At the age of thirty-seven, Dorian of House Pavus could now say that the worst day of his life was his wedding day.
To be fair, it was a grand and opulent occasion wrapped in a mixture of Tevinter fashion and Qunari militant organization. The Imperial Chantry was as terrifying as it was beautiful, made up of tall, sharp lines in the shape of pillars around the main steeple and constructed from heavy brick etched with thousands of protective wards. The windows were tall, many patterned with stained glass to outline important figures or events of Tevinter history sanctioned by the Chantry.
The interior was no less dramatic with hundreds of ever-burning floating candles and elegant chandeliers that cast a golden glow over what would otherwise be a dark setting. The long pews stretching horizontally across the main hall leading up to the dais were carved of rich cherry-wood and inlaid with obsidian and gold, matching the carpet down the main aisle. That day the end of each pew was fitted with a bouquet of black lotus, embrium, and dragon thorn, their blooms each sealed in perfect display by magic.
Behind the dais were two massive flags, and beneath each one were three smaller flags. To the left, the crest of the Qunari Heraldry, and to the right, the symbol of the Imperial Chantry to represent Tevinter and her interests. The flag that lay between them was yet blank, and represented the hopeful future that would arise from the damned union laid before them. A union that would strip Dorian of his freedom and rights, and damned him to a future of solitude as some Qunari’s chained up mage.
One might make the mistake of thinking the event to be a happy one if they chose to ignore the Qunari and Tevinter guards stationed at every single door and window. It was all in the sake of keeping the ‘bride and groom’ from fleeing the scene. Dorian couldn’t afford to get cold feet when there was absolutely nothing he could do about it short of blowing the entire Chantry up, and even then the runes within the building and the collars on the man’s wrists kept him from doing just that. They didn’t strip him of his magic entirely, but it curbed it just enough that he would be unable to do anything about his situation.
He was being married off in a peace treaty to the Qun in order to put a halt to the war in Seheron. Despite the gritted teeth on both sides, Seheron would be shared as a place of peace before the whole island became uninhabitable from war and bloodshed. They would turn their focus on ridding the island of the Tal-Vashoth, and rebuilding. Dorian figured that at least his freedom would be going towards some form of a good purpose, if both sides held to their deal, and supposedly they would, provided Dorian and his new spouse were able to maintain their marriage.
And provided Dorian was pregnant within a year.
He shuddered mentally and physically at the knowledge. His body still ached from the ritual, and he suspected that it always would. It was unnatural after all. He would be lucky if a child didn’t kill him…
“You’re doing it again,” came a soft voice from behind the man, pulling him from his woolgathering and back to the room he stood in. A tiny space with everything he would need, however the door was firmly locked and there was not a single window to be had. He would have been alone, were it not for Felix who stood behind him, his face concerned.
It was his only solace that day, his only friend to keep him from doing something drastic. The man smiled into his vanity mirror at his friend before closing his eyes, “Thinking?”
“Sadly,” said Felix as he rested a hand on Dorian’s shoulder, “At least you look handsome.”
Dorian forced a smile, “Are you kidding? I’m always handsome.” He lifted his chin and examined himself in the mirror. His cinnamon skin was flawless as ever, his hair gelled to perfection, his eyes lined with kohl, and his nails painted a beautiful shade of onyx. It might have been his wedding day, but he chose to dress in black – he was mourning the loss of his future after all.
Felix chuckled, but the amusement failed to reach his green eyes, “That you are,” he mused. The man was the son of Dorian’s mentor, and his greatest friend. He was perhaps the kindest and most genuine person that Dorian had ever known, but even now Felix’s hold on life was thin. The Blight had taken the color from his skin, the muscle from his bones, and the youth from his eyes. It hurt deeply that Dorian would be away from him, and probably wouldn’t be there for him during his final days…
“There you go again,” Felix sighed.
“Apologies. Your father agrees that I think too much though,” Dorian stood from the vanity and turned to smile at Felix properly. “You’d have figured me to think this all to death already, but sadly it’s only just hit me now. Before there was always time to form a plan, to escape, figure a way away from all this. But now…”
Felix took his friends hand and frowned at the offensive black leather around Dorian’s wrist, running his thumb over the runes etched across it. There was no clasp, no way to remove it. They were permanent, meant to protect Dorian’s spouse. But Dorian wondered what would protect him.
“That reminds me, er, speaking of my father. He wanted you to have this,” Felix reached into his finely tailored coat and pulled out a few folded pages, offering them out, “It’s a little early for wedding gifts I know but he insisted you get this.”
Dorian raised a brow as he took the pages and unfolded them. Written in fine scrawl with ruby ink, he recognized Alexius’s handwriting immediately. It was a letter, three pages long, written in ancient Tevene so that it couldn’t be easily read. He had only skimmed the first lines when a knock at the door made both Dorian and Felix look up.
They heard the clink of keys from outside before the door was opened and three men entered. A Qunari and Tevinter guard, and standing between them was a familiar face that had Dorian standing a little straighter as he tried to hold back his fleeting joy.
“You have a visitor,” the Tevinter guard said in a bored tone, “One Rilienus of House Valmor.”
The man standing between them was tall and elegant, with soft brown skin and wide shoulders. He flashed Dorian a smile that made everything feel a little lighter.
Felix cleared his throat, “Shall I give you two a moment of privacy?”
“If you would, please,” said Rilienus, dark eyes never leaving Dorian.
Felix skirted around the two and exited the room with the guards, and the door closed behind them. Rilienus was upon him before the door was locked, gathering Dorian in his arms and hefting him up onto the vanity to get them more level. Their lips were sealed together in a desperate, wanton kiss that remained unbroken until Dorian felt more dizzy than giddy.
Their foreheads touched as they regathered their breath, Dorian’s arms around the man’s shoulders while Rilienus had his own wrapped around his partner’s waist. For a long moment their embrace was silent and blocked out all of the ill from the world around them. Nothing else mattered but the little bubble they clung to.
“I’m so sorry,” Rilienus murmured weakly, “All of this was my fault.”
Dorian shook his head slowly, “Shh, not all of it. Besides, we’ll always have our past yes? That’s something they can’t take away from us.” He smiled to hide the hurt. It was the first time he had seen the man in almost a year, and their last encounter had not been so sweet. For months he had blamed Rilienus for everything that had happened to him, but as time wore on he found that he couldn’t hold onto his anger anymore when he missed the man so much.
“Is it true? The rumors about what your father did…” he sounded as nervous as Dorian suddenly felt.
The man frowned slightly, “That your father used blood magic to turn you into a…a woman.”
Dorian couldn’t hold back his bitter laugh, shaking his head, “I’m afraid it was not quite as you heard it. The bastard did use blood magic on me, but I’m afraid he didn’t quite understand the spell. He tried to force me to like women, so that I would marry that awful harpy and be his puppet. However the spell wasn’t to make someone like women, it was to make them…like a woman.” He cleared his throat and turned his eyes away, ashamed, “I’m still a man, Rilienus, but it did change a few things about my body.”
“So you...” he struggled for words, “So this…”
“He took a mistake and twisted it to his advantage. He seems rather convinced that I can bear children, so he used it to scapegoat his wrongdoings by offering me as a bargaining chip with the Qun. Tevinter would offer the son of one of the Magisterium’s highest ranking members in return for peace in Seheron. I’m not sure anyone likes the idea, and I’m fair sure I’m not just seen as revolting, but a complete laughing stock within the Magisterium now. But I suppose it’ll mean at least a modicum of peace within Seheron.”
“We’ll escape, Dorian. You and me, just like we always said we would,” Rilienus said firmly, “I’ll cause a distraction and you-“
“Shh, it won’t work,” Dorian confessed, “There are guards everywhere and I’m afraid that…” he lifted his hands to show the cuffs, sighing, “I wouldn’t be able to get very far with these on.”
“Damn it!” the man slammed his hands on the vanity on either side of Dorian’s hips, reeling back in frustration, “Dorian there has to be something.”
“I’m afraid this one’s air-tight. No amount of clever wit or flair will get me out of it,” the man admitted sadly, reaching out to take Rilienus’s wrists in his hands and pull him back, “But you can make it easier.” When the man finally returned to Dorian they met for another kiss, leaning the man back against the mirror.
When they broke apart, Rilienus was smiling softly, “I take it that, under your father’s watch, nobody else has had you down there. Would you like for me to…”
“I’m afraid they’re going to check the sheets expecting a virgin,” Dorian blushed violently, “So I’m afraid that’s not an option.”
The man hummed, discouraged for only a moment, “Then what about like old times?”
Dorian grinned, “Just be careful not to wrinkle my clothes…”
Perhaps it did some good, Dorian thought to himself three hours later. The ceremony was due to begin at sunset, but most of the mage’s nerves had been quelled with Rilienus’s help. Felix had helped him banish the scent of sex, but whenever Dorian moved he felt the soreness crawl up his spine that helped to keep him calm.
That rebellious part of himself that had never gone away from his childhood wished that he could have let the man have his virginity. That some Qunari ox couldn’t take it. That maybe he would have Rilienus’s child instead of some horned monster. He took a breath, focused on the little sting between his legs, and let it out.
“It’ll begin soon,” Felix said. He had returned to the room after Rilienus had left.
“I’m aware,” was all Dorian could manage.
The pair sat in a plush armchair in the corner of the room. Normally Dorian wasn’t one for physical affection outside of the bedroom, but he had cast that ideal out in favor of having Felix in his lap. It was awkward due to their similar sizes, but they found a comfortable position to relax with Felix’s head tucked against Dorian’s neck. It was just a matter of waiting…
Felix shifted against him and curled closer, and Dorian just held the man tighter in response. The silence would have been more deafening were they not able to hear the people outside of the room, filtering into the Chantry to take their seats. For many of the magisters there it would be their first time seeing Qunari, at least up close.
Dorian had the displeasure of seeing them before on a few occasions. They were rather odd he had to admit, like humans made entirely of muscle, with skin like stone, and curling horns. Though their meetings in the past had all been violent, often consisting of Dorian running or fighting for his life. Skirmishes between Qunari and Tevinter weren’t uncommon outside of his home-town of Qarinus or Minrathous as the ox-men sought to take the territories for themselves.
They had little consideration for the lives lost in war. Dorian had done some research on the Qun in his earlier days and found their society to be disgustingly militant. Their people were literally numbers without names, addressed by their job title, no sense of individuality. Mothers had their children taken away from them within an hour of birth to prevent any ties from forming, children raised communally and compartmentalized into jobs by the time they were old enough to walk.
And their thoughts on mages were horrific. Despite the Qun openly loathing Tevinter slavery, the Qun took mages, born or captured from war, and sewed their mouths shut, blindfolded them, wrapped them in binds and chains, and gave them to strong warriors to tug around the battlefield like dogs on a leash. That would be Dorian’s life, he assumed. Once his spouse got a child out of him, he would probably be taken to the Qunari homeland in Par Vollen and become a magical dog on a leash…
“Dorian…” Felix prodded once again, pulling his friends from his spiraling thoughts, “Everything will be alright.”
“I have a hard time believing that,” was Dorian’s easy reply, “But I’ll figure it out, I always do.”
The lock rattled as it was unlocked, the two guards standing just outside of the room, “It’s nearly time,” said the Tevinter guard, and Dorian saw the man holding back a sneer as he watched Felix begrudgingly uncurl from his friend’s lap.
Dorian stood and smoothed his hand over his coat, frowning, “Yes well, can’t keep the masses waiting.” He crossed to his vanity one last time, taking the folded letter from Alexius to tuck it into his inner breast pocket for safekeeping. Ignoring the guards who were watching him intently the man turned and opened his arms, accepting Felix into one last embrace. He pressed a light kiss to the man’s temple.
Felix stood back once he was released, “I’ll be right behind you,” he promised. He was Dorian’s ‘best man’ and would be the only familiar person standing up at the dais with him when he got to see his new husband for the first time…
“Come on!” snapped the Qunari, obviously irritable. Many of them were rather unhappy being around so much unmonitored magic…
Dorian rolled his eyes as he walked for the door, keeping his back straight and his chin held high as he exited his veritable prison cell for the first time that day. Felix kept right behind him, fingers occasionally brushing against his friend’s elbow to remind him that he wasn’t alone.
The whole of the Imperial Chantry had gone mostly quiet save for dull murmuring from within the main sanctum. The doors leading into the Chantry proper were closed, and the room was empty save for one massive Qunari standing in the middle, watching Dorian and Felix with a silent and calculating gaze.
Dorian took a breath, preparing himself to greet his soon-to-be husband for the first time.