The Winter Palace gleamed in all of her majesty and grandeur. Royals, guards, and hangers-on entered the winter retreat for Orlais in the height of fashion. Even the guards were well dressed.
“Makes me glad Vivienne told us to go for fashion instead of armor,” Alistair murmured in his wife’s ear. A month before, Miri and Alistair had received the request for assistance from the Inquisition, and the King and Queen of Ferelden pledged their forces, both as Grey Wardens and as royalty. The first request from the Keep had been assistance in the Orlesian Civil War talks at the Winter Palace.
And Miri was glad she was in fashion instead of her old Warden armor. They would have been far too out of place, and wouldn’t have looked the part they were going to play. But before she could comment to her husband, a squeal erupted from across the courtyard. Miri turned her head to see Leliana, in a fine red and gold military jacket, bounding towards her in black high-heeled boots. With only a few moments to react, Miri plucked the woman from the ground into a tight embrace, the smaller woman’s boots leaving the air completely.
“Leliana, it’s so good to see you again. I had hoped to run into you. I’d heard rumors you were with the Inquisition, but didn’t hear from you in the correspondence.”
“Do you remember the envelope with the outfit designs? Those were mine. And I must admit, the shade looks wonderful on you.” Leliana finally took a step back to admire her handiwork firsthand. Leliana’s designs were magnificent. Violet satin cascaded down one of Miri’s hips from the bodice, while ruffles peaked out from the other hip. All down the bodice and across the ruffles, Ferelden wildflowers grew in silver patterns, while the Ferelden Crest was proudly displayed on her satin hip. Likewise, Alistair was in a dark violet vest with black pants and cloak, the Ferelden crest on his right arm, and a silver pin bearing the Warden insignia. He embraced Leliana as well.
“I agree completely with my wife. It’s good to see you again. And we’re glad to help the Inquisition.” At that point, a woman walked up in the same dress as Leliana, flanked by a man and a woman. The three made respectful bows.
“Your majesties,” the woman greeted.
“And this is Inquisitor Trevelyan, the Herald of Andraste,” Leliana introduced. “And that is Seeker Pentaghast, and Commander Cullen.” Everyone shook hands.
“That was quicker than it will be inside,” Pentaghast quipped. “Glad to finally meet the Hero of Ferelden.”
“Glad to meet the Hero of Orlais,” Miri cheerfully replied. The two shared a secret grin, and Alistair inwardly groaned.
“Thank you again for coming out,” the Inquisitor added.
“We’re happy to help. A unified Orlais makes for a strong ally in this endeavor,” Alistair replied smoothly.
“You may be needed to step forward as a neutral party to discuss peace talks. Fereldens are known to be blunt, and that may help move the peace talks forward if they continue to lag.”
“If it helps fight the rift in the sky, I’m sure we’ll find a way forward in the discussions,” Miri promised.
“You have our thanks, your majesties. Many are unwilling to fight what they do not fully understand, which can make allies difficult to come by,” the Inquisitor confessed, and the pair nodded in agreement. With that, Miri and Alistair left to enter the Winter Palace and begin their part in helping the Inquisition.
As it turned out, Seeker Pentaghast could not be more correct. Between the two of them, it seemed to take hours for the full introduction. The sheer number of masks turned to marvel at them, unnerving in their unnatural sheen, was disconcerting. Thankfully, three bodyguards stood ready in the shadows in addition to guards at the Winter Palace. It was unexpectedly welcome to see the Empress come down from her pedestal to greet them personally once the full introduction was made. The pair made respectful bows to the Empress, and she to them.
“It is always good to see allies in our homeland. And I am glad that Ferelden and Orlais are able to set their differences aside. I trust your travels to Halamshiral have been safe, and that you are enjoying the city.”
“While our countries may not share the best of histories, current events dictate new circumstances. I believe one of your old philosophers said ‘the enemy of my enemy is my ally’. The threats that lie before us are too great for old rivalries.” Miri could never stop herself from marveling at how well Alistair had taken to leadership. While she still didn’t expect long, eloquent conversations from her husband, he was able to make the proper points and earn respect amongst any nobles he met.
“While our travels to Halamshiral were safe, we know that it is not for many in both of our countries. But Halamshiral is beyond wonderful. Orlais takes great pride in her appearance, and the Winter Palace is no exception. I’m sure tonight will be marvelous, Empress.” The trio smiled at each other, and Alistair inwardly sighed.
One successful interaction down, Maker only knows how many more left.
In the end, the pair spent the vast majority of the night talking. Well, Alistair did. Miri did a great deal of talking while dancing. According to more than one of her dance partners, she was “a breath of fresh air” to dance with, unconcerned with the more complex dances. Together, they were able to convince several key allies to be more flexible with their demands in the civil war. All in all, it was somewhat relaxing to have war discussions over a dance, albeit a touch odd at first.
After several hours, Miri took a break from her dancing to rest her feet and speak with her husband. Alistair brought her a glass with some punch and leaned in, smiling as he pressed his lips to her ear.
“I spoke with Leliana under the pretenses of catching up. It turns out that someone is going to attempt to assassinate the Empress.” Miri tried not to react too greatly to the news. “So you understand my discretion here and how we need to act accordingly. Our guards have been informed, and know to intercede on behalf of the Empress if possible. But just keep an eye out. If we play too closely on the Empress’s side, we may become targets as well.” Miri nodded, smiling back at her husband. No wonder nobles here wore masks all the time.
When the assassin finally showed their face, the Inquisitor charged after them, Cullen swiftly following. However, this left the majority of the ballroom unprotected. Many of the guards were caught off-guard, and the assassin’s cronies quickly began to dispatch them. Alistair leapt into action, grabbing a sword and shield from a fallen guard. Miri sent a silent thanks to the Maker as she slipped a dagger out from under her dress and moved into a defensive stance, ready to hold off any attacks on the nearby nobles until the guards and Alistair could finish them off. Several mages made impressive shows of battle magic, and were able to heal any injured guards after the fight. The Inquisitor and Cullen came in, the resolution of their pursuit realized and harshly dealt with.
Finally, Empress Celine stepped forward. “I apologize for the inconvenience and violence our assassins may have caused. But now that everything is settled, we can return to our activities. My thanks to the Inquisition, for bringing these would-be assassins to swift judgment. And my thanks to the King and Queen of Ferelden. Their quick reactions protected all of us here. I do believe that would make it most appropriate to dedicate this next song to all of you. Please, come onto the ballroom so we may properly thank you.”
Several exchanged glances said that most of the Inquisition was highly unwilling, and Miri heard Alistair softly groan. When everyone was in place, an Antivan singer stepped forward and began to sing, his voice magically amplified to echo across the entire ballroom.
como si fuera ésta noche
la última vez
“Besame, besame mucho
que tengo miedo a perderte
On and on he sang, the musicians building to a melancholy crescendo, filled with meaning and desire. This could be the end of it all, and the Orlesians were determined to end their time in style. And so Alistair twirled his wife around the ballroom, albeit less gracefully than his Orlesian counterparts. In the end, Miri smiled and laid her head against her husband, content to dance as they were. Perhaps working in the Inquisition wasn’t as bad as she thought possible. It was almost like the Blight all over again, only less darkspawn and more glowing green. And a little more dancing.