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The Griffon and the Raven, Chapter 35

Prompt: Class

Ravena sat primly in her seat and gave a dismissive glance to her brother, who, for lack of a better word, was currently braying like a jackass. “Oh, for Andraste’s sake, Raoul,” she deadpanned. “Your laughter is certainly not helping my cause.”

Raoul leaned forward, face slightly red as he tried to catch his breath. “I’m sorry, Ravena,” he said, wiping at his eyes. “It just strikes me as funny that they think you would need etiquette training.”

Ravena looked apologetically at her would-be tutors, namely Leliana, Josephine, and Scout Harding. “I do apologize for my brother,” she said. “He seems to believe that he was raised in a barn.”

“No, Inquisitor, you must allow us to apologize,” Josephine told her. “I should have broached the topic to you more delicately instead of merely assuming…”

“That she was an unwashed hayseed?” Raoul grinned, clearly enjoying himself. “Oh, our dear mother would be in fits if she knew!”

Giving up on being dignified, Ravena punched Raoul in the arm hard enough to make him wince. “And your behavior would have surely placed her in a catatonic state of shock. Honestly.” She smiled reassuringly at the others. “There’s nothing to be sorry for. I understand your trepidation, especially with the ball in Orlais coming up shortly. It’s important for the Inquisition to come off looking as polished as possible, and that starts with the Inquisitor.” Really, it could have been worse; they could have invited Vivienne to their little afternoon salon of tea and dainty cakes. Then again, Ravena would do well to spend some time with her resident Enchanter; while she could hold her own amongst various lords and ladies of her station, her skills with high-court protocol were woefully underused. If there was anyone in Skyhold more capable of knocking rust off her manners than Madame de Fer before facing the Empress, she would eat her boots.

“I’m glad you see it that way,” Leliana said, sipping her tea. “But tell us, what is your level of comportment?”

“My mother hired one of the best etiquette tutors out of Orlais to instruct my siblings and me as soon as we were able to talk. There were the basic lessons on tableware, posture, and how to behave in public, all of them tailored to be age-appropriate and advance in complexity as my brothers and I grew older.”

“Which was more of the classic do not speak unless spoken to and children should be seen and not heard until we were deemed old enough or mature enough to begin holding brief conversations with others.”

“Yes, and if memory serves correctly, you failed those lessons spectacularly.” Ravena chose a delicate china cup and gracefully poured herself a serving of tea. “As I grew older, the lessons became more sophisticated. The Game is not played as intricately in the Free Marches as it is in Orlais, but the basic rules are still the same. My final lessons before joining the Chantry were how to properly blend embarrassment with humor at something a man might say to an eighteen year old girl, and how to tactfully turn a marriage proposal down without burning any bridges or severing potential ties.” She might not have gotten to use any of those skills when she first learned them, but they had been handy to have recently, what with the handful of letters she occasionally received from various dignitaries offering up their sons or brothers to her in marriage she’d already tactfully turned down. Depending on what happened at the Winter Palace, Ravena feared that those offers might expand in volume.

“What about dancing?” Scout Harding asked, nibbling on one of the petit-fours laid out before them.

“My father paid for a dance instructor to teach me from the age of seven to the age of eighteen.” She sipped. “I haven’t had the opportunity to dance in quite some time, I’m afraid. I might need a refresher course.”

“Well, we can’t have that, can we?” Without another word, Raoul stood and bowed deeply to Ravena. “Inquisitor Trevelyan.”

Ravena looked at the other women, all of whom were smiling like loons. Shaking her head, she sat with perfect posture and daintily placed her cup back on the nearby table. “Ambassador Trevelyan,” she said, dipping her head to the side in welcome.

“I can’t help but notice that while this salon is highly entertaining, there is a sad lack of dancing. Would you do me the honor of joining me in the waltz our orchestra is playing?”

She took his offered hand and stood. “Somehow, ser, I believe this display is more for your benefit than mine.”

“But of course, Your Worship. Now that your lovely and capable advisors know you can talk your way out of any situation that might befall you at Halamshiral and are aware of the fact that you know the difference between the salad fork and the dinner fork, they shall set to work on the rest of your party, starting with myself.” He led her into a simple box step before moving onto something more complicated. Spinning her out, he held onto her hand. “Well, Lace? How are we doing?”

Ravena noticed that Harding didn’t mind the use of her first name, and that a faint blush had dusted her favorite scout’s cheeks. “Not bad, not bad at all. It would probably look better if the Inquisitor was in a dress, but your footwork is solid.”

Ravena shook her head, watching as her brother went over to Josephine and bowed over her offered hand before asking her to dance as well. “If that’s all, I’m going to take my leave. There are some things I would like to take care of before the day’s end.” Shamelessly, she reached down and snagged the entire plate of pastries and sandwiches to take with her. If she was to get a hold of the companions going to Orlais with her before her advisors did, then she would need all the food bribery she could afford.

***

It was later, belly full from a shared rooftop meal with Sera and head pleasantly spinning from a nightcap or two with Dorian, when she made her way into the stables. As she had hoped, she found Blackwall there working on a piece of furniture. He’d become one of Skyhold’s unofficial craftsman after word got out about his woodworking skills, and as such, a small portion of the barn had been converted as his workshop. She had asked him if he had minded people coming to him with requests before, and he had said that he hadn’t, that working with his hands kept his mind occupied between training sessions with the troops or on nights when he couldn’t sleep, too keyed up from coming back from a mission and unwilling to wake Ravena with his restlessness.

“There you are,” she said, coming up to him. She wrapped her arms around him from behind and rested her cheek against his back.

Blackwall put down the tool he was using and covered her hand with his where it lay over his heart. “Looking for me?” he asked, turning so he could give her a quick peck on the lips.

She fit against his body like she had been made specifically for him, her head resting on his shoulder. “I was hoping to find you before Josephine did.”

“Hate to break it to you, my lady, but she found me first.” He kissed her forehead. “Is my beard truly that overgrown?”

Ravena groaned. “I told her I’d talk to you about it.” She tilted away from him, her fingers running over his jaw. “I don’t think it looks bad, but there’s a general consensus between my advisors that you need a trim.” Her fingers traced his cheek before going past his ear and sifting into his hair. “I did tell them to leave your hair alone. It looks fine the way it is.”

“I have a feeling that once this ball is over, everyone is going to be less on edge.”

She nodded. “I know I will be. Maker, between the dress fittings, the review of names of important people, and trying to talk Sera and Dorian into behaving for one single night, I’m exhausted.”

Blackwall chuckled. “All right, I can see asking Sera to behave is one thing, but Dorian?”

“He said that garish Orlesian balls disturbed his Tevinter sensibilities. He’s convinced that he’s going to be asked to perform some blood magic ritual as if it were a party trick.”

“How did you talk him down from that one?”

“I didn’t bother. I just handed him a list of some of the wine that will be on hand and promised him that once the coast was clear and the Empress out of danger, I’d get our people to acquire as many bottles of Orlais’ finest vintages that I could for him. We agreed that he’d act as a brilliant diversion, should the need arise for me to slip away unseen during the party.”

“What about Sera?”

“I reminded her that with the sheer number of nobles in one spot, opportunities to help her contacts and have her Friends help us out would be huge. I may also be upsetting Cullen when he finds out about me ordering a march on Verchiel once we return and he might not like the fact that I may or may not have been an accomplice in pulling a prank involving his desk this afternoon.”

“You didn’t.”

“It was either Cullen’s desk or Josephine’s office, and I love Josie too much to do anything to her.” She already had plans to let Cullen puzzle over why his desk was suddenly unlevel for only a few hours before offering her help and mysteriously ‘fixing’ things. “And since I went ahead and promised to help Red Jenny in one theater, I figured I’d just go ahead and throw in my lot with them on several others. Sera was beyond thrilled and promised to be on her best behavior.”

Blackwall’s eyebrow quirked. “You do realize that her best behavior still leaves something to be desired, right?”

“Well, yes, but at least now I know no one will wind up getting shot or stabbed in the face before we need them to be and graffiti featuring naked behinds and other private parts on palace walls will be kept to a minimum.”

He tightened his arms around her. “And that leaves you with me. What types of bribes are you offering me to be on my best behavior?”

He could feel her smile against the skin of his throat. “I have a great many things to offer, all of which I’m sure would please you.”

“Would they now?” His hands skimmed down to her waist. Without giving her any warning, he boosted her up onto his workbench and stood between her legs. “Would any of them happen to involve you wearing that blue silk negligee you mentioned owning?”

“I hadn’t thought about that, but I am definitely open to the idea.” She carded her fingers through his hair and gave him a lingering kiss. “Although something tells me that you’d behave even without the extra incentives.”

“I was planning on staying in the background during the main party,” he started, kissing her affectionately. “With Dorian being a distraction if you need to disappear and Sera having an in with possible Friends exploiting nobles, you’ll need someone close by acting as your eyes and ears that other people won’t notice watching your back.”

“I appreciate it.”

He grinned wickedly at her. “But back to that negligee…”

Laughing, she draped her arms around his shoulders. “What did you have in mind?”

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