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How the Seeker got her Humph

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The boy is ten at the most-- maybe younger, Cassandra does not think she could really say-- and practically swaddled in gold-edged black silk, an outfit nearly as elaborate as the ones her aunt attempts to stuff her into for dances. He seems perfectly content with it, though, and as far as Cassandra can tell, he is not possessed.

Did she mention that her uncle thought it was a fine idea to invite a friend from Tevinter to visit? And to bring her son? And they're both mages? Tevinter mages? And now, her aunt, smile as bland as a guardian statue on watch outside the Necropolis, has decided it would be a fine idea for Cassandra to 'look after Dorian while the adults talk'.

She is sixteen, not a child, and she will officially be a Seeker, soon, and this little boy--

--is smiling as he bows, thank you for your hospitality, accent thick but charming, and turned so they can't see the gesture he makes to Cassandra with the hand behind his back, proving that stable-boys teach children of noble birth the same things they shouldn't in both Tevinter and Nevarra.

Look after him? She's only known the boy five minutes and she already wants to strangle him.

The first words out of Dorian of House Pavus' mouth, once they're alone, are "So far, Nevarra is deeply disappointing. I imagined you were all knee-deep in corpses all the time."

She's not sure how to respond to that. "Your mother said you might like to see the library."

"I mean, you're supposed to be some sort of royalty and you don't even have an army of skeleton minions." Dorian says, ignoring her. "Or ghouls with all the bits rotting off and you can see their brains. Father says I can have an army of undead minions when I'm Archon. What sort of magic are you best at?"

Cassandra could be training right now. "I am not a mage."

He gapes at her like she's some sort of exotic animal. "Not even a little? Even Rilienus can do magic and he's nearly a whole year younger than me and a big baby."

"I am sure you know people, even in Tevinter, who are not mages." Cassandra points out.

Dorian shrugs. "Servants, maybe. Not people." Before she can point out how entirely awful that statement is, his eyes go wide. "Is Nevarra where you get sent if you don't have magic?"

"Is Nevarra where-- what?"

He looks back and forth, as if to see if they're being spied on, and then tugs her sleeve, encouraging her into a side alcove, looking urgent. "They won't tell me where they sent cousin Adrianus. He's five years older than me and he's really strong and he got into a fight once and punched someone in the face and his knuckles were all bloody and he showed me them. He can't do magic, though. And Mother hates Aunt Hessia and called her an e-l-f-f-u--"

Cassandra stops him right there. "Nevarra is a big place." she says, and looks at him, wide-eyed and hopeful and, fine, probably not possessed and not a blood mage, at least not yet, and decides to just lie. "Your family know lots of people in Nevarra, right? Maybe they did send him here. He could have become a Templar, or even a Seeker. I'll tell you what - why don't you come to training with me? We can ask if anybody else knows where your cousin is."

Dorian brightens immediately. "Training?"

She leaves Dorian in her private study while she changes into something more suited for swinging a sword than greeting guests, and tries not to feel too bad about the lie. She doesn't know what might have happened to Dorian's cousin but surely believing that he might be somewhere in Nevarra is better than the truth.

At least, obnoxious as he is, he doesn't try to take a peek at her changing. Perhaps he's not at that age yet.

When she emerges, he stares again, and sniggers. "If you cut your hair short you'd look like a boy."

Since she's heard worse from people who aren't small children, she lets that one go, too. "I see you found my bookshelf."

He makes a face. "Your books are full of kissing. Groooooss."

"Not all of them-- wait, those weren't even out on the shelf." Her hiding places are very carefully chosen, how did he even--

"Normally people hide the interesting stuff." Dorian informs her, loftily. "I thought there might be something good. Father says Nevarra is the only place outside of Tevinter that has any culture worthy of an Altus."

She grabs the books back; what would he know about romance, anyway? Besides, she only reads them out of curiosity. It's not that she likes them. She knows the reality-- callow boys, well-bred and suitable and dull, whose mothers disapprove of everything about her except her name, or idiots like that one persistent Orlesian who thought it was a compliment to call her a 'challenge'.

It's probably best that he appears not to have gotten as far as Sunset Over Val Royeaux, which makes her blush just reading the summary. Considering the usual state of the training yard, and considering Dorian's current outfit, which looks even more frivolous and complicated next to her training gear, she frowns. "We should probably find you something else to wear."

"Oh--" In a flash, Dorian has squirmed out of his black-and-gold mage-robe-thing, leaving him in a sort of undertunic and leggings, relatively sturdy boots-- they'll do. "Don't worry, I know how to get it back on."

She has to smile, because she remembers doing something similar when she was his age. "You've done this before."

"All the best stuff is in places Mother doesn't want me to go." Dorian says, with a cheeky grin. Then he bows, floridly, gesturing towards the door. "Ladies first."

Well, at least he has some manners, she thinks, as little as she likes the empty gestures of courtly chivalry. Meaningless, and not at all charming.

She doesn't spot the magic at all, and it's only years of training that mean that when her foot touches ice, not a stone floor, she manages a half-graceful fall, sliding to a crouch rather than falling straight on her ass.

Behind her, Dorian makes a disappointed sound.

"That's not funny." she says, turning to look at him, expression half-mirthful, half-annoyed. "You could seriously injure somebody, Dorian."

"Nobody dies from falling over." Dorian says, mulishly. "Unless you fall over a cliff or something, I guess. Anyway, you can't tell me what to do. I'm going to be Archon and you're a dumb girl who can't even do magic."

Cassandra stands carefully, and crosses her arms, staring him down. "Well, I heard the boy who's going to be Archon promise his mother he wouldn't cast any spells unsupervised so unless he'd like me to tell her--"

Dorian mutters something under his breath that sounds rude and then heaves a sigh, as if terribly put upon. "Fiiine. I'm sorry and I won't do it again."

It's not exactly the most sincere of apologies, but it's a start.

All men are the work of our Maker's hands, she reminds herself. Even tiny maleficar in the making.

Training to Cassandra, when she is at her uncle's estate, means a dirt courtyard near the stables and men who have known her since she was a child-- knew her brother, as well-- and do not question her motivations.

The world her aunt inhabits-- the wife of a Mortalitasi, the subtle politics of everything from who is invited to tea to which members of the family get which position in the crypt-- is foreign to her, and she would not have it otherwise.

The solidity of a sword in her hand. The guiding light of her faith. The clarity of her purpose. This is home to her.

"Do I get a sword?" Dorian asks, kicking his heels in the dust. "Or an ax or a spear or-- I want one of those."

He's pointing to the far weapons rack, where there's a pole-arm with a nasty hook on it, the whole thing easily twice his height, and then he's moving towards it, fast and Cassandra has never been so glad to see Alec, who catches him around the waist with one arm and lifts him up easily. "Now, what have we here?"

"I am the future Archon of Tevinter and you will put me down right now." Dorian says.

"His name is Dorian and he's visiting." Cassandra says, knowing Alec will get her meaning.

"Ah, the little mortalitasi in training." Alec says, and grins broadly. Cassandra tries not to blush, something she always struggles with around Alec. He's kind enough to never remark upon it. "Little mortalitasi, would you like to learn how to fight with a polearm?"

Within five minutes, Alec has Dorian wrapped around his little finger-- despite the outraged shout of this is a stick! when Alec finds him a more suitable training weapon, one he won't injure himself or anybody else with.

It gives Cassandra the space to concentrate on her own training. Footwork. Awareness. Timing. Patience. Allowing impatience and anger to fade away, because as often as she feels them, cooped up in here with her aunt tutting about how she could make a good match if she tried, those will not aid her now.

Blessed are they who stand before the corrupt and the wicked and do not falter. Andraste will guide her, and her sword, if Cassandra can only shrug off these lesser emotions and give herself whole to faith, to the Maker. Blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just.

When she takes a break, she also takes the time to thank Alec for his assistance with Dorian, now on the far side by the stables, swinging his stick at imaginary enemies while yelling at them in what she suspects is not very polite Tevene, interspersed with dramatic poses. At least he doesn't appear to be setting anything on fire-- perhaps the threat of telling his mother paid off.

"No worries." Alec says, smiling. "He reminds me of my nephew. My big sister's a mage, remember? You learn how to handle them."

Cassandra smiles back, can't help it, which is of course the point at which Dorian decides to bound over to them, or rather specifically, to Alec. "Alec! Alec! I did a really awesome move and you weren't looking. Why are you talking to her, anyway." He looks over at Cassandra suspiciously. "Are you going to get married?"

Maker preserve me. "No." she says, firmly.

"That's not an appropriate question." Alec says gently, the same gentleness he uses towards Cassandra, and she knows it-- beyond the matter of their mismatched social status, the simple fact is that he still sees her as a mere child.

Dorian tilts his head. "Because you're common? But she can't even do magic and she's not that pretty. I bet you could marry her if you wanted to."

Maker, give her the strength to not murder Dorian Pavus. Cassandra can't even think of a suitable response to that one. "Dorian, you shouldn't say things like that." Alec says, patiently. "It's very rude."

Surprisingly, this doesn't result in sulking or angry outbursts. Dorian looks down briefly, sheepish. "I'm sorry. But will you watch this time?"

Alec smiles and messes his hair, which gets him only a little huff, Dorian shaking out from under the touch like an offended cat. "Go on, then."

Dorian runs back to the stables, and demonstrates a reasonably good forward flip, bouncing so lightly across the earth Cassandra frowns at him and tries to work out if he's using magic. She'll not have demons invading her training ground because Thedas' most annoying brat wanted to show off. Then again, he's little and lanky-- all limbs and vitriol-- so perhaps it is just natural talent, after all.

"Wait!" he calls, running back. "That wasn't right. I can do it better. I'll do it again. Are you watching?"

Alec nods (how can he have such endless, endless patience?) and Dorian scurries back to his position by the stable wall, just as another figure emerges from the stables, slouching with a bag over his shoulder.

The rat-catcher's lad, she thinks idly, and then sees what he has in his off-hand and the direction he's heading too late. "Hey kid!" he calls, and as Dorian turns, dangles a very large rat corpse in his face, holding it by the tail.

It would be a not-very-funny joke, were Dorian just someone else's little brother, dragged along to training to keep him out of trouble or toughen him up a bit. The part of Cassandra that spends as many hours of the day as she can spare working on her Seeker training should be glad that she feels it this time, the weird sensation at the back of her neck that says danger. That says magic.

The dead rat squirms, jerking back and forth unnaturally, and then as the lad drops it with a shrieked curse, sets off in a sort of lopsided lope, a drunkard's path here and there until it simply stops, limbs shivering. Dorian makes a face at it, reaches a hand out--

--and there's a horrible wet noise as the thing just explodes.

"Cassandra." Alec says calmly. "I think you should probably take your visitor back to his mother." There aren't too many in the training grounds at this time of day, but every eye present is focused straight on Dorian, and some of them none too friendly. "Move on, lad." he says, to the rat-catcher's boy who stands there as if stunned. "Now."

Cassandra goes to Dorian, who is staring at what's left of the rat, frowning, flexing his fingers. "That wasn't supposed to happen." he says, his expression annoyed and upset but not fearful. "Get me another one."

She is too busy trying to work out if he's injured or anything else to understand, at first. "What?"

"Another rat. I did it wrong." He stares her down, or tries to. It ought to be comical. "I need another one so I can do it right this time. I have to do it right."

"I don't think that's a good idea." Cassandra says, looking warily about. Uncle is always very clear on the line between necromancy and blood magic, but she doesn't think that line matters to men who just saw a small boy rend a corpse into a bloody mess with a single gesture.

For that matter, she's none too comfortable about it, herself. Some things just aren't meant to be.

"I need another one so I can do it right." Dorian says again, and there's an edge in his voice, ratcheting up with every word. "Get me another one. Don't you think I can do it right? I can, I can, you're just a stupid ugly soperata and you don't know anything about magic or anything and you have to get me another one because I did it wrong."

He is drawing breaths rapidly now, voice hoarse, eyes full of tears, and all Cassandra can think is will I be able to kill a demon if it looks like a child?.

Thankfully Alec steps in again. "I'm sure you can, Dorian." he says, soothingly. "But you have to ask Mortalitasi Pentaghast for permission to practice in his house. That's only polite, right?"

"I did it wrong." Dorian says again, gulping back sobs.

"You were surprised and you didn't even have a staff." Alec tells him. "And you still managed to give that lad quite a scare."

A giggle emerges through the tears. "He sounded like a girl. I bet he wet his pants."

"Why don't you head back with Cassandra and go to the library?" Alec suggests. "I'm sure a smart lad like you can find lots to do there."

Dorian nods silently, and Alec pats him on the back and gives Cassandra a sort of look.

"Perhaps some books on necromancy." she says, grudgingly, and Dorian rubs his eyes and grins, all back to happy again, sun after the storm passes.

"With skulls on? They have to have skulls on." he says, and peppers her with facts about skulls and things with skulls on as they walk back, interspersed with comments on how nice Alec is (although no apologies for insulting her) and how making dead things explode on purpose would be awesome.

Unfortunately, they don't get back to Cassandra's rooms before Lady Pavus finds them. She looks over the two of them-- dusty and dirty and Dorian with rat guts on his boots-- and frowns. "What have you been dragging my son into, you foolish girl?"

You're the one who dumped your demonspawn on me in the first place, and you're welcome, Cassandra thinks, but only says "We merely visited the training grounds, Lady Pavus." , as politely as she can manage. "I assure you, no harm has come to him."

"I pity your poor aunt." Lady Pavus says, looking Cassandra over now with a disapproving frown. "The only thing worse than a woman who does not know her place is a woman who fails to live up to it."

"Stop being mean to Cassandra!" Dorian says. "I wanted to go." What has suddenly inspired him to decide they're on the same side, she's not sure, but she's slightly grateful because it's a distraction from the anger roiling in her belly. Women like Dorian's mother always look at her that way, as if there's something wrong with having faith, and purpose, and not wanting to wear clothes you couldn't possibly fight in if blood mages turned up on your doorstep.

"I am quite sure." Lady Pavus says. "And I will be dealing with you in due time, young man. That does not mean that this girl has the right to take my son off a-mingling with common soperati. Look at the mess you're in!"

"If you try to punish Cassandra I'll tell Father what you said about Uncle Cassius." Dorian threatens, and then adds in a sing-song voice "Father, what's a cinaedus?"

Whatever it is, it makes Lady Pavus blink and then frown at her son. "Dorian--"

"Besides," Dorian adds, obviously seeing his advantage and pressing it, "Father says that a mage should be strong in mind and body, and that a man musn't be afraid to get his hands dirty, and--"

"Yes, thank you." Lady Pavus says, with a sigh. "I do not need to be reminded of the many opinions of Halward Pavus, Dorian. I hear them quite often enough as it is." To Cassandra, she says, merely. "I suggest you find a servant and see that he is clean for supper.", and then turns on her heel and leaves them, as if she considers the matter over.

Dorian watches her go-- retreat, really. "Do your parents hate each other?"

"My parents are dead."

"Oh." He looks like he's thinking that one over, for a moment. "Father would have let me go to the training grounds, you know. Father lets me do nearly anything. Father is the strongest mage in Qarinus, maybe in all of Tevinter, probably in the whole world. I'll be stronger when I'm grown up, though."

"When you're Archon?" Cassandra asks. Maybe if she humours him he'll go for a bath quietly. "I'll be able to tell people I once met the ruler of all Tevinter." Privately, she thinks she will be speaking to nobody ever of anything that happens between her meeting Dorian and his mother dragging him back to Tevinter where he belongs.

Dorian nods. "You're not so bad, I suppose. I don't mind if you want to tell people you know me." He says it as if bestowing a great honour. "I want my bath now, but I don't want it to smell funny. Tell them not to make it smell funny. Are there baths in Nevarra with skulls on? Are there baths in Nevarra which are made of skulls? Do you reckon you could make a bath out of a really big skull, like a dragon skull or something?"

Three days Cassandra reminds herself. They're only staying for three days, and then you'll never have to see him again.

"Are you even listening to me? I'll set your stupid kissing books on fire."