[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody in Ass Major – Chapter 194
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Anton Hawke ♂, Isabela ♀, Serendipity ⚧
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V0 D1)
Warnings: Racism, transphobia, cheating at cards
Notes: Anton’s got to make a living somehow! Lord Dog plays cards with his ladyfriends and some unfortunate Orlesians.
Anton had been watching Narcisse, all night. The woman was his real opponent, of the three Orlesians at the table. The mask kept her face hidden, and her offhand comments kept the other two Orlesians off balance. Her wins nearly equalled Anton’s own, but the real concern was that Serendipity couldn’t beat her. Hand after hand, even if they both lost, Narcisse would have the better hand. Anton hadn’t had trouble like this since the last time he’d played Isabela for real stakes. Still, four hours in, she was his only real competition.
"Kirkwall…" Narcisse tapped her porcelain cheek. "Léonide, doesn’t your cousin have a business venture near here, with some …" She cleared her throat. "Fereldan lord?"
"I wouldn’t know," Léonide insisted, reaching for his drink again — something exotic with too many fruits around the edge. "Mother says we had cousins, once, but no longer. They’re of no concern, wherever they may have ended." But, he knew exactly which cousin and exactly which venture. Hubert had appealed to the still-noble branches of the family for assistance, when he’d originally bid on that mine. That investment would have been worth a great deal, monetarily, by now, if anyone could stand the shame of it.
Anton and Isabela exchanged a look. They maintained their expressions of polite interest but knew they were thinking the same thing: the stakes had just gotten higher.
As Isabela dealt a new hand, Anton smiled and made small-talk. "By the way, my lady, that is a striking mask," he told Narcisse.
Narcisse touched the edge of her mask with a gloved finger. ‘Striking’ was certainly one word for it, the way it swept up over her head like the wings of a bird. "You have good taste, monsieur," she said, eyes on Izzy’s hands as they flit about the table. "I had it commissioned the last time I was in Halamshiral."
"And her face was much improved by it," muttered Gaston as he gathered up his cards. Even through the mask, he could feel the chill of her glare.
"Halamshiral? You’ve been?" Anton smiled easily, as he picked up his cards. "I heard it was a lovely place, before the Orlesian occupation. How’s it looking these days?"
"Oh, you know, as lovely as all of Orlais, but so very full of elves. Never a shortage of servants, I suppose, but it honestly seems excessive." Narcisse cast a few coins into the centre of the table, landing them precisely. Not a one spun or rolled.
"An excess of elves?" Serendipity drawled, tossing one of her rings into the pot. "Goodness, what a dreadful thing! It might actually begin to look like civilisation. I can’t possibly imagine."
"Control your whore, Lord Dog. One might begin to suspect he was never told the Maker didn’t give him a mouth for speaking." Narcisse watched the cards and the bets, paying no further mind to Serendipity’s presence.
"Both my ladyfriends have an abundance of talents of the lips and tongues, and both are, as all children of the Maker, given to speaking with those lovely appendages. And both, as freewomen of the City of Kirkwall, have every right to air their judgement in public. Particularly in this building, which I may have neglected to mention belongs to me. Any further questions about the rights and privileges of those present at the table?" Anton’s smile was very subtly impolite, as he rearranged his hand and drew. "No? Excellent. Let’s carry on, then."
The table fell stonily silent except for the creak of the chairs and the hush of cards sliding against each other. Anton didn’t need to look up to know Serendipity was smiling that small, pleased smile of hers.
Léonide drew after Anton, and it was almost sad how easy his disappointment was to read as he looked at the new card. He changed the subject as though nothing had happened. "So what else does one do for entertainment around here?" he asked. "Our visit so far has been dreadfully dull."
"Dreadfully dull?" Isabela asked sweetly. "I think I can relate."
"Angel of Death!" Serendipity declared before anyone could reply. Gaston swore under his breath.
Anton spread his cards on the table. "Four Angels." His hand remained against the bottom of the cards.
Isabela shook her head. "Two Songs, two Serpents." She smiled down at the cards, as if they were in some way better than Anton’s.
Gaston just threw his cards on the table, without a word, and Léonide did the same. Serendipity laid out her cards, but they weren’t good. Three Daggers and a Song.
"Four Knights," Narcisse declared, spreading her hand. "It appears we have a draw, Dog."
"Another hand, then. Just the two of us?" Anton suggested. "Winner takes all." He removed the heavy golden cuff from his right wrist and set it on the table. "I think that would be fair."
Narcisse didn’t smile, didn’t react at all. "Yes, it would," she said blithely, setting another pile of coins on the table. "I’ll deal."
"Be my guest," Anton said, gathering up the cards at his end of the table and handing them to her. Gaston grumbled more Orlesian into his drink, while the others sat back to watch.
And Anton watched too as she dealt, not her masked face but her hands. Even with the gloves, they were quick and graceful, like a musician’s. Anton swept up his cards, fanned them out in his hands. A mediocre hand to start with, but he’d expected as much.
Anton drew first, his face a mask of polite calm, and ducked the Serpent he drew next to the one he’d been dealt.
Serendipity watched Narcisse’s hands, scratching a quick assessment against the side of Anton’s thigh. "Perhaps you’d play better without the distraction of your whores ogling your sausage-wrapped bosom."
"I left my whores back at the brothel, where they belong. Prostitutes and business don’t mix." There was a flash of a fifth card in Narcisse’s hand and Anton traced a pattern against the table with one of the coins in front of him.
"One of these strapping gentlemen is your son, isn’t he?" Isabela asked, batting her eyes at Gaston.
"Mmm, and his charming young friend." Who was, with that inflection, anything but.
"Your son?" Serendipity asked, eyes darting between Gaston and Narcisse, pointedly. "You could have fooled me. I was certain I’d only seen looks like that at work."
Anton spun a sovereign into the pot, eyebrows raised in challenge, even as his eyes never left his cards.
"Looks of what?" Gaston sneered. "Derision?"
"Mm, I imagine you would get those kinds of looks at work," Narcisse said. She laid another coin on the table, a sovereign to match Anton’s.
"You’re welcome to believe what you like, sweetie," Serendipity replied, her smile wide and unfriendly. "Whatever helps you sleep at night with whatever you have under that mask."
Narcisse’s hand paused for the barest fraction of a second as she plucked up another card. Isabela’s foot tapped against Anton’s ankle three turns. Anton tossed another pair of sovereigns into the pot.
"Have you, perhaps, considered wearing one, whore?" Narcisse replied. "You might do better business." She matched Anton’s bet, and the game continued.
"Ah, perhaps that would save on the exhaustion of the wrist from waving off the unworthy and the poor. A little mystery might drive off those unwilling to take a chance, who might otherwise have been drawn in by my delightful features." Serendipity smiled easily. "Perhaps I’ll try it. I could use that wrist for better things."
Léonide barely avoided choking on his drink, as Serendipity’s toes slid up under the leg of his trousers.
"What about you, young and … charming? You look handsome, rich, and daring." Serendipity went on, chattering like a magpie, layering on the flirtations as she watched cards and coin move across the table.
Anton drew two cards, instead of one, and the second disappeared into his sleeve. He held the Angel. The game would end when he wanted it to. The third Serpent went next to the other two, and he discarded the Knight, as he bet again.
Léonide looked as much in danger of choking on his tongue as choking on his drink. He squirmed a bit away from Serendipity, leg pulling away from her toes. "I… don’t think a mask would suit you," he said, prompting an eye-roll from Narcisse.
"Oh, really?" Serendipity purred, shifting closer again. "You don’t think I should cover my face then? No ‘aura of mystery’ for you? Just my naked skin?"
Léonide tugged at his collar.
The pile of coins grew higher in little towers of gold as the deck shrank. Anton was beginning to wonder if she had the other Serpent, and he knew he’d have to lay down the Angel before the deck disappeared. His eyes met Narcisse’s over their hands, and he smiled sweetly, tossing one more coin into the mix.
"The Angel of Death!" Narcisse crowed, hand flicking a card onto the table.
"That’s very interesting." Anton’s smile could have frozen a salt lake. He reached out and picked up the remaining cards, his Angel — actually from this deck — sliding back into place as he spread the deck across the table. "Two Angels of Death in this deck… Who would have thought it?"
"How— How would you know?" Gaston sputtered. "You must have been cheating!"
"Of course I was," Anton admitted. "I stacked the deck. I knew exactly where that card would be, which means that isn’t it, and this is."
"So you admit to cheating!" Narcisse crowed.
"I do," Anton said, still with that chilling smile. "I stacked the deck so I could catch you cheating, as I suspect you’ve been doing all night."
"You dare accuse—" Gaston said, half-rising out of his seat, thick neck red with pique.
"That wasn’t an accusation," Anton replied, folding his hands on the table. He knew Isabela had one hand on a knife already. "Merely a statement of fact. Or do you want to convince me this wasn’t cheating?" He gestured at the two Angels of Death. "Because, please, I would so love to hear your argument, monsieur."
Léonide was quick to interject. "They are Fereldan! What were you trying to prove?"
"I’m not Fereldan," Serendipity pointed out.
"Rivaini," Isabela volunteered. "But, he’s Fereldan, our Lord Dog is."
"It was in the way you moved the cards," Anton said, leaning back. "Five cards in a four card hand? A high hand every round? The way one other exceptional player at this table could never draw more than a middling hand by the end of a round? No, that’s not just luck, and this is the proof."
"And I’m just to trust this second card didn’t make an appearance when you picked up the deck?" Narcisse sounded outraged.
Isabela took both Angels and flipped them over, keeping them far apart on the table. "Your Angel. Lord Dog’s Angel." She drew another card and placed it face down between them. "It’s close, but it’s not the same deck."
"Preposterous," Narcisse sniffed. "I have never been so insulted—"
"And yet I guarantee you you are not half as insulted as I am," Anton said, and that smile was finally gone. "I welcome you into my establishment. You insult my friends. You insult my home. And now you insult me by trying to swindle me and thinking I wouldn’t notice." Narcisse opened her mouth to speak, but Anton continued, addressing his next question to Serendipity. "How sad is it that a trio of so-called noblemen stoop to these levels?"
"Terribly sad," Serendipity replied, shaking her head. She reached across the table to put her hand on Narcisse’s arm. "Are you having trouble financially?" she asked, all concern. "If you need help, you could have just asked." Narcisse wrenched her arm away.
"Don’t touch me, whore," Narcisse hissed.
"A terrible thing when the prostitutes have better manners than the nobility, but I so frequently find that to be the case." Isabela smiled a little too sweetly. "Royalty, on the other hand, is a whole other matter."
"What matter are the manners of self-proclaimed queens?" Gaston inquired, chin still held high. "Just another of this doglord’s whores, in the end."
"You sailed out of Val Royeaux, didn’t you?" Isabela asked. "Good luck sailing back in."
"Oh, indeed," Serendipity chimed in. "It’s pirate season. You might consider going overland, at a time like this."
"Ah, but overland, you’ve got the Carta. Nothing’s safe, these days!" Anton sighed. "But that the world were a kinder, more polite place, and there were no need for the like of me, to uncover its grotesque underbelly." He smiled and claimed the coins in the centre of the table. "But, alas, it’s not, and here I am. And you cheated, so the house takes the pot. Merelinde?"
An elegantly dressed elven woman appeared at his side. "We are a table of cheats, this evening. Get the bucket."
"But—!" Narcisse sputtered, gloved hands making an aborted move for her coins. Anton’s coins. "But you cheated too! This is—! You can’t just—!"
"Mère, let it go," Gaston said, eyeing Isabela and the knife she was now using to clean under her fingernails. "I told you we shouldn’t play with dog-lords."
"That’s Lord Dog," Anton reminded him as he took the bucket from Merelinde. He thanked her and started sweeping away his winnings. "And what you shouldn’t play with is this." He plucked up the second Angel of Death — Narcisse’s — and dropped it in front of her. "But thank you for your patronage."