Dorian Pavus Can be Talked Out of Nothing
Dorian sat on the porch that evening, a glass of wine in his hand. He looked out over the grass and onto the vast nothingness that followed it. Berries, soon to be harvested. The strawberries had already been picked - they had been delicious. The shed to the left, the barn just beyond that, and the beehives near by. Nothing to the right, except the road a mile or so off. Straight ahead, more nothing. If he squinted hard, he could just barely see the next house over, a speck in the distance. Or was that just a tree?
Eleanor swung the screen door open to join the mage, a cold glass of beer in her hand, cigarette pinched between two fingers.
“Evenin’,” she said softly as she sat, and for a good long while that was the only word that passed between them as they watched the sun slowly set.
Then, suddenly, from Dorian, “What is there even to do around here?”
Eleanor set her glass down on the small wicker table and sat back. “Well,” she said thoughtfully, “there’s this bar we used to go to.”
“Indeed,” he said. “And..?”
She shrugged. “That’s kind of it really. There’s a movie theater, too, I mean, but that’s closer to the shopping plaza. You’d have to go out to Bloomington or maybe Indianapolis before you hit much stuff to do.” Which was fine by Eleanor. She liked the quiet. She thought after her father died she would pack up, sell everything, and move on. But she found she couldn’t. She’d sold some of the larger farm equipment and a portion of the land, and she kept that money in her savings for a rainy day. But she liked the place too much. The memories in the house didn’t haunt her so much as gently prod her. The work was never too hard since a lot of the seasonal laborers had really liked her dad and agreed to stay on even though there was less work to do now that she was planting fewer crops; there were plenty of farms around for them to make up the pay, and Eleanor always had always previously had a place for them to stay. It was different this year, when she regretfully had to tell them that there was just no more room; that she had had a group of friends come in from out of state - well, more than out of state, to be sure, but it wasn’t a flat-out lie, just a half-truth - and that she had no work this year, what with the size of the land she worked evermore diminished... But the soldiers helped in the fields instead and helped her bring her offerings to the farmer’s market. They were good, helpful folks, as long as they remembered never to mention anything about Thedas where they could be overheard, and of course, they never did. And she liked the quiet. She liked not being able to see another soul for days, weeks even. She liked walking for fifteen minutes and still being in a vast expanse of nothing. She liked having to drive a mile to a road that would take her ten more miles before she could get on a highway.
Dorian, on the other hand…
“Well, that’s it then, we’re off to the bar.” He set down his glass and smoothed his black t-shirt, apparently waiting for Eleanor to jump up and grab her keys.
But she only stayed sitting in her seat, blinking slowly.
“Come on, then, Ellie!”
“I…” Well, she reasoned, she’d only had half a beer; she was fine to drive. Cullen and some of the soldiers had been learning slowly, mostly on the truck, and this wasn’t the sort of place where anyone would pull you over for driving without a license on your own farmland. Or they could walk. It was a few miles, but it was all flat - much like everything here was flat - and the evening was warm, summer still hanging in the air from the heat of the day, even if was chilly by morning. She and her father used to bike there, even, and he would sneak her drinks until she turned twenty-one. Everyone knew. No one cared. Everyone knew each other - or had six years ago, the last time she was there.
But that was the problem. Everyone had known each other. And he she was, bringing one, maybe more than one, stranger to a bar that she hadn’t been to in years. People would ask questions not just of her, but of them. Cullen maybe could handle it with his stern stoicism, but Dorian?
“I can’t take you to a bar,” she said, almost whining with the effort. “Not in a place like this.”
Sticking out his full bottom lip in an impressive pout, the mage begged, “I promise to behave. Come on, Ellie. We’ve been here for months. And yes I know there’s a very big serious sort of war thing going on, but you can’t expect me just to sit here and watch the sun set every evening. Who knows how long we’ll be here.”
Eleanor’s lips grew thin. Either she would take him, or she would hear about it for weeks. She liked Dorian, liked him a lot. But he had a particular kind of personality that sometimes caused a sharp pain in the back of Eleanor’s neck. It was right now. She clasped her hands behind her head and rubbed the edge of her hairline with her thumbs. Who knew how long indeed. It had been months, and no real moves had been made against the darkspawn. She knew she had no military experience; the most strategic she’d ever gotten was rotating crops. But she wondered what they were, what Cullen was, waiting for. Couldn’t they just get more troops and charge in and knock out enough darkspawn? Was there something she was missing? Eleanor didn’t want to interfere but there was a niggling suspicion at the back of her mind that there was something she wasn’t being told. She sighed.
“Do you promise to keep your mouth shut? About all of this? Any of this?”
He gave her a stern look that said that he was offended that she would even think that about him.
She put up her hands defensively. “Alright, alright. But we’re walking. Because it suddenly occurs to me that I need to get too drunk to drive.”
“Shall I extend the invitation?”
“Can you make a dozen soldiers promise to also keep their mouths shut?”
“Eleanor, we’re foreign. Not stupid. If Cullen had had his way, we wouldn’t even have talked to you.”
The thought was somehow not comforting, but she waved Dorian toward the barn and she herself went inside, calling up the stairs, “Cullen? You busy?”
Getting only a muffled response, she trudged to the upper level and knocked on the door.
“Come in,” came the reply from inside.
She swung open the door and saw Cullen hunched over the little roll-top desk, reading a piece of parchment with a writing on it that she couldn’t decipher. Even still, the commander quickly rolled it up and tucked it away. The action seemed to confirm Eleanor’s suspicion that he was hiding something from her.
“We have chairs, you know,” she said, motioning to such a piece of furniture mere feet from where the commander stood.
“I prefer to stand when I’m thinking,” he said, rolling back his shoulders and walking to the doorway. “What’s going on?”
“Dorian’s coerced me into taking him to the bar - and yes, I already read him the riot act about keeping his mouth shut,” she put up her hands and turned her face away as though to say that she tried. “Didn’t know if you wanted to come.”
Cullen shifted his weight from left to right, still a bit creaky from having hunched over the table. “Is this the best idea?” he said, but didn’t sound very dedicated to the objection.
“Oh, almost definitely not. But there wasn’t much of a way to stop him once he knew it was within walking distance. And he did raise a bit of a valid point, albeit incidentally. You guys are gonna have to participate in the real world sooner or later, aren’t you? Or at least your people? Isn’t that part of the plan?” She gave him something that wasn’t a smile, was just the left side of face tugging up on her lips in a kind of fatalistic expression.
Putting his hands on his hips, Cullen’s thumbs played nervously with the belt loops on his jeans. “Yes, but…”
“Not like this, I know. I tried to talk him out of it.”
“Dorian Pavus can be talked out of nothing.”
“Now you sound like him,” Eleanor said, and with this she actually did smile. Between her ankles, Swiffer wove herself into the room, and Cullen bent forward to pick up the feline.
“Well,” he said, drawing out each sound in the word as long as it would go as he gave the cat’s grey tummy a little rub, “I suppose it couldn’t hurt,” and he used a voice that Eleanor didn’t recognize, a sweet, almost cloying thing, as he pressed his face down toward the kitten’s wet nose.
She furrowed her brows a bit and continued, “No, it absolutely could hurt, but it’ll at least be contained if it does. Those people don’t exactly stray far from home.”
Swiffer squirmed and Cullen set the cat back down on her feet. The commander gave a little shrug. “I could use a drink.”
“Alright. I’m gonna wash my face, and we’ll head out. We’re walking, so that’ll give you plenty of time to chastise Dorian on the way. Meet you downstairs in five,” she said turning with a little wave and she began to descend the stairs.
“It’s a date,” he said behind her.
Eleanor’s step jolted a bit and she reached for the handrail in the stairway to steady herself, but she shook her head. Just an expression, just something he’d picked up on, she assured herself. He was adapting.