Josephine was the one to wake them all in the morning, her kind accented voice echoing through the camp. Athena groaned, gripping onto the wolf bone necklace that had become her piece of security in her sleep. She rubbed her cheek on his arm, trying to shake remnants of the Fade from her eyes and mind. Solas took in a sharp breath as he roused from sleep, pressing a soft kiss of greeting on her forehead while tightening his arms around her one last time. With regret in her heart, she sat up from his embrace, looking down to see that thankfully her bindings were still in place and there was enough light to see her chest of clothes near the front of the tent. These tents were larger than the typical ones for camping. Rathein and the Inner Council had packed cots off of the ground to sleep in but Athena didn’t think that far ahead.
She crawled a few paces to the chest, throwing it open with a groan. There was a halter collared top of magnificent greens and whites on top. Underneath were black pants with a matching green stripe up the thighs with slit skirts to flow on top. She placed the objects on top of the chest, standing up while summoning up the patience that would be required for that day. Josephine said she would need to ride in the carriages today but Athena refused. She could get in the boxes when they were close enough to Gaspard’s estate. Prince would not be tied up to pull their belongings like a pack mule. With a crack of her neck she looked over her shoulder and saw that Solas was getting dressed for the day as well. The others weren’t required to put on a character like she so their basic day to day clothes worked.
For a moment, she was jealous of them.
“Shit I don’t even know if I can wear my bandings with this thing.” She held up the garment and looked at the window of cleavage in the front, showing it to the elf with an exasperated expression. He looked to it and smirked, shaking his head while his hands clasped his chest shut.
“Are you going to be able to do the lacings by yourself?” He asked and she already knew the answer from the teasing in his tone. Athena walked over to him and swatted at him with the fabric in her hands, winking at him in a tease.
“You are just trying to sneak a peek. I see through you, Solas.” This brought a laugh from his lips and the sound warmed her heart, a faint blush of adoration coloring her cheeks. He walked over to her and rested his hands on her hips, thumbs brushing against the bare skin of her waist on the line above her small clothes.
“You are beautiful, Athena. I will not steal looks at what you do not wish me to see.” There was flirtation and sincerity in his voice, his gaze keeping on hers instead of traveling down her skin in a gesture of respect. She smiled turning around while sliding on the medieval torture piece of clothing. Once it was over her head and in a place where her breasts were covered, she undid the tightly tucked fabric at the side and pulled out the bandings from the front. At the sight of how much Vivienne wanted her exposed she groaned, rolling her eyes and throwing the bandings to the ground. Solas chuckled behind her, stepping forward and taking the strings into his hands. He did small tugs to pull on the corset, looking for any signs of discomfort in her face before moving down to the next row. There was a subtle expertise in his movements and it caused her to arch a brow.
“Exactly how many corsets have you put on, Solas?” She felt his fingers stumble for a moment before he found his rhythm again. Athena glanced over her shoulder and saw a slight blush of embarrassment on his cheeks.
“It is a basic process. There are some mage boots and harnesses that require the same threading.” His voice was calm and cadenced like he was giving a lecture. She smirked, returning to face the front again with her arms resting by her side.
“Quick recovery, hahren.” The subtle jab at his age brought another chuckle from him. He quickly tied a small bow at the top of the laces and then rested his hands on top of her shoulders, leaning forward and kissing her cheek.
“Is that too tight?” She looked down, twisting her body in each direction before shaking her head. The pants were easy to slip on and before long she was fully dressed. There was a small hand mirror in the side of her chest so she combed her fingers with her hair until the waves and subtle curls behaved. The pair looked to each other with a smirk on the corners of their lips before exiting the tent. The camp was already in full activity by the time they arrived. Dorian and Blackwall were trying to fit in a quick game of Diamondback while the ladies were discussing the carriage order and assigned who would sit where. The moment they left the tent some of the Inquisition soldiers collapsed the rent and began running things to the horses.
Kain was asleep by Dorian, basking in the sun’s glow. Athena sent out a pulse of magic and both the Tevinter and the wolf looked over with curious gazes. The black-furred companion came to her side, pressing his nose against her palm until she could lean down within reach of his kisses and whines. “Have a good hunt, my heart?” She asked her friend, the wolf nodded and leaned his head into her touch one more time before returning to his napping place by the fire.
Josephine walked over with her clipboard in hand, an uneasy expression on her face. Athena watched the Ambassador’s eyes follow Kain around the camp and she chuckled. “I’m not bringing him to Halamshiral with me. Do not worry, Josephine. He can either stay with the soldiers or sleep in my carriage until I return.”
The woman visible relaxed, making a small note on her scroll. “Thank Andraste.” She then turned around to everyone and announced for them to get ready. There were a series of grunts and groans but eventually everyone fell into place in their carriages from the day before. Solas gave her a final kiss on the cheek before joining Dorian. To tease, the Tevinter ran over and kissed Athena on her other cheek before shutting the carriage door. Already Athena could feel their magic having a battle of egos and she rolled her eyes.
“Are you not getting into a carriage, Athena?” Cassandra was one of the last ones to prepare. The soldier looked like her armor was freshly polished and the braid across her head was tight; she must have hated these types of things as much as her.
“Not until I have to. I want to be. . . .me for as long as possible.” The Seeker smiled, crossing her arms over her chest while looking at the carriages, horses, and the soldiers.
“I understand. I always preferred the life of a warrior compared to a noble woman’s. These pleasantries and dresses; they are a waste of time. Enjoy your ride while you can, Athena. I will see you once we get to the Estate.” Cassandra touched the top of Athena’s arm before joining Leliana in their assigned place. Josephine rolled her eyes at her, sticking her head out of the window to call out: “When you do decide to join us, you will be with the Inner Council at the front with Commander Cullen.” The Ambassador then shut the window and Athena felt free to walk over and load onto Prince.
The saddle was warm from the sunrise and there was an inviting wind on the horizon. Without waiting for another cue: they rode.
When the time came to get in the carriage Athena was already unhappy. There were more and more people in masks on the road the farther they got into Orlais. They were passing different vendors, farmers, and diplomats that were on their way to the grand ball in Halamshiral and it just intensified the feeling of dread pitting itself within her shoulders and stomach. Prince could feel it as well. When she slid from his saddle he made a point to press his forehead to his, urging the word Safe into her head. Athena patted the side of his neck, straightening out her shirt before dipping into the seat across from the Commander, who was reading a list of soldiers by candlelight.
“Working hard I see, Commander?”
She sat with a straight posture that would make Vivienne proud with her hands in her lap, trying to desperately conform to the image of a proper lady before she got in front of the Grand Duke Gaspard. Normally she did not have a good poker face but it would be vital to keep it straight during their first impressions. The blonde-haired solder smirked, showing her the list of soldiers with an arched brow.
“It’s never ending. These are my men I have chosen to be part of our forces for the evening. They departed from Skyhold the evening after we left so they won’t be arriving until the morning.”
Her eyes glossed over the names of the soldiers and she smiled when she saw Loranil’s name on the list. Athena pointed to him, looking up to Cullen. “He’s good. We’re going to need him. I would have him around the empty carriages that Josephine is bringing.”
Cullen’s instantly turned to one of curiosity. He leaned back in his chair, resting his arm up on the top of the seat. “I meant to ask you about that. Why are doing that? It seems like a waste of resources.”
She controlled her sneer, sitting tall while rolling her shoulders back. “Fine. I will tell you. There are those at Halamshiral that would rather serve the Inquisition than Orlais. We can provide safety to those who have been scorned by people who have sworn to protect them.”
He shrugged, looking over the list once more. There was an awkward silence between the two and Athena reached forward, snatching the list from his hands and putting it at her side. He reached for it then frowned, sitting back in defeat. “We need to prepare, Lady Athena.”
She scoffed. “Don’t get formal with me. You work too hard and I would like to spend some time talking about things other than Orlais until we get there and I’m shoved into a tiny box with a mask.” There was obvious frustration in her voice and that caused him to relax with a sigh, gesturing towards her with a flicker of annoyance.
“Fine then. What would you like to talk about?”
Athena paused, biting on the skin on the inside of her cheek before smiling with a wicked grin. “You have to tell me. When did you kiss an elf?”
“Maker - !”
They arrived at the front of Gaspard’s estate hours later after many probing conversations of past lovers and his training in the Templar order. If it was a drinking game to get him to blush, she would have been sloshed when the Orlesian servants opened their carriage doors. The Inquisition filed out from their cramped places and stretched, trying to get the grime out of their eyes before the messenger arrived and spoke to Rathein.
“The Grand Duke Gaspard du Chalons has requested your attendance at dinner. While we dine we will unload your belongings into your respective rooms.”
Rathein paused, looking to the rest of the group with an uneasy expression. “Do we not have time to prepare? It has been a long day of riding and I can speak for my team when I say we would love a chance to be at our best selves for our gracious host.” Athena stilled herself, reigning in her annoyance while slowly making her way to where the Inquisitor was standing.
The messenger did not pause. “Because of the early rise for the ball tomorrow, there isn’t much time, Inquisitor. Apologies.” He turned on his perfectly polished heel and walked into the estate with other servants on his heels. Josephine sighed, scratching the back of her head while Athena rolled her eyes.
“He wishes to catch us off guard and assert his dominance early.”
The Nightingale confirmed her theory with a nod and then Rathein and Athena shared a look of mischief. If he was already starting the mind games it would make their plans for the next night that much better. She looked down to her clothes, smoothing out her skirts and readjusting her corset to have the perfect window of cleavage that wasn’t too akin to a harlot but also not too close to the Divine. “We can’t let that happen, Rathein. Are you ready?”
The Inquisitor nodded, gesturing to the inner party. Before they all went inside she walked to Solas’s side, glancing around subtly before hanging her hand next to his, allowing them to brush for a moment before they would have to stay silent about their affections. There was something about the mystery, the secret of it all that gave her a small bit of excitement. But their relationship was so new that excitement was overshadowed by the dread of having to not touch him for the next day. He must have felt the same because he allowed their hands to brush again, his eyes flicking over to meet hers before he smirked and clasped his hands behind his back in the pose that was all too familiar to her.
Athena took in a deep breath, rolled back her shoulders, and took long confident strides to meet up with the Inner Council before entering the estate.