Finally. It took forever to start the chapter and a day to write the 4200ish words of it.
Latibule - Chapter 3
Anders put Valentia on his list of “least favorite people in Kirkwall” for the interruption of his very promising lesson with Fenris. The fact that he had a low-level ache somewhere in the general (specific, thank you very much) vicinity of his unmentionables, and that it was almost certainly her fault that it was the wrong kind of ache, did not dispose him favorably toward Isabela’s mother as he found himself on the dock by the Rivaini ship with Isabela, Hawke, and Fenris, all waiting for her creepy-eyed ladyship to bother to speak to them.
“You’d think we were the ones asking for a favor,” he grumbled, pulling his coat a little tighter against a gust of wind off the harbor. It stank of seaweed, sea life – more like sea death – and the effluent that flowed inevitably downhill in a city built like Kirkwall. At times like this even Darktown seemed preferable; it stank, but at least there was no cutting wind.
Nor templars, he thought, giving a templar a baleful stare as the man passed down the dock asking passersby if they had seen an apostate. There were times when hearing that made him want to beat the metal-headed fool over the head with his staff before setting his skirt on fire. Most times.
Right, all times.
But this was not the time.
Still, he contented himself with a mental image of the templar flailing away at the flames until he finally threw himself into the water and sank like a stone. He briefly entertained the thought that he could let his imaginary templar get out of his armor and bob to the surface like a cork, but decided that it was far more satisfying to see a virtual explosion of air bubbles boiling to the surface as the chap sank and stayed there.
“You are smiling,” Fenris said, interrupting his thoughts. Fenris followed his gaze to the templar whose untimely demise Anders was imagining in great detail and grunted his disapproval. “Staring will attract his attention.”
Anders’ bubble of bitter humor popped like one of the templar’s last gasps bursting at the harbor surface. He knew that his smile was probably an ugly thing, but he could not seem to find something “prettier” when he was looking at a templar. “But I’m smiling. Maybe he’ll think I’m on the pull.”
He felt a certain satisfaction to see Fenris’ expression twist to ugliness to match his own. “Is that what you want?”
Isabela’s timing was, as always, an impeccable pain in the ass. “Boys, kiss and make up. She’s coming.”
She was indeed, and Anders was relieved to turn his anger on someone who merited it. “Make her work for it,” he told Isabela under his breath, turning his attention to watch Valentia descending the gangplank.
The gold in Valentia’s ears, lip, nose, and clasped at her throat glinted in the sunlight, but Anders saw that instead of wearing a gown under her long cloak, today she wore close-cut trousers and a leather tunic that he suspected was both thicker and heavier than it looked. Unconsciously he reached back to pat his staff while he noted the long knife she wore on her belt amid a panoply of pouches.
Quique was as always her shadow, looming behind her with his wide bulk showing on either side of Valentia’s slimmer figure. Anders assumed the man was armed with more than just his ham-sized fists, but he did not wear a sword like Fenris’, and he kept his cloak pulled tight, hiding any weapons he might have on his belt.
Valentia got straight to the point, addressing Isabela, “You will not want to sail on the Bright Star.” She indicated her ship with a tip of her head in its direction. “Choose another ship capable of a swift journey into open water.”
“Why didn’t you just say that in the first place?” Anders protested. Dammit, he could be back at Hawke’s doing better things with his time. “You didn’t need us here for that.”
Justice did not agree that what Anders had in mind was a better use of his time, but Anders quelled that silent disagreement with a sharp thought on the merits of learning new things.
“Because once Isabela has selected a ship that satisfies her, we must leave immediately,” Valentia said carelessly. She raised a hand without looking back and Quique put a heavy pouch in it. “Before you tell me that I must pay for the ship…” She tossed the bag to Isabela, who automatically snatched it out of the air to the tune of clinking coins. “Just get it done.”
“Oh no,” Isabela bounced the pouch in her hand, automatically cataloging its weight and contents despite herself, and shook her head. “You don’t get to just order me around.”
“I am paying you for a service,” Valentia retorted with a flash of impatience. “That means I do get to ‘just order you around.’”
“No.” Isabela tossed the pouch back to Valentia, but Anders was certain she would have preferred to throw it at her head.
Valentia caught the pouch and curled her lip. “Have you changed your mind about The Lovers’ Wake? I do apologize if I thought a ‘pirate queen’ who has been reduced to being a smuggler’s lackey might want a ship of her own again.”
She tossed the pouch to land at Isabela’s feet. “Hire the ship.”
“If I take a step my boots are going to get covered in sarcasm,” Hawke said, folding his arms. “Do you know how hard it is to get that stuff off of good leather?”
It was Fenris who retrieved the pouch, holding it without offering it to Isabela, only waiting for her decision as though he could wait until the next age dawned if he had to.
Isabela did not break her stare with her mother when she reached out and neatly snatched the pouch out of Fenris’ hands. “This might not be enough on such short notice.”
Quique wordlessly tossed her a second pouch as large as the first.
Anders shook his head. “I always thought your family would be more fun and less creepy.”
Isabela snorted. “Now you know better. Come on. I know just who to see.”
• • •
“Isabela!” Captain Tamas Mustow of the Silverite Maiden swept Isabela up in a warm embrace that lifted her boots off the deck. “It’s been too long.”
He set her back down and made a show of patting his pockets before holding his hand out to her, palm up. She grinned and dropped an earring into his hand, grinning even more widely when he raised his fingers to his bare earlobe and snorted.
“Just as quick as ever.” He swept his eyes over her companions while he put the earring back in place, nodding to Anders and Fenris, before he offered Hawke his hand. “Serah Hawke, it’s good to see you again. Congratulations on your victory with the Qunari. I always said, never trust a man with horns who tells you he doesn’t do the old one-two just for the fun of it. He’s got to be hiding something.”
Hawke clasped his hand and turned on one of his brightest smiles. “Captain Mustow. Thank you for treating my friends so well when they sailed with you.”
“We made them pull their weight,” Mustow said, turning to offer his hand to first Fenris and then Anders. “How’s married life treating you?”
“Married life?” Anders was taken off guard by the question, even if he would never forget the charade of being newlyweds they had enacted for the sake of captain and crew.
Fenris saved him from floundering. “We are still adjusting.”
Anders gave Fenris his best simpering smile that turned into a grin when Fenris scowled at him.
Mustow gave them a sage nod. “It’s not always easy. I’ve been married four times and I count myself lucky that three of them still let me through the door when I’m in port.” He turned his attention to Valentia. “But I don’t have a wife in Kirkwall. Isabela, aren’t you going to introduce me to your beautiful friend?”
Valentia held out a hand before Isabela could say anything. “I am Isabela’s mother, Valentia.”
Isabela’s expression darkened with anger, but it was too late. Captain Mustow was delighted. Nothing was too good for his dear friend’s mother. Deck hands were roused, orders were thrown, and a whirlwind of activity deposited them in chairs set around a folding table with a bottle of Rivaini wine and glasses for everyone except Quique, who settled into place behind Valentia as her omnipresent shadow, giving off such a bodyguard aura that the captain had not even asked for an introduction.
“A toast,” Mustow said once everyone had a full glass. “To friends and family.”
“To friends who are family,” Hawke added when Isabela made no move to raise her glass.
She nodded to that and raised her glass, meaningfully looking at everyone except her blood relatives as she said, “To the people you can trust.”
Anders echoed her toast, raising his glass for a token sip. He smiled when Fenris met his eyes over the rim of his glass, murmuring, “To the people you can trust.”
The captain was no fool. He had obviously not missed some of the unsubtle nuances of the amended toasts. He set his glass on the table and turned to Isabela. “This is business, not pleasure. What do you need?”
“The Maiden,” Isabela said simply. “As soon as you can get her out of port.
“Isabela,” Mustow began, “you know—”
She set the first pouch on the table, letting it drop to chink on the wood top. “I know. We’ll pay.”
The captain picked up the pouch and opened it, eyebrows raising at whatever he saw inside, but he shook his head and set it down again. “I can’t. I have commitments. We have cargo coming in a week and I have to be here or my name won’t be worth spit when I get back.”
“You will be gone four days, five at most,” Valentia said, setting a scroll case on the table beside the pouch. “This is the chart you will need.”
They waited while he took the chart from the tube and laid it out on the table, using their glasses to weight the corners.
Valentia leaned forward and tapped her forefinger on an empty spot on the chart. “Here.”
“That’s open water,” Mustow protested. “What’s this about? I’m not above a little smuggling, but I can’t afford to get mixed up in anything too big.”
Anders was more curious about how Valentia had the information. He was not about to buy the idea that her visions gave her map coordinates, so how?
Valentia only shook her head. “You and your ship will be in no danger. Just take us there and I think you will find that there is more there than you think.”
Anders could see the man teetering on the edge of refusal until Isabela dropped the second pouch beside the first and said, “If the old bag’s telling the truth, you’re going to have a story that’ll get you free drinks at every port, and if she’s lying, you still get the coin.”
She leaned forward, giving everyone a generous view of her cleavage. “What do you say, Tamas? For a friend?”
By way of response, he stuck two fingers in his mouth and let out an ear-splittling whistle that summoned a man Anders remembered as the bosun. “Go round everyone up, you know most of them are drinking. Tell them we’re shipping out in half an hour and anyone not on board misses out on a fat bonus.”
He was rising to his feet shouting orders to his crew, but he stopped long enough to issue sleeping assignments to his passengers. “Isabela, you can have a cabin or grab a hammock.”
She gave Hawke a sidelong smirk and put a hand on his thigh. “Hawke and I will take a cabin.”
Mustow just nodded and pointed to Anders and Fenris. “You two can have the cabin you were in before.” He winked at Anders. “We’ll get you a bucket.”
Turning to Valentia he said, “Your bodyguard can have a hammock, you can have my cabin. I almost miss swinging with the waves.”
“Quique will not be coming,” Valentia said. “He must stay with the Bright Star.”
Anders raised his eyebrows, turning his attention to Isabela, who looked even more puzzled than her friends.
“I can live without my shadow for a few days, Dove,” Valentia chided Isabela, and for a moment, she sounded like a mother. Not a mother Anders would want to have, but a mother nonetheless. “I cannot live without the Bright Star to take me home.”
“Fine. One less hammock to worry about.” Mustow waved a hand to dismiss the family matter and just coincidentally keeping Isabela from launching herself at her mother, either in response to her tone or to being called “Dove” again. “Just stay out of the way unless you want to be put to work.”
• • •
Leaving the harbor was the easy part, Anders reminded himself as he leaned at the rail trying to gauge how long it would be before his stomach brought him to his knees. He was already starting to feel a bit green around the gills, but judged that he had until they got out into open water before the vomiting began in earnest.
He glowered at the world as a whole and made a two-fingered gesture in the general direction of the Gallows just for the principle of things as they sailed past the island. The sight of it made his stomach burn with bitter bile.
“We’ll bring them down one finger at a time,” Hawke said, joining him at the railing. He gave the Gallows a one-finger salute that was popular with Marchers before he leaned his elbows on the railing.
“I’ll drink to that,” Anders said. “When we’re on dry land. I might even convince myself that I don’t have to water the beer when I do.”
“Convince Justice you mean,” Hawke said.
“We’re one,” Anders said. “Mostly. Near enough. It’s hard to explain. Especially in Kirkwall.”
“Try me,” Hawke said. “I want to understand.”
Valentia’s voice cut through Anders’ attempts to formulate an explanation for what Justice was to him. “I had never been within the walls of a mages’ Circle before,” she said.
Both Anders and Hawke turned away from the rail. Hawke said. “It used to be an Imperium prison.”
“It still is a prison,” Anders said bitterly. “They all are. Some are just prettier about it than others.”
“Ah.” She moved to the rail near Hawke and took her strand of beads from her belt. “I would not want Isabela’s children raised there, but neither do I want them raised in Rivain.”
“Isabela would have to want children and find someone to have children with,” Hawke said. He leaned his hip on the rail and faced her. “And then they’d have to be mages, but I heard Rivain doesn’t have Circles. Why wouldn’t you want mage children there?”
Valentia nodded. “Her children would be mages.” She rolled beads under her thumb. “If she chooses to have children.”
Anders leaned out over the railing enough to see Valentia’s face, but her eyes had not gone white as they had at the Gallows.
“In northern Rivain, where I am from,” she said, “we are subject to the Qun. We are freer than those in Par Vollen because the Qunari believe that in time we will give up our tribal customs and cease venerating seers and spirits and that we will see the immutable rightness of the Qun and convert of our own free will. But there are some laws the Qunari do not allow us to ignore. A mage child would be Saarebas, a dangerous thing. You must know how the Qunari treat mages.”
Hawke nodded. “I’ve seen it firsthand.”
“Which would you rather have for your children or your grandchildren?” Valentia asked. “The Circle or the Qun?”
“Neither,” Hawke said firmly.
“Nor would I,” said Valentia. She turned her attention to Anders, effectively dismissing Hawke. “You are growing ill.”
Anders raised his eyebrows at the sudden shift in topic and glanced at Hawke, who shrugged and pushed away from the railing. “Your turn. I’m going to see if Isabela and Fenris need any help tying knots.”
He left them to go join Isabela and Fenris where Isabela was giving him a lesson in, yes, knots. Before his time as Danarius’ captive the thought of what Fenris could do with some skillful knots might have given Anders a pleasant shiver, but now it was just a cold chill. Maybe someday he could take pleasure in such things, but not yet.
The ship hit a hard swell and Anders forgot all about anything except clinging to the rail and suppressing his rising gorge. He startled when Valentia’s fingers closed on his right wrist, but she held him in a hard grip when he tried to jerk away. He had to suppress a frisson of panic at even this mild restraint.
“Pressure,” she said, pushing his sleeve back to reveal his wrist and forearm. “If you put pressure here, it will help for a brief time.” She pressed her fingers firmly into the skin on the underside of his arm two thumbwidths away from the crease of his wrist. “You do it now.”
Baffled, he put pressure where she indicated and watched as she dug in one of her belt pouches for an even smaller pouch. “This will take care of the rest. I must put it in water and then you drink thrice daily.”
“That’s okay,” Anders said, taking a step back. “I don’t want it.”
“Don’t be a fool.” Valentia left the railing to catch a sailor by the arm and order him to fetch her a mug of fresh water. She turned back to Anders. “You don’t want to be at the mercy of every hard wave that hits this ship, nor does your husband want to share a bed with a man who will vomit through the night.”
“You don’t understand,” Anders said, taking another step back along the railing despite himself. “I don’t take drugs from strangers. It hasn’t gone too well for me lately.”
Valentia’s expression flickered with scorn and calculation before she schooled it to neutrality and nodded. “I will drink with you. You must see that it is in my interest to see you well for this venture.”
Anders shook his head vehemently, thinking of the Antivan woman who had drugged him and turned him over to Danarius. She had eaten some of the food that had knocked him right out and it had not affected her. Assassins did that, why not Valentia?
Valentia hissed with exasperation and stalked over to Isabela, thrusting the small pouch out to her. “Tell your paranoid friend what this is.”
Isabela sniffed the contents of the pouch, dipped her finger into the powder inside and tasted it, then shrugged. “It’s remei. Take it with some water three times a day and maybe Fenris will get some sleep.” She winked at Anders. “Or maybe he won’t.”
The look she turned up to Valentia lost all its humor. “Don’t give me an order like that again, and go somewhere else. I think the old’s catching.”
The deckhand Valentia had conscripted brought her a mug of fresh water and this time when she offered Anders the remei, he reluctantly took the mug and the pouch from her. The mixture was gritty and tasted of mint and flowers, but his stomach calmed so quickly he had to ask, “Magic?”
“No,” Valentia said with satisfaction now that he had done as she told him. “Just herbs. I can give you the recipe. Some of the herbs are native to Rivain, but you should be able to buy them from traders if you know what to ask for.”
“Maker please yes,” he said, much of his Isabela’s infectious hostility toward Valentia draining away from him in the simple relief of knowing he would not be spending days heaving his guts over the side of the ship. “Thank you.”
Together they left Isabela and the others to their knotwork and returned to the railing to watch the high cliffs that protected Kirkwall slide by on either side of the ship. “Can you tell me anything about what we can expect when we get to where we’re going?”
“What I need is on The Lovers’ Wake,” Valentia said. “We will board the ship and there will be tests that must be passed to reach my goal.”
“Written or oral?” Anders asked. “I always preferred oral.”
Valentia did not laugh. She did not laugh so very pointedly that Anders felt her rebuke even though her attention was fixed on the cliffs.
“Right.” He combed his fingers through his hair and straightened his ponytail. “Is that all you’re going to tell me? Is it some rule with your sort? Never give a straight answer?”
He might not be feeling hostile, but Anders thought Valentia was a very unlikable woman. Then again, he had served with Velanna, and if he could get on with her, he could get on with anyone.
Oh, right, he hadn’t really gotten on with Velanna.
“Then you probably won’t tell me what you meant when you said Kirkwall would consume me and Fenris.”
“Is there anything you will tell me?” he asked.
“Perhaps.” Now her lips curved in the faintest of smiles. If he had not been practicing looking for even the faintest hint of a smile with Fenris, he would have missed it.
“You’re having me on now, aren’t you?”
The smile grew by the barest of degrees. “Yes.”
Despite himself, he barked a laugh, cutting it off abruptly with a guilty glance toward Isabela. Somehow it felt disloyal to find anything funny when it came from her hated mother.
But really, the woman had just settled his seasickness when he had been unable to come even close to it. That ought to earn her a little leeway from someone she had never personally wronged.
Other than dragging him away from his first intimate moment with Fenris in far too long.
Right, strike that, she was still on his shit list.
• • •
The cabin was just as tiny and cramped as Anders remembered from his trip with Fenris from Kirkwall to Amaranthine. This time at least he would not be chained to Fenris, and they now had ample practice in sleeping in the same bed.
Void take it, that was all the practice they had together, and after a day spent running up and down Kirkwall’s ten thousand steps, fighting smugglers, and the drain of Hawke’s meeting with Bethany, Anders’ spirit was willing, but even with a warden’s stamina, his flesh was weak.
He hung his coat on a hook and hurried in the chill air to get under the blankets, cursing the very existence of winter under his breath. He was just getting the space under the blankets warm enough to calm his shivering when Fenris finally came through the door. He spared Anders a single glance before he turned away to remove his sword, cloak, and armor, stripping down to just his leggings before he blew out the room’s single lantern and hurried to join Anders in bed. He paused only to spread his cloak out on top of the blankets as an additional layer of warmth.
And then he was there – right there – and everything was suddenly awkward. The bunk was hardly large enough for them to sleep without touching at all. Should he? Could he? He was tentatively reaching out to touch Fenris when Fenris made a low sound of annoyance and closed the distance between them to slide one arm under Anders’ shoulders to pull him against the heat of his body.
“You are well?” Fenris asked, and Anders had to snort a quiet laugh while he wriggled and shifted until he had his head pillowed on Fenris’ shoulder, an arm across his chest, and his leg drawn up over Fenris’ thigh.
Better than he had been in too long. “Mmhm. You?”
“Suspicious,” Fenris said. “Why did she leave her brother behind?”
Anders made a sound through a jaw-cracking yawn that was meant to be “I don’t know,” but came out more like “Ahh nn nnn.”
Fenris still got the gist. “Did she tell you anything?”
“Tests.” Fenris’ body was so delightfully warm after the constant chill of the ocean air that it was all Anders could do to try for coherent answers before he fell asleep to the silent lyrium lullaby that played in his bones. “She said there would be tests but she wouldn’t say what kind, and she wouldn’t explain what she said at the Gallows.”
Fenris grunted. “Isabela said she would be like that. I don’t trust her.”
“Who do you trust?” Anders asked, half-asleep and barely aware of what he was asking until Fenris’ breathing stopped for the space of a handful of heartbeats.
When he breathed in again, Fenris said, “I often ask myself that question. Go to sleep.”
Anders tried, but sleep was slow in coming after Fenris’ reply.
The existence of a Qunari settlement in Rivain and the information about the Qunari tolerating local customs in the expectation that they will die out with time come from the DA wiki and the RPG books. Isabela has demonstrated ignorance of Qunari custom, which might be incongruous if she were raised under the Qun, but my interpretation boils down to a combination of her youth when she was married (13 is a rather self-involved age) and the fact that Qunari cultural imperialism is described as surprisingly “benign.”