Read "Dragon Age: The Masked Empire" by Patrick Weekes available from Rakuten Kobo. Sign up today and get $5 off your first purchase. Empress Celene of. Now, the empire she has guided into an age of enlightenment is threatened or starve in the slums decide the fate of the masked empire. A Dragon Age Collection: (The Stolen Throne, The Calling, Asunder, The Masked Empire, Last Flight) (Dragon Age series) by David Gaider. Read online.
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Editorial Reviews. About the Author. Patrick Weekes was born in the San Francisco Bay Area and attended Stanford University, where he received a B.A. and an. You not copy, reproduce, or upload this e-book, other than to read it on one of your personal devices. Empress Celene strode into the University of Orlais’s great Chantry Courtyard surrounded by her entourage of servants and guards and flanked by Ser Michel, her champion. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire - Ebook written by Patrick Weekes. Read this book using Google Play Books app on your PC, android, iOS devices. Download .
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Shelves: fantasy , , dragon-age The Imperial court of Orlais is filled with parties, ornamented masks and the intrigue-filled contest for power known simply as 'the Game'. But behind all this, the threat of full-scale civil war is looming. The mages and the templars are already fighting.
The elven alienages simmer with discontent. And the nobility is rallying behind Gaspard de Chalons, a powerful chevalier critical to the rule of Empress Celene. Dragon Age books have a tendency of starting out incredibly weakly, and this one is The Imperial court of Orlais is filled with parties, ornamented masks and the intrigue-filled contest for power known simply as 'the Game'.
Dragon Age books have a tendency of starting out incredibly weakly, and this one is no exception. For the first half of the book, everything is about the noble gatherings and the playing of the Game in Val Royeaux. Moves are being made and alliances are being forged, but in the end there is very little actual plot development.
However, all that changes when the downtrodden elves of Halamshiral gather in open rebellion against the crown. There are two important protagonists in the book. She was unmasked, as those who served the Chantry most often were, and while she spoke with a native Orlesian accent, her features were Fereldan.
It was a suggestion that few in Orlesian nobility took seriously. I am her voice in this regard. You may call me Nightingale. The Empress of Orlais was rarely asked to address someone by a pseudonym. Still, Justinia would only have sent someone she truly trusted. Without ceremony, Celene sat down on one of the benches, her creamy satin gown bunching awkwardly and amethysts jangling against the wood.
The subtle series of movements was the mark of a trained bard, and Celene filed the observation away for use as needed. Years of training let her see the woman beside her clearly at the edge of her vision.
What does Dorothea intend to do? Nightingale might call the Divine by her given name, might well have known her before she rose to the position. You know that in some Marcher city-states, mages face more restrictions than they do in Orlais. If Dorothea proposes to do nothing to unite the templars and the mages, she is following in the footsteps of Grand Cleric Elthina, who waited and prayed while Kirkwall tore itself apart.
We gain nothing by acting capriciously. After killing the creatures, the Hero of Ferelden was forced to decide on the spot whether to kill every remaining mage in the tower.
A bard named Marjolaine once told me that. I heard she met an unfortunate end in Ferelden. And perhaps you might call me Leliana. I would despise that. Dorothea knows that I would. But I must offer them some alternative. It is a fortunate quality in a ruler, and one I have not seen enough. How large was the Archdemon? She will want your support, to head off accusations that she might be attempting to steal power for herself.
Perhaps if she made a statement at a ball thrown in her honor? It is easy to forget. I shall take the proposal to the Divine. Any longer, and I will have no choice but to act. The nobles will want some sign of resolution before they retire to their winter homes. This time, mindful of her training, she sat without making a sound or wrinkling her gown in the slightest.
Three more weeks of gritting her teeth and dealing with Grand Duke Gaspard, who agitated with the other nobles in an attempt to start a war. Three weeks of trying to ignore the idiotic arguments started by thuggish templars and mages who refused to see the way of the world.
And her reward for perseverance would be Gaspard bellowing that she had let the Chantry have more power, as though power was a sword only one person could hold at a time.
It was not. In careless hands, such power could bring down the greatest empire in Thedas. It was at times like these that she enjoyed the simple pleasure of bending a recalcitrant professor to her will. To servants of other houses, the masks were a way to instantly recognize a potential ally … or a potential enemy.
Where hers was inlaid with moonstone, theirs were simply enameled, or inlaid with ivory for the highest-ranking servants, and the gold and violet were simply painted on. Below the half-masks, the servants of Val Royeaux painted their faces white, a mark of additional status.
To a visitor, looking at a sea of pale faces trimmed with gold and violet, the servants were almost identical. The women wore serving dresses, the men tight breeches, both cut in the latest fashion and dyed in the royal colors. Only the guards and the servants who were never meant to be seen—the cook and her assistants, for example, or the laborers who cleaned the privy—had their faces visible.
But the goal for the half-masks that every servant wore was pageantry, not anonymity. Briala turned. The woman was always angry and snappish at the time, taking out her anxiety on anyone she could.
Today felt different, however.
Her barb had little heat behind it, and all the servants knew that Briala got on well with the girls who dressed Celene for the most formal occasions. She had to, lest they become rivals. The chatelaine could not have failed to notice it unless she had removed her mask and then put it back on quickly. Now, in Val Royeaux, Briala was one of the few elves who had been granted the mask of public service. Run to the kitchen and speak with the cook and her girls.
Off with you, now. As she strode down the great hallway, the floors covered with fine Nevarran carpet and the walls lined with classical paintings and curls of swirling stucco, Briala thought. The chatelaine had served Celene faithfully for more than a decade. She cared deeply about her job, and would never allow herself to be distracted on the day of a ball unless she were somehow compromised.
It could have been nothing more than that, of course, but in Val Royeaux, everything was part of the Game, even the clandestine affairs of the more important servants. An embarrassment to Celene would bring embarrassment to the chatelaine as well, and if, Maker forbid, Celene died or lost power, the chatelaine would doubtless be replaced. If this was something more than an overeager new lover, the chatelaine was a tool, not an active member of whatever plot was unfolding.
The question was whose tool. The heat in the kitchens was stifling, as dishes from all across the known world were prepared. They were not to be seen by the nobles.
She was … very emphatic. In the great hall, the chatelaine had finished with the banners and was now yelling her way through the organization of the tables. The balconies offered a view of the great hall, as well as an escape to fresh air outside, where verandas overlooked a hedge maze dotted with sparkling marble fountains.
It was what a human might use to address gutter trash that was too lazy to work and too stupid to steal. The captain of the palace guard did not wear a mask.
None of the palace guards did. It would be too easy for an assassin to blend in and get close to the empress while armed and armored. His face displayed the long angles that spoke of noble blood, and beneath his surcoat, emblazoned with the golden lion of House Valmont, his ceremonial breastplate gleamed.
More important to Briala, one of the buckles on his breastplate was askew, and he had the welt from a love bite just below one ear. As the captain of the guard, he was important enough that she should, but Briala had enough power to skirt the rules when she truly wanted to—and at the moment she truly did.
She stepped back inside. The captain of the guard was carrying on with the chatelaine, and his attentions had clearly been meant to harass her until she left, to distract her from looking down at the hedge maze below … which was why he had moved to block her view.
Before that, the man had served in the military. All that was left was to find out what. She hurried down a curving staircase whose marble steps were carpeted with red velvet, but a call from behind stopped her before she reached the doorway leading out to the hedge maze. Now, if Rilene can spare you for another moment, may I ask you to find out what the captain of the guards has been doing today? Rilene said that I was at your disposal.
One of their most famous tests, at least among those tests they showed in public, was a series of blades mounted on posts in a great wooden scaffolding. When servants worked at a massive hidden wheel, the blades would spin and slash, attacking anyone who passed with dizzying speed. Brave youths at summer festivals would try to rush through in heavy padded tunics, the blades blunted so that most contestants broke no more than their pride. In real tests, it was said, the blades were sharpened, and the soldier ran the gauntlet unarmored.
That gauntlet was always how Celene imagined the formal banquets. Fortunately, she did not run this gauntlet alone. Her champion, Ser Michel, was a pace behind her, as always, unarmored so as not to cause a disturbance as Celene navigated the crowd, but carrying his blade nevertheless.
His scabbard was ornamented with an inlaid lion of gold with purple sapphires for the eyes and mane, and while his hands were bare of the rings and bracelets other nobles favored—he would allow nothing to impede his ability to handle a blade—he wore atop his mask the tall yellow feather of the chevaliers. Michel usually spoke little at these events, which Celene appreciated. As her champion, he was an extension of her public presence, drawing attention not to himself but to her.
He cared little for the Game, but he had good eyes and followed orders. He had been with her for almost ten years, since her last champion had died stopping an assassin. Yes, Majesty. It will begin with her. Given his apparent loyalty and clumsiness in the Game, Celene kept him at a comfortable and friendly distance without ever completely dashing his hopes.
Tell me, how did you enjoy the duck?
Celene found the husband dangerous and the wife dull, and suspected that Lady Montsimmard did not realize how precarious the situation with the mages had become.
On and on she went through the crowd, trading greetings and kind words laced with poison. Should Orlais push for more advantageous trading terms with Ferelden while the upstart kingdom was still recovering from the Blight? What was to be done to ensure that nothing like Kirkwall could happen here?
Was the university where noble sons came to study truly going to start admitting knife-ears? Then, finally, the pageantry ended with the laughter of Grand Duke Gaspard. It was a deep, booming bellow that had echoed across battlefields.
It silenced the timid and the servants like a death knell, and pulled the other lords and ladies into chuckles with its weight.
The crowd before Celene parted, showing a clear path to the grand duke and the dark-haired bard before him. Melcendre was unmasked, though she wore the heavy makeup commoners donned at noble gatherings, and she had turned away in embarrassment at whatever Gaspard had said. Celene steeled herself without any outward change of expression. She had played the Game for most of her life. No matter how prepared she was, no matter how much she had considered and planned and determined her strategy, there was always one moment of fear.
Then the moment was over, and she was moving toward the bard who had been surreptitiously added to the guest list at the command of a guard captain loyal to Gaspard.
Melcendre was good, Celene noted, but not perfect. The makeup covered the fact that she could not effect the blush that would signal actual embarrassment, but she would have been smarter to add red makeup at the cheeks to give the assembled nobles the impression anyway. Seeing that little imperfection—not even a mistake as such, but a detail that Celene could have done better—somehow made everything seem easier. Melcendre paused, uncomfortable, but Gaspard dipped his head, a bow just barely sufficient to avoid undeniable insult.
Celene kept her smile in place. It was a good first strike. The song had been popular and harmless decades ago, during the Orlesian occupation of Ferelden. It told the story of the unhappy Meghren, sent against his will to Ferelden by Emperor Florian.
In the song, the hapless noble was comically frustrated at every turn by rough Fereldan culture, including a slobbering mabari hound that ate his mask. While never forbidden, the song had lost its popularity after King Maric of Ferelden killed Meghren. Since coming to power, Celene had done her best to strengthen ties between the two countries, and the song mocking the crude Fereldans and their uncultured customs had never come back into fashion.
Until now, it seemed. He was also standing not ten paces from Bann Teagan Guerrin, the Fereldan ambassador. Teagan turned to her, fists clenched at his sides. While not a master of the Game, the Fereldan noble was smart enough to see when he was being set up and to try to get the crowd on his side.
Gaspard took the package and handed it to Teagan with a wide smile. Reluctantly, knowing he was stepping into a trap but unable to find a way to avoid doing so, the ambassador unwrapped the package.
Inside, as Briala had informed Celene earlier in the afternoon, was a sword. It was Fereldan in make, largely functional but with a few hints of ornamentation around the hilt and cross guard to suggest that it was the fighting blade of a noble. It was worse for wear, with nicks along the blade and a few spots of rust. The weapon should never have made it into the hall—guards at the palace entrance checked all packages to prevent an assassin from bringing a weapon inside.
Which was, Celene reflected, why Gaspard had gone to so much trouble to get the package smuggled in and hidden in the hedge maze earlier that day. Moira, I believe. The green velvet bunched around his whiteknuckled fists.
It was a simple play, but an effective one. Bann Teagan would be goaded until he said something in anger. Then Melcendre would gasp in shock, to ensure that even the dimmest nobles understood that they should take offense. Either result would sour relations between Orlais and Ferelden, moving them closer to another foolish war.
War was where Gaspard shone brightest.
Closer to being a bandit or a mercenary captain, really. She thought she could drive us out of Ferelden. It was just enough to drive Teagan over the edge. Celene saw his shoulders tense, saw him open his mouth to say exactly what Gaspard had been waiting for.
She had ruled the greatest empire in the world for twenty years, and she knew how to send her voice slicing through a crowd to drive it to silence. Mouth still half open, the Fereldan noble turned to her. Because she and Gaspard had played the Game for long enough to be old familiar enemies, she gave her cousin a tiny smile before stepping forward. Gaspard closed his eyes and shook his head, already knowing that he had lost, while his bard, Melcendre, looked to him in confusion, clearly uncertain how she was supposed to pull the crowd now.
Celene looked over at Michel and gave a tiny nod, and her champion drew his blade. The yelling of the crowd of nobles went silent at the sight of bared silverite shining blue in the grand ballroom. Do you stand ready to defend the honor of Orlais in a duel between men of noble birth?
Since we are the challenged party, it falls to us to choose the weapons used in this duel. We may not proceed until we do so. I would be loath to stain the still-mending friendship between our two nations with noble blood shed in defense of past slights.
The nobles in the crowd were fickle, bloodthirsty, and vain, but above all, they were hers. As much as they would have enjoyed the scandal of a bloody duel, they admired a good display of wit. As Ser Michel brought his feather up with the crisp precision of a master swordsman, the nobles burst into delighted laughter.
Bann Teagan visibly relaxed, dropping the velvet-wrapped bundle to his side and giving Celene a relieved smile. You may note that my nation prefers fur to feathers. Then he handed the yellow feather, the honored symbol of the legendary Orlesian chevaliers, to the Fereldan dog-lord he had just insulted.
As Ser Michel and Bann Teagan thrust and parried with their feathers to the delighted laughter of the crowd, Celene smiled and called for Melcendre to sing something celebratory. The empress had bathed after the ball—she often did—and changed into a satin nightgown of rich violet.
Briala smiled at her empress, whose long blond hair was still touched with damp, catching the moonlight as it streamed down her back. Here in the Dales, however, there were more elves than humans, and it was the humans who locked themselves away in the High Quarter. Perhaps the elves in the alienages had clean streets all throughout their part of the city, not just on the streets that led from the gates to the High Quarter. But honestly, Lemet doubted it. About the Dales. Nobody was taking her seriously.
That tavern was full of elves. A few flat-ears, but you know what I mean. Nobody in there is going to carry tales back to the nobles about the elves talking about back when they ruled this city. This far past sundown, he had to be working with the thieves. The young fools hear about the glory of the Dales and the damned shems betraying us, and next thing you know, someone decides to do something stupid. Lemet flushed. No merchant would be foolish enough to drive a wagon through these streets after dark, and that meant a human in a coach.
The clatter of hooves and wheels on cobblestones grew louder. It was a dead end, blocked by garbage and an outgrown wall where someone had tried to expand their shop. Lemet dropped prone, ignoring what he hoped was just mud soaking through his tunic. The driver was a big man with knife sheaths sewn into his leather vests, and armored guards clung to the sides of the coach.
The horses were identical, with perfect golden coats and white manes. Then the coach was past them, its loud clattering the only sound in the street, and Lemet let out a silent sigh of relief. A rock sailed out of the darkness and clanged off the shoulder of one of the guards. Thren, who had started to get up, dropped back down as the guard swore and rapped sharply on the side of the coach.
Lemet squinted. The rock had come from the alley across the street. After a moment, he picked out the elven boy standing in the shadows with another rock raised. Not working with the thieves by choice, then, Lemet noted, even as he stood. When you had no family to look after you, the thieves might be the only thing between you and a slow death come winter. The horses shrieked as the coach came to a stop. Lemet caught his wrist. The boy slipped in the mud and landed with a splash.
His big eyes widened with fear, and Lemet moved to come in after him. If they ran … A crushing force slammed Lemet against the wall, and he fell hard.