A/N: I only encountered Stroud in Dragon Age 2 (not sure if he turns up anywhere else), so my interpretation of the character is based on that brief encounter.
And exciting news: I am now FINALLY playing Awakenings! And, it must be said, completely infatuated with both Anders and Sigrun. Pity I can't romance them. Sigh. *dances*
Disclaimer: As always, regrettably not mine.
What Magic Touches
Carver was cursed.
Magic followed him everywhere he went. He'd grown up having to compete with it for Father's attention, never allowed to succeed in case his success drew notice to his family of apostates. In Kirkwall everything was about mages or Templars. There was no middle ground between the two camps, between Maker given duty and family loyalty. And now he found himself in Tevinter.
Just because he was passing through on Official Warden Business didn't make it any easier to be here. He hated this place, hated seeing slaves everywhere, the blatant use of magic. Tevinter was a horrible place, and he swore never to return- ever- even on Official Warden Business.
He bumped into a slave on an errand as he made his way through the market, Stroud by his side. He started to apologise, but she was already gone, scurrying away as if he were a monster.
They had no better luck further into the market. A storekeeper was telling someone –very very quickly, sounding pained- that he only sold goods for market price. This in and of itself was not unusual- but what was unusual was the elf standing in front of the storekeeper with his fist shoved into his chest.
Carver's expression must have shown recognition, for Stroud looked questioningly at him.
"Just an odd sight," he covered quickly. The man raised an eyebrow at him, and let him get away with the excuse. Carver was thinking fast. If Fenris was here, then surely Mercy was here somewhere. He'd seen the way she'd looked at the elf, at least when he still lived in Kirkwall, and even if that had passed, knew she would never let the former slave return to Minrathous alone.
Or… not so former slave.
"If you really want to be like that," a man standing nearby shrugged. "Kill him," he ordered the elf.
"No!" the man exclaimed. "I… I'll refund you… I'll do anything…"
"You'll pay me back everything- and interest," the man, who must be Danarius, said. The merchant, staring at the fist in his chest, nodded quickly, whimpering with pain.
"Yes, yes, take everything, it's all here, just please… let me go…"
"Or we could just kill you and take it," Danarius added thoughtfully. "My pet?" The man's eyes widened then choked as the fist inside his chest turned suddenly solid. He sank to the ground as Fenris pulled it out, distaste on his features.
"Falcon," Danarius ordered.
A gaunt, far too thin woman entered the scene now and went behind the merchant's table, opening the chest and gathering the goods up in her arms. As she turned back to him, Carver gasped, horror struck.
It was Mercy.
This time Stroud did not let his excuse pass.
"Who is that?" he asked.
"My sister," Carver whispered, forcing the words out. He hoped this was a terrible nightmare, that he'd wake up and his smug sister and the elf she fancied would be back in Kirkwall where they belonged and he could get on with his life in peace. He blinked, hard, but when he opened them again Mercy and Fenris were still there.
Stroud raised an eyebrow.
"How?" Carver whispered, a lead weight sinking into his belly. Screw the Official Warden Business, his sister was a slave!
"I would assume slavers captured her," Stroud remarked. Carver turned to glare at him, icily.
"I figured that much out for myself," he snapped. "And Fenris… they must have caught them together… oh, shit…"
He was striding forward as he spoke, purpose in his steps. Stroud caught his arm to stop him.
"We must not interfere," he said. "You know the rules."
"That's my sister!" Carver snarled back, snatched his arm from Stroud's grasp, and marched firmly on.
It was the last thing Mercy Hawke had expected to see- this day or any other. A few years had passed since she had become a slave (she'd lost track of the time), and each day was more or less like the last. The sight of her brother striding towards her, fury in every line, as such, came as something of a surprise.
Whenever Hadriana or Danarius were that angry, she had done something wrong. She automatically flinched away- not dropping the weapons she carried. Slaves did not disobey orders or they were rightly punished. Carver looked her up and down, checking for injury, noting her many scars and bruises and the way she held herself defensively, scowled deeper, and then turned to Danarius, who was regarding him amusedly.
"He moves with much purpose. What purpose might that be?" the magister mused, in the same tones that he had used when considering whether or not to keep her on their first meeting. She felt a cold chill spread down her spine.
"Release my sister," Carver demanded. Danarius laughed.
"You mean my little falcon?" He gestured to her, and she sank into a bow automatically, nearly dropping her burden. Carver's jaw clenched. The weapons were heavy and she felt herself straining under their weight. Neither Danarius nor Hadriana noticed, or if they did, cared.
"You will let her go," Carver said- no, ordered- gaze steady, and she realised that four years with the Wardens had changed Carver. He was no longer a whiny brat. Pride, an almost forgotten emotion, welled up in her. Her arms started shaking and she grunted quietly as she hoisted her load higher in her arms.
"Oh, put them down, girl," Danarius sighed, and she knelt, placing them carefully with a huge sigh of relief and a mumbled 'Thank you, Master.' At the address she saw Carver's fists clench, probably unconsciously, from the corner of her eye, and flinched back.
"She's a good little falcon. I'm keeping her."
She risked a glance at Fenris and he seemed calm and composed. But beneath that, she could see he was dying to put his fist through Danarius. For that matter, she was too, if she could manage the courage.
"No." In one word Carver managed to make clear that if Danarius did not release his sister, he would carve him up into little magister bits and leave them scattered around the market.
"Property law in Ferelden dictates that you cannot steal, yes?" Danarius asked. "That it is the prerogative of the owner as to what happens to the property?"
"My sister is not property," Carver snarled.
"Yes, she is. My property, in fact. And as such… the answer remains… no. We're done here Hadriana."
Danarius and Hadriana walked away, and the two slaves automatically fell in behind them, Fenris gathering the merchandise in his arms before he did so. Mercy cast Carver a frightened look before she vanished from sight.
"We must move on," Stroud finally said after he'd judged that the other had stared for long enough after Mercy's vanished back. "We have dallied too long."
"I'm not leaving without her," Carver said flatly. Stroud opened his mouth, but Carver cut him off. "I don't care. You go on. I'm staying."
"You cannot," Stroud insisted.
"I can and I am." Carver set his jaw and stared at Stroud. The man stared back for a long moment before he finally nodded.
"Best of luck." The two men shook hands firmly.
"And to you." Stroud turned his back and for the second time in as many minutes Carver watched someone's retreating back until it disappeared. Then went the way Mercy- and Danarius- had gone.
The first problem was getting Mercy out. He'd asked around about Danarius's 'Falcon' and learned that she was valued property and many offers had been made for her, and all rejected. Which left him going in and taking her out- stealing her. And Fenris, he reminded himself hurriedly. She'd never forgive him for leaving Fenris behind.
All this assumed that he could even get in, let alone near the pair.
Which returned his attention to the problem at hand.
Danarius knew his face and intent- no chance of bluffing in. Both Fenris and Mercy were valued bodyguards (from what he'd heard at least) and as such near the magister's person at all times.
This was going to be tricky, he thought with a groan.
He decided that his best chance was to sneak in at night, so scouted the area carefully and made his move a few nights later.
As it turned out, there weren't too many guards around the mansion, and a servant's path around the side led to the back door. One guard was patrolling it and he took him down with a precision pummel strike from his sword hilt. Other than that, it was quiet.
The back door led to the kitchen, empty and cavernous. He slipped out and found himself in a short passage lined with shabby doors, but was soon in the main part of the house. The bedrooms were on the upper storey and he nervously climbed the stairs, sure he was being watched. The house was too empty.
But the thought of Mercy drove him on, despite possible surveillance. They'd have seen his entrance and if he backed out now he'd never get another chance at this.
He found her sitting outside a room, barely dressed and shaking badly. Fury engulfed him and he would have throttled Danarius then and there when she stopped him- though she probably didn't mean to. She didn't even realise it was him until he spoke.
"Don't, she'll be really mad," she whispered, staring at the floor. He stopped dead in his tracks.
"'She'?" he asked pointedly, frowning, and she stared up at him, eyes wide, crossing her arms over her chest protectively and hunching over.
"Carver? What are you doing here?" He decided to put aside the implication that a 'she' had raped his sister aside- and that it seemed to be a regular occurrence- for now in favour of getting her out.
"Rescuing you," he replied. "Where's Fenris?"
A shaky finger pointed at another door, closed. He started towards it, but again, she stopped him, intentionally this time.
"Wait," she said. "He'll come out soon." Her voice was dead and he crouched beside her concernedly.
"What happened to you?" he asked softly. "How did you end up here?" She shuddered violently in reply and refused to meet his eyes. He dropped it.
"Tell me about this… 'she.'" It was more of an order than anything else, mostly out of habit. A few years with the Wardens did that to you.
"Mistress Hadriana," Mercy replied promptly, straightening as she did. "She is apprenticed to my Master. I am her bodyguard." Her unthinking obedience, that of the slaves he had seen around the market, made him scowl. Oh how he'd love to kill Danarius for doing this to his sister.
"And Hadriana rapes you?" The question came out harsher than he intended and she flinched away, looking fearfully at the door.
"I am to serve her however she desires, ser." Her resignation to this (once, she would have made the remains of anyone who dared do more than look at her without her permission unidentifiable) set his blood boiling and he set his jaw tightly. It would do no good to scare her even more.
The other door opened a crack then and Fenris sidled out, his own clothes dishevelled, obviously pulled on in a hurry. The elf sighed wearily and went to join Mercy, but then his sharp green eyes fell on Carver and he placed himself protectively before the woman.
"Hello, Fenris," Carver said carefully, grimacing slightly. He wasn't too keen on the idea of having a fist stuck in his chest.
"She's been through enough without you," the elf snarled softly yet fiercely, and Carver was glad his sister had such an ardent protector. Who, he suspected, could do nothing to protect her from Hadriana and Danarius, and was probably feeling overly guilty and undoubtedly furious, willing to take it out on anyone who threatened her whom he could in fact protect her from. Like him.
And it had to be admitted that he'd never exactly been gentle with Mercy.
"I just want to take her home, I promise." It said a lot about their treatment here that Fenris was concerned that he would harm her. They may have argued a lot but he'd never crossed that line. His blood boiled again but he contained it as best he could. Fenris stared at him for a long moment then abruptly turned to Mercy, who was staring at him, seeking reassurance.
"Come on," he murmured, and Carver marvelled at how soft his voice was. He'd never heard him sound so caring- or so worried- before. He breathed a sigh of relief, glad that Fenris had decided to trust him, for now at least.
"Won't they catch us?" Mercy asked in a small voice, looking nervously at the door. Grimly Fenris smiled.
"They can try."
With that she climbed to her feet, trembling, and clutched the elf's hand. Fenris looked at Carver, who led the way out. The pair followed.
The silence was oppressive as the trio traversed the streets, trying to get as far away from Minrathous as possible. He led the way to the docks, where he'd arranged a ship to take them back to Kirkwall, just in case he succeeded. Several times he glanced back to see that Fenris and Mercy were still with him, and found they were- just weren't making a noise. It was eerie how silently they were moving. Fenris, of course, had always moved like that, and Mercy had experience in slipping away from Templars.
But now she was moving like a ghost. No, he suddenly thought, like a slave. Like the slaves in the market. Desperate to avoid notice.
His heart constricted and he had to turn away from them, unable to bear the thought.
The ship captain was getting impatient but was still there. He called out loudly to Carver on seeing him.
"Fin'lly! We settin' off then?" Carver nodded, not bothering to ask him to lower his voice. He indicated the boarding ramp.
"Go up," he told Fenris and Mercy. Fenris gave him a long look before doing so, Mercy meekly following him. Carver glanced around nervously and went up too. The captain followed and raised the plank before setting off.
"Just like you." Carver smiled fondly at Mercy, who was staring at the rocking floor, hands clasped before her meekly. Where was the fiery girl he had foundation-shaking arguments with in front of Gamlen's fire? "You just can't keep your nose out of trouble, can you?"
He expected (or rather hoped for) something about how her nose alone didn't get into trouble, the rest of her did too. It was the kind of retort that made him groan, that she was so good at. But instead she said, in a tiny, shaking, voice, "Sorry, ser."
It terrified him.
"Mercy?" he asked, tenderly, but she didn't react. "Mercy?"
She didn't respond. Evidently it had been a long time since she had been called by her name. He took a deep breath, hating what he was about to do.
Her head snapped up as if it were on a spring.
"Yes, Master." The response was so automatic it was probably beat into her. He could see the scars up her arms and probably on her legs too. What manner of foul things had he done to her? How did those scars get there?
"Sorry, Carver," she apologised meekly and returned to staring at the floor. He couldn't take it anymore. He touched her shoulder delicately and she flinched away. Heart heavy, he went up to the deck.
Neither of the freed slaves spoke to him much on the journey to Kirkwall. Mercy clung to Fenris like a limpet, and Fenris was furious at him for using the dreaded 'f' word on her, so he took to spending as much time as he could away from the hold and the corner of the deck they had taken to occupying in fine weather, instead trying to help the crew.
He wasn't particularly useful on deck but tried his best and ended up spending time with the sailors, who were amused by his efforts, amused enough to adopt him as something of a pet. They took him under their wing, showing him basic jobs and knots. Needless to say, he didn't think he'd be joining a ship crew any time soon.
The crew got on well with Fenris, apart from one notable example of bad judgement. The deckhand had propositioned Mercy. She had refused. He had persisted valiantly. But for his trouble, Fenris put his fist through his heart. He didn't kill him, though, not wanting to anger their hosts over much, and since then none had even looked at Mercy the wrong way.
The captain was surprisingly cheerful about it.
"He shoulda listened," he shrugged.
Mercy could only hold a conversation with Fenris. If anyone else spoke to her, she bowed and kept her eyes fixed to the floor, trembling. If she was asked a direct question, she always ended her reply with 'Master'. The captain had tried to tell her that 'Captain' would do, but her only reply was 'sorry, Master.'
"Don't blame 'er," the captain told Carver one day. "A slave's life's a hard one. It's a noble thing yer doing, bringin' 'er home, but don' 'spect 'er to show grat'tude." Carver gazed at Mercy, squished into a corner fearfully, sniffing the salty air occasionally and glancing around guiltily as if she was going to be punished for it, and sighed.
"I know," he said.
His sister was still badly seasick, and spent most of her time retching over the side. He didn't even think to mock her this time. She refused food and the crew stopped laughing at her after Fenris threatened to tear out the heart of the next person to laugh.
No one doubted he would do it.
It was rather strange pulling into the Gallows in a ship again. He felt like a refugee again as he climbed out, followed by Fenris and Mercy. Mercy stared around the city which used to be her home in astonishment and tears glittered in her eyes.
"Home," she whispered hoarsely, the first thing he'd heard her say for days. "I never thought to return." Carver smiled widely at the wonder in her voice.
"Let's get you home, sis," he said.
"Home," she repeated and smiled faintly.
Mercy crept around her own mansion as if someone was going to punish her for looking the wrong way at things. Bodahn's enthusiastic greeting saw her flinching into the wall and when a young elven servant she didn't know (Orana, she said her name was, and a vague memory of arguing with Fenris in the slaver's den before Hadriana had captured them flickered to life) curtseyed to her her eyes went wide with surprise.
"Mistress Hawke is out, but you can make yourself comfortable and wait for her if you wish," the elven girl said politely. Fenris stepped ahead of Mercy to let her recover.
"Orana, was it?" he asked and the elf nodded.
"Yes, Master," she said and he grimaced.
"None of that Master business. Do you remember me?" The girl tipped her head to one side and examined him, finally nodding.
"You rescued me from the cave. Mistress Hawke said that she would take me- oh!" suddenly her eyes widened as she looked at Mercy. "Mistress Hawke! I humbly apologise." She hurriedly knelt but Mercy shook her head, irrationally terrified that Hadriana would punish her for claiming the title. Her breath quickened at the thought.
"Don't call me that. Don't bow. Don't… just… don't." She had a sudden image of Hadriana before her and her knees weakened. By rights she should be the one kneeling, head down offering apologies. She was been a bad slave and…
"I am not a slave," she hissed suddenly, vehemently, trying to convince herself.
"Of course not, Mistress," the visibly confused Orana said, frowning. "Are you alright? Do you need to rest?" Mercy opened her mouth to reply and felt herself trembling. She nodded mutely and the girl sprang to her feet.
"I'll do it," Mercy muttered automatically, head bowed.
"It's my job, Mistress," the servant protested, but Mercy shook her head, still staring at the floor. She shook herself from the past determinedly. She was home again. On protesting muscles she raised her head.
"No. I'll do it. One more thing- are you being paid?" Orana nodded hesitantly.
"Mistress Hawke insisted on paying me, Mistress." A sigh of relief escaped her.
"Good. I will have no slaves in my house." Fenris touched her hand and she looked at him, weariness clouding her eyes.
"Come on," he said gently. She nodded and let him lead her to the bedroom- her bedroom, she owned it, she owned this house, she owned the bed and was allowed to sleep on it, she wasn't going to be punished for napping on the job if she was caught- and lie her down, smoothing the covers over her. He made to leave.
"Please… don't leave me alone…" he stopped and turned back to her, perching on the side of her bed.
"I remain by your side," he promised, and this time, he could keep it.
"Mercy!" a voice cried enthusiastically and Mother ran in her room as she sat up, looking around confused. A thick blanket covered her and she was in a bed- a proper bed. Panicked, she shoved the blanket off and tumbled off the side of the bed, hitting the floor hard and picking herself up quickly to kneel before Hadriana knew she'd been in the bed.
"Mercy, you're home and you're safe! Thank the Maker!" Mother cried and launched herself at her daughter, who held herself stiffly, trembling terribly. Mother frowned and took a step back.
"Darling?" she asked and she stared at the floor determinedly.
"Mother," she said, a faint smile in her voice. "It's… good to see you." The hesitation in her voice set Mother off on a new track.
"What's wrong, darling?" she asked. "Did they hurt you? Carver told me he found you in Tevinter- what were you doing in Tevinter?"
"My Master lives there," Mercy replied promptly. "As does Mistress Hadriana, who I am assigned to protect and serve." Mother's face fell and tears glittered in her eyes.
"Oh, baby…" Again she flew at Mercy but this time Fenris stopped her.
"It would be best if you refrained from touching her," he said, clear warning in his tone. Mother frowned in confusion.
"Why?" she asked, sounding hurt.
"Because…" she couldn't tell her about Hadriana just yet. "Because I…" she couldn't think of a suitable excuse but Mother seemed to figure it out.
"They beat you? My poor baby!" Her voice rose and Mercy flinched back at it. Raised voices meant punishment. Hadriana would always beat her or worse (she shuddered and tensed up involuntarily) after she'd had an argument to make herself feel better. It depended on the severity of the argument.
Her silence was all the answer Mother required- or perhaps the way she held her thighs tightly together was the answer she found. Tears filled Mother's eyes and she bit her lip before she abruptly left the room.
Word spread fast that Mercy Hawke had come home. Varric was the first to visit, gruffly hugging her as she sat in the corner. She burst into tears on seeing him.
"I… I never thought…" she couldn't finish her sentence.
"Bianca missed you," the dwarf said with a smile. "It's good to see you both home safe."
Anders' reaction was just as she'd expected. He caught sight of her and immediately went into healer mode. His horror was predictable and she smiled very slightly at him.
"What happened?" he demanded and she flinched back, squeezing her eyes tightly shut. Fenris growled at her side and he backpedalled.
"It's good to see you again," he said. "I… I missed you." Predictably, he completely ignored Fenris.
Aveline's eyes went hard as she took her friend's condition in, fists clenching at her side. Again, Mercy flinched back and Aveline muttered furiously under her breath.
"If he ever dares to show his face, I will kill him," she vowed, looking Fenris over carefully. The elf just regarded her steadily.
"I see you haven't changed," the redhead remarked and he shrugged slightly.
"No," he replied.
Merrill squealed on seeing them and threw her arms enthusiastically around her friend. Mercy sat frozen in the circle of her arms, trembling, until she drew back, peering concernedly at her.
"Did I do something wrong?" she asked anxiously and Fenris shook his head grudgingly.
"No," he said.
"You've… not done anything wrong," Mercy finally managed. "I'm just… it's not your fault, Merrill. I missed you."
"I missed you too. We were so worried about you but we couldn't do anything. We could have probably followed you but she warned us that if we did she'd kill you and we didn't want to get you killed…" Mercy put a finger to Merrill's lips gently.
"Hush." The quiet lasted about two seconds.
"I'm so glad you're home safe. I mean I knew you'd come back, you're a Hawke and nothing can hold you down, and of course you'd be safe… I'm babbling again I'll shut up now," she added when she saw Mercy's familiar amusement and Fenris' exasperation.
"Nice to know some things never change," Mercy remarked to Fenris after she was gone.
Isabela, they found out, had left Kirkwall some time ago. Mercy couldn't hide her disappointment. The dwarf also caught her up on the latest news in Kirkwall- the Qunari had rebelled and the Arishok had killed Meredith. Cullen, now Knight-Commander, had killed the Arishok; but the Viscount was dead, as was his son. Now Cullen and his Templars were in control and squeezing the city tightly in their grasp, particularly the mages.
Having being used as a blood mage's power repository for the last few years, Mercy had little sympathy.
"Mages will become magisters if they are allowed," she spat bitterly, tracing one of many scars on her arm as she did.
"It's slavery, then. I always thought it was just the elf, but it must be slavery."
Carver took the guest room, as Mother refused to let him sleep in the Hanged Man, and for the first time in years, the entire remaining family was in one place. Gamlen visited as well, and looked over Mercy with pity.
"Master Gamlen," Mercy muttered in greeting, automatically bowing as she was expected to when greeting guests. "Please, enter."
"Look at me, girl," Gamlen said, voice tender. She did so and he touched her shoulder gently. She stiffened beneath his hand.
"It's good to have you back." She smiled a little. Then he went inside and she shut the door, waiting beside it for more guests to arrive before reminding herself that this was her house and she had no more guests.
This was her house, not Danarius'. Her house and she could do whatever she wanted to it. Her house and she could invite whoever she liked over, and she could play host. She wasn't merely required to serve and stand behind Hadriana, doing whatever the magister desired. Which was her rightful place.
"This is my house," she murmured. "My house!" She drew in a deep breath and forced her head high, walking straight into the middle of the room despite all her instincts telling her slaves belonged on the sidelines where no one could see them.