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I was heading in the right direction; I just happened to be running a few minutes late. Time happens to be important when you’re trying to beat a man to his bedchambers. I blame the Orlesians for my predicament; they built their palace like a labyrinth. To what end? Did it provide the Empress some sick amusement to watch her terribly sloshed guests try to find their rooms? Every wall was white marble, every pillar was ringed with gilt, and every portrait was of a poncy man done up in lace and pastel. I had been told to seek the Comte de Sauvagéau. I’d been told that he would be wearing a silver mask done with twinings of ivy around the edges. Very Dalish. Very popular, I’d discovered as I’d gone into the ball room to find at least twenty men in similar masks. Any other day in Orlais you can identify a man down to his birth order based on the mask he wears; I came on the one day where anonymity reigned. Bribing a maid had gotten me a vague idea of where he resided (she’d used the portraits as marks and like I said, they all looked the same). With this knowledge I resorted to a second, less grandiose plan: slip him the knife while he slept. I had hoped to cause a stir by having him drop dead on the dance floor, but one cannot always catch such luck. And on this night it seemed I would have no luck, and would squander this opportunity wandering aimlessly and cursing under my breath.
Such was how I met my first Chevalier; I almost knocked the long beaked mask right off his face as I rushed into him. I mumbled a half-hearted apology and tried to move past him; he laughed and blocked the corridor. “That is no way for a lady to speak,” he chided through a fake Nevarran accent. “Screaming curses that could make Antivan sailors blush.”
“I wasn’t screaming,” I defended. “I am merely telling the empty corridors of my frustrations. If you’ll excuse me.” He made no effort to move.
“And what led you to such anger?” I gave what seemed like a reluctant pause as I scrambled to concoct a story when he added, “It is my duty as a chevalier to help beautiful women.” I was wearing a mask like everyone else, so he couldn’t have known whether or not I was beautiful enough to be worth his time. But, I’d stolen my mask from the daughter of a well-known family. (Poor girl had gotten sick. Awful cramps, some vomiting. Tragic, but her gown was better suited to my coloring.)It was entirely possible that she knew this man. I tread lightly.
“If you must know, I’m to be wed. I’m trying to find my intended so that I may see him beforehand and decide whether or not he is… suitable.”
“So you run to his private rooms? Maker, but you’re scandalous,” he teased. “What is your intended’s name? I shall help you find him in a way that won’t ruin your good name.”
It was easily the best offer I’d had (you won’t believe the things a man will say when his face is covered with some paint and feathers), so I took his proffered arm and said, “Comte de Sauvagéau.”
“You are in luck! I know de Sauvagéau, and I assure you he is dancing. Come.”
He escorted me back, and as we danced in unison with all the others, he mentioned, “De Sauvagéau favors a certain spiced wine. You might find him over there.” He jutted his beak to a serving elf laden with the stuff.
Concentrated deathroot sprinkled in the glasses. Seven men and three women excused themselves early, and died later that night. Three had worn the Dalish mask. One sot died right there, but he’d done himself up like a Qunari, so there’d been a bit of cheering when he dropped.
“Perhaps you should talk as you dance. De Sauvagéau has quite a musical voice.”
I danced with seven men; two had what could be described as a musical voice. They kissed the back of my glove, and took a dose of fleshrot with them. All dead and stinking within the hour. One had been a foreign diplomat, and the other had actually been a woman.
“Terrible luck,” my chevalier said, shaking his head. “If you can get their gloves off, de Sauvagéau has a scar curving between his thumb and forefinger. I put it there myself.”
Three more men I played this peacock’s game with. I rubbed their hands perhaps a little too enthusiastically, trying to feel a scar beneath their gloves. No scars, but they took the touching as flirtation and I killed them simply for the things they’d suggested.
We have a saying where I’m from: one death is suspicious, a dozen is bad pork. I had no fear of being caught, but not finishing would lead to a worse fate. The Coterie would do things to me that the Orlesians can’t even dream of.
As night waned I expressed this frustration to my companion, who’d been of no help whatsoever. I told him this as we walked through a garden to see the sunrise over the white roses.
He laughed delightedly. “I’m glad that I didn’t wear that mask. I actually traded with Ser Evrard mere moments before the ball.” With a dramatic flourish he removed his mask and declared, “Good lady, I am your intended.” I might have laughed at it all had it not been absolutely infuriating.
He was in front of me. We were alone. Every instinct instilled by my training demanded I be done with it and return home to collect my pay. Every sympathy that training should have drained from me screamed against it. If I had seen him as a target from the beginning, this might have ended differently. Instead, I simply saw another person. I saw nothing that merited death.
“I never found you,” I declared. “I was told to kill the man in the silver mask. And I did. Quite a few times. Be wary, de Sauvagéau. You will not escape again.”
I left him, stunned and frightened. He had the decency not to call the guards as I stripped out of the cumbersome gown and down to my assassin’s silks, daggers and poisons hanging off my belt haphazardly. I took a running start, flung myself over the garden wall, and had my story prepared before I hit the floor.