"Slide, then quickstep. Slide, and then quickstep. Watch your elbows." Cullen gave a wide smile as he passed Tir'alas in the center of another figure eight. Dressed down to just doublet and trews, the man displayed surprising nimbleness despite his still-imposing physique. Light on booted heels, he brought left arm up, elbow at ninety degrees, palm flat to rest against hers as they then spun once in the middle of the room before parting again in another sweeping mobius.
From where she tapped on a tambourine, Leliana commented, "I'm surprised at your knowledge, Cullen. I didn't expect you to show an interest in courtly dances, considering your background."
Solas watched with interest as the Commander did a little leaping hop that brought heels together with a smart clack! Then the steps reset for another pass.
"What can I say? Mother had … ambitions. My siblings and I practiced every day for as long as I can remember," said Cullen, with a snort. "I think she still harbored hopes that I'd marry into a title all the way up the minute I left to join the Templars. Since such is the usual fate of second and third sons of minor landholders."
Tir'alas laughed. "That poor woman."
Cullen flashed a smirk. "My mother? Or the hapless lady I might have married?"
"Both," she joked, flashing her teeth.
"Ouch." He nodded in abashed agreement, then said, "Aaand one last turn … and curtsey. Or bow, in my case." The action matched the words just as he spoke them. Maryden played a last lingering note on her lute as the pair parted.
Solas applauded politely with the watching crowd. Just those participating in this morning's exercise. The Iron Bull loomed at the back, avid interest on his craggy face.
Josephine stepped to the fore, a huge smile on her face. "That was a marvelous Bourree, Cullen. I don't know why I never thought to ask before if anyone here knew dances."
"Would have saved us a lot of time and trouble," grumbled a winded Tir'alas as she wiped sweat from her brow with a nearby cloth. "And money."
The Ambassador said, "Alright, now let us get four couples out on the floor and we'll go over how this works in a large ballroom."
Solas stepped forward to claim his heart's hand, shooting Cullen a somewhat less than apologetic shrug. The man returned it with an understanding nod and moved to pair with Josephine. Vivienne and, in another surprise, Bull stood across as Isabella and Hawke took up the last spot.
After a few minutes of further explanation, the music started again, bright and lively. Solas did his best to concentrate on the steps even as Tir'alas sought to distract him with touches that lingered for a second too long. He admonished her with raised brow as the four couples twirled and hopped and clasped hands in geometric figures on the worn stone of Skyhold's lower hall.
He started to ponder the deeper meaning of the dance as they wound away into looping figure eights. A courtship; at times far from reach, all longing looks, then close enough to steal the breath at others. The barest allowed contact inflaming repressed desires.
Memories started to intrude and tried to move his feet in older patterns, more familiar cadences. To draw his lover closer to him. It kept trying to paint over Tir'alas's plain attire in gauzy streamers of fabric finer than any seen in the world since ages long dead. Textures alive and full of magic, wafting on the air, weightless.
Solas blinked as the dance drew to a close with him facing his love, her skin flushed so prettily under his steady stare. He gave a brief shudder as the present took him again, and offered her a warm smile.
Something flickered in her heated gaze, but she dropped into a graceful curtsey, bowing her elegant head on regal neck. With chagrin, Solas remembered to bow. Applause broke over the group from the kitchen doorway. Cook and the other servers giving encouraging and somewhat ribald calls.
The pairs broke apart to retreat to the sidelines once more. Solas let go of Tir'alas's hands so she could go stand across from him. They'd agreed to not be too obvious.
Josephine said, "So now you've a basic grasp on that, we'll move on to the Starkhavener Strathspey and Tulloch—"
Leliana interrupted, "I don't believe we'll need that one."
"What do you mean? It was all the rage last year," said the Ambassador with a frown.
"Which is why it won't be danced this year," inserted Vivienne.
"One reason anyway," the Spymaster rejoindered. "The bagpipes gave Celene a terrible headache for weeks after, or so her closest friends say. It could be she may have exaggerated, but also, Starkhaven is out of favor at the moment. Some rumor of their princeling making demands, currying undue support for a most unwise move on Kirkwall."
The Ambassador took this in with a thoughtful purse of the lips. "Well, I suppose we could just go back over the traditional dances again—"
"What about the Sevillanas?" asked Leliana, expression innocent but for the almost playful glint of her eyes under her hood. "Remember?"
"But that's not a courtly dance really," said Josephine, color rising in her cheeks.
Leliana stepped forward after handing her tambourine to Hawke, who looked at the jingly drum with a pained sort of confusion. She held a hand out to Josephine and smiled a devilish smile. "No, but it is fun. And eye-catching."
"I don't even have my castanets—"
The Spymaster handed her something from her belt pouch. "Good thing I thought to grab them from your desk then."
"Leliana—" She stopped, seeming to be at a loss for words.
Giving a satisfied smile, the Spymaster pulled back her hood and gave Maryden a signal with her hand. Then her stance changed. Shoulders drew back as her body became a tense and aesthetically pleasing line. Her hands came up to clap out a beat just as the minstrel started to pluck her lute strings in a style of music that Solas had never heard before. Lively, with a driving passion and exotic flair that captivated.
Josephine shook her head but mirrored Leliana's posture anyway, rattling the castanets in her hands and tapping the stone floor intermittently with one heel.
At an unseen signal, their arms rose in perfect synch, hands twisting in sinuous shapes in the air. They stepped toward and then away from each other, then slim arms would encircle waists as they traded positions. Almost, but not quite drawing bodies flush to one another. Josephine laughed as they wove figures with precise timing.
Leliana hummed through curving lips. The tenor of the music started to change, quickening. The Spymaster's heels clacked on the stone in syncopating rhythms, faster and faster until, with an abrupt spin, she stood less than a hair's-breath from Josephine, arms extended up in a 'v.'
Josephine's brows raised in surprise. She shot a questioning look over at Maryden, whose plucking had slowed to single, mournful chords. The minstrel smiled in conspiracy with the Spymaster. Then, Josephine said, as her arms raised to just under Leliana's, "That is not the Sevillanas."
The Spymaster's face hardened into proud, theatrical lines, though her eyes danced in mischief. "No. It isn't."
Then the music started to build again and the pair began to move. Leliana would advance a step while Josephine retreated one. Then they'd shift the other direction, always keeping the same tiny gap between them. The tempo jumped and they quick-stepped around each other in a flurry of clacking heels, tension building, until with another abrupt shift, they'd be almost still again, staring at each other. Full of wanting, yet too proud to give in. Arms almost embracing, almost touching. So close that they, no doubt, could hear each other's hearts pounding in the scant space between them.
Primal and undeniably sexual. And full of furious sorrow.
It pulled at Solas, this ... dance of things that could never be. He watched, rapt, as Josephine's lips parted, virtually panting as Leliana's flushed, but yearning countenance drew close, inches away. Yet they never broke the careful barrier between them, no matter how thin.
"My, is it getting hot in here?" whispered Isabella, next to him. He glanced over to see her fan herself.
Hawke replied, just as soft, "Any hotter and my knickers will catch fire."
The pirate giggled. "As if you wear any."
Solas just kept himself from choking as Iron Bull said, "He's not the only one, but seriously, the laces on my breeches are starting to strain."
Vivienne gave a disapproving sigh. "Must you be crass all the time?"
The Qunari muttered, "Sorry, ma'am." He didn't sound all that sorry.
Movement caught Solas's eye. Past the whirling dancers, Tir'alas stood, watching them with calculated poise, her own hands turning and twisting to mimic some of their movements. Her lips drew to one side as she worked out the dance's particulars. It made him imagine being out there on the floor, dancing this dance with her. A flush crept north, and he resisted the urge to pull collar away from the heated skin of his neck.
With a spinning flourish, Leliana drew Josephine flush to her by the waist, other arm arcing up to frame with a pointed finger. Josephine mirrored. They froze as the song ended, heaving breaths audible now in the silence.
Bull started clapping, which everyone then picked up until the hall rang with it.
Both grinning, the Ambassador and Spymaster 'broke character' to spin away from each other and bow low to their audience. Grasping Leliana's hand, Josephine said, "I never taught you the flamenco. Where? How?"
"I told you of my friend, Zevran, did I not?"
Josephine looked down with chagrin. "Ah. Of course. The … Antivan Crow you met while traveling with the Hero of Ferelden. I'm surprised an assassin would know of such things, however."
Leliana shrugged. "He grew up in a brothel."
"Speaking of which, I am not sure how … appropriate this dance would be at court," said Vivienne, stepping forth out of the crowd. "You were all but having intercourse out here. Not exactly the image we want to present."
"So, that's how nobs dance, eh?" hissed a new voice at his elbow. Solas looked down to see Sera, crouched in their midst. But she wasn't addressing him. He wondered if she'd been there the whole time. "More 'ris-quee' than expected. Never thought old Josie could wiggle like that, all her bits bouncing. Though now I s'pose I see the point of the ruffles."
Isabella responded, "I've known nobs who got up to far worse in polite company. Isn't that right, Hawke?"
The man groaned. "Once, Iz. It happened once."
"That's not what I hear," she teased.
Sera laughed. "Wot. Are you some kinda man-slut?"
"He is, to my great pride." Isabella gave Hawke an unrepentant smirk in the face of his thunderous glower. "Except when it came to a certain lanky—"
"Isabella!" hissed Hawke, angry.
The pirate laughed. Then she mused, "So, Leli knows Zevran, hmm?"
"Who doesn't?" Hawke's tone soured.
Solas tuned out their inane chatter to focus on the women standing in the center of the room—
"—I am just saying. There may be some merit in it," said Leliana, calm in the face of Vivienne's disdain.
"The only result I foresee is this convincing the peerage that the Inquisition is run by the low and uncivilized. We need to establish our place among them. Play the Game twice as well—"
"As though you are the only player of note in the room," argued Josephine, her posture clearly indicating a protective lean toward Leliana. "As though our Spymaster didn't survive just as many years among the pretty vipers of court and the grasping ambition of those within the Chantry."
"My dear, of course your ideas have merit. I am merely pointing out that change will frighten the nobles at court. They are comfortable with tradition. Even their most radical 'new' trends are just recycled from a few years past. They will resist our influence if we mark ourselves too far outside the expected."
From their downcast expressions, Josephine and Leliana agreed, albeit grudgingly. The Ambassador said, with a sigh, "Well, I suppose we'll just get on with learning well-known dances—"
"Bugger that for a lark, ladies," said Sera, lunging up to stand erect. She then squeezed between Solas and Isabella to take the floor. "S'boring. You're gonna make us boring. Who cares what a bunch of rich fuckarses thinks? We shouldn't be boring. We should be dangerous. And that, when Josie and Leli were bumpin' uglies wiv clothes on, that was dangerous."
Vivienne turned with a twist on her lips. No one affected her sensibilities like Sera. "You'd have us rut like animals before the Orlesian court, before her Imperial Highness, Celene Valmont the First."
"Not animals. People. People fuck. You might have forgotten, with that frostbox 'tween your legs. And most find it fun." Sera paused as everyone around her held their collective breaths, waiting for bloody reprisal no doubt. "We should be loud, and messy. If we're loud enough, maybe the gobshite Empress of friggin' Orlais,"—her scowling expression made this the darkest sort of swear imaginable as she continued, "will listen when we tell her someb'dy's looking to stab her in the royal kidneys."
A smile pulled at his lips as he watched the little blond archer stand up to the fearsome knight-enchanter, giving glare for icy glare.
Tir'alas gave a huffing laugh and spoke up, "She has a fair point. We probably won't fit in regardless, so why try? Good or bad, we need to make a lasting impression. Not just glide beneath notice."
All the advisors looked at each other, conferring without words. Leliana said, 'I would dearly love to see their faces."
"We should be able to make ourselves the center of attention fairly easily. That will draw the Empress's eye and ear," Josephine agreed.
Cullen snorted. "Let no fatuous Orlesian or Ferelden noble dictate to us how we should behave. We set their lands back to rights, so damn them if they scoff or gasp."
Vivienne sighed and lifted her head a little higher on her neck. "If we must be outrageous, then let us be tastefully so."
Their leader clapped her hands once, loud and ringing. "A compromise, then. Show me how I can best take control of the dance floor like it's a battlefield, for if what you say is true, that's not far off the mark. I want shock and awe. I want them full of terror trying to imagine what we will do next. I want to ruffle the shit out of their sensibilities. But with taste."
Grins all around greeted her declaration. One scandalous suggestion after another got tossed back and forth, until even Vivienne smiled with sinister glee. Yes, how easily Tir'alas brought them together, yoked to one grand idea.
Solas admired her as she, like the sun, spun them all in her orbit.
A/N: Holy crap, it's been awhile! I'm so sorry this story has dropped off. I WILL finish it, I swear. Hopefully before the next installment of the series. I've been playing through Inquisition for inspiration and hope to update a little more regularly, if I can find a quiet corner to write in peace. Too many distractions dang it. lol.
If anyone's curious, I based Leli and Josie's flamenco off one I saw on youtube ages back. Antonio Gades and Cristina Hoyos, fuckin' LEGENDARY. lol. I loves them. Check it out, if you want.
Any comments or critiques are, as always, very welcome! I hoard them. I put them in a tiny box in my memories and pull them out to marvel at because it's so wonderful that other people like my silly stories too. Love you all