A/N ~ Yes, I realize what I'm doing is far from canon. Alas...I do not care. These two characters fascinate the hell out of me, so much they're alleviating my writer's block. A win is a win.
Val Royeaux, Orlais - 25 Years Later
It was raining in Val Royeaux. Of course, it was always raining these days, even when it wasn't.
It alternately drizzled and poured cold, fat drops from the gray skies. Vivienne de Fer, as she was now known, didn't care if she soaked. The closest she came to her lover these days was the late Duke's tombstone. The cold, unyielding stone beneath her fingers, the impassively elegant lettering etched across it, and the soft earth beneath her shoes were her only solace these days.
She hadn't meant to love him; Bastien was always intended to be just a stepping stone into Orlesian high society. But he had loved her, openly and unapologetically, and in time he'd won her affection.
Now he was gone.
Clad in black and gray, Vivienne wept shamelessly for days after his passing. The loss of him was such a shock, even though he was obviously much older than she, and his health had been failing in the late years. After the tears dried, the panic set in. She was not his wife, not even after all this time. She couldn't be. Despite all her accomplishments, she was still a commoner and a mage.
Then the will was read, and the late Duke decreed she could not only remain at his family estate until her death, but that she was also to receive a large stipend as well. Even in death, he loved and protected her, bringing her to a new bout of tears.
Days turned to weeks, and the tears dried, leaving behind a dry bitterness. She could not marry, at least not anyone of high birth. Though still a great beauty, she was long past her child-bearing years. It was as though Bastien's death had burst the bubbling she'd been living in all this time, leaving behind a very sobering reality.
I've gone as high as I can go.
She would never be a Duchess or any sort of official noblewoman. If she took another lover, Bastien's son Laurent would be pressured to kick her out of the family estate and terminate her stipend.
She was still First Enchanter to the Empress, a hard-fought position that earned her many enemies. Even so, the salary was nowhere near what she needed to maintain her lifestyle, and the position itself had no upward mobility.
Vivienne winced at the harsh truth of her own thoughts. She wasn't panicking yet, for as long as she remained as she was, she would be fine.
But Vivienne had never been happy with just being "fine".
"This Madame de Fer has quite the fine home," Vellena Awbrey noted, walking the marble floors of the foyer. Orlesian estates were so grand, with endless gold and marble and so many fountains, inside as well as out. It was opulence bordering on obscenity.
"This is the Ghislain Estate," Lady Josephine Montilyet explained. "Madame de Fer was mistress to the late Duke."
Vellena turned to her guide, eyes wide. She was a short, curvy young woman with dark brown skin and long black hair she wore in elaborate locs. She wore a proper velvet dress and cloak in the Fereldan fashion, with furs upon her shoulders. Back in Redcliffe, she was the pinnacle of fashion and refinement. But here....
"This 'estate' is large enough to host my whole village," the young woman scowled.
"Careful now," Josephine murmured lowly. She was a tall Antivan, black-haired, copper-skinned, with a thick rolling accent. "You are among Orlesians. You cannot show weakness of any kind."
Vellena scoffed, "I'm well aware of how to navigate nobility."
"Not like these," Josephine assured her. Her tone was light, and her lips smiling slightly, but her dark eyes betrayed the gravity of the situation.
Vellena let out a soft snort. "Ah, yes...the famed acerbity of the Orlesians." Her scowl deepened as her tone became even more sullen. "I assure you there are fates far worse than ridicule, Lady Montilyet."
"Then you haven't been ridiculed by the Orlesians," a new voice entered the conversation. Vellena turned to see a tall, slim woman in a flowing gown of black and gray coming down the grand marble staircase. She wore a mask of polished silver and her footsteps echoed in the great hall.
"When Bastien and I began our relationship," she continued, "these Orlesian sent bards to make an example of me."
"Half of which you sent back frozen solid," Vellena finished the story, as though in a dream. She seemed mesmerized by the First Enchanter.
Vivienne raised an eyebrow, her lips curving into a smirk. "I see you've the stories, Miss...?"
"Vellena Awbrey of Redcliffe," Josephine helpfully introduced.
"Vellena Awbrey," Vivienne repeated slowly, looking the younger woman over. "Fine dress you've got there, Miss Awbrey."
"By Fereldan standards, of course," Vellena quipped, tilting her head slightly. "Which I'm just now noticing you are as well."
"Indeed," Vivienne nodded. "Josephine tells me your parents want to introduce you to society?"
"My parents have many children," Vellena snorted. "My eldest brother is their pride, my eldest sister their joy. Or, at least, she was their joy...until she had the good grace to die in childbirth, at which time my mother suddenly remembered I existed."
Vivienne knew better than to offer condolences to this girl. "I take it your sister's child did not survive?"
"Correct," Vellena blinked. "And now my mother is working through her grief by trying to force me into marriage. My sister charmed an Orlesian baron, so naturally my mother is hoping I can nab myself a count." She bit out that last word like it was poison.
"A count?" Vivienne's eyes widened. "Your mother is quite ambitious."
"Delusional, actually," came yet another quip. "I know I'm not what Orlesian lords are looking for."
"I keep trying to explain to Miss Awbrey that Orlesian lords are the same as all the others," Josephine finally interjected. "They want a proper girl, well-bred with a dowry."
"Don't forget good hips for breeding," Vivienne added, coming to stand before the younger woman and look her over once more. "And as fate would have it, Miss Awbrey, you are and have all those things."
Vellena was impatient. "I'm sure there are a lot of Orlesian girls who also have those things."
Vivienne was amused, "Have you met many Orlesian noble girls? They are infamous for being annoying. I take it your family sent you to stay with Josephine in order to raise your social standing?"
"Yes, Madame. My family has some connections in Orlais, but they're mostly among the Chantry. They're trying to branch out, which I understand; my father's a businessman above all. But what I don't understand," Vellena raised an eyebrow, "is why the First Enchanter to the Empress herself would have any interest in a nobody like me."
Both Vivienne and Josephine chuckled. "We three are all foreigners here in Orlais, where favor is as fleeting as the wind. We have to stick together, Miss Awbrey. Josephine and I can teach you all about the culture and help you make the appropriate connections, so that when you marry and marry well, you can show us both your...gratitude."
The younger woman's head slowly rose in fell, but Vivienne wasn't sure if it was in understanding or disgust. Either way, she remembered that feeling.
"Well, I suppose I should just grin and bear it," Vellena finally resolved herself. "After all, there are worse places to weather this latest crisis."
Now Vivienne was the one caught off guard. Her head tilted slightly, subconsciously, as though she'd misheard.