Chapter 21- Just Trust Me
They were three weeks away before the winter ball at Halamshiral and the entire Inquisition was in an uproar. Josephine had turned into a Drill Sargent, crying orders out as she dashed about the keep like a mad woman. Everyone knew to stay out of her way or to hop to it when she turned her attention to you. Miranda had begun to collude with both the madwoman herself and the seamstress for reasons no one knew but many feared. In the meantime, Miranda’s arm had finally returned to full normal size and her caloric intake had gone back down to pre-Battle of Haven levels.
The day that her arm was dubbed “regrown,” Miranda had gone in search of Cassandra. She found the Seeker hacking determinedly at a dummy who looked thoroughly abused. “I’m baaaack.” She sang happily, stalking toward her friend. Cassandra looked up and saw Miranda’s mischievous grin and felt herself smiling in return. It was nice to see Miranda whole and smiling once again. The Zerg had been far too melancholic these past few weeks, first the affair with her sister and the truth coming out between the four of them of Miranda’s true origins.
Cassandra and Elariel had made a great deal of effort to treat her the same and the Seeker liked to think that she had succeeded. Leliana though was a whole other matter. The bard had become even more withdrawn. Refusing to interact with Miranda as she had before. Answering in only monosyllables when the Zerg spoke to her and curtly dismissing Miranda after their mission related talk had finished. Miranda as a result tended to have a dejected air about her when she left the Bard’s company.
“So I see,” She noted dryly, her amber eyes twinkling with hidden laughter that only those who knew her would see. Miranda met her gaze with her own sparkling gaze and an understanding passed between the two warrior women. Cassandra let her gaze drift to the russet leather sheath in Miranda’s hand, the golden embellishments that wrapped around it glittering in the light. “Do you even remember how to use that?” She demanded playfully though to most it would have sounded mocking.
Miranda grinned fiercely, exposing her fangs in a way that would have terrified most warriors, but Cassandra knew that the deadly acid that lurked within would never be used on her. “I think I have some vague recollections of which end goes where,” She answered cheekily. Cassandra snorted.
“Then, by all means. Show me how your edge has rusted after all that pampering and bed rest,” She challenged. Miranda’s already wide grin grew by a few molars, a feat that Cassandra would have thought impossible. “Happily,” Miranda responded, sliding the gleaming elven saber from its leather home.
“Though to make this more interesting, how about a wager?” Miranda offered as she twirled her sheath through her fingers like a baton. Cassandra looked up from where she had set her shield down at the foot of her thoroughly battered dummy. “What kind of wager?” She asked cautiously. She knew that Miranda was no gambler, that meant that the sneaky witch was up to something.
“Winner gets one wish from the loser,” Miranda answered, a tiny smirk playing around her lips. Cassandra frowned. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to know what Miranda would extract from her if she lost but she was not willing to let this about go so easily. She could already feel her muscles ratcheting up in excitement growing as she mentally prepared for the duel. The truth of the matter was that she had missed fighting Miranda. Dummies simply didn’t fulfill her as they once had. When she fought Miranda, it was a true battle of wills. The Zerg drove her to fight harder, move faster, react swift. It drove Cassandra to new heights of excellence.
She noticed it on the field. Her opponents were far slower then what she drove herself to counter, their strikes were weaker. Still deadly and enough to hurt or incapacitate but, to one who had been on the receiving end of Miranda’s sword descending on a shield, felt weaker. “Very well, I look forward to you cleaning all my armour and weapons,” Cassandra agreed and Miranda’s eyes took on a frightening twinkle.
“Oh I don’t know, I think you would make a much better genie, personally,” Miranda told her cheekily as she lay her sheathe down next to Cassandra’s shield and twirled the silver blade around her, letting the sun illuminate the bright blade. Cassandra felt her eye twitch slightly before she strode to a point on the field across from Miranda. They squared off, Cassandra taking a low plow guard, the hilt held in both hands at her hips, the blade at an angle. Miranda arched her blade up and over her head like a scorpion’s tail, blade parallel to the ground and her stance similar to a lunge.
“Begin,” Cassandra commanded after a breath of stillness. They exploded towards each other. Cassandra driving her blade forward and up, aiming for Miranda’s throat. The curved blade descended from its position, swiping Cassandra’s longsword away as Miranda shifted her weight forward and straightened her legs, twisting into a pirouette to gain momentum for her diagonally downward slash that Cassandra met with a solid stance. They drove at each other, neither willing to concede defeat but willing to give ground to gain an advantage.
Miranda was a shining whirlwind of silver and limbs. They kicked and punched, slashed and, even at one point, Cassandra scratched Miranda in an open-handed slap. This was no holds barred, everything that they could uses bar Miranda’s more…. esoteric skills were pulled. They clashed, sparks dancing off their blades as the elven steel skated across human steel. Their blades were locked and both were pushing, straining to force the other back.
“Having fun yet?” Miranda asked, her face close to Cassandra’s over their struggling blades.
Cassandra bared her teeth in a warrior’s grin and kicked Miranda in the gut, sending her back a step. The air rushed from Miranda’s lungs in a whoosh and she gasped like a landed trout. However, she kept her blade high, intercepting Cassandra’s strike. “Yes, I think I am,” Cassandra informed her as they began to circle like battling lionesses.
“Yay,” Miranda wheezed faintly, though she was still smiling. They lunged back, this time Miranda was pouring on the speed and flexibility, leaping, flipping, twisting and twirling like a cat possessed. Their fight had drawn a crowed, with coin once more exchanging hands as the two favorite swordswomen went at it hammer and tongs.
The fight ended suddenly with Miranda’s blade diving through a tiny crack in Cassandra’s guards. She weaved up and flicked the Seeker’s sword away as Miranda dove around behind, the flat spine of her single bladed sword resting in Cassandra’s unprotected throat, simulating a killing blow. Cassandra froze as her body reacted to the feeling of cold steel at her jugular, before she recognized that Miranda would not accidentally slit her throat.
“I yield,” She finally growled. There were cheers and groans in equal measures, punctuated by the clink of coins as winnings were collected. The pair shook hands like they always did.
“So you ready to fulfill my wish?” Miranda asked with a grin. Cassandra felt a fission of foreboding but she had given her word. She would not back out now, no matter what Miranda did to her.
“What is it?” She asked stoically, preparing for the worst.
“I get to dress you for the winter ball and do your hair,” Miranda informed her with a smile that was borderline sadistic. Cassandra froze, feeling the blood drain from her face, suddenly the idea of breaking her word was looking like a rather sensible option.
She swallowed, her mouth dry. “W…what?” She croaked and Miranda’s smile didn’t diminish in the slightest.
“I’m going to put you in a dress,” She informed Cassandra slowly as if explaining it to a three-year-old. Cassandra almost ran then and there, the smile on Miranda’s face had become almost feral.
“Do I have a say?” She almost stammered, which was ridiculous, Cassandra Pentaghast did not stammer.
“Nope!” Miranda chirped.
“A dress?” Cassandra confirmed weakly, hoping to the maker, Andraste and any deity who was listening that the answer would be in her favor.
“Yep!” Miranda answered, popping the p at the end of the word, and Cassandra’s hopes along with it. “Oh” Was all Cassandra could answer and Miranda nodded, patting her on the head, a move that would have usually set the Zerg back by several months in regards to her possessing a right arm. Now, however, all Cassandra could do was watch numbly as Miranda scooped up her sheath, slid her sword home and skip away, singing something about letting it go at the top of her lungs. Bull began to laugh thunderously. The sound woke her up and she glared venomously at him.
“Shut it, I bet she has an outfit for you as well,” She informed the behemoth who quickly shut up and paled dramatically. Sera sniggered next to him, only for the realization that Miranda had teamed up with Josephine and the Seamstress dawn on her, making her understand that she too would not be escaping unscathed. “Oh shite,” She swore violently, and for the first time in her light, Cassandra agreed with Sera. It was…disturbing.
Miranda flicked her pencil over the thick sketch pad with flair as she put the finishing touches on her own outfit for the ball. She never claimed to be a great mind when it came to fashion, but in her rather expansive experience, she had seen some truly stunning outfits. Now she was bringing her memory to bear, churning out sketches and ideas to Josephine and the seamstress, a woman named Helen Wright. Formidable yet kind, like all others of her species. If the reactions of these two acknowledged fashion conscious women were anything to go on, then Miranda’s goal of inciting court wide envy among the vain and pompous Orlesian nobility was going to be a success. She had ordered an inordinate amount of fabric from the bureau (using her own funds) and supplied the seamstress with patterns that they had agreed on.
Thus armed, Helen had disappeared into the bolts of elven weaves, exotic leathers and plush velvets from far off universes. The cobblers had been drafted as well to make the shoes for the party and, with the promise of access to Miranda’s rather expansive hoard, well, they would be the talk of Orlais. She heard Josephine come up behind her and look over her shoulder at the design.
“Oh Maker, is that for you?” She breathed in awe. Miranda smiled, rather proud of the reaction and nodded. She pointed at the titles she had scrawled at the top for use later and smirked a little at the ambassador’s gasp.
“I figure we could bust out a few of my titles to keep the court focused on me. That way I can help us gain influence at court and Elariel can scamper about behind the scenes doing what needs to be done,” She told her friend, feeling rather pleased with her plan.
“That would do it,” Josephine told her before taking a step back and moving to sit at her desk.
“But… what about Leliana? Don’t you think that she might be… well… intimidated by so many lofty titles?” She asked hesitantly, settling herself in her chair and folding her hands in a businesslike, yet demure fashion, her deep brown eyes hesitant.
Miranda’s shoulders slumped a little. “Let’s face it, I’ve tried showing her my down to earth, fun loving side. So I figure that if I bust out the titles and… this,” She gestured to her sketch. “Then maybe she’ll be stunned long enough for me to steal a kiss without losing something I’m attached to… Seriously, re-growing arms is tiring, and even I can’t fix a severed neck,” She informed the ambassador wearily.
She had been trying it slow. Leliana had been giving her signals that she was interested. Then suddenly she was an ice queen to rival any of the best. She had confided in Cassandra who had demanded to know why Miranda wasn’t outside Leliana’s window singing her love and devotion to the withdrawn bard. Miranda couldn’t quite explain to her friend why. She was terrified of messing up again. The pain she had felt at her betrayal of her love had nearly destroyed her. So now she was determined to wait.
If Leliana really was…her, then Miranda would happily wait for her. She would wait till the stars of every universe faded and their main planets fell off their axis for her love. But how did one explain her crippling fear and shyness about all things to do with attracting one that she found desirable? It was actually pretty pathetic. Over a hundred thousand years of experience and she still fumbled at even the most basic of courting rituals. She was pretty sure that delivering massive gems to the object of her affection would garner attention, it really didn’t help her in the long run. Hell, Aphrodite had deemed her hopeless at romance before squealing loud enough to cause several of her stalks to fall off when Miranda had told the goddess exactly why she refused to date any of the fabulously handsome heroes she interacted with on a daily basis. Really, all Miranda could do was sigh.
Josephine looked at the dejected looking Miranda and felt a deep urge to slap her red headed friend. The Zerg in front of her looked so dejected and downright heartbroken that there should be stories written about them. The worst part was that Miranda’s affections were not one sided. Far from it in fact. Josephine, Cassandra and Cullen had to endure multi hour meetings filled with heartbroken glances from Miranda whenever Leliana wasn’t looking and longing looks from Leliana when Miranda was distracted.
Indeed, Josephine was unsure how much more Cassandra could take before the closet romantic stormed the rookery and forced Leliana to confess her feelings at sword point. Not that Josephine was any better. In fact, she would probably be the one holding Leliana still while they pried a confession out of the stubborn woman. Miranda confided in Cassandra, and through a judicious application of wine on Josephine’s part, she would receive Leliana’s confessions.
In turn, both women would meet to commiserate using only hand-written notes to prevent Miranda from overhearing their conversations. That was really the only way to talk about the Zerg without her knowing about it. “So everything is arranged?” Miranda asked, dragging Josephine back into the real world.
“Yes, with the help you’ve given us with the outfits for us all, we will be the talk of the court,” She gushed.
Miranda smiled a little, her eyes slowly regaining their proper sparkle. “And we depart in only five days if the rumor mill is correct,” She urged and Josephine sniffed.
“It is, all of our things will be sent ahead. As you suggested, we set up a camp for our party outside the actual city. With the weather there being so mild, we can live in pavilions quite comfortably. This means that if something goes wrong we will not be so easily trapped,” She replied, feeling rather smug at their preparations. It had taken some convincing for some like Vivienne but, in the end, it made sense for them all. This way it also meant that they needn’t impinge on another noble to house their rather large party.
Another bonus, as well as the excuse they used to said nobles. Miranda grinned “Perfect, then I had better get my dress organized for you so you won’t have to worry too much,” She replied, standing and tucking her sketchbook under her right arm. Josephine nodded and smiled before turning her attention back to the mountain of paperwork that she never seemed to make a dent in. As the door closed behind Miranda though, she sighed and gently rubbed her eyes. “Oh Leli, can’t you see she’s hurting too?” She breathed to the still room.
The first convoy out of the snow encrusted mountains was guarded by a squadron of the Inquisition’s finest and contained enough silk, velvet, gold silver and precious stones to make it perhaps the most tempting target known to bandit kind. The convoy that followed them contained the fur and wool clad members of the Inquisition’s party for the ball. They left almost three weeks before the ball to ensure they made it through with time to spare.
Their horses moved with surety and purpose and the roving patrols along the road had kept the passage to both Fereldan and Orlais free of blockages. As they descended from the ice sheathed mountains into the Orlesian Riviera, the weather changed from cold and snowy to rainy and chilly. Fur was exchanged for oiled, canvas over wool and the roads were churned up mud. Josephine fretted and worried about the conditions, fearful that their outfits would ruined or lost.
To ease the beleaguered ambassador’s mind, Miranda had taken Sera aside for a long conversation of what the she-elf’s actions could do to damage the Inquisition’s reputation at such a critical stage, lifting that one worry from Josephine’s shoulders and allowing her to panic about the right things.
What else was said in that conversation was never told, but the sheer fear on Sera’s face afterward left many wondering. Fortunately their travel went off without a hitch and they arrived at their set up camp with time to spare. Pavilions that would be shared between two had been set up, equipped with large mirrors, dress stands and massive barrels filled with water that they would use for bathing.
The entirety of the camp was carpeted in wooden planks to keep them from the mud in the chance that the lovely, mild weather of the Orlesian lowlands would turn to rain. The moment they arrived, Josephine transformed into the whirlwind she had been forced to contain for the two weeks of travel. She had itineraries set out for each of them so she could account for their location every second leading up to the ball, and Maker help you if you deviated from the schedule.
“No,” Cassandra said firmly, standing stalwartly before her opponent, her amber eyes unflinching and unyielding.
“Yes,” Miranda informed her just as forcefully. She was holding up a fine toothed golden comb and a pair of delicate golden scissors, both clearly from a matching set from the elegant engravings that decorated both pieces. “You gave me your word Cass, and I promise you that you can hack it off with all the vindictive pleasure I know you will use AFTER the ball,” She promised, wiggling the scissors to emphasize her point. With the ball the next evening, it had become time for last minute preparations. Cassandra glared and Miranda who simply smiled back at her before she sighed and sat down on the stool in front of the mirror of the pavilion they shared in resignation.
“Oh cheer up Cass,” Miranda told her jovially as she began to unweave the braid that wrapped around the pouting Seeker’s crown. “I made your outfit into something that you can easily kill fools in,” She added as she wet the comb and began to gently comb out Cassandra’s short locks. Casandra felt her shoulders relaxing under the surprisingly gentle touch and found herself surprised that someone who had admitted to not having hair for a very long time could still be so gentle.
She refocused on her reflection and watched in astonishment as her black hair grew longer with each stroke of the comb. By the time Miranda declared she was done, Cassandra’s hair hung to just below her shoulders in thick, loose curls. She had forgotten that her hair was curly. It was the kind of curl that many court ladies struggled with hot irons and wet rags to achieve and it made her bold features soften ever so slightly, turning her from a handsome woman into a striking one. The only thing that she recognized was the scar on her cheek, even her eyes looked different.
Miranda had trimmed the curls into a interesting but becoming cut that no doubt fit with her mental plan for Cassandra but the seeker found herself not minding so much anymore. Anthony had always laughed and remarked how the one girl who could care less for being beautiful or even begin to spend time on her appearance, was the one the Maker had chosen to bestow with the features that needed the least amount of makeup. She had punched him when he had said that but, looking back on that now, she felt a surge of warmth at this tiny reminder of her brother.
“There we go, all done,” Miranda informed her with a smile.
“Now I just have to go and clean up Sera and Cole. Wish me luck,” She told Cassandra with a smile, picking up the golden scissors and striding out into the twilight gloom. Cassandra barely noticed her tent mate’s departure, still staring at her reflection and thinking. Her eyes drifted down to the comb that glittered with an unearthly light on the table in front of her. An idea was born staring into its elaborate engravings.
Mind made up, she snatched up the comb and stood. She slid out of the tent and out into the cold night air, shivering away from the heat of the metal brazier that heated her and Miranda’s tent. She slid through the tents, ignoring the shout’s coming from Sera and the soft, confused murmurings of Cole. She found her quarry and slid in without knocking on the center post or announcing herself. Leliana looked up from where she was reading a sheaf of reports at the table/mirror. Turning the makeshift vanity into a desk. Her tent mate was Josephine but the Ambassador was probably still running around outside.
“Cassandra?” Leliana asked in confusion, almost not recognizing the Seeker.
Cassandra nodded and took a deep breath. “Leliana, I need you to do something for me,” She asked of her friend. Leliana set down her report and gave the Seeker her full attention. “What do you need?” She asked, her face serious and her attention on her friend. Cassandra held up the comb. “I need you to let me use this on your hair and you have to promise me that you will keep it until after the ball,” She told the bard quietly.
Leliana’s eyes flicked to Cassandra’s longer hair. “Why?” She demanded, her voice soft but filled with steel. “You need to get out of being a spymaster, even if it’s only for a night,” Cassandra told her simply.
Leliana blinked. “You realize that this is the worst time for me to stop being a spymaster?” She asked, raising her brow at the Seeker but Casandra held her ground.
“Yes, and I don’t mean stop doing your job. You know I would never ask that but I think you need to take a step away from being the Nightingale and just be Leliana,” She answered looking at the bard reproachfully. Leliana sat, indecision written over her face. Her eyes flicking from the comb to Cassandra’s hair, to Cassandra’s face and back again.
Finally, after several minutes, she nodded and Cassandra walked over to her. “What do you need me to do?” Leliana asked quietly, Cassandra put a reassuring hand on her friend’s shoulder.
“Just sit still,” She instructed. Leliana complied and Cassandra rapidly unwove the long braid in Leliana’s short hair and began to gently run the comb through. Leliana watched, transfixed as her hair lengthened, becoming a long sheet of glinting copper in the light of the lamps. When it sat at just below her shoulder blades, she shifted a little, signaling that the length was enough. Cassandra smiled at her in the mirror, squeezing her shoulder in a reassuring manner.
“You look beautiful,” She reassured quietly. Leliana didn’t answer, too busy staring at her altered appearance. Her hair had not been this long since she had been betrayed Marjolaine.
She had become used to the severe cut of her hair. Though it did allow for her to display her more feminine features, she had always seen the shorter haircut as her sign that her innocence was gone. With her long locks back she looked…young again, despite the fine lines that had begun appearing at the corners of her eyes in recent years, brought on by stress and advancing years.
The woman staring back at her was not the Veteran of the Fifth Blight, Left Hand of the Divine, and Spymistress of the Inquisition. No, the woman in the mirror was Leliana, no titles, no burdens. Her reflection was like a giant what if; What if Marjolaine had never taken her in? What if she had simply become a tailor, or perhaps a wife? She was untouched by the horrors and scars that sat in the Nightingale’s gaze, innocent with the sheen of hope and faith in happy endings living in her sapphire blue eyes. “Let it be for the ball,” Cassandra reminded her, squeezing her shoulder one more time before walking toward the tent flap.
Just before she exited, she turned back. “Miranda cares for you, you know that right?” She asked, Leliana’s eyes snapped to her in the mirror. “Because I don’t think you do,” Cassandra continued, meeting Leliana’s eyes, calm acceptances and pity living in that amber gaze. “She is willing to wait for you but no one can wait forever. Not even her, and she has eternity. Do not wait Leli, because if you do not accept that she does love you, then you will lose her to someone who is willing to court her. Are you willing to lose her to another because of your own silence?” She asked quietly before vanishing through the tent flap, leaving only rippling canvas in her wake.
Leliana stared after her, shocked at what the Seeker had said. For a moment, she was tempted to chase after Cassandra but her good sense caught up and held her in place. The words ringing in her ears, lose her to another. The very idea made her ill, that Miranda could grow discouraged from the bard’s silence. Her eyes trailed down her reflection till they rested on her dagger. A part of her longed to use the razor-sharp blade to remove her hair, and the thoughts it brought with it.
To return to the cold, unfeeling mask she had always worn but she couldn’t. The face looking back at her was someone she had thought she had lost long ago but, perhaps, just for one night she could find that woman in herself once more. To prove to herself and…. Miranda that she was not as damaged as she sometimes felt. Her heart could not take the pain of being separated from Miranda anymore. She felt each sorrowful look in those blue diamond eyes like a cut on her own heart.
It broke her to see Miranda so sad and to know that she was the reason laughter didn’t live in her gaze as often as it should have. She closed her eyes and breathed slowly through her nose. “One night,” She promised to herself.
Dawn came and with it, insanity. Josephine had been practically airborne since the sun crested the horizon. Fortunately the day was bright and sunny, if still chilly, so they didn’t have to worry about mud and rain. Cassandra was toweling her thick black hair dry and cursing it. This is why she had cut it! Her hair was nearly dry when Miranda barged in, her stalks gleaming from a fresh scrubbing with an extra stiff brush and her skin pink from its recent scrubbing. Rich bolts of green and red fabric were draped over one shoulder and her right arm was filled with bundles. In the left hand was a large silver case that even in her grasp looked heavy.
She plonked the case down and kicked it. It sprang open, unfolding to almost her height with drawers and cubbies emerging and unfolding for easy access. The cloth was draped over her cot and the bundles laid on Cassandra’s. She grinned before ducking back outside and returning with a slightly frightened looking Elariel with damp hair and a privacy screen. Elariel was pushed onto the second stool in front of the mirror and the screen set up in a corner.
“Right, I want you to wear this,” She informed Cassandra, throwing a bundle of black cotton and leather at the Seeker. “And you to wear this,” She added, draping a long silver affair over Elariel’s lap.
“Both of you brush your hair and then I’ll be back to finish your hair, dress and make up. So hurry, I have to go wrestle Sera into her stuff,” She commanded them, rushing out again. Cassandra and Elariel stared at each other in shock for a moment before Elariel giggled a little. “I think we should follow her orders,” She whispered, conscious of the screeching they could now here coming from the general direction of Sera’s tent.
Cassandra nodded hurriedly as they heard a fierce war shriek from Miranda. For a moment, the entire camp went silent before Miranda’s voice echoed through the tent “Yeah that’s what I thought, now put it on.” The two women shivered and looked at each other in trepidation.
Elariel stood rapidly and ducked behind the screen, no doubt hurriedly putting everything on. Cassandra stood as well and unrolled the bundle. Inside was a pair of black, fine cotton leggings, a thin black cotton undershirt, undergarments including a strangely shaped breast band, thin stockings and a pair of high, black suede boots that would reach midthigh. She hurriedly pulled them on, not wanting to find out what Miranda would do to her if she didn’t follow instructions.
Miranda had become Josephine’s enforcer in this entire episode and she was to be feared. She was the one who could corral Sera, Bull and Varric into behaving. She even had Cassandra jumping to just to avoid the glare that the Zerg would send her way if she made any of this more difficult then it needed to be. By the time Miranda returned, they were both sitting on their stools again. Elariel was in a thin silver silk slip that somehow clung to her breasts without any visible straps. It glittered in the sunlight filtering through the canvas tent and a pair of silver boots adorned her feet almost like a second skin.
“How does that stay on?” Cassandra asked and Miranda barely looked up at the slip “Oh, a little bit of thread magic. It adheres to the location it needs to be and doesn’t slip, same with these,” She told them holding two affairs made of leather, one black and the other white. Cassandra looked them in horror and Miranda grinned. “Yup. Put it on,” She commanded, throwing the black corset at Cassandra who caught it numbly.
Elariel jumped to her feet as Miranda tugged her to the middle of the tent and lifted her arms meekly so Miranda could wrap the silver leather around her midriff. You didn’t think I would let the two of you go through this without armour did you?” She asked sardonically as she laced Elariel up and Cassandra looked at the corset in her hands more closely.
The leather was fine, and smooth. Dyed a deep black and she could feel long metal straps running vertically through the piece, over top of the metal was a layer of something that felt almost like…”Is this chain mail?” She asked looking up at Miranda who was almost finished lacing Elariel into her own piece of decorative armour. “Yup, fine as a thread and strong as dragon scales I had to put in a request for several of those, cost me a pretty penny too. You are now the proud possessor of a mithril lined corset. They’re a big favourite among the huntresses. In Arda that piece would be worth several king’s ransoms,” She informed the Seeker cheerily as she tied off the laces in the back and tugged a flap over the lacing, fixing it in place with tiny silver hooks.
“There, now go put this on” she commanded Elariel handing her a mass of forest green silk. “It’s pretty obvious and come out when you need me to do the lacing.” She instructed. Elariel took the silk and began to fiddle with it, not even bothering with the screen. Miranda advanced on Cassandra who obediently slipped her arms through the shoulder straps on her own corset and turned her back, not willing to fight Miranda on this when she had gone through so much trouble to get her this piece of armour. “Exactly how rich are you?” She asked as she flipped her hair out of the way and braced herself as Miranda began to lace her up.
“Eh, lost track. I’m a bit of a dragon so I have a rather respectable hoard in my lair. That and as a rather experienced Huntress I get a lot of danger pay and a very generous paycheck every century. They are really good at incentivizing us with coin,” Miranda relied. “The corsets I got you girls and the vests I got the boys cost me about nine decades pay, so not a whole lot really,” She informed the pair of them who gaped at her.
Miranda hid the ties and pulled the protective panel over the laces to prevent it from being cut off and stepped back, picking up the heavy, garnet red over gown and holding it out so Cassandra could slip her arms into the unlaced sleeves. The dress was of a similar cut to Miranda’s traveling dresses except it had no hood and a sweetheart neckline. Miranda laced up the front with the garnet red laces that blended with the rest of the dress, starting at the top and tucking the ends into sleeves sewn into the hem at the bottom.
The sleeves were laced tight from her elbow to her wrist coating her arms in the velvet and the laces were again tucked away into special pockets. Cassandra shifted and found that the outfit was surprisingly comfortable, it still allowed for free movement and the corset was actually similar to her armour in the range of movement it allowed her. Just as Miranda shoved her back into the stool and turned to Elariel, Bull’s voice broke the rapid work.
“HOW THE HELL DO I GET THIS ON!?” He demanded and Miranda stuck her head out of the tent. “Use the buttons you Barbarian!” She bellowed back at him before retreating her head and turning to help Elariel with her gown. Cassandra turned to watch and almost gasped.
Elariel was now wearing a beautiful forest green gown of silk. It had a gradience of transparency from the waist to the hem that allowed the silver to become gradually more visible towards the hem and made it look almost ethereal. This dress two was strapless and had adhered to the corset with a similar neckline to Cassandras that emphasised the breasts. “Give us a twirl,” Miranda commanded and Elariel complied, revealing that her shoulder blades were visible. A deep green sash sat around her hips and connected to an ornate gold clasp in the front that let the long ends hand to the floor. “Good, now sit,” Miranda commanded.
Elariel meekly obeyed, exchanging glances with Cassandra. Miranda advanced on the pair holding a brush with another one floating behind her. The floating brush made for Elariel’s hair while Miranda turned her attention to Cassandra’s. While this happened Miranda managed to get the pair to begin chatting like they usually did while various pieces of hair paraphernalia began to join the party, floating around their heads as Miranda directed them and manipulated both their hair at the same time. “I have a feeling that you’ve done something like this before,” Cassandra remarked when Miranda was in the process of weaving long, delicate lengths of gold chain through the Seeker’s black locks, anchoring them with golden pins decorated in the shape of dragons holding garnets in their jaws.
“Oh yes, I have had to gussy up for quite a few coronations and balls. The crown I’m putting on Elariel was actually what someone close to me wore at the coronation of King Aragorn of Gondor,” She informed them and Cassandra glanced over at Elariel in the mirror. Indeed, a beautifully intricate crown like head pieces was being set on Elariel’s head. Long tendrils of the she-elf’s auburn hair were being woven around select sections to anchor the piece in place. Tiny glittering silver pins were carefully inserting themselves to hold the cascade of delicate curls into their waterfall like tumble.
“These pins were used for the one time I had hair after my hatching, I needed to really blend in so I was given hair for about a decade before they managed to get me my stalks back.” She told them as she caught the final strand she needed into place with the final pin. “Really?” Cassandra asked and Miranda nodded, admiring the half up do she had wrought. The ebony curls still fell down the seeker’s back but a portion of them where held up by the golden pins and woven chain. Several curls were artfully arranged at the sides, like they had escaped.
“Perfect,” Miranda declared, smirking at her handiwork. Before Cassandra could think a thick, heavy golden torque was put on her neck, the ends in the shape of snarling dragons with rubies for eyes. For a glorious moment Cassandra thought she was free, but Miranda returned with a collection of cases, bottles and brushes. Smokey eyeshadow and black eyeliner matched with deep red lipstick turning the seeker into a fierce, almost regal figure. Elariel giggled a little at the pair before asking. “Do you miss having hair?”
This made the bickering pair stall for a moment and Miranda cocked her head in though before returning to her task. “I don’t think so,” She answered after a few moments’ silence. “I…they’ve been with me for so long that I’m not even sure how to function without them. They are a part of me, everything I’ve done, I’ve done with them on my head. They are a reminder of everything I’ve done, gained…and lost,” She told them, growing more introspective as she finished, returning her attention to her task in silence.
When Elariel’s hair and makeup were done, Miranda brought out the final piece of her outfit. It was a sheer cape made of silvery green silk that attached to a choker around the elven girl’s throat, the way it draped left her arms shoulders bare but fixed her gown so it didn’t look sleeveless and added a layer of drifting silk to complete the girl’s sylph like appearance. She looked like a nymph that had gotten lost.
Her large green eyes were highlighted with the faintest touch of makeup that somehow left her Vallaslin visible. Delicate silver cuffs sat on her wrists and the draping sliver of her head piece accented her delicate pointed ears. With the pair clothed and ready she commanded them to stand in the center of the tent while she took out a silver canister and shook it, smirking at the satisfying rattling sound.
“Close your eyes and hold your breath,” She commanded, waiting for the pair to obey. When they had she began spraying the pair down with Aphrodite’s adventuring spray. Guaranteed to hold you look through even the most vigorous adventure. It worked for hair, make up and outfits, preventing stains, smudging or stray hairs and all without the horrid plastic look that haunted many hairsprays.
Once the pair were doused she handed them the bottle and shooed them from the tent, ready to start working on herself. They walked out into the sunshine, shielding their eyes from its bright glare after their time in the more diffuses light of the tent. They saw Dorian and Bull standing near the Carriages that would take them to the ball. Dorian looked at them and nearly gasped.
“Maker’s breath,” He effused, staring at the pair of them. “If I played for that team I would fall at your feet but I must say. You are both, stunning,” He declared and Bull turned, his one eye widening at the pair of them. “Wow,” Was all he managed. Cassandra glared at the pair of them and Elariel blushed prettily at their praise. “Truly, you are both visions!” Dorian cried at the Seeker’s disbelieving stare, throwing his hand up, and calling attention to his outfit.
He was wearing a high collared jacket that hung to his thighs and was belted in the middle with silver embellished black leather. Silver buttons marched up his front in pairs and the collar was decorated in elaborate silver embroidery. Silver epaulets capped his shoulders and a collection of silver cords decorated his right shoulder in elaborate loops. Under these cords sat a deep blue sash that ran to his left hip, setting of the black and silver beautifully.
Black slacks ended in a pair of black leather shoes polished till they were mirrors. White cotton gloves covered his hands, setting them apart from his smart ensemble. His moustache had been curled exquisitely and his hair was neatly brushed to one side. In all he looked both dapper and military, his deep brown eyes laughing as he waited for their reaction. “Nice,” Cassandra informed him and he preened.
Bull snorted, drawing their eyes to him and he crossed his arms, causing his muscles to ripple and bulge. He was wearing deep crimson trousers made of silk tucked into knee high boots of black leather. Over this was a thigh length vest made of black leather and a deep crimson sash around his hips. Wide bracers of black leather covered his forearms and his eye patch had been replaced with a decorative black leather shield over his missing eye. His face was clean shaven and his horns gleamed from a polishing. Over all he looked intimidating and powerful in a way that would no doubt drive the many ladies at court wild.
“Hey,” He greeted them, his deep voice almost shaking the ground. Elariel looked at him with wide eyes before she smiled. “Hey,” She returned.
Whatever more could be said was interrupted by Sera and Varric. Sera was dressed in a midnight blue tail coat with deep crimson lining and gold embellishments. The jacket sat open, showing a waist coat of black leather over a pair of tight black leggings and high black boots that shone with a mirror finish. The collar of a white shirt peeked out of a neck cloth of deep blue and gold, and her hair was now in a neat pixie cut. Her skin was smoothed out with makeup and only the faintest hint of darker eyeliner and light pink lip color showed that she was wearing makeup.
She slouched in and glared down at Varric who was sniggering. Varric was in black trousers, black boots, black over coat and a black shirt. The shirt was covered in octagons embroidered in silver, making them look like a form of mail shirt and the black overcoat was edged in elaborate, geometric embroidery also in silver. A silver belt sat around his waist, belting in the coat so it wouldn’t flap everywhere when he moved. He was clean shaven and his hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail and tied with a black ribbon.
He grinned and winked at the group before he looked at the sulking Sera. “You do remember what she said about slouching right?” He asked her and she straightened up so quickly that Cassandra though she might sprain something. Everyone chuckled until they were interrupted by a trio who approached them.
“Oh, you all look so perfect!” Josephine gushed. She swept forward in a sleeveless black gown that had a tight bodice before flaring out in full skirts that were covered in tiny red glass beads that caught the light, igniting her dress. A ruby red silk sash sat around her waist and long, lace sleeves covered her arms from the wrist to mid bicep. Black pearls sat around her throat and a long string of them wound through her hair which was held up in a low bun that sat slightly to th left side with tiny ruby tipped gold pins. Rubies and black diamonds hung from her ears and a red rose sat on the right of her bun, balancing out the asymmetry perfectly and emphasizing its deep red color among her black hair. A black lace fan sat in her right hand, held around her wrist with a crimson ribbon and she fiddled with it a little.
On her left was Blackwall. He was in a uniform similar to Dorian’s except without the epaulets, sash or silver cord. Instead a simple black silk sash wound around his waist and a pair of black leather gloves sat on his hands. Golden buttons sat up the front and only the barest hints of gold embroidery sat around his collar. His beard was neatly trimmed, making him look less piratical and more civilized. He nodded to everyone, his dark eyes smiling even though they couldn’t see his mouth.
Cullen almost matched Dorian exactly, except for gold where Dorian had silver and a red sash across his chest. The crisp uniform and neatly cut hair making him look even more military than usual with his perfectly straight back. “You’ll all drive the ladies at court mad with envy,” She cried looking at the pair, her eyes sparkling with what could almost be called malevolent glee.
“They had better Darling,” Came Vivienne’s imperious voice as she swept up to them. She wore a gown that flowed about her like robes, they were made of silver and ice blue, accenting her deep skin. An ornate silver necklace covered her chest in delicate lace-like metal studded with glittering diamonds that looked like ice. Sitting among the swirling designs, small pieces of metal decorated the dress almost like armour and her silver and blue corset sat on the outside of her dress, gathering the billowing skirts and wide sleeves in a fashion that allowed her shapely waist to be seen. On her left hand was a beautiful decorative gauntlet that consisted of silver finger tips held together by delicate silver chains to a plate on the back of her hand and a silver cuff around her wrist. She looked every inch the proud, icy Lady mage.
“Nice.” Varric informed her and she incline her bare head in acknowledgement of the complement. Solas and Cole were the last to arrive, Solas was in a thigh length tunic made of sage green velvet that had open false sleeves and sweeping lines. Under it was a long-sleeved shirt of pale grey silk and he wore tight trousers of dark grey. Sole less boots wound over the top of his feet and up to his knee, accommodating his preference for walking barefoot.
Cole stood next to him in a similar outfit except everything he wore was in varying shades of silver and grey, and his boots had soles. His white blond hair was neatly trimmed and combed revealing his mist coloured eyes and a simple silver circlet made of loosely braided wire sat on his forehead. He looked almost as if he was fading a little around the edges, blurring out of focus, just how he liked it.
“Where are Ice and Nightingale?” He asked Josephine who scowled slightly. “Leliana is already on her way to secure us a room to prepare for our introduction to court,” She informed the group with a rather miffed expression. “And Ice is right here,” Miranda’s voice informed them.
They all turned and many felt their jaws hit the dirt. “Andraste’s knickers” Varric muttered. “Nightingale won’t know what hit her,” He added to Miranda’s large, shark like grin.
Leliana was feeling rather pleased with herself. She was standing in the small anteroom she had secured for her party in order for them to have last moment preparations before they were introduced to the court. She caught sight of her reflection in one of the many gilt framed mirrors that dotted the room and smiled. Her dress was what would only be described as peacock blue. The silk shimmered in the candle light, iridescent as the feathers of the bird the color was named after. A straight neckline left her shoulders bare and made the beautiful gold necklace studded with sapphires shine against her fair skin.
Her hair was twisted back away from her face and held with sapphire tipped gold pins before falling in a sheet of glittering copper. Her sleeves were long and full, sweeping the floor, perfect for concealing a few daggers and the tight bodice turned into full skirts at the waist. Golden shoes with a faint heel were visible when she dared to poke her foot beyond the sweep of her hem, but the loose folds of the fabric meant she could run and fight. The door opened and she turned to see the others of her party enter, all looking exquisite in their finery but as her eyes drifted over the crowd she noticed there was someone missing.
“Where is Miranda?” She asked Josephine who was looking over the group with the eyes of a general about to send her troops to battle. “Hmm?” The ambassador asked, turning her attention to the bard. “Where is Miranda?” Leliana repeated feeling the beginnings of fear in her stomach. If Miranda wasn’t here did that mean that she didn’t want to see Leliana? Had she left the Inquisition? Had she been assassinated? Scenario after worst case scenario poured through her head as she waited for Josephine to reply.
“Oh, she is in another room. She said she needed a few moments to prepare herself,” Josephine told the fretting spymistress who relaxed her shoulders a little. Josephine took notice and opened her lace fan with a quiet snap, holding it close to her mouth as she leaned in towards Leliana. “Though if I were you I would get over this strange hang up you are having and admit to her already. She isn’t going to wait forever,” She added, her lips hidden by the black lace and her voice low. Leliana felt her lips thin in annoyance at another person informing her of this. She knew that, damn it all! She knew and intended to tell the infuriating Zerg tonight. Josephine closed her fan with another faint snap and turned her attention to the group, clearing her throat. Everyone turned to look at her, quieting as their general for this evening prepared to address her troops.
“Remember, you represent the Inquisition. Conduct yourselves accordingly,” She reminded them, focusing her gaze on Sera who nodded, her face serious for once. She may be flippant but she was in no way stupid. She knew how to play these kinds of games. Sure she was used to the more overt games that the little people played but she had to know how nobles would react to one up them. Her talk with Miranda had been frightening and eye opening. The things that Miranda had told her sending shivers down her spine even at the mere memory. Josephine returned the nod, praying to Andraste that they would get through this in one piece.
“Right then. Good Luck to you all,” She told them just as a knock sounded at the door. She walked over and opened it, her face already taking up the mask of polite interest. A herald stood just beyond. “Pardon my lady but we are ready to introduce your party,” He informed her. She nodded and looked back to the others. They nodded and made ready to follow her.
“Thank you, we are ready to follow,” She informed him, sweeping from the room with all the elegance that was to be expected. No one saw Miranda join their party at the rear, silent as the grave with a faintly mischievous smile playing in her eyes. “I trust that you will use all the titles that we gave you,” She remarked to the Herald who nodded in an almost eager fashion.
“Indeed, we are most humbled by the exalted members of your group who have chosen to attend,” He informed her and she smiled faintly, pleased and ready to see the looks on everyone’s face when Miranda entered.
The ballroom was just as Leliana remembered it. Gold everywhere, marble smothering everything and rich crystal chandeliers igniting the many, many reflective surfaces that littered the hall. She focused her eyes on the people who adorned this glittering space, because in truth that’s what they were, adornments, flashy baubles to be seen around the throne. She glided down the steps when she was called, floating along the path before curtsying deeply before the empress who stood on a balcony, looking down at them from behind her silver mask.
She maintained her roving eyes until the Heralds voice caught her attention, or more accurately, who he was announcing.
“Presenting, her highness, Princess Miranda Istaril Kathleen Starsinger Vas Normandy of Clan Urdnot. Head of the Royal House of Char, former Queen to the Zerg, Queen of Storms, Leader of the Unending Swarm, Victor of the Brood wars, Victor of the Xel’naga war, Slayer of the Fallen Xel’naga Amon. Cleanser of the Zerg, Co-creator of the Koprulu Peace Accord. Hero of the First War of the Ring, Member of the Company to free Erebor. Slayer of the dragon Smaug and Hero of the Battle of Five armies. Elf-friend of the Eldar, Hero of the Siege of Helms Deep, Hero of the Battle of Pelenor Fields, Member of the Fellowship of the Ring. Named Lady of Gondor, and Lady of Rohan. Hero of Olympus in the second Titanomachy and second Gigantomachy, Slayer of Hyperion, Bearer of the Sky for nine days. Sister to Princess Pheobe Artemis of Olympus and Champion of Princess Pallas Athena of Olympus, Scourge of Giants, Bane of Titans. Slayer of Reapers, Defender of Thessia, Hunter of Cerberus, Bane of Collectors, recipient of the Nova Cluster, The Palladium Star, The Silver Dagger, The Star of Sur’Kesh, and The Star of Terra. Honorary Matriarch of the Asari Republics, Honourary Quarien, Friend of the Geth, Honourary Turian, The Sword and Shield of The Citadel. Survivor of the Battle of Reach, Honourary Spartan, Hero of the Human-Covanent War, Destroyer of Halos, Hero of Humanity. Honourary Sangelli and Ultra of the Seperatists. Lady Knight of the realm of Tortall, Baroness of Dire Straight. Breaker of the Siege of Pirate’s Swoop, Co-retriever of the Dominion Jewel and Hero of the Immortal war. Slayer of Ozorne the Emperor Mage of Carthak and Eternal friend to the Conte line and the line of Veralidaine Salmalin, blessed of Werin and the Green Lady. Conqueror of Bravvos, Subduer of Slavers bay, Chain shatterer, Bane of White Walkers, friend of the North and the House of Stark. Master Jedi Consular of the Jedi Order, Co-rediscoverer of Tython, Sith killer and General in the Great Galactic War, Cold war and Second Galactic war. General of the Grand Army of the Republic, Hero of the Clone wars, Slayer of Darth Tyranus and Darth Sideous, Defeater of Darth Vader. Defender of the Jedi temple on Coruscant against the forces of the Sith. Hero of the First and Second Blood wars, Order of Merlin First class, Lady of the Ancient and most Noble House of Black, Champion of the Muggle-born and Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Bane of Harkon and Champion of the Sun, blessed of Akatosh, favoured of Nocturnal, Foe of Miraak and friend of the Skall. Jarl of Windhelm and advisor to the Dragonborn Emperor. Hero of the Omnic Crisis and Agent of Overwatch. Guardian of the Light, Member of Fireteam Pallas, Vex Slayer, Feared by the Cabal, Kel of the house of Resurgance, honoured by Queen Mara Sov, Friend of the Awoken. Slayer of Crota, Killer of Oryx, taker of the Vault of Glass, Honoured Vanguard. She who defied the White Witch, Huntress of Narnia and Advisor to the Four Monarchs of Narnia, defender of old Narnia. Giant slayer and Dragon bane. Slayer of the Black King Galbatorix, Elf-friend of Alegasia, Dragon-friend, Hero of the war for freedom. High Huntress of the Void, Slayer of the Chaosborn and Wanderer of the Starlit Paths”
He finished the exhaustive list and by this time all were looking to where Miranda was now gliding down the wide marble stairs. She was… astonishing. She glowed in an eye searing shade of white that should be impossible to achieve by anything including magic. It left her arms bare and fell to the floor in fine pleats, shimmering like snow beneath moonlight, almost like it was woven from spider silk.
The deep V neck showed off her healthy golden skin and a pair of silver broaches held the dress at each shoulder with a cape of similar fabric hanging down her back till it touched her heels, the folds of the center falling to mid back. Twisting silver arm rings encircled her biceps like twining vines and elegant silver cuffs covered her forearms from wrist to elbow, covered in delicate engraving and tiny diamonds that shone like stars. A slit in the side of her dress shifted and gave a tantalizing view of silver sandals that wove up her legs to disappear towards the knee and also showing silver toenails that glinted like they were made of metal, drawing eyes down only to be lured up along the crisscrossing silver of her sandals.
A heavy silver torque capped with snarling wolf heads sat on her neck, accentuating her elegant neck before drawing eyes up to her face. Her usual silver headpiece was gone, as was her kohl. In its place was delicate makeup that intensified her literally glowing ice blue eyes, making her gaze a riveting, unearthly centerpiece. Her lips were deep red and her eyelids lightly dusted in a smoky dark grey. Her stalks had been polished so they gleamed like onyx and several of the larger stalks had delicate silver wire wound into the indents of the segments. A silver crown began at her temples before disappearing into the stalks, delicate silver spires rising out of the black mass like the frost coated limbs of trees in winter, ringing the back of her head with the tallest at the back and the shortest at the temples, holding back her stalks but still allowing them to hang to her waist.
In her right hand sat a silver fan, the ribs made of silver metal that gleamed and Leliana thought she saw the hint of an edge on the leading rib. The silk of the fan was the same blinding white of her dress and to was held like the sceptre of a queen. It was also clear that she was glowing, as if she had bathed in moonlight, a strong silver aura that made all stare in awe or fear.
As she passed along the floor everyone began bowing, the move almost instinctual in the face the palpable aura of power and majesty the she radiated. As she drew closer Leliana saw her face was set in a calm mask of a queen, yet somehow, she knew that Miranda was laughing inside. How she knew was a mystery to her but she could have sworn that the faintest twinkle of mischief lurked in those glowing blue eyes.
The vision swept up the stairs to come to a halt with their party, and briefly met Leliana’s eyes. The bard felt rather light headed and realized that she had forgotten how to breathe. She desperately inhaled, feeling the dizziness abate slightly as oxygen rushed to her brain, though she was still dazed. Miranda inclined her head slightly to Celene, greeting her as an equal rather than a subordinate, no one thought for even a moment that she should have bowed deeper.
Celene just barely managed to greet the Inquisitor formally before she turned her attention to Miranda. “Greetings Princess Miranda,” Celene managed, hiding her breathlessness well, but Leliana could hear the faint tremble in her voice and see her wide eyes behind the mask.
She fought off a frown. Celene’s gaze was almost hungry as she looked Miranda over. “We are happy to have one such as you attend this humble gathering,” She continued, now smiling in a manner that Leliana recognized to be flirtatious.
Miranda’s lips moved in an answering smile that could only be called regal. “It is a pleasure to be here, I look forward to seeing the wonders of an Orlesian ball.” She replied and Leliana almost swooned, how had the damned Zerg even managed to make her voice more beautiful? She wondered desperately, hiding desperately behind her mask of bardic apathy and politeness.
“Indeed, I have no doubt that it can little compare to one as well traveled as you, no doubt you could tell us many tales. Perhaps at another time?” Celene almost simpered; her eyes glinting in a way that made Leliana want to commit regicide.
Miranda inclined her head. “I would not be opposed to that your grace,” she replied and Leliana fought to keep her eye from twitching. Celene smiled in an almost predatory fashion. “Wonderful, for now dear cousin, I urge you to explore the ballroom. I shall look forward to seeing you dance, perhaps you would even save one for me,” she flirted with a barely perceptible wink.
Miranda inclined her head in agreement. “Of course, Your majesty,” she replied, her glowing eyes dancing. Leliana fought back a growl as Cassandra’s haunting words echoed loudly in her head, “Lose her to another because of your silence.”
She fought back in a frown and curtseyed to the monarch along with the others save Miranda. They left the fore and drifted up to the balcony ringing the dance floor. Josephine looked at them all and gave a nod, a slight smile dwelling at the corners of her mouth and around her eyes before it was replaced by her usual polite enthusiasm. Everyone responded to her nod before dispersing to play their part. Elariel, Cassandra and Dorian almost seemed to vanish as they began their rounds to find the assassins.
Sera and Cole faded into the swirl, moving as a pair after a stern glance from Miranda at the she-elf, off to find the secrets of the crowds. Bull and Blackwall posed themselves stoically in a corner with Solas lounging against a bust nearby, drawing looks from their sheer presence and the air of power and mystery all three seemed to exude. Vivienne stalked toward a trio of nobles, obviously fulfilling her purpose to learn the latest gossip and Varric was swarmed by admirers of his books.
Josephine parked Cullen near a window and left him to sweat, practically declaring open season on the poor commander before she swept to meet with her sister and placing herself advantageously near the stairs. Leliana herself drifted to a darker corner near the refreshments and watched Miranda. The Zerg had taken center stage, practically holding court as the preening nobility all vied for attention. Leliana swallowed a frown and hid it behind a delicate flute of sparkling white wine she had snagged from a servant, listening and cataloguing everything she heard to use for later, trying to lose herself in her work.
Meanwhile, not twenty meters from her, Miranda smiled and laughed, joked and flirted. Her bright, clear laughter ringing regally over the noise of the ball and reminding Leliana of her existence. Something that would have been impossible at any rate, the bard could practically feel Miranda’s aura from across the room. She grit her teeth subtly within her smile as she spoke to a Duke with larger shoulder pads than titles as he tried to weasel favour from her in the form of a dance and maybe more (she suppressed a gag at that thought.) An hour passed and she fought to keep the rage slowly building in her chest from exploding in the form of homicide at the sight of Miranda’s admirers and the things that they said about her.
“…ry beautiful,” She heard a young noble woman remark to her companion. “Indeed, an astonishing mix of wild power and refined taste,” The other lady gushed, making eyes at Miranda whose clear laugh sparkled over the music.
“Such…power,” The first lady remarked, a visible shiver racing down her body.
“I wonder if she is as refined in love, or if her more…animalistic side takes over,” The second one mused, lust evident in her voice. “I wonder… if she bites,” She added.
Leliana nearly choked on her wine, the images those two had painted rushing through her brain. She felt a blush attempt to run rampant over her body before she beat it back with sheer will as she watched those two ladies giggle and make their way over to orbit the beautiful star that was Miranda, dancing around her like moths round a flame. White hot rage built in Leliana’s chest, red sweeping over her vision. She glared at the retreating women from the shadows.
How dare they think such things about Miranda. HER MIRANDA! Her brain hiccupped at that thought as a lord extended his arm to Miranda in a clear invitation to accompany him to the dance floor. Leliana watched in faint horror, all plans silenced as Miranda accepted and allowed herself to be led down the stairs to the dance floor. People craned their necks to see the foreign monarch glide about, making even the most graceful dancers look like stumbling buffoons next to her.
Leliana felt her rage stoke to new heights at the scene of Miranda being disgraced by her partner, his moves clumsy and stilted compared to hers as they wove through the other dancers in the pattern. She looked around the ball and saw that Elariel, Cassandra, Dorian and Blackwall had vanished but that everyone was too busy staring at Miranda to notice.
She caught sight of Empress Celene standing near a railing, looking down at Miranda with clearly hungry eyes, like a lioness eyeing her prey. Leliana almost sneered. Miranda was no prey, she was a predator, the queen of predators. How dare that little… She breathed deeply through her nose, closing her eyes and straining for calm and returning her attention to the other party goers, trying to ignore the green eyed dragon roaring and clawing at her insides, also missing the sly look Josephine threw her way.
Miranda returned to the sidelines, smiling in what looked like genuine happiness as she spoke with others who tried to gain her attention. Leliana faintly heard an explosion but almost ignored it if she hadn’t seen Miranda’s stalks faintly twitch at the sound. Those glowing blue eyes swept over the hall and met Leliana’s for a brief moment, stealing the bard’s breath before continuing on their roaming, though Leliana could have sworn that the Zerg woman had winked at her.
She looked down at the glass of wine in her hand, there was still a little left. She looked back up and saw another lord preparing to ask Miranda to dance. She felt hands relieving her of her glass and her legs moved without conscious consent, stalking over towards Miranda, not even noticing that Josephine now held her glass and was watching with a bright smile.
Leliana parted through the crowds surrounding the Zerg like a blade, her aura of danger setting the silly nobles in their fluffy frills scattering before her like minnows before a shark. She slid expertly between Miranda and the lord offering for her arm, curling her own around the woman’s outstretched arm and practically dragged the clearly amused Zerg out onto the dance floor. When she seemed to regain control of her limbs she was already standing across from Miranda as the musicians prepared for the next song. Miranda’s eyes were sparkling with mirth and her lips were smiling fully.
Such an open smile was a strange thing to behold in this court where everyone wore masks. Her unmasked face seemed to tell everything to those who would look and yet revealed nothing, only deepening the aura of mystery that she seemed to exude. When she stared at her Leliana felt like could almost read the secret thoughts that lived in Miranda’s gaze beyond what the others saw, it was a heady feeling. The music began and the two lines of couples began to dance.
Josephine smirked behind the fan she was using to cool herself. It was hot in the palace and she was glad to have the prop. It had been incredibly productive evening so far. Elariel was cutting a swath through the various thugs that were attempting to waylay her (as reported by Cole who was watching her progress) and the sheer amount of scandal reported to her by Varric, Bull and Sera was astonishing. She also found watching the drama of Leliana and Miranda to be highly entertaining. She had managed to sneak up on the normally unflappable woman and steal her glass before all but shoving her at the Zerg, grinning as the Nightingale stole a dance from the Marquis du Lavel. She wondered if Leliana realized just how automated she had been behaving all evening.
Even the rumours that had been delivered to her had been reported in an absentminded way, with those blue eyes darting back to Miranda constantly. Not that the Nightingale was compromised, if anything she was almost vindictive in the dirt she had been gathering. But now it was time to get the silly bard to confess to the pining Zerg warrior. As they stood across from each other on the floor, the court turned to look, curious to see if another member of the court would be embarrassed by dancing with this goddess. Whispers ran the length of the balcony, recognizing the Nightingale about to enter into dance with the foreign queen as they were now calling her. The music began and the partners wound around each other, following the prescribed pattern.
At first nothing remarkable happened until the partners returned to each other after the two lines had performed the traditional weaves. Josephine could not help but stare. With every other dance, there had always been an air of distance between Miranda and her partner, like a mortal was attempting to woo a goddess. With Leliana, it was like watching two puzzle pieces fit together. They matched each other, grace for grace, step for step. The music was that of a more intimate dance that required the partners hold each other close, a lover’s dance it was sometimes called. Looking at the two as they twirled around the smooth marble floor, they drew eyes.
Leliana’s peacock coloured skirts flared, giving a faint glimpse of her golden shoes and Miranda’s white cape fluttered behind her, the slit in her dress exposing the long legs and the silver sandals. Their hands entwined intimately, pale skin meeting gold in a contrast like their dresses. In that moment, the glow coming from Miranda seemed to expand, reaching out to caress Leliana, making everything about her more vivid. The blue of her eyes, the copper of her hair.
The light elevated her to the same level as Miranda and for that dance, she looked like a goddess. They shone like two stars dancing in the heavens, their steps preordained by a divine will and their joy at each other’s company like beacons among the darkness that mired the court. In that moment Josephine could believe in the ancient tale of soul mates, for truly this was what two people bearing the same soul looked like.
Leliana could only stare into those glowing blue diamonds, the world around her had vanished, the whispers silenced and the glittering ball room reduced to faded backdrop. Miranda’s hand felt like it was burning in hers and the other one on her waist seared through the silk of her dress. The faint click of her stalks as they moved and the whisper of their dresses as they moved were their music.
The strings and harpsichord that should have been there were bare whispers in the back of her mind, telling her tempo. Every move she made was as natural as breathing to her, for Miranda danced them with her. Back and forth they twirled, lost in each other’s eyes. The music drifted to an end with the partners holding each other close. Leliana could feel Miranda’s scorching breath on her cheek, and felt her eyes slide down to look at Miranda’s blood red lips.
Miranda’s lips parted slightly and Leliana could see the tiny points of her fangs from under her top lip. The urge to kiss Miranda was overwhelming her and she dragged her eyes up to meet Miranda’s which beamed down at her like two stars, smiling at her with the warmth and love she had only ever dreamed of. They leaned closer, Leliana’s eyes fluttering closed when the doors to the ballroom slammed open.
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