirk. “My dear brother! Should I assume that dour look on your face is for me?”
“You’ve been called by the Knight-Commander,” he informed him. “On your feet.”
“Anything for you, baby brother.” Out of spite, Hawke left the book behind on the table. More likely, Merrill would pick it up to put away before any Templar did, but he could pretend it inconvenienced one of them.
Talking on the way was out of the question now. Templars were out in droves during the day and from how Carver stared straight ahead the entire time, apparently even looking at Garrett was a risk he couldn’t take. That’s what he was choosing to think, anyway. Carver stopped outside Meredith’s door and nodded him in.
“Go on, mage.”
“Mage?” He scoffed but went with it and walked into Meredith’s office. It was all an act… And a very convincing one. Was it luck that he had bigger issues to think about than the strained relationship with his little brother? “Knight-Commander, what a pleasure.”
And for a moment, he thought he caught a smirk from Meredith. A wry one, yes, but still. He had to have imagined it from being overworked and sleep deprived off and on since he landed in his Circle cell.
“Sirrah Hawke. The Knight-Captain tells me you’ve been doing great work on behalf of the Circle.” Ah, so that was her motive. He’d been shown the stick and now it was time for the carrot. Should be an uplifting change of pace, not that it would change much for Hawke. “And his praise is not easily earned.”
Maybe there was something weighing on Cullen’s conscious from the Circle in Fereldan after all… Or maybe it was guilt from telling Hawke mages weren’t people. Whatever he said to Meredith would’ve decided Hawke’s life from then on out. Well, more like his quality of life. Being Tranquil was technically not murder as far as the Chantry or anyone cared, but—there were better thoughts to have. More relevant ones too. Garrett quirked a smile to Meredith too, figuring that one simple gesture like that couldn’t hurt his odds in the long run. Every bit of leverage counted towards Merrill’s escape just a few weeks out.
“Oh, he’s certainly a tough one. I’ll have to remember to write him a thank you letter later.”
“As a reward for this model behavior,” she began and stood, cutting an intimidating figure looming over her staunch desk. “I’ll allow you to assist your business partner in the mines.”
The mines? It took a moment for Hawke to remember the Hightown market hawkers and the one who talked down about Fereldans. Hubert, if he guessed right. Always something with him, wasn’t it? The more pressing observation was that he hadn’t taken a seat yet and wasn’t being forced into one this time. Could it be that the heartless Knight Commander actually saw worth in a measly mage? Maker’s breath, that’d be his finest achievement yet.
“To be clear—” Meredith interrupted, her familiar hard expression returning, “This is only being offered to you as a condition of your cooperation and high standing in Kirkwall.”
“Those high society types sure know how to whine, don’t they?” Garrett leaned on the back of one of the chairs, pushing his luck to see how far it would go. Whatever this discovery was with Meredith, he’d need it when Merrill was out safe and sound. He flashed her an easy smile, letting his hands hang loosely over the chair. “Tell me, was it the neighbors to the south or the northeast?”
“Both,” she answered drily, but with a slight, almost imperceptible bright edge to her voice. And Hawke knew he had to have gone mad by then. Meredith, returning his sarcasm at even a fragment of its strength? Maybe he was too good at getting her guard down; this was uncanny.