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REPARATIONS

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It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

He’d had it all planned. They’d had it all planned. Planned, prepared, and implemented. And, it had gone without a hitch. Well, except for one little thing.

Hawke.

Why was it always Hawke?

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Oh, the Chantry was supposed to explode. The mage rebellion was supposed to be kindled. Change was supposed to be introduced to a reluctant world. That all went exactly as planned.

What wasn’t supposed to happen, was Anders living to see the dust settle. Not that he’d wanted to die, per se; but he was prepared to be martyred for the revolution. Why else would he hang around for the explosion? He had to claim rightful responsibility, lest the Gallows mages be blamed. And with his resulting death, provide justice to those who’d been killed.

He wasn’t happy with the amount of death and destruction, but it was necessary for his means. The whole idea was to call attention to the mage plight; so it had to be big. It had to be too big to sweep under the rug. It had to demand attention. He’d tried every peaceful means possible, and none had worked. For years he’d tried, until he’d finally realized Justice was right; as far as the Chantry was concerned, there could be no peaceful resolution.

While he grieved for the death of innocents, there was no helping it. As far as Justice reckoned, anyone who was not helping them, was hurting them. Those who stand inactive in the face of injustice, support the oppressors. Anders was never sure if it was his own thought, or the spirit's. The Fade spirit had little understanding nor patience for social dynamics and politics. Yet... there was a hard and unyielding truth to it which became more difficult for Anders to ignore as the years passed.

So, Anders ameliorated his misgivings with his willingness to pay for their lives with his own. Or, that had been his plan. Until Hawke stepped in the way.

One could never really predict Hawke. She was a wild card, if ever there was one. But, one thing you could always count on, was her love for her family, and devotion to her friends. She’d always sympathized with Anders’ work. He just hadn’t realized how much.

She’d wished he’d told her his plans, so she could have helped. His heart had nearly broken upon hearing her say it. How could she say that, and have once loved that mage-hating elf?

So, she’d thwarted his plans for martyrdom. Instead, she’d given him his freedom.

“Just go,” she’d said.

So, he’d gone. Nearly numb from the shock of finding himself still alive, he’d taken the gift of life she’d given him, and run.

He hadn’t been prepared for this. He had no travel supplies on him. He was supposed to die, and one didn’t pack for that journey. He made it through the chaos of the city by reflex and Justice; the numbness in his mind lending no aid to his sudden flight. Soon enough, he found himself heading into the wilderness surrounding Kirkwall.

He heard the distant sounds of battle as he headed toward the setting sun. He knew his friends were fighting for their own lives, and those of the Circle mages. He sent a prayer for their success to the Maker, wondering idly if he’d be heard; wondering if he’d ever been heard.

Even if he couldn’t feel the Maker’s presence, he certainly felt the Fade spirit within him. Anders may have been numb, but Justice was riding a high wave of euphoria. For a spirit to see the culmination of its embodied virtue fulfilled, was ecstasy like no other. For years, they’d had a mission which superseded all other concerns. Today, they’d seen that mission complete, and Justice was ecstatic.

Anders understood that not all mages in Thedas were freed; not even all the Gallows mages were freed. Yet in Justice’s narrow scope of cognizance, taking their small step toward that freedom was tantamount to achieving it. The spirit wasn’t stupid, he simply had an extremely focused comprehension of events. Time, distance, and mortal logic eluded most Fade beings.

Even with Anders as the filter through which he viewed the world around them, Justice often suffered misunderstandings. It would be so much easier if spirit and host could communicate directly, or if they were truly joined completely as one. Instead, they shared Anders’ soul in an incomplete union.

Anders felt Justice’s emotions, and occasionally heard his thoughts, much as he did his own. Sometimes he wasn’t sure which were his, and which were the spirit’s. Yet, both retained their own personalities and identities. Justice being able to take over their shared body entirely was evidence of that.

Right now, Anders wished he felt the same euphoria Justice experienced. Instead, he was tired, hungry, and dazed. Hawke had given him a chance at life, and as his parting words, he’d sworn not to make a mess of it. But really, how could he manage that? Sebastian wouldn’t be the only one hunting him down. After all, he’d blown up a Chantry and killed a Grand Cleric. Quite a few would take offense.

Not that it mattered. What was done was done, and had needed to be done. And once again, he was running.

As days passed, he relied on the spirit’s euphoria to carry him. He never really shook off the strange numbness. Whenever he’d run before, there was an air of excitement to his travel. Now, he was just tired. The excitement was over, and he was lonely. Desperately lonely. He’d just left everyone he’d known behind him, with no hope of seeing them, again. He didn’t even know if Hawke and her companions were alive or dead.

As it turned out, he wasn’t alone for long. In time, he met with the first of the Gallows mages escaping Kirkwall. More joined them in the following weeks. Young, old, strong, weak; and none prepared for life outside the Circle, none with any more supplies than he. Some recognized him as the apostate who’d destroyed the Chantry. A few were angry at the situation he’d caused, though most celebrated righteous victory. For too long they’d suffered under Meredith and her templars. His actions had finally given them a chance to fight for what was right.

They told him of the battle Hawke and her companions had led. They told of Meredith’s madness, and the red lyrium sword. They told of Cullen and the templars under his command eventually fighting at Hawke’s side to bring Meredith down. Finally, Anders and Justice rejoiced together. His friends had survived. Their plan had worked. Now the rebellion only needed to spread.

Anders felt himself begin to come to life. Perhaps he had reason to continue on, after all. He and Justice could help these mages find their way. He knew no one with more experience in evading templars than himself, after all.

The group traveled together for weeks... months... time lost meaning when slogging through the deep wilderness. The Circle mages banded around him for the calm reassurance he provided, as well as his knowledge in healing, wildcrafting and running from Circles. Justice was wholeheartedly invested in assisting the newly freed mages. Anders wasn’t surprised. These people were the fruits of their labors, as it were.

Knowing rogue templars were on the loose, he kept the group as far from villages and roads as possible. It made travel slow and difficult. This group wasn’t outfitted for hard travel. Hunting and foraging took time, as did stopping for rest.

The group consensus was to head for Nevarra. Nevarran mages enjoyed more freedom than in any other Chantry governed land. With luck, their group might be allowed to settle peacefully in a quiet area of the country. With no plans of his own, Anders guided them to the border. Nevarra seemed as good a place as any.

Sadly, things didn’t go as they hoped. A contingent of Mortalitassi met them at the border. While their situation was met with sympathy, the Nevarran mages would not risk their long held autonomy coming under scrutiny by aiding a group of escaped Circle mages. The apostates must turn away.

Anders wasn’t entirely taken aback. He knew the mages were disheartened, but it could be worse. They would move on, and find elsewhere to settle. If not Tevinter, then perhaps Rivain or Antiva.

Perhaps he underestimated the group’s disappointment. Perhaps the euphoria Justice exuded had them both overconfident. Regardless, neither was prepared for the attack which came a few nights later.

He awakened to find himself physically and magically bound, drained of magic and mana. The apostates had waited for him to sleep, then combined their spells to render him helpless. Powerful though Justice was, even the spirit was susceptible to his host’s weakness when drained of energy.

Their reasoning? Confident in their plan, they were willing to tell him. They were exhausted. They were hungry. They were tired of being hunted. Some wished to return to the Gallows, some wished to retain their freedom. All wanted clemency. And, Anders was the key to all of that.

It had been Anders who’d destroyed the Chantry. It was he who was most wanted by the templars. If they offered to turn him in, perhaps they would be awarded leniency, whether in the Circle or on the road.

It wasn’t unanimous, that much was clear. Anders still had defenders among the apostates, who argued against the plan, even as it was underway. Some, but not enough.

The first emotion Anders felt wasn’t alarm, or fear, or even anger. It wasn’t even his own emotion. It belonged to Justice; and it was complete and utter stupefaction.

It should have been fury; the kind of blinding rage only Vengeance possessed. Justice had boiled out of control when he’d misunderstood the intention of a mage they’d helped, before; and there was no misunderstanding this.

No, Justice wallowed in bewilderment so deep, Anders had trouble feeling his own emotions through the spirit’s. He, himself, was not confused by the turn of events. A bit surprised, mildly irritated, but not confused.

He’d lived in the Circle too long not to see mages clutch the chains which bound them. These people were no different. For many, the Circle was all they had known. They’d been fed and clothed there, given a bed, shelter from the elements. It was expected that some would be willing to return, regardless of what they suffered in those dark cells. He understood what they were trying to do. He also knew they would fail, as far as his role was concerned.

He was hardly going to quietly submit to their plan, though he’d give the illusion of just that, for now. He’d been guiding these people for months, and knew their capabilities. He could sense the mixed magics holding him, and knew it had taken an organized effort for them to simply subdue and bind him in his sleep. He’d wait until the time was right, and make his move. After all, he’d escaped from captors who were better trained, better equipped, and better fed than this sad crew.

As the sun rose, activity in the camp increased, serving as a distraction from the bound, drained captive lying unresisting on his bed. Choosing his timing carefully, he made quick work of the inexpert knots holding him, and rolled quietly into the underbrush. Then, he was up and away at a dead run through the trees. After several minutes, he heard a distant shout, and knew his escape had been discovered.

Anders was in his element. He’d spent his teens and young adult years running from the Circle. And, he’d spent seven years in Kirkwall running through back alleys and sewers. If there was one thing he knew better than healing, it was running from captors.

By mid-morning, he was sure he’d left them well behind. He doubted they’d pursued long. They had neither the tracking skill, nor the speed to make it feasible. He was exhausted and his mana wouldn’t generate while he was physically drained. He needed to rest. A bolthole high on an escarpment, overlooking a small creek, served his needs.

He fitted his tired body inside, and finally, safe from those who would imprison him, he closed his eyes for some much needed sleep.

Which promptly escaped him.

Now that his own mind was no longer consumed with eluding capture, Justice’s despair overwhelmed him. And frankly, it was terrifying.

In all the years he’d known the spirit, Anders had never sensed such anguish from him. It wasn’t part of the spirit’s make-up. Justice tended to run black and white; right and wrong. Emotions were a muddy experience for him. He didn’t understand most of them, and expressed few of his own, outside righteous anger and righteous exultation.

Anders fought to keep from sinking under the spirit’s tide of despair, and searched for the underlying cause. What in the world could have affected Justice to this degree?

The reason was much simpler than he’d anticipated. Justice was reeling with betrayal. Something Anders had felt, and been able to comprehend in a very mortal way, Justice simply could not assimilate. Although painful, Anders understood why the mages had done what they did. Justice, however, was flailing with a deeply existential crisis.

A surge of anguish rolled through him, its message clear: they’d tried so hard. Was it all for naught? They’d joined their souls, crossed boundaries, and sacrificed lives to free those mages. Together, they had accomplished their ultimate goal. For the mages to turn on them, to repay rectitude with deceit; to renounce freedom for captivity... was justice no longer a desired virtue? And, if not, was Justice’s existence no longer valid?

Anders wished he could explain it to the spirit. The inability to speak with Justice was the one thing he wished he could change about their joining. They’d grown more closely bonded in the past few years. Yet still, they remained two separate souls, imperfectly bound into one. How could he reassure his companion, and settle both their souls, if he couldn’t properly get his meaning across?

Eventually, exhaustion overcame his concerned confusion, and sent him into deep, restless sleep.

***

He was wakened by afternoon sun upon his eyes. Immediately, he sensed two things.

First, his mana was fully regenerated. Second, Justice was absent.

Not absent from his soul... the spirit was still within him. Anders could feel him there. But, he was no longer an active presence. It was as though the spirit slept. And, Justice didn’t sleep.

Anders tried mentally prodding him, to no avail. He tried shouting in his own mind. As he grew increasing alarmed, he shouted at him out loud. Still no response. Anders was at a complete loss. He worried the spirit’s earlier upset had been more serious than he’d understood. He tried to think what he knew of Fade spirit behavior; which was precious little, and mostly what Justice himself had described.

During their time in the Wardens, Justice once explained that spirits which embody a purpose have difficulty reconciling information which is contrary to their nature. In the Fade, this was dealt with by “washing” themselves of the uncomfortable memory--simply forgetting it. Yet, while serving as a Warden, Justice had realized that doing so could put him at a disadvantage; he needed to remember uncomfortable events in order to function in the mortal realm.

Recalling this, Anders wondered if Justice had decided to wash away the uncomfortable memory of the mages’ betrayal. Could Justice even do that, considering they shared a mind, and Anders still remembered? Perhaps Justice had simply retreated into a corner of Anders’ soul and curled up to escape for a time; to reconcile what he could not wash away.

He sighed. Whatever the spirit had done, he was unreachable for the time being. As unsettling as it was, there was nothing he could do about it. And, he still needed to keep himself alive.

Peeking out of his bolt hole, Anders saw no sign of disturbance. He made his way down to the creek for a drink, and to consider his options. Which, at this point, were awfully limited.

His only goal after Kirkwall had been guiding the mages into their lives as apostates. He’d done as much as he could to begin the revolution. He supposed all that was left was to survive. Which had never been easy, but now was a great deal harder. He could no longer be assured of safety in the company of fellow apostates. And, he doubted there was any place he could find sanctuary.

Between Kirkwall’s Chantry, and Sebastian’s threat to hunt him down, the Free Marches were out of the question. Orlais was the seat of the Chantry, and would likely put a bounty on his head. Nevarra had made its opinion clear. Ferelden knew him too well. Antiva and Rivain had potential, if the only path between here and there wasn’t through the Free Marches. He had no coin to take ship; and stowaways were routinely tossed overboard.

The Anderfels was dreadful country, more pious than the Divine, and full of Grey Wardens. It was always possible the Wardens would take him back. Although anyone could be accepted into the Wardens, Anders’ crime had been committed after joining. He had no idea what reception he might receive, now. And he had no intention of finding himself in the midst of another Justice-fueled massacre such as prompted his flight from Ferelden.

Was he forever doomed to incite chaos, and run from his friends and comrades? Suddenly, his loneliness was acute. He wished he could talk with his friends. Would Varric still support him, after what he’d done to his beloved city? And Hawke? Beautiful, brilliant, crazy, Hawke.

From the moment she’d sashayed into his clinic seven years ago, she’d been his greatest ally. A friend like no other, who supported his cause, and even accepted Justice. He’d spent several years pining for her, but it simply wasn’t to be. For some unfathomable reason, she’d had been drawn to the surly elf.

Anders didn’t know what happened between Hawke and Fenris, but there’d apparently been a night of intimacy... promptly followed by Fenris leaving her. She’d never really gotten over that. He didn’t think Fenris had either.

Idiot elf. He gave up the best thing he’d ever had, and for what? It was a question never to be answered, for Hawke betrayed him when Danarius finally made an appearance. An unexpected move on her part, surprising everyone. Was this revenge for being spurned in love? Whatever the reason, Fenris returned to Tevinter with the magister nearly a year ago.

Tevinter.

He remembered one of the rare, half-civil conversations he’d had with the elf.

“You should have lived in Tevinter” Fenris had said. “You’d be happier there. Apprenticed to the right magister, you would do well.”

Anders couldn’t be more than a week from the Tevinter border, right now. He pulled a piece of dried meat from his belt pouch, and chewed it slowly, thinking this option over. As far as he could see, it was a sound proposition.

He doubted the Empire had heard about the events in Kirkwall. Even if they had, he doubted they would care. The Imperial Chantry bore open animosity toward its Southern counterpart.

An apostate arriving at their border would hardly be new; many escaped Circle mages sought freedom in the Empire.

While he had nothing of monetary worth to offer, a skilled Spirit Healer had to be of some value, even in the Tevinter Imperium.

And, it was really his last resort.

He swallowed the last of his meager meal, had another drink from the creak, and turned to face north. What did he have to lose, that he hadn’t been willing to give up, already?

He took the first step in what he sincerely hoped was the right direction.

Chapter Text

The Imperial carriage bounced and jarred its way across the plains. With all the reputedly well-maintained highways crisscrossing this country, they were traveling as the crow flies, straight for Minrathous.

Anders jolted in his seat, surrounded by military officers, wishing to the Maker he had any idea what awaited him. He was relatively certain it wasn’t death or extradition, but beyond that, he was clueless. Every turn of his journey from Kirkwall had rounded a stranger corner than the one before.

He’d spent his trek toward the Tevinter border bartering with an unresponsive Justice, and debating his approach to the Imperium. Nothing had changed. Nothing stirred the spirit; not even a brief skirmish with a large bear spooked by their passage.

It was distressing on several levels, not least of which was the sense of utter loneliness imparted by the spirit’s seclusion. Anders was already acutely missing his friends; now he felt as though part of himself had gone, as well. He hadn’t realized how much of his mind had been occupied by Justice’s presence, until that presence went silent.

Keeping himself distracted, he’d focused on his entry into Tevinter. He’d heard all the rumors about the Imperium; the Black Divine, magisters knee deep in blood, mages and slaves and corruption. He was sure most was propaganda, though Fenris had certainly told tales enough to support it.

Yet, if it was really that bad, wouldn’t more people leave the country? The entire Empire couldn’t be populated by corrupt magisters and tortured slaves. There had to be average folk. Simple people living simple lives; merchants, workmen, artisans. Anders had no aspirations of grandeur. He had no plans to be a magister, or own slaves. All he wanted was to live a quiet, peaceful, honest life.

To that end, he decided he would enter the country undisguised and unhidden. No dissembling or subterfuge to later come back and tarnish his already dubious reputation. He’d always trusted his instincts, and they were telling him the Imperium didn’t give a rat’s ass about the destruction of a Chantry they despised. So, when he spotted Imperial banners waving in the distance, instead of avoiding detection, he’d headed straight toward them.

***

It had turned out to be a military border camp, and his reception had been... mundane. The young soldier at the gate had given him a cursory once-over, and shouted, “Oi! Get the commander! We got another one!”

The commander in question now sat opposite him in the crowded carriage. He’d arrived at the camp gate shortly after being summoned, clipboard in hand. A brief interview had ensued.

“State your intention.”

“Immigration.”

“Magical status.”

What exactly did that mean? “Uh...”

The commander sighed. “You are a mage, are you not?”

Oh. “Yes. I am a mage. And, a damned good one.”

“Most recent country of residence.”

He cleared his throat. “Free Marches.”

He felt the commander’s gaze sharpen. He rifled through the stack of parchment on his clipboard, and paused, examining something minutely.

“Name.”

Here it was. He took a breath. “Anders.”

“Might you be the same Anders responsible for the destruction of the Kirkwall Chantry, some months past?”

Honesty... remember. Transparency.

“I... might?”

The commander held up a missive for him to see.

It bore a sketch of his likeness, complete with feathered pauldrons. Above was written:

REBEL APOSTATE ANDERS. WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE

And, below:

DESTRUCTION OF KIRKWALL CHANTRY & MURDER OF GRAND CLERIC.

“Word gets around,” he said, quietly. “Don’t tell me the Empire cares what happens to a southern Chantry?”

The commander shrugged. “I have no opinion, whatsoever. However, all outposts have received orders to detain you, should you present yourself at the border.”

“I’m under arrest?”

“You are not. Archon Radonis wishes you presented at the Minrathous palace, post haste.”

“The Archon’s handing me over to the Chantry?" He crossed his arms over his chest. "I won’t go.” This was his hard line. He would die fighting, first.

The soldiers in hearing distance snickered. Even the commander sneered.

“His Majesty does not answer to the false Divine and her followers. If He wanted you back in Kirkwall, you would be headed there, now.”

“Then, I don’t understand--”

“Your understanding is not required; only your compliance.”

He’d been immediately escorted to the windowless carriage with an entourage, and they’d set off, heading north for the Archon’s palace in Minrathous.

So, here he was, his ass bruised by the jolting of the carriage, locked in tight quarters with the commander, several officers and guard. In the close confines, his state of filth became obvious to him. He reeked. He hadn’t had a proper bath since Kirkwall, and they weren’t stopping for more than change of horses and quick toilet-breaks. At least they were given food and drink, which he wolfed down like a man starving... which he nearly was.

He tried asking questions, but was only told, “The Archon will tell you what he wishes you to know.”

"Come on... there must be something you can tell me about this Archon?"

After a pause, a voice offered, "I've heard he likes cats."

The Archon likes cats. It gave him little to go on as far as his current situation, but it certainly made him feel better. Any man who liked cats couldn't be all bad.

In spite of the lack of information, he was fed, treated decent, and had enough assurance he wasn’t being led to execution or arrest that he was willing to go along for the ride. He comforted himself with the thought that, should his life be in danger at any point, Justice would rouse from his slumber and act in his defense.

And, beyond that, he couldn’t get over a seed of wonder in his heart. For, whatever the reason he was in this carriage, it had nothing to do with the fact that he was a mage. For the first time in his life, his magical status was generally known, and unimportant.

He assumed they were drawing close to the city when the jolting of rough travel smoothed along a paved roadway. Soon enough, he heard the noise of a city; voices shouting, clattering, barking dogs.

The next time they stopped, it was in the lavish drive of a gilded palace. Anders stepped out of the carriage, stretching the kinks out of his back, taking in his surroundings.

It was hot, and he could smell the sea in the air. Every bit of brick-work and metal was pristine; and most of the metal was silver or gold. Elves in short tunics worked on the surrounding grounds; sweeping, scrubbing, polishing. Before he could see much more, he was bustled into the cool shade of the palace entry.

The commander handed off a few papers to the palace guard and he was led inside. As they hurried through marble corridors, the guard hissed instructions in his ear.

“You will remain kneeling before the Imperial throne, and bow when His Royal Highness enters or leaves. You will speak only when spoken to, and address Him always as Your Highness, Your Majesty, or Archon. You will perform no magic unless instructed. Do you understand?”

“Yes. But, I still don’t--”

“Silence!”

They’d entered a great hall tiled entirely in black marble. At one end stood a raised dais. Upon the dais was an ornate throne. The seat itself was lost among ostentatious decor; twisting spires, slender, stylized serpents. Above it loomed a huge, startlingly realistic effigy of a drake; wings folded, head high, gazing down upon the room below. As he watched, the beast’s eyes rolled, and wings slowly fanned.

The guard stopped him before the dais, and motioned him down. He lowered himself to his knees, and waited.

Footsteps echoed in the hall as a retinue swept past him. Men and women in ornate robes and elegantly arranged hair knelt beside the dais. The dragon effigy spread its wings, loosing a mighty roar. All those kneeling at the throne bent their heads to the floor.

Startled by the draconic fanfare, Anders nearly missed the Archon’s entrance. It simply seemed that the throne was suddenly occupied. Though the man sitting upon it was far from simple.

Anders' first impression was of darkness; dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin, dark robes, dark beard. Although plain in color, the Archon’s robes were clearly of finest make and material. They were intricately arranged, with belts, buckles, trailing hem points and stiff shoulders with jutting spikes.

The black of his robes set-off the brilliant color of his many jewels. He was bedecked in earrings, an encrusted bib necklace, armlets, rings. Even his goatee had small, glittering jewels braided into it. He stroked these now, as he began to speak.

“So. You are Anders; the southern apostate who demolished a Chantry, killed a Grand Cleric, and ignited a Circle rebellion.”

“Yes, Your Highness. I am. And, I did.”

The Archon laughed. He threw back his bejeweled head and bellowed with hearty laughter.

Anders was taken aback, but took it as a good sign. He wouldn’t have laughed, himself; it had been a serious act of desperation. But, anything that looked like a point in favor of his remaining in Tevinter was positive.

The Archon’s laughter had died down, and he was catching his breath.

“Oh... that is rich! When first we heard of those events, we thought it might be a rogue Imperial faction, or perhaps the Qunari. Never did we imagine a Southern slave-mage would have testiculos enough for such an act! It was much overdue.

“When we learned the perpetuator was a companion of Kirkwall’s Champion, it began to make sense.”

“You know of Hawke, Your Highness?” He was dumbfounded.

Radonis smirked. “We’ve followed news of the Champion for years. Those horned pests have sniffed around our border for Ages. The Arishok’s demise at her hand was cause for a week's celebration. What, exactly, was your relationship to the Champion?”

“Hawke and I worked together, Your Highness. We were friends.”

“She seemed to make many friends, this Hawke. She once aided a Dreamer in escaping to my Empire. They are very rare, and highly sought.”

“Feynriel? I met him, Your Highness. I understand he’s found a mentor here.”

“We watch his progress with interest. Pathetic, how little the southern Circles know.”

“They know more about sundering our minds than developing them, Your Highness.”

“Indeed. Misreading the Chant put the wrong sort in power in the South. I anticipated your arrival in my lands. Where else could you have gone, following such an act? I hope you will be worthy of freedom.”

Fenris’ voice echoed in his mind, from long ago: “Magisters do not hesitate to collar their own kind.”

He hadn’t considered that possibility. He steeled his spine. He had not completed his goal in Kirkwall, only to become a slave in Tevinter.

Anders glanced at the Archon, saw the keen eyes appraising him.

“Ahh. You southerners are too easy to read. I wager you’ll not need to fear the collar. Do you know why?”

“Because I didn’t fight to free the southern mages only to become a slave, myself. Your Highness.”

Radonis chuckled. “In part, yes. More importantly, I see before me the only southern mage in Ages worth the mana in his veins.”

“Uh... thank you, Your Highness.”

“You don’t agree?”

“Forgive me, but I’ve known many mages greater than I. Good men and women. The odds against us all have been immense, and the chances to act have been few.”

“Yet you, Anders, defeated those odds. You took those chances. I understand you’re a Spirit Healer. Few mages possess the strength of mind and character to command spirits to their bidding without first binding them.”

“Well, that would rather defeat the purpose, Your Highness.”

“Do you have skills beyond healing, Apostate? Can you defend yourself? Can you attack? Or, did you rely upon the Champion’s grace to survive the City of Chains?”

“I can fight, Your Highness. I honed my combat spells in the Grey Wardens, and continued while working with Hawke.”

“A Grey Warden, as well? Fascinating. You have no plans to return to the Order?”

“I do not, Your Highness.”

“That rather limits your options, doesn’t it? Tell me, Anders... what did you hope to find in coming to my Empire?”

“Freedom, Your Highness.”

“Of course. Yet, disposed as I feel toward you, Seditionist Anders, citizenship is not something the Empire hands out like sweets at a fair.”

“Feynriel--”

“Is a rarity of exceptional profundity. And, even he is serving an apprenticeship of required duration to achieve citizenship.”

Anders felt worry edge into his mind. “I have sought freedom my entire life, Your Highness. I have fought for the freedom of all mages these past seven years. Always running, always with one eye over my shoulder. I have never sought wealth or power. Simply the right to draw breath free of persecution.”

The Archon sat back and considered him a moment. “You may be the only man to come before me and not ask for wealth or power.”

“Had I either, Your Highness, I’d gladly give both for freedom.”

“Yet, you are no slave, Anders. You already have the freedom you desire.”

“Not in the South. Mages are the only legally sanctioned slaves outside Tevinter. Here, a slave can be freed. In the South, a free mage is illegal. Even those allowed outside of the Circle are subject to its demands. Should a mage resist, they risk the Tranquil brand, or death.”

“I’ve heard such tales. The Gallows are known, even here. Stories of the confinement and ill-treatment of mages. Mages! At the hands of mundane louts empowered by the False Chantry! Do you mean to say these stories are true?”

“Very much so, Your Highness.”

“Sickening.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

For all his words, the Archon did not look particularly sickened. He sat, stroking his beard, eyeing Anders closely. His face suddenly brightened.

“Yes... a stroke of genius,” he said to no one in particular.

He beckoned to one of the figures before him. A quick, quiet conversation began, and ended. Then the Archon stood, triggering another hall-wide bow.

“This has been a delightful diversion,” he said.

Anders, at a loss, bowed his head.

A train of footsteps, flowing robes, and perfumes passed by where he knelt; then all was quiet. Raising his head, he found the hall empty, save for a well-dressed, middle-aged man.

“If you would follow me, Serrah, I’ll show you to your guest room.”

Anders struggled to his feet. Fatigue was catching up to him, and his legs had long ago fallen asleep.

“My... guest room?”

“His Highness has decreed you shall attend the Royal Ball two days hence. Until then, you are a guest in the palace.”

“Royal Ball?”

“Estea will explain the situation. For now, a bath and rest are in order.” The man gestured toward a side corridor. “If you please.’

Anders had no idea whom Estea was, nor what was going on. Nevertheless, they had him at the word bath.

Getting to his room required navigating up several broad, sweeping flights of stairs. When he was finally shown his quarters, he was certain he was dreaming.

Larger than his Darktown clinic, it was something he’d expect to find in a painting of the Golden City. All white and gold and billowing sheer drapes, it smelled of lavender and spice. An alcove containing an enormous pool drew him like a bee to honey. The alcove was lined with mirrors, at the base of which were benches, cots, and tables with stacks of towels, soaps, and toiletries.

“I’ll summon the bath slaves,” his guide said, moving toward a pull cord hanging from the ceiling.

“No... no, I’d rather just wash myself.”

“As you wish. I’ll leave you to it, and have refreshments brought in. The wardrobe contains clothing for your use.”

“Great. Thanks.”

Once he was alone, Anders wasted no time shucking his robes. He’d been wearing them for... he wasn’t exactly sure. He must have been traveling six months or so. He’d had a few baths in streams, with only sand to scrub the worst of the grime. As he eagerly moved toward the water, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirrored wall.

So skinny. So filthy. Hard travel and sketchy meals had done their work. Dirt was ground into most of his exposed skin, and even areas covered by clothes. He bore bruises of which he hadn’t been aware.

He moved closer to inspect his face. Maker, when he gotten so old? He had an overgrowth of beard, and his hair had grown down to his shoulders. Both were dark with grease and dirt.

Grabbing the nearest soap pot, he slid into the warm water of the bathing pool. As he scrubbed at himself, loose dirt and hair floated free. The water carried it away; cycling in from one end, and out the other.

After a few rinse and repeats, he finally felt clean. The beard would have to go, and his jagged nails needed trimming, but for now, he could stand himself. He dried off, and wrapped himself in a silk dressing gown from the wardrobe.

A tray of fruit and cheese had been left in the main room while he bathed. The table was low, surrounded by large cushions and pillows. He picked up a few handfuls of cheese and a bottle of wine. A few bites, a few sips, and fatigue overwhelmed any hunger. The enormous bed was like sliding into bliss. Feather mattress, silk sheets, soft pillows. He barely took three breaths after stretching out before succumbing to darkness.

***

He woke with a gasp. He’d been in darkness, alone, calling out endlessly with no reply. Bolting upright, he startled two young women in his room; one arranging a tray of food, the other opening the balcony doors. Both knelt as his gaze fell on them.

He was disoriented, his voice was clogged with sleep. “Who--?”

“How may we serve you, Master?”

“What time is it?”

“It is supper time, Master. Shall we assist you with your meal?”

They knelt patiently, awaiting his reply. Shining golden circlets about their throats caught his eye. Slaves... these were slaves.

“Uh... no. Thank you.”

“Yes, Master.” Making a bow, they stood and left with the used towels, his discarded clothing, and previous food tray.

Sleep had done wonders for his exhausted body and mind. He hadn’t felt this good in... forever. He was safely within Tevinter, clean, and seemingly not to be returned to the South. He yawned and stretched, feeling his spine pop pleasantly. He slid out of bed, and crossed to the balcony, idly scratching at his clean hair.

The palace sat at the highest point on the island-city of Minrathous, giving him a breathtaking view of the palace grounds, surrounding city, harbor, and Nocen sea beyond. As if to remind him man’s works were the lesser of the world’s wonders, the setting sun cast the sky in a palate of gold and pink.

“Maker’s breath.”

“It’s beautiful, is it not?”

He spun around, instinctively pulling up magic for defense. A woman stood behind him; tall, willowy, unconcerned by the power swirling about his hands.

“Sorry,” he murmured. “You startled me.”

“My apologies. I am Estea. I am a palace politesse counselor. I’ve been assigned to prepare you for the Royal Ball.”

“If they’ll be dancing any reels, I’m good to go.”

Estea smiled politely. “I will guide you in basics of Tevinter social decorum.”

“Ah. Mind if I have some dinner, first?”

“By all means. I’ll talk while you eat.”

Estea explained the low table with pillows. Tevinter meals were eaten in a reclining position, with one’s fingers.

“I can call a slave to assist you with cleaning your hands.”

Anders shook his head. “I think I can manage.”

Eating in this fashion was awkward, but the food was excellent. Some of the seasonings were unfamiliar, and the fruit new to him. He couldn’t decide if it was sweet or sour, though it was delicious; and messy.

“It’s called pineapple,” Estea said. “It grows on Seheron.”

“I thought the Qunari controlled Seheron.”

“It is contested land. Some areas are more prone to altercation than others. I’ve been apprised of your situation, and the reason for your attending the Royal Ball.”

“Then, you know more than I do. I have no idea why I’m here.”

“You wish to obtain Imperial citizenship, am I correct?”

“You are, but the Archon made it sound like it was out of the question.”

“Not entirely. There are several ways to go about obtaining citizenship. To determine which is best for you, I’ll need to ask some questions.”

Anders’ attention was riveted. He sat up, wiping his fingers on a linen napkin.

“I’m all yours.”

“Do you have connections within the Empire? Family, business, close friends?”

“I briefly knew the Dreamer mage, Feynriel.”

“That is all?”

“I... also knew a slave. We weren’t on the best of terms.”

“Neither have sufficient influence to aide your purpose. Have you any wealth?”

“Only my good looks and charm.”

She gave a tolerant smile. “Rich as you are, without standard wealth or influence, your options are limited.”

“Just so we’re on the same page, slavery is not an option.”

“I would not suggest it. As a trained mage, you have the option of indentured service, or apprenticeship.”

“Indentured servitude I’m familiar with. But, apprenticeship? I’m a trained Spirit Healer, closing in on my fortieth year. Aren’t I a bit old for that?”

“Oh, no. Not all apprenticeships are training arrangements. Many are a better described as assistants. Though, given your foreign status, you would also be learning of Imperial law and society. A mentor could sponsor you for Circle affiliation, introduce you to families who might become allies, and teach you the finer points of life in your new status.”

“An apprentice has status?”

“Of a sort. While apprenticed, you would move among the noble class, with your mentor. Once you gain citizenship, having no lineage to speak of, you would be relegated to the Laetans: non-noble mages.”

He nodded, thinking it over. He knew he’d rather not enter into indentured service: a labor contract to work for an employer for a period of time. Although sometimes given a stipend, the worker was often charged for room and board, supplies, travel, etc, which could actually result in owing the employer, and adding to the contract time period. Worse, the contract could be sold or traded at any time, without the indentured servant’s input.

“Indentureship is rarely a feasible venture,” he said.

“Given your status outside the Empire, I’d have to agree. It would be unfortunate to find your contract sold South.”

“How long an internship would I be looking at?”

“Ten years is standard to obtain citizenship.”

Maker’s breath. He’d be nearing fifty. He could be nearing his Calling. He put that cheerful thought out of his mind.

“What if I just forgot about obtaining citizenship. What if I moved into a nice lower class area, didn’t cause trouble, and kept a low profile? Wouldn’t that be easier, all around?”

“To live in Tevinter on a permanent basis, one is required to seek citizenship. Failure to do so is considered trespassing upon the Archon’s Empire, the punishment for which is slavery. Rewards are offered to citizens who turn such trespassers over to the city guard.”

“Well, shit. So... how do I find a mentor?”

“This is the difficulty we face,” she said, “And, the opportunity His Majesty has afforded you.” She then went on to explain.

Apprenticeships in Tevinter were not unlike marriage, though certainly to a lesser degree. Taking on, or becoming an apprentice, temporarily tied two families together. Wealth, connections, and influence were all factors to consider. But, as they’d established, Anders had no such offerings to make.

“You do, however, have one unique interest to offer: yourself.”

“I’m not whoring myself out for a mentor.”

“I refer to your notoriety. Even the Archon, Himself, sought an audience with the mage who set the South on fire.”

“I didn’t set it on fire. I just... shook up a neighborhood.”

“You underestimate your effect upon Thedas. The Empire applauds you. Not only for your own actions, but for your connection to the Champion of Kirkwall, whom Tevinter admires. The Royal Ball will be filled with nobility. You will attend as the special guest of His Majesty, Archon Radonis. All who attend will wish to see you, to speak with you, to be able to say they met the man who challenged the False Divine. Presented in the proper light, you may find a magister to mentor you.”

It was beginning to make sense. Yet...

“And, if I don’t?”

“Palace hospitality ends two days following the ball.”

He sighed. “Right.”

“The Archon has given you a boon such as few ever receive. Use it well.”

“Why is he doing this? What’s his interest in my future?”

“I couldn’t say. He is not known for altruism. Whatever His reason, don’t question it. Accept it as the good fortune it is, and use it to the best of your ability.”

Anders nodded. He’d had so few breaks in his life, he would take what he could get. He was in the bloody Imperial Palace, of all things. He was being given a chance he could never have foreseen. He’d rather find a hovel and set up a clinic; but if the risk was slavery, he’d play their damned game. Maker knew, he’d done worse for freedom.

Estea’s primary task was to ensure Anders made as little of a fool of himself as possible at the ball. It wasn’t held in Anders’ honor, to be sure; it was simply a coincidence the event coincided with his arrival. As a foreigner, certain faux pas on his part would be excused. Even so, Estea sought to prevent any errors which might impede his chances at impressing a potential mentor.

For the next two days, she instructed him in noble etiquette and protocol, often while overseeing his grooming in preparation for the event.

“Excepting slaves, all in attendance will be mages. There will be no guest of lower status than magister, altus, or Chantry official.”

“Chantry officials are mages?” He reclined on a bench, face covered in foam, as his face was skillfully shaved.

“Oh, yes.”

“I still can’t believe I’m attending a party where mages can openly be mages,” Anders said.

“It’s expected to display magical prowess among one’s contemporaries. There will be showmanship throughout the event.”

“Like the dragon throne-effigy? That was astonishing.”

“Indeed. It is a bound Fade spirit, forced to take the shape of a dragon.”

Anders was speechless; astonished at the power involved, and horrified for the spirit in question. He felt for any sign of response from Justice. Nothing.

Estea continued. “Remember, you will be sought after by the other guests. Gatherings such as this are common. You, however, are new and exciting... a celebrity. They will clamor to meet you.”

“I hope they clamor for more than that.”

“It’s possible you will be propositioned, yes.”

“That’s not what I meant, but now that you mention it; if I am, how should I handle it?”

“With extreme discretion. It would be best to simply avoid such complications. Cuckolding a magister at a Royal Ball is a personal insult, and grounds for a duel.”

“Something I’d like to avoid.”

“Tell stories of your life and background. Enthrall the guests with your unique history. You are a spirit healer, with battle training, and a history with the Grey Wardens. You could be an asset to someone in research, or in need of a body guard. Perhaps someone who travels for study. Your future could depend on how well you sell yourself at this party.”

“Understood. Believe me, I understand.”

“Remember, everyone there will be a noble. If you forget a title or name, ‘my lord’ or ‘my lady’ will suffice. Calling a noble by the incorrect title or name may be considered a personal insult, and grounds for a duel.”

“Maybe you should just tell me what isn’t a personal insult and grounds for a duel.”

“You jest, yet it would likely be a shorter list.”

“That’s really not helping.”

She smiled. “As a foreigner, you will be granted much leeway.”

The slave wielding the razor wiped the remaining foam from his face, and he sat up. Estea smiled approvingly.

“You are quite handsome, Anders. The nobility will be pleased. Now for your hair.”

“I'd like it about jaw-length.”

“Certainly not. Its color is one of your finest features.” She directed her comments to the slave. “A trim only. And, no further shaves. He should be stubbled for the Ball.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“That look's going to impress a mentor?” Anders asked.

“That's they look they will wish to see; a renegade.”

“A naked renegade. I literally have nothing to wear.” He relaxed under the soothing strokes of a brush through his hair.

“Fear not, Your Ball robes are being detailed. We will be replacing your boots, socks, and smallclothes. Yours were a bit worse for wear.”

“The Archon knows I can’t repay him, correct?” The quiet snipping of shears tickled along his shoulders.

“The palace stores are vast, and repayment unnecessary. Now, should a potential mentor wish to make you the offer of an apprenticeship, he’d not be so crass as to do so at the Ball. You will receive an offer, in writing or by messenger, within the next day or so. From there, you would meet to discuss, and sign a contract.”

“From your lips to the Maker’s ears,” Anders murmured.

His hair satisfactory, he underwent his first manicure and pedicure. As Estea made notes for later, Anders watched the young man trimming his overgrown toenails. He wore a collar and tunic similar to those worn by the girls who tended his room.

“What’s your name?”

The young man looked up, startled. “Jathon, Master.”

“Have you worked in the palace long?”

“Since His Highness took the throne, Master.”

“That was...?”

“Nine years ago, Master.”

“How did you become a slave?”

“I was born into slavery, Master.”

Anders glanced at Estea, who was still busy with her notes. “Jathon, are you... well treated?”

“I believe so, Master. The palace is a good place to serve.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

Jathon smiled shyly at him.

Fenris had spoken of slavery as though every moment were torture and sacrifice. Yet, the young women who came into his room smiled and laughed together. Neither they, nor Jathon, bore marks of abuse, and looked well nourished. He knew slavers kidnapped people to sell in the Imperium; had seen the slaves sacrificed by Hadriana. But, could that be the exception? Was slavery in Tevinter typically no different from service-work in Southern Thedas?

Once Jathon had finished with both his feet and hands, Estea excused him from Anders’ quarters.

“Your apparel should be ready by this afternoon.”

He nodded, distracted.

“Estea, tell me about the slaves in Tevinter.”

“The slaves? Oh... yes, I saw you speaking with the boy. Would you like him sent to your room tonight?”

“Excuse me?”

“My apologies. I thought you meant him, specifically. Of course, any of the service slaves are available for your pleasure, though most guests make use of the palace pleasure slaves. I’d be happy to arrange a selection for you to choose from.”

“No! That’s not at all what I meant to ask. Though, you may have answered part of my question.”

“What is your question, then?”

“I’ve heard stories of the treatment of slaves in Tevinter. Beatings, sacrifice, the like. I’ve seen slavers in the South do terrible things. Yet, what I’ve seen here doesn’t seem to reflect any of that. Well, it didn’t... until now.”

Estea shrugged. “Slavers operating outside Tevinter do so without Imperial sanction. I would be surprised to hear if they didn’t treat their victims poorly. As for within Tevinter, treatment of slaves is like treatment of servants or animals, anywhere in the world. It all depends upon the master in question. Many slaves live lives of relative comfort, with a great deal of freedom. Some have homes and families. Some are treasured members of their master’s households. Many are trained artisans, or educated to handle bookkeeping or businesses.”

“Or, live as prostitutes in the palace?”

“Are there no prostitutes in the South?”

“There are, but they have the choice of whom they serve, or if they continue working, at all. You can’t tell me these pleasure slaves, or any slave, can refuse a free man’s advances?”

“They would not. A slave’s purpose is to serve.”

“And, you’re alright with this?”

“You will have to ask that question of yourself, Anders, if you are to live here. Slavery is a fact of life in Tevinter. If you become an apprentice, your world will be ministered by slaves. You will command them, live with them, rely upon them. They will be an integral part of every aspect of your life.”

After Estea had gone, Anders thought about what she’d said. He was torn. In the Circle, he’d been the oppressed, bound to obey. He’d known mages who’d endured the rapacious attentions of templars, without the ability to refuse. He’d known those who’d suffered beatings and harassment without recourse.

Living in Tevinter would put him in the position of the templar, with slaves as the Circle mages below him. Could he live with that? Certainly he wouldn’t abuse any slave or servant, but he would become part of the system that allowed it.

Or... would he? Could he not attempt change? Perhaps not immediately. He’d need to learn the ways of his new land, first; understand this society. He couldn’t be the only person in Tevinter who saw the injustice of slavery. Could he?

Chapter Text

The last time Anders had been surrounded by so much magic was in Kinloch Hold. What was Karl’s old rhyme about Circles? Oh, yes... Mages, mages, everywhere, and nary a templar can think.

There were hundreds of guests in the palace, and they were, indeed, mages. Latent magic swirled in the air like the perfumes and voluminous robes crowding the great hallways. A sea of dark silk and fine lace, broken by the occasional splash of color.

His own attire stood out for reasons other than rich material and sparkling gemstones. He’d argued against it at first, declaring he’d look like a mule among thoroughbreds. He’d put on the outfit at Estea’s behest, exclaiming, “You must be joking! I’m a ragamuffin!”

She’d smiled approvingly. “You look roguish and dashing.”

“They’re all going to laugh at me.”

She’d smoothed the feathers of his pauldrons, and made minute adjustments to the old, cleaned and mended robes he’d worn when he left Kirkwall.

“They are going to see what they expect,” she explained. “A wanted rebel. Your reputation is one of your selling points, after all. This is what your admirers wish to see.”

“You’re sure?” For all the expert repairs made, his robes were still worn and faded. The pauldrons had at least been augmented with new, shiny feathers; his new boots gleaming, black leather.

“Absolutely. It doesn’t hurt that your robes emulate classic Tevinter fashion.”

Now in the thick of the event, he had to admit, wearing his familiar clothing was comforting. It was hard enough navigating the Ball with its strange fashion, smells, foods, and etiquette; he couldn’t imagine doing it in the complicated dress he saw around him. And, Estea was right. The crowd was charmed by his robes... and him.

He followed Estea’s instructions to the letter... repeatedly. He told his tale of sedition; he told of his friendship with the Champion of Kirkwall. He told of his life in the Circle; he told of his many escapes. He told of his time with the Grey Wardens. He told of his clinic, the mage underground, the Gallows, the Chantry’s falsehoods.

Most didn’t understand--or perhaps couldn’t understand--the depth of the issues facing southern mages. They seemed to think it all a great, amusing, adventure story. In his heart, it was painful to be so misunderstood from both sides of the coin. Yet, here and now was not the place to begin reeducating the nobles.

So, he made the rounds of the rooms, mingling with the Empire’s finest, telling and retelling his stories, and charming as he’d never charmed before.

He had no idea if it was working. These were the least genuine people he had ever met. He wondered if even they knew what their true feelings were. He felt sorry for them, really. Part of him had to; if he was going to try to live in their world, he would rather pity them than despise them.

Maybe he should rethink indentured servitude?

Maybe he should drink more wine.

His eye was drawn to a flash of red across the sea of black. A dark young man in dazzling crimson robes laughed in his direction. Not just his direction; their eyes actually met across the crowded room. The brilliant grin was the most honest expression he’d seen tonight. He found himself smiling back. Then the crowd shifted, and the dark young man was gone.

As the evening passed, he was pleased to meet a few men and women who seemed to break the mold of Tevinter nobility. Curious, engaged, and possessed of actual emotion. It gave him hope. These were the ones who asked his plans. These were the ones he told he was hoping to find a mentor, in order to obtain Imperial citizenship.

As he continued mingling, the man in red passed through his line of sight several more times. Never close enough to speak, yet close enough to know he was handsome... devilishly so.

Another hour of mingling, and he’d about decided to simply push through the crowd and meet the man. Suddenly, a shock of white hair caught his eye. A slender form, moving away on the far side of the hall. Without thinking, he began slipping around guests, following the white hair as it headed down a side corridor.

Could it be? His master was a magister, after all. He hadn’t seen them in the crowd, but there were so many here.

The figure turned down yet another corridor, white hair gleaming. There were fewer guests here, and he broke into a run. Why was he doing this? What would it accomplish? Would either be happy to see the other?

There, just ahead of him....

“Wait!”

He reached out and spun the retreating figure by the arm. Startled blue eyes stared at him. It was a young woman. A human. A palace slave. He released his grip.

“I’m... I thought you were someone else. I’m sorry.”

As she hurried away, he leaned against the wall. What had gotten into him? Chasing ghosts through the corridors of the Imperial Palace. Why would he want to see that elf again, of all people? Certainly Fenris wouldn’t wish to see him.

He shook himself. He needed to get back to the ball. He was here for a reason, a very good reason, that didn’t involve looking-up old thorns in his side. He had nobles to impress.

He pushed away from the wall, intending to find his way back to the gathering, when his attention was caught by the chamber opposite him. It was filled with statuary. At least, it looked like statuary. He took a few hesitant steps into the room.

Standing on low pedestals were people, animals, beasts of lore. But these weren’t carved stone or wood. In the quiet darkness, they appeared incredibly life-like; eerily so. The one nearest him was a human male, as tall as he. Dressed in robes not entirely dissimilar from what he currently wore; the skin, hair, even eyes looked as though the figure would take a breath any moment. He reached out tentatively to touch its face, spinning around when a voice spoke behind him.

“They’re waxen. Astonishingly lifelike, aren’t they?”

The dark young man in red reclined against the archway. Up close, he was just as handsome as at a distance.... more so. Black hair framed his clean-shaven face, a heavy lock falling above one eye. Full lips smirked in an entirely enticing way.

“You’re sure they’re wax? And not... actual, preserved people?”

The young man chuckled, a deep, rolling purr. “Oh, you are macabre. I like that. Although, no... I suppose I can’t say for certain. Is this a wax creation, or a frozen magister from the Black Age? Let’s find out, shall we?”

He pushed away from the archway, and strolled forward. He moved with graceful confidence. He stood quite close to Anders, and considered the figure in question.

“You have a plan?” Anders asked. He was close enough to feel the heat of him. The scent of judiciously applied perfume flirted with his nostrils; citrus, spice, and musk.

The young man carefully tested the texture of the closest hand with a well-manicured finger. “There’s several options, really. We could conduct magical experiments, if we want to be true to our heritage. We could take a core sample, if we’d like to adhere to scientific method. Or, we could just....” A dull snap concluded his sentence.

Anders’ hand was taken in one of the young man’s, and for a split second all he felt was the thrill of warm skin against his own. Then, a small object was deposited in his palm. He held it up. A waxen pinky-finger lay like a an offering in his hand.

“Maker’s ass, you broke it!”

Again, that rolling purr of a laugh. A hand reached out, touched Anders’ sleeve as though brushing away lint. “Oh, I break lots of things. And, now we know the truth of the statuary.”

Anders picked up the finger to examine it more closely. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” He gazed around the room. “Look at all of these! They look as though they could step off their pedestals.”

He wandered deeper into the chamber, entranced by the displays. The young man followed idly.

“You’re a popular man in my country, you know. Blowing up the Chantry, and all that rot.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“Why did you really do it?”

Anders turned to face him. “Why do you think I did it?”

A dark eyebrow lifted. “Why did the nug cross the road?”

Anders cocked his head. He liked this nobleman. “I didn’t do it to get to the other side. Although... I certainly ended up there.”

“Is Tevinter the other side?”

“So they say in the South. The Empire is the side of evil and darkness.”

“You’ve been here a few days, have you not?” A ringed finger gently poked his chest. “What do you say?”

“There’s certainly a lot of dark fabric. Beyond that, can’t say I’ve seen much evil.”

Again, the rolling purr, making his belly simmer pleasantly. “Fear not. The night is still young.”

Anders chuckled. “If you really want to know, I blew the Chantry to remove any chance of a bullshit compromise. Mage freedom is long past due, and the revolution long past beginning.”

The dark head nodded. “So you threw a fire-ball into the parlor and ran for the hills.”

“I hadn’t planned on running. I’d planned on dying. When that didn’t happen, I helped the mages running for their lives. They eventually turned on me.”

Arms crossed a broad chest. “How typical. Pull a thorn from the lion’s paw, and he bites you on the ass. Have you found a mentor, yet?”

“How’d you--?”

“Word gets around. There’s some interest, I’ll tell you that much. You’re an unknown element, however. That scares these people.”

“I get the impression these people could use a good scare.”

The handsome head was thrown back in laughter. “Oh... you have no idea!”

Anders meandered among the waxworks, again, his companion following. A hurlock loomed out of the darkness, and he jumped back, bumping into him and nearly knocking them both over. Firm hands gripped his arms, keeping them both upright.

“Maker’s breath,” he exclaimed. “That’s too real for comfort.”

“Have you actually seen a darkspawn?” They remained standing close, the words warm against his ear.

“Unfortunately, yes. I used to be a Grey Warden.”

“Were you? What other secrets are you be hiding under that handsome exterior?”

He turned to look at the young man with a grin. He’d thought this dark mystery man had been standing rather close and touching a bit often. He hadn’t been flirted with in far too long. Feeling himself warm at the thought, he recalled he hadn’t been many things in far too long.

“You know one of my secrets,” Anders teased, poking him in the chest. “Tell me one of yours.”

The smirk became a full, delighted smile. Anders noticed a small mole below the corner of one dark eye. “Tit for tat, is it? I do adore games. Let’s see... I once broke a priceless replica in the Palace statuary room.”

Anders moved closer. “That doesn’t count. I was party to the desecration.”

“Hmmm, true.” He shifted closer. “I once spent a month in an elven brothel. Ohh... the things I learned.”

Anders’ interest was definitely peaked. He closed the tiny gap between them. Chests touching, they regarded one another with smoldering gazes. Anders could finally see the dark eyes were grey. He really was a singularly attractive man.

“I can imagine,” he murmured. “Care to share any of that knowledge?”

The dark head leaned close, voice going deep in a way that made his insides melt.

“It’s the sort of thing better shown, than told.”

Dark fingers lightly traced down the front of his robes. Anders’ breath went out of him as they continued boldly down, and over his rapidly growing bulge.

“Oh, Maker,” he gasped, “please feel free....”

His blood was rapidly heading south, leaving him dizzy, hands reaching for support. Nimble fingers already had his trouser lacings undone, a soft coo greeting the sight of his swollen glans, peeking over his smalls.

“Someone’s pleased to make my acquaintance.”

Anders huffed a moaning chuckle. “You have no idea,” he rasped.

A confident hand eased him out, fingers spreading his drippings across his turgid flesh. Anders nearly choked at the sensation. “Sweet Maker!”

A cheeky wink accompanied a more deliberate stroke. “Been a while, out in the lonely wilderness?”

“Wilderness, nothing... Maker, don’t stop.... It’s been nearly eight years.”

The grey eyes widened, looking at him in horror. “Eight years? Are you joking?”

“I wish I was,” he gasped.

The charming smirk returned. “Well... let’s make it worth the wait, shall we?” He sank to his knees.

As hot, moist suction slid down his flesh, Anders’ arms pinwheeled. Finally catching the corner of a pedestal to steady himself, his head dropped back. Oh... bliss... perfect, beautiful pleasure. As his dark companion applied himself to awakening Anders’ libido, he felt every touch, every lick, acutely.

He’d had very little release since arriving in Kirkwall. There were a couple years during which he’d had an active solo love-life; desperate, pining wanks in the night, aching for Hawke. Outside of that frustrating period, he’d been essentially celibate.

As a rule, Justice didn’t care to experience mortal physiology, be it defecating or ejaculating. It simply made the spirit uncomfortable. But, Justice wasn’t complaining, now; he’d taken a holiday, and was no more interested in what was happening in Anders’ pants than in the world around them.

As the handsome young man skillfully applied the seductive arts learned at a Tevinter brothel, Anders could only think he’d clearly been an excellent pupil. Pleasure so long denied, so long nearly forgotten, burned through his veins and up his spine. One hand clutched the pedestal, the other wove into the thick, dark head of hair before his groin. Hot mouth... wet tongue... deep, satisfied, muffled groans.

Anders forgot where he was, knowing only the blistering ecstasy building within, coaxed from the talented mouth of a noble Tevinter mage. A beautiful, dark, wicked man with a laugh that melted his insides.

In an embarrassingly short time, he was approaching the summit. The promise of pleasure, edges so sharp he feared they would cut, pulled his nerves taut.

“Maker... I’m...” he tried to warn him. He received only an encouraging hum in response, vibrating up his cock, and sending him flying into ecstasy.

“Oh... OH!”

He spent himself, gasping; the pulsing rapture better and longer than any he remembered. He struggled to catch his breath as practiced hands tucked him away and set his clothing right. When he pried open his eyes, he was facing a grey-eyed smirk, once again.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “Oh Maker, thank you.”

Ohhh... that filthy chuckle. “Thank me? Oh, no. It was my pleasure.”

“The least I can do is repay you in kind,” he said, making to kneel. He was stopped.

“It’s best not to tarry. Believe me when I say, it’s been utterly delightful making your acquaintance, Unexpected Anders.”

As his dark lover turned away, Anders was too surprised to speak. Finally he managed to blurt at the retreating back, “But, I don’t even know who you are!”

A chuckle floated from the shadows. “Why, I’m dashing, of course!”

Then, there was only the echo of fading footsteps.

Anders stood a moment, catching his bearings. He glanced up. One of the best climaxes he could recall had taken place under the watchful gaze of a hurlock.

As he made his way back to the party, he realized the wax finger was still in his hand. He stuffed it into a pocket. It made for an interesting keepsake, at the least.

The remainder of the party was much the same as the beginning. He didn’t see his mystery lover, again. Who was eventually proven right... the night had been young. By party’s end, a Chantry Father was found dead in an alcove, and two magisters were talked down from a duel over a perceived slight to a lapdog. By the time the morning sun broke over the city, the guests were being poured into their carriages, or escorted to guest rooms, and the Royal Ball was concluded.

Lying in his bed, physically exhausted, Anders’ mind ran at top speed. Would anyone send a missive, offering to mentor him? He’d met hundreds of people in one night. Of those, perhaps a dozen had seemed sensible. He’d be more than willing to accept an apprenticeship with one of them. If one of the others offered? He wasn’t sure. Estea had said he would have equal part in a contract. Even if the offering magister were an insufferable ass, Anders would have some say-so in the agreement. Even so, it would ten years of tolerating an insufferable ass. Could he do it? Would he do it?

He sighed... he was counting chickens before they hatched. He may not get any offers, at all. He had two days to remain in the palace. If he hadn’t heard anything by tomorrow evening, he’d leave, and try to find his way onto a boat heading toward Rivain.

Finally, the long night and the copious amounts of wine caught up to him. In spite of his anxiety, he slept.

The afternoon brought no offers of mentorship. Estea didn’t return to his quarters, again; her work was done. The palace slaves came to perform their usual duties; cleaning, bringing meals, retrieving dishes. Otherwise, he saw no one. He was forgotten.

It was lonely. Lonely, and uncertain.

The next day passed much the same way. As afternoon crept toward evening, he sat on the veranda, and watched boats come and go in the harbor. It brought to mind Kirkwall, which brought to mind his companions of old. He missed them all, so much. He’d barely had a chance to say goodbye, the day he left. He wished he could send a letter, but who knew how they felt? Who knew who might intercept it?

He thought of Fenris. He was actually here, in Tevinter. He could send him a message, if he desired. He remembered Hawke saying she’d been teaching him to read, at some point. But, what would he say? Fenris would hardly be pleased to hear from him. They’d never gotten along.

Why had he chased down the white-haired slave, last night? Why had been so sure it was Fenris? Why had he been so anxious to see him? Was he so homesick he’d take comfort even in the familiar sneers of the elf who’d hated both him, and all he’d stood for?

Before he could answer any of these questions, a gentle knock interrupted his thoughts. He turned in surprise, staring at the door in disbelief. A second knock finally compelled him to answer.

A stunningly beautiful elf stood before him. Elves were generally considered attractive, but in all his travels, Anders had never seen such an exquisitely beautiful man. So much so, he found himself simply staring.

He seemed quite young, perhaps late teens. Straight, glossy black hair hung to his waist in a thick curtain. It shone even in the dim lighting of the corridor. Graceful brows and thick, long lashes framed eyes so dark as to appear black. His skin was smooth, dark, unblemished. Plush, full lips curved in an almost-smile; his handsome face open and appealing.

He was slender, graceful even as he stood unmoving. The golden collar about his neck bespoke several facts; he was a slave, his owner was wealthy, and he was prized.

Anders was abruptly brought out of his transfixation by this realization. He’d been ogling this boy-man, as though he were a doll in a mercantile.

He cleared his throat. “Yes?”

The elf bowed deeply, gracefully. The movement exposed twin daggers sheathed on his back. “Master Anders? I am called Seth. I have been sent to deliver an invitation.”

Anders’ heart stuttered. “An invitation?”

“My master wishes to speak with you. He waits in the guest atrium. Will you come?”

He could barely contain his anxiety. “Your... your master? Who, may I ask, is he?”

Seth bowed, again. “Forgive me, Master Anders. All will be explained. Will you come?”

Clearly he would learn nothing without a meeting. Nodding mutely, he followed where the beautiful elf led.

Seth was uncommonly graceful in motion, silent on bare feet as they moved through the corridors. He wore black leather armor, similar to that often worn by the Dalish. The brief skirt and midriff-baring top exposed a glittering diamond in his navel. His arms were bare, but for fingerless gloves. His dark skin glistened in the lamplight as they walked. Apparently, Isabela had been right; some slaves were kept oiled.

Seth easily navigated the many twists and turns of the palace, making Anders think he’d been here numerous times. If his master was, indeed, a magister of rank, he likely had been. Shortly, they arrived at a large courtyard contained within the palace itself.

A man stood among the many exotic plants, his back to them. Gray hair tied into a bun, ornate robes draped about him in flows of lavender and pale blue, he seemed to be studying a hideous pitcher-plant. When Seth knelt before him, the foliage was forgotten.

“Yes, my pet?”

He knew that voice.

“He is here, Master.”

“Of course.”

The man turned to face Anders, a benign smile on his bearded face.

“Danarius.”

The magister nodded. “You remember me, Anders. I cannot help but be touched. I, of course, remember you.”

“I’m surprised you do.” He glanced about, seeing no sign of Fenris.

“I recall a most reasonable mage... in those very robes, if I’m not mistaken.”

Anders looked down at himself, mostly for something to do. He was at a loss. “I... uh... I’m a bit confused.”

“Yes. I imagine so.” Danarius gestured at some wickerwork seats. “Sit. I’ll explain.”

Anders sat. He’d heard a fair amount about the magister, all from Fenris, and none of it flattering. Yet, in the end, Fenris had not fought returning to Tevinter; he’d barely even argued. So, Anders was prepared to make his own judgement about this man.

“I’ve been traveling, and have only just returned, or would have been at the Ball, myself. Particularly had I known of your attendance.”

“Oh? Why is that?”

“Fenris spoke of you in great detail, upon his return.” He must have noticed the shock on Anders’ face, for he chuckled, and continued. “He told me of all his companions in Kirkwall. But, it was you who most intrigued me.”

Anders did not find this necessarily good. Danarius must know of Justice, then.

“And, why would I intrigue you?”

“Your steadfast devotion to mage freedom came as a surprise. It’s our impression in the Imperium that southern mages accept the false Chantry’s doctrine to imprison our kind. Learning of your mission was most refreshing.”

Although the Archon, and many of those at the Ball, had expressed similar thoughts, Anders still felt unaccustomed warmth at hearing the words. It had been painfully rare during his time in Kirkwall.

“I... thank you.”

“Fenris also spoke highly of your healing prowess. A Spirit Healer is a rarity, even in the Empire.”

“Not as rare as Fenris speaking highly of me in any capacity.”

Danarius chuckled, again. “I confess, most of his description was less complimentary. Of your healing ability and work with the poor, however, he was most approving.”

He’d had no idea. “When did he become such a conversationalist?”

“You must understand, we once had a very close relationship. His time in freedom soured that. I hope to develop it, once again.”

Anders frowned. He wanted to argue that freedom did not sour, it sweetened... yet, couldn’t bring himself to speak of Fenris’ return to slavery. Why was that?

Danarius continued. “I understand you ran a clinic in the slums of Kirkwall. Healing freely those in need.”

“The sewers, actually. You know, Fenris never mentioned your interest in philanthropy.”

Danarius laughter echoed through the atrium. “No, I’ll wager not! I’m not against it in principle, of course.”

“What is it that you do, exactly?”

“I push boundaries, dear Anders. I seek the limits of magic, and lyrium’s ability to foster it. I study the oldest and farthest-fetched, leaving no stone unturned, to find secrets forgotten or undiscovered.” Danarius leaned forward. “I can offer you the chance to be part of that.”

“You... what?”

“Why do you think I am here? I received a message from a colleague, just this morning, telling of the Ball. The spectacle, the mayhem, the Archon’s celebrity guest! Can you imagine my surprise to learn it was you? And, to find you sought a mentor; an apprenticeship with which to earn a place in Tevinter? As it happens, I’m fully prepared to offer you just such a position. An apprenticeship of ten years’ duration, including the standard stipulations; stipend, housing, sponsorship to a Circle, etcetera, etcetera.”

Anders sat, mouth ajar, uncharacteristically wordless. He’d been moments from leaving Tevinter, when suddenly he was being handed all he’d sought. It was too good to be true. At that thought, he found his words.

“What’s the catch?”

“Catch? There is no catch, Anders. You have skills of which I find myself in need; I have something to offer of which you are in need. Do you object to this arrangement?”

“Please... don’t think me ungrateful. I’m a bit out of my element. And, the Imperium has a bit of a reputation in the South.”

“Which I’m sure a certain escaped slave embellished.”

“To put it lightly.”

“Well, I should like the opportunity to defend my country’s honor. And my own, if I know my little wolf at all.”

Anders gathered his thoughts.

“I will not engage in blood magic.”

The magister sighed, shaking his head. “Contrary to popular belief, we in the Imperium --myself included--do not practice blood magic.”

“Hadriana bled dozens in her effort to defeat Hawke.”

“Ah, yes. My former apprentice was overly ambitious; insatiable in her lust for power. She was no loss. You’ll notice I made no attempt to exact reprisal for her death.”

Anders nodded, that was true enough. “Be that as it may, I have questions regarding your own actions. Actions I cannot simply ignore, if I’m to consider a ten-year association.”

Danarius settled back with a nod. “I quite understand. Please, share your concerns.”

“The night Hawke met Fenris, she helped search your mansion. Do you deny summoning the demons which laid in wait?”

“Would you believe I’ve never set foot in the Kirkwall mansion? The hunters I contracted used it as a base of operations while searching for Fenris. I cannot speak for the methods used by those I’d hired; though it’s entirely possible they utilized demons. Once I learned of their failure to complete their assignment, I chose not to visit Kirkwall until a later date.”

“I heard you once killed a child for blood magic to fuel a party trick.”

Danarius sighed. “Although blood magic is forbidden in the Imperium, we do not have as strict a definition of it as in the South.”

“Enlighten me.”

“If a mage uses his own blood, or that of a willing participant, there’s certainly no cause for alarm.”

“So, you did use a child in a blood ritual?”

“It was hardly a ritual. It was frippery, a spectacle; but one which works to best effect with the charge of innocent life force. The child was in full agreement of a small cut to participate.”

“A small cut?”

“That’s all that was required.”

It certainly wasn’t the dire situation he’d heard described. Not that Anders was comfortable with even that much blood magic. Perhaps Fenris had seen a knife and some blood, and assumed the worst.

“Even so, I’ll have nothing to do with the practice.”

“Nor would I ask. It would certainly not be necessary for what I have planned.”

“Planned?”

“Indeed. Part of this agreement is your assistance in a project requiring healing expertise. I will divulge it in detail after contracts are signed. Confidentiality... you understand.”

Anders nodded, thinking. Danarius had answered all of Anders’ questions openly, and seemingly honestly. There was just one question remaining.

“Where is Fenris?”

“Ah. Of course. You’re concerned I brought him back to Tevinter to sacrifice, or tear the lyrium from his hide.” Danarius shook his head. “Seth, my pet, where is Fenris right now?”

Anders had forgotten Seth was still kneeling beside Danarius. He’d not moved, nor made a sound in all this time. Now, he looked up at the magister with a smile.

“He is at the country Estate, Master.”

“What is he doing there?”

“Undergoing intensive training, Master.”

“And, is he in one piece?”

“Yes, Master.”

Danarius spread his hands, smiling at Anders. “There you have it. My little wolf had difficulty adjusting to his reintroduction to life here. But, fear not... he is quite intact.”

For all their previous enmity, Anders was relieved to hear it. “You do realize, our personal history may make things awkward, were I to accept your offer.”

Danarius looked surprised. “Did Mistress Hawke never mention my letter?”

“Uh, no. Why?”

“Suffice it to say, Fenris has had a change in attitude. You needn’t concern yourself with past rivalry.”

Anders nodded, though not entirely convinced. Danarius held a hand toward Seth, who immediately produced two scrolls from his hip satchel. The magister kept one, and passed the other to Anders.

It was a contract of apprenticeship, exactly as Danarius had said. Of ten year’s duration, with stipulations of tutelage in Imperial culture and dictum, sponsorship to the Minrathous Circle of Magi, reasonable access to training and research, support with personal projects, expectation of assistance with the mentor’s works, and such benefits as; housing, board, wardrobe, stipend, supplies, travel, etc, etc.

Anders was fairly overwhelmed. It had been one thing to discuss; it was another to see it in writing. He was actually wanted for his magical ability. Enough to offer... so much. More than he’d ever had, even as a Warden.

“Are you quite alright?”

He took a deep breath, blowing it out slowly. “I need a moment.”

“Of course. Walk the garden. A few moments to ponder the next decade is certainly reasonable.”

Anders walked further into the atrium, seeking solitude to think. This entire meeting had him spinning. He’d heard nothing but horror stories about Danarius for seven years. Yet, here he was; congenial, friendly, open, seemingly honest. In fact, he’d been as much during his brief visit in Kirkwall, as well. Could it be he was less an ogre than an old man seeking comfort and companionship in his dotage? Who should Anders believe? A mage-hating, angry elf; or a fellow mage offering him freedom?

Seth didn’t appear frightened of the man, nor maltreated. He was the picture of health, smiling, and at ease. Never mind that he was a collared slave... that much was something Anders was never going to get used to. But, he’d already realized he’d have to come to terms with that aspect of life in Tevinter.

The only fly in the ointment was Fenris. Could they find some sort of peace in the same household? Danarius was certain it wouldn’t be an issue. He’d have to trust him on that.

Perhaps this was his chance. For freedom, for a new life. He'd always heard the Maker worked in strange ways. Perhaps he'd met Danarius, however briefly, in Kirkwall, so that the magister would be willing to assist him here and now. He nodded to himself, a smile replacing his anxious frown. He turned, and retraced his steps back toward the magister. He had a contract to sign, and a life to begin. He hadn’t felt such lightness of being in decades.

Chapter Text

Anders found himself, once again, in a carriage. This was a far cry from the breakneck, windowless ride he’d taken several days ago. Danarius’ open chariot had deeply cushioned seats, with velvet upholstery and a thick fur rug covering the floor boards.

As Anders had no belongings other than what he wore, they’d left straight from the atrium. Danarius explained it was several hours to reach his country estate, but they would reach it before it was fully dark. As they sat facing one another on the ride out of the city, Danarius described the capital as they passed through. The road to the city gates was a meandering, downslope journey.

“See there... the tallest building?” Danarius pointed. “That is the Magisterium. I’ll take you with me, eventually. And beyond, the large granite structure?”

“It looks dwarven.”

“Indeed. That’s the Ambassadoria, though the greatest part of it is underground. I seldom have cause to visit, but we’ll find the time, if you like. I imagine they’d be curious to meet you. Few Tevinter mages join the Grey Wardens.”

Anders believed it. They were already free; why bother with the Wardens?

“Have you learned the class hierarchies in Tevinter?”

“They were briefly explained.”

“In general, the higher the elevation on the capital island, the higher the class of tenants. We’re now leaving the noble estates, and moving into the Laetan neighborhoods.”

“My people,” Anders nodded.

“Eventually, yes. For now, you will enjoy what my status offers. Quite a step up from your previous setting, no?”

The houses decreased in grandeur the further down they travelled, eventually giving way to an immense marketplace.

The streets were swept, and most customers looked to be servants or slaves on errands. There were also noble folk with slaves in tow, laughing, performing magic for the least convenience. Dwarves were heavily represented, both as patrons and proprietors.

“We have an excellent relationship with Orzammar through the Ambassadoria. The Tevinter lyrium trade agreement forbids enslavement of dwarves in the Empire.”

Anders hadn’t realized that. He wondered if Varric knew about that stipulation. Danarius continued pointing out various areas of the Market District.

“Minrathous boasts an excellent cultural venue. Theater, concerts, readings. Have you any interest?”

“Interest, yes. Opportunity, no.”

“That has just changed, my dear Anders. The surest way to learn about a culture is through its arts. A visit to the great sculptures of the Silent Plains also wouldn’t go amiss, at a later date.”

As they left the marketplace, Danarius remarked this was where the Soporati neighborhoods began. Anders was surprised to see they looked much as the noble neighborhoods had.

“I thought the Soporati were poor,” he commented.

“Many, yes. But, some have made their fortune in mundane pursuits such as traders, craftsmen, business owners. Most of the wealthy Soporati are surface dwarves.”

“Are those slaves in the gardens?”

“Hmm? Yes, why?”

“I guess... I thought only magisters owned slaves.”

Danarius laughed, his hand dropping down to stroke the shining hair of the beautiful slave kneeling at his feet. “Of course not! Everyone has slaves. Wherever did you get that idea?”

The rich neighborhoods gave way to middle class, which gave way to lower. Tall, crumbling apartment buildings crowded the street. There were more humans than elves, though both were present. Children played in gutters running with grey water. They passed through yet another marketplace, a shabby facsimile of the first they’d seen.

“There is a route to the upper tiers of the city which bypasses these neighborhoods,” Danarius said. “I felt you should see the underbelly, at least once. And, look ahead... one of the three main gates to the city. You’ll see the Juggernaut as we pass. There’s one at each gate. A marvel to behold, is it not?”

Indeed, a gigantic golem stood outside the wall as they rolled through the gate. He’d seen, and fought, golems before... but this was unlike any he’d encountered.

Crossing the guarded bridge connecting the island to the mainland, they left the teeming city behind, and travelled into the countryside. As they continued along, dwellings became fewer and farther between. Soon, features turned agrarian, and grand villas surrounded by sweeping farmland became the common feature.

Conversation died-off as time passed. Anders discreetly observed the man who was now his mentor. He’d heard a fair amount about him from Fenris during their time in Kirkwall. Most in passing, and none complimentary. He’d only met him once before, when he’d come for Fenris, over a year ago. Well, met was perhaps overstating it. Anders had been with Hawke in the tavern; and had witnessed the event. He was surprised Danarius remembered him, at all. He’d made a sarcastic comment. And, he’d been the only mage present; likely that made him stand out.

He glanced at the young man, kneeling at Danarius’ feet. Anders didn’t recall if Seth had been among the magister's retinue, at the time. Danarius’ fingers idly stroked Seth’s long, black hair. It made him uneasy, seeing the elf pet like a dog. Though, Seth didn’t seem to mind. His expression was distinctly blissful.

Then, his healer’s eye noted the odd structure of the magister’s knuckles. They were slightly deformed, bent at unnatural angles, with strangely loose skin. Anders had never seen anything quite like it, though it somewhat resembled a rheumatic joint disorder. Though, he hadn’t noticed the magister limping, or having difficulty holding the quill and signing the apprenticeship contract.

Perhaps that's why he wants a healer as an apprentice, Anders thought. Perhaps age and infirmity had begun to interfere with with the magister’s comfort. While playing nursemaid to an old man may not be exciting compared to life in the Wardens, or Kirkwall; Anders realized he liked the idea of a quiet life. Excitement always seemed to try and kill him.

His thoughts were interrupted when the carriage pulled into a cobblestone drive leading to one of the country villas. The stars were just winking on in the sky as they approached the front walk. Seth sprang into action, exiting the carriage before it had stopped. He opened the door, and handed down both mages. Dropping behind the magister, he followed as Danarius escorted Anders to his new home.

Despite the coming dusk, Anders could see the estate was beautiful. A large, two-story building set at the front of a farm of some sort. Stepping inside the entry, he had an impression of cool white, set with tiles in patterns of yellow and blue. Danarius led him through a door on the left wall of the large foyer.

“This is my formal office, though we will most often meet in my personal rooms, upstairs.” He pulled a cord hanging near a wall. “I’ll have Mags show you the estate, and we’ll rest until supper.”

A shadowy figured appeared at the door of the office, bowing low. Danarius motioned it in.

“Ah, Mags. This is my new apprentice, Anders.”

As Mags stepped into the light of the room, Anders was surprised to see she was Qunari. She was tall, of course; Anders barely reached her chin. She wore a loose, blue tunic which came to just above her knees, and was barefoot. About her neck was a simple leather collar.

She turned lavender eyes to Anders, bowing again. “I am honored, Master Anders.”

“Um... likewise.” He doubted he’d ever get used to being addressed as master. Anders had never seen a female Qunari. She was was as imposing as a male, even with her feminine form and slave livery. Like most of her race, Mags had bronze-hued skin. All the Qunari he’d met before had white hair, but Mags’ was black, shot through with grey, and close-cropped. Her horns had been sawn short, no more than a handspan long. The blunted ends were capped in silver.

Danarius was giving Mags instructions. “... tour of the house, and show him to his quarters. I assume they’ve been prepared?”

“As you ordered, Master.”

“Excellent. He has no luggage, but we’ll see to a wardrobe soon enough. Anders, I leave you in Mags’ capable hands. Seth will collect you for dinner.”

Anders turned to the Qunari, ready to be shown his new home.

“If you will accompany me, Master....” she gave a small bow, and gestured toward the door. Anders headed out at her side.

She led him along the wide corridor, describing the building. Her voice was deep, though gentle. “The Master’s country estate is built in the classic quad-design, with an atrium at the center, and four surrounding wings. The east and west wings have two stories, the north and south one.”

As they walked, Anders could see the atrium through wall-length windows; a beautifully landscaped garden with large pool running the length of it. Mags pointed-out rooms as they passed.

“The first floor contains most of the social and working areas of the house. The Master’s formal office, reception area, library, formal dining room, kitchen, cook’s dorm, pantry, and my dorm.”

As they circled back to the entry area, Mags pulled a cord such as Danarius had in his office. After a few heartbeats, people began gathering in the open area. All elves, a few male, mostly female. All wore tunics similar to Mags’; rough woven, in blue or grey, just shy of the knee. All wore simple leather collars about their necks.

When about two dozen people had gathered, Mags turned to Anders.

“These are the house and kitchen slaves, Master; house in blue, kitchen in grey. House slaves tend to domestics, as well as perform personal duties as bathing and dressing.” She turned to the assembled crowd.

“This is the Master’s new apprentice, Master Anders.”

There was a muffled thud as two dozen elves dropped to their knees and bowed, murmuring, “Welcome, Master.”

Mags turned to Anders with head bowed in deference. “Do you have orders or preferences you wish known at this time, Master Anders?”

He was caught off-guard. “Um... none I can think of.”

“Very well.” Mags turned to the assembled slaves. “You may return to your duties.”

The group rose gracefully to their feet, and quietly dispersed. Anders blinked at their departure.

“That many people to cook and clean for one man?”

Mags was leading him back down the hall and up a curving stairway. “Two men, now. The kitchen also prepares food for the estate’s slaves.”

They reached the second floor, and Mags continued her tour. She pointed down a narrow hallway to the right.

“Down this corridor are the Master’s private rooms, and work room, which occupy all of the west wing. Your chambers, three guest rooms and two baths are on this side.”

She gestured to the nearest the door, in the northeast corner of the house.

“These are your quarters, Master Anders.”

Though not so vast as the palace guest room, his new living space was perfectly comfortable. It was a suite of three rooms; the largest being the one he’d just walked into. It contained a sizable bed, large armoire, a low table with surrounding cushions, and windowed doors leading to a small balcony.

To his right was a large archway leading to a smaller version of the bathing room he’d used at the palace. The archway contained a sliding door, with a twin on the opposite wall. He could feel the warmth of the pool in the air, and see the slight movement of the water as it carried out the the old, and brought in new in a continuous cycle. In the back corner he could see an alcove with a lavatory.

“The guest room on the other side shares the bath,” Mags explained, “Though Master Danarius seldom entertains, anymore.”

To the left of the main room was an open door. “This is your private study, supplied by the Master, himself.”

Anders stepped inside and found a desk situated under a large window. The walls were lined with shelves, cupboards, lamps, and supplies of quills, scrolls and ink. Opening the cupboard doors, he discovered a large supply of neatly labelled vials; healing potions, lyrium, rare tinctures, powders, dried herbs, and ingredients.

Surprised at the thought which had gone into supplying his needs, he closed the cabinet, and wandered back to the main room, his opinion of Danarius rising.

As with the rest of the house, his rooms were white, with floor and ceiling murals of yellow and blue. Being on the north-east corner, he had windows both in the doors leading to the balcony, and over his desk. Everything was designed to allow for access of light and air; a far cry from his seven years in the sewers. He went to the balcony doors, and opened them, the gauzy curtains fluttering. There were a few chairs and a table, and a warm evening breeze. His view overlooked a manicured lawn dappled with light from the downstairs windows. He saw a few workers making their way through the darkness beyond the lawn.

“Mags, how many slaves are on the entire estate?”

“A hundred and a half, last count.”

“Are they all elves?”

“Not counting myself, yes.”

He had a thousand questions, but thought it better to wait until they had a chance to get better acquainted.

“Thank you for the tour, Mags. I look forward to working with you.”

“And I, you, Master Anders. If ever you need anything, pull the cord near the bed. Would you prefer male or female slaves to assist with your bath and dress?”

“Neither. I can manage both on my own.”

“Very well,” she said, bowing deeply. “Excuse me.”

When she had left, he wandered through his rooms with a sense of wonder. This was his home, now. His beautiful, comfortable, slave-supported home. For all that he’d come to a decision about this, was it truly a tenable situation? He supposed it would have to be, if he hoped to remain in Tevinter.

Having no luggage to unpack, he lay down on his bed, and tried to let the day’s events sink in. He imagined the letters he would write to his friends, if he dared.

 

“Dear Hawke,

“You’ll never guess who I ran into....”

“Hey Varric,

“I ever tell you about the time I became a magister’s apprentice? No shit, there I was....”

“Knight Captain Cullen,

“You should visit. The magisters would just love you.”

“Sebastian,

“Suck it.”

 

Before long, Seth fetched him for dinner. Danarius’ rooms were more than double the size of Anders’, and lavishly appointed. They were dark, the windows covered with thick drapes; and cluttered. Area rugs, statuary, and heavy furniture filled the space. A large, thickly upholstered chair sat in a corner beside a lamp. Stacks of books and scrolls surrounded it, marking it as a favored reading chair. It wasn’t hard to envision Danarius reading in the halo of the lamp, one hand gliding through the black hair of the elf kneeling beside him.

A closed door at the far end of the room had not only a large lock on it, but Anders could sense magical wards guarding it. It must lead to Danarius’ workroom.

A table was set with a meal for two in the center of the main room. The foods were more familiar than what Anders had eaten at the palace. Once Seth had served them, the young elf exited the room.

“He’s not eating?” Anders asked.

“He’s already been fed. I thought you might enjoy a taste of home,” Danarius smiled graciously. “There are dishes from both Ferelden and the Free Marches. The wine, however, is local. I’m afraid southern vintage is simply not up to Imperial standards.”

“That’s very thoughtful.”

“Are you satisfied with your accommodations?”

“Very much. You have a beautiful home.”

“Isn’t it? I once preferred my city estate for its proximity to the Magisterium and Circle. Now, I find I enjoy the peace of the countryside. I hope agrarian life suits you.”

Anders gave a quirk of his lips. “I was raised on a farm.”

“Then, you should feel at home. Of course, you have full run of the house and grounds; the only exception being my quarters.”

“You’re more than generous.”

“True. Yet, I believe you’ll be worth it. We’ll discuss the primary project I have in mind, while we eat.”

“Sounds good.” This had been the burning question in his mind.

“You are familiar with Fenris’ lyrium markings?”

“To an extent. As I said, we weren’t close.”

“Tell me what you know.”

“He said they were burned into his skin during an agonizing ceremony which destroyed his memory. They continued to cause him pain. He was able to use the markings to phase through people and objects. They also gave him a variety of other abilities, but he wasn’t forthcoming about them, at least to me. He... also said you didn’t want him back as a slave, but to strip the lyrium from his flesh.”

Danarius chuckled, shaking his head. “I most certainly did want him back. But, I had no intention of stripping the lyrium from him. The ceremony was agonizing, it’s true. The text’s instructions were clear; the recipient must bear the application of the markings stoically. Which he did. I was pleased with his forbearance.

“When Fenris was lost on Seheron, and converted by the Fog Warriors, I was heartbroken. My little wolf was my closest companion, you see. While I have colleagues plenty, I have few I would call friends, and no family. Losing him was more devastating than I care to admit.”

“I’m sorry... Fog Warriors?”

“Ah, you don’t know. It’s not important, really. He was among others for the several months we were separated. I searched for him without rest. There came a time, after he was tracked to Kirkwall, and my largest party of hunters were lost, when I had to admit I might not be able to regain his loyalty. I found another slave, to train as his replacement. And in Seth, I discovered a loyalty and devotion not even Fenris had possessed.”

“Why come for him, then? If you’d found another, why not leave Fenris free?”

“Because, dear Anders, he is mine. I made him what he is. He is a considerable investment of both time and money. He may no longer be my little wolf, but he is still a skilled body guard and warrior.

“And, Seth desires to take the markings, as Fenris has. This gives me pause.”

It gave Anders pause, as well. To inflict the same pain on another, knowing what it did to Fenris, was bad enough. But Danarius’ statements were a contradiction; had he wanted him back because he was heartbroken at losing him? Or, because he was a considerable investment?

“What exactly gives you pause? The pain involved?” he asked.

“To an extent. You see, it’s my theory that the pain Fenris continued to experience slowly drove a wedge between us. Much as any animal will go mad with pain, so did my little wolf. It changed him into a mad dog; one which turned on his master.

“It is my hope, that you and I working together will be able to cure the lingering pain of the markings; and offset that possibility in Seth. He is of sweet temperament, and I would not risk him turning against me, however unlikely.”

“I see.”

“To do this, you will use Fenris as your test subject. If you can cure his lingering pain, you will be able to do the same for Seth. However, I am unwilling to unveil all the secrets of the ceremony and markings, even to my own apprentice. I will reveal only enough for you to perform research and testing.”

There was so much unsettling in what Danarius had said. The magister clearly didn’t care about the men’s pain, except how it affected his own interests. And, that was sickening. Though, in the long run, Anders’ goal was to relieve not just Fenris’ pain, but prevent it occurring in Seth. Skewed as it was, it was a project he could get behind. Relief of suffering was a healer’s primary goal. He nodded.

“Do you have samples of the lyrium you intend to use?”

“No. It cannot be processed until the time of application. Which is one reason you will need to use Fenris as your initial subject.”

“Will he agree to this?” The work Anders would need to do for this project wouldn’t be painful. He simply couldn’t imagine Fenris agreeing to be experimented upon by him.

“He will do as told,” Danarius assured him. “I'll gather the information I’m willing to share for your study. When I feel Fenris is ready to participate, you may begin in earnest.”

“When do you think that will be?”

“Perhaps a few weeks. You’ll be busy with the information I give you, in the meantime.”

He nodded. And now, he had questions.

“You say Fenris told you of me?”

“He told me of his freedom in great detail.”

“Such as?”

Danarius chuckled, sipping his wine. “Feeling a bit exposed? Fear not. I know many secrets of many people. Yours are safe with me. Let’s see if I can put your mind at ease.

“You were born in Ferelden, and went to the Circle when you manifested magic. You escaped many times, until being conscripted into the Grey Wardens. You had a cat... what was it called? It was a preposterous name.”

“Ser Pounce-a-lot.”

“Yes, that’s it! I thought it odd Fenris remembered such a detail. You left the Wardens within a year to go to Kirkwall, ostensibly to work with an old friend in the Gallows. You discovered he’d been made Tranquil, and delivered the killing blow, yourself.

“You ran a clinic in the sewers, as well as worked for the mage underground. After long years attempting to draw attention to the plight of those in the Circle, you took more drastic measures. Of course, Fenris was not present for your final accomplishment; that information came through the ever-active social grapevine. And... long-story-short... here you are.”

So, Fenris apparently hadn’t told Danarius about Justice. Why was that?

“There’s one thing my pet wasn’t able to explain. Perhaps you can shed light for me.”

“I’ll try,” he said, warily.

“Why is a Fereldan called Anders?”

“Oh. My father was from the Anderfels. I didn’t speak for months after arriving at the Circle, so everyone just called me ‘Anders.’ It stuck.”

“And you never felt the need to correct them?”

“My previous life was over. It seemed right, to take a new name.”

Danarius nodded, looking at him with approval. “I agree. I severed ties with my family, long ago. I stopped using my familial name at that time.”

“How should I refer to you?”

“Danarius is fine. Some mentors insist on master, but I’ll not have you follow the rules of slaves.”

“Hadriana referred to you as master."

"Hadriana had a love for all the trappings of power. Strange girl, really."

“Fenris described her less as strange, and more as sadistic and cruel.”

“She had that tendency, yes.”

“You knew she tormented him?”

“She knew better than to cause permanent damage.. It was a harmless outlet for her, and practice in self-control for him.” He shrugged. “Beneficial for both, really.”

Anders didn’t agree. He didn’t like Fenris, but senseless cruelty was never acceptable. Nothing to be done about it, now. It was long in the past, and Hadriana was dead. Still... it put a bizarre twist in Danarius’ amiable demeanor. He’d spoken respectfully to Mags, and was gentle with Seth. Anders still wasn’t sure just how to take him.

“Where is Fenris, exactly? Seth said he was at the estate, but I haven’t seen him.”

“He is in partial seclusion. You'll see him, in time.” Danarius held his crystal goblet aloft. “To success in our mutual endeavor.”

Anders raised his glass. “Success.”

The next several days were occupied with activities unrelated to his new project. An entire afternoon was spent standing in Danarius’ office in his smallpants, being fitted for a new wardrobe. The tailor was an estate slave, who managed all the clothing for Danarius and slaves alike. He had a staff of a half-dozen at his disposal, all of whom were running about in organized chaos as Anders stood nearly naked on a stool with arms outstretched, the magister looking on critically.

He recalled Danarius wearing dull, southern-style robes when in Kirkwall. In Tevinter, it was quite another story. He, like the nobles he’d seen in the capital, seemed fond of long, sweeping drapes. Rather than black, however, Danarius favored shades of bright pink, lavender, blue, and salmon. He was always well coifed, in jewels and cloaks, and shoes with glittering buckles.

He also had strong opinions of his new apprentice’s attire, regardless of Anders’ objections.

“I don’t need fancy clothes, and boots for every day of the week,” Anders insisted.

“As my apprentice, your presentation reflects on us both. You will look the part, regardless of your background. Is that pendant your only jewelry?”

“Yes. It was a gift from Hawke.”

“The Champion of Kirkwall gave you an Imperial Chantry amulet?” Danarius laughed with delight. “It’s in need of cleaning, but suitable for wear. Give it to Seth for polishing. He’ll return it to you after supper, along with a selection of jewelry I do not use. You shall take your pick.”

“It’s not neces--”

“It’s customary for a mentor to provide such baubles. As I have no heirs, you may benefit from my excess.” He directed his next comments to the tailer. “Earth tones, I think. Keep his daily wear simple, with occasional nods toward fashion. A formal robe or two in black. A few silk nightshirts and dressing gowns. And, make sure he has a full complement of smalls and hosiery.”

The tailer bowed. “And footwear, Master?”

“Boots. Pairs in several colors and heights. A few pairs of light slippers for the warm season.”

In the end, Anders let him have his way. Number one, Danarius was paying for it. Number two, it occurred to him to save his arguments for things that truly mattered; such as blood sacrifice.

“You’ve no staff, either?”

“I lost it and my dagger when the apostates took me prisoner.”

“Given what I’d heard of your prowess, I’m surprised they managed it.”

“In all fairness, I was asleep, and it was twelve against one.”

A glimmer lit the magister’s eyes. “Ah. On our first visit to the capital, we’ll remedy this paucity. You’ll have no need for either tool until then.”

He again shared dinner with the magister. Danarius dominated the conversation, speaking at length of his successes with lyrium studies. Seth served them as before, but this time stayed while they ate, kneeling at his master’s left heel, his oiled skin gleaming in the lamplight. Anders assumed he’d again eaten prior to their meal... hoped he had, at any rate.

Seth rarely took his expressive brown eyes off of Danarius. He was aware of the slightest gesture, of the moment his wine glass emptied. Without seeming obtrusive, he kept both their glasses filled, and responded immediately to the smallest need.

Anders continued to be in awe of his utter grace and beauty. His long, gleaming hair was in braids today, wound into a knot at the back of his head. He didn’t mean to stare, but Danarius obviously caught him watching the young elf’s sinuous movements.

“He’s lovely, is he not?”

“Hm? Oh... uh, yes.”

The magister smiled at Seth, who smiled shyly, carefully replacing the bottle and returning to his place beside his master’s chair.

“He is a bred slave, designed for beauty, grace, and temperament. He was trained from the age of six by the most most prestigious pleasure-house in Vyrantium; in dance, pleasures, musical instruments. He was a gift to the Archon Davan, as a palace concubine. When Davan was assassinated, all palace slaves were either executed, or sent to auction. Seth was purchased by an establishment on the Vivazzi Plaza in Minrathous.”

That explained why he moved with such assurance through the palace, Anders thought. He’d lived there, at one time. Danarius continued.

“I saw him dancing, and something in the way he moved... there was a primal, martial quality to his motions. I knew he could be so much more. I bought him, then and there.”

He ran his hand along the exposed skin of Seth’s neck. “Your owner didn’t wish to part with you, did he?”

Seth again smiled shyly. “He didn’t, Master. But, you don’t take no for an answer.”

“That’s right, my pet.” He turned back to Anders. “A brief show of magic, and a fair offer was all it took. And, I was right. In less than a year, Seth was competent with the blades. In three, a match for any. With the markings, he will be a challenge even for Fenris.”

“What will happen to Fenris, then?”

Danarius shrugged. “I haven’t thought about it. He still has his uses. He’ll need to train Seth in use of the markings, of course. It will be much easier for Seth to learn than it was for Fenris. I had only only ancient, imperfect texts to guide us. Seth will have a Lyrium Warrior’s experience from which to learn. He is devoted and eager to please, in a way only bred slaves can be.”

Seth arrived at Anders’ door later in the evening. With his demure smile, he held a small, decorative chest.

“Master says I should help you choose appropriate jewelry, Master Anders.”

Gesturing him in, Anders asked, “He didn’t wish to supervise, himself?”

Kneeling at the table before the settee, Seth put down the chest, and handed Anders his Chantry amulet. It had been cleaned and polished so that it glittered in the lamplight. Seth then began sorting the chest’s contents for display.

“My master finds such details tedious. I am trained as a valet, and am able to assist you with this, if you’ve no objection.”

“Of course not.”

Taking a seat opposite Seth, he looked over the items being laid-out on the table. Picking up a ring, he examined it more closely. It was fine craftsmanship. He’d expected to receive Danarius’ cheap cast-offs; these were anything but.

“He doesn’t truly intend to give these to me, does he?”

“Yes, Master.”

“But, these look extremely valuable.”

With a fetching tilt of his head, Seth hesitated. “Forgive me, Master, but they are not. At least, not of the value a man of my master’s rank would wear. Their quality is mediocre, though appropriate to your rank as a magister’s apprentice.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

Seth described each piece in which Anders showed an interest. Some were all-purpose, suitable for daily wear. Others particular to certain levels of formality or styles of robes.

He chose relatively few pieces of jewelry. A couple rings, some cloak pins, and several hair clasps. Seth urged him to consider a selection of earrings, as well.

“Perhaps a dragon, Master, to signify your new country?”

He took the proffered earring, a small, dangling serpentine dragon; the symbol of Tevinter. He was here, now. Apprenticed to a magister, encouraged to wear his Imperial Chantry amulet openly. Why not?

“Good idea. And, a couple hoops. Maybe some gemstone studs.”

“Excellent, Master! If you have no further need of me, I will leave you in peace.” Scooping the remaining items back into the chest, Seth bowed low.

“Goodnight, Master Anders.”

“Goodnight, Seth.”

Lying in bed, Anders thought of what he’d learned about Seth. He was a sweet-natured, eager-to-please young man. It made him uncomfortable, to think of he’d been bred for servile tendencies and beauty. Trained for pleasure from the age of six? He’d been a pleasure slave as a child? It was nothing short of grotesque. He was certain Danarius was bedding the young man. And, certain Seth knew little else but to expect it, accept it, and possibly even enjoy it. He doubted either master or slave saw the wrong in it. He remembered Estea telling him of the pleasure harem at the Archon’s Palace. He doubted most of the Imperium would see how wrong it was.

His thoughts were interrupted by gentle rapping at his door. It was Mags, asking if he needed anything for the night.

“No, I’m fine, thanks.”

“Would you care to have company sent up?”

“Comp--? Oh. Oh, Maker. No, thank you. Good night, Mags.”

She bowed slightly. “Good night, Master Anders.”

Company. Maker’s breath. When he’d been introduced to the house slaves, had they wondered if he would be calling upon them to serve him in bed, as well as clean, cook, and bathe him? Was it simply another duty in a long list of chores?

He rolled over, and pummeled a pillow into submission. They needn’t worry about him. He was no templar, out to taste the flesh of his charges.

The next day was spent on a tour of the estate’s grounds. The lead grounds-slave, Agris, provided him a mount, and rode the large property with him. He looked to be about Mags’ age, and said he managed all the outdoor aspects of the estate; stock and crops.

The crops in question were something Anders had never seen outside of drawings and paintings; grapes. He’d heard grapes were grown in some northern areas of the Free Marches and Nevarra, but he’d never had the chance to see arbors in person.

As soon as he expressed an interest, Agris seemed happy to walk him through a section, and show him the fruit up close. The man knew his business, and gave detailed description of the type of grapes they grew, the soil, the pests, the growing season. Anders found himself unexpectedly engrossed in the topic. It took him back to his childhood, listening to his father talk crops with neighboring farmers.

Danarius’ production was limited to growth and harvest of the grapes. Once harvested, they were taken several miles to a nearby vintner to be processed. Danarius eschewed monetary payment, being unimaginably wealthy in his own right. He instead took cases of the vintner’s best in exchange.

The land not allocated to grape crops held a vegetable garden for the household, and a variety of stock for work and slaughter. A separate barn and paddock held fine horses.

“Master don’t care much about the working stock, but he likes a showy horse,” Agris explained. “He brings in the best money can buy. Some of those stallions cost more than a hundred field slaves.”

As they rode the property, Anders saw many workers in the fields, barns, and stables.

“Where do your workers live?”

“Same as the house slaves, Master Anders. Men have a stable out past the barns. Women are in a kennel under the house. I got a room above the horse stables.”

“The men have a stable?”

It turned out to be a bunkhouse, but apparently anything related to slaves was often designated as though for animal use. Anders groaned inwardly at the use of even language to denigrate a population. It was templar vs. mage, amplified a thousand times over.

Although he had cringed inwardly any time he was referred to as master, he slowly grew accustomed to his new home. It took a week before he used the pull-cord in his room to summon service. He was too accustomed to doing for himself. And, using his magic freely was a decadence he’d never known. A simple spell to reheat his tea at breakfast felt like running naked through the streets; but didn’t so much as turn the head of the elves cleaning his room.

Until Danarius completed his edits on the lyrium ritual material, Anders was unable to begin his research. He was at loose ends, for the first time in his life having nothing to do. He’d imagined his new mentor would be intensively instructing him in the culture of Tevinter, as well as discussing aspects of magic not involving blood blood sacrifice.

As it happened, Danarius was scarcely out of his chambers. When he did emerge, it was in late afternoon or evening. The limber gait which he’d displayed in Anders’ first few days gave way to stiff movements and swollen joints. When they met for occasional suppers, he looked much more that part of a rheumatic old man.

Seth did most of the magister’s leg-work, trotting up and down the stairs, relaying messages to the kitchen and Mags. Occasionally, the young elf appeared bowing at Anders’ side, with a parchment addressed to him; sometimes accompanied by a recommended tome from the magister’s private collection.

If Danarius was suffering from an arthritic disability, it certainly had dramatic remission and flares. But, he was a grown man, and if he wanted Anders’ assistance, he would ask. Until then, he would mind his own business.

A pattern developed to Anders’ days. He usually woke early; often from a vivid dream. Darkspawn or isolation were the usual fare. He bathed in the luxury of the pool. He dressed from his growing wardrobe. He pulled the cord to signal he was up, and a slave in blue quickly appeared with his breakfast tray. He always chatted with them, asking their names, determined to know the people with whom he shared a house.

The food was delicious, and unusual to his tastes; as Tevinter cuisine wasn’t commonly served in the south. He asked the serving slaves so many questions about his meal trays they began describing his meals as they carried them in. After breakfast, he would explore the downstairs library. He found books on magic, lyrium, and the Fade he’d never heard of, which contained research and experiments beyond anything the southern Circles taught.

When he shared supper with the magister, Danarius continued to dominate the conversation. Anders came to the conclusion the magister was incredibly arrogant and suffered an inflamed ego. The arrogance he might have some rightful claim to; what he’d described of his work showed him to be frankly brilliant. The ego... well, Anders had seen that in many rich and powerful men. No one was deserving of that much self-regard.

After dinner, he would have a nightcap of the brandy provided in his quarters; drinking it on his balcony as the moons rose over the land. In spite of the number of people in and on the estate, he was lonely. While he was slowly putting some of the house slaves at ease, he suspected they would always see him as a master. The only person here he might be able to speak to as an equal was Danarius, and that held little appeal.

He wasn’t about to complain. He’d been lonely in the Circle, lonely in the sewers, and lonely on the run. At least now, he was also comfortable and fed. No templars came sniffing around; he didn’t have to sleep with one eye open. No, he had no complaints, even if he was lonely.

Not lonely enough to take Mags up on her continued offers to send him company for the night. She didn’t offer every evening; and she didn’t quite mange to hide her look of relief when he declined. It was clear she didn’t want to order one of her people to a master's bed.

One night she lingered in his doorway.

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

“My staff tell me you know their names.”

“Sure. Danarius knows their names, doesn’t he?”

“A few. Myself and Agris. Seth and Fenris. Kessa and Cook. To the Master, the rest are no more than tools or furniture.”

“That’s the master. To the apprentice, each is a person, with a name and life as worthy as his own.”

Mags stared at him for just a beat longer than was probably appropriate, then looked down with a confused expression. After another beat, she spoke again.

“Kessa says you gave her a pastry from your tray this morning?”

“It had fig filling. I don’t care for figs. Would you rather I not give it to her?”

“I would not presume to tell a master what to do. I mean only to assure it was truly given.”

“It was. This isn’t about names or pastries, is it? You’re trying to figure me out.”

“It... behooves a slave to understand those they serve.”

“You can ask me anything you like. I’m pretty much an open book.”

She nodded, though didn’t seem entirely convinced. “I’ll leave you to your sleep, Master Anders.”

“Mags, one thing I’ll tell you right now....”

She paused expectantly.

“I’ll never want a slave sent to my bed. Ever.”

As she bowed slightly in response to his statement, he didn’t miss the slight uplift at the corners of her mouth.

“As you wish.”

“Goodnight, Mags.”

“Goodnight, Master Anders.”

Several days later, supper with the magister ended with Danarius handing over a large stack of scrolls and documents. He chuckled at Anders’ eager expression as he leafed through the information.

“You understand, I give you this information as a mentor to his apprentice.”

Anders looked up. Danarius continued, without the chuckling grin.

“Were this knowledge to be shared without my express approval, I would view it as a personal betrayal.”

Anders sensed the danger behind the words. It was less a threat than a simple fact; he who betrayed Danarius’ trust, would suffer consequences. Not that Anders feared a confrontation with the man, but he had no desire to lose the position he’d managed to gain.

“I understand.”

“Excellent,” Danarius said. “I look forward to discussing your impressions.”

Anders wasted no time immersing himself in the mystery of the markings.

The more he learned, the less he understood. He’d always suspected there was more than lyrium in the markings. Pure lyrium, however refined, would destroy the tissue in which it was imbedded. He was right; it was an amalgam. Lyrium was actually the lesser of four ingredients, the other three of which Danarius did not divulge.

He flipped through the pack to the heavily censored ceremony, and began the difficult task of putting it together. Not only was it jarringly censored by Danarius, but it had been translated from an Elvish dialect he’d never seen, before. The translation was literal, with verbs and nouns skewed. He set about rewriting them on a separate parchment, for his own sanity.

When he sat back to stretch his neck and back, he realized how late it was. He could really use some tea. He decided that rather than wake anyone, he’d just go the kitchen himself.

The house was eerily silent. He paused at his end of the corridor leading to Danarius’ quarters. All was quiet. Moving stealthily down the stairs and corridors, he found his way to the dimly lit kitchen. He’d never actually been inside, just caught glimpses through the doorway.

It was enormous; far larger than he’d have expected. There were several sizable prep tables, and accompanying cookstoves. There were two large hearths, and a smaller one. At the far end was the scullery, with two large, built-in basins. There was a doorway that seemed to lead outside, and another that likely led to the cook’s room and pantry. Most of the kitchen must have been used to prepare food for the slaves on the estate.

He heated a cup of water with a quick spell, then rummaged the shelves for tea. He was startled when a young woman crawled out from under the work table, nearly under his robe. He yelped, backpedaling in surprise.

Bowing where she knelt, she trembled with anxiety.

“Forgive me, Master! I didn’t hear you come in.”

She was hardly more than a girl, he saw, clasping one hand tightly against her torso.

“No, it’s fine. I’m just looking for the tea.”

She stood, skirting around him, and pulled a large canister from a shelf with one hand. She handed it to him awkwardly, her other hand still tucked against her body.

He took the tea, setting it aside.

“Are you hurt?”

Eyes wide, she crossed her mobile arm over the other.

“It’s nothing, Master.”

“You know, I’m a healer. May I take a look?” He held out a hand encouragingly.

Resignedly, she extended her arm, and watched as he examined her hand. It was badly burned. Red, peeling skin, oozing blisters, cracked creases.

“What’s your name?” he asked quietly.

“Adea.”

“This looks like a grease burn,” he commented, extending the fingers and turning her hand over.

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Do you mind if I heal it?”

“I have nothing to pay you, Master.”

“I’m not asking for payment, Adea. Just for the chance to heal you.”

Eyes still huge, she nodded. His hands glowed with blue magic, lighting the kitchen, then covering the mottled red of her burned skin. For a dozen heart beats, he focused on her hand, turning it, finally stroking the skin. The blue glow faded, and her hand was whole again, the skin pale and fresh.

She looked at it in wonder. “Thank you, Master. Thank you, so much!”

“You’re welcome.” He picked up the canister. “Thank you for finding the tea.”

She continued gazing at him in wonder as he prepared it. She gathered a tray for his tea, and although she nearly argued with him, he insisted on carrying it to his room, himself.

The next morning, Mags herself brought his breakfast.

Her expression was less impassive than usual, considering him with frank curiosity. When he took the tray to his balcony, she followed.

"To what do I owe this pleasure?” he asked, setting his tray on the table.

“Adea showed me her hand, this morning.”

“That was a nasty burn. Why hadn’t it been tended?”

Mags shrugged. “Slaves are not permitted healing.”

He stared at her in surprise. He must have heard her wrong.

“Say that again?”

“Potions and healers have associated costs of time and expense. Slaves are seldom worthy of either.”

Disbelief battled with disgust in his chest. Yet, Danarius brought him here to treat the pain of two slaves. “Danarius has said this?”

“I would not speak ill of my master, Master Anders. It is not an uncommon belief, in the Imperium.”

“Have any slaves ever been healed in this household?”

“Three, to my knowledge.”

“What happens to those not deemed worthy?”

“We do our best, with what we have. They either get better... or they don’t. ”

“And, if they don’t?”

“They either die on their own, or if Master learns they are not recovering, they are mercifully euthanized.”

“Euthanized! Elfroot grows wild, everywhere! I’ve seen it in the grape arbors. You could pick it yourself.”

“We are not permitted healing herbs or potions, regardless of origin. The punishment for possessing such items is severe.”

“But... why?” Anders had never heard of such utter cruelty. Suddenly, so much of Fenris’ hatred for Danarius made sense.

“When we are disciplined, Master Danarius does not wish us tempted to use them. We are to bear the pain of healing as a reminder.”

“And, for that reason, he lets you die from any ailment or injury? It doesn’t make sense!”

“He is our Master. Our lives are his to grant or take.”

“That’s why Adea was afraid to show me her hand. She was afraid she’d be put down like a rabid dog.”

“Yes. She meant no disrespect.”

“He’s willing to let you die, for want of a weed!”

Mags stood quietly for a long moment, as though weighing her thoughts. When she spoke, it was with uncharacteristic hesitancy.

“Master Anders... if I may be so bold... may I ask a favor?”

“Anything.”

“Someone on the estate is ill. Will you see him, tonight?”

Oh, if he could set even the smallest amount of this injustice right, he would.

“Of course. Just tell me where.”

“The kitchen, after the Master’s lights are doused.”

“I’ll be there.”

Chapter Text

That night, when light no longer shone beneath the magister’s chamber door, Anders slipped down to the kitchen. He was reminded of Kirkwall nights, and the stairwells of hidden alleys and backstreets; though none had been paved in slave-polished, gleaming, white marble.

The kitchen wasn’t empty, as he’d found it the night before. Mags was waiting for him, as well as Adea, an elderly man, and a young woman holding an infant. The baby fussed and coughed; sounding congested, and alarmingly weak.

Mags made introductions. Adea smiled shyly at him, and he gave her a nod. The older man was Cook, aptly named as the senior cook in the estate, and he who ran the kitchen. The young mother was Drya, who worked closely with Cook. The baby boy hadn’t yet been named, though he was a month old.

“He’s been choking since he was born,” Drya told Anders, worry spurring her past fear of a master. “He nurses willingly enough, then chokes and coughs, and half of it comes back up. He’s been congested for several days, and getting worse.”

Anders reached for the infant, asking with a look if he could hold him. He already felt sure of the problem. Settling the baby against his shoulder, he used gentle magic to feel inside the tiny chest. After a few moments he confirmed his suspicion, and turned to Drya.

“Your son’s condition is two-fold; both of which I can treat.”

Drya’s hands went to her heart in relief. “Oh, thank goodness,” she whispered. Anders continued.

“He has pneumonia, which is the simplest issue to manage. It’s the other problem which will be a bit trickier. He’s been choking and bringing up his milk due to a hole between his airway and gullet. It’s fairly common, and not always this serious. In your baby’s case, each time he nurses, some of the milk goes straight into his lungs; which is what brought on the pneumonia.”

“And, you can truly heal him, Master?” Drya asked.

“I truly can. It’ll take a bit of time, but I can have your son hale by midnight.”

Tears filled her eyes as he resettled the babe over his shoulder, and began his work.

In a short time, Anders had healed the infection of the infant’s lungs, and was thrumming his back to stimulate a cough. With a startlingly deep bark, the baby brought up a foul gob of sputum, took a deep breath, and began to wail.

Anders was delighted with his initial success, and brought the infant to his lap, encouraging the airflow. It was then he noticed the child had rounded ears, rather than pointed, as he would have if his father had also been an elf. He drew the only conclusion available, considering there was only one other human on the estate.

“Maker’s breath... Danarius is the father?”

The elves all looked at him in shock, with Cook bursting into laughter.

“What’s so funny?” He could hardly see the humor in a slave raped by her master.

“Hush, Cook,” Mags hissed. “No, it is not the Master’s child, Master Anders.”

Cook spoke through his laughter. “The Master don’t kindle for females, young Master. He keeps to his pets.”

His pets? Anders thought. Maker's breath. Not only Seth, then, but--?

“That’s enough, Cook,” Mags warned.

Drya spoke up. “His father was noble, but wouldn’t care to learn of a slave-born son. Will you finish healing him tonight, Master Anders?”

Anders wrenched his thoughts away from Cook’s revelations. “Of course. Let’s have you hold him for this bit.”

Once Drya had her child settled on her lap, Anders began the long process of stimulating the stalled growth of the baby’s airway and esophagus. By the time his mana was too low to continue, he’d finished.

He was drained, but felt the kind of satisfaction only healing could bring. He encouraged Drya to nurse her son. Everyone in the kitchen waited anxiously. The baby nursed greedily, and without complications. Drya smiled down at her child, tears streaming.

“Thank you, Master Anders,” Mags said. “She will not be able to keep him long, but he at least stands the chance of living.”

Anders frowned. “What do you mean she can’t keep him?”

“Master Danarius does not tolerate children on the estate. Any babies born, are quickly sold.”

“Sold?” He looked at Drya peacefully nursing her babe. “Why?”

“He has never said. It was not always this way. Several years ago, he began selling the young ones.” She exchanged somber glances with Cook, who was no longer laughing.

“I don’t understand. Why would anyone buy an infant slave? They can’t work!”

“They have their uses, as do older children and adults.”

He thought of the Circle taking babies from mage parents. “It’s wrong.”

“Most infants are purchased to be raised as playmates and servants to free children,” Mags said. “It’s a better life than most slaves find.”

“I don’t like seeing children taken from their parents.”

Drya spoke softly. “My heart would break for missing him if he was sold without me. But, if he went to a free family to be raised with their child, I would give thanks. He would have a good life. He looks human, and his father was a mage, so Master may be able to sell him to a childless couple to raise as their own. That’s almost too much to hope for. And, if I were sold with him as a wet-nurse, at least I could see him grow for a few years.”

Anders watched her as she nursed her son, touched by her words. It was the kind of altruism only a mother possessed. Thinking of Danarius’ policy on healing slaves, and Cook’s comment regarding what kindled the magister, perhaps getting the boy out of the house wasn’t a terrible plan.

Denying basic healing to those beholden to the magister was unconscionable of Danarius. Even in the Circle, mages had access to healing. Of course, the mages were the ones doing all the healing. Well, Danarius had not forbidden Anders from performing magic of any kind. His magic was his to use as he saw fit. For that matter, if Anders was to gather and prepare herbs and potions, those would also be his to use as he saw fit. Suddenly, a plan took shape in his mind. A plan which eased a ball of tension in his chest of which he'd not been quite aware.

He may not be able to make a difference for the slaves of Tevinter on a country-wide level, but he could help those slaves on this estate. It was a start. They would have to trust his motives, of course. Those in the room seemed at relative ease, following the healing of the baby and Adea’s burn.

He spoke, choosing his words carefully.

“Danarius is my mentor... but he is not my role model. I do not believe anyone, regardless of status, should be denied healing. I was trained as a Spirit Healer, and I give freely of the gift the Maker has given me. I do not expect, nor do I ask, for payment to help those in need.

“Mags, will you work with Agris to ensure all those who require healing are brought to my attention?”

The Qunari’s violet eyes widened as she nodded. “Of course, Master Anders.”

Cook looked at him shrewdly. “And, what of the Master?”

Anders' eyes narrowed. “If ignorance is bliss, then let him be ecstatic.”

Cook cackled, though whether at Anders' foolishness, or Danarius' ignorance, he couldn't be sure.

As he bid the elves goodnight, and made his way to his quarters, he thought Justice would be pleased to know what he had planned.

Chapter Text

During the next few days, Anders made further late night visits to the kitchen. Word had quickly spread among the slaves; the Master’s apprentice had healed two of their own. He was a Spirit Healer who believed slaves to be worthy of healing. A free man who treated his lessers with unexpected respect. A magister’s apprentice who did not emulate his mentor.

If not for the assurances of those who’d been present, it would have seemed too good to be true. Perhaps a trick, like those Hadriana had been fond of. But, the estate’s community of enslaved elves trusted Mags and Cook. Adea’s hand was healed. Drya’s babe was now healthy, and neither he nor his mother had come to harm. Perhaps, just perhaps, this southern mage was what he claimed to be.

Agris was quicker to trust Anders than those who worked under him. He’d taken a liking to the new apprentice while showing him about the estate. No Imperial noble would take the sort of interest in crops and stock this mage had. He’d been well-versed in farming, and spoken frankly to Agris, as though though the overseer slave had been his equal. So, when Mags told him Anders planned to heal any slave who needed it, Agris was quick to bring two field slaves to the kitchen one night.

One had sliced her foot when a hoe-blade skipped off a buried rock, and the wound festered. The other had been kicked in the ribs by a mule. The foot was easily mended. The mule-kick took a bit more effort, having resulted in fractured ribs and internal injuries. Anders healed him, advising Agris to keep him on bed rest for a few days before easing into field work.

The following night, the offending mule showed up in the kitchen yard. Agris had discovered the reason for its behavior; it had an abscess in its mouth, on which the bridle’s bit rubbed.

Mags was appalled that Agris would ask a Spirit Healer to treat a mule. Agris countered that if the animal died, he could be held responsible by Danarius. The least he could expect was a caning, if the magister was in a good mood. Considering the mule was of nearly the same value as Agris at an auction block, there was no telling what a bad mood might result. Mags knew this, of course, but was feeling protective of Anders’ generosity. She worried he would feel taken advantage of, and withdraw his kindness.

Anders assured them both he didn’t mind healing animals as well as people. He certainly wasn’t going to risk Agris coming under Danarius’ attention. Besides, he’d loved working with farm stock as a boy, and healing was healing. With Agris’ help, they were able to get the mule’s mouth open, and take a good look at the problem. The surrounding teeth and gums were healthy, so no extraction would be necessary. He’d warmed to Agris the day he’d showed him the grounds, as well. He reminded him of the men of his childhood village.

It seemed the secret of his kitchen clinic was safe. Danarius was up and about the household a few mornings later, and no mention was made. Seth wasn’t at his heel, as usual, but Mags was in attendance, taking notes as the magister rattled off rapid-fire commands regarding a trip to made. Anders was interested to note the old man was stalking through the estate with a spring in his step, and bright eyes; no sign of aching joints to be seen.

“Ah! Anders, you’re up. Good. Walk with me. Mags, see to my orders.”

Bowing to both men, the Qunari headed off, and Anders fell into step beside him; curious about the change in the man. Unbidden came the terrible thought that a blood ritual had been performed to heal whatever ailed him.

“Where’s Seth?” he asked.

Danarius’ brows shot up with a smirk. “Miss his pretty face, do you? Given my plans, I should advise you, it’s bad form to bed another’s favored slave.”

“What? Maker’s ass... I thought he might be ill!”

Danarius threw his head back in laughter. “He had an exhausting evening, and is resting.”

They’d come to the magister’s downstair’s office, and moved inside.

Anders tried not to think about just what had exhausted the young man.

“Any particular reason you're going to the city?”

“You are in desperate need of culture, for one. And, an issue has arisen on the estate, which now requires my attention.”

He feared his kitchen-clinic had been discovered, after all. He kept his voice natural.

“Oh? What’s that?”

“An unauthorized whelping has occurred.”

“You mean a baby was born.”

“I believe that’s what I said. I’m not fond of children, as a rule. There was a time I didn’t mind them. Now, I simply haven’t the patience.”

“What do you plan to do?”

“I punished the mother, of course. And, I’m selling the pair. We’ll take them to the city for the transaction. A Laetan couple wants a whipping-boy to raise with their newborn. They’ll take the mother as wet-nurse.”

“You whipped the mother?”

“Of course. Two strokes with the cane; I’m no monster, after all.”

“She’s a slave! She can’t refuse a nobleman!” He had no idea if Drya was forced. But, if the father was noble, it was likely a visiting crony of the magister.

Danarius waved a dismissive hand. “Slaves are like children, Anders, unable to control their baser instincts. They must be guided through discipline. But, you’ll learn this, in time.”

Anders gritted his teeth. That’s a lesson he’d never learn.

“Now then, I plan for us to be at the city estate a week. A dear friend is throwing a soiree in our honor, to introduce you as my new apprentice. I’ll show you the Minrathous Circle of Magi, and perhaps the Magisterium; the Marketplace; the theatre district. I daresay, you’ll see sights such as you’ve never imagined! We’ll leave first thing in the morning. Seth will help with your packing, later; you’ll not know what to bring. Have you acquainted yourself with the lyrium ritual?”

“I have.”

“Excellent. When we return, Fenris will be ready to meet you. You can begin your study on the markings, themselves.”

This grabbed his attention.

“Will he come to the city with us?”

“Certainly not. He remains in intensive training. Mags will see to his care in my absence.”

Seth showed-up at his door in late afternoon, seeming a bit euphoric and slightly dazed. He was smiling broadly and his usual friendly self as he assisted Anders with his packing.

Anders was glad for the help. His wardrobe had been expanded over the weeks to fill several closets and chests in his chambers. He now possessed as many robes, tunics, and trousers as the entire dormitory of apprentices at Kinloch Hold. Every color, fabric, accessory, and shoe style were represented. The young elf knew which robes were appropriate to which events, and which footwear and accessories should accompany them.

Anders cast longing glances at the old, patched robes he’d arrived in, tucked into the back of his wardrobe. Oh, for the ease and comfort of simpler times. Of course, those simpler times had included running from templars, hiding his magic, and living in a sewer. He sighed. Perhaps complicated clothes, and gold jewelry was a small price to pay for freedom.

He was awakened by Mags, and ushered into the bath before sunrise. He dressed in the travel outfit Seth had laid-out, breakfasted quickly, and met Danarius on the front drive as the sun crested the horizon.

For two men to make a trip to the city for a week, a train of four carriages waited. One carriage for the mages and Seth; one for the accompanying half-dozen slaves; one for food and supplies; and one for luggage.

Anders shook his head, remembering when a week-long trip to the Wounded Coast called for nothing more than a backpack.

The trip was relatively pleasant. Seth knelt on the carriage floor, cheek nuzzling his master’s velvet-clad knee. Danarius’ fingers stroked the long, dark hair as he explained some finer points of noble etiquette to his apprentice.

Anders tried to ignore the unsettling displays of affection, and pay attention to Danarius’ talk; but as the pair were nearly in arms reach, it was difficult to overlook. Was it true affection which brought this ardor on Seth’s behalf, or the facts of his breeding and training? Anders breathed a sigh of relief when they entered the noble neighborhood of the capitol.

Danarius’ city estate was equal in size to the country estate, but with much less surrounding property. The houses were quite similar, though the second floor ballroom had not been converted into a workroom.

Under the pretext of assuring Drya and the baby had no illness to carry to their new owners, Anders had a private moment to bid them farewell, and convince her to let him heal her. She paced in the back entry, patting her son’s back, as they waited for her new owners’ carriage to arrive and take her away. She calmly refused healing.

“Thank you, Master Anders, but I’d rather you didn’t. If the Master discovered I’d been disobedient by healing my punishment wounds, he may inform my new owners. I don’t wish to start my new life on the wrong foot. Besides, the welts aren’t bad, as canings go.”

“How can you be so calm?” he asked. He watched her as she stood, her rear too painful to sit, her sleeping infant at her shoulder.

She smiled with a shrug. “This isn’t the first time I’ve been sold, Master Anders. At least I’m with my son. It’s the best outcome I could have hoped for.”

The carriage arrived, and he handed her up the step. She sat with a grimace, then smiled at him as the door closed. And, they were gone.

He wandered into the kitchen, where Cook was working. Danarius rarely traveled without the old man to prepare his meals. Mags, on the other hand, rarely left the country estate. She ran it efficiently in his absence, even on occasions when he’d been gone for months at a time.

Cook looked up at him with a wry half-grin. “Tried talking her into letting you heal her arse, didn’t you, Master Anders?”

“She refused.”

“Course she did. Ain’t allowed. Was only two stripes, and Seth was light-handed. She’ll be sitting easy in a day or so.”

"Seth did it?”

“The Master ain’t gonna do his own dirty work, Master Anders. Don’t hold it against the boy; he’s still a slave, much as he’s favored. He’s no choice but to obey.”

Anders shook his head. Sweet, smiling Seth, forced to administer the punishments. “Drya was so calm.”

Cook nodded. “It was the best chance all around, Master Anders. There’s never a good fate, once a slave, but some’s worse than others.”

“Is freedom never a possibility?” Anders asked.

Cook chuckled darkly. “Not likely. Oh, you hear about it, now and then. Some magister dies, and frees his faithful servant in his will. Don’t make much difference. What’s a slave to do once free? Got no money. Bein’ a Liberati ain’t like bein’ a proper citizen. Most end up beggars, or back in slavery. I been a slave for more’n fifty years. Who’d take me on, at my age, good a cook as I am? Nah... best stay right where I am, Master Anders. Not that the Master shows signs of selling me. He likes my food. Trusts my cooking.”

“How long have you been with Danarius?”

“Thirty-odd years, now, Master Anders. Before we was both wrinkled and grey.”

Anders blinked. “Did you know Fenris when he first arrived?”

“Sure, sure. I’ve seen all the slaves come, Master Anders, and most go. Never thought to see that one return, though. But, he was always the Master’s favorite. Seth carries that honor, now. Bred for it, you know; it’s in his blood to please.”

“What was he like, then? Fenris?”

“You’ll forgive me not answering a master’s query, but those of us who knew the lad before are forbid to talk of it. Master’s orders, understand.”

Interesting. “I didn’t know. Sorry.”

Cook eyed him. “You ain’t like most masters, Master Anders. We all see it. Treat slaves like people. It ain’t natural.”

“Slaves are people, Cook. And, I'm not really a master.”

“Forgive me saying so, Master Anders, but you got all the rights and privileges of a master. You could strike me dead, and most you’d get is a tongue-lashing for the loss of a good cook.”

Anders blanched at the blunt reminder.

“There,” Cook nodded. “You don’t like having that power, do you Master Anders?”

“No one should have that power, let alone like it.”

Cook chuckled. “Why do I get a feeling Master Danarius will rue the day you crossed his threshold?”

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing sinister, Master Anders, don’t think that! But, there’s something about you. Like... where you go, change will follow.”

Anders met the wizened gaze. The old man’s expression bore no animosity, and no fear. He was a man who’d lived a long life, and seen a great deal. He was faintly reminded of Enchanter Wynne, in the humor and frank honesty held in his eyes.

“You’re right, Cook. I don’t like being a master. And, I don’t like slavery. But, since I can’t change either of those, let’s start with this; I don’t want to be called master anymore. My name is Anders... just Anders. Spread the word.”

A huge grin split the wrinkled face. “As you say, Just Anders.”

***

“Ugh! I’m going to knock over every cup and candle in the place!”

Anders shook his hands, the long, pointed cuffs of his formal robe’s sleeves hanging below his knees. The beveled angle exposed his hands, but every time he raised his arm, the hanging portion snagged on something.

Seth smiled, and took hold of his wrist and elbow. “If I may, Master... lift your hand across your body, rather than away from you. The cuff will slide along your own robe. Yes... like that.”

Anders experimented. He was glad Danarius had sent the young man to help him prepare for the soiree. He’d have never managed the complicated robes on his own. “Ah... is this why nobles don’t shake hands?”

Seth chuckled, a charmingly musical sound. “Perhaps. I’m led to understand it is viewed as too personal of contact.”

“Really?” Anders thought of the last party he’d been to, and the very personal contact he’d had with a particular noble. He wondered if this evening might hold another attractive tryst. Then, he remembered it was a soiree held by the magister’s cronies, who would likely be aged blood mages like Danarius. He shuddered. Seth noticed.

“Master?”

“I’m fine. Just thinking of the potential for... like-minded attendees at the gathering. I expect most will be of Danarius’ generation.”

Dark, gleaming eyes watched him closely. “Age often means experience, Master. And, constraint.”

“Seth... can I ask you a personal question?”

“Of course, Master.”

“Do you truly find Danarius... attractive?”

A grin crossed the beautiful face before Seth ducked his head coquettishly. “My master is exceedingly generous, Master Anders.”

“Generous, huh?” In size, he wondered? No... he didn’t want that image in his mind.

“Not all masters concern themselves with their slave’s satisfaction. My master is most attentive.”

That was almost a worse image. “Ah. Well... I’m glad for you, then.”

“Thank you, Master. Do I understand you prefer the company of men?”

“How did you draw that conclusion?”

“I’ve heard you refuse to sleep with the house slaves. As they are all female--”

“Oh! No. I have no preference of gender. I simply believe it’s wrong to bed someone who can’t say no. Why?”

“I see. It is only that Tevinter noblemen do not openly express desire for one another, Master. Though, there are signals to make such interests known; such as cravat knots, handkerchief and boutonniere placement, clasp usage, and the like.”

Anders was fascinated. He tried to remember if his mysterious partner at the Ball had used any such signals.

“Would those impede potential female company?”

“Few women would recognize such signals.”

“Set me up then, Seth. It’s been a lonely month.”

Seth’s musical laugh was contagious. “Yes, Master. This dragon pin--placed so--will make your interest known.”

Anders checked his reflection in the looking glass. Sparkling clean. Shining, long hair. Sweeping, black, silk robes. Gleaming gold earring, Imperial Chantry pendant, several rings on manicured fingers. He was well-rested and well-fed for the first time in a decade. He looked... well, he looked like a damned magister.

Maker’s breath. How Fenris would sneer to see him, now.

***

The stage whispers were more irritating than his sleeves.

“Really... seems a bit old for Danarius’ tastes.”

“A healer? What’s that old bugger up to, this time?”

“If I’d known he’d clean up so well, I’d have made an offer, myself.”

“Brilliant move, really. Taking on the man Radonis himself had personal interest in.”

Anders had trailed Danarius through the estate, politely greeting every magister and Altus to whom he was introduced. Far smaller than the Ball, the soiree took place at the home of a magister with whom Danarius shared common interests. Fifty or so men and women, with personal slaves in attendance, gathered to congratulate the new master and apprentice in their partnership.

“Is there always such a gathering?” he’d asked Danarius. Seth accompanied the magister, as always, his hair intricately entwined with thin, red ribbons. There was a fine gold chain attached to his collar, the first time Anders had seen him leashed. He wondered if it was simply ornamental, or if Danarius was making a statement of some sort. And if he was, was it meant for Seth, or those attending the party?

“Oh, no. Apprenticeships are far too common an occurrence to warrant a celebration every time. But, for one of such notoriety, and length, it’s not unheard of. People will expect much from our partnership.”

“Nothing like pressure to perform.”

Danarius laughed with delight, his recent vitality not dimmed. “Did Seth assist you with the dragon pin?”

“He did.”

“Good choice. He explained the placement?”

“He did.”

“And, noble sensibilities regarding such associations?”

“He did.”

Danarius stroked Seth’s hair. “Well done, pet.”

“Thank you, Master.”

“Most noblemen keep such interests to household slaves, rather than risk scandal. You have little to risk, being a foreigner with no family. But do try to be discreet.”

Anders grunted assent, biting back a retort. In his mind, molesting slaves was far more of a scandal than two nobles sucking each other off in a cloakroom.

By the time the soiree was in full swing, Anders was more than ready to leave. Danarius was clearly in fine spirits, the center of attention, all but claiming credit for Anders’ notoriety. He’d been imbibing generously of the free-flowing wine; as most of the crowd had been.

Anders had been sadly accurate in his prediction of the crowd’s offerings. Most of the party-goers were of Danarius’ generation, and seemed to have his attitude in general. He’d received several come-hithers from both men and women as the evening wore on, but had managed to gracefully sidestep the overtures.

Escaping the pinching claws of a final harridan, he wandered toward an ice sculpture displayed in a far corner. He was impressed it hadn’t melted, by now. Closer inspection revealed it wasn’t even cold. A voice at his elbow nearly startled him into falling on it.

“You do appreciate statuary.”

That voice. That scent. He turned with a grin.

Black, wavy hair; warm brown skin... and that smirk on those lips. Grey eyes lingered on his dragon pin before moving up to meet his gaze.

“You do appreciate sneaking up on a man,” Anders replied.

“You’re worth appreciating from the rear.”

“As are you, from the front.”

“Well, that goes without saying.” His mysterious companion was in black this evening. Anders made note of the blood-red rose he wore, in the same location as Anders’ dragon pin. Dorian moved beside him to take in the sculpture. “Shall we defile another priceless work of art, this evening?”

“Ice is hardly priceless.”

The handsome head leaned close, and spoke conspiratorially. “I’ll tell you a secret... that’s not ice. In fact, it’s not a statue, at all.”

Anders cocked his head at the thing. It was an effigy of.... “Well, what is the bloody thing?”

That bold, free laughter. “I’m not sure what it’s supposed to represent, but it’s simply a combined water and stasis spell. As youngsters, we used them to create booby-traps in the Circle hallways.”

Anders grinned. “That’s brilliant!”

“Are you enjoying your party?”

“Not a bit. Please tell me you’re not a crony of Danarius’?”

That belly-warming chuckle. “Hardly. I weaseled in by way of a friend of a friend of my old mentor.”

“And, why would you do that?”

“Oh, the usual; proper food and renewed acquaintances. How did you end up apprenticed to Danarius? His reputation is rather... colorful.”

“Believe me, I’m aware. His was the only offer I received.”

“Pity. Were I on better terms with my father, I’d have put in a good word for you.” The handsome face grimaced. “On second thought, perhaps not. You’re treated well? You look rested, and I must commend his efforts with your wardrobe. I must say, Tevinter seems to agree with you.”

Danarius’ voice cut in. “It does, doesn’t it? He blossoms like a jungle flower.” The magister joined them, glowing with an excess of wine, and smiling broadly, Seth walking easily on his lead. “Young Lord Pavus, what an unexpected surprise. Have you been introduced to my apprentice?”

Anders watched as ‘Lord Pavus’ executed a graceful bow. “Not formally, Magister Danarius. We met briefly at the Royal Ball.”

“Ah. Anders, allow me to present Dorian Pavus of Qarinus, only son of Magister Halward. Are your parents in the capital?”

“I’d hardly know; their calendar isn’t in my keeping. Congratulations on finding a such a uniquely qualified apprentice.”

“Yes, thank you. I have high hopes for our work, together.” Danarius pulled Seth close, demonstrating just how drunk he was by nuzzling the elf’s neck until he giggled, then whispering into the pointed ear as a hand roamed down his back to caress his tightly clad behind.

Anders exchanged glances with Dorian, relieved he seemed as uncomfortable as he. Seth seemed quite pleased, yet the display was simply... creepy. When Danarius looked up, he seemed surprised to see them still standing there.

“You aren’t truly so fascinated with this decorative spellwork, are you? Has the soiree thrown in our honor grown dull, Anders?”

“I... don’t really know anyone,” he replied lamely, not wanting to offend.

“Except me, of course,” Dorian pointed out.

“Right. Except him.”

Still caressing his happily sighing slave, Danarius considered this. “Well, unexpected as it is, perhaps Dorian’s arrival is auspicious. Anders is clearly ready to take his leave. Perhaps you would escort him back to my estate. I’m sure you’d both find a game of chess preferable to a late night party with old men.”

Anders glanced at Dorian, who gave an encouraging nod. “It wouldn’t be rude to leave early?”

Danarius chuckled as Seth began mouthing at his neck. “Everyone’s in their cups; no one will notice your absence. Come along, my pet. Let’s find you some wine.” With that, the magister steered back toward the crowd with Seth clinging to his side.

“Maker, blind me now,” Anders muttered.

“Are you treated to such displays, often?” Dorian asked, distaste clear in his tone.

“Not like that. Let’s get out of here.”

His initial excitement at seeing Dorian had dimmed as they strode through the hosting estate toward the entrance. Yet, as they put distance between themselves and the gathering, he felt a sense of camaraderie with the near-stranger. He was pleased with Dorian’s reaction to Danarius’ behavior, as well as his willingness to accompany him away from the party.

Stepping into the night air side-by-side, both took deep, cleansing breaths.

“So... Dorian. Were you just looking for an excuse to get the Void out of that party, or do you really want to come back to my place?”

Dorian smirked, reaching out to trace the dragon pin on his robes. “I have every intention of escorting you back to your estate; though, I have absolutely no intention of playing chess.”

“Dorian... you have no idea the kind of mate I’m contemplating.”

“Oh, I do enjoy a surprise.”

***

He couldn’t believe his luck.

He’d managed to stumble into a tryst, after all. And not just any tryst, but this tryst. This gorgeous man, with his dark, smooth skin; and dark, wavy hair; and dark, whiskey voice. This wicked, witty creature who crashed the dullest party in Ages just to see him again.

Now, he was doing his damnedest to get this charming Altus up the stairs and to his room without breaking into a run. He would maintain some level of dignity, damn it.

Finally... finally... they were in the privacy of his chambers with the lock thrown, and that low, smooth voice was tickling his ear.

“Alone, at last.”

Maker. They were finally going to kiss, and it’d been years since he’d kissed anyone, and what if he’d forgotten how--?

He didn’t have time to worry further before those curling lips were on his.

Oh, sweet Maker.

Dorian clearly knew his way around a kiss. Those full, beautiful lips were as expressive in touch as in speech. Oh... that clever tongue. Silken, nimble, hot. Those perfect, white teeth... nipping just so, smooth against Anders’ questing tongue.

No... he’d never forget how to do this.

The groans deep in Dorian’s throat, low and husky; turning Anders’ belly soft with desire. He wanted this man... badly. Wanted this noble with his rich jewels, and delicious scent, and frustrating silk robes.

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to unwrap you,” Anders grunted, struggling with the fastens of the formal robes. “What the--? Maker’s ass. I should have brought Seth home with us.”

“Seth? Danarius’ slave? Tell me you’re not bedding the boy, as well?”

“Flames, no! But, he’d know how to get you out of this. Forget it, here....” he gave up on the robes, and simply reached up under them, pulling at the laces of Dorian’s trousers.

“Oh, no! You are not going take me half-dressed like a whore in an alley. Stand back, watch, and learn.”

Reluctantly letting go, Anders stepped back. Dorian struck a pose, took hold of the clasp on his robes, and with a simple tug, the entire thing slithered off his shoulders and to the floor. Standing in his unlaced trousers and a jeweled amulet, he was a vision such as was rarely seen.

His chest was smooth, hairless, and beautifully strong. In fact, his shoulders, arms, belly... all of him was defined in the way of a lovingly carved statue. His trousers hung low on his hips, the open laces exposing the dark hair of his pubis, his bulge clearly defined by the soft fabric.

“Dorian... you’re exquisite,” Anders breathed.

“Yes, I know. Now, it’s your turn.”

Anders fingered the clasp on his robes. “I’m, uh... not sure I can.”

“Don’t tell me you’re suddenly shy?”

“No, I mean, I don’t know how.”

Dorian laughed, and glided forward. “Here... like this....” With a quick tug at his shoulder, the silk fabric slid down Anders’ body, settling on the floor. Dorian quirked an eyebrow at his smallclothes. “Dressed light for the occasion?”

“It’s hotter than flames in the North,” Anders grumbled, kicking off his shoes.

Dorian followed suit, then dropped his pants. “There. Now we’re even.”

As Anders admired what he could see of the bared legs, and barely clad ass, he felt a hand stroking through his finely textured chest hair.

“Oh... I like this,” Dorian murmured. “You have the most delightful coloring. Your hair’s like sunset over the Silent Plains.” He led Anders toward the bed.

“Why Dorian... how poetic.”

“I’ll deny it vehemently. Now then, my ginger lover... let’s get to the check-mate portion of this game.”

Touching Dorian was as good as looking at him. His skin was silky as his robes had been. He tasted of musk and smelled of spice, and squirmed delightfully as Anders’ teeth nipped at his dark skin, leaving tiny bruises.

His ass... oh, Maker... round, and firm. When Anders stripped the impeding smalls away, he didn’t know what he wanted more, to engulf the beautiful cock, or pay homage to the beautiful arse. He started with Dorian’s cock; dusky and thick, dripping so steadily he soaked them both.

He sucked it deep into his throat, nose buried in the hair at Dorian’s groin. And this too, was something he found he didn’t forget. The heady scent of a man, making his own cock surge. The hot, salty flavor of flesh against his tongue. Dorian’s moans quickened his desire, making him want... want... want.

Nearly undone by simple physical connection so long denied, Anders forgot the clever little magics learned in the dark corners and cupboards of the Circle. Electricity tricks, and heat sigils, and games only mages could play. No, he was ecstatic with the simple energy two bodies created.

His hands slid beneath his partner’s pelvis, cupping his ass, squeezing and massaging as he consumed the hard flesh in his mouth. He felt fingers slide into his hair, clutching handfuls as that wondrous voice moaned louder. But, he wasn’t ready for Dorian to finish. He lifted his head.

“I want you,” he said, his voice a growl.

“Fasta vass, yes! Fuck me into the next Age!

And, for the first time, there was a flash of magic, and he was being pulled up and into a deep, claiming kiss, as Dorian positioned their hips, and...

Oh-holy-fucking-Maker.

How long had it been since he’d felt the sweet, hot, slide into another’s body?

Too long.

He pulled back, and thrust.

Once more, and the sudden force of his climax shattered him.

Neither man moved as he gasped for breath, head buried in the shoulder below.

After a moment, Dorian spoke.

“I understand you’ve had a dry spell, but I’d be lying to say I wasn’t disappointed.”

Anders lifted his head, meeting the sideways glance of grey eyes. He smirked down at the insufferable man in whose ass he was still buried.

“I take it you’ve never heard of Grey Warden stamina?”

Dorian’s eyebrows lifted. “I hope this wasn't an example.”

Anders leaned down, until they brushed noses.

“Dorian Pavus... prepare to be educated.”

“I do consider myself quick study--hnn!”

Anders began his onslaught anew. Now that the painfully desperate edge had been taken off, he did exactly as requested, and set about fucking Dorian into the next Age.

And, oh... giving Dorian pleasure was as good as getting it. The deep groans, the husky moans, the whispers of yes, and there, and harder. The feel of hands grasping his back, strong thighs gripping his hips, the return thrust against his pelvis as they strove together.

As with kissing, the tricks and trades of sex were not forgotten. The variance in speed and depth, the rhythmic changes to bring his partner close, and back him off again, the slight tilt to make a deep voice ring falsetto.

Dorian was delightfully vocal, leaving no doubt as to his reaction. His cries were liberally peppered with Tevinter words, and as their pleasure grew, his voice took on a distinct pleading tone. It fueled Anders’ lust. Something about hearing this pompous noble beg, just did it for him.

Anders pulled out, panting. Dorian’s eyes shot open.

“Kaffas! I’m nearly there!”

Anders silenced him with a deep, penetrating kiss.

“Roll over,” he murmured.

Without further complaint, Dorian did so, limbs shaking. Anders laved that glorious ass with sloppy, open-mouthed kisses; biting and sucking to his heart’s content. Finally, he pulled Dorian’s hips up, and stroked back inside, calling out his pleasure.

“Oh... Maker... Yes!”

Forget the next Age... Anders was pounding Dorian through the mattress. He held his hips tight, pulling that perfect ass to meet his every thrust. He wasn’t holding back, and Dorian was taking it. Face to the mattress, clawing the bedding, he shouted ecstatically as he was pummeled.

“Fasta vass! Don’t stop, you barbarian!”

Oh, he wouldn't. Head falling back, euphoria rising like a cloud, Anders slammed into him, wordless shouts rising from his throat. The tension grew within, sharp and jagged. The pleasure of taking this beautiful man was going to build until he couldn’t contain it, and when the tension snapped, he would fly apart. But first, he’d make Dorian come so hard he’d never bed another man without thinking of this ginger barbarian.

Maker... close... so close....

Dorian’s cheek pressed into the mattress, eyes squeezed shut, mouth open in whimpering gasps. Anders rode the edge, sharp pleasure heralding a truly intense orgasm. All he needed was Dorian’s climax to push him over.

Dorian wailed, body clenching about Anders’ cock. He erupted into Dorian’s body; pulsing with intense, silent bliss. Together they rode their ardor, until the tension had released, leaving them utterly drained.

Disengaging, he collapsed beside his spent partner. He felt amazing. Better than he could remember in a decade. He looked at Dorian, still face down on the bed. After a moment, the grey eyes slowly opened, and a replete grin spread across his handsome face.

“Consider me enlightened, Warden.”

Anders returned his grin, running a finger lightly down his back. “You’re quite the dichotomy, Dorian.”

“Oh? How’s that?”

“Noble in the streets, harlot in the sheets.”

Dorian groaned. “Such rapier wit. Did it take long to come up with that?”

“I admit, I read it somewhere. It’s true, though. Your language goes blue in the throes of passion. You kiss your mother with that mouth?”

“Not if I can avoid it. By the way, who taught you the pin placement?”

“That was Seth.”

“What’s the story with that boy?”

“He was bred as a pleasure slave. Generally sweet and eager to please. Very devoted to Danarius.”

“So I noticed. I also noticed you didn’t particularly approve.”

“Not in the slightest. Was I correct that it was mutual?”

“I was taught not to abuse slaves, if that’s what you mean. Danarius is known for all manner of abuses against those beholden to him. I’ve never heard of his apprentices coming to harm, but thought I should see for myself.”

Anders rolled onto his belly. “You were concerned for my welfare?”

“I wouldn’t put it that way, necessarily.”

“You crashed the soiree to be sure I was in one piece?”

“No, I crashed the soiree in hopes of tearing-off a piece.”

“I'm touched.”

Another low chuckle. “So tell me, Anders. How is your new apprenticeship?”

“It’s not so bad. I don’t like how he treats his slaves, or his relationship with Seth. For that matter, I don’t like him, either. But, I have to admit, I’ve never lived so well. He’s meeting his contractural obligations more than adequately. And, I feel comfortable working on his primary project.”

“Which is?”

“Not to be discussed without risking personal betrayal.”

“Of course.”

“What exactly does that mean?”

“Personal betrayal is a catch-all for most cases of insult or treachery. When a duel is declared, it’s typically on the grounds of personal betrayal.”

“He’d seriously duel me for talking about it?”

“I’ve seen duels for less. Point of interest: most duels in the Empire are to the death.”

“Andraste’s flaming tits.”

“Just generally then, what did he forbid you to discuss?”

“Uh... have you ever heard of his slave, Fenris?”

“The Lyrium Ghost? Who hasn’t? Is this about the lyrium ritual? Certainly he would expect confidentiality regarding that. Is your work related to it?”

“Sort of.” Danarius hadn’t said he couldn’t discuss what he was doing, just not the ritual. “I’m helping with ongoing pain from the procedure.”

Dorian looked surprised. And, impressed. “Now it makes sense why he wanted a healer. Can’t say I would have expected it of him; he’s not known for his compassion, after all. You could gain significant prestige, working on such a project, regardless of your status. Good on you.”

“I’m not so much interested in that, as actually doing something helpful.”

“Yes, yes... you’re out to change the world, aren’t you?”

“You have a problem with trying to make things a little better?”

“Don’t get me wrong; someone should, and Maker knows it won’t be me. I’ll just make the world prettier, thank you, very much.”

Anders grinned at his playful insouciance. It reminded him a bit of Varric, or Isabela, and occasionally Hawke. It was also nice to have someone with whom to discuss other issues; another mage, knowledgable of the issues at hand.

Dorian sat up a bit stiffly, and chuckled. “It’s some time since I’ve been so thoroughly attended.”

“I can heal you, if you like,” Anders offered with a proud smirk.

“Oh, no. Part of the fun in being buggered within an inch of my life is the lingering memory. I do need the loo, however. And, perhaps a snack.”

Anders laughed, pointing to the lavatory door. “We’ll raid the kitchen after we’ve dressed.”

***

Danarius arrived in the wee hours. Rather, Seth arrived with his golden leash draped about his neck, and Danarius leaning heavily on his shoulder, nearly unconscious. Anders and Dorian were finishing their snack in the kitchen, and rose to meet them.

“Maker, Seth... is he hurt?” Anders tried to take the magister from him, but Seth refused to let him go.

“Master’s fine, Master Anders. He enjoyed visiting with old friends.”

“And, drinking fine wine,” Dorian observed.

“Yes, Master Dorian.” He turned to Anders, again. “Shall I come put you to bed after attending to Master?”

“Thanks, Seth. I can manage.”

“You always do.” He guided Danarius carefully toward the stairs. “Goodnight, Masters.”

“‘Night, Seth,” Anders called. He watched until they were out of sight, then turned back to the table. Dorian dug back into the fruit and cold fish, but Anders had lost his appetite.

“That elf is possibly the most beautiful boy I’ve ever seen,” Dorian said. “After myself, of course.”

Anders looked at him in laughing disbelief. “You are the most conceited bastard I’ve ever met. And, that’s saying something.”

Dorian looked at him with equal disbelief. “Conceit was bred into me, along with beauty, brains and magic. But, you can hardly call me a bastard! My bloodline is documented over a thousand years.”

“Wait... you were bred? Like Seth?”

“Well, my mother would beg to differ, I’m sure. But, essentially... yes. All nobles in Tevinter vie to produce the perfect mage.”

“It’s pretty much the opposite, where I come from. Everyone’s terrified of having a mage child.”

“And when they do?”

“Depends on the parents. My mother wanted to hide my magic, and keep me at home. My father called the templars to take me to the Circle.”

“I’ve heard the southern Circles are quite different from ours.”

“Like night and day. But, unless you’re Dalish, it’s pretty much the only place you can get decent training. That is, if you can avoid the Rite of Tranquility, beatings, molestation, or killing yourself from despair.”

“Vishante kaffas!”

“What does that mean?”

“You shit on my tongue.”

“Yeah, that pretty much covers it.”

***

Buzzing... not-quite-words... dark, dank, pressing in... rank stench... they’re coming... behind, ahead, within! He thrashed, throwing off their clutches, striking out....

An indignant shout brought him fully awake. He was tangled in his bedding, a sweated mess. Beside him, Dorian held a hand to his nose, blinking in painful confusion.

“Dorian, are you alright?”

“Did you just hit me?” he asked in a disbelieving nasal tone.

He helped him sit up, checked under his hand. He had a bloody nose, but his profile seemed unbroken.

“I’m so sorry! I was dreaming. Here, let me heal that.” Cupping his hands on either side of the injured party, a soothing flash of blue stopped the bleeding and swelling.

“Some dream,” Dorian said, gingerly feeling his nose.

Anders dabbed at the blood with his sleeve. “I truly am sorry.”

“Well, no permanent damage done. Stop your fussing, I’m fine.” He waved off Anders’ hands. “Maker’s breath, is it morning? I’d best be going.”

Dorian was up, running his fingers through his hair, checking his sleep-rumpled robes in the looking glass. They’d stumbled to bed late, falling into exhausted sleep without so much as changing out of their clothes. Anders had hoped for a lie-in, another round of mind-blowing sex, and a late breakfast.

“We can’t have had three hours sleep!” he complained.

“Believe me, the walk of shame is not something to be witnessed in this neighborhood. How long are you in the city?”

“Danarius said a week.”

“Well, perhaps our paths will cross again, before you leave. I’m staying at a friend's for the time being.”

“Anyone I might know?”

Dorian turned with a smirk. “Jealous, are you?”

Anders snorted. “I hardly know you well enough to merit the emotion.”

Dorian held out his arms. “Have you seen me? I’m worth coveting.”

Groaning, Anders flopped back onto his pillow. “It’s too early for ego-stroking. Farewell, Lord Pavus.”

He was asleep before Dorian could close the door.

Chapter Text

During the next few days, Danarius escorted Anders to the notable and noble highlights of the Empire’s capital city; the Magisterium, the Ambassadoria, the underground stores, all three city gates, and the Minrathous Circle of Magi.

Anders was in awe of the Circle. It was utterly unlike any Southern Circle, in that there were no locks, no prisoners, and no despair. There were templars, but these served as guards under the mages’ purview, and had no scent of lyrium clinging to them. And, though some students lived at the Circle, it was by choice, due to long distance from home, rather than forced tenancy. Danarius explained that although the Imperial Circles were prestigious, they were not the only place one might find training in the magical arts. There were a number of private schools, as well as the option of studying with a personal mentor.

Anders wanted nothing more than to send a letter to the Divine in Orlais. THIS! This is what training for all mages should be! But, he knew it be futile. The Sunburst Throne would never take example from the Empire. If she wasn’t moved by the horror in which Gallows’ mages lived, then she wouldn’t be moved by proof of a better way.

Of course, he had no way to avoid noticing the presence of slaves in every facet of Tevinter daily life. They were everywhere; following their masters, running errands, cleaning floors, pulling carts, selling wares. Most wore collars, and many were leashed.

Surprisingly, many seemed... content? Even... happy? Surely that couldn’t be. Yet, often those involved in menial labor would chat among themselves, or sing. He saw that some carried on conversations with their masters, seemingly at ease. Not all, by any means. He also saw slaves bearing bruises and marks of a whip. He understood many forms of abuse toward slaves were simply accepted in this society, and may not show outwardly, at all.

He also knew there was little he could do about it, terrible as it was. He reminded himself of his pledge to help those slaves in his household, and took some comfort in the thought that perhaps one day, he could aid in bringing change to this country he was making his own. So, he focused on the information Danarius was imparting, to learn all he could for that future day.

When they explored the Marketplace, and the theater district, the magister included descriptions of the correct tailors and barbers, should he need to make use of one, and introduced him to the novelty of Tevinter bathhouses.

Although most upper class homes had indoor baths, bath houses were an institution in every city. Not simply for bathing, however; one could receive a massage, lice removal, medical treatments, and there were usually a few rooms with prostitutes available, as well.

Anders took one look at the bath water, and knew he wasn’t stepping foot in a public pool. The water-cycling was either faulty, or unable to keep up with the amount of bodily dirt. Danarius seemed pleased with his assessment, and assured him that Seth was a master masseur, and even Fenris could meet or beat those at the public baths.

That was a surprise to hear. Fenris... giving a massage? It was hard to imagine those gauntleted hands doing anything to a body other than disemboweling it.

One night, Danarius treated his apprentice to an opera. Anders had seen traveling shows in his time, but never a theater performance such as this. The opera house was enormous, with carved lintels, and gold foil on the many columns. Even the performance involved magic, with mages affecting storms and battle. Anders was delighted.

Danarius owned box seats, high above the floor. There were several cushioned chairs, and a table with wines and fruit. In pockets on the side of the chairs were small double-lensed spyglasses, to better see the performers. Anders spent more time looking at audience members than the stage, however. The height provided a splendid view of women's décolletage.

Although there were seats in the box to spare, Seth knelt facing them, to better serve his master.

“Couldn’t Seth take one of the seats to watch the opera?” Anders asked.

“It would be inappropriate,” Danarius replied off-handedly. “He is happier performing his duties.” Seth merely gazed adoringly at his master. Anders didn’t argue, though he’d already seen plenty of collared slaves sitting beside their masters throughout the audience. And, Seth did seem content.

When the lights dimmed, Anders became absorbed in the show. It was sung in Antivan, so Danarius had described the story before it began. Even without the explanation, Anders would have been moved. He felt every lift and fall of the emotive performance.

During the intermission, he again browsed the audience with his spyglasses. Across the theater, a few box-seats down, he caught the glint of lenses aimed in his direction. Focusing, he saw a face hidden by spyglasses, a shock of wavy black hair, and a hand raised in a cocky salute.

With a grin, he returned the salute with one of his own; a raised middle finger. The dark head tilted back with a laugh. Anders laughed as well.

“What’s so amusing?” Danarius asked.

“Dorian Pavus. He’s in the fourth box across.”

“Is he? Wave him over.”

“You don’t mind?”

“He’s brash, and flouts convention, but he’s a more than acceptable associate for your status.”

Anders waved his arm in a beckoning motion. Dorian lowered his glasses, nodding, and disappeared from view.

In a few moments a quiet knock preceded Dorian’s entrance.

“Good evening, Magister. Hello, Anders.”

“Young Lord Pavus,” Danarius said in way of greeting. “So pleased you could join us.”

Dorian took a seat beside Anders, accepting a glass of wine from Seth.

“What do you think of the show?” he asked Anders.

“I think it’s going to be a sad ending.”

“Really? You understand Antivan?”

“Oh yes... don’t you?”

Danarius chuckled. Dorian glanced at him, then cut his eyes at Anders.

“I’ll wager you don’t know a single foreign word.”

"Das ist nicht wahr. Ich spreche fliessend Ander.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I’m called ‘Anders’ for a reason, pretty boy.”

Dorian smirked. “As long as you think I’m pretty.”

“Shhhh... it’s starting, again.”

Varric was right... it did make a better story if the hero died.

As they wound their way through the exiting crowd, Danarius quizzed Dorian.

“Are you staying at your family’s estate?”

“Magister Tilani’s, actually. I was hoping to show Anders her collection of dwarven artifacts.”

Anders looked at him in surprise. He wasn’t sure why Dorian thought he’d be interested in them. Dorian went on.

“They’re quite remarkable; distinct from ancient artifacts found near Orzammar.”

“None of them are an eery, glowing red, are they?” Anders asked cautiously.

“Erm... no,” Dorian said. “What do you say?”

Anders shrugged. “Sure.”

“No time like the present,” Dorian said. “If you’ve no objections, Magister?”

“None at all. I’ll just leave the night to the pair of you, and return home. Good night, Lord Pavus. Anders, I’ll see you at breakfast.”

With that Danarius nodded, and headed away. Anders turned to Dorian.

“Are there really carvings?”

“Oh, yes.”

“And, are we really going to look at them?”

“Well, we rather have to, now I’ve gone to all this trouble. And, what’s this about something eery, glowing, red?”

“Trust me, you don’t want to know.”

Chapter Text

Dorian considered the dwarven statuary for which he bore no interest. He had far more interest in the man standing beside him.

It had been some time since he’d found himself so captivated. This uncouth southerner, lacking the finer arts of high society and etiquette, was simply fascinating; and not for his looks alone.

He studied him from the corner of his eye, very much liking what he saw. He had since the Royal Ball. He’d attended out of boredom, really. It was only his family name which allowed him in, though he knew perfectly well his parents wouldn’t be in attendance. The shame of Halward’s resignation from his post had been acute, though distance from the capital leant an acceptable excuse for their absence.

Dorian, however, had no shame. He was also running low on friends and family off of whom he could leach. The Royal Ball would prove an interesting diversion, as well as a likely venue for renewing potential acquaintances. The rumored southern apostate was the least of his considerations. Although an unusual addition to the festivities, he would likely prove too uncultured to appeal to Dorian’s taste.

Oh, how wrong he’d been.

Even at a distance, Anders had stood out from pool of noble elite. He was tall, for one, with a head of bright reddish-blonde hair which made him easy to spot against the backdrop of black formal robes. Tall, wide-shouldered, slim of form; that much was quite pleasing to Dorian’s eye... and at first, all that was.

His raiment, which Dorian knew had been carefully considered by palace staff, were clearly the rags in which he’d stumbled across the border. A bastardization of old-fashioned Tevinter robes, augmented with Maker-knew-what additions into a tattered facsimile of clothing.

As the evening progressed, Dorian had watched as Anders courted the courtiers. He was awkward, lacking refinement. Was he stupid, Dorian wondered, or without the wit to follow repartee of a such elite company? Then, Anders had lifted his head, gazing into the smoke-filled heights of the vaulted ceiling. Even at a distance, the tedium etched into his unguarded expression was clear. This man was neither a fool, nor a shrinking violet. He simply had no tolerance for the bullshit inherent in such a gathering.

Dorian had laughed, liking him immediately. And for just a beat, their eyes had met. Perhaps he’d imagined it, but it seemed they shared something in common, despite their obvious difference in rank.

He’d tracked the Southerner throughout the festivities after that, hoping for a chance to meet when there were less than a dozen witnesses. Fortunately, Anders had taken off down the back corridors, giving him the opportunity he’d sought. When he’d finally caught up to him, the setting had been ideal for his natural wit and charm to delve into both the mystery, and the trousers, of this handsome foreigner.

Now, standing beside him as they observed statuary for the third time in as many encounters, Dorian had to ask himself what it was that so fascinated him about this man. It was rare enough he met someone for second round, let alone a third; it was simply too high a risk to bother.

Anders was certainly handsome enough. A bit rough around the edges, and careless of attire, but overall he was quite nice to look at. He seemed intelligent, in spite of the education afforded by southern Circles. He had a disregard for noble decorum which Dorian found utterly delightful. Even more delightful was Anders’ skill in bed.

Yet, for all those qualities, there was still something undefinable which drew Dorian to him.

He cast a sidelong glance his way, wondering if Anders was actually interested in the damned statue. Not that Dorian cared. It had been a convenient ruse to get the man alone. And, they were truly that.

Magister Tilani’s estate was devoid of occupants. Maevaris’ home was in Qarinus. She used this residence only when in the capital. As it happened, she wasn’t even in the country for the time being. There were only enough house slaves to keep the estate in repair. No kitchen staff, nor personal attendants. But, there was an abundance of wine in the cellar, and if he made a fuss, his laundry was washed.

“So,” he finally ventured. “What do you think?”

Anders tilted his head, which displayed the graceful line of his neck quite nicely. “It’s... dwarven.”

Dorian hummed, sliding a hand under the long hem of Anders’ tunic and palming the curve of his arse.

“Care to see the rest of the estate?”

Anders turned to him, eyes hot. “Only your room.

Yet, when Dorian opened the door to usher him into his suite, the heat fled Anders’ gaze, replaced by surprise. His amber eyes roamed the room in near shock. Dorian followed his look in confusion.

“Something wrong?”

“Dorian, I think you’ve been robbed.”

“Robbed? What are you on about?”

Suddenly, he saw his room through new eyes, and it wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was a downright fright.

Dirty clothes, dirty dishes, empty wine bottles, and books were strewn everywhere. And, now he was paying attention, he noticed a faint, unappetizing smell. With so few house slaves, his quarters were cleaned only on the rotating schedule, along with the rest of the estate’s rooms. He then felt something so rare, he almost couldn’t place it.

Embarrassment.

“I’ve, erm, been rather left to my own devices.”

“Ah.”

“With Maevaris gone, there’s minimal staff-- are you laughing at me?”

“Yes, I’m laughing at you! Are you honestly so spoiled you can’t pick up a dish or hang or a shirt?”

Dorian bridled. He’d be damned if he’d stand here and be judged by a Southerner, no matter how attractive.

“Just because you can live in the wilds, like an Avvar--”

“You know, I never thought to explore that option,” Anders said, moving into the wreckage of the room. “I’ve heard they have interesting views on magic, but no one seems to know the details.” He began picking up clothes and shaking them out.

Dorian watched him, mildly confused. He’d been prepared for an argument, sharp words, and one of them possibly making a dramatic exit. He regrouped.

“I can see you now, painted blue, wearing flea-infested hides. They’d probably make you their Oddball, or whatever they call it.”

“Augur, I think it is.”

“Fine. Augur. Of course, that’s if they didn’t kill you on sight. They don’t much care for Tevinter. What in the Void are you doing?”

“Sorting your clothes.”

“Whatever for?”

“Because I can’t have sex in this mess.” He held up a tunic. “Clean or dirty?”

“Kaffas! How should I know?”

“It’s your blighted shirt! Did you sweat in it? Spill on it? Come on it?”

Dorian shrugged. “Likely all three.”

Anders started a pile and held up a pair of trousers.

“I’ve never worn those.”

Rolling his eyes, Anders folded the pants, and put them in a wardrobe. He held up another tunic.

“Clean, but it’s got a ripped seam. I admit, this is the strangest foreplay to which I’ve ever been subjected.”

“I have a feeling I need a safe-word. Have you honestly never cleaned-up after yourself?”

“Of course not! I am the scion of House Pavus!”

“Well, it’s never too late to learn. Start gathering the dishes, would you?”

“Why ever for?”

“They stink, Dorian. Don’t worry, I won’t make you wash them.”

By the time Anders sorted out the clothes, the dishes were stacked on one tray, and wine bottles on another. These they carried to the kitchen, from which he’d gotten them to eat the meals he brought home on occasion. The wine bottles, however....

“Agreggio Pavali,” Anders murmured, reading a label.

“Familiar with it?”

“Not really,” he said, setting the bottle down, and heading out of the kitchen. “I knew someone who was.”

“You? Really?”

“Long story.”

“I’d imagine.”

He wondered who in Anders’ past would have been familiar with such wine. Dorian then realized what drew him to the man. He was a mystery. As open and unguarded as he was, Anders had hidden depths to him which no Tevinter noble could claim. He was a riddle begging to be answered, an enigma waiting to be solved.

“You know,” Anders said as they entered his room once more, “Half your wardrobe is unwearable for need of simple repairs.”

“The household is as lacking in tailors as it is in servants.”

“Surely there are tailors in a city of this size?”

Of course there were. There were tailors on every-other corner. But, skilled work cost precious coin, and Dorian Pavus wasn’t about to admit he was nearly broke.

“None I would trust,” he evaded. He could see Anders mulling this over. To his credit, he made no comment. Instead, he began rummaging through the valet’s cupboard.

“What are you about, now?” Dorian wanted to know.

“Looking for thread and needle. Most of this we can manage ourselves.”

“That’s just absurd! You can’t possibly imagine mending was part of my upbringing?”

Anders chuckled most fetchingly. “No, I don’t imagine it was. However, I kept myself together at the seams for years. I can do the same for you. Hand me that tunic, would you?”

“I did not bring you here to perform menial labor.”

Though he protested, the truth was, he was in no real position to refuse. His fingers were light a few rings, sold to keep up the necessary appearances of one of his breeding. Times were tight enough, perhaps this unconventional mage was going to be a saving grace.

Anders settled down on the settee with a disarming smile. “Come here. I’ll show you.”

“Very well,” he grumbled half-heartedly. “But, only in the interest of being a gracious host.”

***

Anders was an apt teacher. As much as Dorian would rather hear his voice whisper filthy things in his ear as he pounded him into the bed; his calm, patient instructions were rather pleasant. And at times, Dorian could pretend they were filthy.

“Good! Now, stick it in the hole... all the way... nice. Then, back down. You’ve got it. Right... just keep going until it’s good and firm. Remember how I finished, last time? Right. Excellent!”

Dorian held up the tunic, inspecting the button he’d just replaced.

“I say, that’s not half-bad, is it?”

“You have nimble fingers.”

He chuckled, cutting a sideways glance at the man.

“As you well know. I admit, your stitches are much neater than mine.”

“I’ve had plenty of practice on people.”

Dorian looked at him in horror. “On people??

Anders looked equally horrified. “I used sutures to close wounds! In my clinic. Maker’s breath!”

“Ah. Even so. Sounds rather macabre.”

“This, from a necromancer? Speaking of which, I’ve been meaning to ask... why did you choose your magical school?”

“Because it’s difficult, for one; and powerful, for another. Why did you choose to become a Spirit Healer?”

Anders wound the remaining thread around a spool. “I don’t believe I really had a choice.”

“Don’t tell me the southern Circles dictate your focus of study?”

“No. I mean, I think I was meant to be a healer. It just came natural to me. Contacting spirits through the Veil wasn’t all that difficult for me, either.”

“I can’t say bringing spirits through the Veil was easy for me to learn, but the ones I use are already looking for a way through.”

The look Anders gave him was intense, to say the least. Searching. “I hadn’t thought about that,” he finally said. “You and I both have a bit of an affinity for Fade spirits.”

“I suppose we do. Though, your affinity is by far more socially acceptable than mine.”

Anders’ laugh was bitter. “Nothing about my magic was ever socially acceptable, Dorian. At least, not until I came to Tevinter. Being a mage is the last thing anyone wants, where I come from.”

“How strange. What did you want, then?”

“As a child? To grow up in my village, have a family, a farm, live among the people I knew and loved.”

“And, being a mage precludes all that, in the South?”

“Being a mage precludes everything, in the South.”

“So, you never dreamed of running away to join the Grey Wardens, or becoming a professional apostate, and finally the Savior of southern mages?”

Anders laughed, again. “Andraste’s knickers, no! No one tells himself he wants to grow up and be an outcast... hunted and hated. It just happened. What about you? What did you want in life?”

Chuckling, Dorian shook his head. “When I was young, I wanted whatever my father wanted. And, he wanted me to grow up, marry a proper girl, sire a proper heir, and become a proper magister.”

“But, that changed?”

“Caught onto that, did you? Yes. That changed. I came to understand I could never be what he wanted, no matter how either of us tried. The further I strayed from that very proper ideal, the further I strayed from his good opinion; as well as the good opinion of proper society. So you see, what I’ve become is quite the proper pariah.”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “I know what you mean. Of course, the one good thing about being a pariah... there’s so little to lose.”

Dorian laughed. “My dear Anders, truer words were never spoken.”

***

They made a light supper out of some fruit and candied nuts Dorian had on hand, plus a bottle of frisky white from the cellar.

“You know... I feel I owe you an apology. I truly didn’t intend to put you to work when I invited you over. At least, not outside the bedsheets.”

“To tell you the truth, I’ve enjoyed it. I’m at loose-ends in Danarius’ estate. I’m just not used to being waited on, hand and foot.”

“Well, I am. I fail to see the charm in self-sufficiency.”

“And, I’ve enjoyed getting to know you better while we worked.”

Dorian chuckled ruefully. “I’m not entirely pleased for you to have seen so much of my underbelly.”

“I’d already seen your underbelly. Up close and personal. And, it’s delightful.”

“You know what I mean.”

“We all have shit on our shoes, Dorian. Some of us are knee-deep in it.”

“I’ll trust a former farmboy to know about that. Still, I thank you for your instruction. And... your discretion.”

He crossed to the wardrobe, putting the last of the repaired items away. He glanced at the darkness beyond the windows. “It’s nearly morning.”

Anders joined Dorian before the wardrobe. “Kicking me out?”

“I probably should,” he said. “For your own sake, if not mine.”

Wrapping his arms about Dorian from behind, Anders nuzzled his ear. “Let me worry about my reputation.”

“You haven’t got much of a reputation, as a foreigner. But, you’ll eventually need one if you become a citizen. And, Tevinter memories are long.”

Anders slowly lifted Dorian’s tunic. “I’m also a life-long, committed pariah, remember?”

Reputation be damned. He liked this mage, and he would enjoy him while he could.

“Ah, yes. So you are. Shall we form a club?”

Anders was now working on the laces of Dorian’s trousers.

“Absolutely. We’ll need to think of a name.” As his trousers and smalls dropped to the floor, Dorian kicked out of them, along with his boots.

Anders hadn’t shed his own clothing, yet, and simply held Dorian’s back against his front; hands idly smoothing along his skin. His nose buried into his hair, inhaling deeply, and exhaling with an appreciative moan.

This was nice. Very nice. Most of Dorian’s partners hadn’t been interested in simple sensory pleasures. Of course, most of his partners weren’t interested in much beyond a fast and furtive orgasm. Time spent exploring was time risking discovery. But, here, now... what did they really have to lose?

He felt the glide of Anders’ nose down the column of his neck, where a delicate tongue tasted his heating skin. Exploring hands smoothed along the same path from neck to shoulders, and down Dorian’s arms, until they’d taken his hands. Lifting them, Anders placed them flat against the wardrobe. Understanding, Dorian kept his hands there as Anders continued his explorations.

Moaning lightly as nipping lips traced along the trail of his spine, from his neck and down between his shoulders; Dorian felt those hands continue to follow, curving around his ribs as they hitched with quickening breath.

He heard Anders sink to his knees behind him. Fingers slowly traced down his lower back, to caress the globes of his arse with a whisper-light touch.

Dorian was eager by now, but when Anders replaced his fingers with his tongue, his insides curled with anticipation. He craved intimate attention to his arse, but enthusiastic partners for the activity were rare in his narrow social circle. Could it be, Anders was of a like mind?

His hopes were answered when confident fingers spread his cheeks, allowing a hot tongue to lave the tender flesh. Dorian’s unrestrained groan seemed to spur Anders on.

With frank enthusiasm, and clear skill, Anders pleasured Dorian as he’d never experienced, before. As tongue, lips, and even teeth explored his most hidden places, Dorian began to unravel. He was of the opinion one should maintain a level of decorum even in moments of passion, but what this Southerner did to him sent him into near-animal instinct.

He jabbered, he growled, he whined, he writhed. Anders snaked an arm about his pelvis to hold him still as his hips undulated. Fasta vass, he was in a fit of lust, and if this man didn’t fuck him soon, he was going to combust.

He heard a spell whispered against his entrance, felt a small burst of magic, and then Anders was standing once more. Standing, and holding him tightly with one arm, as the other slid two fingers inside his slicked passage. It wasn’t enough.

“More... venhedis... more!”

Another small burst of magic, this time within him. Vibrating electricity coursed over and through his prostate, and along his rigid cock. Dorian shouted as intense pleasure overwhelmed him.

Anders nuzzled his ear. “I spent time in brothels, too,” he whispered. “This trick was always a favorite.”

Back arching, Dorian could make no coherent sounds. He shuddered, hands squeezed about Anders’ restraining arm. He thrust himself against the fingers inside him, giving himself over to the electric pleasure sizzling along his pleasure point, and up his spine.

Every mage had a trick or two in their pleasure arsenal, but this was beyond the pale. He was bloody well drooling, his cock dripping a steady flow onto the marble tiles. He was making a complete fool of himself, and he didn’t want to stop. It didn’t help that Anders had continued whispering in his ear, with a soft, husky voice.

“I’ve been hard since you grabbed my ass downstairs. All while cleaning the room, and mending your clothes. But Maker, feeling you lose control in in my arms... I can’t wait any longer.”

Dorian sobbed at the loss of his fingers, and supporting arm. He braced himself against the wardrobe again, his legs too weak to hold him. And then, Anders’ glorious cock thrust within him.

“YES!”

Anders didn’t hold back. Gripping him by the hips, he powered into Dorian, thrusting deep and strong. He kept up his monologue.

“Oh... so tight... so hot... so good... so... damn... good....”

“Yes....” Dorian croaked. “Take me... fuck me....” His words dissolved into sobbing moans, again.

“I’ve got you... I’m taking you... Maker... I’m so close it hurts....”

It was a race to the finish. Pleasure, so tight and hot, sang along his spine. The peak was there... right... there....

Dorian loosed an unholy bellow, his release so intense his vision went dark.

When he opened his eyes, he was lying spooned with Anders on the cool marble tiles, as they gulped for air.

In time, their breath calmed, and the floor grew hard; yet neither moved. He had no idea what to say. After such an intense experience, he felt uncomfortably... exposed.

“This floor is grinding my hip to dust,” he finally said. “Shall we move to the bed?”

Then, he realized what he’d said. And, realized that regardless of the time, he wanted Anders to stay.

“Good idea.”

Anders made a detour to the loo. While there, he asked a question.

“Hey, Dorian? Why do the loo’s in the city have such heavy, slate lids?”

Excellent, Dorian thought. A story to dispel the strange, lingering intimacy.

“You know the city’s sewers drain into caverns below the island?”

“Danarius mentioned it.”

Returning from the loo, Anders stripped off his clothes, and joined him in the silk sheets.

“When the tide comes in, pests are chased up into the sewers. They’ve been known to come out through the toilets. The heavy lids keep them from making their way into households.”

“Maker’s ass!”

“There’s an old story of a merchant who sold specialty seafoods. Apparently, he was beset by a rash of thefts. Nearly every morning, he’d open his shop, and find most of his fresh product gone. No sign of entry, no money stolen; just his best products gone.

“Finally, he stayed the night in his store to catch the perpetrator. Imagine his surprise to discover an enormous octopus crawling out of his toilet, across the shop, to begin noshing on his most expensive filets!”

Anders burst into laughter. “I’ve only seen a dead one in a market stall. I had no idea they’d go on dry land.”

“Nor I. There’s an aquarium in Qarinus, if you care to see one live.”

“I have no idea how much travel I’ll be doing. Danarius mentioned visiting various places, but he’s apparently become a homebody in his later years.”

“What’s it like, living with him?”

“Quiet. He spends a lot of time in his quarters. I really only see him at dinner time. It’s... kind of lonely. At least the slaves are getting friendlier. That helps.”

Dorian quirked an eyebrow. “Friendlier?”

Anders elbowed him. “Not like that. Just, more at ease. I can talk with them.”

“Whatever about?”

“You know... stuff. Things. I’ve been curing those who are injured or sick. Do you know Danarius doesn’t allow them healing?”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“If they’re sick or injured, they either get better on their own, or they die. He canes them as punishment, and makes them suffer through the healing.”

Dorian gave a disgusted huff. “That’s sadism, plain and simple.”

“So, it’s not the norm in Tevinter?”

“Honestly! I know you Southerners are ready to believe we’re evil incarnate, but it’s just not so. Even with all their failings, my parents treat their slaves well. I was taught to do the same.”

“You’ve never beaten or abused them?”

“Kaffas, no! Nor bedded them, before you ask. Unfortunately, there are always some who believe as Danarius does. What does he think of your benevolent activities?”

“He doesn’t know. It’s my magic, and my time, and none of his business.”

“I’m surprised he’s concerned enough to have you work on his slave’s lyrium markings.”

“Well, it’s not for altruistic reasons. He believes the pain is what spurred Fenris to disobedience. He wants to prevent a reoccurrence.”

“Ah. Of course. Do you think you can treat the pain?”

“I hope so. I haven’t had a chance to even see him, let alone evaluate the markings. Apparently, Fenris is undergoing intensive training at the estate. I won’t see him until we return from the city.”

“What sort of training?”

“No idea. It requires seclusion.”

“Sounds more like discipline, rather than training.”

Anders was quiet a moment, looking lost in dark thoughts.

“Son of a bitch.”

Dorian looked at him in confusion. “You all right?”

“Yes. No. I don’t know. I knew him before.”

“Who? Before when?”

“Fenris. While he was free. He lived in Kirkwall, and worked with Hawke, same as I.”

“You’re joking! You were friends? Is that why you came to Tevinter? To free him?”

“No. We weren’t friends; he hated me. I can’t say I cared much more for him. I think Danarius decided to contract me in large because he remembered me from collecting Fenris.”

“This is... astonishing, really. I don’t think anyone’s heard about this. I can’t imagine why Danarius wouldn’t have boasted about it.”

“You know... that is odd, isn’t it? He must have a reason to keep it quiet.”

“In that case, we’d best do the same, for the time being. Tell me, why did the Champion let Danarius take him?”

“I have no idea. We were all surprised, but none more than Fenris. He just gave up without a fight when he lost her support.”

“What’s she like, this Champion of Kirkwall?”

“She’s complicated. Beautiful. Brilliant. Bit erratic. Deadly. Tragic. I was nearly in love with her for several years.”

“Really? It didn’t occur to me you enjoyed women, as well.”

“Sure. Not that woman, sadly. She actually had a brief affair with Fenris, though. I never understood it. I always thought she and I were better matched.”

“Oh ho! The animosity between the two of you is explained!”

“Phhht. That had nothing to do with it. I couldn’t stand the blighted elf from the first time he opened his mouth. Besides, he broke it off after one night.”

“Then, her giving him to Danarius is explained. Wounded lover, and all. This is just terribly melodramatic.”

“That was three years later, Dorian. You’re really hoping to find a tragic love story, aren’t you?”

“I’m Tevinter, Anders. We do nothing better than love deeply, and avenge painfully. On that subject, should you seek feminine company in Tevinter, steer clear of mages. Laetans are more vicious than nobles, and both will exploit any opportunity for power or betrayal. You’ll find yourself forced to marry, or called to duel for her honor. Find a friendly Soporati lass, instead.”

“But, noble men are fine? Why’s that?”

“Both parties must keep it hidden. If one is betrayed, both are.”

“Seriously?”

“Absolutely. Anything between two men is for pleasure, and no more.”

“So, love stories aren’t for male lovers, then?”

“Not noble men, at any rate. Are you saying two men in the south aren’t restricted?”

“In general, no. Circle mages know better than to fall in love.”

“Well, at least we’re well-matched on that count. Of course, both our reputations are already less than stellar. There is a certain freedom in both of us being members of the... what shall we call it? Pariah Partnership? No, that’s not quite it.”

“Outcast Order?” Anders suggested.

“Better, but still not right.”

“So, you’ve never been with a woman?”

“No, nor will I. Believe me, life would have been much easier had I found interest in both sexes.”

“Does this have anything to do with whatever happened between you and your parents?”

Damn, this man was perceptive. “Leave it, Anders.”

“Sorry.”

“Tell me about this scar,” Dorian diverted, tracing a faint line in the center of his chest. “I’m no expert in mundane weaponry, but this looks like a killing blow.”

“Probably should have been. Just one of those lucky hits.”

“Luck? Divine intervention, is more like it. And, these dark ones?”

“Dark spawn wounds. They never heal right, even with magic.”

“Nasty creatures. How about Exile Alliance?”

“Good, but not great.” A huge yawn cracked his jaw. “You mind if I catch a few hour’s sleep?”

“That’s why you’re in my bed, silly man.” He snapped his fingers with sudden inspiration. “I’ve got it! The Holy Order of the Pulchritudinous Pariah!”

Anders laughed heartily. “Which of us is the Pulchritudinous Pariah?”

“Both, of course. The singular implies a certain divinity... and Maker knows, we are divine.”

Still laughing, Anders shook his head. “Maker knows, you are insane.”

“And, in very good company.”