After the big Dragon Age tease news, it dawned on me I still have another Dragon Age book I can discuss! I know you all are super stoked for this momentous occasion. And you should be, because this week’s little look at lore will look at Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, which details all that went down between Celene, Gaspard, Briala, and Ser Michel before the events of Dragon Age: Inquisition.
When the Inquisitor visits the Winter Palace in Orlais, the ballroom air is thick with The Game. The reason why everyone wears masks in the Empire is because it helps literally mask their expressions while playing The Game. Making sure no one knows what you’re really thinking and feeling is all part of The Game. On this particular night, the stakes of The Game are rather high. There is a chance Empress Celene will be killed, an usurper will take the throne, and/or the elves of the city will start a revolution. It’s up to the Inquisitor to decide who lives, who dies, who takes the throne, who goes to prison, and to possibly learn who is truly pulling the strings this night.
If the Inquisitor actually does some proper investigating, he or she will discover that the rumors of Celene having an affair with the elf Briala are true, and yet Briala is conspiring against her. There’s definitely a story there, is there not? Not to mention, a little later in the game, the Inquisitor will meet a disgraced chevalier named Ser Michel, who is determined to send a demon back to the Fade after accidentally bringing him here in the first place. How he’s responsible for this demon sounds hardly interesting, and believe me, the real story behind it isn’t as interesting as it sounds. But he was the champion of Celene herself! What could have happened there?
Well, I’ll tell you. *cue the music*
A Champion, an Empress, an Usurper, and an Elf All Walk Into the Masked Empire
Briala has been Celene’s elf servant for many, many years. Celene sent her away once, to protect her from The Game and a coming onslaught that killed Briala’s parents. But Celene and Briala still worked together in secret, both with The Game and as lovers. Obviously, with the state of elves in Orlais, it could never come to light that they were romantically involved. Such a story would be as scandalous as a lady of an estate sleeping with the gardener.
However, since Celene promised Briala she would one day free the elves of Orlais, Briala continued to do Celene’s bidding in secret. Briala was mainly her spymaster, using the city elves as her eyes and ears. Spies in plain sight, as it were. No one thinks to mind what they say around the elves, after all.
Along with Celene’s chevalier champion, Ser Michel, Briala ensured Celene kept the throne while Gaspard schemed. And he was a rather good schemer. He even managed to get Celene, Briala, and Michel on the run during one of his attempted coups. This is where Patrick Weekes’ novel takes us.
(Wo)Man on the Run
Oh, Celene is in quite the pickle now. She isn’t exactly the “roughing it” type, even with Michel and Briala’s assistance. They all do their best to stay hidden and ten steps ahead of Gaspard as he tracks her down. She knows she has to head to Val Royeux if she has any chance in stopping him, but doing so isn’t quite so easy.
You really should read the book to experience all of the shenanigans these three get into, including how and why Michel freed a demon. It’s really one of the first times Celene is in a different part of The Game, not to mention rather out of her element. Plus, you can’t but help feel all of this sympathy for poor Celene, the victim of this awful Game who can’t even be with the one she loves. However, Celene is really the best player of The Game, and may be one of the best in Orlais’ history.
Hate The Game, Not the Player
Near the end of the novel, (Don’t worry, I’m not going to give it all away!) Gaspard and Michel duel to the death. Gaspard scoffs at the young chevalier, but it doesn’t take long before Michel wounds him and Gaspard yields. Just as Celene orders him to kill Gaspard, Briala calls in a solid from Michel. Earlier in the book, she learned that Michel is no noble, but the bastard child of an elven housemaid. Briala swore that she wouldn’t tell a soul of Michel’s lineage if she could call in one favor. She picks this most convenient time to cash in her chips.
It’s amazing how much you can get to know people, including your lover, when you’re isolated with them and on the run from a would-be murderer. Over the course of their journey, Briala started to piece things together about Celene’s time with The Game. She realized after talking to Celene and then Gaspard, that it was actually Celene who allowed her parents to be murdered for The Game. Celene confirmed her suspicions, Briala realized she was always Celene’s tool, and the fecal matter hit the rotary device.
Celene ordered Michel to kill Gaspard anyway, but Michel refused. He made a promise to Briala, and he was going to honor it until the end. Gaspard was so moved by Michel’s steadfastness to his honor that he promised to not tell the chevalier Academie about Michel’s lineage, which would expel him as a chevalier.
So at the end, we have a war going on, a former champion, a breakup, and a former servant with the most powerful weapons and spies at her disposal: the city elves of Orlais.
And now, if you go back and replay the “Wicked Eyes, Wicked Hearts” mission, you may make entirely different choices. Because now, you know the rest of the story.