“Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.” -Oscar Wilde
“Really Broody,” Varric said, raising an eyebrow as though Fenris was a petulant child he had the misfortune to babysit. “I haven’t even explained what the job is.”
“I’m still going to reply with a ‘no’,” Fenris declared, pondering if agreeing to meet Varric in this greasy dive in Ostwick that was reminiscent of Kirkwall’s Hanged Man was a sensible idea. The chairs squeaked loudly as though they were on the verge of collapsing into piles of wooden sticks, and the alcoholic drinks were subpar and watered down.
Especially since becoming involved in the Inquisition encouraged Varric to throw himself and his friends into altruistic endeavors. While Fenris’ killing sprees of slavers resulted in many people gaining their freedom, it was a minor side effect, and he reveled in his infamous reputation amongst Tevinter slavers.
“Look I can empathize that you have bad memories of your last time in Tevinter,” Varric said. “But we really don’t have anyone else who understands how to interact in high society. And you’ll be going in disguise.”
Fenris sighed, because as exasperating Varric was, he was one of the few people who truly believed in him. “Fine, what’s the job?” he queried.
Varric made a cursory glance around to ensure no one was eavesdropping, before he replied, “The Inquisition forged some alliances with the Lucerni, a Tevinter political party that hopes to bring about reforms to the Empire. However, they’ve hit a snag as several of their members have gone missing, and are presumed dead. They need to uncover who’s behind these disappearances and put a stop to it.”
“That’s where I come in I suppose,” Fenris uttered wryly, as though the political situation in Tevinter was of no interest to him. In truth, he instinctively desired to completely dismantle the Tevinter Imperium’s slavery system from the inside. Nevertheless, Fenris recognized that such an endeavor would be a suicide mission, and he preferred to continue living.
Varric nodded. “They need someone who is an outsider in order to view the situation objectively while not drawing too much attention to themselves.”
It was tempting; the opportunity to ensure that many other slaves from the Imperium would break their shackles and become free. However, Fenris intuited Varric was withholding a key piece of intel that would alter his opinion of the enterprise.
“There’s a catch, isn’t there?” he queried. “Must I work with one of my former master’s surviving relatives perhaps?”
“No, but the person you will be working with is an Altus named Dorian Pavus,” Varric explained.
Fenris vaguely recollected that House Pavus was a rival of his former master’s, which meant that a member of said family wouldn’t feel obligated to avenge Danarius’ untimely demise. “I guess it could be worse. Who am I posing as?”
“A soldier of the Inquisition appointed to serve as a bodyguard to Dorian,” Varric replied. “You’ll have a salary, room, and food covered.”
“Fine, I’ll embark on this mission.”
Varric sighed in relief, and Fenris reflected that the one perk of this scenario was that whatever room he was given would be far superior to the walk-in closet sized studio above the bar that was his current abode.
To say Dorian Pavus was apprehensive about meeting the notorious Fenris would be a gigantic understatement. While he admired the elf for seizing his freedom and assisting others, Dorian recognized that Fenris would react the way most Southerners did when introduced to him. Hopefully, Varric reminded the elf that ripping Dorian’s heart out of his chest would cause the Inquisition far too much paperwork.
Of course, Varric insisted on meeting near the borders of Tevinter in a notorious dive called The One-Eyed Elf with dim lighting, creaky metal stools, and a healthy mix of both Tevinter and Southern voices. The bar’s claim to fame was an elf statue with unrealistically ripped muscles and appeared to be on many people’s bucket lists if the sketch artist accruing a small fortune via doing people’s portraits with the blasted thing was anything to go on. Although even Dorian privately admitted that the view was rather fetching as he sipped a subpar Orlesian ale and longed for the crisp, fruity wines of either Antiva or Tevinter.
He was on the verge of forking over money to have his portrait done in spite of the scandal it would stir up, when Varric finally arrived with Fenris in toe. Dorian barely suppressed the urge to blush crimson at the sight of the elf, whose clothing barely concealed his well-defined muscles. Maybe the elf statue wasn’t unrealistic after all.
Varric grinned when he recognized his friend. “How are you doing Sparkler? Are they treating you right in Tevinter?”
“Just the usual backstabbing and jockeying in the Magisterium,” Dorian replied. “Well except for your sweet cousin.”
“You have a cousin who’s a Magister?” Fenris interjected, although his expression was more inquisitive than irate.
Varric held up a hand in defense. “By marriage, and I didn’t want you giving me the stink eye for it. Sparkler, where’s this charm that’s supposed to disguise our grumpy friend?”
Dorian was mildly amused to note that this comment prompted a flurry of Tevene obscenities from Fenris. The man possessed an impressive vocabulary, and Dorian filed away a couple of the curse words for his own personal use the next time another Southerner commenced an altercation with the “evil Tevinter mage”. He pulled out the star shaped, fuchsia colored charm that he cajoled his mother into crafting since charms weren’t his specialty.
“This may tickle a little when you first put it on,” he noted. “However, it should shield you from prying eyes unless they either know your true identity or suspect. Did Varric already brief you about your cover story?”
“I’m Luke, a soldier to the Inquisition and a cousin of James,” Fenris replied. “I’ve been reassigned to serve as your bodyguard since Inquisitor Cadash is concerned that you’re in danger of being assassinated. I will write all my reports in code to James in the guise of letters, who will relay them to the Inquisitor.”
“Good luck Broody,” Varric said. “And if either of you need me to come charging in and save your asses, just call and I’ll be there.”
After Varric departed, there was brief moment of awkward silence until Fenris said, “I suppose I should find the nearest bathroom and put this on.”
Dorian nodded and as Fenris sauntered off, he couldn’t help but eye his well-formed body. Yes, he knew perfectly well that the elf would eviscerate him if Dorian said any words that contained even a whiff of flirtation, but Dorian was a weak man and chose to enjoy the view at least.
It was two weeks since he’d donned his disguise, and Fenris still wasn’t used to seeing a paled skinned blond-haired human with blue-gray eyes in mirror instead of his own features. On a positive note, Dorian Pavus turned out not to be as much of an arrogant upper-class twit as Fenris feared he would be. The man genuinely wanted to improve life for the slaves who toiled in the Imperium, and he even inquired of Fenris’ opinion regarding certain new laws he hoped to pass. While Dorian did occasionally make insensitive comments, the mage was humble enough to recognize his shortcomings and vow to improve.
At least his occupation as a bodyguard was familiar territory, although occasionally Fenris pinched himself to remember that he wasn’t back under his old master’s leash. Now, if he could just convince Dorian not to go on too many jaunts into questionable establishments by himself.
“You sound like my mother, needing to know my exact location at all times,” Dorian grumbled, although his heart wasn’t entirely in the argument.
“I will take that as a compliment Pavus,” Fenris replied, reveling in the fact he wasn’t required to refer to Dorian as Dominus, or Master, since he was a freedman.
They finally arrived at the Pavus domus, or town home that the family utilized while they had business in the capital. The true family seat was out in the countryside, and Dorian bragged that his family’s vineyard created the finest wines in Tevinter. His father, Magister Pavus, was conveniently out of town on business. However, his mother the Lady Pavus was present, and was eager to pull her son into a tight hug. Dorian complained, but the grin affixed on his face revealed he was ecstatic to see his mother.
Fenris bowed formally since she was the mistress of the household. “Domina Pavus, you look lovely today,” he said, recalling the complicated dialogue that was protocol in the Imperium.
Dorian’s mother snorted wryly. “I’m afraid I am immune to flattery after being exposed to it for years, but you speak well for a Southerner.”
Fenris thanked her, and fled to his assigned cubiculum as politely as possible. His and Dorian’s room adjourned each other’s via a shared toilet and washstand room. As much as Fenris despised the Imperium, having actual plumbing instead of the chamber pots the Southerners depended on was a luxury he could easily accustom himself to. He’d barely finished freshening up when he heard a pounding on the door that led to Dorian’s room.
As he opened the door, Fenris reflected that his feelings for Dorian were different than the enmity he’d felt against the abomination. It was somewhat confusing since he mostly felt attracted towards women, and as Isabela gently explained to him during their brief friends with benefits relationship, what he did with Danarius didn’t count since he’d been unable to truly consent to it.
Dorian grinned. “Maeveris is throwing a party and most of the Magisters and their apprentices are invited. It’s a perfect opportunity for you to size up who could potentially be committing these murders.”
“Just as long as I don’t have to converse with any Magisters,” Fenris replied.
“Most of them will probably ignore you since you’re just a bodyguard, even one who’s a liberatus, but isn’t worth their time,” Dorian pointed out. “Plus, since you’re guarding me it won’t be seen as unusual if you ask some personal questions about the guests present.”
It was a perfect strategy, Fenris knew instinctively, but it didn’t alter the fact he despised parties and he would prefer a vacation in the Black City over this. To Maeveris’ credit, the party décor wasn’t too ostentatious and Fenris stocked up on black olives, creamy brie cheese wedged between water crackers, and fresh grapes. He avoided the fish cakes as even the smell made his stomach churn in protest. Dorian teased him a bit, but thankfully didn’t pressure him into ingesting any like Danarius would have.
“Dorian you can’t keep stealing all the hot men around here,” a white blonde-haired woman named Sophia Thalrassian whined. Fenris guessed she was probably around nineteen or twenty years old. “At this rate, there won’t be anyone left for me!”
“I hate to correct you cousin, but Luke is my bodyguard not my lover,” Dorian replied easily, although there was a wariness in his tone.
“Doesn’t mean he can’t be both,” Sophia snarked, before leaving to scout for potential conquests.
“I’m sorry about Sophia,” Dorian said. “She’s young and isn’t particularly tactful even at the best of times.”
Fenris shrugged, used to ignoring the spoiled offspring of magisters. “I’ve heard worse.”
Dorian introduced him to more members of the Lucerni, although the only one who stood out was Valeria Aquila with her vivid, scarlet hair and ocean blue eyes. She appeared to be in her mid-twenties and blushed furiously when they were introduced.
“So, how’s Marcus progressing in his studies?” Dorian politely inquired.
“Fine, although my brother Cassius continues to insist that I’m babying him,” Valeria replied with an eye role.
“Well I would prefer not to have my heir tied to his mother’s apron strings,” Cassius snarked as he sidled up to the trio. Fenris noted that the siblings were as different as night and day. Cassius’ hair was black as ebony, and he was shorter than his sister, whose long legs resembled a giraffe’s. He briefly eyed Fenris curiously before dismissing him as just another bodyguard.
“Cassius, are you looking forward to the opening session of the Magisterium?” Dorian queried, clearly attempting to gain insight into the magister’s thought processes.
Unfortunately for Dorian, Cassius refused to be baited. “You’ll have to find out what my strategy is the day the new session of the Magisterium begins Pavus; frankly you already possess enough advantages over the rest of us with your impeccable bloodline and connections. You don’t need any more shortcuts.”
After several rounds of banter, it became clear that neither man would give ground to the other, so Dorian politely excused himself and went to located Maeveris.
“I must say this has been a lovely evening my dear,” Dorian complimented. In spite of his lack of sexual interest in women, Dorian could passively feign desire enough to have some women sighing after him.
Maeveris sipped her champagne before she replied. “Well at least, we managed to smooth things over with the neutral factions. Some of them might be willing to vote our way on certain issues as long as we agree to support some of their endeavors.”
“I’ll take your word for it. Personally, I’ve decided to call it a night.”
“Good, and please be careful Dorian,” Maeveris replied. “I’d hate to see anything terrible befall you just because, you got careless.”
With that cheerful thought in mind, Dorian departed with Fenris by his side. The elf didn’t stop glancing over their shoulders until they were safely in the confines of the litter.
The one perk of Fenris and Maeveris policing his alcohol intake was that Dorian woke without a hangover. By the time he was freshened up and dressed, it was mid-morning and the majority of the household was already in the midst of their daily routines. Fenris predictably was sparring with a couple of the household guards, who were ecstatic to test their skills against a new opponent.
When he noticed Dorian, he paused. “Was there something you wanted me to do Pavus?” he inquired.
Dorian shrugged. “When you’re ready I’d like you to look over the papers and see if you spot any patterns. It doesn’t have to be right this second though.”
Fenris seemed shocked by Dorian’s laissez-faire attitude towards his schedule. “After lunch then.”
Dorian nodded, and hastily retreated before he said something he’d regret. Varric warned that Fenris would react badly if flirted with, and Dorian preferred to not be missing any of his appendages. He didn’t have much an appetite, so he opted for a blood orange and a couple of soft-boiled eggs with fresh whole wheat bread to scrape up the runny yokes. His mother was conveniently absent, and Dorian would feel guilty to distract the household slaves from their tasks just because he was bored.
So, he trotted around the perimeter of the domus, checking for any potential weaknesses that intruders could exploit. It was tedious work, but it distracted him from mooning over the extremely hot and unattainable elf. Just he was contemplating arranging to visit Maeveris to talk strategy, Fenris finally showed up, clearly exerted from his sparring practice.
“I’m ready to look over those papers you mentioned if you are,” he said calmly.
Dorian nodded, and led Fenris down the corridor to what used to be his father’s old office before their estrangement and tentative reconciliation. Fenris glanced at the profiles for Dorian’s deceased compatriots. Four of the five people either genuinely wanted to improve life in the Imperium or were searching for a way to springboard their own political career.
Derek Delacroix was different. He was an Orlesian with business ties to the Imperium who managed to assist in establishing connections between the Orlesian court and the Lucerni. Connections that would be worth their weight in gold when the Qunari decided to refocus their attempts to conquer the Imperium. At least that was the plan before the man turned up in a rancid back alley with his throat slit. Now, their tentative allies refused to associate with the Lucerni until Derek’s killer was apprehended.
“Is it possible he might have been killed for having an affair?” Fenris inquired.
“No, we already investigated and confirmed he wasn’t engaged in any extra marital affairs,” he replied. “Moreover, his wife isn’t the jealous type according to the spies we discreetly dispatched to observe her.”
“Have you looked into everyone who associated with him?” Fenris asked.
“Everyone who isn’t a member of the Lucerni and they’ve all been cleared.”
“Which is why you brought me in, to observe and pinpoint who in the Lucerni is killing off your people,” Fenris said, his respect for Dorian and his colleagues increasing exponentially. Maybe, the Lucerni actually possessed a chance to radically alter Tevinter’s laws.
“More or less,” Dorian said. “Varric mentioned how you’re excellent at noticing things others overlook.”
“I think that’s the first compliment he’s ever given me,” Fenris replied, clearly pleased by Varric’s praise of his capabilities.
All Dorian required was to unmask whoever Derek’s killer was and then the elf would be gone and Dorian could forget about his doomed attraction towards Fenris.
Fenris spent the next two hours combing through reports of various members of the Lucerni. He’d managed to take several members off the suspect list as they were accounted for when one of the murders took place. However, there was a burning question that lingered in the back of his mind. Finally, he chose to take the plunge and ask the mage. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be irritated by his prying.
“Umm…Dorian? How exactly did you figure out you were attracted to men?” Fenris cautiously queried.
Dorian glanced around anxiously as though he expected his father to materialize in the room and condemn for failing to marrying a woman and produce a herd of heirs to carry on the Pavus name. Ash, the guard Fenris sparred with earlier, noted that while Pavus and his father appeared to have reconciled on the surface, tension still remained. “I just never felt attracted to women at all, even when I was a boy,” he explained. “Whereas, I always felt drawn to men, even though I didn’t fully comprehend why. I quickly learned not to express those feelings out loud since they were viewed as distasteful in Tevinter. Why did you ask?”
“No reason,” Fenris rapidly said, silently praying that he didn’t start blushing scarlet, thus revealing his crush on the mage.
Fortunately, the pair were interrupted by a rapid knocking on the chamber door.
“It’s probably Mother, passive aggressively reminding me it’s supper time,” Dorian uttered.
Instead of Dorian’s mother, it was a petite teenage elf maiden with strawberry blond hair and blue-gray eyes. Judging by the badge attached to her person, she was one of Maeveris’ indentured servants who received a free education in a trade and would be freed with an excellent letter of recommendation in five years’ time. “Domina sent me to inform you to your cousin Sophia was found murdered in her apartment early this morning, and she wished to arrange a meeting to discuss things with you.”
Dorian nodded. “Thank you, and feel free to pick up a meal with our cook before you leave.”
Fenris’ limbs went numb in shock at this disastrous news. While he’d detested the blunt manner in which Sophia flirted with him, she hadn’t deserved to be murdered. Judging from Dorian’s expression, the man was devastated, and fought to hold back his tears of grief. Instinctively, Fenris wrapped his arms around Dorian in a tight hug, and was surprised when the man reciprocated, gripping him tightly was though Fenris were the one steady rock in the altus’ ocean of grief.
Finally, Dorian extracted himself from the embrace. “We need to inform Mother of Sophia’s demise since she is her aunt. I’d rather she heard the news from me instead of a stranger.”
The pair made their way down the hallway to Dorian’s mother’s room, which coincidently was on the other side of the house from Dorians’ father’s room. Shockingly, Fenris discerned moaning from the other side of the door that was obviously of a sexual nature. Dorian blushed crimson and hesitated for a couple of seconds before firmly knocking on the door.
“Who is it?” a familiar young voice inquired.
“Dorian Pavus,” Dorian proclaimed, attempting to sound blasé in spite of the awkward situation.
Footsteps lightly tapped, and the door squeaked open slightly. Valeria Aquila cautiously poked her head out, and noticing the pair, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Her clothes were a little disheveled, but at least she had them on. “Your mother’s resting right now, but she’ll be out soon,” she explained. “I’ll see myself out since you’re busy.”
“I’ll escort you out, and inform the kitchen to start preparing dinner,” Fenris interjected, eager to escape from this awkward situation.
Dorian nodded in dismissal, and Fenris departed from the scene as swiftly as his legs could carry him.
Dorian knew of course, that his parents hadn’t shared a marital bed since a few months after his own birth, and both discreetly carried out affairs occasionally. It was one thing to know, and accept this, and another to find out his mother was carrying on with a woman younger than he was. Moreover, Dorian was ignorant that his mother was apparently attracted to women in addition to men. At least, it explained why his mother was drinking in moderation now, and wasn’t attending as many parties as she used to.
After a few minutes elapsed, Aquinea Thalrassian emerged fully dressed with her white blond hair neatly pinned, and her brown eyes that were Dorians’ sole inheritance from her glancing warily at the ground. “I never meant for you to learn about this ‘relationship’, at least not in this manner,” she said.
“It’s ok,” Dorian replied, and reminded himself that his mother deserved some happiness of her own. “And if Father catches wind of this, it won’t be from me.”
His mother smiled in gratitude of his support. “So, what was the news you needed to bring me?”
Dorian quickly elaborated on Sophia’s murder, and the smile on his mother’s face vanished rapidly like the sun before an approaching thunderstorm.
“Poor Aurelius and Maya,” his mother uttered. “They’ll be devastated.”
Uncle Aurelius was his mother’s elder brother and currently occupied the Thalrassian seat in the Magisterium. Politically, he’d never outright supported the Lucerni, but he hadn’t opposed their efforts either. That would change with Sophia’s murder, and Dorian cursed that the murderer still wasn’t apprehended.
“Did Sophia have a boyfriend Mother?” Dorian queried, grasping for any possible leads int his case.
His mother shook her head. “Not that I know of. Let’s have dinner first, and then we can discuss what may have befallen Sophia.”
When the funeral dawned a week later, they still hadn’t identified the culprit. No one seemed to recall when Sophia left the party, and Maeveris was too preoccupied with overseeing the cleanup to be of much help. The only bright spot was that Uncle Aurelius didn’t harbor any ill will against the Lucerni, and offered to share resources to bring down Sophia’s killer. The only positive news was that Sophia’s suitors all possessed rock solid alibis, and didn’t have the motive to pay an assassin to do the insidious deed.
However, his mother’s younger brother Uncle Alaire was pointedly ignoring him, and he brought neither his two teenage daughter nor his wife Irene. Sophia’s younger brother Arthur glared daggers at him, and Dorian suspected that only the presence of his mother Maya prevented the teenage boy from attacking the relations he deemed responsible.
The reception afterwards at Uncle Aurelius’ domus was solemn and featured several of Sophia’s favorite dishes: roast lamb bathed in red wine and rosemary leaves, Orlesian onion soup, crisp apple pie, and almond marzipan candies shaped to resemble the legendary unicorn that was the Thalrassian family symbol. Dorian wasn’t hungry however, and left with his mother, the family guards, and Fenris as soon as it was polite to do so.
“Remember not to allow anyone to enter the domus,” he reminded his mother. “Even if they appear to trustworthy.”
His mother predictably rolled her eyes. “I’m quite capable of defending myself young man. After all, I was the top student at the Circle I attended.”
“And whoever is after us is probably aware of that fact and has taken precautions against it,” Dorian replied, before departing to Maeveris’ house. Perhaps, she could aid them in narrowing down the list of suspects.
“There’s no way Valeria is the murderer we’ve sought!” Dorian argued. “She’s so timid she couldn’t swat down a fly!”
“Nevertheless, she was spotted with most of the deceased prior to their deaths and we don’t have an account of where she was the night of Sophia’s murder,” Maeveris countered.
Fenris barely suppressed a sigh, as for the past two hours Maeveris and Dorian debated the various suspects they’d written up dossiers on based on motive and means. To say their discussions gave him a headache was a massive understatement.
“Actually, I can confirm that she spent the night at my family domus,” Dorian explained.
Maeveris appeared as though she contemplated querying why Valeria stayed overnight at the Pavus family home, but decided to focus on other matters for the moment. “Unfortunately, that kills the one viable suspect we have in the Lucerni since all our other suspects either lack the money, means, or possess alibis.”
Just then, Fenris experienced a flash of inspiration and berated himself for not considering it sooner. “Does Cassius have any children?” he inquired.
Dorian shook his head. “No, he doesn’t. His first wife died in childbirth and the baby only lived long enough to be blessed by the Chantry and named Gaius. His second wife was suspected of infidelity and disappeared under shall we say ‘fishy circumstances’ before her trial was to commence. His current heir is Valeria’s son Marcus and he isn’t too pleased with him since Valeria married a soporoti named Miles. They petitioned the Magisterium to allow Marcus to carry on the Aquila family name since the title would go to a distant cousin otherwise.”
“What happened to her husband?” Fenris asked.
Dorian frowned. “He disappeared not long after Marcus was born. It’s part of the reason why Valeria is so protective of her son.”
“It’s an interesting theory Luke, but unfortunately we lack proof that Cassius is the culprit behind the murders,” Maeveris interjected.
“Pretend that you suspect Valeria,” Fenris proposed. “That might lure Cassius into a false sense of security and then he’ll slip and reveal his diabolical schemes. At least, that’s the strategy that Varric would suggest.”
“I’m not entirely certain if Varric is an excellent source for strategies, but it may very well be the best plan we have,” Dorian replied.
The two mages calmly ran through the plan, contemplating various scenarios to how Cassius would react once their net was tightened around him. As vital as these plans were, Fenris was relieved when they arrived at the Pavus domus after a short supper of cream of spinach soup with beef broth and Orlesian baguette to dip in it.
“Dorian there’s something I need to tell you that’s private,” Fenris said. “Could we meet in your room.”
Dorian shrugged. “I suppose, although I don’t quite understand why you insist on secrecy.”
Dorian’s room was as fashionable as Dorian himself with a handcrafted scarlet chest to store the man’s tunics and robes, a midnight blue cabinet that held all of Dorian’s magical supplies, and a well-appointed bed in the Tevinter style.
Fenris reminded himself to breathe deeply and exhale. It was still difficult to recollect that it was perfectly normal to have desires and wants of his own now that Danarius was no longer present to dictate his behavior. “I don’t know exactly how to explain this to you Dorian, but you mean a lot to me.”
“To be honest, it never occurred to me you would be interested in me considering that you mostly seemed attracted to women, and you understandably despise Tevinter mages,” Dorian rambled. It was the first time Fenris observed the man struggling to articulate his words.
“I’m bisexual,” Fenris said, utilizing the same word the abomination referred to himself as. “You aren’t what I anticipated when Varric pressured me into undertaking this mission. You’re compassionate, and you’re assisting in improving life in Tevinter out of genuine altruism.”
“And you’re just as courageous and handsome as I imagined you might be from reading Varric’s book. Actually, I developed a bit of a crush on you from reading Tale of the Champion, and Varric will attest that I badgered him for more intel on you.”
It wasn’t the first time Fenris acquired an admirer from that ridiculous book of Varric’s. However, it was the first time he’d actually gotten to know the person and was falling love with them to boot.
“Would you mind removing the amulet?” Dorian queried. “We should be safe in here.”
Fenris carefully removed the amulet, and placed it on top of the scarlet chest. Briefly, he felt dizzy as his body returned to its usual form, not unlike his experiences with sea sickness while on boats. Wiry arms reached out to provide support, and Fenris eagerly grabbed them until his vision cleared.
“It’s good to know my memory of your good looks is flawless,” Dorian quipped.
Fenris pressed his lips against Dorian’s mostly to shut him up, but was pleased at how skilled the mage clearly was at kissing. Instead of being a pleasant sojourn like with Isabela, the kiss was a fire burning through Fenris’ body, and it was only his need for air that coaxed him to break the kiss.
“That was different,” Fenris observed.
“I hope you mean in a good way,” Dorian snarked.
Fenris rolled his eyes. “Of course, I mean in a good way you silly altus. In fact, I suggest we put this bed of yours to good use.”
Dorian grinned in excitement. “That’s exactly what I was thinking.”
Dorian’s robes proved difficult to remove, or perhaps it was Fenris’ eagerness that decreased his ability to perform the task. His own disrobing was easier, and excitement welled in his chest. Fenris was pleased to note that in spite of his wiry frame there was plenty of taut muscle in the mage’s arms and chest.
At the last moment, Dorian hesitated. “Are you sure you want this Fenris?”
“Kaffas!” Fenris yelled. “What must I do to prove this is what I desire most Pavus!”
“Well when you put it like that,” Dorian said.
After that, there was no need for more words, because their bodies more eloquently expressed their emotions.
For once, Dorian’s slumber was dreamless and he awoke refreshed and ecstatic. Fenris continued to sleep beside him, and Dorian didn’t move an inch for fear that Fenris would abruptly awaken and change his mind about being involved with a scandalous Tevinter mage. He instinctively sensed that losing Fenris would smash his cracked heart to a million glass shards, and Dorian wouldn’t possess the inclination to mend it.
“What’s wrong?” Fenris inquired. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
“No,” Dorian was quick to reassure him. “I’m a little sore, but not much more than if I’d been sparring.”
“That was amazing,” Fenris admitted. “Better than Isabela, although I can see now why she enjoys sex so much.”
“Glad to hear my skills in bed aren’t rusty,” Dorian joked. “I guess we should see about acquiring some breakfast, and luring our suspect into the open. Uncle Aurelius would willingly a couple of guards to tail Valeria. Hopefully, Cassius will slip and make a mistake.”
“Hopefully, and Dorian?”
Fenris grinned wolfishly at the endearment. “Could we have Poor Soldiers for breakfast?” Fenris asked. “It’s been too long since I’ve had it.”
“Sure,” Dorian replied, eager to please his new lover.
The next two weeks were both blissful, and stressful. It was blissful thanks to his new relationship with Fenris, even if they were discrete about it. It was stressful since Cassius had yet to take the bait, and poor Valeria was understandably distressed that her status in the Lucerni lowered for no discernable reason. To make matters worse, his mother was perturbed at his cooler attitude towards her lover, and Dorian barely suppressed the urge to explain the trap they set for the true culprit. All he could do was wait patiently and pray to both the Maker and Andraste that the supercilious Cassius sprung the trap.
Thump! Thump! Aquinea woke with trepidation to the massive sound of someone knocking on the main doors to the domus. It was currently in the darkest part of the night, before the first stirrings of the birds and the first crimson rays of the rising sun. Even the servants charged with restarting the kitchen fire and commencing to cook breakfast for the household snoozed peacefully on their pallets in the house servants’ quarters.
She rolled over and buried her head under a soft, plump pillow filled with the finest goose feathers, and silently prayed to the Maker that the person pedantic enough to disturb her beauty sleep would depart and return at mid-morning, the appropriate time to receive callers. Unfortunately, the Maker ignored her prayer as the pounding on the main door to the domus grew louder and culminated in a massive crescendo.
“All right! I’m coming!” Aquinea yelled. She fumbled for her staff and carefully lit the golden, beeswax taper of her portable candle. Then, she pulled on a green, calf length robe that both provided warmth and covered her blue nightgown as was proper. Aquinea opted to pull her hair into a loose pony tail instead of disturbing her ladies’ maid. Finally, she pulled the russet colored Orlesian bed slippers her son gifted her for Midwinter onto her feet.
Carefully, she sauntered across the atrium, past her son’s bedchamber and into the vestibulum. Aquinea gently placed the candle holder on the smooth tile floor since opening the main doors required both her hands. While, she recognized her lover Valeria with her distinctive red hair and deep blue eyes, Aquinea murmured a spell that cancelled out any potential illusions. She might scoff at Dorian’s dire warnings, but it was better to be safe than sorry.
“Thank the Maker it’s you darling!” Valeria gasped, panting for breath. “Someone’s taken my son Marcus and I don’t have anyone else I trust!”
Aquinea’s heart sank like a bucket into the depths of a well. Marcus was a sweet boy, who viewed her as a second mother and was eager to utilize his magic abilities if not always consistent in their application. She silently vowed that the kidnapper would pay for his nefarious deed. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll wake my son and between the three of us we’ll get your son back.”
“But Dorian doesn’t trust me!” her lover replied, barely suppressing her need to cry.
“He will if I insist,” Aquinea declared. “Whatever you two are currently having, my son won’t allow an innocent boy to suffer.”
Dorian emerged from his chamber after a couple of knocks with Luke by his side, which confirmed Aquinea’s suspicions the two were romantically involved. Hopefully, it meant he would no longer frequent houses of prostitution. Her son’s face blanched as white as freshly fallen snow when she informed him of Marcus’ abduction.
“Maker damn Cassius to the void!” Dorian swore, and for once Aquinea agreed. “I didn’t foresee he would endanger his heir. Valeria, I apologize for the subterfuge, but it was necessary to lure your brother into the open. We believe he may be responsible for murdering all of our colleagues and Derek Delacroix.”
Comprehension dawned on Valeria’s face, and she replied, “As you already know, Cassius disapproves of how I’m raising my son Marcus. I’ve played along since he controls the stipend I live on, as well as Marcus’ inheritance. I joined the Lucerni so I could gain enough political clout to petition for full custody of my son as well as my stipend, which is a combination of my inheritance from my father and my dowry. Before he was murdered, Derek assisted me in setting up an account in Orlais in my own name that Cassius can’t control.”
Aquinea gently squeezed her lover’s hand in sympathy. Not even Halward possessed the audacity to threaten to cut off her dowry if she put a toe out of line.
“What about Sophia?” Luke queried, his blue-gray eyes shining with compassion for Valeria’s plight.
“He mentioned he was considering marrying her both for her substantial dowry and the massive inheritance she would have received once her father Aurelius died,” Valeria explained. “Something must have gone wrong though.”
“Do you have any clues as to where Cassius took your son?” Dorian inquired.
“I just have this paper, which was left in my son’s bed.” Valeria pulled out a cheap, piece of paper from her robe’s inner pocket and handed it to Dorian.
“It reads ‘if you wish to recover your son alive, then follow the riddle below: round like an apple deep like a cup, yet all the king’s horses can’t pull it up.’ There’s no signature, but I’m certain it’s from Cassius, since he glorifies taunting others to an art form.”
“The answer to the riddle would be a well, but I don’t see how that assists us since there are hundreds of well across Thedas and we unfortunately don’t possess the time to search them all for Marcus,” Aquinea uttered.
Suddenly, Luke lit up like Qunari fireworks. “That’s it! There’s an old, decrepit well just outside Minrathous utilized by the ancient elves of Elvhenan,” he explained. “According to slave gossip it also conceals a safehouse for runaway slaves. I’ll bet Cassius took Marcus there.”
“Well let’s pray that you are correct,” Aquinea declared, before she departed to rouse the household. Once the servants were aware of Marcus’ kidnapping, all volunteered to assist in the rescue mission. In the end, Aquinea chose to bring several household guards, and sent her maid servant with a note to her brother Aurelius informing him of the situation.
They dined on a breakfast of Rivaini coffee, hard boiled duck eggs, and dried apricots before they departed for the well. The streets were still mostly deserted apart from a couple of beggars, and one or two enterprising shopkeepers. Massive buildings gave way to rolling hills and trees, and within half an hour of riding, they arrived at the well. They tied up the horses and left one guard to watch over them.
“So, what now amatus?” Dorian inquired. “How do we access this entrance you spoke of earlier?”
Luke ignored the question, and gently ran his fingers over the well’s side until he pushed a hidden mechanism. A marble staircase sprang up from the well’s depths, and clicked to a stop on one of the well’s walls. Luke insisted on going first, and Aquinea breathed a sigh of relief that Dorian hadn’t recklessly volunteered to lead the group.
The caves were as damp and dusty as Aquinea anticipated they would be, and it didn’t take long to locate Cassius. The man clutched Marcus tightly with a knife to the boy’s throat. The only plus was he hadn’t thought to bring any of his bodyguards with him.
“Don’t get any closer or he dies!” Cassius yelled, his slate gray eyes burning with fury.
“Care to explain why you’re threatening your one viable heir?” Dorian queried, trying to sound casual.
“It’s because of that bitch!” Cassius jabbed a finger at his sister, who shrunk back. “Why did she get the child that was denied to me?! And you couldn’t be satisfied with your son as my heir. You had to join that stupid Lucerni group!”
“No,” Valeria declared quietly. “You chose to kill all those people, because you couldn’t bear the thought of losing control of how I lived my life.”
“But why kill Sophia?” Aquinea pressed for her brother’s sake.
Cassius shrugged. “That slut had the temerity to turn down my marriage proposal! And now you’re stuck, because there’s nothing you have that will make me give up your precious Marcus.”
“Yes, there is,” an unfamiliar voice declared.
Fenris had known instinctively that blowing his cover was the only way to save Marcus. It didn’t matter that the boy wasn’t a slave; he still didn’t deserve to be held hostage like this.
“Fenris please!” Dorian begged.
Fenris ignored the mage, as painful as that was. Saving Marcus was more important. “You can have me in exchange for the boy.”
Cassius furrowed his brows as though he expected perfidy, but finally caved. “Very well, but tell your friends to turn their backs.”
“We will, and I hope you know what you’re doing young man,” Aquinea said, before turning around.
Once the rest of the group turned, Fenris carefully moved forward until he was only a few paces from Cassius. The magister could barely contain his excitement at the thought of owning him. The only thing that kept Fenris from fleeing was the terrified boy in front of him.
“All right, I let him go on the count of three, and then you’ll have to come with me boy,” Cassius hissed. “One. Two. Three!”
The moment Cassius released Marcus, Fenris darted forward and shoved his hand into the man’s chest, ripping out his heart. He released the dead magister’s body, and discovered the group starred at him in astonishment. At least Marcus was safe in his mother’s arms.
Just then, footsteps echoed through the caves, heralding the arrival of another group.
“By the maker Aquinea!” Aurelius said. “What is going on here?”
Fortunately, both Uncle Aurelius and his mother were willing to take the presence of the infamous Fenris in stride since Sophia’s killer was finally vanquished. Hopefully, a combination of Valeria’s testimony and the encrypted diary they’d located on Cassius’ body would be enough to satisfy Derek’s merchant friends.
“However, I would prefer if you plan to utilize someone I care about as bait, you’ll give me some more warning next time,” his mother said.
It was early evening, and Fenris opted to spar with the household guards. Dorian decided to give him some space before they discussed his reckless actions.
“Mother, did you ever care about Father?” he asked.
“I wouldn’t say that we loved each other, but we were fond of each other before you were born,” she replied.
“And what happened?”
“I got sick after you were born. I felt useless and helpless for a long time, and your father feared I would become an abomination. It took months for my mind to recover, and I chose not to have any more children, because I worried it would happen again. We grew apart after that.”
“It wasn’t your fault Dorian,” she said. “However, since the Magisterium is likely to take away Marcus’ inheritance, I wondered if you’d be willing to adopt him as your heir.”
“Sure, and they can both live with us,” Dorian suggested.
His mother smiled at that before withdrawing to her room. While her answer regarding how the rift between his parents erupted was tragic, Dorian was pleased that his mother at least was ok with him never marrying or producing offspring.
Suddenly, a warm body hugged him from behind.
“You didn’t hear me, did you?” Fenris teased.
“I can’t help it that you’re so stealthy,” Dorian grumbled.
“I’ll stay if you want me to,” Fenris offered.
Dorian grinned. “Of course, I want you to stay. I’ll even help you compose a note to explain to Varric why you’re not leaving Tevinter.”
“Ok.” And so the pair held each other tightly, their hearts beating in unison.