[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody in Ass Major – Chapter 227
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Merrill ♀, Varric ♂, Carver Hawke ♂, Cullen ♂, Keran ♂, Meredith ♀, Bethany Hawke ♀, Sebastian ♂, Aveline ♀
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V0 D0)
Warnings: Politics, scandal
Notes: Opinions are like assholes. Everybody’s got one, and some of them are more foul and dangerous than others.
Carver came in to find Varric talking to Merrill, beside that blighted — well, not literally blighted, any more — mirror, and he hung back a bit, to see what he’d walked into.
"Come on, Daisy, you’ve been holed up in here, for days! If you don’t get some sunshine, you’ll wilt!" Varric seemed concerned, and if what he was saying was true — which Carver couldn’t verify, having not been home all week — he had a right to be.
"I’m not a plant, Varric. I’m fine." Merrill’s eyes never left the glass, murky as it was.
"Just take a walk around the Lowtown market. Get some air, and I’ll stop bothering you," Varric coaxed, offering some immediate returns on her actions. He’d found that usually helped people make up their minds, usually in his favour.
"I… know you mean well, but I have too much to do, right now," Merrill replied, calm, but intent — a woman with a plan.
Shaking his head, Carver opened the door again and kicked it shut, like he usually did.
"I’ll let you talk some sense into her, Junior." Varric shrugged, patting Carver’s shoulder as he headed for the door. He’d tried, but… some things were better left to those closer to the problem — which Carver was, and would always be, Maker willing.
Carver waited until the door had closed behind Varric. "The dwarf bothering you?" he asked, stepping in front of the mirror next to Merrill. He still found the thing creepy as shit, the way shadows played across it, without it reflecting the pair of them.
Merrill brightened when she saw Carver, ears tilting up at the same angle as her smile. "Oh, of course not," she said. "Varric is… very sweet. Frequently infuriating and a terrible busybody, but sweet."
"Well, I won’t argue with the busybody part."
Merrill chuckled, stretching to her tiptoes to kiss Carver. "I’m glad you’re here," she said, and this close Carver could better see what Varric likely had: pale cheeks and dark shadows under her eyes. "I was worried they had you scrubbing toilets again. There’ll be nothing left of them by the time you’re done, and then what will the templars do?"
"Shit on their shoes, Maker willing," Carver sighed. "They deserve it, the lot of them. You all right, dear heart? You look a little…" He shrugged. So many words could be accurate, there. "You’re dark in the eyes."
"In the market, the other day, out of the corner of my eye… I thought I saw Tamlen. I blinked, and he was gone." Merrill stepped away, distractedly, to sit on the edge of the bed, eyes hollow and sadness plain on her cheeks. "I don’t know what it means. Maybe nothing. Maybe I’m going mad. I miss them all. Even the Keeper."
"I’m sure the Keeper would like to see you again," Carver suggested, kneeling by Merrill’s feet and taking her hands in his.
"I’m sure she would. She loves to lecture. I’m sure her new First appreciates that." Shaking her head, Merrill looked down at Carver, lost and unsurprisingly betrayed. "I wish I could have seen… It doesn’t matter. I’m here, now."
Merrill ran a hand through Carver’s hair, palm moulding to his cheek. Some of the hollowness left her cheeks when she smiled down at him. Sucking in a breath, she pushed to her feet and tugged him up after her. "Maybe Varric was right," she said cheerfully. "Shall we go out for a bit? I could use some sunshine."
Carver slipped his hand into hers. "Lunch?" he suggested. "Anywhere but the Hanged Man."
"As some of you are aware," Knight-Commander Meredith began, gazing out across the crowd of plated men below her in the courtyard, "there is a publication passing itself off as the current events of this city, by name, the Kirkwall Weekly Gazette. However, the filth put forth in this rag is of the vilest nature, both inappropriately pornographic blather and outright lies about this city’s relationship to magic!"
Cullen scanned the faces below, looking for one, in particular. Two, if he was a little more honest with himself. Three, if he were a little more honest than Anton. The first was easy, given the height of the gentleman in question, and he caught Carver’s eye with a quick tilt of his head, before rolling his eyes expressively enough to be seen at that distance. He watched the corner of Carver’s mouth tip up in acknowledgement.
"This putrescent publication must be removed from the streets of Kirkwall, as it is an offence both to the Maker and to every resident of the Gallows! It smears the name of the Order in unspeakable and intolerable ways!" Meredith squinted across the assembled templars, looking for any sign of dissent.
Oh, there was Keran. Cullen cocked his head sympathetically at the young knight, getting a heaved sigh in return, as soon as the Knight-Commander’s eyes had passed.
"It is your duty as members of the Order," Meredith said, voice ringing through the courtyard and echoing beyond it, "to find out who is responsible for this rag of lies and to bring them to justice!" She thumped a clenched fist against her palm, the clang of metal chasing her echoing words. "This is the work of mage sympathisers, possibly the link to the mage underground we’ve been looking for! Now is the time to be vigilant!"
Carver yawned into his fist. Cullen continued scanning the crowd but didn’t see the third face he was looking for. Good. He doubted Anton could have done anything but laugh at this speech, and Cullen didn’t want to clean up that mess.
Meredith prattled on about doing the Maker’s work, for a bit longer, which Cullen was sure was intended to be inspirational, but he was finding it increasingly difficult to be inspired on four hours of sleep, while wearing platemail in the midday sun. Still, he jerked to attention, when his name was mentioned.
"…and bring any reports on the matter to the attention of Captain Cullen," Meredith concluded, before leading the assembled knights in a prayer, and then vanishing back into her office.
Cullen fumed, silently, through the entire prayer. ‘The work of three people,’ Anton had said, and now, more. He wondered if the Commander was trying to kill him, or if this was just some absurd test of his capabilities. As the templars filtered back to what they’d meant to be doing, at that hour, Cullen tried to catch up with Keran, spotting him, finally, coming up the stairs.
"I require your assistance, Ser Keran," Cullen admitted. "Walk with me. I do not wish to discuss the issue in public."
"As you wish, Captain." Keran fell in just behind Cullen, to the left, and tried to keep his curiosity off his face.
Cullen walked a bit before speaking, waiting until they were inside and their steps were the only ones that echoed down the hall. "You’ve come a long way, Keran," he said. "A long way from that… mess with the blood mages, however many years ago that was." Before he’d met his husband at any rate, and it’s odd now to think that there was a time ‘before Anton’.
"Not my favourite moment, Captain," Keran replied wryly.
"You’ve shown much promise."
"Thank you, Captain."
"And you’ve been a great help to me."
"Thank you, Captain."
Cullen slowed his steps enough that Keran walked beside instead of behind him. "Ser Keran," said Cullen, "I find myself in need of an assistant. How would you like a promotion?"
He almost felt bad for couching it in those terms, especially when he saw how devotedly grateful Keran was. The poor sod had no idea what he was signing up for.
"Bethany should do it. Kirkwall needs a viscount," Sebastian insisted, watching the flickering light of the devotional candles dance across Aveline’s face.
"Have you asked her if she even wants that?" Aveline asked, looking a bit less than wholly thrilled with the idea. Certainly Bethany could do the job, but Aveline had some doubts that Kirkwall was ready for a mage in a strong political position — perhaps especially one with such Orlesian methods.
"I watched my parents in Starkhaven. When times are good, the city rules itself. Years could pass, and no one would notice who’s prince. But, when there’s famine, when there’s war, people look to their leaders." Sebastian’s eyes gleamed. "Who does Kirkwall have, beyond the Hawkes? And, of them, who could carry the city besides Bethany?"
Aveline gave up, shaking her head, as Bethany approached. "This is probably a conversation for the two of you to have," she said, passing between the two of them, as she headed for the stairs. The Hawkes were fortunate, but she wasn’t sure any of them was skilled in the ways Kirkwall needed in a viscount. And for all that Bethany might be, of all of them, Aveline doubted her motives. It wasn’t that Bethany wasn’t a wonderful friend, but anyone who could do the things Bethany did had no business ruling a city. Even Tevinter, she was sure, would manage objections.
"You want me to be viscount?" Bethany asked, skirts swishing quietly around her legs, as she swept up to Sebastian, amusement clear in her voice and disbelief on her face.
Sebastian looked uncertain, like a child caught digging for treasure in the vegetable garden. "Andraste said the Maker is king in the heavens," he started, recovering his poise and pride, as he paced, "but it is the kings of Thedas who must recreate his worldly glory. I keep thinking about that. Who better serves the Maker? A brother of the faith or a prince who can sway a whole city?"
"Everyone serves the Maker in their own way," Bethany replied diplomatically. "But… a prince — a good prince — also serves the people and can help them to better serve the Maker."
Sebastian searched her face as she spoke, blue eyes looking for an answer in hers. He resumed his pacing in front of the pulpit. "Elthina is risking her life by not deserting her flock," he said, brows pulling up and together in an upside-down ‘v’. "Could I do the same?"
Bethany stilled his pacing with a light touch, a hand on his. "You wouldn’t be doing it alone," she reminded him. The corners of her eyes crinkled in a mischievous smile as she added, "I’ll protect you."
Sebastian laughed nervously. "I have no doubt you could," he said, eyeing the spear she held in one hand. She wielded it as much like a fashion accessory as a weapon. "You mean the world to me. I couldn’t have gotten through this time without you."
"Oh, don’t be a fool, Sebastian. You certainly would have. You’d just have made a dreadful fool of yourself, along the way." Bethany laughed and tugged at a bit of hair behind Sebastian’s ear. "Do you mean to stay with the Chantry, then, or take on Starkhaven? The Chantry’s got a system that’s held it up for centuries, but Starkhaven … without a real prince, without a power on the throne, can it survive what’s coming? Is your cousin going to be enough to hold the city, if the Qunari come back on the Marches?"
"No, I don’t suppose he will be." Sebastian shook his head and gazed out across the carpet that stretched to the door, below them. "I have to do it, don’t I? My duty to the Maker is to protect His people, to accept the responsibilities left behind by those who laughed me off, as a child. It’s not that they didn’t love me, it’s just they never thought I’d rule. And they could be right, or I could step up and take this on."
"You’ll do a fine job of it, Sebastian. You’ll bring peace and honour to your city." Bethany smiled and linked her arm with his.
"Kirkwall is my city," Sebastian pointed out.
"No, pumpkin, Kirkwall is my city." Bethany smiled. "You’re the one who wants to see me viscount."
"I do, but I worry about the Chantry, about Elthina, if I go…" Trailing off, Sebastian looked over his shoulder at the statue of Andraste that rose on the other end of the balcony. "The mages rebel, there’s dangerous magic in the streets — and there have already been threats on Elthina’s life."
"You do recall that I am what the rebels wish for themselves, do you not? What’s wrong with me?" Bethany asked, wholly unoffended by the implications. "What’s wrong with other people getting the same opportunity to live and love and serve their community?"
"It’s not you I’m worried about. It’s your brother — it’s Anders. Have you read what he writes? Have you seen how Cormac stands by him, no matter how far he pushes?" Sebastian shook his head and studied Bethany’s face. "It’s you I worry for as much as Elthina. What will they bring down on your house? He goes too far, and he drags your family name down with him."
"I think you’ll find our family name doesn’t let itself be dragged anywhere it doesn’t want to go," Bethany said, still unoffended and unaffected by Sebastian’s words. "Anders is a friend. A friend with strong opinions, sure, but one who has saved my life on countless occasions." Her expression turned wry, one shoulder shrugging higher than the other. "Welcome to the world of politics, love. You can’t just silence those who disagree with you. Perhaps you should bring your concerns to him? I think you’ll find he’s much more reasonable than you believe."
Sebastian shook his head, more frustrated than swayed. "It’s not about him disagreeing with me or with the Chantry," he murmured. "It’s about the lengths he’ll go. I am familiar with such politics, love. And where it landed my family."
"It’s just Anders," she assured him with another squeeze of his hand.