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The Griffon and the Raven, Chapter 37

Prompt: Waltz
Note: If I want Ravena to wear a Disney Princess dress to the ball, by golly, she's gonna wear a Disney Princess dress.


“I can’t breathe properly.”

Ravena looked at Blackwall and grinned. “Lace yourself up in a corset and then we’ll talk.” Teasing aside, she had to admit that it was nice to actually dress up for an evening. She had been seventeen the last time she had been to a formal ball and she had forgotten just how much she used to love them: the gowns, the crush of people, the food and the dancing.

Tonight’s event had a little more at stake than making certain that her dance card was filled, but Ravena still took the time to take everything in.

“You look stunning,” he commented, his hand warm at the small of her back. He had to take a moment to admire her. Vivienne, Josephine and Leliana had dressed her up in gown made of pale teal silk, which contrasted with her dark hair and made her kohl-rimmed eyes look golden in the lamplight where they peeked out beneath an elegantly crafted mask. Delicate bronze colored filigree decorated the plunging neckline and the ends of her sleeves. The lace was a concession Josephine had given her, seeing that Ravena had been reluctant to show so much skin after spending years in informal wear. Blackwall knew the intricate work was meant to afford Ravena a sense of modesty since the heavy brocade bodice pushed her breasts upwards, yet her pale skin and gentle swell of her cleavage still showed through the latticework that covered her like a woman coyly peering out from behind her fingers. He saw what was meant to be demure came off as something elegantly erotic, and he was unable to look away.

He thought that she wore the outfit well. The corset she wore underneath cinched in her waist to the point where he bet that he could almost span her waist with both hands easily. It had to have been uncomfortable, but it did showcase her natural hourglass shape beautifully. Instead of her usual no-frills bun, someone had fashioned her thick hair into a low, braided chignon. He felt a swell of pride at the sight of the comb he had given her for her name day carefully tucked into her inky black tresses. Out of all the elaborately jeweled hairpieces she more than likely had at her disposal, the fact that she had chosen the simply-carved lovebirds over every other decoration made his heart flip in his chest.

The other women in attendance might look like exotic peacocks parading about, but his lady had the understated brilliance of a pearl. While he knew he had to eventually let her go to mingle for the evening so they could accomplish what they truly came here for, he was loath to leave her side.

She could feel the pleased blush that dusted across her cheeks. “Thank you. You look particularly handsome yourself.” She stood closer to him, her skirt brushing against his leg. “Aside from what you usually wear when we go out in the field, this is the closest I’ve seen you in a uniform. You fill it out nicely.” A trip to the barber that afternoon had seen him trimmed and cleaned up. Josephine wanted him to have the entire beard shaved off, which he had vehemently argued when she had accompanied him to the barber, but they had settled on a compromise of a neatly combed full beard that was shorter than how he usually kept it.

The barber had wisely waited until Josephine was out of earshot to quietly commiserate in Orlesian on the stubbornness of women, to which Blackwall had heartily agreed in the same language. Just to be on the safe side, Blackwall had also requested his hair trimmed so he didn’t look quite as shaggy. He’d paid the barber extra for merely cleaning up his looks instead of going to the extremes their ambassador had wanted.

He ran a finger around his collar. “This damned thing is too damned tight.”

“That’s two damns in one sentence. Is everything all right?” She looked up at him and could tell that he was struggling with his thoughts.

“Yes, everything is fine.” There. He had a habit of looking away from her whenever he lied. It was subtle and he didn’t do it very often outside of card games, but she had picked up on it after a while. Gathering her skirts in one hand, she steered them both towards a darkened alcove underneath an exterior staircase.

“You are not fine,” she accused, crossing her arms in front of her chest and cocking out a hip.

Blackwall sighed and leaned against the wall. “I’m no good at these types of events,” he confessed. “They’re too claustrophobic for my tastes.”

She reached out to cup the side of his face with her palm. “And here I dragged you into this. I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t drag me anywhere that I wouldn’t willingly follow,” he assured her, leaning into her touch. “I’d storm the Black Gates themselves if you asked it of me.”

“Blackwall…”

“Don’t worry over me. We still have a job to do.” He softened his words with a kiss to her fingers. Taking a deep, centering breath, he held onto her hand and brought it to rest inside the crook of his elbow. “Now before I have to pass you over to the Grand Duke, shall we make an entrance, my lady?”

***

“Have you heard anything?” she asked, sidling up to Blackwall.

“Not much. There are two servants on the upper level over there whispering amongst themselves. I couldn’t make everything out, but it sounds like they’re concerned about someone not checking in somewhere.”

“That makes sense. I heard another group of servants talking about the same thing. My money is on Briala and her spies.”

“I wouldn’t leave Gaspard and his men out of the equation either,” he cautioned.

“No, they’re definitely involved somehow.” She gave him a quick glance. “So, the Silverite Wings of Valor?”

He fidgeted, slightly shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “What of it?”

“I knew you had some rank within the Wardens, but I didn’t know you were decorated. I’m impressed.” She took advantage of their isolated location and wrapped both of her arms around one of his. “What did you receive it for?”

He tensed. “For…valor.” His gaze quickly darted to their left. “I thought we were here to save an Empress from assassination, not boast about victories that happened long ago,” he bristled.

She stepped away from him, his sudden change of tone bolstering her into action even as it made her question what might have set him off. “We are. I’m going to continue my investigations.” She made her way up the staircase, but stopped when she reached the top. “Blackwall?”

He looked up at her as she leaned against the railing. “Yes, my lady?”

“Save me a dance?”

He smiled up at her warmly, previous tense moment forgotten. “All of them.”

***

He caught her as she did a sort of awkward walk-run towards the ballroom, her skirts fisted in her hands. “Where have you been?”

“I found some things. I’d explain, but I need to make an appearance.”

“That was only the first bell.”

She looked at him quizzically. “And your point is? It would be frowned upon if I were late.”

He smirked. “Ravena, you’ve been away from the nobility too long. Even I know that it’s better to be fashionably late and arrive after the second bell.” He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Slow down and catch your breath.”

“Briala is playing both Gaspard and Celene,” she whispered, putting a hand to her ribcage. “She’s killed people from both sides and is fudging letters to confuse everyone.”

“That’s a good lead. Do you think that she’s behind the assassination attempt?”

“No. I spoke with her. I can tell that even though she says one thing, she still cares for Celene in some fashion. Would she do something to get even with her? Yes. Kill her? No, I don’t think she would.”

“So where does that leave us?”

She sighed and shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. I guess we’ll find more information once I get back to the ballroom.” She winced as she attempted to readjust her outfit.

“Are you hurt?”

“No, just being pinched uncomfortably. Corsets were not made to climb lattices.”

His eyes widened. “Tell me you didn’t.”

“Don’t worry, Dorian made good on his promise and kept everyone in the gardens distracted long enough for me to make it over. I heard he made some magnificent fire creations to entertain everyone. Climbing was necessary: how else would I have gotten into the second floor without lockpicks?”

“Whatever am I going to do with you?” he chuckled. His eyes darkened and he moved closer to her, crowding her against a nearby wall. He planted his hand against the stone and leaned in. “Actually, I think I have an idea.”

She jumped when the second bell rang. “Fashionably late,” she whispered, tilting her head to expose the line of her neck. She slid her palms across his chest until she could drape her arms over his shoulders.

“And with flushed cheeks and mussed hair. Whatever shall the other guests think?” He punctuated his question with a kiss that made Ravena’s knees weak. “The only thing missing is to complete the look with a kiss-swollen mouth.”

“Something I’m sure you’re capable of providing,” she gasped, twining her fingers in his hair.

“More than capable, and definitely willing to do a thorough job of it,” he answered, nipping at her bottom lip. “Problem is, you’re running out of time before the third bell rings. I’m going to have to be quick.”

As it turned out, Ravena made it back to the ballroom long before the third bell chimed. She couldn’t keep the smug smirk off her face when she happened to overhear snatches of conversation behind fluttering fans.

“Really, Ravena,” Raoul stated when she made her way towards where her brother and Josephine were standing. “I don’t know if I should applaud him for stirring up a bit of juicy gossip or challenge him to a duel for my sister’s honor.”

“Oh leave them be. Someone’s court approval shot up,” Josephine commented with a grin. “I’ll have to thank him later.”

“Don’t worry about it, Josie,” Ravena said, casually tucking a strand of hair behind her ear that Blackwall had accidentally pulled loose. “I’ve got that covered.”

***

“I don’t know how Cullen and Leliana do it,” Blackwall said, quickly stripping out of his finery and throwing on his armor. “It took us – you – forever just to get the location that we’re supposed to investigate in and they’ve already had people stow our gear here.”

“What can I say? My advisors are efficient.” She grunted as she tried to awkwardly bend her arms to reach the buttons at the back of her neck. “Unlike this contraption.”

“Here, turn around.” Blackwall began to undo the delicate row of buttons that ran down her spine. Once he had her unbuttoned to her waist, he started to loosen the laces of her corset, smirking when Ravena took a deep breath. “First time you’ve gotten to do that all evening?”

“I’d forgotten how constricting those things are.” She turned her head and attempted to look over her shoulder as best as she could. “Don’t undo them all, I’m going to have to get back into this outfit after we finish looking around.”

“Right. Lift your hands up.” With the stays loosened, Blackwall was easily able to slide the corset over Ravena’s head, leaving her in a thin camisole that was cut low enough not to be seen from the neckline of her dress yet protected her skin from the corset’s boning. “That should do.”

“I certainly hope that we don’t run into trouble,” she commented, sliding the gown down her hips before stepping out of it. She smiled at Blackwall’s surprised inhalation. “I didn’t want to waste time changing,” she explained, her free hand gesturing towards the pants she had worn underneath the dress.

“I’m more surprised you didn’t just wear everything else underneath as well.”

“Don’t be silly, Vivienne would be disappointed in me for ruining the silhouette of the gown. She didn’t terrorize that poor seamstress in Val Royeaux for me not to flaunt what I have.” For modesty’s sake, she turned away from the door in order to finish dressing. There were some things that she didn’t feel like dealing with, and jokes about her state of undress from both Sera and Dorian were definitely on the list.

“Believe me, I am not complaining. I happen to be a fan of what you’re flaunting.” He couldn’t have stopped himself from staring at her if he had tried, almost disappointed when she turned away and the tantalizing sight of her unbound breasts through the camisole’s nearly sheer material was hidden from his view, Ravena’s fingers moving in a flurry of motion to buckle her well-worn coat before carefully toeing off her delicate slippers and jamming her feet into her usual boots.

“Oh damn,” Dorian drawled, leaning against the doorframe. “I think we arrived too late.”

“And here I was hoping we’d get to find out once and for all what color your smallclothes were,” Sera chimed in. The two of them must have intercepted the Inquisition agents carrying their gear, because they were both equipped and ready to go.

“She’s always so practical and sensible,” Dorian said, giving Ravena a wink. “I’m putting my money on something frilly and scandalous. Blackwall, am I right?”

Ravena’s short snort of laughter was the only thing that kept Blackwall from smacking either of the two. “Get moving,” he grumbled instead, shouldering his way past them. He took his usual spot at Ravena’s side, pausing when she leaned close to him.

“For the record, he’d win.” she whispered, her breath tickling his ear. “I’m wearing extremely sheer black lace.”

“Maker take me,” he muttered, his voice deepened with desire. “I’m surrounded by people that I either want to maim or people that are trying their damndest to kill me.”

Ravena didn’t reply, but she did throw a wicked smile over her shoulder at him and added an extra swish of her hips as she walked away.

***

“I’m glad we decided to change,” Ravena said, slipping out of her coat. “Blood would have never gotten out of silk.”

“I’m just glad none of it was yours,” Blackwall bit back, trying to quickly help her back into her dress. Unfortunately, his fingers on his left hand weren’t cooperating after taking one too many hits to the shield.

“Oi, you. Get out of your gear and hop into your fancy pants,” Sera ordered, shouldering him aside and quickly pulling everything where it should. “And you. Pick up your arms so I can strap you in.” Without preamble, Sera slipped Ravena’s corset over her head and began tightening up the laces.

“Take a deep breath and fluff up your tits,” she said, pulling on the laces hard enough for Ravena to take a half-step backwards.

“Have a lot of experience with these?” Ravena asked dryly.

Her answer was a manic giggle as she did up the tiny buttons at Ravena’s back. “Oh yeah.” Job done, Sera busied herself by reworking Ravena’s hairstyle, which had mostly fallen out of the elegant updo in the middle of the last fight. “Can you breathe?”

“Not really.” Sera had managed to cinch her in even tighter than Josephine had, which was a feat in and of itself.

“Good, that means it’s tight enough.” Repositioning her comb, she gave her a friendly swat on the backside. “Now go out there and be all…Inquisitor-y.”

***

Blackwall found her standing alone out on the balcony. “Some night,” he said, walking up towards her.

She gave him a tired smile and leaned against his arm. “One of the more interesting formal parties I’ve been to,” she said lightly.

“Everything all right?” He covered her hand with his, concerned when he felt her fingers tremble.

“I’m just ready to head back home.” She rested her head against his shoulder. “Did I do the right thing?”

“With getting the three of them to work together?” He took a breath. “There’s hope, if their truce holds. At least no one died.”

She laced her fingers with his. “Yet.”

“It isn’t like you to be this cynical. Where’s your usual optimism?”

“Somewhere else for the evening, I guess. For once, I’m glad that I didn’t grow up in Orlais. The politics are draining.” She stepped away and stared inside the windows, watching as people continued to dance and celebrate. “If you want optimism, you’re going to have to supply it.”

He chuckled. “I don’t know if I can do as good of a job as you usually do, but I’ll certainly try. Being back in Orlais puts me out of sorts as well.”

“I know you said before that you were stationed in Orlais, but had you ever been stationed here, this close to everything?”

He cleared his throat and turned his face away from her to look down at the courtyard below. “Yes, and by now you can see why I prefer recruiting out on my own.”

“I don’t blame you. Even with the Wardens to act as a buffer, dealing with the Game on a daily basis would grow tiresome for someone like you.”

He glanced at the orchestra, realizing that they had started up a new song. “But since we’re here, we might as well make the most of it.” Holding out a hand, he gave her a low, formal bow and a charming smile. “Ravena Celeste Trevelyan, will you honor me with this dance?”

Her lips curved upwards to match his. “How can I resist such an offer?” She placed her hand in his and allowed him to lead her into a waltz on the balcony, her skirts twirling around their legs. “I haven’t been called by my middle name in practically forever.”

“It suits you.” He’d seen her sign things with her middle initial before, but it wasn’t until she had been announced that evening that he had finally found out what it stood for.

“Well, our middle initials are the only way to differentiate between my father and siblings. We don’t use our full names often, mostly for important, official matters.” She flexed her fingers against his bicep as he led her into a more complicated step than what the dance called for. If they had been out on the ballroom floor, the move would have won a few murmurs of approval from the crowd for standing out. “I didn’t know you danced.”

His gaze seemed to turn inwards. “In another life.”

“When I was younger, I used to love sneaking out of my room late at night to watch whenever my parents hosted a ball. I adored watching everyone, how the ladies always looked like they were floating across the floor in their dresses and how the men looked so handsome and dashing in their suits. I begged my father to enroll me with a private instructor years before I was supposed to because I wanted to learn everything: all the steps, all the dances.” She let out a small laugh when he spun her around. “I’ve missed it.”

“I’ve never had a better partner.” He tipped her backwards into a dip, punctuating his statement with a kiss.

“Neither have I.”

When he let her back up, he didn’t let go. Instead, he led them into a slower dance step and held their joined hands close to his chest. “We should do this more often.”

“What? Saving empresses from evil would-be gods and their assassins?”

“I could go my entire life without having to do that again. No, this.” He emphasized his point by slowing down even further until they were not so much dancing as they were embracing while swaying to the music. “We don’t get very many moments where we can simply be together.”

“It makes each one we have all the more precious.” Burrowing closer into his embrace, she sighed contentedly. “It’s no ballroom, but the stable has decent enough space,” she offered after a while.

His amused snort sounded close to her ear. “It’ll give the horses some entertainment,” he conceded. “Perhaps Master Dennet can give us some pointers?”

Ravena laughed. “We wouldn’t have any music, but I can improvise.” To prove her point, she began to quietly hum a song.

Sera Was Never?”

“I blame Maryden for getting that song stuck in my head. Really, if you want to get Sera’s attention, just buy her a pint.”

“Or food. Or both.” Holding her tighter, he tilted her chin up so he could look her in the eye. “But enough about Sera.” He bent his head to close the scant distance between them and Ravena quickly forgot about everything else. “There’s something that has been driving me mad all evening.”

“Hmm?” It was hard to concentrate, especially when Blackwall’s hand began to rove across her back. Even through layers of silk and brocade, she could feel the heat of his body, which made her want to curl up close and never move away.

“Three things, actually.” He tilted his head and his breath was hot against her ear. “Sheer. Black. Lace.” He emphasized his words with a nip to her earlobe, his lips moving into a tight smile when he heard her gasp.

“It was the reaction I was hoping for,” her voice was more like a purr, the fingers of her free hand sinking into the fabric of his coat. “And I did mean extremely sheer lace. It’s as if I’m not wearing anything at all under this dress.”

“Wicked woman. You have no idea how difficult it was to focus on anything else.”

“However can I make it up to you?” she asked, her eyelashes fluttering closed as he drew her closer than what they were, closer than what was probably proper, given their surroundings. After all they did for the court tonight, Ravena didn’t give a damn.

“I can think of a few things,” he murmured. “Ripping bodices springs to mind.”

Ravena laughed breathlessly, grabbing his hand and leading him away from the balcony. “Celene gave us rooms for the night,” she told him. “I can see what can be arranged.” For once, she was glad that they had left Varric in Skyhold. She was certain that he would have had plenty of fodder for his next novel or two if he had been there.

All thoughts of her companions fled her head when Blackwall stared at her hungrily, his gaze as heavy and tactile as a caress. Shivering, she led him towards the guest suites, making a mental note to stop back at the dressmaker’s shop in Val Royeaux to purchase extra corset laces before heading home.

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