In a way, Rahlen was grateful that he had been called out to the Villa. It was better than trying to sleep with the guilt eating away at him from the inside. How could he sleep when the bastard maleficar was forcing his will onto Fenlin? Or others? The Prince was ready to fight Polonius if the master tried to pull a similar spell over him.
Yet, when Rahlen was escorted into the medical room, the master was only joined by the giant Templar, and was nibbling at fruit that had been laid out on a small table. Beyond him was a bathtub made of copper, with two barely dressed villa slaves kneeling by it. Were they also under one of the maleficar’s pathetic spells? What was it that Fenlin had done that triggered the man to be so afraid to lose control over her that he’d resorted to sacrificing slaves?
“You seem agitated, Ferelden,” Polonius said, gesturing for Rahlen to come closer with a hand that still held a grape between his index and thumb. “I expect your friend the pale elf told you about what happened earlier with my dear huntress. It’s most regrettable that things came to such an outcome, but you will understand soon.”
Rahlen grit his teeth, certain that no, he would not understand. How could he understand taking away the free will of someone? Let alone a mage? Forcing Fenlin to behave was tantamount to turning her tranquil, but at least… at least the spell could be broken. Rahlen just hoped that the woman wouldn’t break along with the spell.
“Come, sit,” Polonius said, popping the grape into his mouth. “There remains only minor healing to your leg, and we have a matter to discuss.” Reaching for a silver pitcher on the table, Polonius poured cool, clear water into two goblets. Body betraying him, Rahlen realised how thirsty he was. How thirst had become a background constant in his life since arriving.
“What do you wish to discuss?” Rahlen said, his tongue feeling like sand against his palate. He stepped forward, sitting into the chair that was placed opposite the bastard. “What you did to Fenlin?”
“Partially,” Polonius said, gesturing to the fruit and water. “Help yourself, the kitchen was over eager in preparing food for tonight’s guests. I would rather feed my fighters than see food go to waste.”
Rahlen reached for the water, eyeing it before taking a small sip. It was cold, and tasted better than any of the expensive wines or liqueurs that he’d been served in Orlais over his lifetime. He finished the goblet, wincing as the cold seeped up to his forehead, but the thirst had abated somewhat. Enough that he could focus on the conversation at hand.
“So?” Rahlen said, glaring at Polonius. “Talk.”
The man tilted his head, and placed his hands over the scar on Rahlen’s thigh. The cool static of magic danced over his skin, and Rahlen watched as the scar began to fade, fresh pink skin replacing the dark purple tissue.
“I am a man who knows my limits,” Polonius said. “And somehow our huntress manages to test ever last one. Yet, I cannot let her free and lose the investment I have placed in her training, healing, and equipment.”
Rahlen scowled. He doubted that Polonius would end up in the poorhouse if he just let Fenlin go. The charnel house, maybe, after Fenlin roasted him alive.
“However,” the maleficar continued. “I have determined a way to please most parties. If you do me a great service tonight, you will make enough coin to purchase a gladiator’s freedom.” Polonius paused, looking up at Rahlen meaningfully. “Even an expensive, exotic gladiator such as our huntress.”
Rahlen kept still.
“And you would just let her go?” He asked. “Even after casting a blood spell on her?”
“She would be free, the cost of her keep paid for. I am a businessman, Ferelden, not a monster.” Rahlen disagreed, but he kept his tongue still for the time being. “And should you not agree to aid me in this task tonight, I will have little choice but to keep our huntress on a rather short leash, you see. She has proven to need a strong hand in discipline and cannot be left unsupervised. Naturally I would have to move her into a chamber in the villa, close to my hand.”
“What’s the task that is so important?” Rahlen growled. He didn’t want to show the anger that was building in his chest, but what little patience he had left for the Maleficar was evaporating by the breath. “That you use Fenlin as a bargaining chip?”
Polonius finished the healing spell and sat back, plucking up his own goblet of water and taking a sip. Reaching out, he picked up the pitcher and poured Rahlen another cupful of water.
“As I said, tonight I have guests arriving. I have promised them entertainment, but require complete commitment to the role that I need…filled.”
“You want me to fight,” Rahlen said. “Fine. I’ll fight.”
“Ah,” Polonius said with a small smile. He plucked another grape from the table and popped it into his mouth. “I do not need you to fight. Not tonight, at least. There is a ritual, you see, that requires a young, strong human man. One who will be able to perform in front of a small gathering. Something I am sure you are not bothered by, considering the trysts you have with the pale elf in the barracks at night, hm?”
Rahlen felt his stomach twist and his ears grow warm. Had Polonius also heard their discussions about the key? Did he know? Was that why he’d punished Fenlin? Shit. The prince glanced over at the slaves waiting by the tub. One was eying his bared chest, while the other just stared at the water in the tub. Then, slowly, he looked back at Polonius.
“And if I do this, you’ll let her go?” Rahlen asked. “You swear to this on whatever you hold most dear?”
Polonius lifted a hand, and pressed it over his chest.
“I swear on the lineage of my family, and ancestry that reaches back to the Magisters of old, that should you complete your role tonight, I will release the huntress Fenlin from the bonds of slavery to me. Going still further, I will arrange transport for her to return home should she wish.”
Rahlen worked his jaw, trying to find any loopholes he might have missed. Finally he nodded, holding out his hand to Polonius. The Master took it, squeezing it firmly.
“Agreed,” Rahlen said.
“Wonderful,” Polonius said with a broad, toxic, smile. “I will explain what you must do while the ladies prepare you for your debut.”
There had been something in the water, Rahlen realised. There had to have been. Around him, shadows flickered and curled around him, as though clinging to the beast he was supposed to represent. The beast he was supposed to be. Standing in a shadowed doorway to the courtyard, Rahlen was desperately trying to not hate himself for what he was about to do. Polonius had said the other person was similarly willing, for reasons of their own.
The mask over his face turned his breath hot and rough, making him wonder if magic was at work, channeling the Oldest of old gods, the first Archdemon.
His mother would be ashamed. His father, horrified. But this was to get Fenlin out of the bastard Maleficar’s grasp. Then she could reach out, let Ferelden and The Inquisition know where they were, she could find a way to smash this horrible place and free the slaves within it. He knew she could, he had more faith in the little elf than he currently had in Andraste herself.
The slave at his side drew the curtains to the side and gestured for Rahlen to move forward. Torches burst into blue fire as he passed, but he barely noticed.
Ahead, there was the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen. Like him, she wore a mask, but her body was liquid gold that shone through veils of silk, inviting his touch. The silk billowed in the evening breeze, beckoning him forward like arms held out for him to take hold of.
As he neared her, he could see golden vines curling around her form, a living goddess, elven and wild, and waiting for him. A lady of the forests of the world, flowers blooming on her crown of vines and twigs.
He took her hand, barely aware of the others in the courtyard. So delicate and small, he could feel the thrum of her rapid heartbeat in her palm. Polonius took blood, and on instinct, Rahlen pressed his palm to hers, staring into the liquid gold of her eyes. She was sunrise in the darkness of the courtyard, and he couldn’t look away.
As she drank from the chalice, he watched a thin line of bloody wine trail down along her chin. The urge to lean in and lick it clean was nearly overwhelming, and Rahlen shuddered at the thought. Then, handed the chalice, he drained it, tasting their blood on a bed of fruity wine. It was fire, starting in his lower belly and spreading through his body until he was unable to keep still.
Hard for her, the Goddess, he tore at the layers of silk and mist that kept her skin from his touch. They were in the way, and the dragon waking within him had no patience for untangling the layers.
Only as she was bared, his hands finally touching her skin, was he pleased. Pressing his face into the crook of her throat, he breathed in the smell of warmth and wilderness of her skin. And when he pulled her against him, settling her hips against the pressing need of his, she arched into him, one of those small golden hands sliding up to drag along the back of his neck.
Whatever magic this was, it was powerful, and there was no way to stop it now. Not even if he was willing to try.
Dawn broke, finding Fenlin curled up in Dumat’s arms. The masks had been discarded at some point in the night, too cumbersome for mouths that hungered for skin, foreheads that begged to touch, and the intimacy that their audience had not expected.
The throbbing ache between her legs told Fenlin that the dream of the night before had been real, though whether the man still pressed against- inside of her- was Dumat, she wasn’t sure. The haze of the drink had ebbed, and at some point in the night, she’d felt Dumat break each thread of the spell that Polonius had cast over her.
“You smell like sunshine,” Dumat murmured into the back of her neck, strong arms holding her tight against his chest. But without the fog of the drugged water, or the blood magic, the voice rumbling against her was… familiar.
They hadn’t slept. The gold paint on her skin was smeared with black and silver, his touch marking her in so many ways. Fenlin shivered, tilting her head up to look at Dumat’s true face. A human face, one that still was painted, but similarly smeared with gold from her.
“R-Rahlen!?” she breathed, eyes widening.
He blinked, his eyes, blue again. He started to pull back, a look of shock on his face, but she was faster. Pulling his arms around her, she pressed her face into his shoulder, his neck. He smelled like sex and sweat, and her.
“Thank the abyss it’s you,” she mumbled into his chest. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” She kissed his skin, grateful beyond measure that she was in his arms and not- not someone else’s, some strangers.
“Are you- Fenlin I-” he said, but she hushed his mouth with a kiss, squirming around to press her chest to his, her legs wrapping around him one last time.
“I was so scared,” she mumbled into his lips. She could feel his presence, like a second body placed over her own, a second heartbeat in his chest. What had happened last night? What spell had Polonius cast that shattered whatever hold he’d taken such care to put on her the day before.
“please don’t leave me,” she mumbled, only half aware of what she was saying. “Please. I need you, I can’t-”
“Fenlin, you’re-” Rahlen said, when he was allowed to between kisses.
“Please,” she whispered, looking at him.
“I won’t,” he promised. “But, your voice.”
She blinked, pressing a hand to her throat. She hadn’t noticed. Wh-
He rolled his hips, pressing her down into the pillows and into her once more. She gasped, letting out a shivering moan.
“I want to hear you say my name again,” he murmured into her ear.
“Rahlen,” she moaned, curling her arms around him tighter. She felt the shiver down his back, felt the growl in his chest in response.
“Again, Fen, please. Again, don’t stop talking.”
“He’s going to let you go,” Rahlen said, brushing a hand along her cheek once they’d finished. The courtyard was empty aside from a few guards posted at the exits. Both exhausted, it was a struggle to stay awake. They hadn’t slept all night, and now, muscles aching and bodies spent, it was all they could do to just hold onto each other.
“What?” she whispered, looking at him. “He won’t. Men like him, they don’t let go of their toys. Whether the toys are wooden puppets or people.” She bit her lip, and curled into him tightly.
“I’m not leaving without you. I can’t. Even if you and Hanin are- I can’t. I’m sorry.”
“Even if- how does everyone know that Hanin and I have been together?” Rahlen muttered. “It wasn’t anything more than comfort, Fen. Not like-” Not like this, he didnt’ say. Fenlin heard it anyways.
“I had to tell Polonius,” Fenlin said, feeling ill. “The spell, he,” she shuddered. “I told him I’d seen you two when I went to cut my hair. He knows I’m a mage, it’s- I’m so sorry. I tried to fight it.”
Gentle fingers brushed through her hair, short as it was. Maybe one day, when they’d burnt Tevinter to the ground, Fenlin would grow it long again. If only in the hope of feeling his fingers tangle into it.
“What about Athim?” Rahlen asked, his voice a little tight.
“I couldn’t win against him, and I couldn’t let him suffer for not killing me,” Fenlin whispered. “I thought- the only way the crowd would be happy was to think we were together. Long lost loves or something out of a terrible book.”
“So you’re not… together?” he murmured.
“Comfort,” she whispered. “He’s hurting, I can’t leave him here either. Or Hanin. I can’t leave anyone here, but-”
“But it’s different.” Rahlen said, finishing her sentence. He stifled a yawn, and pressed his face into her shoulder. “You smell so good,” he murmured. “We’ll figure out how to deal with this together, I promise.”
“I know,” she whispered. “We will, somehow. I… I care about you. A lot.”
She felt him smile into her skin, and he pulled back to place a gentle kiss on her lips.
“I care about you too, Fenlin.”