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If you really wanted something from Viscount Varric Tethras, all you had to do was send Bethany Hawke to sweet-talk it out of him.

When Seneschal Bran popped his ginger head into Varric’s office to announce that Bethany had come to see him, again, Varric stowed his latest manuscript in his mahogany desk. He wondered what cause she would champion this time. First, it had been a top-down renovation of the Gallows to create a place of sanctuary and learning for mage orphans. Then there was that new medical supply line exclusively for the Darktown clinic. And then the animal shelter in Lowtown.

Varric had never been able to look Bethany in her big brown eyes and say no, so he always pretended to put up a fight, only to sign away the requested funds with half-hearted grumbling. It didn’t occur to him that she was approaching him on behalf of other people until she asked for an extra guard rotation nearby the Blooming Rose during peak hours. Madam Lusine had asked the same for months. Either Bethany had taken up a new line of work, or she and Lusine had been talking.

If it were anyone else, Varric might have felt taken advantage of. Luckily, Sunshine was far too kind to use those brown eyes for evil. He had asked Aveline to add more guards to that area, and he had been pleased to learn that the amount of fist fights on the brothel’s front steps declined soon after. Whatever Bethany had come to discuss today, he felt confident it would be with only the purest intentions.

Bethany knocked on his office door two times before letting herself in. She was wearing a red scarf around her neck again, and its bright color brought out the richness of her eyes and dark hair. As she entered, Varric swore that the sunlight pouring through his office windows intensified, and the entire room felt a little warmer.

“Sunshine!” Varric greeted her.

“Hello Varric,” Bethany said cheerfully, seating herself in the chair directly across from his desk. “I hope you don’t mind me dropping in like this.”

“Never. I always have time to catch up with you.”

Varric spent all day in his office talking to people who wanted something from him, and most of those conversations felt like getting his molars slowly wrenched out of his mouth. Speaking with Sunshine, even briefly, lifted him up instead of dragged him down. For that, he would never turn her away.

Bethany tucked a lock of black hair behind her ear and clasped her hands on his desk, ready to introduce her newest project. “So, there are these unsightly gutters in the alienage,” she began.

Varric rested his chin in his palm. “Are ugly gutters an issue you take directly to the Viscount of Kirkwall?”

“They are when it’s due to mold. The alienage needs better drainage, Varric, especially with the flooding that comes every summer.”

“How come it’s all drainage and mold when you visit me instead of ‘Wow, what an excellent job you’re doing’ or ‘I miss seeing your rugged good looks?’”

She pursed her lips to suppress a smile. “You are doing a good job, and I do miss seeing you. But those gutters are in terrible shape, and I think I know how we could help.”

Another knock at the door soon interrupted their discussion of cleaning and repairing the alienage gutters. Varric shouted that he was in an important meeting and did not wish to be disturbed, but Bran poked his head inside anyway.

“My lord,” the seneschal said, “there’s a dwarven messenger here requesting an immediate audience. He insists upon delivering his missive to you face-to-face. I’ve told him to make an appointment and come back later, but he just won’t budge.”

Varric rolled his eyes. “Send him in.”

Bethany stood, and Varric quickly waved for her to sit back down. “It’s probably just the Merchant’s Guild nagging me to open their letters,” he assured her. “Ha, this should be good.”

A stout and somber dwarf with a long red beard strode inside, carrying a crisp scroll bound in purple ribbon. Varric glanced at the insignia of three interlocking diamonds on the messenger’s tabard and straightened in his chair with a jolt. Well, shit. He tried to appear calm, welcoming even.

The messenger unrolled the scroll with a flourish and started to read. “His Lordship Viscount Varric Tethras of Kirkwall, Head of House Tethras, Deshyr of Kirkwall to the Merchant’s Guild; and guest,” the messenger said with a slight Orlesian accent. “House Davri requests the honor of your presence at Bianca Davri’s Paragon ascension ceremony and celebration in two weeks time.”

Varric received this information stone-faced. She actually did it. Bianca would become the first ever surface caste Paragon in dwarven history. He wanted to be happy for her achievement, but given their tangled history and her family’s legendary grudge against him, he just felt nervous. Nothing good could come of this invitation.

The messenger continued, “The event will take place in the Orzammar royal palace within the Diamond Quarter. All visiting surface caste dwarves, their consorts, and their retinues will be the Paragon-elect’s honored guests and placed under her protection.”

Now Varric turned ashen. Him, go to Orzammar? He’d probably get two steps inside before someone shot an arrow through his throat. This ascension ceremony might as well be hosted in a rabid drake’s nest. Even if the idea wasn’t utter suicide, it was bizarrely out of character. When he and Bianca were young, the two of them had commiserated about how terrible it must be to live in Orzammar, trapped in a place the sun couldn’t touch. Now she wanted to celebrate her greatest achievement in its halls? What game was Bianca playing?

The messenger lay the scroll on Varric’s desk with reverence before crossing his arms behind his back and waiting expectantly. Varric skimmed the message, his heart falling deeper and deeper into the pit of his stomach as it became clear this wasn’t an elaborate prank. Bianca really did invite him to Orzammar.

Varric’s first thought was that he didn’t want to go.

His second thought was that he had no choice.

Varric was Viscount of Kirkwall, and, as much as he sometimes loathed it, a prominent member of the Merchant’s Guild. Every surface dwarf who mattered would converge upon Orzammar to celebrate the ascension of a surface caste Paragon, and he mattered more than most other surfacers ever would, so his presence would be missed. But this wasn’t just any Paragon--this was Bianca Davri. There was a time when he answered her beck and call without question, and that was before she was slated to become a living goddess among their people. What would happen if he denied her now?

Varric envisioned the intricate network of trade contacts, political alliances, and personal ties that kept his beloved city from sinking into the sea. Then he imagined Bianca—genius smith, surface caste nobility, and the love of his life—siccing her steam-powered mechanical thresher on that delicate spider web and tearing the whole thing asunder.

No, Varric could not refuse her invitation. He would go to Orzammar. The idea thrilled him as much as taking a long and arduous dump while Bran tried to slip new trade contracts for him to sign under the door. Except Orzammar was even more cramped and airless than his privy, and he’d be stuck down there for days. Days!

Bran would probably have to come along, just as he did to the Winter Palace a few months back. That’s what the messenger meant about a retinue, wasn’t it? Assistants and guards? He should definitely bring some guards. Bianca might want him around, but House Davri had sent assassins after him several times before, and it would take an enormous change of heart for them to stop now. No one in all of Thedas hated him with as much violent prejudice as Bianca’s parents.

The messenger cleared his throat, impatient for Varric’s reply.

Varric wanted this stuck-up dwarf to stew a while longer, so he turned to Bethany instead. Maybe he should bring more allies than Bran and a couple guards. Like someone who could shoot fire out of her fingertips and brighten a room with a smile.

“You want go to Orzammar?” Varric asked her.

Bethany’s jaw dropped a little, and her eyes danced between Varric and the messenger. “You’d really want me to come?” she asked.

Varric shrugged. “If I’m going to haul my ass into a dark, musty cave caked in nug shit,” he paused, chills of horror briefly overwhelming him, “I’ll need my Sunshine around to stay sane. No skin off my back if you’d rather skip it—”

“Of course I’ll go.” Her answer was so quick, Varric wondered if he misspoke and accidentally invited her somewhere fun, like the Hanged Man or something. He waited to give her a chance to change her mind, and when that didn’t happen, he addressed the messenger.

“Let the Paragon-elect know I’ll be there,” Varric said. “My seneschal will send a raven to confirm my full retinue soon.”

The messenger bowed low enough for his coarse beard to touch the carpet before taking his leave.

Varric sat in silence, stunned by what he just agreed to. He had truly been invited to Orzammar, his family’s exile wiped clean. Bartrand would’ve killed for a chance like this. His parents had killed themselves wishing for it. And it just strolled into his office out of nowhere, gift wrapped and hand delivered. He hadn’t even begun to unpack the revelation that the barriers keeping him and Bianca apart—barriers erected by her family and enforced by the Merchant’s Guild—were now lifted.

Nothing this big was ever free. There had to be a catch.

“Will you be okay?” Bethany asked, fixing those bottomless brown eyes upon his own. “You’ve never wanted anything to do with Orzammar. To go there as if you were always welcome won’t be easy.”

When the Hawkes were still struggling in Lowtown, and Bethany was a frightened teenager harboring a dangerous secret, Varric had comforted her that getting chased out from her homeland and constantly looking over her shoulder for trouble wasn’t such a bad life. An exiled surface dwarf and an apostate refugee could see each other eye to eye in that respect.

Now their positions were reversed. As a free mage, Bethany was the one who knew what it was like to get her traumas swept under the rug so the people who caused them could pretend they never happened. She understood how bitter freedom could taste.

“You’re right,” Varric said. He fought the urge to stand up and pace. His office suddenly felt too small, his chair too confining, but he didn’t want his alarm to show. “It won’t be easy, but it’s something I have to do. I’ll ask Hawke and the gang to come too; it’ll be a big adventure, just like old times. Now, about those gutters—”

She stood. “Don’t worry about those for now. You have much to arrange, and I won’t keep you.”

They said their goodbyes, and Varric pushed the invitation to the side to make room for his manuscript. Before reaching the door, Bethany stopped short and turned around, twisting the heirloom Amell ring she always wore on her right hand.

“Sorry if this is a silly question, but...do I need a date?” she asked.

Varric lifted his eyes from his manuscript. “Huh?”

“The invitation mentions bringing a guest. Does that mean we all need dates? I’ve never been to an event like this, so I’ve no idea.” She laughed nervously. “They never taught dwarven social etiquette at the Circle.”

Varric did a double take between Bethany and the scroll on the far side of his desk. “No, you don’t. I’m not bringing one. If there’s a special someone you have in mind, I can pull some strings so he can come with us. I’d just like to meet him first, see if he’s good enough for you,” he added with a wink and a crooked grin.

Bethany pinked and shook her head. “Oh no, that won’t be necessary. Thank you, Varric.”

After she left and shut the door, Varric’s smile curled into a frown, and he rubbed his brow as he reread the scroll. Bethany was right, it definitely said, “Viscount Varric Tethras of blah blah blah, and guest.” He had been so thrown by thoughts of Bianca and Orzammar, the mention of a guest had slipped his notice.

It didn’t make sense. This wasn’t an Orlesian masquerade they were talking about, but a stiff Orzammar ceremony. People would show up, cheer for the new Paragon, stuff their faces, and then place bets on some celebratory Provings. There was no need for a date. So why did Bianca’s invitation explicitly say he could bring one? Did she want him to bring one? If she did, what did that mean?

Varric stared at the scroll a moment longer before rolling it back up and stuffing it in his desk. He was reading too deeply into this shit. Bianca didn’t waste her time writing out invitations; honestly, she didn’t have the handwriting for it. This guest stuff was probably the error of an Orlesian clerk, and they wouldn’t know any better.

Though he returned to his manuscript once more, Varric’s thoughts drifted back towards Orzammar, towards family history and lost love buried beneath mud and stone. He was one of the last Tethrases alive, and soon he would become the first Tethras to return underground since the dawn of the Dragon Age.

Whatever he unearthed down there, Varric hoped he would be ready for it.