Allara listened to the sound of the rain pattering against the roof of the courtyard gazebo as she sat curled up against one of its supports, drafting a letter back home to Clan Lavellan. She breathed in the smell of the wet earth, hoping that she would be able to describe accurately Skyhold’s allure and particular magic to her family far away. She paused to dip her quill into the pot of ink at her foot when the soft blue glow of Vivienne’s barrier caught her eye. The mage walked purposefully toward her across the courtyard, the raindrops curving away from her as they hit the sphere of her barrier. Something big must have happened for Vivienne to be seeking her out, much less that she was outside in the rain on purpose. Allara smiled faintly, imagining what could have prompted her visit. Vivienne stopped just inside the shelter of the gazebo, and the blue glow of her magic faded from around her. She smiled and knocked politely on one of the brick columns.
“Knock knock, my dear,” said Vivienne. “Varric said I might find you out here.”
“He was right,” said Allara. She put her parchment to the side, and sighing inwardly. Work always seemed to find her, despite even her best efforts. “What can I do for you, Vivienne?”
“I just received a letter from my dear friend Comptesse Helene in Val Royeaux,” said Vivienne. The mage twirled slightly, and then looked vaguely dismayed at the lack of proper seating, tapping her soggy slippers on the stone floor.
“I recognize the name,” said Allara. She rose from her seat on the ground to make her friend more comfortable.
“That would make sense,” said Vivienne. “Helene is a noted advocate for your people. She was the first to sponsor elven students at the University of Orlais.” Allara nodded, slightly confused as to how that tidbit applied to the correspondence Vivienne mentioned.
“That’s - good. What did she write you about?”
“She may have the solution to our problem of an invitation to the Empress’ ball,” said Vivienne slowly. Noticing Allara’s interest peak, she relaxed.
“She can get us in?” asked Allara, brightening.
“You can’t get something for nothing, you know,” said Vivienne. Allara’s eyes rolled dramatically and Vivienne smirked. “Exactly, my dear. Helene is hosting a fundraiser for the University of Orlais: an art auction. Everyone who’s anyone will be there, as well as a generous collection of precious works from masters all over Thedas.”
“And she’s asking for muscle,” finished Allara. Vivienne quirked an eyebrow.
“If muscle was all she needed, my dear, Orlesian chevaliers are the finest fighting force in the world.” Allara blinked slowly, deciding to keep her mouth shut as Vivienne went on. “No, the Comptesse requires a more clandestine security presence. She does not wish to alarm her guests with the presence of armed guards.”
“Of course she doesn’t,” said Allara. Vivienne either did not register or did not care about her dripping sarcasm.
“I’ll accompany you, of course. The citizens of the court know me already, but Helene thinks it would be best - and I agree - that you and whomever you bring should assume alternate identities. It wouldn’t do for the Inquisition’s first introduction to the court to be as hired help, after all.”
“Naturally,” Allara practically growled. “All right, Vivienne. I’ll put together a team. Let Josie know the particulars.”
“Excellent, my dear. Having the Comptesse’s approval will do wonders for the Inquisition’s reputation in Orlais. I might ask -” Vivienne paused, organizing her words. “I might ask that you choose a team who is best suited to blend in with the upper echelons of Orlesian society. Not to put too fine a point on it.” Allara’s resulting smirk made the mage blink.
“Of course, Vivienne. You can count on me,” she said, consciously keeping the mischievous amusement out of her voice.
“You want me to wear what?” said Iron Bull, holding up the embroidered satin overcoat. Allara held up the matching trousers, scrutinizing the color of the fabric with a squint.
“I don’t know, I think you’ll look quite handsome,” she said. He winked at her and she giggled playfully. She replaced the trousers on the dressing table, looking around at the lavishly ornate changing rooms the Comptesse had arranged for their use. What use did a footstool have for padding? What use was a footstool at all? Surely Orlesians were limber enough to reach their own feet. Visions of the corseted dress Vivienne had laid out for her swam in her mind and she swallowed hard. Perhaps footstools had their uses after all.
The door closed behind her and Allara spun to see Solas enter. Since they had arrived in Val Royeaux, his face had been an almost permanent scowl, and now the creases at his mouth and brow were even deeper. She knew she shouldn’t find it funny, but Solas’ indignation at being treated like - well, like an elf was too amusing to ignore. She was familiar with shem attitudes, had become so accustomed to their ignorance and irrational prejudice that she rarely noticed it anymore. Indeed, the thing that had surprised her most in recent months had been the human-centric Inquisition and their generally warm, welcoming attitude toward her. Creators, they had even made her their leader. She squeezed the anchor in her palm, reminding herself why.
Solas looked as if he were about to speak, and then shook his head, deciding the better of it. He stared at the simple grey and black tunic and breeches that were laid out for him for a moment before flicking his eyes up to Allara.
“If this is Vivienne’s idea of a joke, I find it in poor taste,” he said, picking up a shirt sleeve delicately between two fingers.
“Actually, it was my idea. We need you downstairs, keeping an eye out for anything that could be going on with the servants,” said Allara. She looked at Bull. “We’ll be able to keep a constant eye on the gallery while you listen for any kind of potential shenanigans.”
“And what, may I ask, will you be doing while I am playing servant?” he asked, curiously eyeing Bull’s outfit.
“Well, my husband and I here,” she winked at Bull, who grinned, “are Fereldan art dealers who generously donated several pieces to the auction and are consequently looking to purchase new works for our prestigious gallery in -” Allara waved her hand vaguely. “Somewhere up north, whatever.” Solas squinted at her.
“You had better get dressed, Honey Bunny,” said Bull, miming a kiss to Allara. She giggled and straightened the grey silk cravat at his throat. Solas sighed audibly. He picked up his servants uniform and took it behind one of the changing screens.
“Don’t be cross, Solas,” said Allara. He didn’t reply. She shrugged to Bull and went behind her own changing screen.
She picked up the deep violet Orlesian party dress and held it up in front of her. The full skirt brushed against her shins as she turned it around to try and figure out how to go about putting it on. Eventually, she found the laces at the back and untied them. She shrugged out of her cream colored tunic and breeches and into the rich, frilly fabric creation that the Comptesse had lent her. She tried tying up the laces slightly in the front and then turning the garment around on her body, but that just resulted in the boning of the corset scratching up against her ribs and a lot of unnecessary frustration. Halfway in and out of the dress she finally gave in and decided to ask for help.
“Solas,” she called. “Could you come help me for a minute?” Her heart thrummed in her chest. She hoped he wasn’t too angry with her to help, and then there was that other thing - the undeniable attraction thing. She was the first to admit that she was a shameless flirt with anyone and everyone, but with Solas it was different. With him, it didn’t feel like joking, so she had stopped any conscious attempt at joking with him in that way. She still replayed that kiss they shared in the Fade in her mind when she looked at him sometimes. The thought of something more had occurred to her, but the last time she brought it up, he had told her he needed to think about it, which she took as his polite way of saying he wasn’t interested. She had supposed that was for the best, but the tension remained. The best she could do was to ignore it, or at least try.
Solas rapped on the outside of the changing screen and she waved her hand around it, inviting him in. He wore his drab servants’ uniform. It made him look satisfactorily generic in terms of their purposes, but he wore it as regally as he wore anything. Anyone looking too closely would know he was no city elf, and certainly no servant, but this was Orlais; no one looked too closely at elves at all.
Allara self-consciously clutched at the front of the gown, squirming under his unreadable gaze. “Could you lace me up? I wouldn’t bother you, but Bull’s fingers are too big for stuff like this,” she mumbled the last part in a quick, breathless explanation. He nodded his head and gestured silently that she should turn around. She felt his long-fingered hands working quickly at the small of her back, lacing and pulling, cinching her waist into the fashionable Orlesian hourglass shape. Breath left her lungs in little gasps with each hard pull of the cord until he reached the top of the corset and tied it off into a knot, tucking the remaining cord into the back of her dress. The feeling of his cool hands against the bare skin of her back made her shiver, and his breath at the back of her neck made her stomach hop.
“There,” he said, stepping away. She turned around to face him, but he had already walked off. She frowned into the mirror, roughly coming her hair with her fingers. He was allowed to be grumpy if he wanted, but he didn’t have to cop an attitude with her. It was hard not to take his moods personally; she just wanted his good opinion, and his indecipherable emotions perpetually frustrated her. Still, she supposed that his momentary dismay at his role in the mission is better than the tongue-lashing she would have gotten if she had asked Sera to do the same thing.
She stepped out from behind her screen looking sideways at Bull to gauge his reaction. The huge qunari looked her up and down. She felt a bit on display, considering she was somehow wearing more fabric than usual while also showing more of her skin off than was typical for her. Her hand fluttered to the cleavage created by the tight laces of the corset. “Wow, Boss,” was all he said.
“Well? Do I look like an art collector?” she asked impatiently.
“Dealer,” Bull corrected. “And yes, I am a lucky man this evening, Lady Gwen. You look weird without those face tattoos, though. Careful not to smudge that makeup.”
“Oh Lord Titus,” said Allara, mimicking the tittering laugh she’d heard affected by many Orlesian ladies with an eerie accuracy. “Kindly shut up.” Bull guffawed and slipped the last part of his costume, a gold wedding band, over his finger. He dramatically bent one knee to kneel in front of Allara, offering her gold band to her.
“Marry me,” he said, winking at her. She took the ring from him and slipped it over her finger.
Solas noisily shuffled through stacks of parchment laid out on a table, sighing in exasperation. “I thought I saw something written down about the existing magical securities around the gallery,” he said. Allara looked a question at him.
“I’m sure the Comptesse would tell us anything we wanted to know,” she said.
“You should get that information, Inquisitor,” he said. She frowned at the terseness in his tone. “I’m going to get to work. I advise you do the same. Hopefully this evening passes quickly.” He turned on his heel and left, Allara and Bull staring after him. She looked up at Bull, who shrugged.
“Eh, I guess he’s right,” she said. “Shall we?” Bull extended his elbow to her and she twined her arm in his.
“I can’t wait to tell Krem about this,” he said. Allara chuckled and together they left the dressing room, bound for the party.
Vivienne smiled widely at Allara and Bull from beneath her shiny silver mask and beckoned them over. She was laughing animatedly with a young man dressed in the Comptesse’s family colors. “Lady Gwen, Lord Titus, may I introduce Lord Denis Duchamp, brother to Comptesse Helene,” said Vivienne. The man introduced as Lord Denis bowed deeply to Allara and Bull.
“The Grand Enchanter has told me much about your enterprise in Ferelden,” he said, the words blurred around the edges by his thick Orlesian accent. He spoke only to Allara, looking at her through the rich fringe of his eyelashes. “How charmant that you could come and support my sister and the Université.”
“Philanthropy has always been very important to us, Lord Denis,” said Allara prettily, offering her hand to him.
“I look forward to speaking further with you about that, Lady Gwen. Amongst other things,” his deep voice rumbled in his throat as he brushed a kiss across the back of her hand. She felt the color rise in her cheeks and knew there was nothing she could do about it. She just hoped that no one else noticed. She hazarded a glance up at Bull, who was pursing his lips together in barely contained amusement. He noticed. Lord Denis bowed to the three of them again.
“I am loathe to part from your company, ladies, sir,” he said dramatically. “Alas, I must continue my rounds. My sister would have my head if I did not properly greet all her guests.” He bowed once more as he walked away from them.
“Smooth operator,” said Bull.
“Lord Denis is well known for seducing the coin straight from the purses of wealthy married women. It is not difficult to tell who amongst us this evening has fallen for his tricks, if you know how to read beneath a mask. Unfortunately, he is also well known around the gambling houses and brothels. He’s wasted every penny of his inheritance, the poor dear. The Comptesse supports him now, but she worries for him,” said Vivienne. Allara made an interested noise.
“Have you seen anything suspicious, Viv?” asked Bull. Vivienne coughed. “Er, Lady Vivienne.”
“Not as yet. The gallery is open for now before the bidding begins, then it will be closed and sealed. You two had best take a turn around the party, look like you’re having fun. Inventory the works in the gallery, that sort of thing. Lord Titus, perhaps you could slow down on the champagne.” Bull downed the last gulp before neatly placing his champagne flute on the table at his elbow. Vivienne nodded her appreciation. “Just do your best to blend in.”
Allara did her best impression of a ladylike curtsy. “Grand Enchanter,” she said, taking her leave. She tugged Bull’s elbow and they made their way to the gallery.
Allara consciously formed her mouth into a smile. She was an art dealer, she ought to be having a good time in a gallery filled with timeless masterpieces. She looked up at Bull, his face was a mask of blank bewilderment. She chuckled behind her hand. They were two of the least suited people to assume the pretense of a cultured background. She laughed as she saw Bull nodding and making thoughtful noises as he stared at a meticulously painted Orlesian landscape. He looked absolutely convincing, and in that moment she thanked the Creators for his Ben-Hassrath background. At the far end of the room stood a group of people crowded around one painting in particular. Allara set forward with Bull in tow.
The painting was a portrait of a young girl posed with a mabari hound. She had her hand on the dog’s head and in the background was a landscape of a marsh land that looked oddly familiar to Allara. The girl’s golden curls tumbled down her shoulders. The way the light hit her hair and skin gave her a positively lifelike glow. It was a gorgeous painting, and judging by the fine cracks in the paint, it was also very old.
“It’s the oldest known painting of Queen Feidlimid,” whispered a noblewoman to Allara’s right. “First Queen of the Theirin line, the family of the Ferelden crown. It is easily the most priceless object here, I am surprised it is on display at all.”
“No need to worry, Madame Roquelaire,” Comptesse Helene chimed in. The crowd turned, murmuring, to see her. “Please, feast your eyes. The masterpieces in this room are quite secure, I assure you. The First Enchanter herself placed the sealing wards on this room. Nothing goes in or out without my say so. Your investments will be held quite safely. The University thanks you.” The crowd nodded and clapped politely as the Comptesse patted a little pouch on her belt. Allara and Bull looked at each other, noting the gesture.
The Comptesse saw Allara and smiled. “Ah, Lady Gwen, thank you so much for coming. How are you finding my little party?”
“Thank you so much for inviting us, Comptesse,” said Allara, sweating now that Helene had drawn the crowd’s attention to her. Blend, she reminded herself. Blend.
“You have a lovely home,” said Bull. “Your gallery is exquisite.”
“Thank you, Lord Titus,” said Helene, bowing her head to Bull.
A noblewoman at Helene’s elbow joined the conversation. “You are the Fereldan art dealers, yes? Tell me, what are you bidding on?” Bull nodded at the portrait of Queen Feidlimid.
“That one,” he said. The noblewoman smiled conspiratorially at them.
“From one art collector to another, will you bring it back to the Ferelden crown? You do know the story of how the painting was stolen in the last war for the throne,” the noblewoman asked. Allara gaped, taken by surprise by the question, and stepped back. Her heel caught the toe of an elven serving girl carrying a tray of drinks, causing said drinks to empty their contents, splashing across Allara’s naked shoulders and down the back of her dress. The elf looked terrified. She dropped the tray and ran off. Bull chuckled and produced a handkerchief from his pocket and began to mop at Allara’s back.
“I’m fine, don’t mind me. Husband, perhaps you should take me somewhere to get cleaned off?” said Allara pointedly. Bull offered his elbow and the crowd of nobles parted to let them through. She heard the soft murmur of their chatter as they left and she knew they were already discussing the incident. “So much for blending in,” she muttered to Bull.
They found Solas in one of the servants hallways, talking closely with an elderly elf in a kitchen apron. Solas stood as he saw them approach and patted the old man on the shoulder. “How can I help you, my lady?” he asked. Allara turned around and showed him her ruined dress. “Ah,” he said simply. “Follow me.”
He led them down the hallway, taking so many turns Allara was impressed that he had already mastered the complex floor plan of the chateau. “Unusual methods you employ to come check in,” said Solas. Bull chuckled.
“Yes, well, it worked out, I suppose,” said Allara. They stopped just inside a spacious and appropriately lavish library.
“Are we supposed to be in here?” asked Bull.
“I can go wherever I please,” said Solas. “As a servant, I am invisible.” Allara glared at him. “I noticed that this side of the chateau was getting considerably less traffic. It is also the Comptesse’s wing, so if you are discovered here, you will have less to explain to her.”
“The gallery is warded. Helene keeps the enchanted key on her. I suppose that is as secure as we could hope for. Other than that, everything seems to be fine. Enjoying the party. How are you?” asked Allara. Solas shot her a wry look.
“I am enduring,” he said. He placed his palms at Allara’s back and she felt them grow warm as he used his magic to dry her dress.
“I still smell like champagne,” she said.
“There is a wash basin in the Comptesse’s chambers,” said Solas. Allara smirked. He was enjoying this. Solas led them to the Comptesse’s chambers where there was, in fact, a wash basin. Allara scrutinized the display.
“Water? A cloth?” Allara asked. Solas rolled his eyes impatiently at her and she folded her arms, waiting.
“I will return shortly. Just - stay here,” said Solas. Bull chuckled at Solas’ grumpy tone and Allara shoved an elbow into his ribs, which only made his laugh more audible. Allara walked the perimeter of the room, running her fingers over the gilded furniture in awe.
“Must be nice, right?” said Bull, nodding at the luxury around them.
“I suppose, if you’re into that,” she shrugged. “Skyhold was the first time I ever slept under a roof.”
“Ah, pining for the old aravel again, are we?” asked Bull. She gave him a quiet laugh, but choked it off when she heard footsteps rapidly approaching. Bull walked quickly toward her, listening. “That doesn’t sound like Solas,” he whispered at her ear. She nodded. It did not. The footfalls had the echo of a soft-soled shoe on the polished marble floors.
“They’re still coming this way,” whispered Allara.
“If it’s the Comptesse, we’re fine,” said Bull.
“But what if it’s not?” asked Allara. He grunted. Just outside the door, the footsteps stopped. They heard an anxious whimper and the sound of the library door open and close. A second set of footsteps sounded outside. The anxious whimper sounded again, closer, and Allara watched in horror as the knob on the door to the Comptesse’s chambers began to turn.
“Kiss me,” Allara said quickly.
“What?” asked Bull. She sighed in exasperation and pulled his face down to hers. His lips were surprisingly soft. Softer than she had expected, and she felt the color rise to her face, realizing she had wondered what it would be like to kiss him, with this pointed incisors and his many scars. He gently wrapped a hand around her waist. When the door opened, the terrified servant was greeted by the sight of two lovers having wandered away from the party to steal a moment for themselves in her mistress’ chambers. The servant squealed as someone tapped her shoulder from behind.
“Excuse me, I -” said Solas, making his way into the room. “Oh.” At the sound of his voice Allara sprung away from Bull, her mouth working to find words to explain.
“Did you need something?” Solas snapped at the servant.
“M-m-m-my lady’s dressing gown, messere,” she stuttered. “One of the girls spilled a tray of drinks on her and she requested me, that I, if you could -” Solas sighed, tore open the nearest closet, grabbed whatever was hanging on the hook in the door, and shoved it into the girl’s hands before escorting her roughly out the door and slamming it behind her.
“Was that necessary? You’ll scare the poor girl to death,” said Bull. The look Solas gave him could have cut Orlesian steel. Solas slammed the gilded ceramic pitcher of water down on its resting place near the basin and tossed the towel at Allara’s feet.
“It seems you have enough help to get cleaned up. If you will excuse me, it is time I return to work before I am missed,” said Solas, his voice as chilly as Allara had ever heard it.
“Solas, let me explain,” Allara pleaded to his back, but it was too late. The door swung closed behind him.
The party went on well into the evening before the gallery was locked to begin the auction proper. It was good business sense. Get the crowd of rich nobles socially lubricated with expensive liquor and champagne and they will spend more money in support of the arts and the University of Orlais. It seemed the Comptesse was a competent businesswoman. Allara kept her eyes sharp, as was her purpose there. Most of the nobles grew loud and merry. There were a few who had a bit too much, and there were some others who stopped her to tell her the same story multiple times. Surprisingly enough, the drunker the crowd got, the less concerned they seemed to be with her being an elf. Though, interestingly, they seemed to care less about that than they did about her assumed identity as a Fereldan. What would they say if she revealed her roots as a Dalish?
“Look at that Lord Denis,” said Bull. Allara looked over at the noble. He was talking very closely with an older Orlesian woman by the fountain in the courtyard.
“What about him?” asked Allara.
“He has been carrying that same drink for the last three hours, he hasn’t touched it,” said Bull. Allara raised her eyebrows.
“Perhaps he is on the hypothetical wagon,” said Allara. Bull smirked.
“Just keep your eyes on him,” he said. She nodded.
The bidding began. Nobles called and shouted their bids with voices and raised hands. Comptesse Helene stood near the auctioneer at the podium, a large smile on her face at the money being raised. Allara’s eyes constantly flicked over to the closed gallery door, half-expecting something dramatic to pop out of it at any moment, but nothing did. From the corner of her eye, she noticed Solas’ head through the crowd. She touched Bull’s forearm lightly, nodding her head toward Solas.
“I’m gonna tell him about Lord Denis,” she said under her breath. Bull grunted his acknowledgment. Allara made eye contact with Solas and made her way to the room adjoining the gallery. A few moments later, Solas joined her. She stared awkwardly at his feet, bare against the polished marble floor. Somehow, the need to communicate her information with him was eclipsed by - was it guilt? Perhaps. She just felt awkward. She wanted things to be back to normal between them, and that end was nowhere in sight as long as he refused to even look at her.
“Solas, I’m sorry -”
“I sense magic,” he interrupted. She blinked at him. “Magic, in the servants hall and even here. It is an odd residue, it clings to the veil like -” he broke away. He continued to refuse to meet her gaze, and she was almost glad of it.
“Bull thinks we should keep an eye on Lord Denis, the Comptesse’s brother,” she said sullenly.
“Is that all?” he asked. When she didn’t answer, he turned to leave.
“Solas, wait,” she said. He paused, his back to her. “Bull and I - we’re not - it was just an excuse for being in the room.” He turned slightly back toward her and she could see the muscles in his jaw clenching.
“Why should I care about that?” he asked.
“I don’t know, but you seem even angrier than you were before,” she mumbled. “I just thought you should know.” He faced her then, the expression in his eyes curious.
“You don’t know?” he asked, walking toward her. She backed up, oddly threatened by the tone of his voice. “You cannot imagine why I would be incensed at the sight of you kissing someone else? At the sight of you with - with -” he sputtered.
“With Bull?” she asked, her voice raising. “Watch what you say, Solas. Bull is my best friend.”
“Indeed, you seem very close. Inseparable. You are, after all married for the evening.”
“Why should you be upset? I asked you if you wanted more after that time we spent in the Fade and you blew me off!” said Allara, her chest heaving. Solas spun, throwing his hands up in frustrated disbelief.
“Blew you off? I said I had some things to consider!” he took another step toward her and she stepped back, her heel hitting the wall behind her.
“So what are you saying? Are you saying you -” Allara swallowed, her voice weakening. Solas raked a hand across his scalp.
“Is it so surprising?” he asked. Allara felt a sudden heat in her ears.
“Yes, actually! Now?! You wait until now?! Am I supposed to have waited for you? Waited for you to make up your mind? That’s not how it works, Solas! That’s not how I work! I -” her words ended abruptly, cut off by the crushing force of his lips on hers. Allara’s eyes opened wide at his sudden embrace. He wrapped a strong arm around her waist and brushed the side of her face with his hand before tangling his long fingers in her hair. His mouth explored hers, anxiously at first. When he felt her respond, clutching the back of his tunic in her hand, moaning softly into his mouth, he became more insistent. He deepened the kiss, exploring the sweet softness of her mouth with the tip of his tongue. She met his tongue with hers and he leaned into her body against the wall, one hand supporting himself against it.
His hand slipped suddenly and hit a knob of moulding in the ornate hearth around the fireplace. The knob clicked, but neither Solas nor Allara heard the faint sound of an opening mechanism hidden in the wall. If they had heard, they would have been able to stop themselves from stumbling through the secret doorway he had inadvertently opened. If they had heard it, they would not have found themselves tangled and tumbling into the supposedly locked and sealed gallery.
Allara had the breath knocked out of her, both by the surprise kiss and by Solas’ body landing hard on top of her when they fell to the floor. She stood up, brushing herself off, when she was surprised to find that they were not alone.
An elven servant was on her knees on the floor, frozen. One hand held a dagger while the other held the frame of the portrait of Queen Feidlimid. The canvas of the portrait was mostly cut from the frame, she just had one length across the bottom before freeing it completely from its frame.
“You’re -” said Allara. She recognized the girl. It was the same servant she had tripped over. The same servant who spilled the tray of drinks on her. The drinks. Allara’s brain revved. “It was you. You spilled the wine on the Comptesse!” The servant defiantly sliced the remaining edge of the canvas. The Comptesse’s enchanted key clattered to the floor from the servant’s hand and Allara’s suspicions were confirmed. The servant rolled the priceless painting up into a cylinder that she shoved roughly into the waistband of her breeches. She brandished the dagger at Allara, grunting nonsensically.
“He loves me,” she mumbled almost incoherently. “Running away together, forever.”
“Who are you talking about?” asked Allara, in an attempt to distract the servant. She saw an opportunity and took it, deftly dodging the girl’s clumsy attempt at slicing her with the dagger. Allara disarmed the girl and twisted her arm behind her back, immobilizing her. The girl cried out in rage and pain.
“Wait,” said Solas. His voice echoed in the empty room. Allara looked from her prisoner to him. “The magic, it’s here.” He approached the girl, hands outstretched. “I feel it.”
“We’re in love,” the girl spat and struggled. “I will do anything. Anything! You will never stop me.”
“She’s raving,” said Allara. Solas looked closely into her eyes and nodded, as if what he saw there confirmed something.
“It’s a love spell,” he said. “She has been made to do this. A potion, I think. Illegal, but then, so is theft.”
“I ain’t no thief! This painting was stolen in the first place!”
“Who put you up to this, da’len?” asked Solas. The elven girl blinked at his use of their language. Her eyes softened for a moment before she spat in his face.
“I’ll never tell you!”
“Have it your way,” said Solas. He took the key from the floor and opened up the front door to the gallery. There the three of them stood in front of the entire party, who were still in the middle of bidding on the auction lots. At least a hundred pairs of eyes were glued on the Fereldan art dealer who had one of the Comptesse’s servants in a restraining hold, as well as another of the Comptesse’s servants, clutching her magical key to the room that supposedly could not be opened.
As shocked at she was at Solas’ move, she knew why he did it. Allara scanned the crowd for reactions that differed from the norm. At last, she found what she was looking for, and was not the least bit surprised. Lord Denis stared at them, his bloodless face a mask of horror. He looked around hastily before trying to make a run for it. Allara nodded at Solas, who froze him in place with a cast straight from his hand. The crowd gasped in shock. He rolled his eyes apologetically to Allara, and then begrudgingly to Bull. He had revealed himself as an apostate. The jig was up.
Lord Denis stood frozen in place, the frost from Solas’ spell cracking and misting, but not melting.
“What is the meaning of this?” said Comptesse Helene. She was surprisingly calm for a noble, and Allara respected her for it.
“We’ve stopped a robbery,” said Allara. She tugged the canvas out of the waistband of the servant’s breeches. She howled in frustration.
“I’m sorry, my love!” she wailed. Allara jerked her arm to shut her up.
“Hush, you,” she said to the servant. “We caught this one about to make off with this,” she handed the curl of canvas to Helene. The Comptesse gasped in horror when she realized her most prized painting had been defiled in such a way. “She was not acting alone, Comptesse, and her actions are not her own. She was being controlled.” The crowd gasped at Allara’s words.
“She was fed a love potion. She was made to believe that she was doing this for love, that she was going to run away with none other than Lord Denis. Looks like your dear brother was tired of your hospitality. He thought he'd make a fortune of his own. Looks like the attempt is going to cost him his freedom.” Muffled shouts came from under the ice that held Lord Denis still. “Lord Denis, you are under arrest, by order of the Inquisition,” said Allara. She couldn’t resist, it seemed like a good time to her. Next to her, the Comptesse looked vaguely dismayed, mostly over the painting. In the crowd, Vivienne looked incensed. Beside her, Bull was silently laughing so hard his face was purple.
She left the elven girl with the Comptesse and trotted off the stage with Solas following closely behind her. They caught up with Vivienne and Bull at the entrance to the estate grounds.
“Makes your blood pump, doesn’t it?” said Bull. Vivienne sighed heavily.
“This - is not the worst disaster in the history of my career, but it is up there. Congratulations, Inquisitor,” said Vivienne. Muffled sounds of protest came from the bound and gagged Lord Denis at Vivienne’s feet. She kicked him smartly in the shin and he silenced. Allara smirked.
“I guess we’re going to have to find another way to get invited to the Empress’ ball,” she said. Solas laughed out loud.
“Indeed we are,” he said, brushing the back of his hand against hers. He took her hand in his then, twining his fingers with hers. She stole a sideways glance at him, grinning wickedly. Suddenly the long ride back to Skyhold didn’t seem quite so tedious.