As Cullen approached the first house of his assigned route, he nervously adjusted his tie. He wasn’t very good with people, but he knew he needed to do this. If he could help save even one soul from being condemned to the Void, it would be worth it.
The house he was approaching looked like a combination of modest and stately at the same time. It was tastefully painted in taupe with black trim. Not a color combination that he would have chosen, but it worked remarkably well. The yard was xeriscaped with a beautiful array of flowering bushes and shrubs nestled between elegantly laid out rock formations. Whoever lived here clearly had a very aesthetic sense of style.
Cullen shook his head and focused himself back on his mission, gripping his copy of the Chant of Light more tightly before he walked determinedly up the steps and rang the doorbell.
After a moment, Cullen heard a distant clatter and some shouted curses in what sounded like Tevene. Andraste preserve me. This probably would end with the door slammed in his face. Not a very auspicious start. His Elder counseled him on the fact that there may be many doors shut in his face, but if he remained persistent, some doors may be opened and welcome him.
Just then Cullen was brought out of his reverie as the door before him was forcefully yanked open and there stood a man with a ridiculous mustache, wearing nothing but a pair of black boxer briefs and a rather sheer looking silk robe, that hung open, revealing almost all of his beautiful caramel skin and fit, toned form.
“Vishante Kaffas!” the man growled. “What do you want?”
Cullen steeled himself. “May I speak to you about our Savior, Andraste?”
At first, it looked like the man was about to do what Cullen feared, slam the door in his face. Instead, the man hesitated, scrutinizing him from head to toe. Then suddenly the man’s demeanor changed and a smile crept along his face. Maker, the man had a beautiful smile.
No, no, not beautiful. Pleasant. It was a pleasant smile. Stop having such impure thoughts!
“Why not? Come on in,” the man stepped back and allowed Cullen entrance. “Would you like a cup of coffee? The living room is through there.”
“Oh, um,” Cullen stammered. “Yes, please. If you have cream and sugar?”
“I won’t be but a moment,” the man called over his shoulder. “Make yourself comfortable!”
Cullen’s heart hammered in his chest. He’d been invited in, the first house he visited! He couldn’t believe his luck. By the looks of the man who had invited him in, he looked like his soul might be in need of saving. Especially if he had still been asleep as late as eight o’clock in the morning.
Cullen looked around the tastefully appointed living room and settled himself on the edge of the couch, clutching the Chant of Light in his lap. He kept going over the various lessons his Elder had taught regarding what to do and say once an invitation was extended.
Several agonizing minutes later and the man appeared, carrying a tray with two steaming mugs of coffee, a sugar bowl, and creamer, which he set down on the coffee table before practically flouncing himself next to Cullen. A bit too close next to him.
“So,” the man said as he picked up his cup and began to sip his coffee. “You wanted to discuss something related to Andraste with me?”
Cullen shifted, laying the Chant of Light down on the couch between himself and the man, almost like a barrier to keep the sinful looking man at a distance. He reached out and prepared his coffee as he collected his thoughts.
“Yes, I wanted to see if you would care to study the Chant of Light with me,” Cullen replied as he straightened up with the mug of coffee. “The Chant of Light has many teachings that you may find in your own life.”
The man chuckled and then smirked at him. “So, what exactly can your Chant of Light teach me?”
“Well, um,” Cullen began nervously. “Andraste begged the Maker to forgive us of our sins. If we all follow her teachings, one day the Maker will return to us.
As is said in Andraste 1:14:
Long was his silence, 'fore it was broken.
"For you, song-weaver, once more I will try.
To My children venture, carrying wisdom,
If they but listen, I shall return."
“Now how will that help me, my dear man?” the man asked with faux innocence as he stared at him over the rim of his coffee mug.
“Oh,” Cullen continued. “If you listen and follow Andraste’s teachings, we’ll all be one step closer to the return of the Maker, where he will accept us back at his side within his Golden City. Wouldn’t that be glorious?”
“So, you’re saying if I don’t repent my sinful ways, and follow Andraste’s teachings,” the man said. “Then I’m dooming us all to the Void?”
Cullen nodded. “Yes, until the Maker returns and restores the Golden City, we are all condemned to the Void.”
“Oh my, that would be very wicked of me then,” the man’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “If I chose not to.”
Cullen felt a trickle of sweat run down the back of his neck. Maker, why did this man make him so nervous? Cullen felt his hands tremble slightly as he carefully set aside his mug of coffee and proceeded to pick up the Chant of Light.
“Well if we look at this other verse…” Cullen began as he noticed the man also set down his mug and slowly slid closer, crowding Cullen into the corner of the couch.
The man reached out and pulled the Chant of Light gently from his grip and tossed onto the coffee table as well.
“Now, what if I told you,” the man began, sitting so close now that Cullen could feel the heat radiating from his barely covered skin. “That it isn’t your interpretation of Andraste’s words, that are incorrect, but what it is you constitute as sin. That perhaps most of us are already following Andraste’s teachings. What would you say to that? Hmm?”
Cullen shut his eyes and began reciting another passage. “Blessed are they who stand before the corrupt and the wicked and do not falter.”
“So, I’m corrupt and wicked, am I?” the man chuckled again. “Are you sure you will not falter?”
Cullen felt the warmth of a gentle hand upon his thigh as he kept his eyes shut. He let out a whimper as he felt this wicked man move ever closer.
“Are you sure you aren’t just as corrupt and wicked as I?” the man whispered against his lips just before pressing his gently against Cullen’s own.
Cullen fell apart then. He opened his mouth to let a moan escape and this strange, wicked man took the opportunity to deepen the kiss. For a moment, Cullen’s brain seemed to short-circuit as he allowed the kiss, savoring the warm feel of another man’s tongue against his own. His heart raced and his fear spiked as he quickly came back to himself and pushed the man away from him forcefully.
Cullen immediately stood, in order to get more distance between himself and this…this…utterly gorgeous and amazing kisser. Wait, no. That’s wrong. This wicked and corrupt sinner. That’s it. Right?
“Do not attempt to corrupt me further, sinner!” Cullen cried out, backing away further. “I…I can see you do not wish to be redeemed. I will show myself out.”
“I don’t think your body agrees with you,” the man practically purred, as he directed his gaze directly at Cullen’s crotch. Maker, he was aroused.
The man stood up then and stalked towards Cullen as if he were stalking prey.
“You know, we haven’t even had proper introductions,” my name is Dorian. Dorian Pavus.
No. Not Dorian Pavus? The Doctor Dorian Pavus? Maker’s breath. “Wait, are you…the Dorian Pavus?” Cullen asked. “The historian and…and…expert on the Chant of Light?”
“Foremost expert,” Dorian corrected him, moving ever closer. “And you are?”
“Um…I’m nobody,” Cullen replied nervously, running a hand behind his neck as Dorian kept inching closer. “I’m just Cullen. Cullen Rutherford.”
“But you’re familiar with my work?” Dorian inquired as he backed Cullen against a wall.
“Um, yeah, I’ve read your books,” Cullen admitted. “I’m…a fan…actually. I’ve been looking forward to reading your newest book when it comes out next month.”
“A fan, hmm?” Dorian smiled as Cullen felt him reach out and caress his erection through his khaki slacks. “Yes, you do seem to be rather fond of me.”
Cullen groaned. The heat from Dorian’s touch was making him even harder. “Maker, no,” Cullen shook his head. “Please. I…can’t. It’s a sin. Two men…I’ll be reproved, or worse. Please.”
Dorian’s predatory gaze softened then and he let go of Cullen, walking back to the couch and sitting down. “You say you are a fan of my work? Then will you come here and talk to me? Please? I promise I won’t molest you again unless you ask me to.”
Cullen felt the nervous tension drain away and he relaxed. After taking a couple of deep breaths and readjusting himself he slowly made his way back to the couch.
“Now, how about we begin again, shall we?” Dorian suggested holding out his hand. “I’m Dorian Pavus. I’m pleased to meet you.”
Cullen reached out and accepted the handshake. “Cullen Rutherford.”
“So, tell me, how did you come to join Andraste’s Witnesses?” Dorian queried as he picked up his formerly abandoned mug of coffee.
Cullen reached for his own cup and sat back a little, taking some sips of his coffee as he considered how to reply. He wasn’t sure he wanted to tell his idol the disturbing details of his past.
“It’s a long story,” Cullen explained. “Let’s just say they found me at a low point in my life and helped me get back on my feet.”
“I see,” Dorian said conversationally. “So how many verses do you know by heart?”
“All of them.”
“All of them?” Dorian asked, incredulous. Dorian began citing several of the more obscure chapters and verses and Cullen recited each and every one flawlessly. Dorian seemed clearly impressed.
“I have an eidetic memory,” Cullen shrugged. “I remember every word I’ve ever read. Including from every one of your books.”
“Ah yes, that would explain it,” Dorian nodded in understanding. “So, tell me, if you know every chapter and verse, where in the Chant of Light does it state that it is wrong for two men to be intimate with one another?”
“Well, no, it doesn’t. Not as such,” Cullen began. “But the Chantry teaches…”
“What the Chantry teaches is their singular interpretation of the Chant of Light,” Dorian growled. “Or more precisely the interpretation that best fits with their rhetoric.”
“I’d get excommunicated if the Elder found out I even engaged in such thoughts,” Cullen apologized. “I’m sorry. I should probably go.”
“Wait a moment,” Dorian said as he stood and strode from the room. Cullen finished his coffee and stood to leave as Dorian came back and handed him a book. “This is an advanced copy of my latest work. I autographed it for you.”
“Oh, my,” Cullen smiled. “Thank you so much. It has been…very interesting meeting you.”
“Likewise,” Dorian smiled.
As Cullen walked away from the house he was confused by the mix of emotions that flooded through him. Instead of continuing to canvas the rest of the neighborhood, he chose to go just go back home.
Cullen had a new book to read and a lot to think about.