Leandra Hawke smiled as she watched her daughter, Bethany, remembering fondly the days when she had been a little girl, practicing spells in the woods with her father and sister. She was a grown woman now, though, and she couldn't help but think how much like her she'd grown up to be despite not being a mage, herself. Bethany laughed joyfully as she sat in the lap of her sweetheart – a knight from Highever she and her sister had found clinging to the last threads of life not too far away from their secluded home just outside of the village of Lothering – and Leandra couldn't help but wish that perhaps her child would end up having a happy life in spite of her talents. Roland hadn't seemed to mind learning about the magic that ran in their family, and was actually grateful when he awoke as a direct result of her daughter's spells healing his wounds and returning his lost strength.
"I really think we should consider leaving, Mother."
Leandra turned her attention away from the tender scene and focused upon the older of her two daughters, Adeline. Unlike her younger sister, Adeline had taken almost completely after her late father. She was also blessed with Malcolm's magic, but unlike Bethany did not take after her own looks. Her hair was the same shade of rich, dark mahogany as Malcom's had been when they first met while he was posing as a mere mercenary back in Kirkwall, and she had his eyes – moreso than her sister, whose were the same color but lacked the mischievous sparkle Leandra had fallen so in love with while she and Malcolm were secretly courting.
"We'll be safe here," Leandra insisted, then turned her attention back to Bethany and her beau with a soft sigh. "When are you going to settle down and start a family?"
Adeline groaned at the question. Ever since she had reached her twenty-first year, it had been the same thing, time and again. Her mother simply didn't seem to understand that it was far from simple, though. She couldn't just go into town and grab the first eligible man by the arm, drag him to the chantry, and have the Revered Mother marry them. She doubted her mother even realized how hard it would be for Bethany to marry her new sweetheart if they should decide to one day make that commitment. Odd, considering their father had been an apostate, as well.
"Mother, please..." Adeline quietly begged, putting another small log into the fireplace with a shake of her head. "You know I can't just leave you and Bethany here alone to fend for yourselves. Father made me promise to watch after you."
"Your sister is grown, Adeline," Leandra reminded her eldest child. "Besides, we have Roland to look after us, now."
"Only because you got lucky he didn't turn us in," Adeline muttered under her breath.
Bringing the soldier home with them had been Bethany's idea. She had hated to seem like a heartless bitch, but she was content to merely heal him up as best they could and then leave him where they had found him in the woods. She and her sister were both apostates – mages practicing their spells without being under the Chantry's supervision – and he would have been lawfully within the right to turn them in. Bethany had been adamant they take him home to make sure he was going to be all right, though. He had 'a kind face,' and she was certain he would never turn them in. Thankfully, her instincts had been right on that one.
"Whatever happened to that handsome young man I used to see you in town with?" her mother pressed. "What was his name again? Byron?"
"Bryant," Adeline corrected. "And it's Ser Bryant, now, Mother. He became a templar."
"Did he?" Leandra mused, pouting a little. "Such a shame. You were quite taken with him, as I recall."
Adeline cleared her throat uncomfortably as she stood from her place in front of the fire, satisfied that it was back to burning at full strength. Soon she would need to start preparations for supper, since Bethany was too wrapped up in her ginger-haired sweetheart to be bothered with the cooking.
A wistful sigh escaped her lips as she watched her sister giggle and kiss Roland once more. Years ago, that giddy girl had been her. She'd fallen in love with a young man she met in town while selling goods at the market with her father and brother. Things had begun innocently enough, with some flirting and compliments being given both ways. Then they had begun meeting each other at the tavern to talk over drinks and small meals. One thing led to another, and eventually they were stealing away to old man Barlin's storage shed to go at it like a couple of rabbits. Then, one day, he told her he would be leaving for Denerim. She had been all smiles, at first, thinking he was about to propose she join him, but then he explained he had decided to become a servant of the Maker and protect the innocent from the evils of magic. Her heart had fallen at those words. She'd been hiding her true nature from him since the very beginning, but a part of her had hoped that he cared about her enough that it wouldn't be an issue once she decided to tell him.
That incident had colored her perception of love – and men, in general. It was the very reason why she'd protested to Bethany wanting to bring Roland home like some sort of stray mabari pup. She didn't want to have them end up being captured and leave their mother all alone to fend for herself, but just as much she didn't want her little sister to have to endure the same heartbreak she had. She was glad things had worked out for the best, at least for Bethany's sake... but if it meant her mother would now be endlessly goading her to find a husband then perhaps leaving Roland in the woods would have been the better option, after all.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the front door suddenly being thrown open with such force it bounced back against the inside wall of the cabin, and immediately she took a defensive stance in front of where her mother was sitting. To her surprise, she found Roland in a similar stance next to her, shielding Bethany. Her panic soon died down, however, when she realized the intruder's identity.
"Maker's breath... Carver?"
Adeline heard the shock in her mother's voice when she recognized the boy, now a grown man. The last time any of them had seen him had been three years prior, when he suddenly ran away from home a few scant months following their father's death. Now he was taller, more muscular, and his dark hair was a bit longer and fell into his bright blue eyes... but he was still very much the brother Adeline remembered.
"Carver!" Bethany jumped from her seat and rushed to her brother, throwing herself at him and enveloping him in a tight hug. "You're home!"
"Not for long," Carver informed them, gently pushing his twin away with a slight frown. "We need to go."
"That's what I've been saying!" Adeline remarked, crossing her arms over her chest and looking to their mother, who had been ignoring her insistence they leave all day.
"Why should we?" Leandra asked defiantly, looking back and forth between her two eldest children.
"Didn't you hear what Bethany said yesterday, Mother?" Adeline replied, gesturing toward her sister with one hand. "Everyone in Lothering is evacuating."
"And the darkspawn are advancing in this direction," Carver added. "It will be only a matter of another day or two – if that – before they arrive and destroy the town."
"How do you know that?" Adeline wondered.
"I joined the King's Army," Carver informed her, holding his head up proudly. "I was in the battle at Ostagar, and I saw the devastation being caused by the horde first-hand."
Bethany returned to hugging him. "It's a miracle you survived. We heard what happened to the king."
"The Grey Wardens, too," Carver added. "All gone. Without them... the horde will just keep advancing. They may not be here yet, but Lothering is already lost. If we don't leave now, we'll end up dead – or worse."
"Worse?" Roland wondered, his fair complexion paling further. He had informed the family of his original intentions to join the Wardens upon reaching Ostagar, and while those plans had now changed it seemed he would be having second thoughts even if it wasn't for his budding relationship with Bethany.
"I saw some of the other soldiers being dragged off the field – still alive," Carver said, closing his blue eyes as an involuntary shudder ran through his body. "Their screams... I can only imagine what the darkspawn were going to do to them."
"Well, we can stand here and wonder about the fates of those poor men, or we can pack whatever we're able to carry and start running," Adeline concluded, turning to her mother. If she was determined to remain in Lothering, then Adeline would stay with her and do her best to protect her. She would make sure Bethany and Roland went, though.
"I don't see we have a choice," Leandra finally acquiesced, rising from her seat and going to the room she and her husband once shared.
"Bethany, pack some of the food we have stored for winter to take with us on the journey, as well as some warm clothes and a blanket or two. Roland, Carver, see if you can find any decent weapons with Father's old things in case we end up having to fight against some of those creatures out there."
"I'm sorry, but who is this?" Carver protested, gesturing toward the other man.
"You sister's new beau," Adeline informed him before she began moving around their small home to pack additional provisions and as many potions as she could find.
"Roland Gilmore," he introduced himself, holding out his hand. Carver stared at it for a moment, then shook the other man's hand just to be polite. Roland smiled, even though Carver was still glaring at him.
"Your family has been very kind to me."
"Have they?" Carver asked, turning to look over his shoulder at Adeline accusingly.
"Don't look at me like that. It wasn't my idea to bring him home."
"Be nice, Carver!" Bethany admonished her brother, slapping him in the shoulder. "Roland is a good man, and he's perfectly fine with my being an apostate."
"You told him?" Carver practically yelled, his attention still focused upon his elder sister.
"Again, you're getting angry at the wrong sister," Adeline corrected him. "Either way, though, can we please save all the yelling at one another for later? Say, perhaps, until after we've escaped the darkspawn?"
"She's right, Carver," Bethany told him, leaning up a bit to kiss his cheek. "We can all discuss this later."
"Of course she's right," Carver grumbled as he and Roland made their way to the cupboard where Malcolm had kept his weapons. "She's always bloody right."
Adeline ignored her brother's attitude and continued with her own part of their preparations, making sure to remind Bethany not to forget her grimoire. She made sure to pack some bandaged and antivenom in addition to the healing potions she had, knowing that even though her sister was a competent healer she still had her limits and that it would be unwise to even dare push her toward them since they would all need to be at their full strength in order to survive the journey to safety.
"Adeline, dear," her mother addressed her, and she turned to find her holding out her father's old staff toward her.
"I didn't forget it, Mother, I just hadn't gotten that far, yet," Adeline remarked upon seeing the reproachful look on the older woman's face. Leandra gave a small nod and handed over the staff, which Adeline set next to the pack she was fixing and then returned to her work with a sigh.
Her father had entrusted his staff to her on his death bed as a way of passing the torch on to his eldest child. How her mother could ever think she would have forgotten something as important as that was beyond her. The gnarled old piece of wood had seen better days, but it was a symbol not only of Malcom Hawke's power as a mage but also of his role as the head of their family. Seeing Adeline take up both mantles had been his dying wish, and she would sooner die than disrespect his memory by leaving that old staff behind.
"Are we ready?" she finally asked the others once she was satisfied that she had packed as much as she was able to carry without slowing them down any.
Grabbing up her father's staff from where she had rested it, she turned back to the rest of her family. Carver and Roland had both outfitted themselves with some of Malcolm's light armor, and Roland had taken up a sword and shield while Carver seemed to have claimed the largest, heaviest greatsword he could find. Adeline rolled her eyes at her brother and turned her attention to her mother and sister. Bethany was fussing over Leandra, who was insisting she wasn't a frail old woman and was perfectly capable of carrying one of the heavier packs of provisions Bethany had put together. After a few more weak protests, Bethany finally gave in and allowed their mother to help her with carrying the things she had packed, and the two of them finally turned to face Adeline – who had apparently been elected the leader of their exodus from Lothering at some point without her knowledge.
"Let's get going," Adeline said to them before heading to the door of the small house. "Hopefully we can make good time and find a safe place to camp by nightfall."
She held the door and allowed the others to precede her outside, then took one final look back at the home she and her family had been living in for the past several years. Memories both good and bad filled her mind, and she suddenly felt a sharp pang in her heart as she realized she would likely never return to the place where she had always felt safe and secure. Feeling the sting of tears at the backs of her eyes, she closed them and took a slow, deep breath to calm herself. Then, once she had pushed back her emotions, she joined the others as they set off on their journey away from the oncoming darkspawn horde.
Adeline yelled the warning a scant second before sending a bolt of lightning from the end of her staff straight into the chest of the darkspawn that had attempted to sneak up on Roland while he was busy fighting off two of its fellows. Luckily, he was a well-trained warrior with good reflexes and managed to duck in time to avoid being hit by the magical projectile, and as he rose from his slightly crouched position he pummeled one of the darkspawn in front of him with his shield while bringing his sword up in a sharp arc which cleanly severed the head from the second one's neck. A well-placed fireball from Adeline finished off the dazed creature, and Roland turned to her and gave her a brief nod in acknowledgment for her assistance before rushing over to where Carver was busy fighting four more darkspawn on his own.
With a bit of a grumble, Adeline helped her brother and Roland with the last four of what had originally been about a dozen of the wretched things, cursing herself for allowing Carver to take on the role of navigator for them. Instead of leading them to safety, he'd managed to get them turned around and they had wandered straight into a camp full of darkspawn. The majority of them had attacked their group on sight, but Adeline had also noticed a couple of them run off and she knew it would only be a matter of time before they returned with reinforcements. Normally, she would welcome the opportunity to put her skills to good use for once, but she feared for the well-being of her mother and sister. Bethany, while an extremely talented healer, had hardly any aptitude for offensive spells. The entirety of their skirmish with the darkspawn, she had merely been standing protectively in front of their mother and casting shields and spells to help boost the strength of her lover and her twin.
"Now do you see why I said we should leave?" Carver remarked to his mother as he and Roland rejoined the three women of the Hawke family, and Adeline glared at him in warning. He might have forgotten how important their home was to their mother, but she certainly hadn't.
"Maker save us," Leandra sighed, wearily placing a hand to her brow, "we've lost it all. Everything your father and I built..."
"I know how much Lothering meant to you, Mother," Adeline attempted to comfort her, placing a hand on her shoulder. "But we have to move on, before more of them come."
She wished she could give her mother the time she needed to grieve the loss of their home and their lives as they knew them, but she was also acutely aware of the danger they were in by standing around as they were in the open.
"We should have run sooner!" Bethany lamented, rubbing their mother's back. "Why did we wait so long?"
"Don't look at me!" Carver protested, throwing up his hands in exasperation. "I've been running since Ostagar!"
"It's my fault," Leandra spoke up, attempting to head off an argument. "I should have listened to your sister. She wanted us to leave as soon as Bethany came home with news of the town evacuating, but I was just so tired of running that I didn't want to leave behind what we had."
"Mother," Adeline said, then waited until her mother looked at her before continuing. "I know you and Father suffered just as much as we did for all the constant moving around when we were children, but I also know that Father only had us move as much as we did because he was trying to protect all of us. It's hard for me, too, to leave behind the home where we had finally been able to settle down and live a fairly normal life, but... Father would want us to run."
Leandra nodded and opened her mouth to speak, but her voice was cut off by a loud shrieking coming from up the road. The five of them turned and found another group of darkspawn gathered at the crest of a small hill nearby, preparing to charge at them. Adeline and Carver both reached for their weapons, but Roland held up a hand to stop them.
"Go," he quietly ordered, drawing his sword. "I'll keep them busy while you four get away."
"Roland, no!" Bethany protested, clutching his shield arm. He turned to her and kissed her briefly, then gave her a sad smile.
"I love you, Bethany," he told her, his voice barely audible over the additional shrieks coming from the darkspawn. "Get your family to safety, and I'll catch up as soon as I've dealt with these monsters."
"You better," Bethany replied, then kissed him once more before releasing him.
Adeline watched Roland run off toward the darkspawn even as the group began to charge down the hill, and they met halfway with the sounds of metal on metal and flesh being rended by steel. She then looked to Bethany and found her younger sister staring after him with tears in her eyes, and she felt guilty because she was sure the girl knew that she had likely just shared her final goodbye with the man she had come to care about.
"Come along, Bethany," she told her sister, keeping the tone of her voice as light and sympathetic as possible. "Don't let his valiant act be in vain."
Bethany nodded silently and continued to stare at Roland fighting against the group of several darkspawn on his own, then she turned and started to slowly walk away. Adeline placed a hand at her elbow and urged her to move at a faster pace, and soon the members of the Hawke family were running as fast as they could away from the battle and toward what they hoped would be a far safer part of the outskirts of the Kocari Wilds.