I've started writing a post-DA:A fic. Because it's not like I have enough to do already.

I am possessed of vague ambitions to make it a ten-year meanwhile, back in Ferelden to match DA2's happenings. This isn't likely, but if anyone'd like to beta or kick ideas (anthills?) over with me, I can't say I wouldn't appreciate it.

title: Blood and Rhetoric, Chapter 1.1
characters: Leonie Caron, for now. Potentially full cast.
rating: T.
words: c1000
exegesis: Courtesy of Orlesian politics, Leonie Caron is despatched to Ferelden after Kallian Tabris has dealt with the Architect and the Mother.

PLAYER: [...] I can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and I can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and I can do you all three concurrent or consecutive, but I can't do you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory — they're all blood, you see.

~Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Val Royeaux, Orlais.
Justinian, 9:31 Dragon.

Two yards' width separated the cell's age-scummed brick walls. A narrow slit set near the roof's low vault let in little light, even at noon. The patch of sunbeam never crept more than halfway down the thick oaken door opposite. The summer stench of Val Royeaux's sewers hung thick in the stifling dimness, all but drowning the rankness of unwashed sweat and the cloying cessbucket wedged in one corner.

Leonie Caron sat on the filthy flagstones, shoulders resting against rough brick, and counted hours in the silence. Not true silence, but the cells of the Tour Sanglante attenuated the city's clamour. Until yesterday, she had had a neighbour, a man who babbled and moaned in the adjacent cell, a weeping more unnerving than any quiet. But the guards had come for him near dusk, three sets of booted feet and jingling mail on the stair, and taken him down. Unconscious or dead: she recognised the scrape of an unresisting body dragging against the floor. Since then, silence. Even the trusty who brought her meagre meals and emptied the bucket had done so without speaking.

The hours added up, trickled away. In late afternoon, the trusty brought soup and hard black bread, under the eyes of a stern-faced guard with a levelled crossbow. Caron ate with disciplined slowness. She used her fingers to glean the last of the soup from the wooden bowl. The food was sufficient to keep an ordinary woman from starving, if barely, but for her, the ration was meagre indeed. Three days had weakened her already: many more and her legs would fail her when it came time to go to her fate.

After more than a decade as a Grey Warden, the prospect of death held little terror. Whatever execution the Empress could devise would be less horrifying than the deaths her fellow Wardens went to as a matter of routine.

The thought amused her. Her lips were still quirked when the cell door swung wide.

"Something funny, Caron?"

Guy de Boismarron spanned the doorway. A massive man even in his youth, five years as Commander of the Grey in Orlais had added more breadth to his shoulders to go with the grey in his auburn braid. The hard light in his eyes as he stepped into the tiny cell banished the humour from her lips and drove her to her feet.

"No, Commander." Don't flinch, blight it. Less than the length of an arm separated them. Caron saluted with crossed arms and watched the tight lines at the corner of his eyes draw even tighter at the rattle of the bar being drawn home. Sweat dampened the crease on the shoulder of his white-on-blue Warden tabard where his baldric should have hung. Of course, the Chevalier Commandant would never have permitted him to enter the Sanglante armed.

"Good." Fabric rustled as he leaned back against the door. His lips pressed tight above his beard. "Because I don't see anything funny here. Raoul de Guillac, Caron? The empress's favourite?"

Quietly: "It was necessary."

"To duel him? To kill him? To bring Celene's displeasure down upon the Order? This isn't Mont-de-glace, Caron, it's Val Royeaux! We can't do our work without at the very least the empress's toleration." A muscle jumped in his cheek, sharp anger clear in every clenched line of his body. "And you set that in jeopardy for what? Your own satisfaction?"

"I won't deny I found it satisfying. But that's not why I did it." Caron bit her lip and met his hazel gaze steadily. The stone walls were thick. The door, once shut, sufficiently dense to dull the passage of sound. Little chance of eavesdroppers, but she lowered her voice to a breath above whisper anyway. "He'd tried to blackmail one of our mages, Guy. Somehow he discovered Marguerite does... things the Divine would not approve of, if she knew." Blood magic, but it was risky enough to say the words aloud in the Wardens' own compound in Val Royeaux. She wouldn't dare whisper them in the Sanglante. The Grey already had their share of problems with Crown and Chantry without admitting to harbouring maleficar. "She came to me after he asked her for political favours, things which would not redound to the Order's credit if one of our own was involved. It would've been very difficult to remove him quietly, in a timely fashion. That's one reason Marguerite didn't take care of it herself. So I... arranged things so that he would have no choice but to challenge me. And the rest you know."

Arranging matters so that de Guillac - the worm - had thought the challenge was his idea had taken careful and creative acting. The empress's father had outlawed duelling, but among the nobility the practice continued. It was fashionable to boast of one's ability to kill. De Guillac had boasted often. He had lasted all of three heartbeats, facing her.

"The rest I know," de Boismarron repeated, softly. He exhaled, rubbed a tired hand across his eyes. "Maker's breath, Leonie. You're my Second. You should have told me."

"No, I shouldn't." There hadn't been enough room in the cell to pace when she'd been alone in its confines, blight it. "If I had told you, Commander, you wouldn't be able to wash your hands of me. You don't lie well enough to convince an imperial courtier." Her mouth twitched. "Neither, for that matter, do I."

"Maker." De Boismarron blew a frustrated breath. "You'll be the death of me yet."

An unfortunate choice of words. By the wince in his face, he seemed to realise it. Caron gathered her courage. "Am I to be executed here, then?" Don't flinch. She tightened her jaw. "Or will Her Majesty permit me to die a Warden, in the Deep Roads?"

Not that I'm looking forward to either. But if you can't take a joke, you shouldn't have joined.

De Boismarron snorted. "You're lucky, Leonie. If I hadn't had a letter from the sodding Hero of blighted Ferelden asking for an experienced Warden, our glorious empress would have had you drawn and quartered. But Her Majesty proved amenable to the idea that banishment to the land of dogs and Blight thaw is a fate worse than death. So." He shifted his weight. "You get to keep your head. At least for now."

For now. The last dozen Wardens sent to Ferelden had died within weeks of their arrival. But - You're in no position to cavil, Caron. Not when you didn't expect to live out the week. She exhaled. "Commander." And saluted. "When do I leave?"

"The next ship for Highever departs on tomorrow's evening tide. I'll have your travelling kit taken aboard with my dispatches, and the Chevalier Commandant will see you escorted aboard and your weapons returned to you before it casts off. Until then" - a crooked smile that failed to reach his eyes - "you'll continue to enjoy the Sanglante's hospitality."


He rapped scarred knuckles heavily on the door. In the moments before the bar scraped back to let him depart, de Boismarron treated her to the full weight of his regard. "Don't fuck it up, Caron. If you piss off the Fereldans, there won't be anything I can do."