So I’m still in early planning stages for the next installment of the Hawkquisition series, but a week ago an idea for a scene that simply must occur sometime in that storyline struck me so strongly that I wanted to get it written out while it was yet fresh. Being wary of spoilers, I’ll just mention that part 5 will involve Varania, and at some point they’ll end up in Tevinter because…ah wait, the rest is spoilery (if you haven’t read Warriors Such As yet or don’t know who Metis actually is…) so here is a cut!
Yes, so, I wanted a chance for Metis to visit Mara’s grave – his wife, who along with Varania was sold into slavery separately from him while also pregnant with Leto. I like happy endings, you know, but there’s no way around the fact that Varania’s mother died before she reunited however briefly with Fenris in DA2, and that Metis hadn’t found any of his lost family by that point, so it will always be too late for him to find Mara again while she’s alive.
So we’re visiting her grave, because I wanted to give him a chance at closure.
This is a rough draft that will probably end up reworked to some extent once there’s a longfic to fit it into, but it made me cry and so I must share it now as is. 🙂 I would love to hear your thoughts on it!
“This is it?” Metis asked, glancing around at the small
collection of monuments outside the city limits. It wasn’t the Grand Cemetery
where the magisters buried their generations of too-powerful ancestors, but
even here the mausolea loomed to impress over their heads.
A snort of derision drew his attention back to Varania at
his side. “None of those. Did you think we could have afforded such nonsense?”
“I didn’t mean –” He looked back at one of the tombs,
shaped in concentric layers like an elaborate cake. The scrolls carved along
its edges resembled frosting as well. Perhaps it was the tomb of a particularly
well-off baker. “They are rather ridiculous, aren’t they?” he mused.
“This way,” Varania said, tugging him along by his elbow. He
followed his daughter to a doorway set into a building like the standing tombs
around them, but starkly plain in contrast. No filigreed carvings nor
ostentatious etched runes decorated its surface. Beside the door, a single
torch waited, unlit. Varania gestured and brought its flame to life. Metis
allowed himself a faint smile of pride in her magic, since she wasn’t looking.
Varania took the torch and led him down into the darkness.
It was as simple below as it was above, but it was vast. The
underground chamber stretched ahead of them and to both sides of the stairwell,
vanishing into darkness. He followed her, silent as their barefoot steps on the
dusty path, glancing aside to see the niches in the walls, one after another
till he lost count. Low as the passageway was, he counted six rows stacked from
floor to ceiling, the niches open and empty this near the entryway. As they
walked deeper into the catacomb, they passed more and more bricked-up niches,
with plaques bearing simple inscriptions. Nothing like the rows of letters
carved on the tombs aboveground. Surely, he thought, there was more to say of
each life gathered here than such small words could bear.
And then Varania was stopping, running her fingers over one
plaque low to the ground, kneeling to read it by the torchlight. “Here it is,”
she said after a moment, her voice catching. “Mother.”
He knelt beside her, brushing a finger over the roughly
carved plaque. Terracotta – they’d been able to afford something more permanent
than the wooden plaques he saw on some of the spaces, at least. Nothing down
here was marked with metal. In the flickering light he made out the words:
VARANIA F. FEC.
LIBERTAS VERA TE NUNC
“I thought I would join her here before long,” Varania said
after a moment, indicating an empty niche just beside Mara’s bricks. “I made
payments on that one. For the last of us.” She met his gaze, briefly, and he
wondered if in the torchlight his green eyes looked as golden as hers did now.
Probably. “When she died, I was the last of us, I thought,” Varania explained.
“I know,” he murmured, and for a moment her eyes narrowed.
Anger? He wouldn’t blame her. She had lost her father when she was barely old
enough to speak in full sentences, her brother to a bid for freedom that had
turned sour for them both. But he did
know. He had thought them all lost since the day the slavers came to Seheron.
Finding one another again after the decades had softened the memories was like
reopening old wounds, and all the more so, he guessed, for his little girl, no
longer so little.
She frowned, but before she could speak he asked, “Varania.
Give me a moment alone with her?”
“There’s only one torch,” she pointed out.
“There’s only one path,” he said, his mouth quirking into
half a smile. “I will find the stairs again when I am ready. Please. It has
been –” His breath caught as the numbers, the memories, rushed in on him. “It
has been years. There were things I…hoped to say to her, if I ever found her
again. Even if it’s too late, I still…” He swallowed. “I must.”
After a moment she nodded, but she did not immediately
depart. Shifting nearer to the wall, she bowed her head, resting her forehead
against the bricks, and in the flickering light he thought he saw her lips move
briefly. Then, raising her head, she gathered herself along with the torch,
nodded to him again, and stepped past him to make her way back down the
He watched her light until it disappeared, waited several
minutes more, carefully removing his spectacles and tucking them into a pocket
of his robe. Then in the devouring darkness Metis bowed his head too, not to
the bricks but all the way to the packed earth beneath his knees, and he wept.
Tears flowed till the ground became muddied with them, and he wept on, a flood
against the tide wall of his heart, dissolving barriers long erected against
the loneliness of his first years of slavery. It had not been safe to miss them as he did at first, so
he’d learned to be content with the happy memories. Memories of his young
family were precious things to be treasured like the odd little collection of
seeds and fruit-pits Varania had insisted on gathering when she was two as if
they were priceless gems, and cheerful memories of just that sort had been all he had allowed himself, content that Mara
and Varania, whether they had survived the raid to be sold as he was or not,
had existed once upon a time, his stars and his sun.
He had not let himself dream that he might ever see them
again, and by the time he had looked for them…it was too late. Bricks and a
plaque were all that was left of his wife, and a brittle, bitter liberati mage had replaced his imperious
and imaginative little girl. She spoke little of what they had gone through,
either before or after Fenris won their freedom against her wishes. His
imagination was all too helpful to fill in the gaps.
However long he wept there, at last the tears trickled to a
stop. With a hiccup he sat up again, drying his eyes with the back of his hand
and then resting a palm against the plaque. “Mara,” he said quietly, and then,
braver, “Mara. I’ve missed you so. And now…now, I miss you even more.”
His eyes stung with tears again, narrowing his throat. When
he had blinked them back, he took a breath and began again. “I am so sorry, my
love, that I return to you so late. That I was not there for you through all
those years. My proud, brave Mara; to think of your head bowed in servitude,
your bright spirit broken…” He swallowed and shook his head. “I couldn’t. I
never could imagine you a slave, even when it was clear the raiders had taken
you. You must have adapted, as did I, but in my memory you were always that
bold girl who would not let anyone else make a decision for her. And do you
know, Mara,” he smiled faintly, shifting from his knees to sit up against the
wall, leaning a shoulder to the plaque and his cheek to the bricks, “that was
the memory that carried me all those years. It’s funny, now, but those few
years we had together stand out more vividly to me than all the decades of
slavery and freedom that followed. You carried me, you know. Just thinking of
you, of the way things were before the raid, you kept me sane through the worst
years.” He closed his eyes with a sigh. “Perhaps I did the same for you. That
would be nice. Oh, but I wish I’d been with you, in person. And the children.
All these years I didn’t even know Varania had a brother, but suddenly, Maker,
here he is, all grown up. And here she is too, barely resembling the little
girl I remembered. Oh, Mara. All alone you had to raise them both. I should
have been there; I’m so sorry I wasn’t.”
Again he shifted, resting a hand against the bricks. “But
here I am now. It doesn’t change the past, but I promise you, I’ll look out for
them now. For Fenris, who doesn’t even remember you – and I think he can’t
hardly be the same Leto you knew him as, or at least Varania thinks not – I
shall give him what I can of my memories. He takes after you, you know, your
pride and your cleverness. As does Varania. I think she cannot have always been
this bitter – she lost so much, her father, her brother, her mother, even the
security of her master’s house – but she always was this stubborn.” He chuckled and then winced at a thought: “They
must have been impossible, raising two such bull-headed children at once. Even now
they bicker like –” He shook his head. “Well. There is trust growing there
again. I shall tend it as best I can. They’re strong, Mara, and they do you
credit despite all they’ve suffered.” He smiled then, straightening to face the
bricked niche. “Thank you. You were the brightest dream of my heart, Mara, and
more than I ever deserved. I will look after our children now, dearest. Rest
He pressed a final kiss to the wall with a whisper of, “And
now, in aeternum, cor meum, ave atque
vale.” Then, rising slowly and pausing to stretch joints weary from his
vigil, he turned to retrace his steps down the dark passage and out into the
light where Varania awaited.
VARANIA F. FEC.
LIBERTAS VERA TE NUNC
daughter, made this for her dearest mother, Mara. True freedom holds you now.”
in aeternum, cor meum,
ave atque vale
“Forever, my heart, hail and farewell.” (with apologies and deep debt to Catullus)