The Sordid Tale of Meryell Verlen, Chapter 46

Just behind the chin in the soft spot there, angled back to avoid the slope of the skull. Not too far forward or you hit bone or too far back to catch the muscles of the throat. Drive it in deep and you pierce the brain. A swift killing blow that, if done right, they would never even know it happened.

Josephine would kill her if she knew the way Meryell was making it through conversations with the Orlesian nobles.

This one, though, this Lord Ezoire de Hallies was useless in actual information. He just kept yammering on about this woman who had insulted him and been granted sanctuary by the Marquis of Serault, a Ysabeau Caignel, instead of turning her over for her insult. That and talking loudly enough that the woman herself – recognizable partly because she was maskless for some reason – on the other side of the ballroom could probably hear him.

Meryell, being who she was, was of the opinion that the Inquisition needed to possibly get to know this Marquis.

She had other people to talk to though. People who might actually have some information to stop the assassination she was actually here for.

Coughing in what she hoped was a polite manner, she said, “My Lord, that story is quite fascinating and it’s an utter shame that the Marquis would treat you so, but I believe that one of my advisors wishes to speak to me. If you’ll excuse me?”

The man blinked behind his mask for a moment, mouth gaping underneath in a rather unattractive way, then he regained his composure and said, “Of course, Inquisitor Verlen, of course. One should never be drawn away from doing one’s duty.” And, with that, he was gone and she let out a hiss of breath between her teeth before heading towards Leliana.

The red-headed woman flicked her eyes towards her as she approached and Meryell muttered under her breath, “For the love of me not stabbing the next yammering fucker in the throat, please tell me we’ve heard something.”

That made Leliana laugh softly and – to her credit – she didn’t comment on the fact that Meryell was armed. It wasn’t much, just a plain stiletto that rested in a harness along her right thigh, fastened upside down so she could actually draw it around the hassle of the skirts. What it was was enough to keep her comfortable amongst the sea of backstabbing cunts that occupied the vast ocean of the Game.

“I saw that you had met Lord Ezoire,” she commented softly. “I see that he also made it out of the encounter alive.”

Meryell bared her teeth in a smile as she replied, “I really am trying to keep the bloodshed to a minimum. That should at least be saved until the second night according to Orlesian protocol, right?”

The spymaster just smiled in reply then turned serious as she asked, “Have you spoken to Duke Gaspard again since we were introduced?”

“You mean your eyes and ears haven’t been keeping up with my movements as usual? I’m almost insulted, e’lu’verelan.”

“In the court, it is far better for them to watch others.”

Well, she had to give it to the woman. She had no qualms about admitting that she had people watching her. There were less than there used to be but Meryell was pretty good at picking out people who were keeping an eye on her, so she still knew that there were a few. They thankfully only kept track of most of her doings in Skyhold and she’d noticed that they’d never followed her anywhere near her room, Cullen’s tower, or down into the depths of the keep to her hiding place.

The last was literally the only reason she hadn’t confronted the older woman about it. There was some kind of respect in that gesture, so she pretended in turn to not notice the eyes following her and let the e’lu’verelan have her information.

Tilting her head slightly in a nod, Meryell turned so she had her back to the wall as Leliana did before saying, “I did manage to meet up with him again. He asked if I would do him a favor as a friend while he leered from behind his mask at my breasts.”

“You cannot even see his eyes through that mask.”

“No, but he kept licking his lips and I know what that’s about. I’ve seen it enough on the faces of some piss drunk sot or back alley asshole to know that it means.”

Leliana sighed then asked, “What sort of favor did he ask of the Inquisition?”

Snorting, she answered, “Apparently he suspects Briala is here to disrupt the negotiations. Said that his people have found her ‘ambassadors’ all over the fortifications and sabotage is the least of their crimes.”

“You think her not suspect?”

“I think they’re all suspect,” replied Meryell sternly. “I’ve watched the Game be played from enough rafters, hidden passageways, and hidden in nooks and crannies to know that no one is innocent here.”

That brought another smile to the other woman’s face as she asked, “Not even us, Inquisitor?”

Meryell just smiled back a little bitterly.

“I haven’t been innocent in a very long time.”

Nodding, Leliana then said, “While the ambassador may be up to something, she cannot be our focus tonight. After all, the best place to strike at Celene is…”

“From her side,” interrupted Meryell, finishing the sentence. She frowned darkly for a moment before she forcibly relaxed her face and asked, “You suspect someone?”

“Perhaps.” There was a moment’s pause then she went on, “Empress Celene has long been fascinated by mysticism: foreseeing the future, speaking with the dead, all of that sort of rubbish.”

Letting out a huff of breath, Meryell commented, “Zarru would tell you that while a lot of mysticism is rubbish, there is some truth to it. She’s got some stories about Rivaini seers and hedge mages that you wouldn’t believe if she didn’t tell them with such a serious face. Though I’m going to guess that’s not your point.”

“Hardly. She has an ‘occult advisor’, an apostate who has charmed the Empress as well as key members of the court. As if by magic.” Leliana’s expression was dark, darker than it had been in some time, as she added, “I have…dealt…with her in the past. Be wary, Inquisitor, for she is ruthless and capable of anything.”

Meryell arched her eyebrows at the sheer vehemence in her tone, which was probably more emotion that she’d ever seen from the older woman. She wondered how exactly she and this apostate had met and what it was that had made Leliana react in such a way. Honestly, she’d thought the worst reaction the e’lu’verelan had was to herself but this might just take the mabari.

Instead of asking about that, pushing the personal question aside for later, she instead asked, “Just how long has Celene had an apostate at court?”

“Technically not until recently. The Imperial Court has always had an official position for a mage but it was little more than a court jester until Vivienne took the position. She made it a source of real political power. Of course, when the Circles rebelled, every mage became an apostate.”

Shaking her head, Meryell asked, “And you think she might be our assassin?”

“As you said, everyone is suspect, Inquisitor. It is, at the least, worth investigating if only to know what she is using the court for.”

“Right. Easy enough.”

Leliana shifted forward a step, obviously aiming to start walking, then said, “Be careful, Inquisitor. There are many eyes upon you tonight.” Then she strode off, leaving Meryell standing there subtly rolling her eyes because of course there were eyes on her tonight.

It was fucking Orlais. Everyone watched everyone in fucking Orlais.

ornament

“Sera,” Meryell hissed as she buzzed past the other elf through the ballroom, reaching out to gently grasp her elbow, “I need to borrow you.”

“Please let it be for arrows,” groaned the young woman as she fell into step. “These rich tits are just getting boring now. So many secrets that they think are secrets are just…out there. Like they want people to know.”

Shrugging, she replied, “That’s the Game. And unfortunately, no, not for arrows. The night is still young though.”

“Pff, not young enough then.”

Sera then shifted their arms, looping them together and drawing Meryell up close to the simple but elegant coat that had been fitted for her. She could feel the press of a blade or two through the coat from the contact and smiled. Because of course Sera didn’t come into the Winter Palace unarmed.

“So whassit, Quizzy?” she asked, dropping her voice low. “You get tired of playing their game yet and want out? I know all the exits and even a few that your jackboot’s men haven’t been able to find.”

“I was tired of playing their game a month ago when we started finishing up plans for this shit,” Meryell snarled under her breath. “Not the point though. I need a distraction to get into one of the wings. There’s a blood trail that leads into it and that usually means not good things.”

And she sure as shit wasn’t climbing the lattice work in the garden to follow that trail. It was far too exposed, even with a distraction.

Sera’s pale eyes lit up and a broad grin spread across her face before she chirped, “Fire or no fire?”

Snorting, she answered, “Given that it’s going to be inside, I’m going to say no fire. We don’t want to be responsible for burning down the whole party.”

“Aww, but it might be fun.”

“Let’s save it for after we’ve caught the assassin, hmm?”

Fine,” grumbled Sera, “no fire.” She then turned oddly serious for her as she asked, “How long do you need the stuffed up pricks distracted for?”

Meryell smiled as she replied, “Long enough for me to pick a lock.”

The other elf pursed her lips for a moment before smiled wickedly, saying, “Go get to your spot and count for twenty breaths after you get there. When you hear retching, hop to it.”

Arching an eyebrow, she asked, “Do I want to know?” As Sera’s smiled just widened, Meryell held up a hand and answered her own question. “Y’know what, don’t answer that. That way I can deny to Josephine later that I didn’t know shit about it.”

“Better safe than sorry, Quiz!”

That was Sera’s parting shot and they separated swiftly from each other, Meryell heading towards the end of the ballroom that held the locked door that she’d figured out lead to the area she needed to get into and Sera heading to who knew where. She spotted Cullen as she moved across the room, looking uncomfortable and surrounded by a crowd of people, and scowled.

Andraste’s dripping cunt, they were pressing him in on all sides and that definitely couldn’t be helping his claustrophobia at all.

Turning her head away, Meryell spotted Arnald speaking with someone and came up behind him with a smile for whoever it was, bobbing slightly into a curtsy as she murmured an apology for the interruption. Lightly resting a hand on the Captain’s arm, she leaned in close to his ear and whispered, “Please go and rescue Cullen. Give him a damned breather from those shits at the least.”

“And where are you going that you can’t rescue him yourself?” he replied.

“Someone’s got to figure out where the obvious blood trail everyone else is ignoring goes to.”

Arnald snorted softly before he said, “Fair enough.” He then turned back to the man he’d been speaking to and said, “Excuse me for a moment, Claude. It seems I have a bit of an errand to run.”

“Bah, it is fine,” replied the man and Meryell finally focused on him. He was wearing a fuller mask than Arnald was but not quite to the size of Gaspard’s or any of the nobles who had full-sized face masks. His mask, however, was of the same color as Arnald except a few shades darker with the same designs of small grape vines in a line along the parts that covered his cheekbones. Judging by that and the fact that Arnald knew him by name, he was a member of the Seraine household. After a moment, the man – Claude – gestured at her and asked, “She is one of yours, yes? One of your Fangs?”

“Ah, pardonne-moi, I forget my manners after so long outside the Court. Claude, this is Meryell Verlen, our Inquisitor and, yes, one of mine. My girl, this is Claude Rolant, who’s served the Seraines since I was a boy.”

Claude chuckled and said, “I was but a boy then myself, Capitiane.” He then bowed respectfully towards her and intoned, “Well met, Inquisitor. We hear so much of the exploits of the Fangs of Vimmark amongst the vines but never anything specific about those that follow our âme perdue.”

Arnald snorted at that, saying, “Really, Claude, lost soul?”

“What else am I to call you when you never visit anymore, petit aigle?”

Not that.”

The other man laughed and turned his head, allowing Meryell to see that his dark brown hair was streaked liberally with gray beyond the edges of his mask where she hadn’t been able to see before given the short cut of it. He then waved a hand saying, “Aller, aller, Arnald. I will speak to you another time before you leave after the negotiations. Do remember to find your brother should you get a free moment of time.”

He then turned, bowing again towards her, and intoned softly, “It was a pleasure, Inquisitor Verlen.” Then he left them standing there and Meryell just blinked before she spoke.

“So…old friend?”

“His mother was our mother’s favorite handmaiden and he is the same age as my brother, Remon. They grew up together, played together, and Claude had just officially joined the staff when I turned five. He always helped me get up to mischief, even when it was against my brother.” Smiling wistfully, Arnald shrugged before saying, “But, you wanted me to rescue your Commander from the vultures because of a blood trail?”

“Close enough, Captain.”

Snorting, he said, “Very well. Go and hunt your lead, my girl. When you get back find me again as I believe I overheard something earlier that will aid in our efforts.”

“Tell the e’lu’verelan.”

“What did I say, Verlen?” he asked, his voice stern and his dark eyes serious.

With a sigh, Meryell hissed out, “Find you when I get back. Fucking hell, Captain, you’d think I wasn’t Inquisitor with the way you’re ordering me around.”

“Well, as you said, Your Worship, I can’t get down on my knees since I was born with a stick up my ass,” Arnald noted with a broad smile, repeating to her a comment she’d said well over a year ago back in Haven. Maker’s cock, that seemed so long ago. “Now go break into wherever it is you’re going to break into.”

“Guest Wing,” she replied with a smile before she turned away from him, hearing him let out a chuckle from behind her as she strode away. He’d get those rotten cunts off of Cullen for a moment or two, give him enough breathing room to catch his bearings again, she had utter faith in that. Enough that she didn’t have to look as she crossed the rest of the ballroom to check on his progress as she moved to stand near the base of the two staircases, each leading to one of the wings of the Palace.

Meryell slowly drew in twenty breaths and she started moving when she heard the distinct sound of Sera’s gleeful cackle. She reached a hand into the bodice of her dress as she mounted the stairs that led up to the locked door and caught the sound of several instances of retching as she pulled out the tiny cloth pouch that held her lockpicks from within her breastband. Looping the cord over her fingers after she tugged the picks themselves out of the pouch, Meryell quickly bent over the lock and leaned her ear against the door to listen to the sounds of the tumblers.

She could still hear someone retching and there were frantic voices beyond that talking about everything from bad shellfish to poison in overly loud whispers. Amongst all of that, of course, was Sera’s laughter before someone new started retching to start the whole debacle over again anew.

Josephine was going to kill her.

The tumblers of the lock clicked into place then and Meryell smiled before she hurriedly tucked her picks back into their pouch then those back into her breastband. But before she ended up dying at the hands of her always seemingly incredibly stressed out ambassador, she had investigating to do.

Chuckling softly to herself, Meryell opened the door and stepped inside to see what new things the Winter Palace had to tell her about what the shit was going on.

ornament

Translations

pardonne-moi – pardon me
capitaine – captain
âme perdue – lost soul
petit aigle – little eagle
aller – go

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