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Eclipse


Genial exchange continued while a member of the entourage settled affairs with Corff at the bar with a loud chink of coin. The bartender gave a resounding thanks.

Hawke departed after that. He did not look back.

A word from the apparent captain and the entourage mobilised. Motley, half Tevinter guard and half mercenary, the cohort conducted itself in relative order through the Lowtown market, Fenris at the centre by old habit more than force. Their sheer numbers drew curious eyes, but no more attention than that.

Absent typical palanquin and yet in formal robes, Danarius did not sweat to excess, even on Kirkwall's stairs. Minrathous' weather was designed for torment; Kirkwall was balm by contrast. Nevertheless, everyone's pace was slow in deference to the Magister's presence on foot.

Fenris watched the thoughts swim past, too distant from his current self to reach for the emotion which would give his observations meaning.

The Tevinter captain called a halt in the Hightown marketplace to consult with Danarius. Low murmurs from the Magister were met with metallic echo from behind the captain's mask. A lesser guard bought juice from a convenient vendor, bringing a cup to Danarius directly with a single obeisance before offering.

A twinge of emotion. Old envy. A feeble death throe.

Danarius' chance casual backwards glance at Fenris developed into a contemplative stare. The deepset eyes betrayed nothing.

He twitched his little finger, and Fenris approached. He was not shackled in any way.

'A word of advice, Fenris. Let it go. Such sulks never suited you.'

Life in Danarius' hands, if it could be called such, was lived in a keg of gaatlock. It would take only a spark to remember the conflagration his anger had been. Fenris promised himself it would surely come again.

His promise, as much as Danarius' comment, forced returning awareness to his cut and jangling body, to the severance he had made between his senses and what animal numbness kept him breathing. Flesh puppet, denied all but the strings to keep him upright. Inhale. Exhale. The heart would fight to beat and he would fight to let himself life.

Danarius did not nod in pleasure; the habit was not Tevinter. Instead a subtle shift to the tilt of the chin showed his acknowledgement of the postural improvement.

'You know this city best in its current form. Where is the Orlesian trader Hubert Bartiere?'

A shift from the trade tongue, to formal Tevene, to the Orlesian name. Danarius' accent was smooth as strained milk.

Six years of dust in Fenris' throat. The language a trap, hierarchy implicit in the terms, but speaking was an agony he anticipated. Danarius enjoyed conversation.

'He departed two months past on path for Orlais. A High Dragon discovered in the Vimmark mine destroyed the attempted venture. The Knight Captain consequently declared the Bone Pit tainted ground and unsafe, closed for future venture. By all appearance, the trader has abandoned his interests in Kirkwall.'

Dead eyes rarely blinked. 'The Knight Captain.'

'Cullen. No known family name. A survivor of the blood mage decimation of Kinloch Hold's Circle during the Blight.'

'A peasant Fereldan, holding order and legislation in place of absent Viscount? How dilute Kirkwall's noble blood these days. I should count myself privileged to have formed friendly association with the surviving Amell.'

Blood pounded at the tips of his fingers. Fenris' hands were not his own, the fists that longed to form a betrayal only to who he had been, so short a time as an hour before.

Fenris closed his eyes. His fingers twitched.

'He makes no claim to the Viscount's throne.' Could he have helped himself? Danarius had never thralled him. Never threatened him with thrall. Only promises, of privilege and care where others visibly suffered. Fenris continued to clarify, 'Despite the lineage, his ambition lies elsewhere.'

'In proving the false Chantry Circle here as false as all true servants of the Maker's will know it to be.' Danarius' lips quirked. 'But, history shall tell that tale, for we will be gone in two days. Consider yourself doubly privileged to have been a footnote to one clearly destined to rise.'

'Yes, Dominus.'

'Thus, no Hubert. But there is a Formari of Tevinter origin here, of prior wide travel before Kirkwall's current Knight Commander was so dubiously elected to the position. Solivitus. Do you know him?'

'He is in the Gallows. Where all mages in Kirkwall are kept.'

'Certainly not all.' Such gentle rebuke, Fenris had forgotten how shamed it could make him feel. Only the ignorant generalise, Danarius had told him before. 'You are the best judge of distance present. Is there time to depart for the Gallows and return before sun sets?'

Danarius intended to simply walk into the Gallows. Not half of his cohort would fit on the single ferry. Fenris could not find it in himself to laugh. He could not even find it in himself to turn situation to his advantage. What would be the advantage?

The silence stretched too long.

'Dominus,' Fenris said. 'The Gallows is the military heart of the Templar Order, ruled by Orlesian Chantry mandate, as you are aware. The respect due your position within an Imperial Circle will be absent. If you walk within, you will not be permitted to walk out.'

A tilt of the head. All these motions, so familiar they slotted into place like a key to a lock.

'Very well. Let us rest for the remainder of the afternoon, then return on the morrow, after I have writ the Knight Captain to prepare appropriately for my status. I trust the house staff have kept some semblance of order with your closer presence to keep them honest.'

'There were no house staff when I arrived. Slavers appear to have killed them.'

Danarius frowned, ever so slightly. 'Who has been holding the stipend allocated to the residence's maintenance? Oh, Fenris. Have you been letting those funds earn interest for the city?'

'I was told the house belonged to an Orlesian merchant.'

'Names, entities, they exist as need arises. But my poor Fenris. How have you survived without recourse to the coin allocated to the house?'

In pride, he would have spoken of his ability to fund himself. Pride was a trap. Liability. The name of a personal demon.

'I did not know it was there.'

The Magister's hand lit gently on his nape, fingers soft as silk. Danarius did not shy from the sweat, stroking him.

'Why would you have,' Danarius said. 'I overestimate your capability; the fault in expectation is mine. To some small extent.'

The hand withdrew from beneath his hair, wiped casually on a silk drawn from a sleeve. Fenris felt the touch continuing to knead, phantom fingers. He looked down.

Danarius turned to the captain, the languor of his words with Fenris gone in brisk address to the true soldier. 'We will repair to the residence and find what rest we may. For a business trip, this one by needs must be short.'

Fenris fell into place. Thankful, if only distantly, that Danarius did not call the mansion home.

Chapter 2

Danarius's secretary, a young slave of notable efficiency and an unarguable manner of command, rendered the mansion habitable in short order. She included him without comment in the survey of dilapidated property, directing him to stand until further notice.

Fenris watched her feet, the tips of her fingers as she gestured. Directed. As the girl he remembered, she ran wild in the rooms where the slaves slept, restless; of sedate pace and small steps, equally pedantic neatness in her embroidery.

He stood, ill at ease as the mansion changed and shifted around him, until she approached again. The hem of her simple sheath was pricked with silken flowers.

'I killed your brother,' he reminded her. Himself. He had forgotten.

The air shifted in her throat. He should not have spoken before her. Or did he have the right? Fenris felt her indecision as his own. Danarius had not made clear whether status was restored with proximity.

'You require appropriate attire.'

Behind him, Fenris heard one of the soldiers snigger.

He went as directed, with the two soldiers and two attendants assigned to his tasking. Allowed himself to be bathed, scrubbed, moisturised and scented heavily with oil. He was sat before a mirror while a hairdresser - from the Rose, he realised, with a twinge of rapidly suppressed panic — sheared him into a more refined style. His eyes were painted. A richly embroidered robe was brought from one of many packing cases, in a style he had thought long buried in his past. The excessive layers, the draping, folding, pinning, were sealed in place with the addition of a filigree collar. All the fastenings were along his back, loops and drips of metal bead and chain cold against skin left overheated from the bath. His sword was not returned.

The formal fabric settled around him in familiar ways. This has been his, brought from Danarius' estate in high Minrathous.

He was stood in the corner of the habitable bedchamber which had not been his. Danarius sat at the desk, writing. He did not dip for ink. Soldiers cleared out the broken furniture as he wrote, and slaves entered silently and efficiently cleaned around the master, until the room was free of dust and cobweb.

Through the thick glass of the window, Fenris watched the sun set.

The creak of the chair drew his attention to the room again. Danarius had turned to watch him in turn.

'Ten years sits not lightly on you.'

'Less so on you.' Fenris could not have stopped the words, heard them echo as if from a great distance.

Danarius had always smiled easily. But the mouth was disconnected from the eyes.

'A feint, or obvious strike? I shall not parry truth.' The lips softened into an indeterminate shape, a crooked folded line. The voice went deep. 'To see you returned to proper position pleases me.'

A heartbeat too slow, Fenris dipped his head in acknowledgement of his small and passive contribution to the master's pleasure. The pearls of metal along his spine made a cheerful sound.

'Apologies. For Hadriana. If I had known,' Danarius' robes rustled as he shrugged away the years of torture. 'But it is done. As is Seheron, and that war.'

His mouth was nearly too dry to speak. 'Do you intend so simply that I return to position after ten years free?'

Silence.

'You were never more than what you are to me, Fenris. Be glad your defiance in absence was not sufficient cause to enrage me.'

His tongue was a foreign body, dead against his jaw.

Danarius' expression did not change. 'Do you wish otherwise? You know the law. The alternative remains if you would avail yourself, though my investment's value needs must be returned before I permit transfer to alternate ownership.'

'After ten years, you left me—' He stopped, before his voice could break. 'Why...now.'

'I have other business in Kirkwall.' Dismissive. Danarius' eyes sharpened. 'You had great affection for me once. Time will restore you to yourself; know that you are valuable to me, and are of most worth when at my side. I regret I have not been in a position to come sooner. Your faith in me appears...shaken.'

The words were a threshold. Fenris dropped his chin against his chest, but they would not remain compressed.

'I am pleased to have pleased you.'

'Speak no more of truant years,' Danarius said. The sense of warning was gone from his tone. 'There is a cellar here, I believe; bring wine, and I will share a cup.'

The remainder of the mansion had been dealt with minimally, soldiers bedding down in the great hall, the slaves gathered in a small room beside. A perimeter of glyphs had been established at windows and doors, showing the presence of mages amongst the cohort.

Three Kirkwall mercenaries chatted in the wine store, comparing wines they would loot and those they would not. They went silent when Fenris entered. Watched as he walked past, took a bottle, turned. One reached out a hand and plucked at a strand dangling from the collar. The noise it made when falling back into place against the other ornamentation was considerable. He did not slow.

'So what was the armour for, then?'

'A costume,' guessed the second. 'A party outfit.'

'I'd believe it. Tevinters. You hear things.'

Fenris went to the kitchen in search of an appropriate cup, and found Varania.

A moment when he thought she would run, but instead the weathered hands clenched, then moved below the surface of the table. Her eyes were hard.

'I suppose you came here to blame me.' The threat was implicit, as was the dare. Fenris knew what it felt like to want to fight.

'I came here for a cup.'

'You were born in Minrathous, to a civilised family, and he tarts you up like a Seheron barbarian. Sometimes I wonder if you ever cared where you came from.'

'He puts me in a saarebas collar and calls me a leashed Qunari. I do what I am required to do.'

Myriad expressions flicked across that face, painfully close to his. 'You always thought being a slave was beneath us. Undignified. That you were sparing us the greatest horror when you made our decisions for us. But the things you sent me to suffer — the lowest slave has more dignity in service than I was allowed in impoverished freedom.'

'When it is the only thing left to hold.'

'Leto—'

'I came for a cup.' He meant to sound firm, not defeated.

'You won't find one suitable for a magister in here.' Varania slumped, short nails curling into her palms. 'Do you even care about Mother? They made her Tranquil.'

It caught him at the door. 'Shut your mouth. What worse have I done that you have not repaid me my due already!'

'Fuck off then. Enjoy your magister's cup, favoured one. May you suck that teat which never runs dry.'

His hand shook on the bottle's neck, and would have slipped if not for the glove.

Danarius' secretary handed him a silver tray and an appropriate cup as he crossed the main hall. She seemed unaware of the curious eyes which followed them, the Tevinter guards' bedrolls laid in orderly fashion compared to the grouped allegiances of assorted mercenaries.

'You take too long on a simple task.'

'I take longer if you waste Dominus' time to reprimand me.'

Her eyes narrowed. 'I recall from my childhood how you treated Mariabella, who held this position before me. You hold your tongue if you intend to enjoy the same privilege now as then.'

'We have our roles. Yours is not to dare threaten me.'

The last words came slowly, with a fire he did not feel. It showed in the girl's face. She remembered who had killed her brother. She remembered how.

Fenris returned to find the Magister handing his completed missive to two Tevinter guards, one of whom was the masked captain. A careless hand added generous coin to the package. 'To this "Knight Captain" Cullen only, no other.'

'Dominus, I—'

Danarius' surprise made Fenris stutter to complete. Made him remember the tray in his hands, the bottle and cup. That his company had changed. His interjections had never been valued by Hawke, but they had been permitted, and occasionally with sufficient credit to engage in debate.

'Cullen knows me. Any message I carry will be delivered direct to his hand.'

Fondly, 'No.' Danarius resumed conversation with the soldiers.

In the time after the soldiers departed, Danarius appeared to have forgotten Fenris' presence. The wine warmed on the tray. Fenris' heels ached to stand, then his calves, his knees. A slave came in to turn back Danarius' bed, and another with a tray of food, very plain, raw fruits and vegetables. Danarius ate sparingly. The remainder of the food was disposed of. He called the secretary to hunt down a specific book packed away. The secretary disappeared for some time to find the book, during which Danarius contemplated the middle distance, an increasingly annoyed furrow appearing on his brow, disappearing lightly in the kind smile he gave on her return.

The sound of turning pages was a drying tongue. Fenris could not hold his attention. The edges of his vision blurred. The candles and lanterns were lit at some point, and he did not notice who or how.

'Fenris.'

He nearly flinched.

The smell as he poured made his stomach twist, his mouth flood with saliva. A long day with insufficient drops of water captured during the bath. He had not eaten before. Fenris tried not to gulp as he drank. Startlingly sharp through his haze, the flavour was intense. He struggled to swallow without retching.

More custom than necessity, Danarius waited the traditional length of time for Fenris to die.

When he did not, the Magister accepted the cup and drank.


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