"Well." Dorian says, fidgeting with his collar in the way that says I'm very nervous and am covering it with sarcasm. "This is going to be a lovely evening. I'm looking so forward to it."
"If you're going to vomit, get it on somebody's shoes." Sera suggests. "And if you change your mind about the bees--"
"As lovely as the mental image is, not helpful, Sera."
"I'm just saying, whistle twice." Sera grins. "You know, right? Everyone's on your side. If you need a jar of angry insects rammed--" She stops at Max's look. "Or I could let you two lovebirds have a moment."
The door closes behind her, a faint and worrying guess I should go take them out of the chanda-whatsit, then floating back. Max takes Dorian's hand, rubs his thumb over the palm. "We could say you're not feeling well. Or fake a demon attack."
"Months of planning down the drain because I can't stomach one night in the same room as my parents? Josephine would-- what is that quaint southern saying?-- ah, yes, 'murder-knife' me." Dorian shakes his head. "They can't exactly do much in public. No, we'll make polite small talk while the other members of the Tevinter delegation spend their time either being horrified by all this barbarism or making what they think are subtle digs at my reasons for bedding you, or your reasons for bedding me. Or both."
"I could make up a list. In the spirit of sharing information." Max smiles. "It would be a very long list."
"I do have many fine qualities." Dorian smiles back, a real smile which reaches his eyes. "You can enumerate them for me later."
A cough from the doorway. "Inquisitor." Josephine said. "I'm sorry to interrupt. It's about your mother."
Max frowned. "My parents aren't coming until--"
"Maxwell Francis Edward Christopher Trevelyan, did you really think you could invite the Pavuses to visit and not tell me?" Deidre Trevelyan did not so much stand in the doorway as fill it, swathed in green silk and righteous anger. "I understand that you're a busy man these days, but surely even the Inquisitor has time to write to his own mother. Oh, Dorian, you look lovely."
"As do you, Lady Tre--" Dorian caught himself at her look. "Deidre."
"It also appears that you've been helping our Max dress himself, which is kind of you." Deidre said, patting her sons arm. "You two must come to Ostwick again. Perhaps autumn? It's beautiful before the cold snap hits. Lovely time of year for weddings." This last with a significant and not particularly subtle look making both Dorian and the Inquisitor flush.
"I'm very sorry, Lady Trevelyan, but we really mustn't keep the other guests waiting." Josephine smiled, all sunshine and sweetness and light. Trevelyan knew that smile. It was the you have disturbed carefully laid party plans and will pay smile. "I have managed to rearrange the seating-- despite the short notice-- so that you can sit next to Magister Pavus. I'm sure you'll have plenty to talk about. Would you like to go down and mingle with the other guests?"
Dorian and Max watched them go. "I am not sure if this is the best or worst thing that could have happened." Dorian said, with a sigh.
"Want to go find out which?"
Dorian and he are announced together - it's something Max has started on insisting on, Dorian blustering about protocol and Max's reputation and what are you thinking in the way that says that secretly, he is actually rather pleased. Inevitably, the next half hour is a whirl of people who want to speak to him, Josephine or Dorian helpfully supplying names when he runs out of them.
He can hear his mother somewhere in the background. "Oh dear." he whispers to Dorian, when they get a moment. "I think she's started in on the 'wolf-wrestling' prank. Must be overjoyed to have a hall full of Orlesians to try it out on."
"Prank?" Dorian's eyes widen.
"It's an old Ostwick joke. Foreigners think we're all-- well, you know. So there's this sort of unofficial competition where you try to get people to believe crazy stuff-- you're not considered a man until you've punched a bear or fucked a mabari, that sort of thing."
"Right." Dorian frowned.
Max grinned. He could see the wheels turning there. "She got you, didn't she."
"It wasn't just her. There was an entire circle of your female relatives descending on me and cooing over my hair and then telling me I would have to skin a wolf with my bare hands before the wedding night oh and have you tried these little cakes." Dorian huffed. "So nice of you to warn me."
"Mother would have never forgiven me for spoiling her fun." Max said. "I thought you'd figure it out eventually. Oh-- here we go."
"What-- oh. Joy."
The Tevinter delegation were coming forward for their turns at the introductions. The Pavuses went last-- Halward Pavus managed a semi-cordial "Inquisitor Trevelyan. Dorian." with a nod to each of them, while his wife merely dipped in an elaborate curtsy. Thin, carefully coiffed and dressed in black and gold, Lady Venetia Pavus gave her son a look so icy Max thought it a wonder the floor didn't freeze over.
Thinking of mothers made him realise he couldn't see where his had gone to-- "Max, sweetheart." Oh, of course. "Do introduce me." Now, that meant.
"Mother, this is Magister Halward Pavus and his wife, Lady Venetia Pavus. Magister and Lady Pavus, I would like you to meet my mother, Lady Deidre Trevelyan."
"A pleasure, I'm sure." Halward said, distantly polite.
"Now, now, let's not stand on ceremony." Deidre smiled broadly. "We're family, after all. You can't imagine how pleased we were to hear that our Max was finally going to settle down. He was always such an awkward child."
"The Trevelyans have been more than welcoming." Dorian said, apparently unable to resist adding something. "Everyone has been so kind. Deidre in particular."
"Honestly, I could not ask for a better son-in-law." Deidre announced, partly to the Pavuses but also using the voice that could bring a hall full of rioting Trevelyan children to a halt. It carried easily over the heads of a couple hundred nobles. "You must be very proud." Phrased perhaps less as a statement, more as an order. "So well-mannered, and clever, and as I understand it, quite the talented mage. It does my heart good to know that Max has got someone like your Dorian to look after him. As we say in Ostwick: strong in the fields, warm in the furs!" She finished her speech off with a raucous squawk of laughter that would have put Leliana's ravens to shame.
Dorian made a muffled, half-dismayed noise in the back of his throat; Max didn't dare look at him in case they both started laughing.
The Pavuses looked stunned; that was a not uncommon reaction, Max felt, to his mother, particularly when she was in this mood. "Yes, well--" Halward coughed. "It was very nice to meet you and we must speak again. Another time."
"Oh, don't worry about that-- that nice Josie girl put me next to you at dinner. We can talk dowries." Deidre smiled at Max. "For now, I suppose my boys have official business to be getting on with. Max, don't slouch. Dorian, I expect at least one dance. There will be dancing, right?"
"I think my first dance has already been claimed," Dorian told her with a bow, "But the second? All yours."
"I think I definitely hear Josephine calling us." Max told him. "Right now."
It wouldn't do for the Inquisitor to go into hysterics in the middle of his own ball, after all.
"So." Dorian murmured, wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes. "I want to check if I have it figured out right. When your mother says as we say in Ostwick, it means she's about to make something up."
"Usually." Max agreed.
"And the part about the dowries is just her messing with my father."
"By the end of dinner she'll try to have him believing she's going to pay for you in goats and nugskin."
"And the part about autumn in Ostwick?"
Max imagined his mother trying to arrange them what she considered a 'proper' wedding and winced. "We should probably elope."
He didn't quite realise what he'd said until he heard Dorian's breath quicken, met his eyes to see the hope there, unspoken, soft and vulnerable. "Max--"
"No, you're right, Mother would never forgive us." He takes both Dorian's hands in his own. "Dorian Pavus, would you do me the honor of suffering through an Ostwick wedding, filled with all those barbaric southern customs, including some my mother may decide to make up on the spot?"
"You really are the most awkward boy." Dorian leans in, a hairs-breath away from a kiss. "But yes. If only to spare myself from whatever 'romantic' proposal idea it is you've been plotting with Varric."
Codex: Further Customs of Ostwick
The Ostwick fondness for story-telling and exaggeration reaches its cultural peak in a singular custom which has ensnared more than one unwary traveler. Upon settling into the local tavern, he is likely to find himself in conversation with a local fellow who will endeavor to enlighten him as to some local tradition. The story is, however, nothing more than an outright fabrication. If the first lie is believed, others will join in, spinning progressively wilder stories to see what their victim might be willing to believe, given a convincing enough smile and sufficient ale.
Both men and women partake in this game, with some slight variations. For example, traditions relating to courting and marriage, as well as so-called fertility rituals are more popular themes in women's tales. Wild beasts, including some extinct or non-existent varieties, are often included either as a foe to be vanquished or a target of more vulgar behavior. The etymology of the term "trolling", sometimes used by locals for this custom, is said to originate in one such tale.
The only rule to the game, by apparent unspoken agreement, is that matters relating to cheese are off-limits.