[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody in Ass Major – Chapter 295
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Cullen ♂, Keran ♂, Ella ♀, Varric ♂
Rating: M (L3 N0 S0 V0 D0)
Warnings: Implied sexual abuse, threats of Tranquility
Notes: A time for changes and moving forward. Cullen’s allegiances are shifting. Varric has a need for literate and witty assistants.
Keran closed the door behind him. No one needed to overhear what he was about to say, and he didn’t speak until he’d crossed the room, which caught Cullen’s attention, entirely. Keran was usually quick to speak, these days, and this was unusual.
"What’s happened?" Cullen asked, blotting the last lines of the report he was writing.
"It’s Ella," Keran said, quietly. "She’s been threatened with Tranquility."
Cullen opened his mouth, but Keran held up a hand.
"Understand that if she has gone over, I will see her handled, but I want to know why someone’s pushing for it. She’s already Harrowed — was before she got here — so Tranquility shouldn’t even be an option." Keran was familiar with how far off the course of Chantry law the Gallows had gotten, and he was willing to see things done by the law, if need be, but not really against it.
"You would see her killed, rather than made Tranquil? Possibly sent to Aeonar?" Cullen asked, eyes hard.
"I would. For all that I doubt that she is dangerous to need it, I would stand by that, if that were the case." Keran’s fingers clutched at the edge of Cullen’s desk, and Cullen knew this would destroy Keran, if it had to be done, just as he knew the young man would do as he said. He’d been the same, once.
"I’ll pull the records. Bring her here. If anyone asks, I’m looking into the complaints," Cullen said, making up his mind, as he rose from his chair. "We’ll find out what’s going on."
"Thank you, Captain," Keran said, ducking his head in relief.
The next time he appeared in Cullen’s doorway, it was with Ella at his side, standing closer, perhaps, than a templar and a mage should have been, in public. But Cullen was not about to berate them now, not when Ella was a trembling, fidgety mess.
"Good afternoon, Captain," she said cordially, wringing her hands, as Keran closed the door behind them both.
Leaning his elbows on his desk, Cullen spoke gently. "Ella, can you tell me what happened? Keran has told me a little, but I’d like to know the details." He gestured for Ella to take a seat. She sat for all of five seconds before getting back up to pace.
"It doesn’t make sense," she said, voice shaking. "I’ve been Harrowed! After Alrik was gone, I thought…" She shook her head despairingly. "But it’s the same as it was before. Maybe worse."
Keran squeezed her shoulder and folded her under his arm.
"Let’s start with the easy part. Who’s giving you trouble?" Cullen asked. He’d gone through the records and found that Ella hadn’t been causing problems until the latest report from Lieutenant Denis, who seemed to suggest she was harbouring ‘dangerous philosophies’, refused to follow orders, and encouraged others to do the same.
"Ser Vartan and Ser Denis," Ella said, quietly, studying the edge of Cullen’s desk. "I shouldn’t have come here. Ser Denis said I’d be made Tranquil. Please don’t tell them!"
"There’s no reason for me to tell them anything. As far as I can tell, you’ve never caused any problems. The only things that stand out are that incident with Alrik — it says here that he brought you out of the tower for his purposes — and that time you helped us save Ser Carver — and thank you, again, for that. There’s always a question of blood magic, in cases like those, but I’ve made the case that you were trying to save the man’s life, and that blood magic was a ridiculous accusation." Cullen shrugged easily, watching Ella’s face. "And I want you to know that I am aware that it would be illegal for you to be made Tranquil, and I will do everything in my power to prevent that from happening."
Ella seemed to relax a little. "Ser Denis said the law had changed, in Kirkwall, because of the all the demons that have turned up in the city, in recent years."
"Ser Denis is incorrect, and Tranquility doesn’t work on demons, anyway. Known abominations are put to death." Cullen sputtered for a moment. "Not that I have any reason to believe you’re an abomination. I’ve… I’ve met abominations." He paused awkwardly, thinking that he hadn’t suspected any of the mages in Kinloch Hold, either. But, this girl was no Uldred. "So, that’s Denis. Where does Vartan come into it?"
At the name, Ella tensed up again and looked down at her hands as though they were the most interesting things in the world. She picked at the skin around her nails, until Keran gently folded her hands in his. "He… he has a reputation, ser," she said in a small voice. "Among the mages. Especially among the women."
The way Keran’s jaw tightened said he’d heard about this. Cullen was surprised Keran hadn’t tried to ‘deal’ with the man himself. Surprised and relieved. This was enough of a mess as it was.
"And this… reputation," Cullen said carefully. "I take it you found out it was true?"
Ella nodded but still didn’t meet his eyes.
Cullen wiped a hand over his face, tugging at the bit of scruff at his chin. "Can you tell me what he said to you, Ella? I know this is difficult, but I need to know the details."
"It wasn’t really what he said. It was what he did. First he took my magic — you can ask Tenar, from next door. He wasn’t really subtle about that. And then— and then—" Ella choked up and buried her face in Keran’s shoulder.
"It’s all right. Take your time." Cullen found himself reminded of a conversation he’d had with Anders. Two Circles, and things like this had happened in both, although he still had a feeling it was more common, in the Gallows.
"He pushed me back against the wall, and told me I was going to do what he told me," Ella said, picking at a ridge on Keran’s armour. "I don’t know what I was thinking. I told him— I told him to think of how well that had worked out for Ser Alrik."
Cullen’s eyebrows twitched up. He didn’t know Vartan well, but he had heard the man had a temper. And a penchant for cursing, judging from his behaviour during sparring matches. "And I suspect he didn’t take that well," Cullen murmured.
Ella shook her head, and Keran wrapped his arms more tightly around her.
"Lieutenant P— Denis sided with him," Keran added. "That was when he threatened her with Tranquility."
Ella nodded and choked out that this was true.
Cullen rubbed at his forehead where he felt a headache beginning. This was the environment Meredith had created, where Tranquility was used as a punishment. As coercion. "I won’t let that happen," Cullen said with determination he wanted to feel.
"Something must be done, Knight-Captain," Ella said. ‘I thought it was over. I thought with Alrik gone, it would be different."
"I’ve tried very hard to change attitudes here, to bring in recruits with better manners and a sense of duty rather than a sense of dominance. I thought I could jockey them into open positions, set them up to come up faster. I thought it would be enough, but it takes time for something like that to work." Cullen folded his hands on his desk and stared at them. "And you mages don’t have the time to wait." The city might not have the time to wait, either. He’d heard the Divine was considering an Exalted March on Kirkwall.
"I want to do something to help," Ella declared, after a moment. "We’re all locked up for all but an hour a day, in these tiny rooms that were built for slaves. I’d help just to get out of that room, but I know the mages won’t trust you. I hope I’m not wrong to trust you, but you’ve always seemed like a good man."
Cullen was intrigued by the offer. "So, you want to help me protect other mages and bring the Order back to its proper duty in service to the community. What would you do? How can you help?" He paused for a breath. "I mean that. I’m open to ideas."
Ella squared her shoulders. "I can do what I’ve been doing for you," she said meaningfully. "Paperwork. Copies. But it doesn’t have to be your paperwork, if you get my meaning."
Cullen sat back in his chair. That was, he suspected, what Meredith had been afraid of from the other Starkhaven mages. But if he could gather evidence against Meredith and present it to the Divine… "I can’t save you from Tranquility if Meredith is the one who catches you," he said.
Keran cleared his throat and waited until he had their attention. "Not if she’s already Tranquil," he said. "I have an idea."
The house had started looking like a house, again, Varric noticed. The broken tiles were re-seated, the walls were clean — he could almost imagine his brother living here, amid his countless treasures of the history of Orzammar — including the rest of that set of their mother’s dishes. Bartrand had hung on to that for a long time, and Varric had few doubts they’d find those somewhere in the house. The elves seemed less nervous around him, too. Even the ones who didn’t speak Common would gesture while they talked, until he understood what they were telling him — and he’d picked up a couple of words of Tevene along the way.
But, today would be different. Today, he was here to receive delivery of his printing press, which a handful of trusted friends — employees, really, he figured — were hauling up from Darktown. It had just gotten a little too active down there, between the work on the Chantry and the continuing pursuit of the ‘Enigma of Kirkwall’. Some mage was going to stumble over that fake door, and he was going to wind up out of business. So, he moved the press to the one place nobody had any business looking — the cellar of his brother’s house.
Two elves — not from Tevinter — came through the door carrying another case. They’d been Varric’s printers from the beginning, Hamman and Gitane, and they’d get the thing moved and reassembled, just like they had the last time, when they’d had to move the Gazette from the docks to Darktown.
"Thanks, boys," Varric said, propping the next door open with his foot. "Put it with the others. You know where."
"Sure thing," said Hamman, grunting as he adjusted his grip on the case. He and Gitane lumbered down the stairs while other elven faces peered at them curiously from the hall. They whispered to each other in Tevene, and Varric only caught a few of their words.
"What’s all this?" asked Elaiodora, at Varric’s shoulder.
Varric twisted to grin up at her. "My pride and joy," he said.
Hamman and Gitane trotted back up the stairs and returned with yet another case.
"That is quite a bit of pride and joy," Elaiodora said, watching them pass with wide eyes.
Varric looked up at the woman, contemplatively. "So, you speak Common. You speak it pretty well. Do you read, too? I ask because I know it took some time for Fenris to learn. Good guy, Fenris. Don’t believe the rumours."
"I do. Some of us were expected to keep records of what everyone else was doing, to make sure everything was written down, so we would know if something was wrong or missing." Elaiodora nodded, eyeing Varric curiously.
"Do you know what a good story looks like? I ask because I’ve got a little bit of work to offer a couple of people who can read, pass judgement, and be discreet," Varric said, casually, watching more cases and crates come in.
"We are all excellent at discretion." There was humour in Elaiodora’s voice. "But, I think if you show us what you need, we could learn to do it. Danarius had little patience for stupidity or clumsiness."
"Did he? Well. Me, I rather like stupidity and clumsiness — they’re good for a laugh — but less so from employees. Which is what you’d be, you know. Put some spending money in your pocket." He paused to help the movers with the door again. "I don’t suppose you’ve read the Kirkwall Gazette at some point in your travels? I know you haven’t been in the city long."
"You left an issue on the side table a few days ago," Elaiodora said, cutting a sidelong glance in Varric’s direction. "Thania was using it to teach some of the older kids some Common. Not the… Page Six story. They are not quite old enough for that." She cleared her throat. "Is that what you mean by ‘a good story’?"
"Might be," Varric said cheerfully. "I imagine, for instance, that publishing a broadsheet like the Gazette takes quite a bit of time and energy."
"And machinery," said Elaiodora, one eyebrow arcing at the next crate coming in. "Is that why it’s your ‘pride and joy’?"
Varric chuckled softly and held up his hand palm out. "You got me," he said. "So, what do you say?"
"Even your Page Six does not compare to the things most of us witnessed in our previous residence." Elaiodora’s smile was slim, but it was there. "What do you want us to do with these ‘good stories’?"
"Find them," Varric replied, simply. "I got runners doing pickups around the city every day. Most of what they bring in is garbage, but there’s always something good. Scandals, news, history, magic, politics — a little of everything. If you can find the interesting stuff, it’ll take a load off my editorial team. Submissions have spiked, with the tension in the Gallows, and I just don’t have enough people to be leaving it all to one team. So, I’m putting together another team. You find it, they polish it, and then the boys downstairs print it."
"That seems simple enough." Elaiodora nodded. "What would you like us to do with the ones we decide against?"
"Set them on fire at the end of the week, for all I care. Just don’t leave them around where people can see them." Varric looked up, completely serious. "The Knight-Commander has a strong interest in shutting down the Gazette by whatever means necessary. I don’t want to leave her any unexpected clues."
"I see," said Elaiodora, though she didn’t, not really. Why would the Knight-Commander want to shut it down? Perhaps she should get her hands on earlier issues. "It will be nice to earn our keep," she added. This new city was bewildering and exciting, but sometimes she missed the simplicity of being told what to do.
Varric beamed at her and clapped her on the shoulder. She rocked forward under the force of it. "No one needs to ‘earn their keep’ around here, but I do appreciate the help. Talk to your friends for me, would you? Explain my offer and see who’s interested. And capable. Reading Common is a prerequisite, for obvious reasons."
"I think I know just who to ask," Elaiodora said. This time, she held the door open for the movers.