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If you bring Iron Bull and Varric around with you, you may notice that their banter is sort of… hard-edged. Surly. Even snarly. Which is kind of funny because both Bull and Varric mostly can get along with almost anyone. Varric is also edgy with Cassandra, but then, he has reason–the woman did kidnap, threaten, and interrogate him, and then later attempt to clobber him for lying about Hawke–but even there they seem to warm up to each other eventually.
And yet Varric and Bull remain sort of twitchy around each other, for all that by rights they ought to have the same sort of ethics.
I think: they’re both liars. And they both know it.
There’s a proverb: you should set a thief to catch a thief. And I think the same is true of liars. It’s sometimes said that you can’t fool an honest man, but that’s clearly deeply untrue (an untruth that is, admittedly, very self-serving for the dishonest to spread): it’s actually quite easy to con an honest but sensitive or generous individual. But in my experience, liars sniff each other out.
Varric and Iron Bull lie for very different reasons and in very different ways.
Varric lies partly because it’s entertaining and makes the stories better–an impulse that, I think, all storytellers have–but also to protect his friends. We know he lied to protect Hawke, but it would also not shock me if he covered the tracks of his other criminal friends: Merrill the apostate blood mage, Isabela the pirate thief, Fenris the escaped slave with his stolen house, Anders the terrorist apostate. Even Aveline would need some protecting from appearing to be complicit in any of their crimes. Varric lies for the twin and yet conflicting goals of glory and safety. He wants the great deeds of his friends to be written in fire across the sky–and yet he doesn’t want any of them to be found.
Bull lies because it is his nature; he lies because that is what Hissrad does. But where Varric lies about his friends, Bull lies mostly about himself. He tells the truth and yet at the same time, he lies. He freely tells you all about the Qun–while at the same time admitting that he is an agent on their behalf, a spy and a mole. He tells you he’s going to lie–and you believe him–
“The funny thing is, Mister Lipwig, that I find myself trusting you all the more when you tell me how untrustworthy you are,” said Miss Dearheart.
Moist sighed. “Yes, I know, Spike. Wretched, isn’t it. It’s a people thing.”
– Going Postal, Terry Pratchett
–you believe him because he seems so straightforward, even though what he’s being straightforward about is being a liar. You believe him because even while telling you that he is lying to you, he seems so honest.
But then, Varric does the same thing. “Also prone to extravagant lies,” he admits, almost immediately when you meet him, with a glint in his eye that very nearly matches the glint in Bull’s eye. And they both will smile, tell stories, buy you a drink. They both are expansive in their personas. They both tell you that they are liars–and oh, you believe them.
Set a thief to catch a thief. Set a Ben-Hassrath to catch a storyteller. Set a rogue to catch a Hissrad. It’s all the same in the end.
We trust both of them–but they don’t trust each other.
It might could be that they’re both, in the end, correct about that.