Several months had passed, the Inquisition was nearly at its conclusion after Corypheus had been found, rather he had come to them in Skyhold.
Things had been blessedly quiet, the rebuilding of the lands devastated by Corypheus had begun, but the ever present rift in the sky had been closed, taking with it the sense of impending doom and urgency.
Dorian should have known the quiet times weren’t going to last forever.
It had started simple enough with a letter, one delivered straight to Dorian Pavus’ hands. Dorian had recognized his family seal, and had taken himself off to his favorite corner of the keep and had settled himself down to read it.
He hadn’t heard from his family since his father had left to return to Minrathous, but it hadn't surprised him that with the threat over, his father would write to him now.
Dorian read the letter written in his mother’s hand, then reread it, then read it yet again, his eyes taking in every word, absorbing them as if by the time he was done they would say something different.
But no… There was no mistake.
Dorian’s lip curled under his mustache, and a cry of anger escaped him, along with freezing ice, blasting outwards from him to encase the bookshelves on either side of him in crystal, the ice spreading out. He could hear the startled gasps of mages, but he didn’t care, the words his mother had written appearing over and over in his mind’s eye.
Your father is dead. You need to come home.
Bull looked up, surprised Dorian hadn’t appeared for their planned outing away from Skyhold, since the mage was always early. “Something must have happened, this isn’t like him.” he headed up to the second floor landing, and skidded right into a bookcase when he hit the ice covered floor. “Son of a bitch...what happened?”
“Leave me, Bull,” came Dorian’s warning reply from his place in his chair. He had his head buried in his hands, his dark hair peeking through his fingers.
“We can’t get him to talk to us,” one of the mages who stood just out of the range of ice muttered to Bull.
Bull waved them off and carefully made his way over to where his lover had curled away from them. “Talk to me, you know I’m not going to leave you to suffer. What happened?” he asked quietly as he knelt before his lover.
One of Dorian’s hand’s dropped and picked up a crumpled piece of parchment from his lap. “My mother had written to inform me that my father has died and I need to return home to take up the reins of Magister.”
“I’m sorry, do you want to get out of here?” Bull offered as he picked up the letter, sure Dorian might want it later.
Dorian lifted his head and touched Bull’s cheek, his thumb scraping lightly over the thick stubble along his jaw. “Tavern? I need a stiff drink right now.”
“Sure, just get rid of the ice so we don’t make it a really short trip.” Bull pressed a kiss to the mage’s forehead as he rose. “I wish I could do more for you.”
Dorian wanted badly for Bull to be able to as well, but he instead waved his hand and the ice receded.
“Let’s go. I’ll explain what she… what she said on the way.” He rose to his feet and headed towards the stairs.
"Tell me when you're ready kadan," Bull replied quietly
“I’m an only child,” Dorian began, “you know that. I’m the only heir to my family’s legacy, which I never… I thought my father would live forever, Bull. I never thought…”
He snapped his mouth shut as they came out to the main hall and passed by Varric.
Once they had passed the dwarven rogue, Bull took Dorian's hand as they headed for the Tavern. "Will you go? Shall I come with you if you do?"
“She found a woman for me,” Dorian said. He didn’t look at Bull, but squeezed his hand tightly as he spoke. He could feel the warm, late morning sun on his face, but his mind was elsewhere.
“With my father dead, the family’s enemies will be moving in quickly, seeing the House as vulnerable. She says she has made an advantageous match for me, to help solidify our position as a House to be reckoned with. I need to do my duty to her and the rest of my family by keeping them safe and secure in their position in society. Also, she added that the slaves would suffer, because no one treats a slave better than House Pavus. Let’s just ignore that it’s aborhant that we own slaves at all.”
He couldn’t look at Bull, couldn’t even half believe the words coming out of his own mouth. By saying them aloud, he was making it reality, a conjuring he couldn't take back.
"I see..." was all Bull could reply with, unsure how to respond to his lover’s news. He frowned but didn't let the swears that came to mind fly free. It wasn't the place for it.
Once they were in the tavern and seated, he glanced at Dorian then the rest of the Chargers before he asked what the other man's plans were.
Dorian swallowed audibly. “I need to go back--alone.” He accepted the tankard of ale when it was handed to him and stared down in its foamy depths.
"No, not alone. Even if it's to say goodbye, I won't let you make that trip by yourself Dorian." Bull replied as he ignored his drink on favor of staring at the mage as if he'd lost his mind.
“I’ve made the trip before, and she sent guards to escort me back. They are awaiting me in Redcliffe.” Dorian took a long sip of his ale before he continued on.
“I won’t be gone long. Either I’ll find a way to hand off the title to one of my cousins, or I’ll make sure they understand that I won’t be doing as they wish. If they want me to be Magister Pavus, then they will not dictate to me.”
Bull glared but didn't push the subject. He didn't want to fight in public or push Dorian while he was still new in his grief. He just muttered about not liking it but didn't force it. He'd save that for when he they were alone.
“My father always thought I’d ruin the family. I just hope they do what’s best and allow me to pass on the damned title.” Dorian took a longer drink of his ale. He slammed the tankard down in a way that would have made any Ferelden proud before he buried his face in his hands.
“Maker… My father’s gone. Cassandra once told me that I should not wish for his death, and I think she was right.”
"What do you need? I'm not much for words, but I can listen." Bull was at a loss for what could help Dorian but he'd stick by the mage as long as he'd let him.
Dorian raised his head. “I’m not leaving you. No matter what, this won’t part us.” It was if he was reassuring himself more than Bull. “I need to know you’ll be here to come back to.”
"I'd rather you let me come with you, even as a guard." Bullet slip before he could catch himself
“No,” Dorian said sharply. “I don’t know what has happened since I left, but I do know Minrathous. If anyone finds out that you’re my lover, you’ll become a target. I won’t put you in harm’s way.”
"You say that like I can't defend myself." Bull replied but dropped any further protest at Dorian's expression.
"Fine, but I don't have to like it, and I'm going to worry the whole time. "
“You can defend yourself,” Dorian assured. “But if anything were to go wrong, it would be my fault. This way you’ll be safe, and they will have less leverage against me. I’d do anything they asked of me if it meant you wouldn’t be harmed.”
The Kossith just rolled his eye and grumbled a bit more but didn't keep the argument going. "Whatever you need kadan, whatever you need."
Dorian leaned his head against Bull’s shoulder and closed his eyes. He didn’t speak of his fears and worries, they went without saying and wouldn’t change his resolve.
“I love you,” he said instead.
"Love you, you big fop," Bull replied with a kiss to the mage’s temple.
Dorian had been gone for almost two months. Two months without any word, without any knowledge of how he was faring in Minrathous. Leliana was able to find only a little bit from her contacts, but their reports were scarce and filled with rumors.
Dorian had taken his father’s seat in the Senate.
Dorian had married.
Dorian hadn’t been seen outside of his family villa.
There was no corroboration on any of those rumors, and Leliana had been firm in telling Bull as much.
Three more weeks passed before Bull finally got a letter dropped in front of him by Krem, along with a flagon full of drink in case it was bad news. “Want me to sit with you Chief?”
“Yeah...just in case...I uh, I need to punch something.” Bull said as he opened the thick envelope of cream coloured parchment, dark green lettering in Dorian’s neat hand covered almost every bit of the letter.
“Came in a moment ago. The messenger was a bit shifty, not Tevinter. Said I owed him a lot of coin. I paid him because I recognized the seal. Figured it was worth the price.” Krem sat down next to Bull and watched him scan the letter.
Bull scanned the letter, then reread it again for the things that the mage had said, albeit in words that they’d worked out over the months for signs they were in trouble. He read it through one more time then swore loudly. “He’s in trouble, I knew he shouldn’t have fucking gone alone.”
“Then we go after him.” Krem shrugged. “Should I get the boys now or do you want to wait until the morning?” It was as simple as that for Krem.
“Get the boys together, I’ll tell Lis and we leave by sundown.” Bull snarled as he snatched up the letter and headed towards the war room.
Krem finished his ale and got to his feet. He was going to have his work cut out for him to make sure Bull didn’t charge into Minrathous half cocked.
It took them weeks to reach Minrathous, but it was still far quicker with Bull’s relentless hurry to reach the city. No one bothered them as they rode along the great road to the capital, at least until they reached the massive gates of the city. The guards had stopped the Chargers and it had taken a few words from Krem and Bull flashing the Pavus amulet before they had been allowed inside.
“Security is a bit tighter than I remember,” Krem muttered once they had cleared the gates.
“Just remember that when we are ready to bug out of here.” Bull murmured. “This place makes me want to grab him and run for the hills.”
“Haven’t been here for years.” Krem eyed the unchanging city, the squat homes of those without magic, and the soaring towers in the distance of those that had power. “Hasn’t changed much.”
“Hopefully we can get to his place without too many questions coming up. You have to take lead on this Krem since I didn’t pick up much Tevene over the years.” Bull replied as he watched for anyone who seemed too interested in their movements.
“At least not the kind of Tevene that would get you anything more than a hard fuck,” Krem said dryly.
“Most of the villas are farther in the city.”
“Not in the mood for it Krem, really not the time.” Bull hissed.
Krem shrugged and urged his horse on, navigating through the streets as if he’d been gone only days and not years.
Bull followed along, attention divided between their path, finding Dorian and plotting an escape. His attention was brought back by Krem calling his name as they approached an inn on the outskirts.
“We should stay here for the time being,” he said as he dismounted. “That way we can see what’s going on with our mage. Once we’re settled, you and I will go to his villa.”
“Yeah, get us rooms and then we can scope out his place.” Bull answered.
“I’ll be back. Don’t venture into the wealthy district ahead,” Krem warned. “They won’t take kindly to qunari and elves wandering about.” He disappeared into the inn.
“Lovely homeland you have here, kadan.” Bull muttered as he waited for Krem to return.
He didn’t have to wait long. Krem returned and handed the rest of the Chargers keys. “Third floor, we have the whole thing to ourselves. Remember, keep your ears open, your eyes sharp, and your mouths shut. Orlesians like to think they know how to play games, but the way Magisters do it…”
He and Bull watched half of the Chargers head to the stables with their horses, while the other half disappeared into the inn with their gear.
“Don’t care right now, let’s get to the villa.” Bull said harshly.
“It’ll be this way.” Krem mounted his horse and led the way up the street and into where the magisters had their villas. The closer a villa was to the Archon’s Spire in the center of the city, was usually an indication on either how powerful their House was, or just how old the family name was. Sometimes it was both.
They rode deeper into the city, past stone faced guards and templars who watched them unblinking. Krem took lead, keeping his eyes straight ahead and looking neither left or right, as if he belonged and had important business, that it was best not to stop them.
And in a way they did.
When they came to the front gates of the villa of the House of Pavus, Krem was more than ready to get inside and get off the streets. But the gates were closed and locked, and guards were posted on either side of the finely wrought metal.
“Magisters don’t close their gate like this unless they expect trouble,” Krem muttered to Bull. Leaving their gates open means they aren’t afraid and don’t need to be.”
He pulled up short in front of the guards.
“You can take lead, this is your turf Krem, and they already don’t like me, regardless of the truth. Do what you need to get us in the door, I’ll follow you.” Bull said as he took in the villa,the guards, all of it gave truth to his lover’s missive.
“We’re here to speak with Magister Dorian Pavus,” Krem said in polite Tevene.
“A lot of people want to speak to Magister Pavus,” said one of the guards, finally confirming that Dorian had taken the title. “But we have orders to let no one through.”
“This is The Iron Bull,” Krem said as evenly as possible.
“Proof?” asked the other guard.
“The amulet, Chief,” Krem muttered in Trade.
Bull pulled the amulet out to show the guards, his gaze hard as he waited for them to acknowledge his tie to Dorian. “Satisfied?” he finally asked.
“I’ll tell master Aclassi that you are here,” acknowledged the guard. He turned and unlocked the gate, slipping inside.
“What did he say?” Krem breathed.
“I believe he said Aclassi.” Bull replied.
“The asshole did it, didn’t he?” His eyes widened when the guard returned, someone in tow.
“Father?” Krem rasped.
The older man gazed up at Krem through eyes slowly filling with tears. “Not here in the street. come inside, both of you quickly.”
Bull had to force Krem to move ahead of him and into the foyer of the villa. He glanced around, worried when he still hadn’t seen his lover. “Ser Aclassi, where is Magister Pavus?”
“In his study. Thank the Maker you’ve come.” He led them through the richly appointed villa.
“It’s one of the few places his mother won’t enter and he can have some privacy.”
“Father,” Krem whispered. “How…”
“Later, Cremisius,” he said. “I… There’s so much to tell you.”
Elven servants stared at them in wide eyed wonder as they walked through the villa. Krem couldn’t help notice that the armbands and collars of slavery were absent.
“Can we speak freely once we are in his rooms?” Bull asked quietly.
“You can,” he answered quietly. “His study and his private chambers have been warded, and I lead the searches every morning and evening myself in order to make sure nothing has been added or tampered with.
They stopped in front of a set of dark wooden doors decorated with the twisting serpent and flower of House Pavus and inlaid with gold. Krem’s father knocked and opened them after they heard a muttered ‘enter’.
Bull forced himself not to knock Krem over as he entered, and found Dorian changed from when he’d last seen him. “Kadan.” he whispered
Dorian rose to his feet from behind his massive desk. He skirted around it, his rich robes trailing behind him, flashing gold and silver threads against the black velvet. His hair was much longer than it had been when Bull had seen him last. The sides and back of his head were shaved close to his scalp, while the rest of the dark mass was piled loosely in an artfully messy topknot.
“Bull…” Dorian breathed, filling the word with all of his happiness.
“Kadan.” Bull whispered as he strode across the room and hugged Dorian to him, relief flooded him as he held his lover. “I told you I should have come with you.” Bull murmured.
“Yes, I’m a fool,” Dorian mumbled against Bull’s chest. “But I’m glad you’re here now.” He pushed up on his toes to match Bull’s height as much as he could, taking his lover’s lips in a deep kiss.
Bull moaned softly as he nearly lifted Dorian up and onto his desk. “Fuck I’ve missed you.”
Krem cleared his throat. “Reunions later?”
“Um, yeah sorry Krem.” Bull put his lover down and turned to face the elder Aclassi. “Good to meet you, I’m Iron Bull and you, somehow know Dorian already.”
“Dorian found me in Minrathous and paid an obscene amount to not only buy me, but to have me freed. I work for him now as his personal secretary.”
“It wasn’t an ‘obscene’ amount,” Dorian sniffed. “Besides, you know who all the best tailors in Minrathous are, and who will cheat me.” He wouldn’t look at Krem or Bull.
“Thank you,” Krem said gruffly.
“Yeah, thanks. Now is there anywhere we can actually talk about your letter?” Bull said with a nod at the door then windows, unsure if they were being watched even in the study.
“Just a moment.” Dorian walked to the door and pulled out a long golden chain from under his robes. at the end was a silver key which he stuck in the lock of the door. He twisted it once and magic surged in the room, sparking across the door, windows, and walls.
“There,” he said. “I don’t want to even think about what they would have to do in order to get past this ward. Powerful, ancient magic. Probably scavenged off of the Elvhen. It was mouldering in the family vault of all places.”
“They?” Krem asked.
“Oh, yes, you wouldn’t know. The Venatori. They aren’t happy with me for my part in helping Lis destroy their dreams of world chaos and domination. Which in retrospect, I should have known was going to happen when I came back to Minrathous of all places. They’ve been trying to kill me for over a month now. Sent in Crows at first which was an insult to my abilities, or they just spent money on cheap assassins, bottom rung Antivan Crows.” Dorian frowned. “Which is also an insulting thought.”
“So what do we do now?” Bull asked as he took a chair next to Dorian so he could take his lover’s hand.
“Well I was hoping you could help with that. Seeing as I don’t wish to die, and I also don’t wish for my House to be wiped out in political maneuverings, I’ve been trapped inside my own damned villa with my mother, who is blaming me for the whole ordeal. Frankly, I’m not sure what to do.”
“Well, shit.” Bull muttered as he pondered what they could do. “The Chargers are here too, but we can’t just wipe out your enemies and hope to make a run for the border. Krem’s in danger here, Void I could be if someone decides to take a run at me for old Qunari sins. What are your options other than us escorting you and senior Krem de la Krem out under armed escort?”
“Make a run? how many times must I tell you that a Pavus doesn’t run? No, I came back to see what a mess my country was in, and decided to take up my father’s title and seat. I mean to change things, Bull, and I have the power to do it. The people of tevinter need to know about the Venatori. They need to fully see the corruption that everyone knows is under the surface, but no one wants to talk about. We find the Venatori here, and we stop them.”
“Dammit, Dorian, stuff your pride for once and be sensible. You can run this time.” Bull replied.
“No… I can’t. My mother wasn’t exaggerating for once when she told me the House needed me to take control. I have cousins, aunts, uncles, that need me to be here as a strong presence. The Venatori are going to destroy us as assuredly as Corypheus and his kind tried to do. I can’t leave my family to that, to all the slaves that I’ve freed since I’ve been here.”
“Thirty,” Krem’s father said quietly. “Thirty slaves.”
“Then what do we do? We can’t just relocate everyone here until we wipe out every Venatori across Tevinter.” Bull said tiredly.
“No, but we can cut off the head of the snake. Or several heads in this instance. What we saw in the South were the underlings. The true Venatori are the wealthy Magisters who wouldn’t dare set foot out of Minrathous when they could send someone else to do their work. They are who I mean to stop. Before they kill me preferably.”
“Vishante Keffar.” Bull replied then arched his eyebrows at the surprised looks on Krem and his father’s face. “What, he says it often enough.”
“It means bullshit or more, you shit on my tongue. And unfortunately, I’m not. I have the coin now to pay the Chargers.”
“We’d do it without coin,” Krem said firmly.
“Can we at least figure out a plan before someone comes along to pester Magister Pavus in his study or make sure his guests aren’t doing something to him?” Bull said with a glance to Dorian then to his lieutenant.
“The plan is for the Bull’s Chargers to become the personal bodyguards of Magister Dorian Pavus so I can move through Minrathous easier. I need to know who exactly is trying to kill me, but I’m not foolish enough to do it on my own.” Dorian crossed his arms over his chest.
“Plus, if I’m being honest, I could really use the support right now. There’s only been one person I trust in all of Minrathous, and it’s…”
“Made you paranoid,” Krem’s father said softly.
“Exactly so,” Dorian acknowledged. “Being with the Inquisition had me forgetting just how on edge I had lived my life. I used to spin conspiracy theories for Lisbeth, telling her all the ways people thought I was using her and how I could if, I was of a mind. Now I’m seeing why she always looked at me as if I was insane. Minrathous will do that to a man.”
“Well we’re here now and we’re not letting the Venatori get you. I’ll be damned if they even get close enough to land a spell on you.” Bull vowed.
“Thank you.” Some of the tension in Dorian’s shoulders eased. “I barely trust my guards, but I’m paying them well enough so I have their loyalty for the moment.”
“Effective now, I’m your personal guard as far as they know. You imported men you can trust rather than these snakes. You are going to be seen, and show that they are not going to have you ka---, Dorian. You keep hiding in here, they’ve won, do you understand me?” Bull asked.
“Oh, I understand all too well. It’s why I’m so glad to see you, for several reasons.” Dorian ran his hand over the shaved sides and back of his hair.
“Good, then we start a plan to get you seen, Krem, you’re lead on this because no one will take me seriously here, much as I hate it. Also, you know this place and the language. Far as anyone outside of us is concerned, I’m just the dumb oxman Magister Pavus has brought on to protect him.” Bull started to pace as he considered all the angles, the ways they could resolve things without anyone else getting killed.
“No one can know you’re my lover or what you mean to me,” Dorian said darkly. “If anyone finds out…” he stopped and took a calming breath. “First I’ll show you around the villa and explain the precautions we’ve taken so far. Then I’ll… I’ll introduce you to mother.” He said the last with some pain.
“Yeah I know, I fucking hate it, but I get it.” Bull said with a grimace. “This is going to be rough.”
“Don’t worry Chief, we’ll figure this out. No one will bat an eye if you remain at his side every hour, not if you are a hired sword.” Krem assured him.
Dorian got to his feet and smoothed down his robes. “Then let’s get started. One more thing, my mother considers herself progressive in her thinking, but in Minrathous that means little. I apologize in advance for any offense she might give.”
“Like I’ve never heard the insults that can come my way. I won’t like it but I’ll deal with it to keep you safe.” Bull stood at attention, fully in the role of hired guard, faithful until the coin runs out. “Lead on serah, we’re at your service.”
“Later we’ll talk about how hot I find you right now with you like this,” Dorian said before his grin fell away. He took out his magically charged key and walked to the door.
“Those services cost extra, Magister.” Bull said as he followed behind and had to keep from swatting his lover on the ass.
“Keep it together Chief, we have no idea who’s watching him. Leave that for later, and if you make it sound like he paid extra for those services, then so be it.” Krem cautioned.
“I’ve always maintained that Orlais has nothing on Minrathous when it comes to grand games. They might plat to the death at times, but we play with souls.”
The tour took far longer than Dorian had thought it would. He hadn’t had the privilege of showing his childhood home to anyone who hadn’t been there before, and he was beginning to realize just how large it was, with it’s several gardens, three bathing pools, and stable, just to name a few. Byt the time they were finished going over everything and Bull and Krem had quizzed him on possible blind spots and alternate ways in and out of the villa, the sun had sunk below the horizon.
“So there’s a few spots that you should have a constant rotation of guards on, other areas that should be closed off until things cool off and make sure all servants, and household staff are known to you and your mother. Else it will be too easy for someone to slip into your villa and get out.” Bull muttered as he sat making notes about the security of the place.
“Vincenius will see it done. He’s the only one I’ve trusted in this damned city,” Dorian said with a nod towards Krem’s father. They stopped in front of a set of large double doors.
“I wish I could say the same about my mother,” he muttered when he raised his hand to knock.
“The second we get out of here, I’m getting drunk.” Bull swore.
“And without me?” Dorian whispered. “Shocking. I’ve had to stay horribly sober for weeks.”
The door opened and a serving girl peeked out. “Mistress isn’t up to seeing you this evening, master.”
Dorian rolled his eyes. “How many times do I have to tell you, that I’m not your master anymore. I pay you to put up with her, and I pay you well.”
“She said for you to come see her tomorrow during the noon meal, master,” she replied, as if she hadn’t heard Dorian.
He sighed. “So much respect I get my from own mother and employee. Fine then, tomorrow it is.”
The door practically shut in his face and Dorian cursed under his breath. He turned from the doors and strode down the hall, back to his study.
Bull waited until they were behind in closed doors before he questioned his lover. “So, care to explain that?”
“That?” Dorian paced the room. “That was my mother trying to put me in my place. She hasn't forgiven me yet for refusing to marry the woman she had picked out for me, nor that I had refused to come home with my father when he had come to Redcliffe to fetch me. She’s angry that she’s locked up in the villa, unable to see a soul, or hold her head up when she could venture out because she has a paid servant now for a maid, not a slave girl bred for the purpose. I’m bringing down the family name each day.
“Oh, she thought it was fine at first, and we got along, but where she could stand to see some of our slaves freed, I’ve freed all of them and it’s an embarrassment. she cares more for what others might think that anything else. doesn’t matter if she approves secretly. She’s a walking contradiction and she’s been driving me mad.”
“Great, just great. Is she going to get in our way?” Bull asked.
“Depends, if she’s as concerned with appearances as Dorian says, she could be a problem.” Krem threw in before Dorian could answer.
“Remember when I said she was progressive, but only as far as Minrathous will allow. She won’t be a problem in so far as undermining us, but she will let you know loudly just how inconvenienced she is, and what will the others think? She’ll thank you, Bull, for protecting us, while she’ll mention that you’re civilized for your kind and how wonderful it is.” Dorian shuddered.
“I love her dearly, but she will drive one to madness.”
“I’m really fucking civilized, thank you very much.” Bull quipped.
Dorian snorted in laughter. “Says you.” he exhaled slowly. “Where are the rest of the Chargers? I can put everyone up here if you need.
“At an inn, we can go get them in the morning, and you will be seen going to fetch your latest additions to your household. Tonight is the last night you’ll spend locked up in here as if you fear the world.” Krem replied.
“Fear is such a strong word,” Dorian said lightly. “I more prefer being cautious.”
“It’s been fear,” Vincenius said. “But rightly so.”
“It took weeks to get the Antivan Crow off the walls and rugs,” Dorian sighed.
“Fear, that’s right. Now let’s get dinner and then we get settled for the night. We talk after dinner, alright?” Bull said low enough for just Dorian to hear.
Dorian nodded and Vincenius left to fetch them a meal.