This week’s prompt:
A healer, a wooden stake, Alabama
Carriages were not the best place to sleep. However, they were not the worst place Anders had ever slept either. Every bump and groove in the road made his head bounce against the side and he was fairly certain his insides were now scrambled, but he had managed to get a few hours of sleep. His companions did not seem to have fared as well. “If this death trap of a carriage actually makes it to our destination I will be shocked.” Fenris looked even more sour than usual. He rubbed at his neck and glowered out the window. “At least there is glass in this one,” Varric offered. “I was afraid we would all be coughing up road dust for a week after the last one. He sat next to Fenris, across from Anders. The seat arrangement had been to accommodate Anders’ longer legs since Varric did not need the space. “Where the hell are we going again?” Hawke asked. He sat next to Anders. “Alabama,” Anders offered. “Never heard of it before, but they specifically requested you and me.” “And that was not a reason to be suspicious?” Fenris growled. “Of course,” Anders said brightly. That is why we brought you two along. You can glare anyone to death that dares caused problems and Varric can shoot anyone you miss.” Fenris did not reply, though he shared a glare that would have been fatal had it been an option. Varric gave an amused grunt. “It is simple enough, the duke has been unwell, and his healers could not help. His wife had been in Kirkwall recently and was quite taken with our dear Champion.” Hawke had the decency to blush in embarrassment. “She thought that between him and myself, we should be able to take care of the problem. Though I am not sure that she even realized Hawke was a mage, or maybe she mistook him for a healer as well. But if it is bad as they say, a spirit healer may be exactly what they need. Though her description of the illness was vague.” Anders frowned a little at the last thought. “No matter, we will be in and out of there quickly and be able to hit up the slaver dens along the coast on our way back.” This had the desired effect of cheering Fenris up a bit. He looked almost happy for a moment. “Yes, that would be nice.” He admitted, looking out the dusty window again. “You know, Blondie,” Varric said, arms crossed across his chest, short legs dangling from the seat. “Most people take their sweetheart to a nice dinner or a walk under the stars. Not out to kill slavers.” “Varric.” Fenris growled. Anders rolled his eyes. “Yes, that is how we got him to agree to come along.” Anders said. “But it is not a date.” Hawke was trying his best to not laugh but Fenris dark expression kept setting him off again. “Suit yourself, Blondie.” Varric looked smug. “So, what is the story behind the name of this town? It is not typical for the region.” Hawke tried to change the subject. “From what I understand, the Duke and Duchess are not native to Thedas,” Anders said. “Wait, we are here to heal a Qunari?” Fenris looked surprised. “Not at all,” Hawke said. “I met the Duchess, I am fairly sure she is human. Or mostly so.” “They claim to be from somewhere else. They say they named the little town after their home of Alabama.” Anders added. “I am uncertain where that is, if not Thedas, but they hinted at understanding something of the Eluvian and how to use them, though mundane, non-mage humans should be unable to do so from my understanding.” “Yes, the little witch has been quite clear on the subject. They are Elvehn artifacts, not human.” A particularly vicious jolt silenced the four companions for a moment. Fenris rubbed at a spot on his head where it had hit the window as he had been leaning forward, and Hawke was looking a little green around the edges. “Tell us sooner, rather than later, if you are going to be sick Hawke,” Varric said. Hawke nodded but did not open his mouth. “Anyway, they say that is where they got the name and several of the people who live there are also from the same region.” “I assume you are along since this sounds like ap lot for one of your novels,” Fenris said to Varric. “How could I resist! Inter-dimensional travel, an unusual illness, a mysterious Duchess desperate for a cure. This might be one of my most popular ones yet.” The dwarf said proudly. The carriage stopped, and all four occupants stopped talking and started looking around for danger. They heard the driver get down and come to the door nearest Hawke and Fenris. He tapped on the glass until they opened it. “Messers,” he said with a slight bow. “You asked that I inform you if we would be arriving at the destination after dark. It is clear now that with the condition of the road we will not arrive until well after the sun goes down.” Anders frowned. “How long after?” “A couple hours, Ser,” the man said stiffly. “I do not know what instructions she gave you, but the area is known for some unusual activity after dark. He looked distinctly uncomfortable. “What kind of unusual activity?” Fenris asked. “We can handle dark spawn, and most of the wildlife that is in these parts.” “I have no doubt,” the man said. “But this is not the time nor the place.” “Fine, what is the closest place we can go to spend the night?” Anders asked. Not interested in getting into an argument with the driver over what he considered unusual activity. “There is an inn in the next town,” the man said. “I have stopped there many times. It is reasonably priced and clean.” “It is already ahead of the Hanged Man then,” Hawke laughed. “That’s fine,” Anders said. “We could all do with a rest anyway. We won’t be much help to the duke if we are all exhausted anyway.” “Very good, Ser,” the man closed the door and climbed back to his perch above the carriage. “So what reason did they give for not going in after dark?’ Hawke asked. “They didn’t” Anders said. “The letter just said that we were under no circumstances go into the city after nightfall.” “That’s comforting,” Varric said, looking worried. “I’m sure it is just part of their mysterious foreigner act,” Anders said. “The Duchess is from the Free Marches for sure. Her accent was not quiet Kirkwall, but definitely a Marcher.” “And here I was getting excited about meeting humans who can use ancient elvehn artifacts to travel to faraway places,” Fenris said dryly. “I am afraid you will have to reign in your disappointment,” Hawke said, scratching at his beard. “I agree with Anders, she is a Marcher. I assume he is too.” “I am grateful for a chance at a bath before we meet them though,” he continued. “Three days of travel is making me feel like a darkspawn than a human.” “So that’s it,” Varric said. “Darkspawn are poor travelers who went too long without a bath.” Hawke gave him a sour look. The carriage stopped again. The windows were grimy, but they could see something out there on the side closest to Hawke and Fenris. But nothing was moving. “The Inn is to your right here,” the driver said as he opened the doors. “The owner is a woman named Tabitha. She can be found in the main room at this time of the evening.” The Inn was not the only building on the street, but it was the only one that any signs of life. The sidewalks were empty, and a few doors and windows had been boarded up. No one looked out of windows, or moved from one building to the next. It had the eerie, empty feel of something abandoned. “Where is everyone?” Hawke asked as they retrieved their bags from the top of the carriage. “Tabitha is the best one to tell that story,” The driver said. He handed the last bag down and dropped himself back into the driver’s seat. “I will return for you come full daylight tomorrow.” He said stiffly. He gave the horses a quick slap of the reigns and started moving. “Wait, where are you going?” Varric asked as the carriage rolled down the street. The driver did not reply. The sun was rapidly fading and a cool wind was coming from the south. They picked up their bags and looked at each other. “Did we just get ditched by our driver?” Anders asked. “It looks that way,” Varric agreed. “I am starting to not like this at all.” “Think of it as a chapter in your novel,” Fenris said. “Unless you plan to kill your characters off again, in which case, think of it as a chapter in a novel not written by an evil sadist.” Anders tried hard not to smirk. Fenris had only been learning to read for a short time, in the grand scheme of things, but he had gained a proficiency that allowed him to read Varric’s novels with little outside input. He had very put out when two of his favorite characters were brutally murdered in the third from last chapter. The resulting annoyance had amused Anders enough that he had a hard time not telling Varric about it. Though that would have led to questions about why he was there, and what was going on? But Fenris angrily declaring reading as a hazard to mental health had been worth it. “An evil sadist?” Varric said. “Why thank you, Broody. That means a lot to me.” Fenris just glared at him, but the tips of his ears had turned a little pink. “Let’s get this over with,” Hawke said, walking toward the building on the right as directed by the driver. The door opened easily, but the large tavern hall was empty. Tables and chairs were set neatly in rows as if expecting guests, but no one was there. The bar was empty as well. Bottles and glasses lined up neatly, with no one to use them. They shuffled in quietly and looked around. “By Andraste’s pearly butt cheeks, What in the name of all that is holy is going on here?” Anders mumbled. “There will be no blaspheming in this house!” a stern woman’s voice said and they all jumped slightly. She came out of a door that was hidden by tucked away in a corner of the bar. She was too tall to be a dwarf, but too short and stocky to be a human. Her square short-fingered hands pulled a towel from her belt as she looked them over. “Yes, sorry ma’am,” Anders actually looked chagrined when was not his usual reaction to being corrected. Especially about saying outrageous things. “If you can behave yourselves, I will ask what it is you are needing, Though the luggage tells me you will be wanting rooms.” “Yes,” Hawke said. “We’ll take four, and whatever the house special is for dinner.” “There’s only one and we have stew. Don’t ask what the meat is because he a’int talking.” “One?” Fenris asked in disbelief. “One room?” “Best I can do,” she said. “I’m Tabitha, by the way,” she said, wiping her hands on a rag even though she had done nothing but walk into the room. “My boy and I run the place. He don’t talk to strangers, so don’t even ask.” “Please tell me you have a bath,” Anders said. “Of course,” she sniffed. “What kind of half ass inn you think I run here?” “The kind with only one room,” Fenris said under his breath, but Anders heard him. “Go round back, pumps primed and there’s a couple towels back there.” She gestured vaguely toward the back of the tavern. There was a door in the direction she pointed, so it was probably where she meant. “Your room will be the first on the right at the top of the stairs. I serve food at 6 and only at 6. Be down here or wait for breakfast.” “You serve breakfast?” Hawke asked hopefully. “No,” Tabitha said before turning away. They were left staring at each other in confusion. “What just happened here?” Varric finally asked. “Damned if I know,” Anders said. “You will watch your language when you are in this house,” Tabitha shouted from the unseen backroom. Anders’ eyes got big for a moment. “That is twice, I will not tell you again.” Anders started to open his mouth in reply, but both Hawke and Fenris slapped their hands over it, leaving him to mumble and complain against their hands. “Let’s go see this room,” Varric said. “Might as well get it over with.” They filed up the narrow stairs and found themselves in a hallway that was nearly as slim as the stairs. Hawke and Anders, being larger, actually found it hard to maneuver with their packs. The hallway was long, at least 4 doors on each side, and it looked like it wrapped around for another hall on the back of the building. There were no sounds coming from the rooms. “Only one my-” hands headed toward Anders mouth again, and he stepped back as far as he could. But he did not finish the sentence. Fenris opened the door cautiously and stepped aside before looking around the corner. “Expecting traps?” Anders asked. “I am not certain what to expect here anymore,” Fenris said. The room was unoccupied, and they gratefully placed their bags on the floor and started taking off their overcoats and jackets. The room had one large bed shoved up against the far wall, and no windows. A small night stand stood next to the bed and on it was a single lantern. It was lit before they entered. “No fireplace, no windows, only one chair.” Anders looked around. “There is no way we are all fitting on that,” he gestured toward the bed. “I think that is no reason to think we would all attempt sleeping at the same time anyway,” Fenris said. There is something very not right about that place and we will need to keep a watch.” “Broody makes a good point,” Varric said. “Still, that bed is too small for anything.” “Anything?” Varric asked. “Anyone,” Anders tried to correct himself. It was too dim to see if he was blushing. “Any way,” he cleared his throat. “Let’s go see about that bath.” “That is a great deal of optimism based on our experience so far,” Fenris was dryly. “That’s me, I’m an optimist,” Anders said.
The bath turned out to be as bad as they feared. The pump was literally just a pump that poured well water into a metal tub that looked like it was normally used for livestock. “I was going to say I could warm the water, but…” Anders looked at the tub and shuddered. “I’m sure I have had worse,” Fenris said and stuck his head under the frigid water. He had stripped down to his breaches, which was braver than the rest of them yet. While he splashed the cold water on himself, Anders tentatively removed a couple outer layers while Hawke and Varric removed their shirts. “What are you being so modest for?” Hawke asked him when the mage still stood with his shirt on. Varric found the “couple of towels” and it really was just two. He handed one to Fenris, telling him to save a dry spot for him. He handed the other to Hawke. “I..uhm…” he did not know what to say, really. “We already know you look like a starved puppy under there,” Fenris said now that his head was out of the water. Anders gave him an unhappy look and started to say something back, but they stopped him. “I am sure she can hear you out here too,” Varric advised. “No need to be modest,” Hawke told him before dunking his head under the water. “By An-” he stopped himself before continuing. “This is freezing.” Fenris just smirked at him. “You didn’t make a fuss just so he would do that,” Anders said. “Maybe,” the elf agreed before handing the towel to Varric. “That is the coldest water I have felt since falling in the half frozen lake trying to get Carver back to the shore,” Hawke shook himself like a dog before using the towel on his face. Varric just took out his hair tie and put his head in the water like it was something he did every day. Anders watched, looking uncertain. Varric sputtered a little and snatched the towel away from Hawke, but seemed no worse for wear. Anders was about to stick his head under the freezing water. “You are going to get your shirt wet, and then you will be uncomfortable and b-…complain all evening,” Hawke insisted, pulling him back. “Just take off the shirt.” Anders was about to argue, but Varric chimed in. “You won’t be getting in that bed with wet clothes, so take it off now of later.” “Why are you making such a big deal out of this?” Anders complained, but pulled the thin shirt over his head and handed it to Hawke. He did not wait for any smart ass remarks, but just braced himself for the cold and put his head under the pump. It was as cold as he feared, the kind of cold that takes your breath away, and feels more like prickly ice needles. He hurried and rinsed off before stepping back and snatching the towel from Fenris and his shirt back from Hawke. “Get it out of your systems,” He complained pulling the worn fabric back on, but none of them said anything. They looked distinctly uncomfortable. “No, Blondie,” Varric said quietly. “No jokes here.” Hawke nodded agreement and even Fenris seemed to be subdued. “You should have just told us why you were being so modest,” Hawke said. “We would not have made fun of you.” “Because starving puppy was meant to be supportive,” he said dismissively. Fenris opened his mouth to say something, but Anders waved it off. “It doesn’t matter. If we are done with trying to freeze ourselves to death, and making fun of my scars, can we go back in?” Varric gave him an awkward pat on the back and lead the way back into the tavern. This time there were two other people in the room, both at the bar talking to Tabitha. But they stopped and stared at the group as they came in from the back. “Maybe we should have brought our weapons with us,” Anders whispered. “Don’t mind them, they a’int gonna cause any trouble,” Tabitha said. Though it was not clear who she was talking to and who she was talking about. The two groups eyed each other wearily as they made their way to the stairs. Fenris went up first, quickly and soundlessly. Varric was in front of Anders since his longer reach would not be impeded much by the dwarf. Hawke brought up the rear, keeping an eye on the newcomers. “This place is pretty weird, right?” Anders asked when they had closed the door behind them and piled a couple bags in front of it. “It is not just me?” “You can be pretty strange, Blondie,” Varric said. “But this is a whole new level.” “So how are we supposed to get the carriage tomorrow?” Hawke asked. “I thought he would stay here as well, but now it looks like he may have just left us here.” “So it would seem,” Fenris agreed. “Surely there are other carriages around here, we are not that far from our destination.” Anders tried to sound upbeat. “If you are going to eat dinner is now,” Tabitha bellowed from the bottom of the stairs. “I’ve reevaluated,” Hawke said. “She is definitely a dwarf.” “Not likely,” Varric wrinkled his nose. “Don’t even suggest it.” They redressed and brought small weapons, enough to give them a chance of getting to their larger ones upstairs if it came to that. The desire to not appear rude and not be stupid was a difficult line to walk. The main room of the tavern was suddenly almost full. They looked at each other, bewildered. None of them had heard people coming in, and the building was not built to keep sound from traveling. For a moment they all stopped, and the desire to simply go back to their room and block the door again was strong. The room was eerily quiet. The people at the tables did not speak to each other, there were no games of cards, or dice, no music being played in a corner. Just a room full of silent, tired looking people, each one with a cup in front of them, but no food. The smell of something cooking in the back was what finally decided it. They had not eaten since morning and were tired and hungry enough to risk that odd company. There was only one table left in the corner furthest from the stairs. None of them thought that was by coincidence, and their tension went up a few notches. Fenris was shifting his weight anxiously, and Varric’s back was so stiff and straight it looked painful. Only Hawke seemed to be almost at ease. A smile graced his jovial bearded face, and he walked casually as if this was a perfectly normal evening at a perfectly normal tavern and they were not being started at by a perfectly abnormal bunch of people. As soon as they took their seats, Hawke and Anders on the far side of the table on a rickety bench and Fenris and Varric in front of them. The elf and the dwarf did not keep their backs to the room, both sat so that they could still see the majority of the room. Without asking, a stooped old man appeared at the table with a try with four bowls of some grayish stew on it. There were four pieces of ancient looking bread with it. None of them cared to ask questions, and the man scuttled off, looking more like a crab than a man. Tabitha appeared next, before they even took a bite of their food with two bottles of wine. These they accepted gladly. One bite of the stew and even Anders pushed it away. In darktown, you should eat about anything offered to you because another meal might not come for a while, but he had not desired to spend the evening healing food poisoning for himself or anyone else. “What is that?” Fenris crumpled his face into the most intense look of distaste Anders had ever seen, and it dragged a quick bark of laughter out of him. In the eerily quiet room it sounded loud and out of place. He quickly stifled another. “My guess is nug,” Varric said. “Once you’ve eaten that you never forget it.” “I thought Orleasian ham was the physical embodiment of despair, but we may have found a runner-up,” Hawke whispered, pushing the bowl away from himself. “Tell me you brough some cards, Varric.” “Of course,” the dwarf said, pulling a deck from somewhere none of them saw. “Tonight, I won’t even make you put in an ante.” Anders opened one bottle and took a long drink from it, before handing it to Fenris. The elf wrinkled his nose slightly, but seeing no cups he took it and drank from it as well. Hawke and Varric did the same with the second bottle. They set theirs aside quickly. “I’ve definitely had worse,” the elf said after half the bottle was gone. Varric and Hawkes shook their heads. “Much worse,” Anders agreed. His words were slightly slurred, and he kept forgetting to keep his hand of cards hidden. Though that was not as abnormal as him being drunk. “Nug piss is better than this shit,” Varric complained. “How are either of you drinking it?” “Your tongue goes numb after a few sips,” Anders said cheerfully. “Thought your…” Fenris paused. “Friend did not allow you to drink.” “One taste of that stew and he went off to sulk,” Anders said cheerfully. Fenris was struck by how different the mage looked when he was not angry or tense. “Well, since Anders has those serpents, I am going to risk it and go another round,” Hawke said. Anders realized he had forgotten about his cards again and tried to hold them up closer to his chest, but dropped couple and almost fell over trying to pick them up off the floor. This made him laugh and he could not stop. The rest of the tavern was still quiet, with no one eating or really drinking. They just watched the four in the corner with an intensity that would have been concerning had two of them they not been drinking the surprisingly strong wine. Varric and Hawke noticed though and shared a look before the cards vanished back into some mysterious pocket of Varric’s. “Done already?” Anders asked. He was glassy eyed and looked slightly confused. “That we are,” Varric said. “Come on Blondie, you’ve had enough.” He went to pull the bottle away, but the mage was just a hair faster and upended it before he grabbed it. “It’s empty,” he said sadly. “Same,” Fenris looked almost as disappointed. And not a bit more sober. Though they had seen Fenris drunk many times before. “YOu too, Broody. Let’s go,” He tried nudge the elf into motion, but got a glare instead. “Maybe they have more?” Anders said hopefully. “No!” Varric and Hawke said in unison. “Wow, no fun,” Anders said petulantly. “Fine, we’ll go.” He got to his feet and almost immediately sat back down. “Oh,” was all he said before blinking a few times and giggling helplessly. Fenris joined him, and the two were laughing so hard they had tears on their faces. Still, the other patrons just watched them. No expressions. “All right, I have you then,” Hawke said, getting his shoulder under Ander’s arm and heaving him mostly upright. The mage would not stop laughing as they staggered toward the stairs. Fenris waved off Varric’s offer of help and made his own unsteady way across the room. The stairs were nothing short of a disaster. They were too narrow for Hawke to help his intoxicated companion up side by side, and there was no way the other man was getting up them without help. Halfway up, Anders slid down the wall and sprawled on the steps. “I’ll just sleep right here.” He announced to no one in particular. Alarmingly, the patrons nearest the stairs actually looked happy for the first time. “Not happening,” Hawke admonished and started pulling at Anders, hoping he would give up and stand again. But just as he thought he was going to succeed, Fenris made it to the same point on the steps and tripped on Anders as he sprawled across the step. A new round of near hysterical laughter followed and Varric began to feel a small stirring of Panic. A couple of the creepy people at the table nearest them had gotten to their feet. “No more games,” he said, and hauled Anders to his feet, leaving the prickly elf for Hawke. He liked not having his organ removed via “magical fisting” as Isabella dubbed it. Fenris seemed to have a soft spot for Hawke and was unlikely to murder him on the spot. “Let’s go,” he didn’t care if Anders was ok with being manhandled. He heard the scrape of a few more chairs. They were about to be the center of attention again. It felt like minutes, but was probably less than one that they finally got their drunk companions behind the door to their room. A room they now realized had no lock. Varric and Hawke dumped their charges on the bed and looked around for anyway to keep the door closed. “The bed?” Hawke offered, the sound of slow steps coming up the stairs not their imagination. “It’ll have to do,” the dwarf agreed. Someone stopped just outside the door. Varric threw his back against it and gestured wildly for Hawke to hurry. The man just stared at him for a moment before gesturing to the two drunks sprawled on top of it. A knock came, making Varric jump and his eyes go wide. “Just a moment,” he called in an oddly high voice. Hawke gave him a confused look. “Are you trying to make them think there is a woman in here?” he whispered. “I don’t know!” Varric whispered back. “Just MOVE.” “Is everything to your satisfaction,” Tabitha’s emotionless voice said. “Do you require anything else this evening?” Anders chose this moment to be semi coherent and tried to ask for a bottle of wine, before Hawke shoved a pillow over his face. Varric clear his throat loudly and replied in his own voice, “No, everything is fine, thanks.” “I will just replace the lantern then and you can get to bed, am sure a day of traveling has left you all tired.” There was a strange note of command in her voice and they noticed with alarm that Anders and Fenris had both stopped moving and seemed to be asleep, or nearly so. “No need,” Varric said quickly. “We have everything under control. See you in the morning.” Hawke was shaking his head at him, half amused, half horrified. He tried to move the bed, but it made a scraping sound that made them both cringe. “It sounds like you need some help in there. I am sure one of the gentlemen here could give you a hand.” “Just making room,” Varric called, lunging away from the door and grabbing the end of the bed nearest him. The first corner of the heavy piece of furniture had just crossed in front of the door when someone tried to open it. Neither of the bed’s occupants seemed aware of anything going on around them. They lay motionless. No one said anything, and Varric and Hawke finished moving the bed in one loud pull. Another attempt was made, the door jarring the bed. Fenris, who was closer to that side, opened one bleary eye, growled and rolled over, right into Anders. The mage grunted and shifted, pulling Fenris into an awkward hug as he shoved the pillow aside. Hawke and Varric had o idea which was a bigger threat, whatever was outside the door or Fenris realizing that not only was he being touched, but hugged. By Anders. There was some mumbling and shifting, but no bright blue glow and surprisingly no growling or screaming. “We may need to find out what was in that wine,” Hawke said in disbelief. “Just open the door,” a man’s voice said from the other side. “Move whatever is blocking it and let us in,” he said. His voice was smooth and slippery and made Varric shudder almost uncontrollably. “Let him in or make him shut up,” Fenris said, mostly muffled by Anders’ shoulder. The mage said nothing. “Not happening, Broody, just put a pillow over your head.” “You will open this door,” the voice said again, and Hawke and Varric both shivered this time. “Vampires?” Hawked whispered. “Is that what they are?” “Beats me,” Varric said. “But a wooden stake kills about anything with a heart right?” “You’re the writer, not me,” Hawke said urgently. “How does that make me an expert on killing things?” “You kill things all the time,” Hawle shrugged. “And write about killing things.” “You kill things too,” Varric grabbed the one chair and in one quick motion smashed it to pieces and grabbed a splintered leg. Hawke grabbed another. “Do we just leave them there?” He asked about the two still on the bed. “It makes the bed heavier,” Varric offered. And that was when the attempts to get in started again in earnest. Between demands and physical force, the things on the other side of the door were trying their hardest to get in. “I guess if we all drank that wine, they would have just walked right in,” Varric said after another demand was met my at least partial coherence from the drunk occupants. “Guess so,” Hawke agreed. “I hope these two have a hangover that makes them rethink those life choices.” He groused. “I would rather not have a hung over glowy elf or a violently ill mage, thank you.” “True, Hawke agreed.” And they settled in for a long night. They knew as soon as the sun rose. The noise on the other side of the door went from threatening to nonexistent in a moment.