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Title: Semper ad Meliora
Fandom: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Rating: Mature/Explicit
Pairing: Dorian Pavus/Idhren Lavellan, Idhren Lavellan/Tainan Lavellan




Chapter 8 - Now We Fly</u>

The path we beat is the path that we walked
To flee the Tevinter slums
Now we fly on wheels and wings
And hoofbeats are our drums

- from Passing By, a Dalish traveling song

Free Marches, 9:38 Dragon

The first time it snowed the year that Idhren came south he was in awe. He emerged from the aravel in the morning to find the ground dusted with white and flakes slowly falling from above. It was far more beautiful than he would have expected. He couldn’t help but stare, eyes trained up at the grey sky.

“What, you never seen snow before?” Tainan teased upon finding him standing there like a giddy child.

“Not real snow,” Idhren replied. And never as calm and beautiful as this. Frost spells were always harsh, nothing like this gentle snowfall. The flakes that fell were soft when they landed on his hands, melting the moment they touched his fingertips.

A sudden weight on his shoulders pulled Idhren’s thoughts back to the present. Tainan had draped a cloak over his shoulders – their own cloak, Idhren realized - and was smiling in amusement at Idhren’s confusion.  “You were shivering, city boy.”

Idhren hadn’t even realized he was cold until he was warm again, heat coming back into his limbs slowly from where Tainan’s cloak sat heavy on his shoulders. His hands clasped around the edges of the thick fabric and pulled it closer around him. “Won’t you be cold now?”

“It isn’t that cold,” Tainan said flippantly, “But if you’re really concerned we could always share,” they suggested with a smirk and a waggle of their eyebrows that made Idhren blush. That blush in turn set Tainan into a fit of giggling.

For the past several months Tainan had been teaching Idhren how to fight, just as they had promised. At least once every few days the pair would make time to practice on the outskirts of the camp, first technique, and then sparring. Despite being knocked on his ass more often than not in those sessions, Idhren had come to enjoy the time he spent with Tainan. The other elf had always been friendly and sympathetic. However, recently their flirting had become more and more overt until it was impossible for even Idhren to miss.

When Tainan’s laughter subsided, they sidled up to Idhren, right into his personal space, bright eyes alight with mischief. “Or maybe I’ll go hunt a bear and bring back its pelt to make a cloak for you,” they said in a low voice, “One that would keep a northern flower from wilting in even the coldest winter. Would that be alright with you?”

“Yes,” Idhren breathed in reply, heart leaping in his chest. Tainan grinned and even blushed a little bit as well before scampering away. Idhren clutched tighter at the fabric around his shoulders. It was rough and heavy, nothing like what he was used to wearing back in Tevinter, and as he pulled it up over his cold nose it smelled like Tainan; like leather and resin and the forest after a rain.

At the time Idhren had not been well versed enough in Dalish customs to understand the depth of meaning behind Tainan’s proposal. During that first winter he forgot completely about the offer. His first southern winter had been difficult. Even though the clan moved northeast toward the Antivan border they never traveled far enough north to completely avoid the snow. There were points at which Idhren thought he might never be warm again.

Now, however, after over a year living among Clan Lavellan and learning all he could of Dalish lore and customs from Keeper Istimaethoriel, Idhren understood exactly what Tainan was offering.

He understood exactly what it meant when Tainan returned from a hunt, still covered in mud, leaves stuck in their hair, dragging the corpse of a not-quite-mature bear with the help of two other hunters and laid the prize down at Idhren’s feet there where the entire clan could see it.

A bear was above and beyond a suitable courtship gift, even for the Keeper’s First, but perhaps even more so given that Idhren was still somewhat of an outsider.

“I told you I would get you a bear, didn’t I?” Tainan was grinning from ear to ear, practically vibrating in excitement.

Idhren was too stunned to say anything except, “You did.”

“I wanted to give you just the cloak,” Tainan continued. “Because I thought, city boy’s still a bit squeamish about all the blood and guts, but then I realized it would be too hard to keep it hidden. So,” Tainan stepped around the body of the bear and up to Idhren, eyes alight with hope and joy as they slipped their arms around his waist, “Do you like it?”

Idhren glanced down at the corpse only feet away from him. It was disgusting, bloody and dirty and all around distasteful. But knowing what Tainan must have gone through to track and kill the creature, then drag it back here, the danger that the hunter had put themselves in just to impress Idhren overshadowed all of that. He looked back up again, into Tainan’s impossibly blue eyes, full of their never ending confidence and optimism, and couldn’t help grinning as well. “I love it.”

Tainan laughed aloud and tightened their hold around Idhren’s waist, sweeping the petite mage off his feet and into a crushing embrace that Idhren had no choice but to return. They had an audience by now, nearly half the clan had born witness to Tainan’s gift thanks to the incredibly public way in which it was delivered, but Idhren had eyes only for Tainan. The hunter’s enthusiasm was infectious. Even after Tainan set him back on the ground he kept his arms looped loosely around the hunter’s taller, broader shoulders. “I’ll make you whatever you want,” Tainan gushed. “A cloak? A new staff? Boots? No… I don’t know how to make boots…” they corrected thoughtfully.

Idhren was unable to contain the giggle that escaped him. Tainan was always energetic, but even for them this was a bit excessive. “I’m sure I’ll love whatever you make,” he replied. Already Tainan had done more than anyone else ever had, Idhren wouldn’t have dreamed for more. “But could you please deal with that thing before it starts to smell?” he asked, gesturing to the carcass still lying on the ground. It did nothing to enhance the mood.

In the end Idhren did not get a bearskin cloak or a new staff or a new pair of boots. Tainan was not a craftsman, so their ambition was sadly tempered by the limits of their skill – which was apparently limited to crafting archery supplies. The bear’s pelt was tanned and made into a blanket, more than adequate to keep Idhren warm on cold winter nights. The rest was given to the clan, and the abundance of fresh meat meant a veritable feast was held that night, celebrating both the successful hunt and Idhren and Tainan’s now official courtship.

It was hardly traditional, but nothing about their courtship was traditional.

Least of all the fact that Idhren was a man and that Tainan was also technically a man. Back in Tevinter they could never have been so open about any of this; it would have been a source of ridicule and abuse. Here, Istimaethoriel gave them her blessing and joked about having her aravel to herself again. Here, their gender was not an issue. Unusual, yes, but simply another item in the long list of Tainan’s eccentricities, a peculiarity of Idhren’s ‘shemlen upbringing’. Instead, the problem was that Idhren’s face was bare.

“According to Dalish tradition you are not an adult until you have vallaslin,” Istimaethoriel informed him, “Therefore, you cannot be properly courted and you certainly cannot be bonded. I’ve allowed the courtship because yours is clearly a unique situation. If you were raised Dalish you would have gone through the ritual years ago. And Tainan is clearly besotted,” she said fondly, “When they asked permission I couldn’t bear to say no.”

Idhren flushed slightly and ducked his head. It still felt somewhat surreal, that anyone would feel so strongly for him. It made him happy, of course, but also nervous.

“I know it’s much too early to be entertaining wedding plans, but the vallaslin ritual is not something that can be put off to the last minute,” the Keeper continued. “That is assuming you want to be bonded someday.”

“I… don’t know,” Idhren admitted shyly. The courtship had only been official for a matter of days, Idhren had barely accepted that it was real, let alone what it meant for the future. “I’m still having a hard time believing any of this is actually happening.”

Istimaethoriel smiled at him in understanding. “You had a difficult life before coming to us,” she murmured, “I imagine it is not easy to trust after some of the things you have been through.” Idhren nodded mutely. There were times he still found himself fearing that any show of kindness was false or was hiding ulterior motives. “You are a remarkable person, Idhren, and Tainan saw that even before I did. I love the both of you as though you were my own children, although only Tainan came to me as a babe, and I would be overjoyed to see the two of you find happiness together. Ultimately, however, that is your decision. If you haven’t, you should talk to them. You will have to trust them if you want to pursue this relationship. If you can’t, then best to let them down now, it will be less painful that way.”

She was right, of course. Idhren knew that. Tainan deserved to know, Tainan needed to know. Idhren could not, in good conscience, continue courting them while keeping secrets. “I’ve never talked about it before,” he said quietly. Even Istimaethoriel didn’t know everything that Idhren had suffered in Tevinter. She knew his anatomy, and that he had been hurt because of it, but not to what extent. That was something Idhren had never spoken of to anyone. “What if… What if they don’t like me anymore?”

“You know Tainan better than that, I would hope,” was the only reply that the Keeper offered.

Logically, Idhren knew that very little bothered Tainan to the point of anger or disgust. Nothing fazed them save an actual physical threat. At least, that was how the hunter seemed to Idhren. But logic had nothing to do with the emotions swirling in his chest and the butterflies in his stomach. Idhren had never spoken of what happened to him at the Circle. He hid the scars on his arms with long sleeves no matter the heat. He’d never willingly let anyone except Varius see him naked. This was a part of himself that he had spent his entire life denying.

Logically, Idhren knew it would not destroy the fledgling relationship he had with Tainan.

It still took him two more days to work up the courage.

It was mid afternoon when Idhren sought them out, nervous as he had not been since he was a child. He found Tainan seated near one of the campfires burning low between the aravels, a pile of half made arrows at their feet, thin straight sticks in need of tips or feathers. Glancing up as Idhren approached, Tainan’s face immediately lit up upon seeing him.

“Hey,” Idhren greeted hesitantly. “Can I talk to you?”

“Of course,” Tainan replied cheerfully.

“In private,” Idhren added after a moment of hesitation.

“Oh,” Idhren nodded and immediately began gathering their things. “We can talk in my aravel, if that’s alright.”

“That’s fine,” Idhren assured. He waited until Tainan had gathered all their things before following the hunter toward the edge of camp. Each step made Idhren exponentially more nervous. In his mind he could picture the look of disgust on Tainan’s face when they learned the truth, learned that Idhren was not who he was pretending to be.

When they arrived Tainan knocked the door open with a foot and crawled inside. An armful of arrows and fletching tools was deposited unceremoniously at the back of the space before Tainan turned back to Idhren. “What do you want to talk about?”

“It’s… There are some things about my life in Tevinter that you should know,” Idhren said quietly. He sat down across from Tainan, hands folded in his lap and fisted in the fabric of his pants to keep from fidgeting. “If you’re serious about this,” he gestured between them.

“Of course I’m serious,” Tainan insisted, “I wouldn’t have hunted the bear otherwise. Was the bear not good enough?”

“No, the bear was plenty good,” Idhren was quick to assure. “But you… You might not feel the same after I tell you.”

Tainan sobered quickly. “That won’t happen,” they said confidently.

“You say that now,” Idhren couldn’t help being hesitant. “I’ve never talked about some of this before. Promise you won’t interrupt… Just let me finish.”

“Alright,” Tainan agreed apprehensively.

Idhren took a deep breath to try and calm his nerves. It wasn’t terribly effective, but there was no turning back now. “I was born a slave,” he began, “My entire family were slaves.”

He told Tainan everything: How Canidius used his family to control him, and how they died. The abuse at the Circle; the first time he had ever put voice to what happened there. He spoke about Varius, even though so much of that time was a blur of lyrium smoke and liquor. He spoke of Dorian, and realized with surprise that it was the first time he’d thought of the man in at least a year. Through it all Tainan remained quiet. There were times the hunter looked as though they wanted to interrupt, but managed to restrain themselves. Last of all Idhren spoke of himself; explained his usual anatomy to the best of his ability. And as he did so he was unable to keep his voice and his hands from trembling. It was terrifying. Acknowledging this part of himself had never been easy, but this time was even more difficult. Never had he wanted someone to accept him as much as he wanted Tainan. Never had he wanted something as much as what Tainan offered.

By the time he finished, Idhren’s voice was thick with emotion, choking back tears of remembered grief and pain as well as the terror of Tainan’s reaction. His gaze was firmly fixed on his knees, unable to look up into Tainan’s face for fear of what he would find there.

A long moment the pair sat in silence, Idhren’s anxiety mounting by the second, until finally Tainan spoke up. “Idhren,” their voice was calm, gentle, not disgusted or angry. Still Idhren didn’t look up. “Idhren,” the hunter said again after a moment, reached out to cup Idhren’s jaw and tilt his head up until Idhren nervously met their gaze. Tainan’s brow was creased with concern, the expression emphasized further by how it warped the tattoos on their face. “What those people did to you is not your fault. It doesn't make you worth any less." Idhren bit his lip to keep from letting out the sort of pathetic whimper that wanted to escape his throat. Tainan smiled very faintly, let their hand drop from Idhren's face to take his hands between their own. "I don't care about any of that. My past isn't exactly spotless, either. No one's perfect. But all of those things, they made you who you are today. And I love who you are today, nothing else matters."

Idhren could hardly believe his ears. His eyes went wide, mouth agape. Everything forgotten except that one small phrase. "Say it again," he breathed.

"What?" Tainan asked in confusion.

"You... love me?" Idhren asked, hopeful and hesitant.

Tainan's lips quirked in a smile, bright and honest. "I love you."

And Idhren believed them. Without conscious thought he surged forward and pressed his lips against Tainan's. It wasn't a very good kiss, awkward and misaligned. Tainan laughed against his mouth and reached up to cup Idhren's face once more between their hands. "I love you," they said again, and kissed him again; properly this time.

Idhren let out a shuddering sigh. All the pent up fear and worry washed away in an instant, like a dam bursting inside of him. Tainan didn't care. And for a moment everything was perfect. For a moment Idhren felt like nothing in the world could ever go wrong. "I love you," Idhren breathed, barely a whisper as he tested the words that he had never before had the courage to say to anyone. Tainan grinned and Idhren felt it against his lips, the expression echoed on his own face. "I love you," he repeated, louder, more confident. Tainan kissed him again.

They fell onto the pile of blankets that made up Tainan’s bed in a breathless tangle of limbs. Idhren’s heart raced with sudden desire, although his hands shook with trepidation. Though Tainan professed love and acceptance deep down Idhren still feared revealing his body to another person. But Tainan’s hands were gentle and tentative as they moved over his body, asking permission for every article of clothing that was removed, encouraging but not demanding. And when Idhren faltered they kissed him again until his head spun.

Tainan mapped his body with hands and mouth, they looked at Idhren with nothing but adoration, murmuring praise against each newly-revealed patch of skin until Idhren forgot to be nervous. He burned with need, his entire body flushed as he ran his own hands over Tainan’s firm chest and broad shoulders. “Tainan,” he sighed, half a moan and half a plea, tilting his hips in invitation, “Please.”

The hunter’s eyes were dark with want as they looked down at Idhren. “You’re sure?” they asked breathlessly, even as they slid a hand between Idhren’s legs.

A moan escaped Idhren’s lips as he instinctively bucked his hips up against Tainan’s hand, seeking further contact. “Tainan,” he breathed out a stuttering sigh. “If you’re not inside me in the next minute I may light you on fire.”

For one startled moment Tainan could do nothing but stare at Idhren in surprise. For one horrified moment Idhren thought he had crossed a line in his impatience. Then a slow smirk spread over the hunter’s face, “Oh, is that how it is?” they asked with a low chuckle. Hands grasped Idhren’s hips and hauled him bodily up onto Tainan’s lap. “I’d hate to disappoint.”

----------

The next morning Idhren woke surrounded by warmth. In that hazy state between dreaming and being awake, he was aware of little else. Warmth and comfort and the smell of the forest. As awareness slowly worked its way into him, Idhren became conscious of the world around him. Heard the flutter and creak of aravel sails in the morning breeze, the rough fur of the deer hide on which he slept, and a pair of strong arms wrapped around his waist. Cracking his eyes open, Idhren blinked in the dim light that streamed in through the aravel's cracks, then turned slowly to look at the person lying next to him.

Tainan's face was relaxed in sleep, auburn hair spread about them in a disheveled mess. The night before Idhren had freed it from all the braids and knots that held it in place, buried his fingers and his nose in the silken strands as he explored every inch of Tainan's body and was explored in turn. He reached out now and brushed a lock away from Tainan's forehead, allowing him a better look at the hunter's face. Cautiously, careful not to wake his bed partner, he shifted until he lay facing the other, then raised a hand up to trace the thick green lines tattooed across Tainan's brow, cheeks, and nose. He’d thought they were strange at first, the tattoos – vallaslin – that the Dalish wore. Now that he was used to seeing them on every face he thought they were beautiful. Every one was unique. Even if the patterns were the same, the colors, the way they changed with the contour of each face, made them different.

Beside him Tainan stirred and Idhren pulled his hand away, embarrassed. The hunter’s eyes blinked open, stared at the ceiling for a moment, then turned toward him. Then a slow lazy smile spread across Tainan’s face. “Hey.”

It was such a casual thing to say. Not ‘good morning’ or ‘why are you staring at me?’ or anything that Idhren might have been expecting. He didn’t know what he had been expecting. He had never woken up in someone else’s bed before, but Tainan so easily made it feel normal, as though they woke up like this every day. “Hi,” Idhren replied, unable to keep a smile from pulling at his lips, too. He liked this about Tainan; how easy it was simply to exist together.

“Sleep good?” Tainan asked. Their voice was still rough from sleep, eyes half lidded and hair a tangled mess, and they were beautiful.

“Yes,” Idhren replied.

Tainan smiled lazily and leaned forward to steal a quick kiss from Idhren’s lips. It was as slow and lazy as everything else so far that morning, and when Tainan pulled back they turned away to yawn widely. Idhren barely repressed the urge to laugh. “You have plans today?” the hunter asked.

“Not specifically,” Idhren replied. “I need to talk to the Keeper.”

“About magic things?” Tainan asked.

Idhren shook his head. “She thinks I should get vallaslin,” he murmured.

Tainan made a curious sound and studied Idhren’s face for a moment. “You should.”

“You don’t think it’s too soon?” Idhren asked. “I’ve only been here a little over a year. I’m not proper Dalish.”

“Proper Dalish?” Tainan repeated incredulously. “What does that mean? If the Keeper thinks you’re ready then you are. Unless you can’t sit through the ritual, then you’re not.”

Idhren wasn’t sure if Istimaethoriel did think he was ready, or if she was only suggesting it for Tainan’s sake. So that whatever this was between them could be properly recognized some day. But Tainan made it sound so simple. Maybe it was and Idhren was only over thinking again. “Does it hurt?” he asked.

“Yes,” Tainan confirmed. No point lying about it. “That’s the test. You’re supposed to bear the pain in silence to prove your readiness or your devotion to the gods. Something like that.”

That was another problem. “I don’t know if I believe in your gods,” Idhren admitted. And that made it feel wrong, blasphemous, to mark himself with their symbols.

“I don’t think that matters so much anymore,” Tainan mused, “They’re not around to get offended by it.”

“Do you believe in them?” Idhren asked.

Tainan considered for a moment before answering. “Most of the time.”

Idhren understood that. “I was raised with the Chantry,” he said. “They only have one god.”

“That sounds boring,” Tainan commented, “Do you think he’d mind if you had more?”

“I think He would,” Idhren replied. “But I’m not sure I care what He thinks. He’s never done anything to help me. I don’t think He likes me very much. Or elves at all, for that matter.” He sighed and burrowed deeper under the blankets and furs. It was too early in the morning for such heavy conversation, he didn’t like it. Beside him Tainan was silent, uncertain what to say. Eventually Idhren looked over at him again. “I don’t think I know your gods well enough to tattoo one of their names on my face.”

Tainan let out a small huff of amusement, “I thought the Keeper was teaching you all the stories.”

“She has,” Idhren murmured. “But they’re just stories.” Good stories, full of lessons and morals, but still only fairytales. Idhren didn’t feel any connection with the people in them the way he had learning the Chant as a child. “Can you tell me about them?”

“Me?” Tainan asked in surprise. “I don’t know the stories half as well as the Keeper does. You should ask her. Or Hahren Datishan, he knows the stories better than anyone.”

“I know the stories,” Idhren replied, “I want to know what you think… how you feel about them.” He reached a hand up and brushed his fingertips lightly over the lines inked on Tainan’s chin, “Yours is… Andruil,” he recognized. “The hunter. Is that why you chose it?”

“Not all hunters have Andruil’s vallaslin, and not everyone with it is a hunter. That’s a stereotype,” Tainan protested.

“Then why did you choose it?” Idhren asked, equal parts curious and amused.

Tainan’s face screwed up in concentration. “It’s complicated,” they said. “Andruil was a great hunter, and she was always seeking the next challenge, but she also taught us to respect the world and the creatures in it. We hunt because we need to, and we hunt only as much as we need to survive. To take any more would upset the balance of nature.”

“So you’re saying you didn’t hunt that bear just to impress me?” Idhren teased.

“Uh, well,” Tainan chuckled sheepishly, “Maybe I did, a little bit. But the clan benefitted, and will prosper because of it. And I don’t make a habit. This was a special occasion. I don’t think Andruil would be mad at me for showing off one time. She liked to show off, too.”

“It was very impressive,” Idhren replied. “Is that why you chose Andruil, then? Because she taught respect for nature?”

“No, not really,” Tainan said thoughtfully. “I don’t know how to describe it. I don’t have all the fancy words that you do. But Andruil is about… Courage and strength… You know the Vir Tanadahl, right?” they asked, and at Idhren’s affirmative nod continued. “Fly straight, don’t waver. Bend, but don’t break. Together we’re stronger than alone. When my father explained it to me as a child he said it meant: be true to yourself, but be understanding of others; compromise if you have to, but don’t sacrifice your own morals to make other people happy. We’re stronger together as a clan, as a family, as a People, than if we’re divided.”

“I think I like the sound of that,” Idhren murmured. The Dalish really seemed to value their sense of community. Living with the clan, Idhren had always felt like they were a very tight knit family. Maybe the religion had something to do with that.

“Does that mean you’ll get Andruil’s vallaslin also?” Tainan joked.

“Not just yet,” Idhren answered, rolling his eyes. “I have to think about it some more.”

“Well, you don’t have to think about it today,” Tainan replied, voice a low rumble in their chest. “Today we should just relax, have fun.”

“Oh?” Idhren asked, intrigued as much by the hunter’s tone as their words. “Did you have something in mind?”

“I do,” Tainan replied. In one smooth motion they rolled over, pushing Idhren onto his back and pinning him against the bedding. “First I’m going to kiss you,” they said, and did just that, claiming Idhren’s lips in a long slow kiss that left Idhren breathless and flushed when they finally parted. “Then,” Tainan continued, leaning back enough to let their gaze rake over Idhren’s body in a way that should have made him uncomfortable, but instead set him quivering with anticipation, “I want to taste every part of you, touch every part of you, until I know your body as well as I know my own.”

Venhedis…” Idhren let out a trembling sigh that was almost a moan. He reached up and ran his fingers through Tainan’s hair once more, pulling the hunter down for a heated kiss before they could make good on that promise. “Yes, please.”

----------

It was midday by the time either Idhren or Tainan emerged from the aravel, Tainan in search of food and Idhren a clean change of clothes. Idhren had hoped to slip into the Keeper’s aravel unnoticed, change, and then leave again before anyone was the wiser. He wasn’t so lucky. Istimaethoriel was seated just outside the wagon tying freshly gathered herbs into bundles for drying. She watched Idhren approach with a knowing smile on her face. “Am I going to be getting my privacy back earlier than expected?” she asked.

Idhren’s cheeks burned, “Not yet,” he mumbled in reply.

“Ah, too bad,” the woman shrugged. “But I take it your discussion went better than you’d expected.”

“Yes,” Idhren didn’t bother to deny it. The results were fairly obvious. “Much better.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Istimaethoriel smiled softly, a little proudly. “Should I expect you back tonight?”

Idhren didn’t honestly know. It would depend entirely on where the day led them. Tainan had always been good company, but now Idhren found himself wanting to spend every possible moment with them. The hunter’s easy acceptance and carefree optimism made Idhren feel comfortable enough to let down his defenses. He had been more at ease in Tainan’s presence this morning than he ever remembered being before – without the aid of alcohol or drugs, at least. He wanted to feel that way all the time. And yet he feared rejection if he pushed too hard too fast. “For now, yes,” he answered eventually and pulled open the aravel’s door.

“Very well,” Istimaethoriel replied, turning back to her work. “While you’re in there you might want to put some ice on your neck,” she commented blithely, “Or consider a scarf.”

Idhren’s cheeks burned even hotter and he scrambled into the aravel to avoid having to reply. Once inside he quickly changed clothes, then stared at himself in the piece of polished metal that served as a mirror until he located the bruise on his neck and iced it with frost on his fingertips for as long as he could bear, but the color barely faded. Eventually he gave up and wrapped a thin scarf around his neck instead, then snatched up the simple, unbladed staff he’d made since joining the clan and left the aravel again. “I’m going training,” he called quickly to Istimaethoriel as he rushed away.

He met Tainan in a clearing just out of sight of the main camp but still within earshot if someone shouted. Over the years he’d been getting significantly better at fighting without his magic, and could generally hold his own with a weapon in his hand. Without a weapon he was still not strong enough to do much damage, but at least he could get away if someone were to attack him, and that was the whole point. This was a fallback plan in case he ever found himself unable to use magic again. Or that was how it had started, but the longer this arrangement went on the more Idhren found himself enjoying the sparring sessions. And not just because of the company.

Today, however, the pair did less fighting than they did kissing, until they gave up the pretense entirely to lounge together on the mossy ground, enjoying the fading warmth of the autumn sun.

Tainan’s eyes were closed, splayed out like a cat in the patch of sunlight that they had claimed. The hunter’s hair was once more tied back in the careless knot of braids that usually kept it under control and it shone like fire in the sun. The air was filled with the sounds of the forest: wind in the trees, birds and animals, the distant sounds of the Dalish camp occasionally breaking through. Idhren lay with his head pillowed on Tainan’s chest, staring up at the blue-grey sky through the branches.

“Tainan,” Idhren said softly, hesitant to break the calm silence between them. The hunter hummed a response that Idhren felt more than heard. But he didn’t continue right away. After another long moment he finally dared to ask, “Why do you like me?”

“What?” Tainan’s voice was mumbled, confused.

“Why do you like me?” Idhren repeated. It sounded selfish, asking again, as though he was fishing for compliments, but that was not the case. He genuinely wanted to know what Tainan saw in him. “No one’s ever liked me before.”

“That’s not true,” Tainan scoffed in disbelief.

“It is,” Idhren insisted. Not the way Tainan liked him, at least. “Everyone in Tevinter thought I was useless… except the slaves. My family barely even knew me by the end, I never told them about… about the abuse, or the lyrium. Kaffas,” he swore, swallowing the lump in his throat, “I had to pay someone to love me.”

“Idhren, you’re not useless,” Tainan insisted, wrapping an arm around Idhren’s shoulders and giving a comforting squeeze. “I think you’re amazing.”

It helped, hearing things like that. Every moment spent with Tainan helped, but there were still some times when Idhren felt unlovable, worthless, broken – all the things Canidius and Tevinter had wanted him to think. “Why?” he asked again, and hated himself for it.

“Well…” Tainan frowned thoughtfully. “Because you’re you.”

“What does that mean?” Idhren asked. It was so vague an answer, and right now he needed more concrete reassurance.

“Well, you’re…” Tainan fumbled for the right words. They always had difficulty articulating abstract concepts like this. They didn’t know all the fancy words that Idhren did to explain their feelings. “You’re smart,” they began, “The smartest person I’ve ever met. And… You’re brave, and determined. And you work hard, and you’re really confident – most of the time anyway.” Idhren began to smile. Despite the simplicity of Tainan’s words he could hear the emotion in their voice, how earnestly they meant each small compliment. “And you’re beautiful,” Tainan added at the end, smiling and leaning down to kiss Idhren’s forehead.

But that last one made the smile slip off Idhren’s face. “I don’t want to be beautiful.”

“Handsome, then,” Tainan corrected.

“I don’t…” Idhren began, and then cut himself off. The word wasn’t the problem. “I just want to be normal.” And he had such a bizarre, uncomfortable and contradictory relationship with his appearance, needing and hating compliments at the same time.

“What’s wrong?” Tainan asked.

“I…” Idhren hesitated. “I never told anyone this, but… If I weren’t a mage it’s very likely Canidius would have sold me to a whorehouse.”

Tainan gasped audibly and held Idhren even tighter, so tight it was nearly painful. “I’m sorry. Did he ever…?”

“No,” Idhren insisted quickly, “No. He never touched me.” He shuddered at the mere thought, and sent a silent prayer of thanks up to whatever god had saved him from that particular nightmare.

“Good,” Tainan murmured, “Otherwise I would be forced to go into Tevinter and kill him.”

Idhren snorted in amusement. “That’s either very brave or very stupid.”

“Probably both,” Tainan admitted.

It probably was, Idhren thought, nodding in agreement. “It’s also the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me,” he mumbled. That Tainan would even consider putting himself in such danger for his sake was touching. No one had ever – no, that was wrong. Sahren had once expressed such a desire. And Dorian. Dorian had actually done it. Idhren shook his head and pushed himself upright to look down at Tainan. The hunter looked up at him, gentle smile on their features and eyes full of affection.

Idhren hated how much Tevinter still haunted his thoughts, still clouded his perceptions. All those years of torment, of being looked down on, talked down to, used, abused, belittled. He had finally escaped, finally found somewhere that he could be happy, but still he couldn’t put all that behind him.

“What’s wrong?” Tainan asked. Idhren’s feelings much have shown on his face.

“Will you cut my hair?” the mage asked without giving himself time to think about it.

“What?” Tainan startled. “But I like your hair,” they protested, reaching up to tuck a loose strand behind Idhren’s ear. “Why would you want to cut it off?”

“I used to use it to try and hide my ears,” Idhren admitted in shame. “As though that would make me human and then people would respect me. I don’t want to be that person anymore. I want… I want to get rid of everything that reminds me of Tevinter. I don’t want to think about it ever again.”

Tainan stared up at him, frowning a moment, and then nodded. “Alright.” They sat up, reached out to lace their fingers through Idhren’s hair one more time. “But not too short, surely. It’s so nice. Besides, you’d look awful without any hair. I’d still love you, though,” they added quickly.

Idhren’s lips quirked in a small smile. Trust Tainan to make him smile at even his worst moments, taking all of Idhren’s insecurities so easily in stride. “We’ll see,” Idhren replied. He’d had long hair for most of his life, it would be strange to cut it off, but he wanted to. He needed a change. He still looked like he had in Tevinter, maybe changing that would stop him from feeling like he had in Tevinter. “It’ll grow back, anyway.”

“I guess so,” Tainan was forced to agree. The hunter pushed themselves up then climbed to their feet. “I’ll need a good knife.”

----------

They sat just outside Tainan’s aravel, Idhren cross-legged on the ground and Tainan sitting on the step up to the door. Tainan owned a number of knives for a number of purposes, but Idhren doubted any of them were intended for cutting hair. Tainan looked as though they cut their hair once a year. But the hunter was careful, sharpening a straight knife and holding Idhren’s hair straight to cut off the merest inch at a time. Every few inches they would stop, ask Idhren what he thought, if he wanted to continue. Idhren shook his head, ran his hand through the strands, and told them to continue.

Finally, with a puddle of hair on the ground about his feet, he told Tainan to stop.

Idhren’s hair had not been this short since he was a child, since before his magic manifested, when it had been an unruly, jagged cut mop of brown atop his head. Slaves didn’t need to look nice unless they were seen by nobles. Tainan had done a nice job, however, neatening up the cut by scraping the edge of the blade along the back of Idhren’s neck to shave off any stray hairs.

It felt light. And a little cold. Everything below his ears had been trimmed nearly to the scalp. As Idhren ran his hands through his hair again it felt strange. But it also felt freeing. “How’s it look?” he asked curiously. Of course there were no mirrors here. He would never be able to see it properly himself, only know how it felt.

Tainan was silent for a moment as they brushed stray hairs off of Idhren’s shoulders. “It looks good,” they answered eventually, ruffling their hands through Idhren’s now-short hair and messing it up. “I like it.” Idhren laughed and swatted at the hunter’s hands, dodging away from the assault. “Do you like it?”

“It’s very different,” Idhren answered, turning around so he could face Tainan. “It’ll take some getting used to, but I do like it. Thank you.”

Tainan smiled and leaned forward, stealing a kiss from Idhren’s lips. “You’re welcome.”

They ate dinner together, and then Idhren reluctantly returned to the aravel he still shared with Istimaethoriel for the night. When the Keeper saw him her eyebrows rose in surprise. Idhren could only imagine how different he must look now. “You must have had an eventful day,” she commented, “What brought this on?”

Idhren shrugged and ran a hand through his hair for the umpteenth time that day. “I just… felt like a change. What do you think?”

Istimaethoriel eyed him thoughtfully for a moment, and then smiled. “I actually think it suits you much better than long hair,” she replied. “You sometimes used to look like you were trying to hide behind it.”

By now Idhren should not have been surprised by the Keeper’s keen observational skills. He was, though. They had not known each other long, but she knew him better than his own mother had. “Now I can’t,” he said.

Istimaethoriel’s smile widened. “No, you can’t,” she agreed. “Have you eaten yet, or were you too distracted?”

Idhren flushed immediately. “We ate,” he insisted, and stormed past her to climb into the aravel.
Semper ad Meliora - Chapter 8
Beginning | Previous | Next

Crossposted from AO3

Nice things for Idhren because he deserves nice things. Like warm clothes and nice mother figures and cute boys to kiss.

Also, I collected all the little drabbles/headcanons/memes/etc. I've written about Idhren on tumblr into one masterpost. There's a lot, so go check it out. I'll probably do one for Tainan later, but they don't have as much content yet.
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Title: Semper ad Meliora
Fandom: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Rating: Mature/Explicit
Pairing: Dorian Pavus/Idhren Lavellan, Idhren Lavellan/Tainan Lavellan




Chapter 7 - The People Will Set Ourselves Free</u>

And Shartan looked upon the Prophet Andraste
And said: “The People will set ourselves free.
Your host from the South may march
Alongside us.”

- Canticle of Shartan 9:27

Free Marches, 9:37 Dragon

Three months Idhren had been on the road, and he was beginning to regret his decision to leave Tevinter. He had known that wandering the countryside in search of wild elves would not be easy, but he had not anticipated exactly how difficult it would be. Despite his lowly birth, Idhren had spent most of his life among Tevinter’s elite. He was not used to sleeping on the ground, or cooking his own food, or walking long distances and carrying everything he owned on his back. Not that Idhren had left Tevinter with much in the way of personal possessions. He had only two sets of clothes, not robes but leather breeches and tunics that were more suitable for travel and did not immediately label him a mage. A week in he had detached the blade from the end of his staff to better use and disguise the thing as a walking stick. It now hung from his belt like some sort of odd dagger and was actually proving itself quite useful as a utility knife.

What concerned Idhren most, however, was not running out of food or coin. What concerned Idhren the most was that he had only packed three months worth of the potion that stopped his body from becoming any more feminine. The potion that he had been downing a swallow of every day for the past eight years. A week ago Idhren began carefully rationing it, taking only half a dose each day to stretch it out as long as possible and hoping that it would be enough. But what would happen when it ran out and the effects wore off?

It was a reality that Idhren had been forced to acknowledge during his packing. He could only carry so much of the stuff before it became a burden. The ingredients were not particularly rare in Tevinter, but he had no idea how easy they would be to obtain in the south. Running out and not being able to mix more was always a possibility. But in reality, with the end looming before him, the anxiety was nearly enough to send him into a panic.

At the moment Idhren was somewhere in the middle of the Free Marches, provided he was reading this map correctly. Having left the main roads under the assumption that elusive Dalish elves wouldn’t be found close to human settlements or major thoroughfares, he had been following rough dirt tracks through the wilderness for days now without actually knowing what to look for. He knew only what he had read about Dalish elves in books written by human scholars and through the rumors and legends whispered among elves in Tevinter. According to his pedigree his grandmother had been Dalish, but Idhren had never had the chance to ask his mother about her. He doubted the validity of anything that made its way into a published book, and he knew how badly rumors and legends could be distorted over time.

Maybe this had been a bad idea from the start. Maybe Dorian had been right.

Idhren couldn’t survive out here on his own forever. In another few months summer would be passed and winter would begin to arrive. Was he far enough south that it would snow? Idhren knew he would not survive the winter alone in the woods. He had to find a clan by then or else return to the city.

Moving into one of these southern cities would be admitting defeat.

And potentially even less safe than he had anticipated when leaving Tevinter, if the rumors he heard on the road were to be believed. Apparently the southern Circles were in rebellion, or about to rebel; the stories were sometimes contradictory. Either way something was happening with the southern Circles and Idhren was certain he did not want to be involved.

The sun was setting on another day of aimless wandering that had brought Idhren no closer to his goal. As the shadows lengthened around him Idhren wrapped his cloak tighter around his shoulders to stave off the evening chill. He needed to find somewhere to shelter for the night, which was easier said than done.

The hollow that Idhren eventually settled himself in well after sundown was not an ideal campsite, but it was not the worst place he had spent the night since this whole thing began.

A haphazard pile of sticks and moss caught fire easily, but without his magic Idhren doubted he would be able to build even the most meager of campfires. And his was certainly meager. With his cloak wrapped tightly around himself Idhren huddled close to the paltry flame for what little warmth it provided. The days had been mild so far, but it was much cooler here at night than in Tevinter.

The forest at night was a frightening place, full of foreign sounds and sights. His first night alone on the road Idhren had been too frightened to sleep, concerned that some animal would come upon him in his sleep. He was less concerned about that now, but the darkness still set him on edge.  The sudden snap of a twig mere feet from where he sat nearly had Idhren jumping out of his skin. Instantly one hand moved to his staff as he turned in the direction of the noise. He saw first a pair of eyes, glinting yellow as they reflected the firelight, then the owner of those eyes took a step forward and Idhren could make out the shape of a man. No, an elf. An elf dressed all in leathers, thick hair woven into messy braids and knotted at the back of their head. In one hand they carried an intricately carved longbow, an arrow nocked to the string but pointed at the ground. Most interesting, though, were the markings on the elf’s face. Thick green lines inked across brow and cheeks.

“Bit late for a picnic isn’t it?” the elf asked curiously. Idhren could only stare stupidly, mouth hung open and eyes wide. “That’s not a very good campfire,” they commented, gesturing to the flame with the bow. “I doubt it’ll keep any animals at bay.”

Idhren’s mouth opened and closed once ineffectively before he managed to speak, “You’re Dalish,” he blurted out.

The elf arched an eyebrow at him, tightened their grip on the bow. “I am,” they confirmed.

“I’ve been looking for you,” Idhren said eagerly. In his excitement it did not occur to him that he might be in danger, or that admitting this might be a bad idea. “For the Dalish.”

The Dalish elf regarded him suspiciously for a moment, eyes darting to the staff that Idhren was still holding. “Are you another runaway from the Circles?”

“No,” Idhren answered. Not from the southern Circles, at least. He hesitated a moment before adding, “I’m from Tevinter.”

The elf’s eyes went wide in surprise. “A slave?”

“I’m not a slave,” Idhren snapped defensively, although he could see why this elf would think that.

“No,” the elf’s lips quirked up in a small smile, “No, you’re not.” In one smooth motion they pulled the arrow from their bow and stowed it away again in the quiver at their waist. Idhren immediately released a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. “Might I share your fire?”

It was probably dangerous to let some stranger share his campsite for the night, but Idhren was growing rather desperate in his search for the Dalish. He wasn’t about to let this opportunity pass him by. “Of course,” he said, taking his hand off his staff.

“Ma serannas,” the elf replied, and came to take a seat across the fire from Idhren. The bow was set at their side, along with a small pack. “This fire will never last the night, you know,” they commented.

Idhren looked down at the fire, and even he recognized that it was a poor attempt. It wasn’t as though he had much experience, however, and everything out here was much harder than it had seemed while reading about it. Despite its weak appearance, however, Idhren knew he could keep the flame going all night. “It’s magic.”

The Dalish elf arched an eyebrow curiously, looking from the fire to Idhren and then back again. “Doesn’t it take energy to sustain something like that? Can you do it while you’re asleep?”

“I don’t have to if I set a ward around it before going to sleep,” Idhren said. This elf didn’t seem to be a mage, however, so it was strange to him that they would know anything of magic, or be interested in it.

The elf hummed thoughtfully and fell silent. Idhren tried his best not to stare, but it was difficult. He had to hold himself back from asking where the rest of this elf’s tribe was and if they might consider taking him in. This was his chance, but he did not want to blow it by seeming too eager. If he could manage to make a good impression on this elf, maybe they would be inclined to lead him to the rest of their group. “I’m Idhren,” he said carefully. “What’s your name?”

The elf’s eyes lifted from the fire and looked at him. “Tainan,” they answered easily.

Tainan. Idhren wondered idly if it meant anything in Elvish. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Idhren replied. “Are you out here alone?”

Tainan nodded, “I’m hunting. The rest of my clan is camped two days’ journey from here,” they explained. “What are you doing out here? You look better suited to city life.”

“I’ve been looking for the Dalish,” Idhren replied vaguely, trying to decide if that had been meant as an insult or not. He had already said that much already. Was Tainan looking for a different answer?

“So you’ve said,” Tainan mused. “Why, though?”

“I… I left Tevinter,” Idhren said, uncertain how much of his story he should give away. “But I’m a mage. I don’t want to be put in one of those Circles. I heard that the Dalish like mages more than the Chantry does.”

“If you mean we don’t lock them in towers or never allow them to have contact with their families then, yes,” Tainan confirmed, “In that sense we do like mages more than the Chantry.” It was a relief for Idhren to know that at least a portion of the rumors had been true. “Are you under the impression that we are some sort of refuge for elven mages? That we’ll take in anyone with pointed ears who stumbles across our camp?”

Idhren frowned. Was this a test? Or was this a roundabout way of saying that Idhren would never be accepted by these wild elves? “No…” he answered slowly. “But I… I had to try. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life being pushed around and belittled by magisters. I’m a great mage, but no one there will ever recognize it.”

“So you’re looking for recognition?” Tainan asked. “Someone to tell you how great you are? Someone to be in awe of your talents?”

“No,” Idhren said, quickly shaking his head. He wanted someone to appreciate his skills, but he did not want anyone to treat him the way magisters demanded to be treated. Most of all, he wanted somewhere that he didn’t have to pretend to be someone he was not. He did not want to pretend to be stupid, or polite, or incompetent. “I just want… Somewhere that I can be myself. Where no one will judge me by the way I look.”

Tainan stared at him for a moment longer, and then smiled brightly and nodded. “Then, if you like, I can take you back to the clan when I go and introduce you to the Keeper. It’ll be her decision, ultimately, whether you can stay or not, but you seem nice enough.”

The change in this strange elf’s demeanor was so quick and so extreme that Idhren was momentarily confused before he realized what must have been happening. “That was… some sort of test?”

“Sorry,” Tainan shrugged sheepishly. “There are so many stray mages running around these days you can’t be too careful. A lot of the elves running from the shemlen cities - regular people, not just mages – only want to be more powerful than the shemlen who hurt them. That’s not what we’re about.”

Logically, Idhren had to admit that the other elf had a point, so he couldn’t be offended. But he had no desire to be more powerful than Canidius or any other magister. He just wanted to get away from them. “You’ll really take me with you?” he asked. Despite that he had been wandering aimlessly through the wilderness for the past month, this seemed too easy. Actually, after traveling so long it was rather anticlimactic.

“I will,” Tainan confirmed. “I can’t go back until I find some game, though,” they commented. “Can’t go back empty handed.”

“How long will that take?” Idhren asked, trying not to sound too eager.

Tainan shrugged, “Hopefully not long. I set a few snares today, so with luck we will have something in the morning. The game around here is starting to get scarce; the clan will have to move on soon,” they murmured thoughtfully.

“Then I suppose it’s a good thing you found me when you did,” Idhren replied.

Tainan’s face lit up with a bright smile, “I suppose it is.”

----------

Idhren was awoken by a hand roughly shaking his shoulder. For one half-asleep moment Idhren tried to shrug it away and go back to sleep. Then he remembered that he was not back in his room in Vyrantium but lying on the forest floor miles from civilization and woke with a start, eyes flying open. Crouched above him was Tainan, hair a bit messier than the night before but otherwise looking exactly the same. “How long are you going to sleep?” the Dalish elf asked.

“What time is it?” Idhren asked, rubbing at his eyes as he sat up slowly.

“Daytime,” Tainan answered, as though it was obvious.

It wasn’t wrong, though. It was light, and when Idhren looked up he could see the sunrise fading away through the trees. Sunrise. Idhren used to wake up at this hour every day, and yet now he wished he could sleep another few hours. He had let himself grow lazy after leaving the Circle, where there were no longer strict schedules to keep. Not to mention sleeping on the cold, hard ground with only his cloak to protect him from the elements was not terribly restful.

“Come on,” Tainan gave him one last shake before standing and going to collect their pack and bow. “We’re losing daylight already.”

“The sun isn’t even fully up,” Idhren protested even as he sat up and reached for his pack as well. As he did, Idhren noticed that the fire had already been put out and the ashes scattered skillfully until there was hardly any trace of the blaze at all.

“I realize you city folk usually sleep until midday, but out here we’ve got work to do,” Tainan complained good naturedly.

“Nobody sleeps until midday,” Idhren protested weakly. He pulled open his pack and began digging through it for what little remained of his food and potion.

“You looked well on your way,” Tainan replied. “Now what are you doing? Time is wasting.”

“It’s barely dawn,” Idhren disputed. “Let me have something to eat at least.” He finally managed to find the last bottle of potion at the bottom of his bag and pulled it out. Within the bottle the murky liquid was nearly half gone. It would last only a few days more no matter how he rationed it, and that concerned Idhren greatly. There was no time to worry about that now, however. Not while the Dalish elf was impatiently prowling the tree line, bow in hand and fiddling with the feathers on the arrows in a quiver at their waist. Idhren took a quick swallow of the medicine and stuffed the bottle back into his pack.

Suddenly, at the tree line, Tainan tensed like an animal sensing a threat. “Alright, enough dawdling,” they said curtly, “Time to go, city boy.”

Their voice was urgent, their body language tense and frightened. This wasn’t just impatience, something was wrong. Idhren forgot all about breakfast and slung his pack over his shoulder, snatching up his staff as he rose to his feet. “What’s wrong?”

Idhren was answered by the sound of a branch snapping. It drew Tainan’s attention like a startled deer. The hunter whipped around, messy auburn braids flying into their face and then shook aside impatiently. In that moment Idhren became suddenly aware that the ambient sounds of the forest were not the wind rustling in the leaves, but of something moving through the brush in their direction. And Idhren had the distinct impression that if he were not here Tainan would be long gone already.

He tightened his grip on the staff and hurried to meet Tainan at the edge of the small clearing. The Dalish elf was frozen in place, eyes wide and darting everywhere. Even Idhren was now acutely aware of the sound of something moving toward them through the forest, and just as he reached the hunter’s side there was a shout.

From out of the tree line burst three men, all bearing swords and in full plate armor; armor that bore the insignia of a flaming sword. Idhren had never seen a southern Templar, did not know much about them, but he knew that symbol and what it meant. Templars in the south rounded up mages and kept them in Circles that were more like prisons than schools. That’s what everyone in Tevinter said. Idhren had no intention of being put under lock and key again, not when he had finally broken free.

What idiots they were, though, to run around in metal suits hunting mages. They might as well be walking lightning rods. Idhren took hold of the Fade and pulled, felt the familiar crackling of static at his fingertips. He got off one shot of lightning before his connection to the Fade was severed so abruptly that it made his head spin. He felt nauseous, dizzy, stumbled and fell over backwards, landing hard on his backside. The next thing he was aware of was a Templar bearing down on him, metal clad fingers grasping at the front of his tunic. Idhren reached for the Fade but found nothing within his grasp. The Templar shoved him down to the ground and all of a sudden the only thing Idhren could think of was the last time his magic had been stripped away, the last time he had been held down, hands pulling at his clothes and shoving at his limbs.

Idhren screamed.

He struggled and pushed ineffectively against a man whose armor weighed almost as much as Idhren’s entire person, growing more panicked by the second. His staff lay completely forgotten on the ground beside him.

An arrow appeared as though out of nowhere, lodging in the Templar’s neck just below his jaw and sending a spray of blood onto Idhren. In shock, the Templar raised a hand to his throat, gurgled once in an attempt to speak, and then collapsed limp on top of Idhren. Heart thundering and breathing rapid, Idhren shoved at the body above him, scrambling out from under it and backward. It was a long moment before he could tear his eyes away from the corpse and take in the scene in the rest of the clearing. Of the three Templars that had attacked, all of them now lay dead on the ground. The one spell Idhren had been able to get off had fried the first inside his armor, the second lay on their back with three arrows protruding from their chest, and the final in a growing pool of blood not far from Idhren’s feet. In the middle of it all Tainan stood with an arrow knocked to their bow, shoulders tense and eyes wide as they scanned the area for any further threat. Eventually the hunter relaxed, returned the arrow to its quiver and turned to face Idhren.

“Are you alright?” Tainan asked, voice gentle, approaching Idhren slowly.

“He…” the mage stammered in response, not quite able to put his jumbled, panicked thoughts into words yet, “I can’t…”

Tainan crouched down in front of him, “Have you ever faced a Templar before?” they asked. Idhren shook his head. “They can do that, take away your magic,” Tainan explained. Carefully they took Idhren’s hands in their own and began rubbing the warmth back into them. “It should come back in a little while, as I understand. Are you alright? You’re not hurt?”

Idhren swallowed heavily and shook his head again. Tainan’s hands were warm and comforting around his own, and up close he realized the hunter had the most beautiful blue-green eyes that Idhren had ever seen.

“Good,” Tainan murmured, and stood up. They pulled Idhren to his feet and then released his hands, bending to pick up the mage’s staff off the ground. “We should hurry back to the clan. It’s not safe here anymore.”

Idhren only nodded again mutely and took his staff when Tainan handed it to him. He was still shaken, still felt uncomfortably vulnerable without the use of his magic. He watched as Tainan pulled arrows one by one out of the corpses and stuffed them back into their quiver, then fell into step behind the hunter as they headed into the forest. Idhren was more alert now, more on edge. The slightest noise from within the trees startled him, and he stayed as close to Tainan as he could manage without being too obvious about it. The hunter moved quickly, following paths that Idhren could barely recognize and never once tripping over rocks or roots. Idhren struggled to keep up, but didn’t complain. If there were any more Templars in the area he did not want to meet them, not with his magic trickling back at a snail’s pace. Within an hour he could get static to spark at his fingertips again, but still couldn’t pull enough mana for a proper spell. If they were attacked he would be useless again.

When the sun started to go down Tainan stopped them in a secluded copse of trees beside a small stream. Idhren’s magic had finally returned in full, but he was tired from stumbling through the woods all day, so when Tainan declared the campsite suitable Idhren practically collapsed onto the ground.

“You have your magic back yet?” Tainan asked, unshouldering their pack and letting it drop to the ground.

“Yes,” Idhren answered, nodding and conjuring a small fireball in his palm. It was incredibly comforting to feel the Fade all around him again.

“Good, I’ll get some firewood,” Tainan said. “You stay here, I shouldn’t be gone long.” They slipped away into the trees, leaving Idhren alone. The mage pulled his knees up to his chest and kept holding the flame between his hands for the small amount of comfort it offered. He hadn’t been so nervous alone in the woods before, but he hadn’t realized that Templars in the south could do that. It was not an experience he was eager to repeat.

Tainan returned less than an hour later with an armful of sticks and a dead rabbit hanging from their belt. Within minutes there was a fire burning and the meat was cooking slowly above it. Idhren had barely moved. “You still alright over there?” Tainan asked, looking across the fire at him. “You’ve barely said a word all day.”

“Yes,” Idhren replied quietly. The attack had shaken him, not just being stripped of his magic, but the sudden return of memories he had thought dead and buried.

Tainan hummed thoughtfully, “You were pretty good - the little bit of magic you got off before they… You know. Do any fighting back in Tevinter?”

“Not really,” Idhren shrugged. “For the Harrowing you have to fight a demon, otherwise it was just training. I was more interested in theory.”

“Well, that one spell was enough to take down a trained mage hunter,” Tainan said. “I think that’s pretty impressive. I’d like to see what you could do if they hadn’t knocked you out.”

“But they did,” Idhren murmured, “If you hadn’t been there…” He would be dead for certain.

“Good thing I was, then,” Tainan interrupted cheerfully. “And tomorrow we’ll meet up with the rest of the clan, and then we can get the fuck out of here.”

----------

They reached the rest of Tainan’s clan shortly after noon the following day. Idhren was not certain what he had expected a Dalish camp to look like, but he found it to be far more quaint and cheerful than he had expected. The first sight through the trees was the wagons, or rather the sail-like structures atop them - swatches of bright cloth fluttering in the wind. They were greeted outside the camp by two elves who, judging by their hardened leather armor and the swords they carried, were some sort of guard. Each regarded Idhren with mild suspicion, but with a quick word from Tainan they allowed him to pass.

The bulk of the camp was seated within a small vale, sheltered on one side by a steep embankment and bounded on another by a wide stream. People bustled about the camp, all of them elves and all of them with tattoos painted across their faces. As Tainan and Idhren passed through the camp they gathered numerous curious stares, some more blatant than others, and Idhren could already hear the curious whispers in their wake. He stayed close to Tainan and kept his gaze firmly ahead, afraid of getting left behind when he had no idea where the hunter was leading him.

“Keeper,” Tainan called out as they approached a small group of elves gathered near one of the strange ship-like wagons. Every one of them turned to look when Tainan spoke, but it was a woman – perhaps forty, with pale blue tattoos branching across her forehead and cheeks like the limbs of a tree – who stepped forward, dismissing the others with a curt nod and a wave of her hand.

“Tainan,” the woman greeted, “You’ve returned. And with company,” she added, casting a curious gaze at Idhren. Her eyes lingered on the blood on his shirt, then the staff in his hand.

“This is Idhren,” Tainan introduced. “I found him in the woods two days from here.”

“And you thought to bring him here?” the woman asked, frowning.

“Yesterday morning we were attacked by Templars,” Tainan reported. “I didn’t want to leave him.”

“He is a mage. It seems likely the Templars were chasing him; another runaway from the shemlen Circles. If there are more, you may have led them to our doorstep.”

“There were no more,” Tainan argued confidently. “And he says he’s from Tevinter.”

The woman’s eyes turned to him again with a spark of surprise and she swept another, far more scrutinizing, look over his figure. Idhren’s clothes were weather beaten and dirty from weeks on the road, but they had been new when he left. His staff was very well made, if not particularly fancy, bought shortly after he left the Circle. “You’re quite well equipped for a runaway,” the woman told him.

Idhren pursed his lips to keep from snapping at her. He had to make a good impression. “I’m not a slave,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady. “I’m Liberati. I’ve been free for ten years.”

The woman’s eyebrows rose as she regarded him curiously. Did anyone down south know what it meant to be Liberati? Had they even heard of it before? “A free elf from Tevinter,” she mused thoughtfully. “And why leave now, when there is such chaos here?”

“I hadn’t heard about the trouble with the Circles here before leaving Tevinter,” Idhren said. It was a recent development, as he understood, and news could only travel as fast as the trading caravans. “But even so, I would have left. I’ve spent the past several years apprenticed to a magister who used me as a prop to make himself look better. And because he owned my family there was nothing I could do against him without risking their safety. But they’re… gone now. There was no reason for me to stay.” He tried to be brief. They didn’t need all the gory details. It felt strange to spill his life story to a stranger, but he knew it was necessary for these people to trust him.

“So you thought you would come find the wandering Dalish?” the woman mused, lips quirking in an amused smile. “Did you have a backup plan, in case you didn’t find us?”

“Not really,” Idhren was forced to admit. Find a city to hide in for the winter and then keep looking.

“Well you’re brave, I’ll give you that, though perhaps not so wise. What is your name, again?”
the woman asked.

“Idhren,” he replied.

“I’m Deshanna Istimaethoriel, the Keeper of this clan,” she introduced herself at last. “I admire the courage that brought you here, Idhren, but if you’d hoped to join us I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.”

Idhren felt his heart plummet. He hadn’t expected to be welcomed with open arms, but to be rejected so quickly and decisively was crushing.

“Keeper,” Tainan interrupted before Idhren had a chance to reply, “You need a First.”

“I have a First,” the Keeper argued.

“Elera is fifteen,” Tainan argued back, “If anything were to happen to you she wouldn’t be able to lead the clan.”

“And you think an outsider would be a better choice?” Istimaethoriel challenged.

“He could at least help keep us safe. I’ve seen him use magic,” Tainan said, “He killed a Templar with one spell. He kept a spellfire burning while he slept. He’s good.”

Idhren wasn’t certain what was happening, but it seemed like Tainan was defending him, supporting him in his request to stay. He couldn’t understand why, but Idhren wasn’t about to butt in. He would take all the help he could get in this matter, because if this woman – clearly the leader of this Dalish clan – sent him away he had nowhere else to go and no supplies. He wouldn’t last much longer on his own.

“It’s true these are troubled times, but violence only begets more violence,” Istimaethoriel reasoned, “The last thing we need now is to provoke the humans with displays of dangerous magic.” Her tone was stern, and when she turned to Idhren again her expression matched. “Tell me, Idhren, what skills do you have that would aid us? Are you a proficient healer? What manner of magic do they teach in Tevinter?”

Idhren did not know how to answer. What skills did he have that these people would value? “I… am not skilled at healing,” he admitted. Lying about that might help in the moment, but it could easily backfire on him in the long run. “Tevinter teaches all manner of magic. I primarily studied storm magic and the Veil. And alchemy,” he added almost as an afterthought. “But,” he began again with sudden renewed determination. He wouldn’t give up easily. Idhren knew magic, he was good at magic, there had to be some way he could use that to help the people here. “I’m very good at wards. This campsite isn’t too large, I could have the entire perimeter warded against intruders: spells to deter interest or alert you if something comes too close, or even muffle the sounds of the camp significantly.” It would be difficult, such large scale work, but Idhren was beginning to feel desperate. Pure luck had landed him here. If this clan didn’t take him in he might never find another one.

“That’s an impressive claim,” the Keeper replied thoughtfully. “And could indeed prove useful in certain situations. However, this is only our forward camp. What you see here is less than half our number.”

Surprised, Idhren looked around. Now that he took a good look, however, he noticed that there were no children here, and perhaps only fifty elves moving about among the trees and wagons, most of them bearing weapons of some kind. Some sort of hunting camp, he wondered. Where were the rest of them? Idhren had seen no sign of other elves while following Tainan through the forest.

“Keeper,” Tainan broke in again, “You can’t just send him back out there for the Templars to find again.”

“I can,” the woman said sternly, frowning pointedly at Tainan. Then her face softened, her posture relaxed, “But I won’t.” Idhren released a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. “I don’t know if it was luck that led you to us, or if Ghilan’nain guided your steps. The fact is that Tainan is correct. It is not safe for anyone to be wandering the land alone these days, and my current apprentice is still too young to take over my responsibilities should the worst happen. Though you are an outsider, I would rather rest assured in the knowledge that my people will be protected. And I presume, since you have gone to such effort to find us, that you are willing to learn our ways.”

“Yes, of course,” Idhren assured her quickly. It would be vastly different from what he was used to, but he had known that coming in. ‘Live in the forest like a savage’ Dorian had said what felt like ages ago. But Idhren had been through worse, he was sure he could learn.

“Good,” Istimaethoriel replied. “I won’t tolerate anything less. If you cause any trouble among the clan, any infighting, I’ll send you right back to Tevinter.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Idhren nodded, then quickly corrected himself, “Keeper.” Was that the proper term of address? Was that respectful enough? “Sorry. I understand. I don’t want to cause any trouble.”

“Just Keeper is fine,” Istimaethoriel assured him, an amused smile playing on her face. “There is one other thing you must understand if you are to remain with us. A Dalish clan will never have more than two or three mages as a rule: the Keeper,” she gestured to herself, “And their apprentices,” she gestured to Idhren. “My current apprentice is still a child, and that is the reason I am willing to accept you into our midst. Should you stay, you will serve as my First. Clearly you don’t need training to use your magic, but I’ll teach you our history and our culture.”

It wasn’t exactly the sort of role Idhren had expected to find among these people. He knew very little about the Dalish, but he thought that Istimaethoriel was the leader of this group – this clan – and she was offering to take him on as an apprentice. An heir, maybe? It was a little too familiar for comfort, but Idhren reassured himself with the thought that this was most likely as big a risk for her as it was for him. “I’ll do my best,” Idhren assured, “I promise.”

“I admire your determination,” the Keeper mused. “I imagine it will serve you well. You can live with me for now, until we find a more permanent place for you.”

They really were letting him stay. Perhaps provisionally at first, but Idhren would do his very best to make sure they had no reason to throw him out. “Thank you,” he said earnestly, hopeful that this would be the better life he was longing for. He turned back to Tainan. Without the hunter he never would have made it this far. In fact, those Templars probably would have killed him. “And thank you,” he told them.

Tainan flashed him a grin, “You’re welcome,” they replied. “I guess this means we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other. I look forward to it. Keeper,” with a respectful nod to Istimaethoriel, Tainan turned and left, striding off across the camp.

“Come along,” Istimaethoriel pulled his attention back to her. “Let’s get you cleaned up, then I will introduce you to the rest of the clan.”

----------

Within days of living with Clan Lavellan Idhren drank the last of his medicinal potion. Three weeks after that he woke up with blood between his thighs. Istimaethoriel woke to find him fearfully trying to hide the truth, nearly panicking when he realized that there would be no hiding it from her. After her initial surprise abated, however, Istimaethoriel helped him clean up the mess, held him like a child when he cried.

“I’m not a girl,” Idhren repeated over and over as he sobbed into her shoulder, no longer certain who he was trying to convince.

“No, of course you’re not,” Istimaethoriel stroked his hair and rubbed his back until his tears dried up. “Has this never happened before?” she asked gently.

Idhren shook his head and wiped the tears from his cheeks, “I had… I had a potion,” he said, voice still thick with emotion. “Since I was fifteen. But I ran out.”

“If you know the ingredients then surely we could make more,” the Keeper murmured, “I, or one of the hunters, can teach you where to find herbs.”

“Some don’t grow this far south,” Idhren mumbled dejectedly.

“Then we’ll find others,” Istimaethoriel assured him confidently.

Idhren could only hope that she was right as he crawled back into the pile of blankets and furs that made up his bed, unwilling to face the day. His stomach clenched and his back ached. He was starving but nauseous at the same time. It was miserable. Did women have to deal with this all the time? Or was it worse because he’d been forcibly preventing it for so long?

There was a knock at the door but Idhren ignored it. He curled up tighter on the pile of furs and pulled a blanket up over his head. The knock sounded again after a moment, but again Idhren ignored it. Then he heard someone fiddling with the latch before the door creaked open.

“Are you alive in here?”

That voice was familiar. Idhren didn’t want anyone to see him like this, but he was curious. Cautiously, he lifted the blanket just enough to peek out. Sunlight flooded into the dim aravel through the open door, backlighting the figure crouched there and turning the cascade of hair about their shoulders into a halo of fire. Tainan. “Keeper said you were sick. I came to check on you. And bring you food. Can I come in?”

Idhren hesitated. He felt disgusting. Even though Istimaethoriel had showed him what to do so that the blood wouldn’t leak it was terribly uncomfortable and he imagined sitting up would only make it worse. Besides, he felt like he might throw up any second and the mere thought of eating only made it worse. “I don’t think I can eat anything,” he muttered weakly.

It wasn’t a ‘no’, and it wasn’t enough of a protest to keep Tainan out, apparently. The hunter climbed in through the doorway, carefully balancing a bowl in one hand, and crawled over to Idhren’s side. “Food is important,” they said as they sat down. “Even more important if you’re sick.”

Whatever was in that bowl Idhren could smell it even from where he lay. His stomach grumbled, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten a thing that day and it had to be past noon already. Still, he shook his head.

“Come on,” Tainan beseeched gently, as though talking to a stubborn child, “I made it special for you. There aren’t even any bugs in it.”

Idhren grimaced at the memory. That had been an embarrassing shock, being served a meal that included insects only a few days after his joining the clan. For the Dalish it was apparently normal, but Idhren hadn’t been able to bring himself to eat any of it. He wasn’t sure he ever would. “You made it?” Idhren asked, pulling the blanket down a little further so he could look at Tainan properly. “For me?”

The hunter grinned and nodded, holding the bowl out toward Idhren. “Just for you.”

“Why?” Idhren asked.

Tainan’s smile faltered into an expression of confusion. “Because you’re sick,” they answered uncertainly. “And I want you to get better.”

Was it really that simple? It was such a foreign concept to Idhren that anyone would help him for no reason, with no ulterior motives. Just to be nice. “Why is everyone here so nice?”

Now Tainan looked even more confused than before. “You haven’t given us a reason not to be. I think it’s obvious by now you’re not going to sacrifice the whole clan to demons or something.”

“No one’s ever been nice to me unless they got something out of it,” Idhren muttered, mostly to himself.

The confusion on Tainan’s face turned almost instantly to sympathy, which was then quickly replaced by a smile. “Well, I get the pleasure of your company,” they pointed out, “So it’s a little selfish.”

For all that it seemed impossible, Idhren actually believed them. Because what could Tainan possibly gain from being nice to him? Idhren had nothing of value to these people, save his magic. If anything, he was a liability to them; an unknown variable that could just as easily bring their downfall as prove useful. Yet he had been welcomed with mostly open arms. Slowly, Idhren pushed himself up into a sitting position, letting the blanket puddle around his hips. It was more uncomfortable, but Tainan had gone to the trouble for him, the least Idhren could do was try. He held out his hands and accepted the bowl of food. It smelled good, if he ignored the roiling of his stomach, though it didn’t look like much. It appeared to be mostly a variety of stewed vegetables and greens interspersed with chunks of an unidentifiable meat; what Idhren was coming to understand as fairly typical fare.

The meal tasted better than it looked and, shockingly, after a few bites Idhren’s stomach calmed. He no longer felt like he would throw up any minute. Actually, he was ravenous, and downed the rest of the food at a speed that would have scandalized anyone back in Tevinter. When finished, Idhren had to restrain himself from scraping even the dredges out of the bottom of the bowl, pointedly setting it aside.

“Feel better?” Tainan asked, amusement in their voice that set Idhren flushing with embarrassment.

“Yes,” he replied softly. For now, at least. “Thank you.”

“Good, I’m glad,” Tainan smiled and picked up the now empty bowl. “I’ll let you get some more rest, then. And I’ll bring you dinner, too, if you’d like.”

“You will?” Idhren asked.

Tainan nodded, “So long as you don’t mind eating more of this,” they held up the empty bowl to show, “I’m not good at cooking anything except soup and roasted meat.”

Idhren had never had to cook before leaving Tevinter, so all of it was better than he could manage. “I’d like that, thank you,” he said again. All this kindness the people here were showing him, Idhren didn’t know how to react to it.

He especially didn’t know how to react when Tainan beamed in response, as though Idhren had just given them a spectacular gift instead of merely agreeing to eat their cooking again. “Perfect, then I’ll come back later tonight. I won’t bother you until then,” they promised, getting up and heading for the door.

“Wait,” Idhren blurted, stopping the hunter in their tracks. Tainan turned back to him, blue eyes wide and curious. There was one thing he’d wanted to ask since coming to live with this clan, but it felt like too much to ask. “Can I ask you a favor? You don’t have to accept.”

“What is it?” Tainan asked.

“Would you teach me how to fight?” Idhren asked hesitantly. “When… When those Templars came I realized without my magic I’m sort of… useless. I want to be able to defend myself if something like that happens again.”

Tainan thought about it for a moment. “I’m just a hunter, I don’t know if I’m the best choice,” they said. “But I’ll teach you what I can, if you really want me to.”

Now Idhren couldn’t help smiling. He had thought it a long shot, that surely Tainan wouldn’t agree, and he was happy to be proven wrong. The terror and helplessness he had felt when that Templar stripped him of his magic was not a feeling that Idhren wanted to relive. He knew he was small, not strong enough to ever pose much of a threat to a human in full armor, but if he learned how to fight without magic he could at least escape. “Thank you,” he said for a third time that day. “And, please, don’t go easy on me just because I’m short.”

Tainan’s lips quirked up in a smirk and they let out a short, quiet laugh. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” they promised. “We’ll start as soon as you’re feeling up to it.”

Idhren nodded his consent and watched as Tainan clambered out of the aravel once more, shutting the door after themselves. When he was alone Idhren lay down again, finding the most comfortable position he could manage. It seemed he had made a friend already. Perhaps this day wasn’t completely terrible after all.

Mature Content


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Title: Semper ad Meliora
Fandom: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Rating: Mature/Explicit
Pairing: Dorian Pavus/Idhren Lavellan, Idhren Lavellan/Tainan Lavellan




Chapter 6 - Live Without Fear</u>

A dog might slink back to the hand it has bitten
And be forgiven, but a slave never.
If you would live, and live without fear, you must fight.

- Canticle of Shartan 9:7



Vyrantium, Tevinter Imperium, 9:36 Dragon



Only days after the turn of the year Idhren arrived back in Vyrantium at Canidius’ side. The trip to Minrathous had been a mixed blessing. While the political side of things hadn’t been nearly as interesting as Idhren had hoped, he had a sheaf of research notes stashed in the bottom of his luggage away from Canidius’ prying eyes and a few fond memories to look back on. His fledgling friendship with Dorian was chief among those memories. He had seen the man only a handful of times, but each time they traded gossip and sarcastic barbs. And each time Idhren watched the man leave with a longing in his gut that he didn’t want to acknowledge.

On Satinalia, while Canidius entertained guests at his mansion, Idhren ran free through the city, exploring side streets and admiring decorations as he enjoyed the festivities. The common folk were out in force, mingling with the upper classes as though such a thing were normal. He was pulled briefly into the celebrations of the local elven Liberati community on the edges of the slums, and for perhaps the first time in his life, Idhren did not feel out of place. They shared their food and drink as though he was family, and in return he performed magic tricks for the children. Real magic tricks; colored fire and flowers made of ice that made their eyes light up with wonder.

But nothing good lasts for long. Inevitably he had to return to Canidius’ home, and from there to Vyrantium. And now that he had returned to his childhood home it was back to the usual routine.

At least he could see his family again. For months he’d been away, the longest since his time in the Circle. Two days after their return saw Idhren running down from the mansion like an excitable child, only to find his mother waiting at the gates of the compound. At first, the sight set Idhren running faster, but as he grew nearer something began to feel terribly wrong. Ashara was seated on an old stump just inside the gate, hunched and weary, her face drawn with concern. When she spotted her son the woman stood, slowly, hands on her knees as she pushed herself upright. Idhren came to a stop at the gate, hand on the latch but suddenly nervous to open it.

“It’s your brother,” she said without preamble. “It’s not good.”

She said nothing more as Idhren passed through the gate and took her arm to help her walk. The short trip to the hovel he had been born in seemed to take an age. Idhren’s heart thundered in his chest; he could barely think except to imagine every possible worse case scenario.

The inside of the hovel was dim, and it reeked of blood. Sahren was laid out on one of the small cots, very nearly too tall for it, and for one horrible moment Idhren thought he was already dead. But his chest slowly rose and fell in shallow breaths, and when Idhren broke away from his mother’s arm to approach the bedside Sahren’s eyes flickered open. A threadbare blanket was pulled up over him, but all it did was cover any obvious sign of injury. Sahren was pale, even despite his sun tanned skin, with dark circles around his eyes and sunken cheeks. When his eyes finally focused on Idhren a faint smile tugged at his cracked lips. “You’re back,” he said, and his voice was as weak as he looked. Very briefly, Sahren made an effort to sit up, but hissed in pain and gave up after moving barely an inch. “Sorry I can’t give you a hug. How was the capitol?”

At first Idhren could not form words to answer him. He sat down timidly on the edge of the cot, trying not to jostle his brother in any way. “Sahren…” It was the first word he could make his lips form. “What happened?”

“Ah, you know… The usual,” his brother replied with what was probably meant to be a shrug, but instead was  only the barest shifting of one shoulder.

It was not unusual for Sahren to shrug off his injuries, and this was not the first time Idhren had seen him injured. He frequently came back from the colosseum with cuts and bruises or, on a few rare occasions, a broken bone. His skin was littered with scars that told of the long, hard years he’d spent there. Sahren had always cheerfully downplayed any injury, but this was clearly not a typical wound. “Sahren,” Idhren said again, pleading, although he didn’t know what for.

Sahren sighed, but that weak smile stayed plastered across his face. “Don’t make that sad face, Idhren,” he beseeched.

“What happened?” Idhren asked once more.

“Had a bad match,” Sahren said, as though it were that simple. “I won, though.” As though that was all that mattered.

“That was a week ago,” their mother cut in. She was sitting now on the cot beside Sahren’s, but Idhren hadn’t even noticed her come in. “They brought him back here day before yesterday.”

The same day that Idhren had returned. Yet no one had bothered to tell him that his brother lay here dying. “Has there been a healer?” Idhren asked, already rolling up his sleeves. He still struggled with healing magic, but this was his brother. He had to try.

“They patched me up at the colosseum,” Sahren answered with another attempted shrug.

That meant bandages and elfroot, just enough to stop the bleeding. Obviously this injury was beyond such simple remedies. Without asking, Idhren pulled back the blanket. He regretted it immediately. Sahren’s entire torso was wrapped in bandages so caked in blood it was clear they hadn’t been changed in days. Since he had been brought here. And of course not, his mother didn’t have anything to replace them with; no one here did. They had brought Sahren here to die.

“Idhren,” Sahren’s voice made him realize he was staring, hands trembling as they hovered over his brother’s broken body. “Don’t worry about me.”

Idhren shook his head, “You’re… I can…” He pulled at the Fade instinctively and let the magic pool in his hands as his scattered mind struggled to remember everything that Galene had struggled to teach him. Something. Anything.

“Idhren,” his brother interrupted again. He reached up and took one of Idhren’s trembling hands in his own, weak though it was. Idhren lost hold of the fragile thread of healing magic and it dissipated immediately. “It’s alright.” Idhren shook his head again and swallowed past the lump in his throat. It wasn’t alright. It was far from alright. “Hey…” he paused to take a deep laborious breath, “Tell me about the capitol.”

Idhren let out a single sob before he managed to restrain himself again. Quickly wiping away the wetness on his cheeks, he began talking.

Eventually Ashara fell asleep on the other cot, but Idhren remained. Even when he’d run out of stories to tell about Minrathous, he remained. “Is mother asleep?” Sahren asked quietly. His breathing had been getting more ragged, and though Idhren kept conjuring ice to help his fever it wasn’t getting any better.

“Yes,” Idhren confirmed.

“Good… Now you can tell me about that boy you like.”

“What?” Idhren asked in surprise, too loud. For a moment he was afraid he would wake their mother, but she did not stir.

“She thinks you’re sweet on that maid… What’s her name?” Sahren murmured.

“Valora?”

“That’s the one,” Sahren let out a weak chuckle. “I know you better than that.”

Idhren bit his lip and stared down at his hands, still clasped around one of Sahren’s. For a moment he considered denying it, but what would be the point? “He’s Altus,” he said quietly. “We met in the Circle. He was kind to me. Is kind to me. He’s smart and he treats me like an equal, but he doesn’t… He doesn’t like me back.”

“I’m sorry,” Sahren breathed. “You’re too good for him. You’re too good for this fucking place. Idhren--” he was cut off by a wet cough and Idhren hurried to press a cup of water to his lips and help him drink. When the fit passed Sahren spoke again, voice thick with emotion, “I’m so proud that you’re my brother. I want you to be happy.” Idhren wanted to assure him that he was happy, but he knew it would be a lie. He hadn’t been happy in years. “You should… leave this place. Find somewhere… they’ll appreciate you.”

“Like where?” Idhren asked, although he couldn’t even entertain the idea right now.

“I don’t know… You’re the smart one,” Sahren teased weakly. “You’ll think of something.”

Idhren returned his weak smile with a watery one of his own. “I’m proud that you’re my brother, too,” he whispered, not trusting his voice with more.

Sahren’s weak smile turned a bit brighter. “Hey, Idhren… I think… I’m gonna take a nap,” he murmured, gaze turned toward the ceiling and eyes unfocused. “Thanks for staying with me.”

“Of course,” Idhren replied. He watched his brother’s eyes drift closed, clung to his hand so hard it had to be painful, but Sahren didn’t even flinch. Gradually his breathing grew slower, shallower, until it stopped entirely. And Idhren stopped holding back his tears.

In the morning, while his mother was forced to continue her work as though nothing had happened, Idhren saw to it that Sahren’s body was properly tended. He was shrouded and burned while Idhren mumbled verses of the Chant that felt hollow on his lips. He buried the ashes beneath a tree in Canidius’ garden. Somewhere peaceful and beautiful. Somewhere unlike the life that his brother had been forced to live. Then he returned to his own room and slept through the rest of the day.

Two weeks later his mother died. It was as though after Sahren passed she simply gave up. He got the news from Valora one morning in the library. “I’m so sorry,” she breathed, and hugged him tightly even though it was highly improper. Idhren didn’t care. He hugged her back and cried quietly onto her shoulder.

When night fell Idhren slipped out of the estate. He found himself at the door of Magister’s Mercy with no memory of the long walk to get there. Already he could smell the lyrium and herbs, the promise of an escape like metal on his tongue as he stepped through the door. He lost himself in a haze of smoke and alcohol until he could barely remember his own name. Then let Varius fuck him because it was the only thing that felt real.

In the pre-dawn hours Idhren staggered back through the city, back into the estate. The vast, cold mansion felt more like a prison now than it ever had before. Still numb, he collapsed face down in his bed, curled up beneath the blankets without getting undressed, and pulled the sheets up over his head to shut out the rest of the world.

His life was spiraling out of control as he slowly lost hold of everything that had ever given it meaning. First his research, now his family. There was nothing left for him.

There was also nothing left that could hurt him.

----------

Vyrantium was hottest just before autumn. Not at the height of summer, but just before it ended, like one final hurrah before the rains came and the wind began to blow from the south. Not the ideal time to be visiting, but not the worst, either.

The city hadn’t changed much over the years, but Dorian’s familiarity with it had. It was strange to think that he had once lived here. For two full years, even. Streets that he had once navigated while blind drunk were now unfamiliar, landmarks long forgotten. But parts of it were still familiar. The Circle, obviously, still loomed unchanged in the heart of the city; no doubt filled to the brim with a new batch of prideful teenage mages.

He recognized a handful of other places; the establishments that Dorian had frequented during his brief life here. Most of them had been the sort of seedy taverns that did not care who you were so long as you could pay. Most of them Dorian no longer knew how to find, and besides, his tastes had become rather more discerning in the intervening years.

He had a room at an inn – one of the nicer establishments in the city, suitable for someone of his status – but Dorian had little intention of staying there tonight. He was rather in the mood for some company or, at the very least, a drink. But not somewhere respectable, not somewhere he might be recognized. So he left the gilded avenues that were familiar in style even if they were no longer as intimately familiar as they had once been and found himself a friendly pair of blue and red lanterns hung outside a respectably nondescript establishment.

Magister’s Mercy , the sign above the door read in simple but clean script. The name was such a cliché there was probably a lyrium den or brothel in every major city with the same moniker.

It was perfect.

Dorian stepped up to the door and then crossed the threshold into the dim, smoky interior. He paused a moment while his eyes adjusted from the late afternoon sun and surveyed the décor. It was fairly standard, from Dorian’s experience. Nothing to set it apart from a hundred other lyrium dens. The shuttered windows cut out most of the sunlight and the heat of the day, and the room was lit instead by magefire sconces on the walls and dimly glowing lanterns. Scattered incense burners filled the air with a thin haze of smoke and a musky scent that, for now, masked the smell of lyrium.

There were two elves lounging on a sofa not far from where Dorian stood. He noticed first the one seated upright, head tipped back onto the cushions, baring the sooth dark skin of his neck while ebony locks cascaded down the back of the seat. The other lay with his head in the first’s lap, feet propped up on the armrest. As Dorian watched, the one lying down took a long drag from a pipe and then passed it off to his companion as he breathed out a slow stream of smoke.

Dorian thought at first that they were both whores, until he noticed that the second elf’s clothing was both far too fine and far too modest for a prostitute. And then as if on cue both elves opened their eyes and looked his way. In the dim light of the brothel those eyes glinted in a way that some people found unnerving, but as the one lying down lifted his head to get a better look Dorian recognized those eyes. Large and violet, surrounded by a waterfall of hair the color of rich mahogany.

“Dorian Pavus,” a smirk spread across familiar lips and slowly Idhren pushed himself upright. So much for not being recognized. At least Idhren was unlikely to go tattling to his father. “Fancy meeting you here. I suppose this means the rumors are true.”

“What rumors are those?” Dorian asked without truly registering the words. He knew full well which rumors, but he was still trying to process the scene in front of him. Idhren was the last person he had ever expected to find in a lyrium den or a brothel.

“That Dorian Pavus has an elf fetish,” Idhren leered, all half lidded eyes and knowing smirk. Behind him, the whore giggled. “Working his way through every seedy whorehouse in Minrathous.” He had finally figured out what Dorian had been hinting at nearly a year ago. From the mouth of the whores themselves: Dorian liked elves. Male elves, in particular. “What are you doing in Vyrantium, though?”

“Merely passing through,” Dorian replied. “I unfortunately am required to visit my family for Satinalia.”

“Then what a happy coincidence that our paths should cross,” Idhren murmured with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. Eyes that, now that his own had adjusted to the dark, Dorian could see were rimmed red and pupils blown wide. Idhren was high as a kite.

“Are you going to introduce me to your friend?” the whore chimed in, a slight whine in his voice like a neglected and jealous lover. When he sat up he was obviously taller than Idhren – though most people were taller than Idhren – but draped his arms over the elven mage’s shoulders all the same and leaned against him like a living blanket.

“Oh, how rude of me,” Idhren spoke as though they were at some Magister’s soiree instead of the common room of a whorehouse, the air thick with lyrium smoke. “Dorian, this is my dear friend Varius,” he began, inclining his head slightly to indicate the elf currently plastered to his back. “And Varius, may I present Dorian of House Pavus, an old classmate from the Circle.”

The whore – Varius – let out an appreciative hum as his eyes ran up and down Dorian’s form. “He’s very pretty,” the elf commented as Dorian stood there, uncertain how to respond. He had found himself around plenty of whores in his lifetime, but this was the first time one had eyed him like a piece of meat.

“Yes, he is, isn’t he?” Idhren picked up the pipe again and took another long drag. “Shall I invite him to join us?”

“Oh, definitely,” Varius purred. “Do come join us, handsome. There’s enough to share.”

It was probably a bad idea, but Dorian did join them. He sank down onto the sofa beside Idhren as Varius peeled himself off of the smaller elf’s back and busied himself for a moment with the lyrium pipe. “This isn’t the sort of place I would have expected to find you,” Dorian commented, purposefully watching Varius fill and prime the lyrium pipe instead of looking at Idhren.

“Is it?” Idhren leaned back against the arm of the sofa and watched Dorian’s profile while Dorian watched Varius. “Why? You think I’m still that shy, scared little boy from the Circle?”

Dorian’s eyes flicked back over to him, ran over Idhren’s figure. That shy, scared boy with fire in his heart was certainly the Idhren that Dorian knew best and remembered most vividly. Obviously the years had changed him, and Dorian hadn’t been around very often to see those changes. “You’re still little,” he commented.

Idhren let out a bark of laughter. “A joke about my height,” he laughed, “How clever. The pride of the Imperium, you are.”

Dorian rolled his eyes, “Such sarcasm,” he complained. “But why are you here?”

“Why is anyone here?” Idhren asked in return, with a tone of voice as though he was asking for the meaning of life.

“We’re celebrating!” Varius supplied. He had finished with the pipe, it seemed, and pressed one of the mouthpieces into Idhren’s hand, then another into Dorian’s. “And now that we have enough people for a party I’ll find us some drinks. What’ll it be, handsome?” he winked at Dorian as he stood, silken robe open to his stomach and barely clinging to his shoulders. It was a rather distracting view.

“Whatever goes best with this, I suppose,” Dorian replied, looking down at the pipe in his hand.

Idhren already had the pipe in his mouth, breathing in deeply and then out through his teeth. “It’ll have to be the cheap wine,” he spoke through the smoke, “Unless Dorian’s buying.”

They both looked at Dorian expectantly until he sighed and relented, “Very well, if we’re going to do this we might as well do it properly. Bring the good stuff.”

Varius smiled like the cat that got the cream, then turned quickly and strode away in a swirl of crimson silk and ebony hair. On any other night Dorian would have bought him in a heartbeat, but tonight there were extenuating circumstances. Getting drunk and high with a prostitute and the subject of his teenage infatuation was very likely a bad decision, but Dorian wasn’t known for making good decisions. He raised the pipe to his lips and breathed in. It had been a long time since he had done this, but the smoke hit his tongue, settled in his lungs, and it felt familiar. “So,” Dorian murmured as he exhaled. “What exactly are we meant to be celebrating?

Idhren took another long draw from the pipe in his hand, then relaxed back into the plush sofa cushions, sighing out through his nose. “I’m leaving Tevinter,” he said flatly.

The news came as a shock to Dorian, and to his surprise the feeling was also accompanied by disappointment. “What?” he asked stupidly.

“I’ve been saving up what little wages Canidius pays me and I’ve finally secured passage with a caravan headed south,” Idhren elaborated. “I’ll be leaving in a month’s time.”

Dorian stared. “You’re really leaving?” he breathed. It seemed so out of the blue. Less than a year ago Idhren had been adamant that he would not leave Canidius. Something must have happened. “But where are you going to go? You know how the south treats their mages. They’ll throw you in one of their prison Circles, or worse!” Dorian had heard stories, everyone had, of how the southern Chantry oppressed mages for no reason other than their Maker-given talents. A mage as powerful and clever as Idhren, especially Tevinter trained, would terrify the people of the south. If he wasn’t killed for suspicion of blood magic, would they make him tranquil?

“That’s a possibility, yes,” Idhren confirmed, “And it’s a risk I’m willing to take.” He paused and took a drag from the lyrium pipe, blowing out the smoke slowly before he continued speaking. Dorian was still too stunned to argue. “This is the one situation where my ears will be useful, though.”

It took a moment for Dorian to realize what Idhren meant. “You’re planning to find one of those wandering tribes? And what, live in the forest like a savage?”

Idhren shrugged one shoulder. “At this point it’s preferable to staying here,” he commented. “My family is gone; everything I’ve ever worked for has been stolen from me. Even if I leave Canidius’ estate and try to find employ somewhere else, do you think anyone in this blighted country will ever respect me?”

“Perhaps not,” Dorian was forced to agree. “You think it’s more likely that a random group of homeless elves will accept you with open arms?”

“Perhaps not with open arms,” Idhren said, “But I have to try. If I don’t, I’ll only be miserable here for the rest of my life. If there’s even a chance that I could find a better life in the south I’m willing to take it.”

He was really serious about this. Absolutely serious. “Why now?” Dorian asked.

Idhren looked down at the pipe in his hand, rolled it between his fingers and frowned. He was silent for a long moment, wondering how much he should tell Dorian, and not wanting to ruin the carefree mood. He had come here to celebrate, to have one last fun night, one last good memory before he left the country for good. He didn’t want to talk about what had driven him to this point, all the things he had lost. But this was Dorian. Ironically, coincidentally, here in Vyrantium, in this establishment, on the eve of his departure. And after tonight it was almost certain that Idhren would never see him again. So he might as well bare all; perhaps it would help him find some closure.

“My family is dead,” Idhren told him. “There’s nothing tying me to Canidius anymore.”

Dorian had known about the elf’s father, but now his mother, and he’d had a sibling as well, hadn’t he? “I’m sorry,” he said. Idhren had clearly cared about his family, to have stayed under Canidius’ thumb for their sake.

“It’s not your fault,” Idhren murmured, and fell silent. It had effectively killed the celebratory mood, and Idhren set down his pipe before he could lose himself completely in the smoke.

Thankfully, Varius returned moments later, three small glasses held precariously in one hand, and in the other an open bottle of something amber colored. He quickly took in the scene, and the newly somber mood. “What happened while I was gone?” he asked with forced cheer, “Did you have a fight?” He seated himself beside Dorian, effectively penning the man between the pair of elves, and carefully set the glasses he carried on the table. “That won’t do at all. We’re supposed to be celebrating. Here, is this up to your standards, handsome?” With a flourish he presented the bottle to Dorian for inspection.

The gesture forced Dorian to tear his attention away from Idhren, though he cast barely a glance at the bottle before he nodded. “Yes, I suppose that will do.” Not that he needed to look at it; the stuff was strong enough that he could smell it already.

“Perfect,” Varius smiled as he filled each of the small cups with a more than generous serving. “And we must have a toast. It’s that sort of occasion.”

“What to?” Idhren asked, reaching across Dorian to take a glass.

“To you, of course,” Varius purred, “For taking control of your own life. And to the grand adventure that I’m sure awaits you; I pray your journey is easy and that you find what you seek.”

“A fine sentiment,” Dorian agreed, and raised his glass in acknowledgement before taking a sip of the drink. Brandy, he identified immediately, and very good. It probably cost more than he had intended to spend tonight. Well, it was the occasion for it, he supposed.

“Fine, indeed,” Idhren agreed, “Thank you.” He smiled as he raised his own glass to his lips, the softest expression that Dorian had ever seen on his face. Then he threw his head back and downed the entire glass of brandy in two swallows, a display that Dorian found wildly attractive.

“What is the point of buying such quality spirits if you’re going to drink it so fast you can’t even taste it?” Dorian complained.

Laughing softly, Idhren reached across Dorian again, holding his glass out to Varius for a refill. "That’s less fun,” he commented, “But I’ll savor this glass, if it’ll make you feel better.”

Were they doing this on purpose? Penning him in, sitting too close, leaning in close enough that Dorian could feel the warmth of Idhren’s body through his clothes, would probably be able to smell him if not for the smoke. From an actual whore – from Varius – the signals were obvious and expected; meant to entice him into purchasing something more than just a drink. From Idhren it was completely bewildering. It couldn’t possibly be intentional; not with his history.

“Considering how much I’m likely paying for this, I’d appreciate if that money didn’t go to waste,” Dorian commented blithely, but his next drink was decidedly more than a sip. “And before I’m too drunk to remember: how much, exactly, is this costing me?”

“Well that would depend entirely on where the night leads us,” Varius purred.

If it were just Varius then the night would almost definitely lead in that direction, but it wasn’t just Varius. Dorian glanced over at Idhren, but the elf had momentarily distracted himself with the lyrium pipe once more. There were so many reasons that would be a bad idea, too many for even Dorian to ignore. Idhren was damn attractive, and not just physically, but that was also part of the problem. He couldn’t go letting himself get too attached again. Especially not with Idhren leaving.

“Let’s just stay with the drinks for now,” Dorian replied, fishing a few gold coins out of his purse and handing them over to Varius. The whore arched a curious eyebrow at him, but took the coins with a shrug, tucking them into the folds of his robes. Dorian found himself in need of another drink.

“When did you become such a stick in the mud?” Idhren rejoined the conversation. He listed to the side slightly, propping himself up with an elbow on the sofa’s armrest and holding his glass of brandy in the other. “What happened to the Dorian Pavus who came stumbling back into the Circle dormitories at all hours of the night? Or the one who’s apparently bedded half the men in Minrathous?”

“That is a gross exaggeration,” Dorian complained, but he knew full well that wasn’t the point Idhren was trying to make. “And I thought you didn’t care about that sort of thing.”

Idhren shrugged, “I suppose that depends entirely on the people involved,” he replied.

Dorian regretted ever putting the idea of rumor mongering into Idhren’s mind. It had been a bad idea in the first place, brought on by a bit too much wine and Idhren’s too-pretty eyes. It was how he’d found most of the bed partners he didn’t pay, but Idhren didn’t play those games the way an Altus did. Now the elf was being less than subtle, but he was also less than sober. “Should I be flattered to be worthy of your interest?” Dorian asked, halfway between flirting and uncertainty.

“Not many people are,” Varius answered for him.

“I am unfortunately surrounded by some absolutely shit examples of humanity most of the time,” Idhren replied. “You’re decidedly less so, when you want to be.”

“You certainly know how to compliment someone,” Dorian replied dryly. Did Idhren always swear this much? Dorian supposed he’d never actually seen him outside of a social function before (excluding the Circle, of course, but they were both practically children back then). Maybe that’s what was making him feel so off-center about this. Was it the alcohol and lyrium making him act like this? Or just being away from easily offended nobles and having the freedom to speak his mind?

“I can, when the occasion calls for it,” Idhren replied. He pushed himself off the armrest, sat upright as he finished his drink, but began listing towards Dorian as he reached over to put the empty glass on the table in front of them. He was so wasted he couldn’t even sit up straight. It was a miracle he could hold a conversation.

Somehow Dorian was on his third glass of brandy. And he was quickly losing what small threads of self control he possessed.

Then Idhren listed far enough to the side that he was leaning against Dorian’s shoulder.

“I should go.” Dorian was breathless, face flushed as he pulled away from Idhren. The movement only sent him backwards into Varius’ chest, but Dorian barely noticed. He was too distracted by the look in Idhren’s eyes. In the space of a breath his expression had gone from sultry to absolute dejection.

Dorian Pavus was not a brave man. He was quite good at pretending to be, but deep down he was a coward. He rose to his feet quickly, too quickly to appear casual, too quickly for the amount he’d had to drink and smoke. “I…” he stammered, at an uncharacteristic loss for words. “Good luck. In the south,” he said, and meant every word of it. Idhren deserved better than what this country had done to him; deserved better than what Dorian could give him. He hoped the elf would find it.

Idhren had not taken his eyes off the man, but his expression made it impossible for Dorian to look at his face. “Thank you,” the elf whispered. He sounded just as crestfallen as he looked.

Without another word Dorian turned on his heel and left.

As soon as the Altus was gone Idhren fell back against the plush cushions of the sofa and swallowed back the lump in his throat. Beside him Varius’ manner changed drastically. The dark-skinned elf moved closer, stroked Idhren’s hair and murmured sympathetic noises as he pulled the smaller elf into his arms.

“Why doesn’t he want me?” Idhren asked miserably. “Why am I not good enough?” And why did it hurt so much?

“Shh,” Varius sighed and kissed the crown of Idhren’s head. “He’s the one who’s not good enough for you.”

Idhren sighed and turned his face toward Varius, laying his head on the other elf’s shoulder. “Why do I care?” he breathed, voice choked. “He’s such an ass. I should hate him. Why can’t I hate him?”

“The heart wants what it wants,” Varius murmured understandingly. “Though life would be much easier if we could control it.” Idhren could only nod morosely in agreement. For another long moment they sat there in silence, Varius stroking his hair and rubbing his back gently. Then, in a slow, smooth motion, the whore pulled away from Idhren and stood up, “Come on,” he murmured, holding his hands out to the mage, “Let me show you a good time before you leave. A good memory to take with you into the south.”

Idhren barely hesitated before reaching out to take Varius’ hands and letting the whore pull him to his feet. And then toward the back rooms. He wasn’t what Idhren wanted – who Idhren wanted – but it was time for Idhren to accept the facts. Time to get over this childish crush and move on with his life.

Varius’ skin was too dark, his hair too long, his body too slim. But if Idhren closed his eyes he could still pretend.

And in the morning, he could forget.
Title: Semper ad Meliora
Fandom: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Rating: Mature/Explicit
Pairing: Dorian Pavus/Idhren Lavellan, Idhren Lavellan/Tainan Lavellan




Chapter 5 - Coiled 'Round My Heart</u>

Spite ate away all that was good, kind, and loving till nothing was left but the spite itself, coiled 'round my heart like a great worm.
- Canticle of Maferath, Dissonant Verse


Vyrantium, Tevinter Imperium, 9:35 Dragon

In the year following Canidius’ theft of Idhren’s work, the elf’s research languished. With no chance at ever seeing recognition, Idhren felt there was no point in putting in so much effort. He went through the paces, spent most days in the library with his nose in a book, scribbling notes, or long hours in the practice yard testing spells. When Canidius asked about his progress Idhren shrugged and fed him excuses: the theory is difficult to put into practice, I can’t quite get the spell to work correctly, I need to find more supporting evidence.

The magister was unhappy, but without Idhren’s cooperation he could not advance the research himself.

Idhren fed his patron just enough pages of notes and half-formed spells to make it look like he was working, but that was all that he could bring himself to produce.

He was spending more and more time in the lyrium den.

Then one day he went down to the slave compound to visit his family to find his father once more abed, but barely able to sit up.

Idhren rushed to his father’s side, hands aglow with what small wisps of healing magic he could manage to conjure. It did little to sooth sore muscles and ease overworked joints. “Don’t you bother about me,” his father protested, but he sounded so weak and tired that Idhren couldn’t help worrying.

“You can’t possibly continue to work like this,” Idhren protested.

“I will manage,” Cyrus assured him. “It’s not nearly as bad as it looks. Besides, you know what will happen if I don’t.”

Idhren did. He remembered clearly how his old mentor, Alvinius, had simply disappeared from the estate one day never to be seen or heard from again. Although living in the mansion had shielded him from most of the cruelties of slavery, Idhren was still well aware of how the others could be treated. If his father did not show up to work the next day an overseer would show up at their door and force him one way or another. The overseers were paid servants, sometimes Liberati, who cared for nothing except that the work got done one way or another. Idhren could appeal to Canidius on his father’s behalf, but doubted the magister would care. Slaves were not people to a man like him, Idhren knew that now.

So he did what he could to ease his father’s pain, well aware that it was every bit as bad as it looked, and returned to the mansion that night with a heavy heart.

The next week when he went down to visit his family his father was not there.

“He collapsed in the field two days ago,” his mother informed him solemnly, tears glistening in her eyes but never falling from them. “When he couldn’t get back up… the overseer had him killed.”

Idhren sat down heavily on one of the beds and his mother perched wearily beside him. Just like that. A tool that had outlived its use. One of the other slaves must have brought the new. Sahren was off at the colosseum this week. Did he know yet?

“He held on a long time,” Ashara murmured, wrapping an arm around her son’s trembling shoulders. “He did good work, and he got to see his sons grow into fine young men. I know he didn’t show it much, but he was happy here. And he was proud of both of you.”

It was shallow consolation. “I could have done something,” Idhren murmured, voice tight, “If I were better at healing. I could have helped.”

“It’s not your fault, Idhren,” Ashara soothed gently. “It’s not anyone’s fault.”

But it was. If his father had been able to rest, if he had had proper care, a real healer and not just Idhren’s fumbling attempts, maybe he would have been alright. But the overseers did not let him rest, did not send for a healer, and Canidius would not have allowed it anyway. Slaves were not deserving of rest or healing. It was Canidius’ fault that his father had died.

Idhren had once thought the magister lenient and merciful and kind. He had been a naïve fool back then. He knew the truth now, that Canidius was no different from any other magister. He did not abuse his slaves, but he did not care for them, either. They were not people to him, only tools, and despite his freedom Idhren was too.

There were no funerals for slaves. No ceremony, no priest to speak the right verses of the Chant. The body was simply removed, cremated, and the ashes discarded. A different slave would take on his father’s duties and everyone would be expected to go about their lives as though he never existed in the first place. As far as Canidius was concerned, his father probably did not exist. Just another tally mark on paper, his death no bigger loss than a broken quill and just as easily replaced.

It was, however, one less thing with which Canidius could manipulate his apprentice. Or so Idhren thought.

“You’ve been spending too much time lately down in the slave quarters,” Canidius commented several days later in the library. Idhren was hunched over a new book about the veil, fingertips stained with ink as he took notes.

Idhren raised his head to watch the magister peruse the titles on one shelf as though he was actually looking for something. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Canidius actually read a book. “My family is there,” Idhren reminded him.

Canidius scoffed, so soft that he probably thought Idhren would not hear, but elven ears were sharp in more than just appearance. “It’s highly improper,” the magister said, “Even you have to realize that by now. For a mage to be associating with slaves so casually would be an incredible scandal if anyone found out.”

“But they’re my family,” Idhren protested. “My mother and my brother. It’s where I was born.”

“But it is not where you are now,” Canidius reminded sternly. He turned away from the bookshelf and crossed his arms across his chest. It was probably meant to make him look more imposing, but it only served to emphasize the man’s incredible girth. Somehow over the past year Idhren thought the magister had gotten even fatter. “It’s time you left behind such childish pursuits. Sentimentality will only hold you back, especially if you intend on reaching the magisterium someday. You should consider limiting the amount of time you spend there.”

Idhren frowned and looked back down at the book in front of him. “I will consider it, magister,” he lied. Idhren was less certain by the day whether he actually wanted a seat in the magisterium. He no longer entertained the delusion that Canidius would help him get there. If the magister truly wanted him to succeed he would have given Idhren the credit he deserved for the work that was rightfully his. He wondered if Canidius was actually stupid enough to think that Idhren still believed his lies.

“I suppose that will do for now,” Canidius replied. “There is one other thing, before you get back to work,” he added. Idhren raised his head again. “I’m certain you’re aware that the new legislative session begins in the autumn, so I must return to Minrathous for a time.” Idhren nodded. He was well aware of the magister’s schedule. He generally spent a few months in the capital at the start of the session, staying through to the end only if there was a bill that he was personally invested in. “I was thinking it might be beneficial if you come with me this time. You have never been to the capital, indeed you have never been out of Vyrantium. Your academic pursuits are admirable, but we must begin your lessons in politics. It will be good for you to visit the Senate, to see how things are run.”

It had been a long time since Canidius was able to surprise Idhren in a good way. A trip to Minrathous to visit the Senate? That was good, that was something Idhren still dreamed about when he dared allow himself to dream.

And yet Idhren could not bring himself to be happy about it. In the back of his mind he could not help wondering what Canidius’ ulterior motive was. There had to be one. There always was.

“I would be honored,” the words slipped out of Idhren’s mouth automatically, the empty niceties that were so familiar on his lips.

The magister’s face twisted in a nauseating smile as he looked down his nose at Idhren. “We still have quite some time before we must depart. Several weeks at the least. That should be sufficient time for you to wrap up your work here enough for it to be put on hold. I will ensure that you are kept informed of the travel plans.”

“Yes, magister,” Idhren nodded.

Of course Idhren had no intention of reducing the amount of time he spent with his remaining family. Already he could only spend a matter of hours every week catching up with and checking in on them. Less with Sahren, depending on how frequently his brother was required at the colosseum.

However, very suddenly Canidius had extra work for Idhren. A salon held on the day Idhren usually spent with his family that he was required to attend. A stack of books on political history and theory that Idhren was required to read by that time next week, forcing him to spend all his free time studying.

It didn’t take long for Idhren to figure out what was happening. Canidius was an idiot academically, but he was incredibly clever when it came to politics and manipulation. He was purposely keeping Idhren away from his family. The question was why? Had he realized that Idhren was no longer as easily controlled as he had been before?

Their departure to Minrathous came before Idhren could find the answer. He had only managed to wrangle in two brief visits to his family in the five intervening weeks. After the death of his father he was loath to leave the estate for any significant period of time, in case anything else happened, but there was no avoiding this trip. His mother and brother had both been encouraging when he told them about it and in front of them Idhren had smiled and been enthusiastic about the opportunity. He was, to an extent. Idhren was excited to see Minrathous and the Senate, to learn first hand how the Magisterium worked instead of simply reading books and watching Canidius court favor at his various salons in the off season.

He also knew that it was another one of the magister’s attempts to keep him on a leash as though he were still a slave.

----------

Minrathous, Tevinter Imperium, 9:35 Dragon

They arrived in the capitol with the turn of the season. Further north, Minrathous should have been warmer than Vyrantium, but the summer humidity had passed and a cool breeze blew off the ocean, turning the weather bearable rather than sweltering.

To shorten the journey Canidius always insisted on traveling by ship. Idhren had arranged the magister’s passage for the past two years as well as this one, but the elf had never set foot on a dock himself, let alone a ship. He spent the better part of the first day of their two day voyage curled up on his cot in the cabin fighting back nausea. He was only mostly successful. So when they finally stepped off onto the docks in Minrathous it was a blessed relief.

The city itself was breathtaking. Even from the docks Idhren could see that it was even larger and more impressive than Vyrantium. Beyond the line of warehouses along the waterfront buildings towered into the skyline. There were people everywhere. Dockworkers and merchants and travelers and slaves. Canidius had brought along two slaves for the sole purpose of carrying his things. At least that was all they had been doing so far. The magister’s luggage for such a brief journey was still a trunk so large it took two to carry. Idhren had refused the offer to use one of the house slaves for himself. He had few enough things, and was more than capable of dragging his own luggage the distance between the ship and the carriage waiting just beyond the bustling crowd. Besides, he knew from experience that when Canidius was away from the estate it was a respite for the house slaves – no meals to prepare, no parties to decorate for or serve at. The only person he would have considered bringing along was Valora, but she deserved the break this would offer.

Canidius’ home in Minrathous was only small in comparison to the sprawling Vyrantium estate that Idhren had called home his entire life. The mansion sat along a street of homes all of similar size and architectural style – the homes of other magisters, Idhren assumed – surrounded on all sides by dark stone walls. Within the walls, paved paths lead through meticulously manicured gardens. The mansion itself may have been smaller than the one in Vyrantium, but it was far more richly decorated, and far darker, it seemed to Idhren. Idhren was used to Vyrantium’s whitewashed walls, wide halls and large windows. In contrast, the architect of this home seemed to have tried to fit the same number of rooms – and twice the décor – in half the space.

A slave that Idhren had never met before showed Idhren to the room that would be his for the duration of their stay. It was a guest room, and the appointments were notably nicer than those in Idhren’s usual quarters. Either there had been no servants’ quarters available, or Canidius was trying to impress Idhren somehow. He didn’t know which possibility was worse.

It did not take Idhren long to unpack the few possessions he had brought along, mostly clothes. All the nicest robes he owned, and a new set bought specifically for this trip, were carefully unfolded and hung in the wardrobe. However Idhren felt about this trip as a whole, he knew that it was his best opportunity to make an impression on the most powerful people in the country. He needed to look like a magister’s apprentice, not a slave.

Without thinking about it, Idhren found himself staring into the mirror on the dressing table and trying to tie his hair back in a way that obscured his ears. When he realized what he was doing he immediately turned away from the mirror. There was nothing wrong with his ears, he told himself not for the first time in his life, the problem was with the humans who thought they made him lesser.

The first several days in Minrathous were a whirlwind of new sights and sounds and faces. Idhren had thought that Canidius entertained frequently at his Vyrantium estate, but the number of parties and meetings attended here made left little time for anything else. And of course Idhren was dragged along to every single one.

Mornings were spent in casual meetings with Canidius’ political allies, which would occasionally carry over into lunch. Serious work was done in the afternoon, and in the evening it was a soiree or formal dinner with one or another magister, friend and rival alike.

Idhren, unused to the sheer volume of socializing, was having difficulty keeping up.

There were so many new faces, and to forget a name would be beyond social suicide. More likely it would be actual suicide.

The very least he could manage was not to make himself look like a complete idiot.

For all that he was dragged along to every social or political event Canidius attended Idhren did not feel particularly included. Of course it was fascinating to finally see the senate for himself, to see the city for himself, but beyond initial introductions barely anyone made an effort to include Idhren in conversation. Once again the elven mage was relegated to standing just slightly behind his patron, to smile and nod and be ever so polite and well mannered; a pretty little trophy, a display of charity to gain favor with the more moderate members of the Magisterium.

Idhren was supposed to be here to learn politics. How could he do that if he was constantly ignored?

At least being paid barely more attention than a slave made it easy to slip away from the crowd without being noticed.

It was exhausting, smiling and playing dumb for so long. Only two weeks into their stay in the capitol and Idhren had already worked out a routine. After an hour or two of following Canidius around like a well trained dog he took the first opportunity to excuse himself and find a more secluded place to spend the evening.

Tonight’s particular excursion was hosted by one of the academics that Canidius had been courting favor with since the publication of Idhren’s research. Listening to the magister recite Idhren’s words like a trained parrot would have been entertaining if it weren’t so infuriating. There were several people here – magisters and scholars alike – who produced work that Idhren greatly admired. He wanted nothing more than to speak to any of them about their research, and about his own, but that was not possible. If a magister would even deign to speak with him there was no way Idhren could discuss his work without giving away that Canidius had done none of it. Or worse, appearing the plagiarist himself.

Either way, he could only imagine how Canidius would respond. What would he do if Idhren stopped playing nice? Idhren was already doing the bare minimum required of him. How much longer could he push the boundaries of Canidius’ patience?

He was worried about his family. Idhren had worried about his family every day since his father’s death, and even more so now that he was away from them. Work would be light in the kitchens while they were away, a rest that his mother desperately needed. She stooped even when she stood now, unable to straighten fully, and Idhren’s magic could only temporarily dull the aches in her joints. Now he wasn’t there to do that. It seemed like Sahren had a new scar every time Idhren saw him, a new injury. Eight years now he had been fighting for the entertainment of men and women who saw him as little more than an animal. The only thing that Idhren still bothered praying for was that Sahren would survive his next fight.

Such thoughts made it impossible to enjoy anything about the soiree. Not that there was much to enjoy in the first place. If they were at Canidius’ mansion he could have at least exchanged sympathetic eye rolls with the servants, but he didn’t know the slaves here.

So instead Idhren had slipped away from the festivities, through an open veranda door and out into the garden. It was just as meticulously manicured as Canidius’, and there were a few people out on the grounds, seeking some fresh air or somewhere private for a conversation. Idhren ignored them and leaned back against the wall of the house, thankful for the slight breeze that night.

“It figures that I would find you holding up a wall somewhere,” a maddeningly familiar voice commented from Idhren’s left. The elf whipped around, embarrassed to have been caught by surprise. Standing there just outside the door, glass of wine held elegantly in one hand as he smirked at Idhren, was Dorian Pavus. “I saw Canidius in there, he’s difficult to miss, but you’re rather harder to find.”

Of course Dorian was here. Idhren wasn’t at all surprised. He was the son of a magister; of course he would be here in the capitol during the legislative session. So it had only been a matter of time before their paths crossed. “Do you expect me to believe you were actually looking for me?” Idhren asked.

“Not actively,” Dorian answered quickly. A little too quickly. “But after I saw Canidius I couldn’t help wondering if you were still wandering about in his shadow. Apparently I was correct.”

“And you came over here to gloat about it?” Idhren shot back resentfully.

“I can if you’d like,” Dorian offered. He leaned against a pillar across from Idhren, all artfully arranged limbs and practiced nonchalance, one arm folded loosely across his chest the other still holding that glass of wine. “I notice Canidius hasn’t published any further research on that marvelous theory.”

“Perhaps he hasn’t had much to work with,” Idhren replied carefully, well aware of how easily they might be overheard.

Dorian arched an eyebrow curiously in response. “This isn’t the most discreet place for a conversation,” he commented, glancing back toward the dining hall. They could be easily seen by anyone who bothered to look, and they were not the only ones to have stepped out for a breath of fresh air. “But I happen to have it on good authority that Magister Alexius has a rather impressive library. Perhaps you’d like to see?”

The offer was tempting. Very tempting. But why was Dorian making it? “I’m not certain the magister would appreciate us poking around his estate uninvited.”

“Uninvited?” Dorian asked, a moment of confusion before he let out an amused laugh. “You really must keep up with the gossip, Idhren. Alexius is my patron. I can hardly be unwelcome in my own workspace, can I?”

Idhren was startled to hear that. Was he really so out of touch? No, why would news that one magister had taken up a new apprentice have reached him all the way in Vyrantium? This certainly wasn’t the circle in which Canidius usually ran. “That’s hardly gossip worthy news, don’t you think?” he returned, perhaps a little defensive.

“Isn’t it?” Dorian asked in surprise. “It certainly was here. Although that perhaps had more to do with the manner in which I came into his employ,” he murmured thoughtfully, then shrugged. “You really must pay more attention at these events. Put those ears to good use.”

Bristling defensively, Idhren had to resist the urge to bring his hands up and cover the points of his ears. “What do my ears have to do with anything?” he snapped.

Dorian tensed. He seemed to realize that he had overstepped, and hesitated for a moment before speaking again. “Never mind, forget I said anything,” he said, brushing the issue aside easily. “Do come along, I’ll show you to the library. It’s bound to be more interesting than standing out here staring at the sky. And I can fill you in on all the gossip you’ve missed.” In one smooth motion Dorian pushed himself off the pillar and downed the last of his wine before sweeping back into the dining hall, depositing his empty glass on the tray of a passing slave on his way.

Idhren hesitated only a moment before following.

----------

As Dorian lead Idhren to the library – down two halls and up a flight of stairs – he prattled on cheerfully about any and all inane things that had happened in the past year or so. Idhren was only half paying attention. Although he’d come along, he was not certain why Dorian had invited him. They had neither seen nor spoken to each other in a year, and their last brief conversation had not exactly been friendly.

Still, it was nice that anyone wanted to talk to him, and ultimately that was why Idhren had followed.

When they arrived at the library – larger than the one in Canidius’ Minrathous home and clearly well used, tables piled with books and notes – Dorian began talking about the research he was doing with Alexius. It was fascinating, but as much as Idhren wanted to focus he couldn’t shake the nagging question at the back of his mind.

“Dorian,” Idhren interrupted, his burning curiosity getting the better of his patience and his manners, “Why did you bring me here?”

The man broke off mid sentence and looked over at Idhren. He hesitated, words on the tip of his tongue that he bit back and swallowed down. “You obviously didn’t realize it,” he began instead, “But I was working for Alexius the last time we saw each other as well, though not for long. I may have…” he paused, considering his next words carefully, “Mentioned the idea that Canidius’ work was not entirely his own.”

“What?” Idhren exclaimed in muted panic. Such a claim, even made by someone else, could mean the absolute end of Idhren’s academic pursuits. If Alexius had taken offense, if he told Canidius, if they thought Idhren was trying to rise above his station. “You—!”

“Now, now, no need to get so upset. Let me explain.” Dorian cut him off and held up a placating hand. Idhren reluctantly fell silent. “I know you don’t have a high opinion of me, but I’m not a complete fool. I didn’t tell him that you put the idea into my head, only that I knew you from the circle and this paper sounded like exactly the sort of thing you’d been studying at the time.”

Idhren relaxed somewhat. That was a small relief, but it still begged the question, “Why?”

Dorian paused thoughtfully before answering. “Everyone was terribly surprised when Canidius published a scientific work. He is not a scholar. Anyone will tell you that, but I’m certain you already know. He’s barely a politician, to be honest. He’s a shrewd businessman, I suppose, but he only has his seat in the Magisterium because it was inherited and he’s unimportant enough that no one’s bothered to oust him.”

“Get to the point,” Idhren complained. He knew all of that, likely better than anyone else, he didn’t need a lecture on the magister’s sub-par career.

“The point is,” Dorian finished petulantly, “People already suspect that he’s not the sole author behind that paper. Well, anyone with half a brain, at least.”

That wasn’t at all surprising. Canidius could barely articulate some of the ideas in Idhren’s paper. Anyone with a working knowledge of the field would be able to tell that he was reciting a script or making things up when asked questions. But no one had done anything about it. No one confronted him, no one defamed the paper. Everyone kept inviting him to these parties. They didn’t care. “There’s still no proof,” Idhren pointed out, crossing his arms across his chest and leaning against the end of the table. “Or are you here to tell me you’re actually going to do something about it?”

“I--,” Dorian began confidently, then paused and visibly deflated, “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I know that Alexius believes me. If you want to leave Canidius’ employ I could--.”

“I won’t,” Idhren said immediately, startling Dorian into silence. “I won’t leave his service. Not while he still owns my family.”

Dorian sighed in annoyance, “Then you’re happy letting him use you like this?”

“I never asked you to get involved,” Idhren snapped. It was always like this with Dorian. Every time. Why couldn’t the man leave well enough alone? “Mind your own business.”

“Idhren,” Dorian protested, “You’re better than this.”

“Don’t pretend you know anything about my life,” the elf stood up straight, as tall as he could make himself, and glared up at the taller man. “I never asked for your help, and I’ve no interest in being your charity case. Leave me alone.”

“You are impossibly stubborn, do you know that?” Dorian complained, exasperated. “I’m trying to help, or are you too daft to see that?”

“I don’t want your help,” Idhren snapped back. “How many times do I have to say it before you listen? What reason could you have to help me other than to stroke your own ego? So you can go to bed at night telling yourself what a good person you are?”

Dorian was taken aback by both the venom in Idhren’s words and the accusations themselves. “You really think I’m that shallow?”

“Is there a reason I shouldn’t?” Idhren asked in return. “You made it perfectly clear in the Circle that I was simply too pathetic for you to ignore. I was an inconvenience, or perhaps a curiosity. I bet I still am. That’s all your lot ever see when they look at me.”

Dorian had said some things along those lines back then. And now it was coming back to bite him in the ass. All of his attempts at being a good person backfired. Perhaps he should give up. But maybe he could still salvage this relationship. “That’s not why--,” Dorian cut himself off with a frustrated sigh. “I read your paper,” he said curtly.  “It was good. If you would continue working on it, if you could put that theory into practice, it would be astounding.”

Idhren had to bite his lip, swallowing back the sudden lump in his throat and looking away. To hear a compliment like that from someone who actually understood the material was more than he’d dreamed of in a long time. That it came from Dorian, who had been there in the Circle when it was only a fledgling thought, meant so much more. But Idhren was learning not to let his feelings show. Canidius always used them against him. And Dorian had now made it clear what he was after. “I’m not working on it anymore,” Idhren muttered. “I won’t give him anything else. I won’t let him take anything else.”

“You can’t honestly be happy with that,” Dorian said, and his voice was frustrated, but he also sounded genuinely concerned. Idhren had such a hard time believing that anyone genuinely cared about him.

He leaned heavily against the edge of a table, defenses falling away regardless of how he tried to cling to them. He wasn’t happy in Vyrantium, with Canidius, with letting his dreams slowly crumble to dust. He was miserable and frightened and angry. “I hate him,” Idhren fumed quietly, and then louder, daring to think they were far enough removed from the party that no one would hear him as he let years of bottled up emotions bubble to the surface. “I hate him. I hate him! I want to strangle him with my bare hands for everything he’s done to me! My freedom is a joke,” the elf scoffed in disgust, pushing himself away from the table again to pace the width of the room. The air in the library gradually began to buzz with static, like the moments before a lightning strike, making the hairs on Dorian’s arms stand on end.  “He holds my leash as easily as if I were still his property. Do you think he would just let me walk away? Can’t you see, Dorian?” Idhren stopped and turned to the man, “For all my supposed freedom I’m still his slave. And he knows it and he gloats and there’s nothing I can do!”

His eyes glistened with unshed tears in the dim light of the library, years of frustration boiling to the surface. Finally allowed outlet there was no stemming the flood. So much anger in such a tiny body. So much desperation. “My life will never be my own,” the elf continued, voice thick with emotion. “My work will never be my own. He gave me my freedom, but he took everything else from me.” Idhren fell back into a chair beside the table as the crackle of static slowly dissipated. “And to think I used to be proud to be his apprentice,” he muttered bitterly.

Dorian liked to think he knew a little bit of how that felt, but surely Idhren wouldn’t agree. Idhren had always made it clear that he thought the Altus class lived perfectly carefree lives. Compared to a slave, perhaps that was the case. Dorian knew what Idhren had been through at the circle, and it was certainly more hardship than Dorian himself had ever faced. Perhaps he had no right to complain. “You really think he would hurt your family if you tried to leave?”

“They’re slaves,” Idhren said bitterly. “He doesn’t see them as people, just tools. Tools he can use to manipulate me, make me behave so he can keep using me. He’s already…” Idhren cut himself off, wondering if he should mention anyone he had lost. Would Dorian even care? Perhaps he wouldn’t, but it might make him understand. “My father is dead,” he said flatly.

A hissed gasp from Dorian, but Idhren didn’t look up to see the man’s face. “I’m sorry.”

Idhren shrugged slightly. He had grieved all that he could already. “He worked in the orchard. One day he just… collapsed. Exhaustion. But he couldn’t get back up, so the overseer killed him. Dumped his body in a ditch somewhere. There’s no use for a slave that can’t work.”

“That’s horrible,” Dorian breathed.

“It is,” Idhren confirmed. “But it’s the best that any slave can expect. It would be no great loss if my mother and brother died. They would be easily replaced. If I left Canidius’ employ I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he had them killed simply out of spite.”

Dorian didn’t know what to say to that. He had never actually considered what happened to slaves that got too old or sick to work. He didn’t think much about slaves outside of his own household period. They were so easy to ignore, always hovering quietly on the outskirts of his world. He knew that some people treated their slaves badly, abused them, used them for blood magic, but that had never happened in the Pavus household and it wasn’t something that was done in public. As such he had never personally witnessed that sort of cruelty. Except what had happened to Idhren in the Circle.

If slaves were so easy to ignore when they were in the same room, it was easier even to ignore them when they were out of sight. When they disappeared.

With a great sigh, Idhren pushed himself up out of the chair once more. “I should return to the festivities before Canidius notices that I’m gone.” He took a moment to compose himself, smoothing down his hair and straightening his robes needlessly, before heading for the library door. If he was lucky, Canidius would be nearly finished pandering for favor. If not, well, at least the wine was good.

But in the doorway he stopped, hand on the doorframe, and glanced back at Dorian. The man was still standing there by the table looking mildly conflicted. Idhren felt his heart clench in his chest, and he wondered how different his life might be if he’d been born Dorian’s equal. Or if there were more people like Dorian in the world, who for some inexplicable reason didn’t see him as lesser. “I… appreciate that you want to help,” he said carefully. An understatement, but all he could bring himself to voice. “But there’s nothing you can do.”

As he watched, Dorian’s expression closed off. Gone was the concern, the sympathy, the hint of frustration, all replaced by the same perfect polite smile that every Altus mage wore with ease. All emotion hidden behind a well crafted façade. “Well, I apologize if I’ve been an inconvenience,” he said, as though this had been a mere friendly chat and not an emotional hurricane. “Perhaps we’ll meet at another of these affairs and have a more pleasant conversation.”

Idhren managed a wry smile. It would be a miracle if he and Dorian could ever manage a pleasant conversation. “I wouldn’t want to sully your reputation by letting people think you’re friends with an elf.”

“My reputation has survived worse,” Dorian assured him flippantly. “You really should catch up on the gossip, Idhren, I’m certain you’ll find it entertaining.”

----------

It was only because Dorian had mentioned rumors and gossip so many times during the course of the evening that Idhren gave it any thought whatsoever following that night’s soiree. Not right away, of course. First he had had to sleep off those last few terribly ill advised glasses of wine – drunk while playing the wallflower again and watching Dorian move through the crowd as though he were born to it, which he was. By the time Canidius bid his farewells and collected Idhren like a stray pet the elf was just drunk and miserable enough to consider going to find a lyrium den. The thought didn’t last long. Nice as it might be to mute out everything except the hum of lyrium through his veins the experience wouldn’t be the same without Varius. Instead he’d merely collapsed into bed and slept until late the following morning.

Luckily that morning dawned a rare meeting-free day for the magister, and when Idhren felt well enough to face the day he was able to beg off any further duties for a chance to finally explore the city on his own.

He was determined to make a few good memories on this trip.

The Minrathous Circle library was practically legendary; even larger than Vyrantium’s and open to all mages. It was full of books that Idhren had been yearning to get his hands on and, most important of all, he didn’t have to worry about Canidius reading over his shoulder.

It was also full of elven servants much more willing to speak to him than any of the people Canidius mingled with. Between the shelves, searching out obscure texts, that was where Idhren picked up all his gossip. Servants heard different gossip than the nobility, and they were the best source of it in Idhren’s opinion. He knew from personal experience how easily elves were ignored and how easy it was for them to listen in on supposedly private conversations.

Libraries were not a terribly good place to pick up relevant gossip, however. Someone had borrowed all the books on the pre-Andrastian Imperium. Mildly scandalous, a bit excessive, but nothing to write home about. Some people were still terribly worked up about the Qunari situation in some Free Marches city, even a year after the fact. Idhren didn’t need the rumor mill to tell him that. A quarter of the Magisterium was demanding a full invasion, but that was typical, it was just that the arguments had new substance.

Nothing of particular note came out of his hunt for gossip, but it was nice to be in a library again. Well, a library away from Canidius’ influence. Idhren had always liked libraries. It was a pity Canidius’ had been poisoned for him; a gilded cage, an aviary where exotic birds could fly and sing, but only for the entertainment of their captors. This library felt like freedom. No materials denied to him, no pressure for results, just books. As many books as he could read, as many pages of parchment as he could fill with notes.

Idhren stayed until the sun was dipping low in the sky and the servants politely ushered him out, a folio of notes tucked under one arm.

It was a nice reprieve, visiting the library. Between Canidius’ machinations, the politics, and being showed off like a prized animal, Idhren had almost forgotten what it was like to enjoy his work. To remember why he’d once wanted this.

It was a pity the feeling would not last more than a day.

Another month of politics and parties passed in a blur before Idhren crossed paths with Dorian again. The elf performed his requisite socializing before, predictably, retiring to the edges of the crowd. Though he had been trying to pay more attention to the goings on at these events, he still hadn’t picked up any particularly noteworthy rumors. Maybe this wasn’t the right scene for rumor mongering, everyone was too concerned with political matters. Except himself and Dorian, it would seem.

The man found him as the evening dragged on. Idhren was halfway through his third glass of wine when Dorian sidled up and leaned against the wall beside him. “You are the life of the party, as usual,” the man commented.

“You know how I adore being the center of attention,” Idhren shot back dryly.

The comment made Dorian’s lips quirk up in a small, amused smile. “I hope you’re at least able to appreciate Magister Aurarius’ taste in wine?” he asked, a glance at Idhren’s cup before raising his own to his lips.

Idhren looked down at the deep red liquid in his glass, swirled it once in his hand. “It seems I have picked up some of the Altus class’ less offensive habits over the years,” he replied. “And I might as well get something good out of being dragged to these things.”

“Indeed,” Dorian agreed, “The food is sometimes the only redeeming quality to these displays. And of course I never pass up a good opportunity to get drunk.”

“And just when I thought you were learning a bit of discretion,” Idhren said, sighing with disappointment that was almost entirely false. He would be a hypocrite to hold that against Dorian now. Idhren’s usual escapes were worse than mere alcohol these days; though he had been lyrium free this entire trip, which was surprising.

The sigh that Dorian returned was suitably melodramatic, “Alas, it never has been my strong suit. I’m certain my parents would be more than happy to expound upon my many failures in that field. Or the local gossip.”

There it was again. What was Dorian’s obsession with rumor? Was he trying to hint at something? Idhren wished he would just come out and say what he meant. “You’ll be surprised to know that I have heeded your advice on that front.”

“Which front?” Dorian asked.

“About putting my ears to good use,” Idhren told him, but shot the man a pointed look. Even though his perfect Altus mask Dorian winced slightly. “But they haven’t uncovered anything particularly shocking. I suppose everyone is too concerned with politics this time of year. Even the slaves don’t have much interesting to share, unless you care about who is sleeping with whom.”

Dorian raised an eyebrow curiously. “Some people would care about that very much, depending on the people involved.”

“No one I care about, at least,” Idhren shrugged. “Anything interesting that I’ve missed?”

“Magister Danarius has picked himself up a Liberati apprentice as well,” Dorian commented, “Who knew Canidius was starting a trend. Maybe you can be friends.”

“That I did hear about. I’d tell her to get out while she can,” Idhren muttered in reply. “You know what he does to his slaves.”

“I know what he did to the one,” Dorian agreed. “That was before my time, thankfully.”

Before Idhren’s time as well. They were both still in school then. For all the complaints that Idhren had about Canidius, at least he wasn’t a blood mage. Small blessings.

“Do you know how much longer you’ll be staying in the city?” Dorian asked, a very sudden change of topic, but a welcome one. Idhren didn’t want to talk about slaves and magisters, or think about another unfortunate, impressionable Liberati pressured into the same situation as he. “Through Satinalia, I should hope. The festival here is magnificent, it would be a pity for you to miss it.”

“We would have to leave within the week to miss that,” Idhren pointed out, “But perhaps not through First Day. I’m not certain,” Idhren replied honestly. Canidius sometimes changed his plans at the drop of a hat, occasionally just to watch the slaves clamor to keep up with his demands. “There are no bills put forward that he is personally invested in. If it doesn’t make or save him money Canidius has little interest.”

“Of course,” Dorian sighed faintly, “And why bother being involved if it doesn’t personally affect you?”

Idhren glanced up at Dorian. If he didn’t know better, he would think the man was just as annoyed by the state of Tevinter politics as he was. Dorian would be one of them some day: a magister. Would he be any different from all the rest? He was kind to Idhren; considered the elf a friend, if his words were to be believed. And despite all his slip ups the Altus actually hadn’t done anything to make Idhren doubt that sentiment, but it was still difficult to believe anyone of Dorian’s standing would care about him at all.

That Dorian would admit to friendship was a massive step forward from their relationship in the circle, when the man couldn’t even give a compliment without covering it up with an excuse. Idhren should be happy that they could hold a civil, even pleasant, conversation as friends. As equals. Yet some part of him was still disappointed.

The man had turned his attention back toward the people milling about, sipping at the wine in his hand. Friendship was really all that he could ever hope for. That Dorian could see him that way was a miracle in itself, but they would never be more.

Tearing his eyes away from the man’s profile Idhren downed the last of his wine in one gulp. “Don’t let me hold you back from enjoying the rest of the party,” he commented, staring down at his still empty glass. “Go enjoy yourself. Some of the people here aren’t actually terrible.”

When Dorian glanced down at him again Idhren did not look up, though he felt the gaze on him. “Getting bored of me already?” he asked, a teasing note to his voice. “Very well. Though I hope we’ll see each other again before Canidius drags you back down south.”

“As do I,” Idhren replied without looking up. A moment later Dorian swept away, back into the limelight where he belonged. And left Idhren on the sidelines, where he belonged.

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Enbi-to-Miruku Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2014  Student General Artist
You, amazing cosplayer, have conquered the Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark levels of Nordic cosplay. Now you've reached the final showdown. You will...

*drum rolls*

...Cosplay Iceland.

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...okay, sorry for the bad attempt at humor. You're seriously amazing though, I wasn't joking about that part. I've never seen anyone pulling off all four of the continental Nordics so well; not to mention it was your own hair styled and most of the cosplay (if I wasn't mistaken) was improvised. 

And you made awesome pants, to add to that
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:iconerandir:
Erandir Featured By Owner Mar 11, 2014
Lol thank you very much for such kind words!

I do have formal cosplays for all those except Denmark, but for some reason have never gotten around to getting good photos of them. Makes it look like I only do closet cosplay, oops. 
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:iconenbi-to-miruku:
Enbi-to-Miruku Featured By Owner Mar 13, 2014  Student General Artist
Nah, for me improvised casual cosplay is far from closet cosplay! Making yourself in character in casual clothes demands effort, really :meow: 

Still, I'd really, really love to see you in the official costumes :D I'll be stalking watching your gallery :love:
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:iconjawazcript:
jawazcript Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist

Happy birthday! You have obtained a birthday fox! \3/
(drawing with Muro ain't good for one's health guh)
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:iconerandir:
Erandir Featured By Owner Nov 26, 2013
Ahhh, what a cute fox. Thank you so much!
And thank you for braving the dangerous Muro to make this wonderful thing!
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:iconelleviate:
Elleviate Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2012
Please accept the mass faving activity as an apology for not keeping up with your fic here.
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:iconerandir:
Erandir Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2012
Apology accepted!
Thank you for the faves, I'm very glad you like my work.
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:iconlunsie:
lunsie Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Happy Birthday~
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:iconmrmrrolloz:
MrMrRolloz Featured By Owner May 7, 2011  Student General Artist
Hejoo. C:
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:iconerandir:
Erandir Featured By Owner May 7, 2011
Hej :3
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