Fandom: Dragon Age 2
Characters: Merrill/Isabela/f!Hawke, Bethany Hawke
Spoilers: For endgame of DA2
Notes: Written for the 2016 Wintersend Exchange (a lady-centric fanwork exchange for Dragon Age). This is the first time I've participated, and it was great fun. I need to browse more of the other entries.
Summary: After everything goes to hell in Kirkwall, Isabela whisks away her two girlfriends for a life on the high seas. Merrill and Hawke promise to obey their captain and learn to be good sailors -- a promise that lasts until the first time the ship is boarded.
Also on AO3.
Isabela stood on the edge of the dock, looking up at the forbidding stones of the Gallows for what she dearly hoped was the last time. "All right, that does it: we're getting out of here. All of us." She turned to face her girls: first Merrill, green eyes wide as she surveyed the damage, and then Hawke, whose face was unreadable. "Captain's orders."
Hawke shook her head. "But-- the mansion, I have to get--"
"Hawke." Isabela circled her fingers around Hawke's wrist, finding the bare skin above her gloves, and Hawke started, turning to face her. "Admit it: there's nothing you need in the mansion. Not really."
Her shoulders slumped in a half-sigh. "I suppose not," she murmured. "But-- Mother--"
"Mother would want you to be safe." Bethany stepped out from Hawke's other side and turned to face her sister. "Even if that means leaving all your physical memories behind." She half-smiled. "We did it often enough, before."
Hawke looked at Isabela, then back at Bethany. "I suppose you're right." She glanced at Isabela again. "The ship's ready, then?"
"Has been for weeks," Isabela replied, forcing a lightness into her voice that she didn't really feel. "Just waiting for some passengers." She turned to Merrill. "How about you, kitten? Do you need anything?"
"No," Merrill said. She reached for Isabela's hand, and she took it. "Everything that means anything to me here, is here."
"Good." Isabela raised an eyebrow at Bethany. "How about you, sweetie? Need a lift back to the Grey Wardens?"
"I wish I could join you, but they're expecting me in the mountains," Bethany said. She hugged her sister, who embraced her fiercely in return. "Send word to Ansburg when you settle somewhere?"
"Of course. And thank you."
Isabela gave Bethany a quick hug, then left the sisters alone to make their farewells. If Hawke wasn't on the ship in fifteen minutes, she'd send out a search party. This time, she was getting the hell away from Kirkwall, and she wasn't coming back for anything.
It was the rocking of the sea that woke her -- that, and the susurrus of a whetstone running over a blade, gentle and rhythmic, keeping time with the waves. Merrill opened her eyes, and the wooden beams overhead reminded her that she was on Isabela's ship, sailing fast away from Kirkwall and into a new adventure.
She sat up and stretched her arms overhead, pulling out all of the kinks created by sleeping in a strange bed. Strange, and empty, the covers thrown half-off, suggesting that Hawke had already gotten up. And Isabela-- no, Merrill remembered now that Isabela had gone somewhere else for the night. Something about letting them get accustomed to the new place. And Hawke, at least, had had a very long day.
As she had guessed, Hawke sat on the other side of the room, snuggled into a bench by the cabin window, sharpening her dagger. Merrill spent a few moments just watching, eyes following the rhythmic movements of the whetstone. "Are you doing that on purpose?" she asked.
"Hmm?" Hawke looked up from her work without stopping. "Doing what on purpose?"
"You're sharpening your dagger in time with the rocking of the ship," Merrill said. "I just wondered if you meant to do that, or if it happened without you noticing."
Hawke glanced down at her hands, then smiled. "I didn't even realize," she replied as she set the dagger aside. "So I guess it's the latter."
Merrill pulled herself fully upright, crossed her legs beneath her, and grasped the soles of her feet. "It's a lot to get used to," she said. "Being on a ship, away from land. Away from Kirkwall, and--- everything." She turned her head to look out the porthole by the bunk, peering into the distance, hoping for a glimpse of the shore or the mountains, but nothing was to be seen, not even a distant gray shape. Just the blue of the water, flowing away into the distance.
"It'll come with time." Hawke unfolded herself from the windowsill and sat on the bed next to Merrill, dropping a kiss on her temple. "You hungry? There's a bowl of porridge waiting for you on the table, and I think it's still warm."
"Sounds lovely," Merrill said. But instead of getting up, she put her head down on Hawke shoulder, and Hawke put an arm around her, hugging her close. Food, she decided, could wait, and she lifted her chin for a kiss instead.
An hour later, Isabela popped her head into the cabin to find her girls up and eating breakfast. Merrill looked up from her porridge with a smile. "Good morning," she said.
"Morning, kitten." Isabela kissed her on the forehead, then plopped down in her chair, in front of the plate of eggs she had carried in from the kitchen. "Sleep well?"
"Yes, very." Merrill's voice had a faint air of surprise. "The ship is very relaxing." Hawke only shrugged; Isabela noticed that the whetstone was out, next to an array of blades, more than she should have been able to sharpen in a morning. Still, best not to push. Hawke would talk when she was ready.
So she let it go and ate with them in companionable silence. Once she finished her coffee, she set down her mug with an audible thump, grinning as they both looked up. "All right, you landlubbers," she said, pushing back from the table. "I'm thrilled to have you both here, but here's the facts: I rarely take passengers, and never for long. On my ship, everyone works. We're a tight operation here, and I need everyone to pull their weight." She cracked a smile. "Not that I expect either of you would want to do anything less. But neither of you are sailors, unless there's something you haven't been telling me?"
Isabela raised an eyebrow at Hawke, who shook her head. "The passage from Gwaren to Kirkwall is the longest I've ever been aboard a ship, and we were passengers." She grimaced. "Even that might be too strong of a word. More like cargo. Anyway, we spent most of the voyage in the hold, or on the very small space of deck we were allowed. So I learned nothing about the workings of a ship."
"That sounds like my clan's voyage from Ferelden to Sundermount," said Merrill. "And ours was a rough crossing -- I was sick most of the time." She cast a wistful glance out the porthole. "It's so much nicer today."
"Enjoy it while it lasts," Isabela said. "Winter storms will be along soon enough. Although by then you should be used enough to the motion that you can weather the worst of it."
"I hope so." A note of doubt had crept into Merrill's voice, and Isabela laid a hand on the back of her neck. "Marethari taught me a remedy for the seasickness, but I don't know if I'm qualified make it."
A line of the old grief was settling between Merrill's brows, and Isabela leaned over to kiss it clean. "Put that behind you, kitten. You're on the open sea now, a whole new life in front of you." She stood and gestured toward the porthole. "See the waves, how they're always changing? You'll never see the same one twice. The wind and the water will push you forward. It's good to learn from your mistakes, but don't let them define you." She shook her head. "And the same is true of learning to sail. You will make mistakes, I guarantee it. But at long as you don't set the ship on fire, we'll recover from them, and the crew will forgive you." Hawke chuckled, and Isabela turned a glare on her. "That's not a joke, sweetness; I'm dead serious. Rule number one: don't set the ship on fire. Fire is the biggest danger at sea -- even a small fire can get out of control and sweep through the ship in a matter of minutes."
Hawke nodded. "Yes, ma'am, Captain Isabela, ma'am."
Isabela stared at her for another minute, then let herself smile. "Damn straight. And don't you forget it." She sat down and returned to seriousness. "Girls, some real talk here. I love you both, and I want to make this work. And here, in this cabin, I hope things can be like they were in Kirkwall. But out there, on the deck, with the crew?" She shook her head. "I'm in charge. I have to be in charge. Of the men, and of you. It can't be a joke, or a game. A captain's authority is absolute. If you want to ask questions, or learn the reasoning behind my decisions, you can do that. In here. Not out there. Can you live with that?"
She looked at both of them, but really she was talking to Hawke, and they all knew it. She held Hawke's eyes for a moment, and finally Hawke nodded. "Of course," she said. "I was in the army, remember, so I have some practice taking orders. But thank you for laying out clear rules." A slight twinkle came into her eye. "And if I ever need a reminder, feel free to smack one into me."
Isabela laughed, and planted a fat kiss on Hawke's lips. "Don't tempt me." She stood up again, and indicated that the others should follow her. "All right, crew. Time for a tour. You might want to take notes -- there are lot of special terms to learn."
After finishing the tour, and setting her charges to kitchen duty, Isabela retired back to her cabin to peruse the maps and plan her next move. The ship had picked up a stiff wind out of Kirkwall, and they'd made good time onto the Waking Sea. At the time of departure, Isabela had thought only about putting as much distance between Hawke and that damned shore as possible, but the time had come to pick a destination. She unrolled a chart over her table and, taking a long pull from her mug of ale, settled in to think.
"What's going on?" Isabela looked up to see Hawke leaning against the cabin door, hand propped against the door jamb. "Navigation plans?"
Isabela frowned. "Why aren't you in the kitchen?"
Hawke ducked her head, an actual blush on her cheeks. "Cookie kicked me out," she muttered. "There wasn't room for all three of us in that closet you call a kitchen, and he declared Merrill's potato peeling skills far superior. So..." she shrugged. "Here I am."
"All right." Isabela moved aside, and Hawke stood next to her, leaning over the map. "So, we need a plan. I'm thinking about Rivain -- my best contacts are still based there, and the Chantry has very little influence. It's our best bet for a home base, no question."
"That makes sense," Hawke said.
"It's far, though." Isabela tapped Rialto Bay on the map, then her best guess at their current location. "We'll need to put in for supplies at least once, maybe twice. And I would prefer to work on the way if we can. So..." she shrugged. "We'll have to make it up as we go. Fortunately, I'm good at that."
"Mmm." Hawke shifted behind Isabela and rested her hands on her shoulders. "Have I told you how much I appreciate this? Taking me on board, I mean. It must be terribly inconvenient for you."
Isabela craned her neck around to give her lover a side-long glance. "As though I would have even considered leaving you behind, after all we've been through." Hawke leaned over to touch her cheek; Isabela pulled her into a long kiss instead, wrapping a hand around Hawke's neck, twining fingers into her hair.
Hawke shifted to sit on Isabela's lap, kissing her forehead, her nose, her cheek, and then settled into her neck, mouth soft and warm as she nibbled her way up to Isabela's ear. Isabela made a sound halfway between a chuckle and a moan as she pressed into Hawke's embrace. "Trying to distract me from my work?"
"Aye, Captain," Hawke murmured, nipping at her earlobe. "Is it working?"
"Depends," Isabela said. "Has the deck been swabbed yet?"
Hawke's hand crept up beneath Isabela's skirt, and she gasped. "Seems pretty wet to me." A finger slipped inside, and then another; Isabela closed her eyes and let her head fall back as she rocked into Hawke's hand, Hawke's lips roaming over her neck and her jaw, riding the waves until they broke.
She opened her eyes and sat up, kissing Hawke hard on the mouth. "Good work for the first day, sailor," she purred. She lifted Hawke up to push her back onto the table, shoving the map out of the way. "Now let's have a talk about our next destination."
It didn't take long for life aboard ship to settle into a rhythm that felt in tune with the wind and waves themselves. But even a month later, Hawke still felt out of place among the sailors. Her fingers were deft with locks and knives, but tying a complex knot remained beyond her. She took up too much space in the kitchen, she was useless at fishing or managing the sail, and there were only so many times a day she could mop the deck -- more often literally than figuratively -- sharpen the weapons, and haul cargo around. It was odd for her to feel out of her element, and she didn't like it.
Merrill at least had managed to make herself useful as an assistant to the cook, but she was if anything more awkward around the rest of the crew. "I wish there were more elves here," she had confessed to Hawke, a few days previous as they'd relaxed in the cabin, waiting for Isabela to finish her nightly rounds. "And it's odd, being the only mage. I can feel the crew looking at me from the corner of their eye, sometimes."
"Wait until we get some work," Hawke had said. "They'll see your use and come to appreciate you the first time you get in a fight. It was the same with Bethany, when we worked for Athenril."
"If you say so." Merrill had returned to her knitting, and Hawke to her book, but the conversation lingered in the air, nothing resolved. And now, finally, after one too many days climbing up the mainmast to sit in the crow's nest and watch for nothing, she had to admit the truth: Marian Hawke was bored.
She sighed and leaned her elbows on the railing, resting her chin in her hands. At least it was peaceful up here -- away from the chores on the deck, the eyes of the crew following her every move. She wondered how much they knew about Kirkwall, and if any of them blamed her for what had happened to the Chantry. Merrill wasn't the only one to be getting sidelong glances. On the other hand, it might be worth putting up with it, if she could convince the second mate or the boson to give her something to do. But even if someone did have a task for her, it was likely to be mind-numbingly dull. Which is what she'd climbed up her to avoid in the first place, hoping for something interesting to see. But of course there was nothing, and now she was back where she started.
"You're being bloody ridiculous," she muttered to herself. "After all those years of the entire city of Kirkwall dogging at your heels, can't you just take a break and enjoy the quiet?" But even as she said the words, she knew the answer was no -- she had always thrived on activity, and idleness didn't suit her at all.
If only she could manufacture some excitement, like imagining that those sails on the horizon belonged to another pirate crew that would attack the ship and try to board it. But no -- she recognized the sail shape and the flag, thanks to the many hours Isabela had spent drilling them on ways to identify other ships. Even from this distance, she could tell this was a merchant ship, Fereldan by its banner and rigging.
She paused at the thought, pictured all the variations Isabela had described. No, that wasn't right -- the rigging didn't match the banner. The banner was Fereldan, but-- She lifted the spyglass to her eye and took a closer look at the sails. "No," she said aloud. "That rigging is Free Marches style. Ostwick-- or is it Starkhaven?" She lowered the spyglass. Whichever it was, someone was going to some trouble to disguise their origins. And they were sailing straight for Isabela's ship. Were they targeting the ship? The cargo? Or.... was it her? A poorly disguised ship from Starkhaven could be under orders from Sebastian to track her down.
She tucked the spyglass into her belt and shimmied down the mast, dropping to the deck in a matter of seconds. "Hey!" she called out to the nearest sailor, who sat on a box, coiling some rope. "Do you see that ship? Should we call the captain?"
"Let me see," he said, reaching out for her spyglass. He peered through it, then handed it back to her with a shake of his head. "Hard to say whether it's trouble. But we should at least make sure she knows."
"Thanks." Hawke returned the spyglass to her belt. "Do you know where she is?"
"Cabin," he replied, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. He returned to his rope as she left, his eyes still on the horizon.
Hawke crossed the deck, hopped up the ladder, and opened the cabin door. Isabela was poring over the map with her first mate, Stanyan, and they both looked up as she entered. "Hawke? What is it?"
"There's a ship approaching, and quickly. It might be nothing." Hawke spread her arms. "Or it might not."
Isabela nodded, and grabbed a spyglass in one hand, a sword with the other. "I'll look. You wait here. Stanyan, with me."
"Wait here?" Hawke crossed her arms and stared incredulously at Isabela who was already halfway out the door. "We might be looking at a fight. For the first time since leaving Kirkwall, there's a possible call for my actual skills, and you want me to sit out?"
Isabela braced herself in the door and turned around to look at her. "Of course not, if it actually comes to a fight. But I'd rather not fight if it's not necessary. And face it, Hawke, you're more of a wanted criminal than I am right now, which is saying something. Best for you to stay out of sight until we know for sure what we're dealing with."
Hawke's fingers twitched into fists, but she couldn't deny the sense of Isabela's plan. So she nodded, once, and Isabela blew her a kiss before darting out of the cabin, closing the door behind her. As the bolt clicked shut, Hawke fell into the nearest chair with a heavy sigh, kicking her feet out in front of her. Was it wrong to hope for a simple pirate attack to liven up her week?
She lasted three minutes before grabbing her daggers and jumping into the window seat. The ship wasn't visible from that side, so she moved to the smaller porthole and pressed her nose to the glass. There it was, bobbing on the horizon, mabari banner snapping in the wind. Closer every minute -- they must have caught a fast breeze, to catch up this quickly. At that, Hawke made up her mind -- there was no way she could just sit her and await her possible doom, and that of everyone on the ship. She had to do something
Kneeling on the floor, she pulled the handle that lifted the trapdoor into the kitchen, and swung her legs over the ladder, then descended, closing the door behind her. The kitchen was empty, and she dropped off the ladder to the wooden floor.
Not quite empty, then -- Hawke turned around to see Merrill, emerging from the larder, brushing dirt off her hands. "Hawke?" she said again. "What's happening? Why aren't you on watch?"
"There's a ship approaching us," Hawke replied. "Might be nothing, but the banner doesn't match the rigging. Isabela asked me to wait upstairs while things get sorted, but..."
She grimaced, and Merrill laughed, then finished the thought. "No, you aren't so good at waiting. Well, I'll come not-wait with you, then. Peeling the rest of the potatoes can wait." She glanced around the kitchen with a frown. "Hmm, I've left my staff in the cabin."
Hawke unsheathed her right blade, reveling in the sliding sound of metal on leather. "I'll make sure you're fine without it."
Merrill smiled, but she still pulled a knife from the cutting block and tucked it under her belt. "All right. Where do you want to set up watch? If they board, do you think it will be head on, through the main deck, or from somewhere else?"
"I've no idea," Hawke replied. "But I have to imagine that Isabela and her men have the deck covered. Maybe we should keep an eye on the hold. Then Isabela can't say that I disobeyed her orders to stay out of sight."
"True enough." Merrill headed back through the larder door. "There are stairs to the hold through here, so-- oh!" She jumped back, away from the large Qunari who filled the doorway, an axe in each hand.
"Get behind me!" Hawke shouted, pulling her second dagger as she sprung forward and slashed with the first. The intruder parried her attack, then slashed out with one of his own. Hawke ducked beneath his swing while raising her left hand up, smacking him in the stomach with the pommel. He staggered back, wheezing. "Qunari? What are you doing here?"
"Not Qunari," he snarled, whipping out with a fist that Hawke only barely dodged. "Only fools and children follow the Qun!"
"You're mercenaries, then?" Hawke raised her eyebrows as she darted away from him yet again as she danced around the table in the middle of the kitchen. "Sebastian Vael is sending mercenaries to do his dirty work?"
"Who?" The Tal-Vashoth swung downward, hard, and this time the head of an axe connected, fortunately a glancing blow off Hawke's armor. His movements were slowing, an effect that Hawke immediately recognized as one of Merrill's spells.
She ducked again, and this time she kicked out with her left foot, connecting his kneecap. He went down, cursing in Qunlat, and she smashed the pommel of a dagger into his head as he fell. He landed flat on his back, unconscious, and Hawke stripped him of his weapons before turning to Merrill.
"So, Sebastian didn't send them" she said. "I guess they're just pirates."
"Just pirates," Merrill echoed, a note of uncertainty in her voice.
Hawke shrugged. "Well, we're pirates, too. Might as well get used to it. C'mon, let's get down to the hold and help deal with the rest."
As the words left her mouth, another group of pirates burst through the door, three of them, one elf woman and two human men. Before Hawke could leap into the fray, Merrill lifted her hands and let out an unearthly cry. A jet of flame burst from her palms to engulf the trio. The force of the fire knocked them all over, two of them stumbling back into the larder and the third leaping forward to knock over the table. Hawke dodged a flying bowl, then lunged into the fallen man, stabbing him neatly in the side. He howled in pain and held up a hand. "I surrender!"
"Good." Hawke rolled him over and put a knee in the middle of his back, pulling a thong out of her pack. But before she could tie his hands, she stopped dead and took a deep breath. Smoke? Was that...
She whipped her head around and jumped up with a gasp at the sight of flames licking up the side of the door frame, Merrill beating at the fire with a dishtowel. "Help!" she gasped. "I can't call it back!"
"Hold on." Hawke looked frantically around the kitchen for a source of water, and her eyes fell on the her old friend the mop bucket, sitting full in the corner. She pulled out the mop and flung it to the floor, then hoisted the bucket to her shoulder. "Coming through!" She leaped over the Qunari sprawled on the floor and tossed the entire contents of the bucket over the door frame--
And onto a spluttering Isabela, who picked that exact moment to emerge from the larder.
It hadn't taken Isabela long to realize that the badly-rigged ship was a feint to distract her crew from the badly-disguised rowboats that contained the real boarding party. So she'd left a token force on the deck and led the rest into the hold to engage the invaders. But at the first smell of smoke, she shouted "Fire!", kicked her current assailant into a pile of crates, and took off running up the larder stairs and straight into a deluge of dirty water.
She pushed the wet hair back from her forehead and wiped the water out of her eyes. "Andraste's granny panties! What is going on?"
Hawke set down the bucket; Merrill covered her mouth and moved deftly behind Hawke. Isabela noted two burned bodies at her feet, an unconscious Tal-Vashoth on the kitchen floor, and one wounded man creeping to his feet by the shattered remains of the table. Isabela cocked her head to the side; Wilson, one of the two crewmen who had followed her, bilge buckets in hand, set down the bucket and bolted into the kitchen to tackle the would-be runaway. He then wrestled the man to his feet and pulled him out of the room onto the deck.
The other crewman melted back down the stairs, leaving Isabela to her own miscreants. She crossed her arms and scowled at them, hard.
"One thing," she said. "I asked you to do one thing. And can either of you remember what that was?"
Merrill and Hawke exchanged a swift glance. "Don't set the ship on fire," they said, starting in unison but breaking into hesitation toward the end.
Isabela nodded. "And?"
Merrill lowered her eyes, guilty. "It was my fault. I thought I could keep the spell under control."
Hawke straightened her shoulders, a spark of indignation coming into her eyes. "It was just a little fire," she said. "We put it out before it could do any damage, right? And it took care of things." She gestured to the two dead pirates on the floor of the larder. "Maybe it's not ideal, but it all worked out. Right?"
Isabela stared hard at her, tried to keep her face forbidding, but she could already feel a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. She sighed. "It worked out this time. Next time, it might not. So no more fire magic aboard ship, all right? Or lightning either," she added. "You might strike the sails."
Merrill nodded. "Spirit magic only," she said. "And perhaps I can figure out some way to tap into the ocean water. There's no trees around here, and the dirt is too far away, but many plants live in the ocean. I will have to study, and practice."
"You do that." Isabela let out a breath of relief. "And to make everyone's life easier, I won't even ask why you" -- she pointed at Hawke -- "didn't stay in the cabin like I ordered you to."
Hawke reached out and took the outstretch finger in her hand, then grinned. "Next time," she said. "I promise."
Isabela shook her head and laughed. "I'll believe it when I see it." She opened her arms, and Hawke and Merrill came into them for a quick group hug. It would take some time to figure all this out, she was sure, but at least life on board would never be dull.
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