“Why do they call this a brothel? Does it have something to do with broth?”
I guess not, then. Riva was trying hard not to chuckle – she always goes out of her way to make sure I don’t feel awkward. Varric let out a hearty laugh, though, and he was right to. It turns out it’s where humans go to get their body’s pleasures.
It’s another part of human culture that escapes me, but it can’t be helped. They call me naïve, but I’m not naïve. My clan has travelled around, and I with it, to see the many faces of Thedas. Of course, we stayed to ourselves; much of what we learned as wee ones was told, not seen. The short bearded ones were greedy. The great horned followers of the Qun were violent. Those elves who have lost touch with the People – city elves – they were untrustworthy. And shemlen – shemlen were the worst, with the worst traits of all three other races combined.
But Riva Hawke earned trust wherever she went. Her violence was not without purpose – it was only against those who proved a threat to another. And I could not see that she desired that which could not be hers.
But I did. I desired Riva. And Riva would have me. Ma serannas, Creators.
Shemlen do things with strangers that we Dalish would never do. We were taught early to treasure our bodies as gifts from Mythal. When a boy became a man or a girl became a woman, they were able to find someone to share their gifts, for love was the greatest gift from our Creators. For most, this brought our clan new babes to continue the legacy of the People. Those who found love in a union that could not bear children often raised the wee ones of those who Falon’din chose to guide early to the Beyond, once the People had lost the gift of immortality. But shemlen – how could they do such things? – a dirty little boy ran about the Blooming Rose barely heeded, his future cloudy. Such a risk they took!
Varric called me “Daisy”. I’m… I’m jumping around, aren’t I? So hard to keep my thoughts straight. Riva thought it silly, as she did most of the funny dwarf’s inventions, but did agree that it suited me, with my elven bond to nature and… she said I was pretty like one, didn’t she. I must have missed that.
I’d no idea. She called me Merrill, and mostly went by Hawke. She had an excellent sense of humor, but she was quite to the point with most things. I started to get my hopes up when, after felling the great Varterral, she strode right up to Keeper Marethari and politely inquired after our reward of the arulin’holm without once averting her glance from the Keeper’s sharp gaze. I mean it, when Keeper Marethari stares you down, you may as well take one of Riva’s daggers and drive it through your own belly, as it feels much the same. But Riva did such things for all her friends even though she didn’t have to. She risked the wrath of the Templars to help Anders with his cause, although this might have been because she shared the same cause, since her sister Bethany had been captured and sent to the Circle. She faced down a houseful of mad guards for Varric, who was like a second furry-chested mabari to her, if less fierce. I… shouldn’t compare him to a dog, should I. She took on Tevinter magisters for the brooding, sulky Fenris, and I wasn’t even sure she liked him that much.
So, we were definitely friends. I could tell that much. But it must have been the shock of seeing the dead hunters, and Pol’s hate, and my Keeper’s disappointment, and flashes of hope that stabbed through me at every sweet remark Riva ever made – I don’t know what came over me… she said it was all right, and I don’t have to dream about… her… and called me adorable… and surely that must have meant…
But what had I done! I’d pounced upon the great Riva Hawke and sealed my lips to hers, and don’t call me naïve! I knew what this was, and I knew this was not a friendly gesture, even amongst the shemlen.
It would not do to have Bodahn, Sandal, and possibly even Hawke’s mother see this spectacle, and she put her arm around my waist and led me upstairs gently into her bedroom. I knew what came next, for all people’s talk of naiveté. And honestly I didn’t want to look foolish or hesitant or uncertain – or worse, start talking; it always goes bad when I start talking – and I probably gave Riva a start when I broke off her gentle kiss and pulled her to her expansive bed (so glad I hadn’t looked too closely and noticed things about it, like it’s expansiveness or softness or décor or… invitingness… or I would have darted straight out of the room – or the window!). And I guided her on top of me. She followed gently, daring to not put weight upon me, moving with the fluidity of the river upon I, the stone, and her kisses began to have something more. A purpose, a need, and the most seamless balance of giving and taking at once that I could hardly tell if she were drawing something from my body and my soul or if she were bestowing upon me the most heartfelt gift. We began to gently rock like ships as her tongue shyly brushed against mine and the same electric feeling that builds in the palm of my hands when intentionally summoned began to sing across my body. I froze in a brief breath, afraid for the smallest second that I had accidentally unleashed real chain lightning upon us both, but when I realized that no pain accompanied the rush, I took the sudden pause to burst open Riva’s robe to feel more of her skin against mine. My own clothes were shed, and I didn’t have time to feel exposed or question my choice of underthings because her lips had found my neck, and her hands had found my thighs, and the gentle strokes of her fingertips were the charges that sent invisible bolts coursing down my spine, through my belly, and into my… you know.
The pleasure part of the shemlen way of frequenting others' beds suddenly made perfect sense, and then, as Riva twisted us around and held me close, intertwined and pressed in one great ball of warmth, and I placed my head on her chest and listened as her heart ceased sprinting like a fennec and steadied, the sense of it flew from my grasp. Who would want to be as close as this to a strange being! Riva murmured affectionate phrases into my hair as she kissed it, and could surely smell the dust of centuries that seeped in from my old hovel, and I could only guess at what she’d tasted in my mouth. I can’t taste my own mouth – nobody can, right? I suppose it’s not too offensive in general, anyway, as Riva could not possibly get enough of pressing her thin soft lips against mine and slyly slipping her tongue against mine when I least expected.
We’d made love! I finally knew another person’s body, and although a woman like me, it hardly mattered at all – even our own clan’s Hero of Ferelden had found love in the lady bard Leliana. I wanted to set the bed afire and dance around it swinging Riva Hawke by the hands in glorious circles and never let go, never let go of those hands, not as long as I lived, and…
“I love you!”
Dirthamen, what a fine time to bequeath me this knowledge! I tensed immediately and scrambled for words to throw over my outburst, the thickest possible blanket to throw over the raging fire I had just set.
Riva’s fingers, lightly tracing patterns on my arm, didn’t pause, and she looked lost in thought. Choosing the proper arrow for which to shoot me down, I thought.
“I probably shouldn’t have said that, should I? I always say the stupidest things…”
I could feel a sigh escape her as I turned my face away.
“I love you, Merrill. Actually, I was going to suggest you move in with me.”
I jumped off the bed in shock, forgetting for a second my shyness at appearing in full view in only my underwrap. “Here? In Hightown? The rich, fancy part of the city with no rats in it?” The excitement burned off quickly, leaving suddenly only the lingering sludge of pragmatism. “And you, with an elf?” I meant it more as a statement than a question.
Riva just gazed back at me, unperturbed. Could she be truly willing to put her reputation on the line after she had finally reclaimed her family’s home and status? Riva Hawke does what Riva Hawke pleases, with no regard for public sentiment. I recall, then, quickly, the flash of rending heartbreak in her eyes when the viscount’s son Seamus admitted his relationship with his murdered Qunari friend. She’d not watched her tongue after that, before the prestigious nobleman, and questioned the viscount in his own office right in front of his irritable seneschal. It mattered not to her that a human scion and Qunari warrior could find love – of course she cared not about what Hightown thought of her bedmates.
“Ma vhenan… you really are crazy, aren’t you?”
No sword in Thedas was sturdy enough to pry us apart that night as we slept.
It was after a frustrating day tinkering with a still-silent Eluvian that I nearly let fly with some furious bolts aimed right at its mocking empty glass, but that would not have done. Whatever Anders said, I prided myself for being always in control – not a weak vessel so easily swayed. Riva was off with Aveline doing some sort of city clean-up work, so it fell to me to find another friend to ease the tension. Dwarves always seem to believe the antidote to anything disheartening is a good mug of ale, and although it tasted like bog-water, I figured a pint would do if only to have a distraction from Isabela or Varric without their teasing.
Isabela gave wide grin as I entered the Hanged Man and waved me over, signaling Bartender Croff as she did so. “So you’ve practically moved in with Hawke, and yet haven’t bothered to bed the woman! I know you Dalish probably have your own rules and rituals when it comes to such things, but aren’t you even the least bit curious?” She was never given to preamble.
I smirked. “Sorry, Isabela, but as they say, you’re actually the one late to the party on this one. I am little girl in your eyes no longer – here stands a full woman of an elf!”
She looked completely baffled. “But… Hawke had said… she didn’t want to press you too hard… that…” It was the first I had seen the cocky pirate at a loss for words.
And now I was the one confused. What had Riva shared with Isabela? Had it been out of complaint? Oh, Mythal! Isabela was the most experienced and outspoken among us with the least sense of shame, and Riva – surely the great Riva Hawke had come into such a womanhood years before with men and women both. Maybe even with Isabela herself.
I am not naïve! We Dalish breed hallas – even had my people been as foolishly ashamed of their own bodies as the Chantry seems to instill in its followers, I know where babies come from and what bonded couples do out of sight. A man’s yard penetrates a woman – into her body, an intrusion I am sure is welcome when the man is beloved, but something that sounds unpleasant and uncomfortable the same, although I’m sure women become accustomed to the sensation. I must admit I was relieved that Riva had no hidden appendages special to humans that desired to be enveloped – her body was just simple variations of my own, and although I know I would have welcomed anything of hers within me out of love for her, it seemed inapplicable.
Do shem… humans… have other bed rituals? Maybe I am naïve. I have always been a step behind when it comes to other races’ customs. What did we miss? I enjoyed exploring each other’s’ mouths, and I really thought she did as well.
I suppose I didn’t want to intrude upon her too much… I had wanted to caress her rounded ears, her barely covered breasts – she had chanced a touch upon both of my own and made me shiver slightly. Maybe that’s why she had stopped. Or maybe she wanted me free to choose my own time to explore her completely, and… I am such a fool.
Isabela began, “Listen, if you ever need my help…”
“No! I’m sorry. No. I don’t want instructions or a book or… I have to go.”
I remained at my house for quite a while after that, with the excuse that I was making progress with my Eluvian. I don’t think Riva ever quite trusted the artifact – and I know for sure that not one of our companions did – but she trusted me, and she left me to my work. When she stopped by here and there to check on my wellbeing – bless her – she would longingly ask if I’d pop by her house at some point and remind me it was my home as well. She endlessly inquired about when I would move in my possessions, glancing apprehensively at the mirror but probably resigned to accepting it as part of the package – and I sent along my favorite vase as a token, “so we could always have fresh flowers in the bedroom, and when I catch the scent, I'll be transported back to the woods in a light rain. Without getting all wet, of course. Or real teleporting. It's possible, you know, the ancient keepers actually could... I'm rambling again, aren't I...”.
Then came the Qunari battle. It did not make liars of my people – it was violent, and bloody, and I had to follow Riva into this – as if she fell, I would fall alongside her.
I may be a blood mage, but I am not a violent person. I do not wish to revel in the blood of the Qunari warriors, or cheer for the fallen Arishok, or to even hate the people themselves for the harm caused to the city. It could be argued that the city brought it on itself – or, more likely, that Isabela brought it on the city with her foolishness in treating the people’s artifacts as no more than a plundered treasure. Although, the way the Qunari bow completely to their Qun, it may have angered the Arishok less had she simply made off with their riches and gold.
Fenris doesn’t like me much, but I can usually tolerate him. But when he suggested that Riva fight the Arishok in a duel to the death, I wanted to stab myself right through the chest and let my blood rain like acid upon them all. Summon a demon and let its power crash into my own, grasp each Qunari by the horns and Fenris by the ears and rend their heads from their bodies, even if it meant Riva were to be left to take me down with the demon afterwards.
But, I am spared this gruesome death, and Fenris is spared his, and Riva is spared having to kill me, for she did defeat the Arishok. And that night I swore I would not spend another one apart from my Riva, even if I did want to work a little more on my mirror during the day.
I always talk too much, but that night I had little strength left for talking. Oh, I had strength all right – Aveline says it’s called an adrenaline rush, and one doesn’t come down from it even after the action has ended. But I had come too close to losing my Riva, and I didn’t care about who was what race, or what others thought, or how inexperienced I was – life was too short.
We were silent as we removed our bloodstained armor and handed it off to good Bodahn and Orana. Silent as we each took a bowl of water and tried to rinse away the sweat and pain of the day. Silent as we both seemed to decide at once that bedclothes were not necessary, and climbed between silken red sheets, taking each other into our arms, pressing our bodies and foreheads together and lying like that for a while. Her lips moved without a sound, probably sending a benediction to her Maker, and I quickly thought of some thankful words for my own Creators too. When we finally made eye contact, we began to kiss in cycles of soft sweetness and rough, craving desire, and I felt her hand trace down my breast, down my stomach, stopping just above my small patch of fuzz.
“I’ve never…” I whispered. “And you have…”
She cut me off before I could even begin to ramble. “Me neither. Just with myself.”
My eyes went wide then, but Riva clearly wanted me to not think on it too long or too much, for she drew my nipple into her mouth and wrapped my legs around her. The gentle rocking of my hips began again, knowing well before I did what they wanted, and I ran my hands through Riva’s hair scratching lightly against her scalp, wanting her to not be one moment without some form of pleasure.
Her hands traveled low again, and I realized between my legs was slick – how had...? Was it...? But the moment her fingers found their mark, this one singular point I hadn't known existed right on my very own body, I had a moment of clarity blast through my head. This was the normal, this was why lovemaking was pleasurable, this is why humans like Isabela go to bed with… well, that I couldn’t quite grasp, as I could only imagine my beloved Riva’s hands upon me like such… and then all clarity and sense was gone as I felt, finally, the intrusion that formed the moment of life-giving, of love, of creating a family and a home. Riva was within me, rocking with the rhythm of my hips that moved of their own accord, and although I found it immeasurably pleasurable, when she dipped her head to give attention to my breasts again, I pulled her head up and kissed her with passion I’d never known, with power greater than the magic that tore through my being. I clasped her against me with all of my might as she suddenly ran her thumb over the place she’d discovered not too long before, still inside me, and something began to build. I didn’t have time to wonder or worry about what it was building towards – what the consequences or the aftermath would be. This was a journey she was taking me on, and I would follow her anywhere, my love, my Riva – and suddenly, a precipice appeared in my consciousness, and she grabbed me tightly before hurling me right over the edge. Purple light suddenly was all I could see – there was just purple light, and her slowing hands, and her body against mine, as I tumbled softly to my landing as though after the thunderstorm there was just to be a light, gentle rain.
Riva gently reclaimed her right hand and quickly wiped it on the sheets before holding me close. With her left hand, she took me by the face – a mirror image of that first time when she had promised, “Merrill, it’s all right” – and gazed into my eyes. I was lost. Not so much shy. Nervous? Why nervous to look into Riva Hawke’s eyes, all of a sudden? But the seriousness and love with which she met my eyes… I didn’t know what else to do, so naturally I started talking.
“Was that all right? You’re not disgusted… That didn’t do much for you, did it? That was your first time too, I suppose I should try something. Did I do anything odd or frightening? Is it…?”
She cut me off with a kiss. “Merrill… you’re beautiful, and it was amazing and an honor to be the first to make you feel those things. Don’t be alarmed. If I’m not alarmed, you should not be either.”
“You’re too good to me.” I wanted to do more, then, to do something to bring her even the littlest amount of happiness in gratitude, but I was reduced to feeling like I was made of honey. “Why would you be alarmed? Is it because I… I didn’t actually scream, did I? I felt like I may have screamed, but I don’t actually remember screaming…”
She chuckled. “It wasn’t a scream, really – I don’t think anyone heard you through these stone walls. It was more the… energy… that suddenly encircled us.” My palms went clammy. The purple light. "It’s all right, though. It didn’t hurt – it more just drew me into you and overwhelmed me… I’d never felt anything like that before. I’d chalk it up to a first time, but something tells me a first time with a mage isn’t like most people’s first time.”
For a fleeting moment, I wondered if she’d be interviewing Bethany and Anders on the subject. But it didn’t matter – she was unhurt, and I was regaining my feeling of being a solid being. And it was time to discover another new world and begin a new journey on this night – with me as her lead. I had no fear.
Maybe I was a little naïve, then. It’s now been over ten years since I met the woman who became the Champion of Kirkwall, and the one who holds my heart. I finally consented to us spending some time apart to focus on what we do best when we are not together. For me – better the lot of anyone of elven descent living amongst the humans, since I am now one of them. For Riva – it is saving the world, naturally. It’s what she does best. So, while I was organizing storytime for the young alienage residents, and Riva was called on to join the Inquisition, I grit my teeth, kissed her with all of my might, and let her go out and be Hawke, the Champion. Of course, we write back and forth frequently, and my heart aches while she is gone, but I am fortunate that for once, the burden doesn’t all fall on her to fix everything. Also, with an elven Inquisitor, I am sure it will do wonders for diplomatic relations for such a respected human to show her support, with Hawke’s respect for the elves evident in her unhidden relationship with an elven woman. She may be leaving soon, though, for the Warden fortress of Weisshaupt, though, as she hinted in her last letter, and this may be my cue to rejoin my Hawke as her companion once more.
And after that? Well, humans and dwarves tend to identify themselves by their families. They have surnames, like Hawke or Tethras. Qunari identity is bound to the Qun and their place when living by it – they use their titles rather than their names. The Dalish family is just a branch of the clan. We use no surnames, but if I were to borrow one for something like a Chantry record, I’d still use Merrill Sabrae, for although the clan had to be rid of me, I am still but a fruit fallen from its tree.
But although Riva’s mother was an esteemed Amell, she loved Riva’s father immensely, and took his name to show the world that bond – no matter what the social implications. And I may be better at human social graces now, than I had been, but I could not begin to understand what this meant to Leandra, to her family, to her peers. But I do now understand the bonding part. Names say something about a person, and even more about the person who gives them to you. Varric thinks I’m a fragile Daisy. I suppose I was, lost around Lowtown at one time. Isabela called me “Kitten”, another affectionate jab at my youthful innocence back then. Was that who I was, or who they thought I was - or who they needed me to be? To others, Riva is a Hawke, a sharp-eyed, aquiline woman far above them and untouchable. To me, she is simply the part of me she plucked away - ma vhenan, my heart.
Now, how does Merrill Hawke sound?