“You’re very quiet tonight, love. Are you alright?”
The woman sat at their dresser, brushing through her long, dark tresses with a bejewelled comb. It was an heirloom of sorts, perhaps. Two silver snakes coiled around each other like lovers in a tight embrace, emerald eyes winking in the candlelight.
Her robes clung to her body, accentuating every curve, and the man could see the slim rope of her spine through the silky material.
She was talking, but he was not listening. Not tonight. Eyes closed, his foggy thoughts seem to press against the delicate petals of his lids. He pressed his fingers against them, hard enough to see a flare of red.
“My Lord?” she was saying again, turning around to look at her husband. He sat quietly on the edge of their bed, frowning into his hands. He had his fingers balled into fists so tight his knuckles bled white.
“I... It feels strange. Like I have forgotten something. Something important,” he murmured. Voice pitched low and brows furrowed, he cocked his head before sliding a long look at his wife.
The woman smiled and tossed her mane of hair as their eyes met in the mirror's reflection. Slowly, seductively, she stood up and slid her robe off those milky white shoulders and stepped towards him.
He felt his blood run cold.
“I…,” he began to say.
“Hush,” she whispered, straddling his thighs before pulling him into a long kiss.
There was a knot in his chest. Almost like sadness. He could not remember why.
“Hush,” she whispered once more against his lips, the palm of her hands cool against the warmth of his body. Their breaths quickened as the sheets rustled against now naked skin.
She blew out the candles, and then it was dark.
And in the distance, the clouds churned like a tempest as a strange company of mercenaries steadily marched towards the borders of Minrathous.
The soiree could have been dull, if not for the company of several prolific figures from the Tevinter Magisterium. Important families from Qarinus had converged at the Pavus’ winter home in Minrathous – and Magister Halward took pains to ensure that no costs were spared in celebrating his only son’s marriage to the daughter from the House of Herathinos.
Fine wine, luscious canapés, ostentatious décor and even a famed Nevarran musician on his lute – all these luxuries should have stayed the tongue of even the most vicious of gossipmongers in Thedas, but it was impossible in Tevinter, naturally.
No soiree worth its salt had been without some scandals to speak of. Which is why no one ignored the fact that Magister Halward had excluded a certain Magister Tilani from the guest list. Maevaris, if anything, was renowned for her aversion to the stuffy traditions of the Tevinter elites, and there had been whispers of a massive fallout between the two houses – the nature of it largely unknown to anyone safe the Magisters themselves.
If the Pavus boy was disappointed with the absence of his old friend, he certainly showed no displeasure. He smiled easily enough, standing by his father’s side, pausing once in a while to nod attentively as Halward engaged in a spirited discussion with their colleagues from the Magisterium.
The boy was obviously handsome, but he looked tired and thin. It was as if he had the spark taken out of him after his years away with the Inquisition forces in some Maker-forsaken Shithole right smack in the arse crack of Orlais and Ferelden.
Well, that was a topic made taboo in Halward’s presence. The Magister had sent a stern reminder for guests to avoid discussing such matters at all costs. Which was perfectly fine, thank you very much. No one wanted to talk about the South and its boring oddities anyway.
Nevertheless, the young mage’s wife was lovely enough. Bright eyed, sharp as a pin and perpetually armed with an acerbic sense of humour, Livia Herathinos suffered no fools, and was not averse to putting those of lesser wit in place. Which explained her growing impatience at being spirited away by two tittering friends into a secluded room some distance away from the main hall where the guests had gathered.
“Prying into my affairs, are we, Esther?” Livia said, green eyes flashing in mild annoyance as her lips curled in a small smile. Her pale skin seemed to glow in sharp contrast with her black robes, gold trimmings glittering as she moved.
“Oh, you know how it goes, Livvy,” said the offending girl, simpering, as her cheeks flushed from the censure in the former’s tone of voice. “It’s nothing short of a miracle to have that elusive fellow finally agree to be respectfully wedded. Rumour has it he was enraptured with you after…”
“Hang the rumours,” came the curt answer. “Dorian has been ill for months now, and I will not have any of this talk when he’s around. It puts him in a proper foul mood.”
“Esther, that’s quite tactless of you, my dear,” said another, her voice trilling above the hum of conversations down the hall. This one was called Julia, and she was just as much a gossip as the other. Her eyes darted between the two women, eagerly latching herself onto the conversation at hand like a thirsty Druffalo stumbling across an oasis.
“Quite,” came the response from a long-suffering Livia, “Whatever happened in the past, Dorian is quite content to put it to rest and have moved on. ”
“But there have been so many gossips abound, my dear,” Esther insisted, “The poor boy must have been so distraught to have lost his memories after that horrible sea voyage from the South back home to Qarinus.”
“That poor boy is doing very well, thank you for your concern Lady Valyn,” came the drawl from behind them. Young Pavus leaned by the doorway, arms crossed, his eyes as steely as Andraste’s blade. He did not look pleased.
“Now if you are done harassing my wife, I would like to have a moment with her, please. Alone.”
Sufficiently chastised, the two ladies took their leave from the chamber, casting coy looks behind them as they did.
“What ghastly creatures they are,” Dorian observed, casting his disapproving gaze at their retreating backs. “And those shoes! With that outfit! I know better women who have been assassinated for lesser crimes than those.”
Dorian turned to her, his corners of his lips curled in amusement.
“I do hope you do not intend to invite them to our home in future, my dear. I have no intentions of playing host to such monstrosities.”
Livia laughed, teeth flashing white before tilting her face up to kiss her husband.
“Well, I’d have to thank you for saving me from a rather unpleasant encounter, amatus,” she said, with a smile.
“Were they bothering you?” he asked, concerned. “What did they say?”
There was a pause.
“Nothing of importance,” came the smooth reply. Dorian peered into her eyes, seemingly unconvinced before he shrugged and offered his arm. He smiled.
“Your brother’s looking for you, you know,” he revealed, as they made their way down the long corridor towards the hall.
“Rilienus,” she groaned. “What does he want this time?”
“He’s rather upset with me for taking his dear sister away from him. Challenged me to a duel and everything. It might have been the wine talking, but my manly pride is at stake here. I'll have to take him up on his offer when he sobers up.”
“We’ve already spent too much time together as it were. Rilienus is such a child… even if he is only four minutes younger than I am.”
The murmurs of the guests increased in volume, and the musical strains of the lute became more distinct. Dorian suddenly swayed, his pulse racing as he turned a little pale. The pair paused for a moment, as he took deep calming breaths.
“You don’t have to go out there if you don’t want to… or if you can’t, Dorian,” Livia whispered, running slim, ringed fingers through her husband’s hair. “You could return to your chambers. I know you hate mingling, especially when you feel so ill.”
“Father expects me to,” he answered, pressing his fingers to his eyes. He looked exhausted.
“Did you drink your tea? It might help calm your nerves.”
Dorian made a face.
“I hate the taste of that thing. I have no idea what’s in it,” he complained as colour slowly returned to his cheeks.
“Well all right, I won’t tell your father you’ve missed your dose. Do let me know if you need to rest, darling.”
There was a soft exchange of smiles before Dorian took his wife’s hand, brushing his lips against her knuckles. Then, arm in arm they strolled towards the guests in the hall, looking every bit like the happily wedded couple the Tevinter Imperium expected them to be.
It was raining. Again. Lightning flashed across the sky, turning everything a blinding white before dissipating into nothingness. The cold seemed to lash down upon their heads like pickaxes. Fat droplets stung the Lieutenant’s eyes as the company clamoured to set up camp, foot and fingers slipping in the dark and the damp.
Their Commander stood apart from the rest, back straight and at attention, his keen eye peering into the darkness.
“See anything, chief?” he ventured to ask.
There was no response. No matter. He did not expect one anyway.
He tucked his chin against his chest and returned to the task at hand, occasionally darting concerned glances at the Qunari as he stood, motionless like a statue in the night as the storm raged around them.