[ Master Post ]
Title: Assing it Up – Chapter 5
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Orana ♀, Artemis Hawke ♂, Ella ♀, Seneschal Bran ♂, Donnic ♂,
Warnings: A few colourful words
Notes: Artemis receives a letter. The viscount election begins.
Orana set Artemis’s tea down on the side table, an envelope tucked under his teacup. "A letter arrived for you this morning, messere," she said, pausing to pet the purring cat perched on the back of Artie’s chair, "from a Messere ‘Kestrel’, I believe."
Artemis looked up from the Gazette, not quite hiding the smile that sprang to his lips. "Thank you, Orana," he said, both Gazette and tea forgotten as he snatched up the letter, and Orana slipped out of the room as Artemis tore open the envelope, catching dried flowers in his palm. The flowers were a bit more difficult to read, dried as they were, but he recognised the wormwood leaves, "absence", and the red petals looked like they were from tulips. "Undying love". The sappy sack of shit. Artie missed him so much it hurt. At the bottom of the envelope were a few snowdrop petals, "consolation" or "hope", and Artie smiled softly, if sadly, before putting the flowers back and pulling out the letter.
Artemis wanted to say that the paper smelled like oranges, but maybe that was just the association he made with the familiar handwriting it opened into. He skimmed for the important bits first, indications that both Cormac and Anders were alive and well and that they’d made it down the river safely. Once he had those assurances, he could breathe for a little while, and Artie sat back to drink his tea and read the letter properly from top to bottom.
Hello, my sweet!
I am ever so glad to be off the river, though better the river than the sea. No one builds right on the water, here, except the docks at Kassel, which stretch inland like strange fingers. Blondie says it’s because the river rises that high and that far. There’s not a building in sight of wood or stone — all of them seem to be soft-edged mud and tile, and the chantry tower of Kassel is done in etched gold plates, telling the tales of Andraste, twelve storeys high. The doors are set with jewels. I’ve never seen anything like it.
And just across the river, we’ve moved in with family, for now, but we’ll be out as soon as possible, after the harvest. Everyone who can work is working on that, now. You remember how that always is. But, when it’s over, we’ll be able to hire a team to build a house for us. We’re going to have a farm. Maybe an orchard. The family farms barley, you know, so maybe we’ll do as they do.
We’ll let you know when we’ve got room for visitors. Oh! We can also take mail, now that we’ve stopped travelling. We’ve got a box in town under our names.
We definitely look forward to seeing you again, some time. That last dalliance was far too short.
"Do you see that, Assbiter?" Artie asked the cat still purring from the back of his chair. "Your daddies are safe, and now I can write to them and let them know just how much of an adorable terror you’ve been to my husband!" Assbiter replied by trying to chew on Artie’s hair. "Come here, you." Artemis reached over his head to pull the cat into his arms, something Assbiter was less than thrilled with but indulged Artie in, with only the barest of whines. "Let’s go find Orana. I need to order some flowers."
Seneschal Bran had done everything in his power to make sure the election process ran smoothly, or as smoothly as it could run, and that was something Artemis could appreciate as he counted the boxes and their corresponding lines. Six wasn’t the worst number when it came to candidates, he supposed, but five would have been better. Five was a good number.
A mage joined him on the balcony. A Tranquil — no, not a Tranquil. That girl. What was her name? "Which box is your brother’s?" she asked.
Ella. That was it. "The one with his mug on it," Artie replied, gesturing at the line on the left. "Bit hard to see from here, but. The box behind that bald man, there."
Ella leaned to the side, trying to get a better look. The bald man slipped his piece of paper into the box and shuffled out of the way. "Oh! Oh. That is an… interesting portrait on the front of his box."
"More flattering than Lusine’s," Artemis said. "Third from the left."
"Is there a rubbish bin for votes for me?" Bran asked, ducking past on his way to get a cup of tea. That was what this day needed. More tea. More tea, less dogs, and an open window somewhere in this blasted fortress. "Because that’s where they’re going to end up. I refuse to be considered. I will not be viscount. I have been the next best thing for many years, but that crown is not mine."
"Don’t worry," Ella told him, looking over her shoulder. "They’ve got good instructions on not letting anyone vote for you. I think it’s only been an issue with the nobles, though. Most of Lowtown’s got their eyes on the boxes. And that pile next to the table for Varric. They’re convinced the vote is some kind of binding magic, and if they want him, they’ll get him."
Bran scoffed and shook his head. "Better him than me."
"You getting tea?" Ella asked. "Get me a cup while you’re in there?"
"Oh yes! Tea sounds good," Artemis agreed.
Bran managed to look dreadfully put-upon for a moment before disappearing to get tea for the three of them.
Artemis watched someone else fall away from the lines to add a ballot to Varric’s pile. "We should have just gotten Varric his own box and put up with his whining. Those ballots are going to spill onto the floor if this keeps up. Though that would bring the candidate count up to seven, and seven is an awkward number."
"A lucky number in dice games, though, which would favour your brother. Sounds like his sort of thing."
"Cards are more his thing," Artemis said distractedly as he counted the people in line. "And the number ‘seven’ isn’t particularly useful there. Look at Guillaume’s line. Full of poncy noblemen."
Ella bit her lip against a smirk.
"Don’t give me that look," Artie said, eyes narrowed. "I know, I’m a poncy nobleman too. But they all look like they’ve just eaten a block of bad cheese."
"Is it just me, or does Lusine’s line look terribly nervous?" Ella asked, after watching the scene below a bit longer. "That or it’s very warm in here. They’re all sweating and looking around, like they expect assassins to leap out from between the pillars, any second."
Bran returned with a tray of cups and a teapot, which he set on the thick balcony rail. "Who’s expecting Crows?"
"Lusine’s people. Just look at them!" Ella gestured.
Bran knew enough to expect tampering. He’d seen looks like that, at times like these, before. "She’s probably blackmailing them," he pointed out. "Brothel mistress has everyone’s secrets. That’s just how that works out. Goodness knows, she’s got mine, but so does my wife."
"You’re married?" Ella asked. "Not that you’re not handsome, but setting up, I heard talk about you and an elven prostitute!"
"Serendipity? Oh, she’s wonderful. We like to go to parties, together. I get invitations, and she actually wants to go. I’ll say her wit makes any event almost bearable." Bran smiled wryly and picked up a cup of tea. "My poor wife was never much for the general public, I’m afraid. She’s very glad I’ve found someone else to go to those things."
Artemis blew on his tea to cool it. "Dips makes any party fun," he said, "and I’ve been to a few parties." Which he mostly spent rearranging the booze. That wine in front of that other wine, the cordial to the left, the rum in his stomach — that sort of thing.
Merrill and Orana’s lines ran next to each other, made up mostly of elves, and snatches of conversation drifted up to the balcony. Bickering, mostly.
"Looks like the elf vote is split between Orana and Merrill," Bran said. He paused to sip his tea, made a face, and took a moment to add more sugar. There would be a mountain of the stuff at the bottom of his cup, once he got to it. "I knew that would happen."
"That’s too bad," Ella said. "I like Merrill. She’s sweet. Always compliments my hair." She eyed Artemis. "Not that Orana isn’t great too. She just scares me."
"I fear for my life whenever I see her holding a frying pan," Artie admitted. "Her cooking is worth it, though."
"Hey!" barked one of Guillaume’s poncy nobles. He snapped his fingers at the nearest guard. Which turned out to be Donnic. "Guard! You! That elf there has voted twice!"
Donnic yawned and squinted at the elf and then at the nobleman. "That’s a lot coming from you Lord Donovan, considering this is the fourth time I’ve caught you in line. One man, one vote. If you’re so worried about the outcome, go have a few drinks, but if I catch you in here again, tonight, you’ll be visiting the lockup downstairs."
"That! That is! I never!" Lord Donovan sputtered, hand leaping to his throat. "Do you all hear what this man is saying about me? Me! A man of noble birth and good standing!"
"It’s good to see you standing, today, Lordship," a voice rang out from further down the line. "I was afraid it would be the middle of next week with all the drinking."
The crowd broke into laughter, snickers, first, and then great whooping gales from the Lowtown lines.
Lord Donovan turned tomato-red, and he was still sputtering his outrage after he shoved his ballot into Guillaume’s box. The sputtering went until he’d left the building, at which point the Lowtown groups applauded.
"This is better than food and a show," Artie said cheerfully between sips of tea. "Poor Guillaume. His line just keeps getting shorter."
"It’s tea and a show," Ella said, and Artie had to concede that.
Orana’s line had taken to taunting the line of nobles, and soon a chant of ‘go home, Guillaume’ filled the room while the nobles looked uncomfortable.
"That’s actually fairly classy as far as taunting rhymes go," Bran said, looking infinitely tired. "You should hear the things I’ve heard rhymed with ‘Orlesian’."
Artemis tilted his head, brows knit in concentration. "That’s… All I’m coming up with is ‘artesian’."
"What’s he really like, though?" Ella asked. "This Guillaume, I mean. Obviously, he’s not very popular."
"He’s very Orlesian," Bran said, tactfully. "For Chantry and country, you know. The man sent his own son to the Gallows without a second thought, I’ve heard. I wonder where that came in, though. The de Launcets aren’t known for their mages, but maybe it’s his wife’s line. I don’t know much about Dulci, but she didn’t seem nearly as thrilled to let the boy go. I remember the flood of irate letters she sent, and Guillaume came to beg forgiveness for his wife’s outburst. But, the fact remains, he is Orlesian. Not just ‘from Orlais’ but ‘holding an Orlesian noble title’. Voting for him would effectively be a bloodless Orlesian conquest."
"You think he’d turn the city over to the Empire?" Ella asked, with a hint of surprise. "But, he moved here from the Empire. Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose?"
"That depends entirely on why he came here. You know he was originally meant to be wed to Leandra Amell, and her father was in line to be viscount, before all that unpleasantness with the mages and the other mages and that scandal with cousin Damion and the smuggling ring." Bran shrugged expressively and sipped his tea. "If you ask me, he’s been setting himself up for this for a long time. Or someone else has been setting him up for it."
"The only thing he’s setting himself up for is an embarrassing failure," Artemis muttered into his teacup. He watched a few more voters break away and add their ballots to Varric’s growing pile. "Varric’s still not running!" he called down to them, but the voters barely spared him a glance. Artemis shook his head and set his teacup down on the railing. "If that pile gets any higher, it’s going to make a mess. I need a box. Or a bucket. Something."
Still muttering to himself about messes and how seven was an awful number, Artemis headed downstairs. Minutes later, Ella spotted him scooping Varric’s votes into a bucket, to the nearest guard’s bemusement.
"Twitchy fellow, isn’t he?" Bran said.
Ella shrugged. "That was my impression too."
Donnic sidled up next to Artemis and, with their heads bent close together, whispered something that had Artemis cracking a smile. More whispering, and then Artie gathered up a quill and parchment and slid them over to Donnic. A dwarfy cartoon took shape under Donnic’s hand, and he set this in front of the bucket.
"I don’t remember Varric’s nose being quite that big," Ella said.
"It’s only that big when he’s got it in your business," Bran retorted, pouring himself another cup of tea.
Below them, the lines continued to pass, the boxes of ballots growing more and more full as day passed into evening. Finally, they stopped. Ten moments passed without another person running in to claim a ballot and drop it into a box.
"Who’s counting these?" Donnic asked, peering into the bucket of Varric’s votes.
"Someone who isn’t me!" Bran called down. "Normally, we’d have the mages do it, because they have no stake, but I’m not sure how many mages are left in the city, and they very much have a stake, this time. I saw several in the lines, today. But, anyone we get is going to potentially cause a conflict. Everyone has a stake in this. So, what if we have them counted several times, by different people? The numbers should be almost the same. I can’t imagine it being that close for any of them. We should be able to get an accurate enough count like that to judge."
"I’ll count first," Ella volunteered. "Starkhaven’s circle, Maker pity it and all of us, taught clerical and accounting magics. We’re no good in a fight, but we can keep your army funded!"
"Accounting magic?" Artemis asked, blinking owlishly. "That exists? Of course it exists." That made him wish his magic were not so temperamental. "I… hm. I suppose I’ll count as well. By hand. Probably three times."
"You should only need to count once," Bran said, "if we get a few people counting."
"Oh, I’ll… I’ll need to count more than once."
Bran exchanged a look with Ella, who shrugged.
Hours later found the ballots organised into neat piles, numbers scribbled out on scraps of parchment. All discrepancies in the counting had been ironed out, and they were left with the final numbers. Sitting in front of Varric’s piles, Artemis couldn’t believe the results, and he didn’t quite manage to suppress a laugh.
"That’s …" Bran leaned over Artemis’s shoulder. "You’ve each counted three times, and I have six numbers, and they’re all the same. Are they that close?" He goggled at the piles. "I mean, it would be simple enough to vacate Varric’s election, since he’s not actually running, but that is exceptional. And I think there would be riots, if we didn’t announce his results with all the others."
"The numbers are correct. We both agree, without having consulted," Ella said, idly rubbing at the scar on her forehead. "Anton Hawke wins by a single vote. Varric’s, if I don’t miss my guess."
"I would have thought he’d vote for Orana." Bran sounded a bit surprised.
"He ran the campaign for ‘Lord Dog’, as I understand it. There’s been a lot of rather loud discussion in the Knight-Commander’s office, these last weeks." Ella shrugged.
"One vote," Artemis said, setting down his parchment with a dazed smile. His little brother, the viscount. Their mother would have been bursting with pride. "Anton is lucky I voted for him. He’d better buy me a drink. Or something."
"I suspect Varric will," Bran said. "He was very insistent on not being viscount."
"Varric can save the money for his own drinks," Artie replied, neatening the corners of one pile. "I suspect he’ll need them. And Maker help anyone in Lusine’s path when she finds out."