Title: Semper ad Meliora
Fandom: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Pairing: Dorian Pavus/Idhren Lavellan, Idhren Lavellan/Tainan Lavellan
Chapter 13 - In Hushed Whispers</u>
And the men of Tevinter heard and raised altars
To the pretender-gods once more,
And in return were given, in hushed whispers,
The secrets of darkest magic.
- Canticle of Threnodies 5:11
Redcliffe, Ferelden, Justinian 9:41 Dragon
“I take back every decent thought I’ve ever had about your southern mages,” Idhren snapped as the tavern door slammed behind them. “If that’s their leader, then I shudder to think what naïve fools the rest of them are. Indentured to a magister?” he asked incredulously, “In what possible world would that ever be a good idea?”
“Many mages in the Circle look to Tevinter as an example of the freedoms they might have,” Solas commented. “A land where mages are not forced away from their families and confined to their towers.”
Idhren scoffed. “I know what it is to be indentured to a magister, and it is no boon. It is not the freedom these people seek. They will be little better than slaves. And what does anyone need with so many indentured servants?” he wondered aloud, “Alexius can’t look after this many people alone, he’ll have to pawn them off on the Magisterium. And then any mage fit enough would be shipped off to Seheron to fight in the war. And likely a few who are not fit enough. Actually, they’ll probably just send the lot of them, because the Magisterium won’t care. They’re expendable. ”
“This Alexius,” Cassandra spoke up, interrupting Idhren’s rant, “Do you know him?”
“I know of him,” Idhren said, and rested his hands on his hips as he glared out at the lake. They had been introduced on at least one occasion, but it was clear from this meeting that Alexius did not recognize him. “An academic, mostly.” And that was the only reason Idhren had given the man enough thought to commit to memory. Alexius produced great work, but Idhren had been more interested in the publications of his wife, whose research on the Veil inspired much of his own. But Alexius had been Dorian’s patron, Idhren remembered suddenly, the first time he had thought of the man in years. Was Dorian here, then? Idhren shook the thought from his mind and continued, “Tried once to pass a bill in the senate that would provide more funding for the Circles and less for the war. It went about as well as you would expect. I always thought he was more interested in academics than politics.” Apparently he had always been a poor judge of character.
“And the son?” Cassandra asked.
Idhren shrugged. “Didn’t know he had one, actually. Odd, considering how much that lot usually likes to show off their heirs like prized horses.”
“Do you think he can be trusted?” Cassandra pressed.
“I don’t know,” Idhren replied honestly. “I generally have a policy of not trusting Altus mages, but there are a few that aren’t absolute piles of shit. If we’re lucky, Felix is one. If we’re not, then at least we know we’re walking into a trap and can prepare accordingly.”
There was someone waiting for them in the Chantry, and it certainly wasn’t Felix, but beyond that Idhren did not notice. He was rather distracted by the large rift that dominated the room, flooding it with eerie green light. Even as Idhren stepped forward and raised his hand toward the tear it spat out another batch of demons, forcing him to fall back or else be gored by a terror. For the moment at least the stranger seemed to be on their side, but the demons were not discriminating in who they chose to attack. As Cassandra plunged her sword through the last shade Idhren rushed past her and thrust his hand upward toward the rift. It still hurt, tearing apart the skin of his hand even as the foreign magic stitched together the hole in the veil, but Idhren was beginning to get used to that pain. Gritting his teeth, Idhren pushed against that feeling as though it were an uncooperative spell, attempting to control it at least somewhat. The more rifts he closed the more Idhren thought he was beginning to understand how this mark worked, he could feel it pulling together the veil, knitting it together like healing a wound, but the mark still reacted independently.
The rift closed with a resounding crack that echoed off the chantry’s vaulted ceiling and Idhren let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding as he lowered his hand.
“Fascinating,” the stranger mused as Idhren shook the lingering numbness and ache from his arm. “How does that work, exactly? You don’t even know, do you? You just wiggle your fingers and boom! rift closes,” the man laughed.
There was something familiar about that voice. Intrigued, Idhren turned his full attention toward the man who had been waiting in the Chantry, then froze as he laid eyes on the last person he had ever expected to cross paths with again.
His hair was styled differently than Idhren remembered, and he had grown the most ridiculous mustache, but it was definitely him; standing in the middle of a rundown Chantry in some backwater town in Ferelden like he belonged there.
The man was startled to hear his name. “I’m sorry, have we--,” he started asking, but stopped when he got a good look at the Herald’s face. “Idhren?” The elf looked so different that Dorian hardly recognized him. For one, his face was covered in tattoos, which was shocking in itself, but he had also cut off all his hair. Everything below his ears had been lopped off, and one side was shorn down to the scalp. The result was that his long ears were quite obvious, a style that no elf in Tevinter would have dared. Maybe that was the point. It made him look older. Or maybe he just was older, because it had been years since Dorian had last seen him. Those eyes, though – deep violet and luminous in the dim light of the chantry – he would recognize those anywhere.
“You two know each other?” asked the stern-faced woman behind him, sounding incredulous and somehow annoyed at the same time.
“We were… acquainted,” the elf said carefully, his violet eyes – exactly the same as Dorian remembered them – never leaving Dorian’s face. “In Tevinter.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” the Altus agreed wryly. “Dorian Pavus, most recently of Minrathous,” he introduced himself to the others before turning his attention back to Idhren. “You’re certainly the last person I expected to see here.”
“I would say the same of you, except that I’ve just seen Magister Alexius in the tavern. I’m more surprised that you weren’t with him,” Idhren replied, trying to ignore the way his heart fluttered in his chest at the mere sound of Dorian’s voice. Now was neither the time nor the place to be remembering a childhood crush. They had more important things to worry about.
“Alexius doesn’t know I’m here, and I’d rather like to keep it that way,” Dorian replied. “You’re probably wondering how he managed to steal the allegiance of the mages out from under you. As if by magic, yes?”
Idhren frowned. “Is that what he did?” he asked, “Grand Enchanter Fiona had no memory of meeting us in Val Royeaux. Did Alexius use blood magic to alter her memory?”
“Nothing quite so obviously nefarious, no,” Dorian assured. “You saw the rift here; how it altered time around itself? Sped some things up and slowed others down. In order to reach Redcliffe before you Alexius distorted time itself.”
“That’s not possible,” Idhren protested. “The laws of magic--.”
“Don’t apply anymore,” Dorian interrupted. “Not since someone ripped a hole in the Veil the size of a small town. I know what I’m talking about. I helped develop this magic. Back in Tevinter we were never able to make it work, and even now it’s wildly unstable. What I don’t understand is why he’s doing it,” Dorian mused thoughtfully. “Ripping time to shreds for a few hundred lackeys?”
“He isn’t doing it for them.”
Idhren whipped around as another voice interrupted the conversation. The battle and his own shock at seeing Dorian again must have kept him from noticing the Chantry doors open once more.
“Kind of you to finally join us,” Dorian quipped as Felix crossed the floor to join them, “What took so long? Your father isn’t getting suspicious, is he?”
“I don’t think so,” Felix assured, “But I shouldn’t have played the illness card, I thought he would be fussing over me all day.”
“Will someone tell me what is going on?” Idhren asked impatiently, interrupting the two.
Felix turned to him, expression solemn, and explained. “My father has joined a cult. Tevinter supremacists. They call themselves the Venatori.”
This situation just kept getting worse and worse. As though a gaping hole in the Veil wasn’t bad enough, now there were power hungry magisters ripping holes in time as well. And insane Tevinter cults were the last thing the world needed. Idhren couldn’t help wondering, however, if the Venatori and their so-called Elder One were behind the Breach in the first place. If that was the case, he had to stop them from getting control of the rebel mages at all costs. With that much magic at their disposal Idhren shuddered to think what sort of new chaos they could unleash.
“This mage, are you certain we can trust him?” Cassandra asked after they left the Chantry. Felix had returned to the castle and his father, while Dorian had agreed to meet them on the road out of town to avoid being seen.
Idhren sighed faintly. Logically, he knew he should be at least a little more wary, but despite the unusual circumstances he found he did still trust Dorian. “I am,” he replied. “I’ve known Dorian since I was fourteen. We studied at the same Circle, for a time. He’s a narcissistic, egotistical, spoiled, selfish ass, but he’s a good man. And that’s more than I can say for anyone else from Tevinter.”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re really bad at compliments?” Varric asked.
Idhren shrugged, “I’ve already spent too much of my life pretending to like people.”
“I can imagine that,” Varric sympathized. “I suppose all Tevinter elves are this prickly, then?”
“Elves in Tevinter can’t afford to be prickly,” Idhren pointed out.
“The ones that get out, I mean,” Varric elaborated.
“I wouldn’t know,” Idhren shrugged, “I haven’t met any others.”
“Oh, I’ll have to introduce you to Fenris someday. I think you two would get along swimmingly. You could, I don’t know, talk about how much you hate magisters.”
They found Dorian just around a bend in the road, out of sight of Redcliffe’s main gates. He had the same air of practiced nonchalance about him that Idhren was all too familiar with, but it was slightly jarring to see him – picture of Altus poise and sophistication – out in the wilderness.
“You look different,” Dorian commented as the small party made their way back across the countryside to the Inquisition’s main camp in the Hinterlands. “I hardly recognized you. It’s the tattoos.”
“Yes, they were rather a surprise for me as well,” Idhren replied.
“Surprise tattoos?” Dorian let out a short laugh, “What, did you just wake up one morning and there they were? Is that what the Dalish do? Hold you down and tattoo you in your sleep?”
“Not exactly, no,” Idhren replied a little uncomfortably, and quickly changed the subject. “The mustache is new.”
Dorian perked up immediately, as always more than happy to talk about himself. “Do you like it? I’ve grown rather fond of it myself. I think it makes me look dashing.”
“I think it makes you look like a slut,” Idhren replied flatly. Ahead of him on the road Cassandra visibly startled and looked over her shoulder at him before looking away again quickly. Varric’s shoulders shook with barely contained laughter.
Dorian laughed aloud. “Now I like it even more,” he mused, and raised a hand up to stroke the mustache thoughtfully. “So, ‘Herald of Andraste’. You’re certainly moving up in the world. Pity it hasn’t done anything for your height.”
“You, of all people, should be well aware of the less fortunate aspects of elven physiology,” Idhren groused, “There’s nothing I can do about my size, however I see you still haven’t bothered to fix that horrid personality.”
“You wound me,” Dorian said, but the smile on his face belied the seriousness of his tone, “I am an absolute delight to be around, you should consider yourself lucky to be graced by my illustrious presence.”
“I see you still suffer from delusions of grandeur as well.”
“I see you are still willfully blind to my charm. You’re fooling no one, Herald.”
“The only thing I am willfully blind to is that atrocious outfit. Is that what Tevinter fashion has done while I was away?”
“You wouldn’t know fashion if it came up and bit you in the ass,” Dorian scoffed, “What is this get-up supposed to be? It’s hideous.”
Idhren looked down at the Inquisition issue armor he was wearing and shrugged. It was not the nicest thing he had ever worn, but it was not the worst, either.
“Are you certain the two of you are friends?” Cassandra asked incredulously, interrupting their banter.
“Of course,” Idhren assured her easily, though the statement felt half a lie. His relationship with Dorian was complicated, to say the least. “Dorian once fought a duel for my honor.”
“That is a lie and a fabrication,” the man immediately protested. “I did no such thing.”
“Oh?” Idhren smirked a little as he looked over at the man. “Then what do you think happened?”
“I attempted to instruct our fellow students in proper manners and decorum, as befits a mage of Tevinter,” Dorian explained. “The shameful way they were carrying on was an embarrassment to the entire Imperium. Honestly, I was doing them a favor, the First Enchanter completely overreacted.”
Idhren huffed out a scoff of laughter, unsurprised by the answer, but it was so typical of Dorian. The man would probably take the truth of that duel to his grave rather than admit he’d been protective of the lonely, bleeding heart that Idhren had been back then. “You’re a terrible liar, Dorian.”
It was nice, this careless trading of insults, familiar and comforting in a strange way. It reminded Idhren of Tevinter. The parts of Tevinter that he liked, at least; the few good memories he had of that place. And it took his mind off everything terrible that had happened recently, everything he had lost and the sudden weight on his shoulders. He felt more like himself than he had since waking up in that cell in Haven. The feeling wouldn’t last, Idhren knew, but he would enjoy it while he could.
The momentary peace lasted even shorter than expected.
While the plan to infiltrate Redcliffe Castle had succeeded, everything afterward had gone immediately downhill. Cornered, caught, Alexius had panicked and attempted some spell. It so startled Idhren that he didn’t have the time to react. If not for Dorian’s quick thinking Alexius may have succeeded in whatever he was attempting, but as it was, Idhren was only aware of a nauseating sense of vertigo, the feeling of falling, and of then suddenly sitting in waist high water in the dark.
“Dorian?” Idhren called out, looking around and trying to figure out where he was. As his eyes adjusted to the dark he could see stone walls closed in around him and a faint red light suffused the room, but he couldn’t tell where it was coming from. He fished around in the murky water for his staff, located it, and used it to pull himself to his feet. “Dorian?” he called again, growing more concerned.
“I’m alright,” the man’s voice came from the other side of the room, and in the dark Idhren could make out his form against the far wall. He seemed to have been set just as off-kilter as Idhren.
As the elf began to make his way through the water towards him Dorian summoned a small wisp to light the room. It offset the eerie red glow somewhat, and allowed Idhren to get a clearer picture of where they were. Unfortunately, the view was less than comforting. It was a dungeon. “Where are we?”
“Fascinating,” Dorian mused, righting himself and slogging through the water to join Idhren at the center of the room – the cell. “Displacement? Alexius’ spell must have sent us to… what? The closest confluence of arcane energies?”
Idhren would have argued about the impossibility of it all. Displacement should not have been possible, the laws of magic were finite outside of the Fade. Except that they had already been broken. Idhren had already seen evidence of time manipulation, so there was no reason this should not be possible now as well. “We were in the hall,” he said thoughtfully, trying to recall exactly what had occurred in hopes of discerning what sort of spell Alexius had used. “Are we still in the castle?”
Dorian paused and looked around, taking in their surroundings once more, “It would appear so, although I don’t remember any part of the castle looking like this,” he said. “Oh, of course!” he interrupted himself, “It’s not just where, but when! Alexius must have sent us through time.”
“Of course,” Idhren groaned in frustration. “Because the time magic went so well last time he tried it.”
“It did work,” Dorian pointed out.
“Yes, and damaged the Veil even more in the process,” Idhren griped. “So let’s do it again. Typical magister,” he spat, “I once admired his work, but this is insanity.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Dorian sighed.
Idhren scrubbed a hand over his face and through his hair, taking a deep breath to try and focus himself. “Alright,” he breathed, “You’ve said you helped develop this magic. Do you know how to reverse it?”
“Theoretically, yes,” Dorian replied confidently, “Although we’ll first need to find out when, exactly, he sent us. The amulet that he used for the spell, it looked like the same one I helped him make in Minrathous. If I could get my hands on it reversing the spell would be rather simple, actually.”
“Fenhedis lasa,” Idhren swore, sighing in frustration. “That’s assuming the amulet even exists where we are now.” And assuming they could get their hands on it if it did. He shifted his grip on his staff and began slogging his way toward the cell door, which was thankfully standing open and unlocked. “Nothing here is ever simple. It was easier living in the woods eating insects.”
“You ate insects?” Dorian asked in alarm, turning to follow him.
“You know, they’re not so bad once you get used to them,” Idhren shrugged. At the door of the cell he stopped and looked cautiously outside, but there was no sign of any guards or soldiers, or even other prisoners. Just more of that eerie red glow. Only now Idhren could see where it was coming from.
“I can’t believe you ate insects,” Dorian still sounded horrified as he stopped behind Idhren.
“To be fair,” Idhren replied, because this was nicer to think about than the fact that Redcliffe Castle was now rife with massive red lyrium crystals, even more than there had been at the Temple of Sacred Ashes. “Sometimes there’s not much else. You’d eat bugs too if the other option was starving to death.”
“You know, I’m really not certain that I would,” Dorian protested. But when they stepped out of the cell he noticed the same problem as Idhren had, and all the mirth dropped from his voice. “Is this… What is this?”
“Red lyrium,” Idhren informed him, “Don’t touch it.”
“Maker,” Dorian breathed, but he followed Idhren down the center of the hall and kept a wide berth of the crystals, “Why is it coming out of the walls?”
"I'd rather not think about it," Idhren said honestly. But they found out soon enough. The further they went trying to find a way out of these dungeons the more red lyrium they encountered. Worse that that was when they began to find people. The dungeons were still mostly deserted, but not entirely.
They found Fiona first, behind a locked cell door that seemed useless in the face of what she had become. It was horrific. What Varric had been able to tell him about red lyrium was nothing compared to this. But she was able to confirm Dorian’s hypothesis. Harvestmere, 9:42 Dragon. A full year in the future.
They found Cassandra and Varric next, their condition less horrifying but no less dire. What had Alexius done to them?
"We have to find Alexius," Idhren said firmly. "Dorian, you have to reverse the spell. We have to fix this." For the first time he was actually glad that Tainan had not lived to see this day. He shook that thought firmly from his head. This was not the time. He needed to focus. Think only about the present. He needed to get out of here. "Tell me everything you can about this magic, Dorian," he ordered as they moved through the halls.
"I don't see how that could help," the man argued.
"I can help," Idhren snapped back. He hadn't the patience for the man's flippant attitude at the moment. "Didn't you once call me the most talented mage in Vyrantium?"
"I did," Dorian was forced to admit. To say otherwise would be a lie. And so, between fighting guards and demons and closing rifts, he explained as much as he could as quickly as he could about the theories and mechanics that backed the use of Alexius' amulet.
At least until they stepped outside.
Since they had fallen into the future Idhren had felt the Fade was stronger, but he thought little of it until he saw the sky. "Dread Wolf shit on my corpse," he swore, coming to a stop in the castle courtyard as he looked up the Breach. It had taken over the entire sky, like there was nothing at all between their world and the Fade.
“Well that’s something you don’t see every day,” Dorian quipped, though the flippant tone of his voice was belayed by the horrified expression on his face as he looked up at the sky. But when they had dealt with the rift in their immediate vicinity he continued right on talking about magic.
Strange, how easily he and Dorian fell back into familiar rapport. As though they had not been apart for five long years. As though the world was not falling apart around them. As though Idhren was not a fundamentally different person from the bitter, jaded Liberati mage he had been the last time they met.
No, that last part was not true. Maybe if Tainan were here it would be the case. Maybe if the Maker hadn’t once again taken away everything Idhren ever cared about.
But it was easy to talk to Dorian despite the years that stood between them. Arguing magical theory and trading casual insults kept Idhren from putting too much thought into the hellscape they had been thrown into. Between fighting demons and trying to wrap his head around the theories of chronomancy there was nothing else. No time for emotion. And for that, Idhren was grateful.
When the whole sordid mess was over – the timeline set right and Alexius and the rebel mages dealt with – Idhren collapsed onto the steps before the throne and hung his head in his hands. As the excitement died down and the adrenaline faded away, he felt exhausted. His hand ached. His head ached. Everything ached. He imagined he would have nightmares about that terrible almost-future for weeks. But it made him even more certain that he needed to stay with the Inquisition until this was all sorted. Alexius was dealt with, but some of what they had seen might still come to pass if he did not close the Breach. There was also the Venatori and their so-called ‘Elder One’. They must be the ones responsible for the Breach, and he doubted they would give up their plans so easily.
“Well, that was a disaster from start to finish,” Dorian seated himself on the step beside Idhren with far more grace than the elf had managed. Idhren was a bit surprised that the man could still look every inch a magister’s son while splattered head to toe in mud and blood and ichor. “Your people are arguing amongst themselves,” he added when Idhren gave no reply. “You may want to stop them.”
“They’re not my people,” Idhren protested. Although he was aware it looked that way.
“Really?” Dorian asked, sounding genuinely surprised. “You could have fooled me.”
“They can’t be seen disagreeing with the Herald of Andraste,” Idhren muttered, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes until he saw spots. “Bad for public image. I’m sure I’ll be scolded later.”
Dorian hummed thoughtfully and picked at the dirt beneath his nails. “No, I can’t imagine they’re very happy to have even more mages running amok around here,” he murmured. “You’ve given them license to… Well, to be like mages back home. For what it’s worth, though, I think you made the right choice.”
Idhren frowned. He didn’t like how good it felt to have Dorian’s approval. “I wasn’t about to save them from one kind of slavery just to throw them into another,” he explained. “I know how easy it is to fall for a magister’s lies, and I’m willing to give them a second chance at freedom. Hopefully this time they won’t fuck it up.”
“Quite,” Dorian agreed, and fell silent.
The silence was not awkward, as Idhren might have expected, but comfortable, and comforting in a way that Idhren wasn’t aware he needed. Even years later he still considered Dorian a friend. To have met him again on the other side of the world was nothing short of a miracle. And given how much an outsider he still felt in the Inquisition it was nice to have someone who understood him. “I suppose you’ll be going back to Tevinter now,” he mused, looking down at the mud on his boots and trying to ignore the way his heart twisted in his chest.
Beside him, Dorian shrugged. "Actually, I thought I might stay on for a while, see that Breach of yours up close."
Idhren sat up straighter and looked over at him, eyes wide. "You want to stay?" he asked. What in the world would make him want to stay here?
"Haven't I mentioned?" Dorian offered him a wry smile. "The south is so charming and rustic. I adore it to little pieces."
Idhren laughed. The sound burst out of his lips like the ringing of bells. An actual genuine laugh. And after all they had been through that Dorian could make him laugh was astounding. "Well, I’d be happy to have you.”
“You’re really staying, then?” a voice interrupted, and Idhren craned his neck up to see. It was Alexius’ son, and the man slowly lowered himself down to the step on Dorian’s other side. “Can’t say I’m surprised.”
“What can I say,” Dorian shrugged. “I do so love a hopeless cause.”
“I don’t know that I would call it hopeless,” Felix replied. “From what I’ve seen, I think you have a fair shot.”
“That makes one of us,” Idhren scoffed, but he appreciated the thought all the same.
"Oh, I don't believe you two were ever properly introduced," Dorian scolded himself. "How negligent of me. Well, there were rather more important things to think about at the time. Felix Alexius, as I'm certain you're already aware," he gestured to the other man while looking at Idhren, "And may I introduce to you Idhren..." he hesitated, brow furrowing, "I suppose you don't use Canidius' name anymore, do you?"
"No, I don't," Idhren was more than happy to confirm. "Idhren of Clan Lavellan," he supplied, and held his hand out to Felix, "Formerly of Vyrantium."
"Oh," Felix's eyebrows rose in surprise as he took Idhren's hand and shook it. His grip was not exactly firm, but it was confident. "Then you're..." he glanced over at Dorian and whatever he saw in the other man’s face made him stop. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Vyrantium, you say?"
"And you," Idhren replied, releasing the man's hand. "I was Liberati, apprenticed to magister Linus Canidius. Though it's been years now since I was in Tevinter."
"I'm not at all surprised you left," Felix replied honestly. "Can't say that I know much about Canidius, however."
“Lucky for you,” Idhren said earnestly. He wanted to ask why he had never known that Alexius had a son, but he knew that would be rude, so he kept his mouth shut. Even though Felix seemed a well-meaning down-to-earth sort right now, he was still Altus. They could be touchy. “What will you do now?” he asked instead. “I couldn’t blame you for not joining the Inquisition, but I’ll put in a good word for you if you want.”
“Thank you, but no,” Felix offered a smile as he shook his head. “Someone needs to go back to Tevinter and let them know what’s happening here. The Imperium has always had people like the Venatori, but what they’re doing here, what my father tried to do… It’s unconscionable. If we’re lucky, some people will agree.”
“I hope they do,” Idhren agreed. But he wasn’t going to hold his breath waiting for it to happen. “And for what it’s worth,” he added hesitantly, “I’m sorry about your father.” He wasn’t certain how well the sentiment would be received, considering Idhren was responsible for seeing Alexius dragged off in shackles. Not that the magister had put up much of a fight in the end.
Felix offered him a melancholy smile in return. “Me too,” he replied.
That was probably the best response that Idhren could have hoped for. Idhren wasn’t certain he could fully sympathize with the man’s situation. He’d seen Alexius in that future, and what he had done to his son. So Idhren knew that on some level the magister was just trying to save someone he loved. Idhren understood that feeling. But the way he’d gone about it, the lengths he had gone to, and the result. Felix in that future had been a mindless husk of the man that sat with him now. Worse than Tranquil.
Idhren shook his head and gripped his staff, using it to lever himself to his feet. “Suppose I should go see what Varric and Cassandra are arguing about this time,” he sighed. Maybe give them something else to argue about. Cassandra had already made it clear that she was unhappy with his offer to ally with the rebel mages. "And we should get on the road sooner rather than later. I wouldn't want to piss of the local royalty more than we already have. I'll make certain we don't leave without you, Dorian."
"Thank you," the man replied, "I won't be long. Just allow me to see Felix off before we go."
"Of course," Idhren said. As though he would deny such a simple request. Especially given what they had all just been through. He turned to Felix again and attempted to smile, but he found he'd rather lost the energy to fake it or the emotion to manage a real one. "Have a safe journey," he said, and went to join the rest of the Inquisition by the castle gates.
As predicted, Cassandra was less than happy with the results of their mission. Not that he had ever expected her to approve of free mages. She was, surprisingly, not lecturing him about making poor decisions. That was what Idhren had expected. He was relieved to avoid such a scolding, however, and happy to point out that they had what they came for. The mission was a success, however much a mess it had been in the end. For the most part, however, everyone was keeping quiet about his impulsive undermining of authority in favor of figuring out what to actually do with several hundred free mages now that they had them. Idhren listened with only one ear as Cassandra, Leliana, and Varric bickered about logistics and ideals, glancing back toward the main hall to where Dorian and Felix were still on the steps.
The two men stood side by side, heads bowed together as they spoke in hushed voices. They were clearly very close, Idhren could see that by the ease with which Dorian held himself while speaking to Felix. He could also see the concern that lined Dorian's face as they spoke. Actual concern, not veiled behind jokes and half-truths and flippant comments.
Idhren forced himself to look away, to give the pair their privacy, and tried not to acknowledge the strange feeling in his gut. Jealousy was not something he was worthy of feeling. Not for Dorian. Not that he should be feeling jealous at all, except that Dorian had someone when he did not. He tried to tell himself that was the only reason that feeling had lodged itself like a stone in his stomach. Dorian had what he had lost, and what he would never have back. There was nothing more to it.
The journey back to Haven was long and exhausting. Progress up the mountain roads was slow, as always, even if the pass was more well traveled these days. Idhren's horse picked its way carefully along behind Cassandra's. He had never ridden a horse before, but with all the traveling that he had been doing over the past few months it wasn't surprising that he had picked it up quickly. He was not an expert, by any means, but felt confident enough to lead his mount - a mellow gelding picked out by horsemaster Dennet himself - along the winding roads up to their mountain village. And he no longer worried about the long distance between himself and the ground.
Idhren was incredibly relieved when they finally arrived back at that little mountaintop village. The one that seemed to be larger every time Idhren returned from some mission or another. More tents around the outskirts, more soldiers training just outside the walls. And now they came trailing a long, straggling line of mages. Not all of those mages would be useful to their purpose, there were children among their numbers, and it would likely take several days before the last of the stragglers came in, but he could already imagine how much more crowded the tiny mountain valley would become.
More of a crowd for him to get lost in.
Or more people to call him the Herald of Andraste. And that title was really starting to get annoying.
If the Maker or Andraste really had chosen him for something, he wished they would tell him more clearly.
The first thing that Idhren did after returning his horse to the stables and to Dennet’s exemplary care was to collapse onto the bed in his small cabin and fall asleep. Although the journey back to Haven had been peaceful, travel didn’t allow very much time to simply rest. And Idhren was exhausted. Tired down to his bones in a way that he couldn’t recall ever feeling before. Trying to save the world was exhausting. But finally the end was within sight. With the alliance of the rebel mages, they finally had the strength necessary to attempt to close the Breach once and for all. And then, Maker willing, this would all be over.
But it was not that simple. It was never that simple. There were plans to be made. The mages needed time to settle in and be briefed on the situation with the Breach, and that would likely take days. That lecture Idhren had been waiting for came, expectedly, from Cullen. Of course the templar – former templar, as though it made much difference – was upset about mages being allowed to police themselves. Idhren may have snapped at him more than was necessary. But the rebel mages had been without templar supervision for the better part of a year and had seen no increase of blood magic or abominations in that time. Aside from Fiona’s disastrous decision to ally with Tevinter, the rebels had done nothing to warrant suspicion or further oppression.
So while the war council bickered among themselves about what to do about the mages, Idhren returned to his usual haunt in the tavern to wait for a decision.
He was halfway into his first glass and planning on a perfectly lonely evening of mind-numbing alcoholism when someone very rudely pulled a chair up beside him and thumped down into it.
“What is the Herald of Andraste doing drinking alone in a corner?” Dorian asked as he pulled a chair away from a nearby table and sat down across from him.
Idhren stared down into the cup before him and wondered whether he should say anything. Ultimately, however, all the walls he had built up over the years held firm, prevented him from opening himself to anyone else. Even Dorian. Especially Dorian. The last time he had allowed himself to open up to the man it had not ended well, and Idhren could not bear another heartbreak atop the one he already suffered. When he raised his eyes up to look at Dorian again, it was with suspicion, and carefully guarded. It was one thing to trade harmless insults on the road, or clever quips while running for your life, and quite another to sit here and express genuine concern. Idhren was too far into his cups to play that game right now. “Why do you care?”
“I know a bit about drinking alone in the corner,” Dorian replied. “It’s not usually done for good reason.”
Idhren thought he had very good reason. “It’s none of your business,” he muttered, “If you’ve only come to tell me once again what a terrible disappointment I am, then leave. I don’t have the patience for it tonight.”
“That’s not what I intended,” Dorian protested weakly. “I only meant to ask… if you’re alright. All this is…” he gestured vaguely, “Well it’s something.”
Idhren let out a bitter laugh. “It definitely is something,” he had to agree.
“Of all the things I expected to find when I came south,” Dorian said thoughtfully, “A hole in the sky and you at the head of a heretical religious movement was not among them. It does get me wondering, though. I’ve heard plenty of rumors, of course, but I thought why not ask the man himself?”
Idhren narrowed his eyes at Dorian, not certain where he was going with this. “Ask me what?”
“Are you the Herald of Andraste?” Dorian asked.
It was something Idhren wondered himself, actually. His memory of the Conclave was fragmented and hazy. He did not remember the explosion, and he could not recollect the face of the woman who had reached out to him in the Fade. “Am I not the spitting image of our Maker’s bride?” he asked, rather than give an answer one way or the other.
Now it was Dorian’s turn to laugh. “Not exactly,” he replied, “Assuming all those paintings and statues are even remotely accurate. For one, she had bigger tits.”
The laugh that escaped Idhren then was far from bitter, though the smile that crossed his face afterwards was wry. “Well, that part’s probably my fault.” Without all those medications would his body have continued to mature like a woman? He shuddered at the mere thought of it.
“It’s for the better, really,” Dorian said, “They wouldn’t suit you at all.”
Idhren started suddenly and stared across the table at Dorian, only barely managing to hide his confusion. Was Dorian flirting with him? Idhren did not have much experience flirting. Varius and Tainan had both been incredibly overt in making their desires known. And he had seen Dorian with Felix in Redcliffe; he had seen how close they were. Dorian stared right back, and seemed unaware to Idhren’s confusion. “So,” the man said after a moment of awkward silence, “How much longer do I have to make small talk before you decide to share that bottle?”
And just like every time before, Dorian worked Idhren’s hopes up only to dash them to pieces a moment later. “Ah, so that’s really why you’re here, then?” he asked, any inkling of cheer that Dorian had managed to bring gone in an instant. “To steal my drinks?”
“In part,” Dorian admitted, “You do seem to be the only person in this place with anything remotely drinkable. The woman at the bar wouldn’t give me anything but that piss they call ale. Believe me, I tried. You also looked terribly lonely and miserable over here by yourself.”
Some things never changed. “I’m sorry to have burdened you with my pathetic self once again,” he muttered. “I’ll go find somewhere to be lonely and miserable where you won’t be forced to look at me.”
“What?” Dorian asked, clearly confused, “What are you talking about?”
“Isn’t that what this has always been about?” Idhren asked. He took hold of the bottle in one hand and his cup in the other and wondered if he was still sober enough to make a dignified exit. “You’ve never actually been interested in me. I’m just so sad and pathetic that you can’t help yourself. I’m some sort of tool to make you feel better about yourself.”
Dorian looked incredibly confused, and mildly horrified. “You can’t possibly think that,” he protested. “Even after everything that’s happened?”
“After what?” Idhren asked. He wished that Dorian would just admit it, then it he could stop having all these conflicting feelings about the man. Feelings he shouldn’t even be having at this point. “After you pretended not to know me in the Circle? After you looked down on me for putting my family before my ambition? For passing time with a whore? Even now you’ll pretend to care about me just to get yourself a better drink.”
“That’s not…” Dorian protested, “I do care about you, Idhren. I’ve always cared about you.”
Idhren scoffed. “Forgive me if I don’t believe you. Only one person outside my family ever truly cared about me, and they’re dead thanks to this fucking thing.” He released his hold on the bottle and slammed his marked hand down on the table.
Dorian looked at the mark in surprise and confusion for a moment before he realized what Idhren meant. Everyone at the Conclave was killed, except the Herald. “What happened?” he asked in concern.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Idhren replied curtly, snatching up the bottle again and pushing himself to his feet. Regardless of whether he could manage a dignified exit, Idhren needed to get out of here.
“Idhren.” Something in Dorian’s voice made him stop, half a step away from the table, and turn back around. “You’re right,” Dorian said very carefully. “I was an ass to you before. I apologize.”
For a long moment Idhren stared at him, trying to find some hint at a lie in his face, but he found nothing. Suddenly he wasn’t so angry anymore. It had been a long time, maybe Dorian had changed. “I’ll tell you,” he found himself saying, “If you really want to know. But not here.” He didn’t think he could talk about Tainan without tears, and that wasn’t something he wanted the whole of Haven to know about.
“Very well,” Dorian agreed easily, and stood up. “Lead the way.”
Still not certain if this was a good idea, Idhren left the cup on the table but took the bottle of liquor with him as he left the tavern. He led Dorian through the paths, turned muddy by snow and the constant foot traffic. The man was surprisingly quiet as they walked, which was unlike him, but Idhren was grateful. They reached the Herald’s cabin shortly, kicking the mud from their boots as they entered. Idhren lit a fire in the grate with a short wave of his hand and sat down on the edge of the bed. After taking a moment to glance around the small cabin Dorian took a seat in the single chair available, pulling it over to the side of the bed.
Idhren took a swig directly from the bottle and then held it out to Dorian. “I didn’t go to the Conclave alone,” he said, unsurprised by the way his voice choked at the mere thought of Tainan. Though they had only been together for a short time it was still strange going to bed and waking up alone. All those nights tangled together under a pile of furs in the aravel or squeezed into a single bedroll, those mornings waking up with a face full of red hair or roused by soft kisses had been the happiest of his life.
“Who was with you?” Dorian asked curiously, completely oblivious to Idhren’s strife as he took the bottle from him and had a drink as well.
“A hunter from the clan,” Idhren replied, and swallowed heavily. “Tainan. We… We were lovers.”
Dorian fell silent for a moment as though he wasn’t certain what to say. “I’m sorry,” he said eventually, quiet and earnest, and offered the bottle to Idhren once more. “Like… that elf from the lyrium den?” he asked cautiously.
The elf accepted the bottle back and took a long swig. When he lowered the bottle from his lips he shook his head. “No. Varius was my friend, a very dear friend, but I didn’t love him.”
“You loved this hunter?” Dorian asked softly.
“Yes,” Idhren admitted painfully. “More than anything.” Tainan had been everything Idhren wished he could be: confident, strong, genuine, free and open with their affections. And being with them had made Idhren feel like he could become all those things. All the hurts of his past seemed to wash away when Tainan smiled at him. “Do you know what they said to me? When we got to Haven, before the Conclave, before everything went to shit? ‘When we get home we should get married’.” Idhren choked on the last word, barely getting it out past the lump in his throat. “I never gave an answer.”
“Why not?” Dorian asked.
“I was scared,” Idhren choked out. “I thought it was all too good to be true. And I was right, wasn’t I? Fenhedis… I was right.”
Slowly Dorian moved to sit beside Idhren on the bed and eased the bottle of liquor out of his lax hands. The elf was on the verge of tears, choking back his emotions. Dorian had no idea what to say that could make this easier for him, so he just put the bottle aside and placed a hand awkwardly on Idhren’s shoulder in hopes of being even a little bit comforting.
“There’s not even anything to bury,” Idhren hiccupped as the tears finally began to fall. “There’s nothing left. I don’t have anything.” He hung his head and swiped ineffectively at the tears on his cheeks. “It’s not fair,” he sobbed, “Tainan was… Tainan was so much better than me. It should’ve been them. It should’ve been them here instead of me.”
“I’m sorry,” Dorian murmured. It felt so inadequate, but what else could he say? What else could he do?
Idhren shook his head as he wiped the tears from his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled thickly. “You didn’t come here for this,” he sniffled.
Dorian hadn’t expected the crying, but he had known Idhren was upset. He just hadn’t known it was quite this serious. “Does anyone else know?” he asked. The way Idhren had been drinking alone in the tavern suggested otherwise.
“I’m sure they do,” Idhren struggled to get his voice back under control. “They read my mail. I had to write to the clan… I had to tell them. I’m sure Leliana read it. It’s just like fucking Canidius all over again,” he bit out. “Let me think I’m free, think I’m important, special. Keep me happy so I won’t run off with the only thing that can seal the Breach.”
Dorian may have only been in Haven for a few days, but he didn’t get the impression that Idhren was as much a prisoner as he claimed. Of course, he’d never felt that way about Idhren’s situation in Tevinter, either. He was apparently a poor judge. Whether it was true or not, it was clear that Idhren was unhappy here, miserable even, and Dorian’s heart ached for him. “You really think you’re no more important to them than the mark on your hand?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Idhren sighed. “They send me off to be the face of the Inquisition, let me attend their war councils and make decisions, but it could just as easily have been someone else. I’m only here because of this mark.”
“It’s not someone else, though,” Dorian commented. “It’s you. And I, at least, am glad that it’s you.”
“That makes one of us,” Idhren mumbled. He wiped at his eyes once more and leaned over to pick up the bottle of liquor from where Dorian had set it on the floor. He raised the bottle to his lips and took a large swig. “I just want to end this and go home.” Although he doubted it would be that easy. There was still this thing on his hand that no one understood, still the Venatori and their Elder One. Closing the Breach wouldn’t be the end. And going home might not be any comfort without Tainan.
“How much longer, then?” Dorian asked, watching as Idhren took another swig from the bottle. It was nearly empty now.
“A few days, at least, no more than a week,” Idhren replied. “Time to organize the mages, but the Breach needs to be dealt with soon. After that… I don’t know.” No one knew, really, but they could worry about that after the immediate problem was dealt with.
“Well, here’s hoping the world doesn’t end before then,” Dorian took the bottle back from Idhren and finished it off. “And that the tavern has significantly more of whatever this is,” he eyed the label on the bottle, but it was no vintage he recognized. “I think we’re going to need it.”