It's Bioware's ballpark, just playing stickball.
Just as an FYI...Chapters 1, 2, 3, 10 & 11 have all seen revisions. Details were added or changed though the storyline stayed the same.
I'd like to thank Rhiononon for all the inspiration she's provided through email on this chapter and sections of the next. Also for helping me see Antiva a little clearer. If you're not familiar with her writings you should check out my comments and follow her link to her page. I'd like to point out A Guilded Cage specifically. Go on...what are you waiting for?
My apologies for this chapter, not a lot going on in it but it is filler to get us to the next leg in the journey.
And thanks for everyone who stops in and reads and reviews. I know that this isn't a general appeal piece so the support is appreciated.
Moira stood in front of the armor rack staring hard at it while a frown rested on her features. The afternoon was wearing on and she was quietly aware of how much time was left to her before the poison either wore away enough to reveal what it was hiding or stopped her heart. After three bowls of a thick and spicy lamb stew Moira had bathed and now was faced with a situation unfamiliar to her.
Over their lunch, Zevran had spoken to her about how the evening was likely to unfold and how it was different to what she was accustomed to. In Ferelden, a person in a military organization could wear their armor anywhere and to any function considered important, whether formal or not, and not seem out of place. It was, in part, due to Ferelden custom. It was a custom, that combined with many others, made Ferelden appear backwards and barbaric to surrounding nations. Zevran had explained that, in Antiva, it was unheard of to wear armor to social functions.
"Amora, you must make these men look on you as more than a Warden and barbarian woman if you wish to succeed in convincing them to part with the coin and support you desire." Zevran had told her. "These men do not know you, they only know of your reputation. Make them see that you can be charming as well as beautiful. Let them marvel at how feminine you are while still being a skilled warrior. Woo them and they will eagerly fall at your feet scrabbling to meet your demands." He had smiled broadly at her look of doubt.
"Don't you think I'd fit the part of Warden Commander better in my armor? Live up to the vision of hero." She'd said sarcastically.
"Ah, but this celebration the Podesta has planned isn't about parading you around." He held up a hand in response to Moira's skeptical look. "Not entirely. Tonight he stands to gain prestige amongst his peers by hosting you and showing off his wealth in bringing this together so quickly. Perhaps he also wishes to gain favor with the Wardens here, this I do not know." Zevran had taken a few more bites of food before going on.
"The others of the nobles will come for there own reasons as will many merchant princes." He waved this off as something she would already know, and he was right.
"If we'd had more time I might have had some intelligence that would help ease your way. I will try to stay close tonight to lend aid where I can." He shrugged. "As Guild master, however, I have my own role to play."
"Do you think the one who tried to assassinate you will be there?" Moira asked feeling a bit guilty that her problems were interfering with his ability to find out whom he was playing against.
Zevran looked cool and unconcerned as he answered. "But, of course." His grin was wide and bright as the gleam that came into his eyes. "That is part of what will make this evening fun, no?" He'd eyed her then. "Along with watching you remember that a rogue has many weapons at their disposal."
Moira thought on that momentarily, looking up as he started speaking and cringing at the words. "I know just the thing for you to wear."
When they had finished lunch Ualla had let in an adolescent boy carrying a trunk on his shoulder. Zevran had smirked irritatingly as the housekeeper led the boy upstairs to deposit his treasure in her room. So here she stood looking at the vestments that had become so much a part of who she was and feeling self-conscious at the prospect of wearing anything else.
Moira went to the trunk sitting on her bed and opened it. She let out an appreciative whistle when she saw what was inside. A stack of fine fabrics sat folded on one half while the other held an ornately carved and inlaid box. Moira ran her fingers over the inlay before removing the box and setting it to one side. She lifted out the clothes, staring, mildly confused by their style. They were unlike anything she'd ever encountered before and she wasn't really sure how she was supposed to put them on with their slits and contours giving her pause as to which way was up.
Gold, red, white, and cream spread out across her bed, light, airy, silk and gauze. A long twisted gold cord tossed in the middle of it all. Moira dug out a pair of hard soled sandals, their leather decorated in amber and red beads. She felt her eyebrows crawl up her forehead at the length of the leather straps, not sure of how she needed to tie these. In the very bottom lay short leather belts with knife sheaths attached to them. Moira smiled to herself, these she knew what to do with.
Moira turned to the smaller box and gasped as she opened it. Inside, stacked haphazardly was more wealth than she's seen in one place before. And that was saying something because she'd found her share of treasure in her adventures. Amulets, armbands, bracelets, broaches, pins, necklaces all glinted in the light. Gold, silver, exotic metals, some with precious stones, others plain just thrown together in a jumble of different designs, she wondered who had made them as she looked them over.
A light knocking on her door was preceded by Zevran opening it and leaning against the doorframe. He looked fresh from his own bath his hair newly braided along the sides, drawn back to accent the slant and point of his ear. He stood there, bare chest and feet with a pair of well fitting burgundy trousers on. The leather ties of which, criss-crossed his crotch and hung down from his waist, beads decorating their ends.
"You're not getting ready?" His face was an image of amusement at the sight of her standing there, wrapped in a sheet with her hands on her hips. She was scowling at the clothing that was, now, disarrayed in front of her.
"I would if I could figure out how to put the ruddy things on!" Glaring at the objects of her ire she waved a hand at them. "It's impossible! Clearly Antivan women have nothing better to do than wallow around in their clothes looking for the head hole."
Zevran earned an annoyed snort when he started laughing at her. "If this is your idea of a joke Arainai, I am not amused."
"Tisk, tisk, Amora. I'd never look to frustrate you while trying to put clothes on, taking them off…." He gave her a familiar smirk, "that's another matter entirely."
Looking at him darkly she said. "Well, there won't be any of that if I can't manage to get dressed!"
Zevran inclined his head. "Really?" His tone indicated that he doubted it very much.
Arching one of his blonde eyebrows he said. "Then you will be glad to know I've brought reinforcements." He stepped into the room and was followed by a silent, severe looking woman.
"Marian will assist you with your preparations. She's very good at disguise." Zevran winked at her.
"She's a Crow?" Moira asked glancing between the two.
"What else would she be, Amora?" Zevran asked lightly.
Marian nodded in affirmative before going to the bed and looking Moira over. She shook out the red and cream dresses. "These ones?" She asked Zevran.
Moira had a moment of hostility that she wasn't the one being asked. Zevran gave Moira the same once over Marian had before replying. "I think so, it will bring out the red in her hair.
"Marian will help, just listen to what she says and you'll be ready in no time." Moira went to open her mouth before he went on. "And, Amora, hurry up…" the words trailed behind him as he exited the room.
Moira turned her attention on the waiting Crow. "Well, let's get on with it then."
In what seemed like no time at all, Marian had wrestled Moira into the dress combo and started on her hair. It hadn't been easy and once or twice Moira had gone to argue with the woman before being silenced by Marian's look of "you want to do this yourself?" Like when Marian had gone to wrap her breasts in a band that wasn't meant to flatten them but hoist them higher in the air. Moira tried looking down while the Crow busied herself with her hair at the swell of her chest and the wrinkled round bite scar pinched between her breasts. If I look like I belong at Roihden's I'll have to kill someone. Moira simmered as Marian rolled and stacked her hair on her head.
Marian was finishing when Zevran entered again. This time completely dressed. He'd donned a dark blue silk shirt, opened partially down the chest, the cuffs clad in tooled leather that went up his forearm. The leather vest he wore drew the eye to his revealed flesh with the gold threaded design along its edge. The calf-high boots finished the look and Moira had to admit he cut quite the figure.
"Excellent!" Zevran stated. "Though that expression does nothing for you, Amora." Zevran teased. Judging by how her face pulled even further into a scowl, she wasn't amused.
Marian had Moira's face in her hand and tipped up to kohl her eyes. Moira suddenly had thoughts of the woman blinding her with the pointed wooden stick she was using. She resisted the urge to reach for the knife resting on the table next to them. The thought and urge passed when Marian set the eye ink back in its place.
"No." Moira said firmly when Marian reached for the face power.
"It will help to conceal the scars on your face and chest." Marian said matter-of-factly.
Zevran was watching Moira closely as she said it again. "No." It was an order. Marian looked uncertainly to Zevran. Moira's voice cut through them both. "Don't look to him for permission. I live in this skin and it belongs only to me. You will do what I say in regards to it." Moira's voice was level, but there was no mistaking, she meant it.
"Thank you Marian, you've done a superb job." Zevran smiled at the Crow, setting her a bit at ease. "The Warden Commander looks lovely. I think we can finish up on our own."
Marian replied, "As you wish Master Arainai." She stole a glance between them as she bowed slightly before slipping out.
A long silence stretched out as Zevran rummaged through the jewelry and Moira studied her reflection in the tall looking glass. He held a few objects in his hand when he came to stand with her.
"Now all you need is a few finishing touches." Zevran appraised her reflection. The cream and red worked well to set each other off and contrasted nicely against Moira's hair and skin. The dress needed the gold cord to accent her shape but even loose it made her look soft. If it weren't for the scars on her face, chest and arms and the look in her eyes her nature would go unnoticed.
He showed her what he held in his hand. The gold was worked into the shape of a dragon, serpentine and coiled to fit around the upper arm. Its wings were small, stylized to indicate the possibility of flight without dominating the design. He worked it over her wrist, pulling the loose cuff sleeve away to slide it up her slender, muscular arm.
Moira watched it slide on, the contact along the fine hair of her arms giving her a mild case of the goosebumps. She watched as he settled it onto her bicep and adjusted it until its red gem of an eye stared back at her from the mirror.
"Zev, I'm not sure I should wear these." Moira was frowning.
"No?" He paused, watching her. "Who better to wear the dragon, hmmm?"
She ran a hand absently across the marks on her neck and down her chest. "I guess it's just being foolish?"
He'd slipped the other armband on before resting a matching torque around her neck. "No, Amora, not foolishness. Respect." He stroked the dragon lying against her skin. "Respect for an ancient and powerful spirit is never foolish." He paused, lightly touching the scar between the head and curved tail. "Neither is honoring it."
Zevran took the cord from the chair and placed it under her breasts, tightening the fabric before crossing it behind her back and bringing it around the front to make a large X, drawing it around her hips and tying it off. Zevran looked satisfied as he took in the finished product.
Moira studied herself in the mirror and was surprised. She looked so like herself yet so unlike. The eyeliner made her eyes stand out and the twirls of hair hanging down from the twisted, fancy bun on her head accented the angles of her face and the way her ears curved gently to a point. Marian had taken a gold chain and pinned it in her hair, the tip of her ears just brushing it. Gold appeared and disappeared as she moved, the slit in the cream sleeve hanging open when she raised her arms. Moira touched the billowy fabric, sliding it against itself. As she looked at her reflection she was reminded of the woman of the fountain statue.
Running a final glance over her reflection she turned to Zevran. "Let's go." He smiled and offered her arm.
The weight of the knives strapped to her thighs reassured her that she wasn't as vulnerable as she felt when they left Zevran's house. When three of his Crows joined them as they walked she felt even better.