A dull ache nestled behind Hawke’s eyes, the penalty of draining himself of magic and denying himself excessive rest before being up and about again. Bloody Templars, dragging him out of bed almost literally first thing in the morning… And yet he was there with Cullen waiting for Meredith. Hawke sat himself in her office, picking at a boot idly to pass the time. There was absolutely no chance that obsessive woman slept in, so he had no doubt this was an intentional delay. Most likely spent scolding Orsino for breathing too magically.
“Knight-Commander,” Cullen greeted her with a small bow as she strode past him to posture behind her desk. She nodded in return before focusing her attention on Hawke.
“Circle mages are expected to undertake tasks at the will of the Chantry and the Templars,” she prefaced, explaining as if he was a particularly idiotic student. “To show you what this entails, you’ve been tasked with helping an herbalist here in Kirkwall collect resources in exchange for supplies for the Circle.”
A thousand witty remarks came to mind, but he didn’t have the energy to spare for her. He settled on the easiest one with a sardonic smile. “What an honor.”
“You will do well to watch your tone,” Meredith warned, sharpening her glare to a point that might actually pierce his skull if she tried hard enough.
Hawke held his hands up in a nonchalant shrug but kept quiet this time. That was just enough stirring of the pot to keep her attention on him but not earn her suspicion.
“Cullen will be your escort to the Wounded Coast to harvest the Harlot’s Blush flower, and the Guard Captain will accompany you to the Dalish camp for their distinct tattoo ink,” she outlined, taking a seat and looking less than pleased about it. And he thought he was restless trapped in Gamlen’s hovel. Imagine being unable to relax enough to sit down? Must be the stick up her butt. “You will adhere to their every command and return to the Circle without a fight. Am I clear?”
“Perfectly,” Hawke dismissed, giving her the same treatment she offered him. Apparently deciding he wasn’t worth her time either, Meredith glossed over his indifference. Fine enough by him—he had enough to think about with the realization that he truly did never tell Aveline about this plan and by Andraste’s dirty socks, she’d probably give him a good scolding.
“Knight-Captain,” she implied the order and Cullen acted.
“On your feet, Sirrah Hawke.” Cullen, of course, could order Hawke around anytime he wanted and Garrett stood to follow him out to the Gallows entrance. He waited long enough to make the dirty joke he thought of the moment he got this task, and Hawke grinned now that he could finally share it with Cullen.
“Ever harvested a Harlot’s Blush before, Knight-Captain?”
Cullen’s heavy sigh to cover up his Templar-grade fluster never got old. “I suppose I should be grateful you didn’t say that in front of the Knight-Commander,” he evaded the answer and Hawke let it be. What’s the fun in teasing him only once? He’d need to savor the material he had.
“There, now that’s the spirit! Let’s make the Circle proud, or something,” he tacked on with a chuckle.
But most of their trip across the Wounded Coast passed in silence, trekking down worn, pitted roads with mysterious skeletons dotting the landscape. Why the coast was titled wounded instead of “riddled with the dead” was anyone’s guess. Bandits foolish enough to take them on fell quickly and just outside a cave waited the coveted flower. With another few playful jabs from Hawke, they tidied up that business and Cullen passed Garrett off to Aveline at a good midway point between the Coast and the Dalish settlement.
Of course, she was pretending not to know him well either. The grapevine could tell the Templars that these two arrived in Kirkwall together, but his occasional help with her work would be nothing more than mercenary work between two Fereldans if it was spun right.
And in just a few minutes after Cullen was gone, Aveline delivered her wrath. “Maker damn you for a fool, Hawke, what are you doing?”
“Fetching tattoo ink for the Circle,” he purposefully didn’t answer her question, getting an irritated groan back.
“Whatever you’ve got planned,” she started irritably, softening as she put her hand on his shoulder and stopped them both in their tracks. “I would think you’d know by now that you can come to me.”
Ah, there it was. Guilt would find him even in his Circle life, the one comfort of home he couldn’t escape. “Aveline,” he started, already hearing the defense in his own voice. “You’re the Guard Captain.”
“But also your friend,” she emphasized, soft compassion in her eyes. Maker, she was like family to him and like his family, she knew exactly what to do to get past his guard (or under his skin in Carver’s case).
“Andraste’s ass, that’s why I didn’t want you mixed up in this,” he laughed, shaking his head. “And that’s not going to change, so you’ll just have to settle on this little visit to the Dalish.”
“So stubborn,” she teased, obviously not happy with this answer, but… Well, at least she let it go. For now. Garrett knew better than to think she actually gave up. Varric would get an earful next, more likely. “We’re not done here, Hawke,” she warned him like she was reading his mind. “But let’s take care of your errand for Meredith before she gets cross.“
“Speaking of her, how did you convince her to send you here instead of Cullen?” They started off to the camp again, passing the winding roads of Sundermount that were still more pleasant than the Wounded Coast. Not that he had much of a choice either way.
“Because I’ve been here before, they’re more comfortable with me than a Templar,” she explained as if it was obvious. “People in charge like results, Hawke. They won’t argue with them.” Her knowing tone suggested he was supposed to learn a lesson from that, and maybe he would. …Probably not, but there was a sliver of a chance.
Just as Aveline predicted, the Dalish received them with a watchful calm that was much better than the barely contained hostility he’d be faced with if Cullen brought him. Best case scenario, they’d hate just Cullen, but worst case was they’d think he was ratting them out to the Templars and they’d have to move ahead of schedule. Not a pretty picture however he looked at it. Aveline saved him yet again.
Master Ilen wasn’t feeling so favorable to Hawke, though. What a man refuses to sell can still be taken, so… Better than going back empty-handed, he picked up the Dalish tattoo ink from a nearby chest without a fuss. They left the Dalish camp and turned back to Kirkwall before Aveline broke the silence.
“So,” she awkwardly began, glancing to him. “How is it? In the Circle—is it as bad as Anders says?”
Of all the blasted things she could ask about… Hawke knew Aveline had her reservations about mages not being in the Circle, but he wasn’t going to hide the truth of it from her if she asked him.
“Absolutely. Doubt I’ll see the worst of it since I’m a noble from Hightown. Despite what Meredith says, that does make a difference inside the Circle. Not enough of one, but…” He wasn’t the one to worry about anyway. His smirk fell at the memory of Merrill sitting with him in the Circle library. “But Merrill? She’s hanging in there; you know how she is. But that can’t last forever. Meredith’s got a real case of the crazies, and she doesn’t know when to quit.”
“Neither do you,” Aveline joked, trying to lift his spirits but introducing a dangerous thought when she did it. Well, so long as he avoided being blighted crazy, Hawke would only be halfway to Meredith. Not too shabby. “I’m sure whatever half-baked plan you’ve got, you’ll set this right.”
Turning in the flower and ink to Cullen and living through another lecture about minding his manners in the Circle, Hawke was finally returned to his cell. Based on the messy sheets and skewed bedding, someone had done a search while he was out. Already trying to catch him red-handed, eh? Hawke chuckled and sat down on the corner of the bed without fixing it up. Searching aside, they did let him have a quill, parchment, and ink to finally write a letter back home on the wall-mounted “desk” in his cell—the only outgoing letter he was allowed this month. They’re Templars, not mailmen, that was the argument. But they had time to dig through an empty cell, of course.
Hello, dear mother,
What to even write now? She had to be worried sick. Her youngest son, a Templar, and her oldest son, a prisoner. She only had Gamlen around now and that had to be miserable. The quill waited above the page as Hawke thought it over.
I’m alright. I even have my own room and steady work! I think they’re impressed with me, Mother. Be strong and brave, and I’ll feel better.
‘I’m sorry I can’t be there.’ He sealed the letter with that unwritten and stick it out a hole in the door for the Templar guards to take. And throw away or burn for all he knew, but hey, Garrett tried. That wouldn’t be enough to save any of them if Leandra Hawke didn’t get her letter, though.