Tired, sore, and covered in dirt, Dorian could have cried when the first signs of civilization came into view. Escaping Tevinter on foot, while necessary, had not been Dorian’s finest idea. The journey south had been a long one full of despair and regret but finally, here he was.
Each step forward took all his willpower as he fought the urge to sit and weep. The stress of the last few weeks had worn at him but he was still a Pavus, for all that his father claimed otherwise, and a Pavus did not weep. Especially not in sheer, overwhelming relief.
As the houses on the horizon drew closer Dorian could see that Haven Valley was a town, of sorts. Perhaps village would be a more accurate description. The houses were small but well cared for and quaint enough to be in a painting at his parent’s manor. Hard packed dirt made up the streets except for a small square he could see in the center of the village.
A few people lingered about, their open stares not bothering him as perhaps they once would. He had enough energy left to find the blue two-story house across from the square but nothing more to spare a few gawkers. Felix’s directions had been vague; follow the road past Redcliffe and keep going until he found Haven Valley. The mayor lived in the big blue house at the center of town, on the edge of the square. She’d take care of the rest.
And there it was; a house decorated with numerous flower planters and its walls a soft shade of perfectly upkept blue.
The door opened before Dorian could knock to reveal a beautifully presented woman in a dress ornate enough for an Orlesian court. Gold ruffles accented a darker blue than her house and her hair was seemingly effortlessly swept back into a tidy bun. Dorian had felt underdressed before, on purpose if he was being unusually honest, what better way to stir up his fellow countrymen than to show up to their soirees fashionably undressed? But standing before this pristine looking woman in filthy, torn travelling gear was something entirely new.
“Dorian, I presume?”
He blinked, surprised, before managing to pull himself together. “Ah, yes. Dorian Pavus, most recently of Minrathous.”
“Josephine Montilyet, the mayor of Haven Valley,” she replied by way of introduction, a sweet smile overtaking her face. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’ve been in contact with your friend Felix, he was quite correct that you would be unmistakable.”
“But of course, my dashing good looks and superior fashion sense have preceded me!” Dorian reached a hand up to twirl the end of his mustache through his fingers in a tired mimicry of his usual charm. “It’s the moustache, isn’t it? Few Fereldens seem to understand the nuances of properly manicured facial hair.”
Josephine laughed, her smile widening. “Felix was nothing but flattering, I assure you. Now, give me but a moment and we can be on our way.”
She disappeared further into the house leaving Dorian standing awkwardly on her doorstep. Inside he could make out a well-appointed hallway with a long rug, several paintings lining the walls, and a delicate table displaying an ornate vase. That was a promising start at least, he didn’t expect anyone in Ferelden to have good taste.
“Felix sent a package for when you arrive,” Josephine said as she handed over a decently sized package. Dorian staggered briefly under the unexpected weight and took a moment to appreciate the ease Josephine had handled it with. “He was really quite worried about you. I’ll organize to send a raven while you settle in, I’m sure he’d feel more at ease knowing you’ve arrived safely.”
She carefully shut the door to the house behind her, not locking it Dorian noted, before setting off in a seemingly random direction. People waved as they passed, often calling out greetings to Josephine, and Dorian nodded in return to anyone that made eye contact. The number of houses that made up the village could be counted on both hands and a sinking feeling was settling low in Dorian’s gut.
“Don’t mind the staring, it’s not often we get new residents. Bull was the last, and that was a few years ago now. They’ll stop once they get to meet you.” Josephine turned to flash Dorian a smile where he lagged behind, trying not to show how out of breath he was carrying his package. Vishante kaffas, what had Felix put in here? It felt suspiciously like books.
“I’ll make a note to stop by and introduce myself sometime, after all, I couldn’t deprive them of my wonderous presence.” If it came out with a little more sarcasm than he intended, Josephine didn’t seem to mind. She merely laughed, a quiet thing but unrestrained, and full of understanding humour.
“Don’t pressure yourself, you need to rest after your journey. There’s plenty of time for all that later and I’ll make sure everyone gives you a chance to settle in. Travel is hard at the best of times and Felix said that your move was unexpected.”
They fell into silence as they walked, Dorian now too out of breath to even attempt to talk. Josephine was right, the travel had taken its toll on him. All the staff training and hours spent keeping in shape had nothing on travelling for days, weeks, on foot. A few hitched rides in farmers carts did little to ease his tired body and nothing but the most pressing of exhaustion could ease his wounded spirit.
The village disappeared from view behind lush forest and still they followed the beaten dirt road. Just as he was about to question where, exactly, they were headed, Josephine spoke up.
“It’s not far now, the house is only a brisk walk from the village. Quite a lovely location, private but close, with plenty of space for you to renovate as you choose. I’m afraid it’s rather run down, it’s been vacant for a few years now, but when I heard that someone was finally interested in purchasing the old Dennet farm, I was delighted! It has such potential, it’s wasted sitting unused.”
Oh. Oh no. Please. Maker, please let Dorian have misheard.
“Felix said this is a new endeavor for you, so please do not hesitate to reach out if you need anything.”
The trees ahead opened up into a clearing. Waist high grass swayed gently in the breeze, interspersed with trees, fallen branches, and what looked suspiciously like boulders. The gentle sound of running water floated on the wind, suggesting a river hidden somewhere in the grass. In the center of it all a tiny wooden shack sat, bearing the faintest resemblance to something that might have been a farmhouse.
“Felix,” Dorian whispered as he stopped dead in his tracks. “What have you done?”