The Joy of Everything Else
‘I am sceptical about the possibility that any mage could successfully confine a demon using nothing more than his will. But it is hard not to be happy about the work.’
Sometimes my father is very boring. I tell him so.
He is startled. ‘You asked me to talk. What should I say?’
‘Tell me a story instead.’
‘I cannot remember any stories.'
‘You could make a story for me. Mama used to—’
‘Garrett met a dragon once,’ my father says harshly. ‘He brought its amulet to a mountain and came back with a Dalish, and they lived happily in a place with no evil and had seventeen healthy children with black hair in braids.’
My father is often harsh. ‘Did you meet the dragon, too? Did the dragon live on the mountain? Did you eat it? What is a Dalish?’
‘No, I— I am no good at this. I am sorry.’
'How can a place have no evil? That is saying a place has something of nothing. Even in this language that cannot be correct. A place without evil is more right.’
My father’s forehead wrinkles very deeply. He rubs his eyes with both hands. My father is good at many things. He can be terrifying and focused, and I have seen him kill many people all at once, and when we were nearly caught he put his hand inside a man’s head and took out his brain. I like asking him to do things he is not good at, because when he looks helpless, I can be a little less afraid of him. I asked him to make all the paintings in the grand hall straight again, and he tried for three days, drawing lines on the walls and using string and nails, but he could not make them straight. He was so angry he fell off the chair, then destroyed the chair. When I see the white places on the walls where the paintings used to be, I feel like my chest should burst with happiness.
'Garrett has a dog,’ my father tells me. ‘It is a mabari, who lived in Tevinter. The mabari is large and strong, and you are so small you could sleep on his back as he runs and you would not wake or fall.’
‘And then mabari ran from Tevinter like we did and found a better master.’
'Garrett is not— Hawke. No. I mean. There are no magisters here.’ My father yawns. ‘The mabari has a name.’
‘Oh. But what is it? Father!’ His eyes are closed. ‘Father, what is mabari’s name?’
‘His name is Drum. Please, I am very tired. I need to sleep.’
My father gives me the pillow every night. The first night we slept here, he made a blanket into a rope and put it down the middle of the bed, so we could each own a part of the bed. But I still missed my cousins, so the first night I put my foot on his side of the bed. The night after I put my hand across, then my other hand, and my knee, and my hip, and now he does not push me away at all and I put my legs on top of his legs.
Sometimes I think we could share the pillow, and I could wake up with his face very close to mine and I would forget to miss everyone we had to leave behind.
‘You could even buy this place and do it up properly,’ the magister begins.
My father shifts his feet and looks unhappy. The magister refers to my father by name, and does not reprimand him for meeting his eye. He insists my father call him Garrett, and though my father continues to call him Hawke to his face, the magister is never displeased.
My father only calls him Garrett when telling his stories. My father has known the magister for months, and sometimes corrects himself when he realises he has said Garrett instead of Hawke, and forgets his place in the telling, repeating himself or leaping ahead. My father is an awful storyteller.
I find the names, having two names distracting, but also touching. When the stories begin with Garrett , I know the story will always fall apart and I look forward to it.
‘You would be exactly the right kind of useful to have along,’ the magister tries. ‘I need you.’
My father raises his eyes, and from where I hide on the stair, I can see he finds this concept appealing. I remember the praise our old master always gave my father for his prowess. My father was not allowed to be with us often, but Mama told us how much Fenris enjoyed immersing himself in the fight, to be powerful and true in the way he was made to be, because our old magister needed him so much.
How does Garrett Hawke already know this about my father?
‘I am feeling manipulated,’ my father says.
‘I’m trying to manipulate you, that’s why.’
‘If I go with you, will this pay off my debt to you?’
‘Fenris.’ Now the magister folds his arms, mocking. ‘We’re past that, aren’t we? Saved each other’s lives, comrades in arms, shared Corff’s rotgut, won silvers from each other’s pouches. I’m asking you first, because. Well. Anyone else at my back would be second choice. We work well together. You can choose who else you want to come along. I—honestly thought you’d want to come.’
'I did not mean to offend. If I have a choice, I still decline.’
‘You didn’t offend,’ the magister says slowly. ‘I’m just surprised. You’ve always been eager for any opportunity at easy money or a good fight, even though it’s unlikely there’s many darkspawn down there. Reports show they’ve withdrawn, so it’s not so high a risk.’
‘The danger does not make me hesitate. I have a young child.’
The magister opens his mouth and closes it again. He rocks on his heels. ‘All right, you’re getting better at that. You nearly had me.’
My father clenches his jaw so hard it is like night, when I can hear him grinding his teeth and know he is properly asleep. ‘Cedes, come here.’
I am especially aware my father fears this, that he has fought and killed many to keep me from being seen. He must trust this magister greatly, or he has been compelled by magic. I am wary about exposing myself against his true mind’s wishes, but I do not want to disobey him where a magister can see. I would not shame my father. His helplessness is a special thing, only for me to know.
The magister goes to his heels and smiles at me. ‘Hello, beautiful.’
‘Do not mock her.’
‘I’m not mocking. You are beautiful. Look at those eyes. No, sweetheart, up here. You can look at me.’
‘Maybe she does not want to look at you. Stop pushing her.’
‘You stop speaking for her, then. Maker, Fenris, how could you leave her like this for this long! Even Anders could have—’
The magister visits often, if briefly, but I have never heard him sound as angry as now. My father crackles as though he wants to fight. The magister has a scary black beard, and his eyes do not look kind, and he smells like human sweat and onions, and his hands are dirty and sore from work. I have never seen a magister’s hands look like that. My heart is going fast, and my ears are hot. I feel like fear is a magic is inside me, making me very aware of these things, the kind of feeling I used to get which would make me work very hard, very fast, hoping no one would see me or speak to me, until I would fall over from exhaustion because I had forgotten to eat or drink. I feel embarrassed. I feel afraid and excited. This is the first person my father has let me speak to since we left home, and my father is suddenly so angry he wants to kill a magister.
I do not know what to do. I kneel down and put my face to the floor. My father makes a small sound in his throat.
The magister goes to his knees too, sighing, and puts his face on the floor next to mine. ‘My pleasure to meet you, Cedes.’
‘Do not,’ my father says. I have never heard him plead before, except of me to let him sleep. ‘I could kill you for. Never mention this.’
The magister must understand more than my father says, because he rises and does not look at either of us.
‘Hawke. Are we still—’
My father was always silent when our old magister let him visit us. Mama told me it was different for him, living with the magister instead of his family. Because of this, my father often does not know what to say when he most wants to speak.
Hawke smiles over his shoulder but does not slow. ‘I’ll see you when I get back.’
I am shivering a little on the floor when the magister leaves, as if I had done all that work in seconds, and I feel too tired to make myself stop. My father sits next to me, hands dangling between his knees, and does not snap at me when I stroke the silver ribbons in his foot. If I lick my finger before I touch them, I can make them crackle and glow, but now I just stroke. They feel warm as dreams.
‘I also find it difficult to give up the habits of a slave. I do not blame you. Cedes, it is all right. You will find this much easier than I do, in time.’
He strokes the ends of my braids. He never used to touch my hair. He never used to talk to me at all. Only Mama, when he would tell her to send the children away and to ready herself.
‘I’m lonely,’ I say. ‘I want a mabari.’
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