He lifted the tankard of ale to his lips… his fourth, or was it his fifth? What was the point in keeping count? No amount of alcohol would wash away the foulness that had permeated his every waking thought for the last ten days. For some, what he had been asked to do… no, told to do, would be a simple task. And yet, he couldn’t bring himself to accept the fate that lay before him in two short days. The unfairness of it all was beyond words.
Cullen Rutherford took another long swig of his ale as he rested his cheek against his palm, his arm propped atop the slightly splintered wooden bar. The keeper offered him a small smile, most likely keen to Cullen’s internal struggles. After all, isn’t that what bar keeps did… they listened, observed, gave advice. At this point, no amount of advice or words of wisdom could help him out of the situation he had inadvertently stumbled into. If he had arrived merely a few moments later or not at all, he wouldn’t be in this mess. But leave it to Cullen to be as prompt as always… his need to be timely a curse above all other curses.
He felt the steady hand on his back and turned his head slightly as his dear friend sat next to him. Her brown eyes searched his face before her mouth drew up in a slight snarl. “You’re drunk,” she remarked, looking down her long angular nose at him.
“And you,” Cullen slurred as he pointed one long finger at her, “are very perceptive.”
“This will not help.”
“Well what would you have me do, Cassandra? I didn’t ask for this… any of this.”
Cassandra Pentaghast offered him a consoling smile. “No. I suppose you did not.”
He dragged his hand through the waves of his short blond hair. “What was Emperor Gaspard thinking?”
“He was thinking,” Cassandra said calmly as she reached for the ale the keeper had brought her and took a deep gulp, “that in order to keep the trade routes open with the Free Marches and to maintain the peace treaty with Ostwick, he needed to ally with Bann Trevelyan. This was the only way to do so.”
“But why me?”
“You should feel honored that he chose you. It speaks highly of his faith in your abilities to make this work.”
“But married! To a woman I’ve never even met! The thought is absolutely absurd.”
“No! I will not hear it.” He covered his face with his hands and groaned. “Have you met me, Cassandra?” Cullen asked in a pained voice. “I am not fit to be successor of anything, much less someone’s husband.”
Her hand found its way to his shoulder again, not nearly as consoling as he knew she was trying to be. “I realize that is not what you had planned for yourself…”
“I had planned on serving the military until I was old enough to retire. Not be someone’s husband… the father of their children… Maker’s Breath… I’m going to be someone’s father,” he nearly hyperventilated.
“Slow down, my friend. There’s plenty of time for that. Let’s concentrate on one life changing event at a time.”
He reached for his ale and tipped the mug back, draining the contents in one big gulp. Cullen’s head was swimming, his body vibrating from the buzz of alcohol coursing through him. But it wasn’t nearly enough. He needed to be good and drunk. Lifting one finger in the air, he made eye contact with the bar keep and nodded appreciatively when his next tankard of liquid I don’t give a fuck landed before him. Without hesitation, Cullen lifted the ale to his lips and took another long pull of number… what number was he on?
“For pity’s sake,” Cassandra huffed. “There’s no talking to you right now. But whatever you do, please make sure that you are presentable tomorrow when we meet the Trevelyans.”
He turned abruptly to face her. “What? They are here?”
“Of course they are here. Wasn’t that your request… to be married in Orlais so that your family and friends could be present before you made the trip to the Free Marches to take up your new residence with your new wife?”
“It’s just… this is all happening so fast. Too fast.” He downed another long gulp of his ale.
“Yes. Drink more. That will help,” Cassandra quipped, her voice oozing with sarcasm.
Cullen narrowed his eyes at his long time friend. “Do not judge me, Cassandra. This may very well be my last night as a free man and I will drink as little or as much as I damned well please.”
Cassandra lifted her hands in the air before her in surrender. “Ugh! I will see you tomorrow.” Without another word, she slid off of the bar stool and walked away, shaking her head, spiky black hair moving slightly with the gesture.
Cullen gave his full attention back to his new best friend… his tankard of ale. His attention was so drawn into the amber liquid that he barely noticed when a new body took residence in the seat Cassandra had vacated. The alcohol was starting to catch up with him and he felt it… nice and fucking drunk. He was getting close to numb, which was the exact feeling he had been striving for.
“Well, you look bloody hammered,” the feminine voice nearly sang from the seat next to him. “Bar keep, I’ll have whatever he is having…” a slight pause and then a soft chuckle… “Make it two. It seems I have some catching up to do.”
Cullen’s head bobbed as he turned his attention to the blurry image sitting next to him. She might have been pretty, all three of her. “Who are you,” he slurred.
“Just someone who is having a pretty shitty day… much like yourself, apparently.”
Her accent… he couldn’t quite place her accent. It wasn’t Orlesian and definitely not Fereldan. Perhaps she was Antivan or Tevinter? Whatever the case, she had a pretty voice. “Sweetheart, I’ve had a shitty week.”
“Well then, what better way to drown our problems than with a nice tankard of ale. Or in your case, a few.” She tipped back the mug, draining the contents in one go, before slamming it down on the bar and dragging the back of her hand across her mouth. She turned to face him, a seductive grin in place. “I can think of another way to forget our problems. That is, if you are game?”
“What exactly did you have in mind?” Cullen asked, his eyes falling to those lush lips of hers as her tongue darted out to moisten them.
“I have a room upstairs. If you’d like to join me, I’m sure we could think of something.”
Typically Cullen would never get this drunk, nor would he accompany a woman he didn’t even know to her room and do… basically what he was thinking they were going to do once they got there because typically Cullen had a hard time talking to women without muttering and stammering like a teenage Chantry boy. But seeing that there was nothing typical about Cullen’s life these days, what harm could there be? Tomorrow, he would be meeting his future wife for the first time ever. The day after that, he would be getting married, something he never thought he would be doing, and then the day after that, he would be getting on a boat… and Cullen hated boats… and crossing the Waking Sea into the Free Marches where he would be calling home for the rest of his years. Every decision from now until eternity had been strategically planned out for him, all so that Emperor Gaspard could secure his relationship with the Free Marches. And Andraste’s tits, if Cullen wasn’t going to do this one thing for himself. What was the worst thing that could happen? It’s not like he’d ever see this woman again.
“I’m quite sure we could think of something,” Cullen offered as he stood up from his seat, wobbled a little less than he was expecting, and held out a chivalrous hand to the seductive brunette. “Shall we?”
They barely got the door shut behind them before his mouth was on hers, his hands working at the button of his trousers. His erection immediately sprang from the confines of his breeches and Cullen reached for her waist, dragging her to him. He hiked her dress up to her thighs and reached beneath the skirt to tug her smalls down her legs only to find she was wearing none at all. The thought caused his cock to throb from wanton desire. He cupped her bare ass cheeks in his large hands, her long legs wrapping around his waist, and he roughly threw her back against the door. He heard her gasp and thought about muttering a quick apology. However, her mouth was devouring his so fervently that he doubted he could have pulled away to even catch a breath.
Quickly and before he sobered up and realized what he was doing, Cullen held onto her with one hand while his other palmed his rock hard erection, lining up the tip of his cock against her soft wet folds. He brushed against her once, twice, three times and then with one quick pump of his hips, Cullen thrust inside of her, feeling a significant amount of resistance that should not have been.
He paused, buried deep inside of her, and pulled his mouth away from hers. His eyes met hers for the first time since she had sat down next to him… bewitching hazel green eyes with flecks of gold. “You are…”
The woman smiled timidly. “Not anymore.”
He rested his head against her shoulder, concentrating on his breathing. As if he didn’t already know he was going to regret this little tryst tomorrow, when he was not riddled with alcohol and bad decision making skills. But the thought that he had just taken her maidenhood caused two very strong reactions in him. The sane, level-headed Cullen felt horrible for taking something so special from her against the fucking door. Yet, the drunken and ridiculously wanton side of him was incredibly intoxicated at the idea that he had discovered uncharted territory… been where no other man had been before.
And the completely curious part of him had to ask, “Why me?”
“Because you were there,” she replied haughtily as she dug her nails into the skin of his neck. “Now, we can talk about it or you can continue to fuck me. I prefer you fuck me, but the choice is completely yours.”
“As you wish,” he chuckled and held onto her as he maneuvered their intertwined bodies to the bed. With his cock still inside of her, Cullen lowered her to the mattress carefully, stretching his body over hers. Ever so gently he thrust inside of her. Her low moan whispered across his skin as she lifted her hips to meet his. He found himself quite shocked at how her body responded to his as he picked up the pace and rocked into her, quicker and quicker until he was furiously sliding in and out of her moist heat. For someone who had never had the pleasure of a man before, she seemed to certainly be enjoying him.
Cullen stood up and dragged her bottom half to the edge of the bed. He lifted her legs so that they wrapped around his waist, placed his hands on her hips and slammed into her, the new position allowing him to bury himself deep inside of her. She cried out as he thrust harder and harder until… Cullen’s release came with a low and guttural groan, his cock slamming into her one final time as he held her in place, spilling his seed inside of her.
He dropped her legs from his hips and maintained his position, his manhood still pressed deep inside of her. Cullen’s breath came rapidly as he stared down at her face. Slightly more sober, he studied the details of her features as she lay before him, her chest rising and falling as she struggled to get her own breathing under control, her eyes closed and her lips drawn in a satisfied grin. There was only one of her now, so that was good.
She was quite pretty, from what he could tell. However, his vision was still fairly impaired from all that he had imbibed this evening. For a moment, he almost asked her for a name, but figured what would be the point. Tomorrow, he would be meeting his betrothed, and the day after that he would be getting married, and then the day after that he would be catching a boat to his now carefully planned life on the other side of The Waking Sea.
Cullen shook his head and chuckled. The lady laid out before him cocked an eyebrow and opened one eye to peer up at him. “What?”
“It’s just… I’ve never done anything like this before.”
“Nor have I,” she replied with her own sardonic laugh.
“Obviously,” Cullen remarked as he finally pulled himself out of her, yanking his breeches up and over his hips before reaching forward and tugging her skirts down over her.
She sat up, tossing her long chestnut-colored hair over her shoulder. “Thank you.”
“Now may I ask, why?”
She swallowed her smile and offered him a pensive look. “My entire life has been planned out for me from the time I was a little girl. And just this once, I wanted to take control of something.”
“I just wish I would have known. I could have made it more… I don’t know… special.”
To this she laughed as she reached up and cradled his stubbled jaw in the palm of her hand. “That’s very sweet of you. But I promise, I wasn’t looking for special. I was simply looking for it to be on my terms. And it was. So again, thank you.” She dropped her hand to her side and offered him one more quick smile before heading to the door.
Cullen abruptly turned to face her, the woman’s back to him. He opened his mouth to speak, to say something, anything. But what was there to say? He would never see this woman again. They had given each other what they needed this night and Cullen was grateful. So he said nothing as she turned the handle and exited out of the open door before shutting it quietly behind her.
Cullen woke up smacking his mouth, his tongue darting over his dry lips. He felt like he had eaten cotton last night, not that he knew what cotton tasted like exactly. But he ventured the flavor in his mouth… that was what it tasted like. He rolled over from his side to his back, throwing his arm across his forehead. His temples throbbed and in his ears he could hear a wanh, wanh, wanh sound vibrating inside of his head. His stomach pitched as a small wave of nausea washed over him. So this was a hangover… a vile experience he hoped to never succumb to again.
The room was bathed in shadows, a small shard of light escaping through the drawn draperies. And even the darkness was too bright for his overly sensitive eyes. This morning was turning out to be no better than the one before, or the one before that, or the eight more before that. And since the day before him would consist of meeting not only his betrothed but the Bann and his wife, Cullen was sincerely wishing he would have abstained from his extra-curricular activities the night before. Yet a slow grin covered his face… because he wished he had abstained from all but one. He would take the suffering the day had planned for him if only for those few moments he had shared with the woman with the long brown hair and the enchanting hazel green eyes. She had been the highlight of his year.
He heard the door to his room creak open and groaned aloud as the boisterous voice filled the silence.
“Good morning sunshine! Time to get out bed. We have so much to do today and so little time to do it,” the melodic male voice sang in his undeniable Tevinter accent.
Dorian of House Pavus strolled merrily… because according to Dorian there was no other way to stroll if it wasn’t merrily… over to the windows and threw the curtains open, allowing the bright light of the world outside to encroach on Cullen’s appreciated darkness.
He grunted painfully as he reached for the extra pillow on the bed next to him and shoved it over his face. Cullen felt the covers being pulled away from him and with one hand pressed against the pillow, he reached his other down to try to draw the blankets back over his half-clothed body. It appeared he had at least shrugged out of his boots and shirt before crashing down on the bed in his drunken stupor.
“Oh by the way, Cassandra told me to give you this.”
Cullen reluctantly pulled the pillow from his face and grimaced at Dorian’s smiling face before his eyes darted down to the small vial he held out to him.
“What is that for?”
Dorian’s handsome face contorted, his nose scrunching offensively. “My goodness, you smell like a tavern. What did you do last night?”
Cullen threw the pillow back to the bed and struggled to sit up, dangling his legs off the side of the mattress. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Dorian took a seat on the mattress next to Cullen and quirked one perfectly manicured eyebrow as he placed the vial in Cullen's hand. “Try me?” he pressed, a deviantly tempting smile visible beneath his ridiculous mustache.
“Well obviously I drank a little too much ale,” Cullen began, his voice rough with sleep.
“Is that all? The putrid smell wafting from you gave that away the moment you opened your mouth to speak.”
“And I had sex,” he muttered as he thumbed the cork off of the vial and lifted it to his lips, tipping it back and emptying the contents. He downed it in one gulp before visibly shuddering, eyeing the vial as if it were venomous. “Ach! That’s horrible. What is this?”
“I’m not sure. Cassandra assured me that it would take care of whatever this…” he waved his hand at Cullen, making a displeased expression as his blue eyes evaluated him from head to toe… “is.” Dorian lifted a hand to his infamous mustache and started smoothing the left side with his long fingers. “So you had sex? With a woman?”
“Yes with a woman,” Cullen quipped irritably.
“You can never tell these days,” Dorian chuckled.
Cullen tossed an unamused frown in the Tevinter’s direction. “I never even asked her for her name. It was just a woman I met in the tavern… I’ve never done anything like that before.”
“Did you at least enjoy it?”
“Don’t be absurd, Dorian. Of course I enjoyed it.”
Dorian stopped playing with his mustache and put both hands up in the air in surrender. “Pardon me. But it appears all of you Chantry boys tend to be… virginal… if you will.”
“I’ve had women before,” Cullen clarified… just not many, he chose to eliminate from the current conversation. The problem with being unable to talk to women without making a total fool out of himself made it very difficult to be intimate with females. The few he had been with mostly did so out of pity… or to get him to shut up… or perhaps both.
Dorian placed a consoling hand on Cullen’s knee and smiled at him. “I suppose you are beating yourself up over what happened, are you not?”
“No,” Cullen said defensively.
Dorian lifted one brow and with a derisive snort said, “Right, because in one night you became that man who can have an insignificant tryst with a woman and not over-think it the next day.”
“It does not matter. She did not ask me my name, nor did I ask her for hers. We will never see each other again. It was just… nice.”
“To do something like that without over-thinking it… It was nice.”
Dorian dramatically lifted a hand to Cullen’s forehead and smirked. “You do not seem to be running a fever… What have you done with my friend?”
Cullen chuckled as he reached out and slapped Dorian’s hand away. “Very funny.”
“All this charm and rugged good looks... I'm surprised I'm not taken yet."
“So why are you here this early in the morning?” Cullen asked as he ran his hand through the disheveled mop of curls that was his hair.
“My friend, it is past noon and I came to see what was keeping you. You see, you were supposed to meet Josephine first thing this morning to get fitted for the formal attire you will be wearing this evening when you meet the Bann and his family.”
“Maker’s breath!” Cullen groaned as he stood from the bed, whatever Dorian had given him earlier finally doing the trick and allowing him to feel somewhat human again. “I imagine she is going to kill me,” he grumbled as he found his shirt which he had tossed on the floor and shrugged into before going on the hunt for his discarded boots, which were somehow a room length apart from one another.
“Well if the way she is pacing back and forth with steam literally pouring out of her ears is any indication… Then I imagine you are correct. She is going to kill you indeed.”
Cullen dragged his boots to the bed with him and plopped down on the mattress so that he could shove his feet inside of them, half way tying the laces.
“Cullen,” Dorian said in a kindly voice.
“I’m glad you had a good time last night. You of all people, deserve to let your guard down and just… be for once.”
Cullen flashed his friend a grateful smile. “Thank you.” And with that, he placed his hands on his thighs, scrubbed his palms across his linen trousers, took in a deep breath, and stood up, heading for his bedroom door. He needed to go and find Josephine, Gaspard’s Royal Attaché, and make amends for being late. She was the one person he did not want to upset, as Josephine Montilyet was the negotiator of his terms of marriage to Bann Trevelyan’s one and only daughter. He imagined making the Antivan upset would not bode well for his future.
“Hmm,” she hummed as she tapped her chin reflectively with one finger and circled him like a vulture. “It’s not right.”
The tailor stood next to her, mocking her gesture with his own finger tapping his chin and his head tilted to the side.
Cullen suppressed his groan as he fidgeted nervously under the scrutiny of both the tailor and Josephine. If he didn’t know any better, he'd say she was retaliating for his tardiness. She may have said in her polite Antivan accent that he need not apologize, but her eyes had told him something very different.
Cullen was honestly intimidated by the Royal Attaché… he knew little of her, and what he had been able to find out painted her as a worthy diplomat, having worked for years as chief ambassador from Antiva to Orlais before taking on the role of Royal Attaché for Emperor Gaspard. She was known among the court to be charming and graceful to the point where she could talk a cleric out of his robes if she so inclined. She was attractive with olive skin, mocha colored hair braided and tied back into a neat bun at the nape of her neck, and watchful blue eyes. Not Cullen’s type, to be truthful, but quite pretty in her own way.
“Commander,” she preened. “What do you think?”
“Er… what do I think?”
“Yes. You are the one who will be wearing this all evening.”
“Well… if you are asking what I think… the trousers feel a bit tight.”
“Hmmmm,” she hummed again. “They look like they fit fine.”
Cullen cleared his throat nervously as he glanced down the length of himself, the too-tight fitting trousers framing his… well… well-endowed groin region quite provocatively. He felt exposed and…
As her eyes roamed the length of him, he noticed her gaze settle on his very well pronounced crotch and felt his cheeks redden as her very astute eyes narrowed in on same said region before her mouth made a little O and her eyes danced back to his face. “Oh,” she said with a hint of amusement. “I do see what you mean. Well… we should be able to remedy that with perhaps a well placed sash.”
He wanted to groan and grumble. It was all he could do to not throw his hands up in the air, throw a tantrum like a toddler, and race out of the room what with little dignity he had left. But Cullen did none of those things. Noooo!!! He stood there before her like a big boy and took it. A sash! Yes, that’s exactly what this ensemble needed to be less hideous.
“You look displeased,” she commented with a small smile.
“No, Lady Montilyet. I trust your instincts when it comes to what is fashionable.”
“I understand that you are used to loose fitting breeches and clothing that is less fashionable and more… functional. Is that correct?”
“Yes,” Cullen nodded, still forcing himself not to make a fuss. He had been living outside of his comfort zone ever since Emperor Gaspard had told him of his plan to have Cullen marry the only daughter of Bann Trevelyan from Ostwick. This should have been cake!
“I assure you, Commander, that I will make sure that the new wardrobe we are having fashioned for you will be less restrictive.”
“I thank you for that, Lady Montilyet.”
“You are welcome. Now, just a few more minor adjustments and we are done. And I do believe Divine Victoria would like to see you in the courtyard when we are finished.”
Cullen nodded as he focused his eyes straight ahead, praying to the Maker for patience as the tailor and Josephine continued to fuss over the atrocity that was his formal wear.
Oh my little Dorian strolling merrily... because there is no way to stroll if it isn't merrily. And Josephine busted staring at Cullen's very well pronounced crotch region.
I totally enjoyed writing this chapter. I hope you enjoyed reading it... just a little silliness to make us all smile.
Thanks to all who have left kudos and comments. Feedback is what keeps us all writing.
Cullen escaped the fitting with Josephine and her tailor with barely a single thread left of his sanity. He was more suited for troop maneuvers and sword fighting, not being barraged by color schemes and fabric samples. If he didn’t already feel less than himself from his drunkenness the night before, the hour he had spent within the clutches of Lady Montilyet made him want to barricade himself in his room, pull the covers over his head, and hide.
He made his way through the Great Hall of the Winter Palace unscathed before stepping outside and picking his way towards the courtyard to a small alcove where he knew Leliana… make that Divine Victoria would be.
Cullen had been staying at the Winter Palace for the last several days. Emperor Gaspard had wanted him to be close by so that he could work with Josephine on hammering out the trivialities of their little arrangement. He was grateful that he was allowed to participate in the details of their negotiations with Bann Trevelyan. After all, it was his life that he was expected to forgo… to sacrifice any plans he may have had for his future.
Cullen would be a fool to not admit he had some serious reservations about the whole thing. Not only was he not thrilled to be walking away from his position as Commander of Gaspard’s Royal Army, but he was forced to leave behind the only life he had ever known… being a Templar. He had chosen to devote his life to the Order, to serve and protect not only his homeland of Ferelden, but all of Thedas. Beyond that vow he took in his local Chantry when his eighteen years old, before the Grand Cleric, Andraste herself, and most importantly before the Maker… fifteen years later and he did not know if he could even pull off living a civilian life, much less make a decent husband to any woman.
And then to be a husband to a woman he had never even met… He knew that arranged marriages were normal amongst the nobles. It was a means to keep their bloodlines pure. But he was no noble, not even close. He was a farmboy, having grown up in a small town in Ferelden named Honnleath with his brother and two sisters. Cullen did not know even know how to act noble. If he was required to deal with dignitaries and such, he was afraid Bann Trevelyan would be sorely disappointed in who Emperor Gaspard had chosen as the man’s son-in-law. Cullen had so many trepidations about going into this blindly but his worst fear of all was that he’d let the Bann down, let his country down… let his future wife down.
And speaking of his future wife… Of the thoughts running amok in his addled brain about his betrothed… they were all worst case scenarios. What if she was a snob, a royal bitch? Not that he was in a position to be too picky, but what if she was uneasy on the eyes, an ogre? He hadn’t been privy to much information about Lady Trevelyan, only minor details. And he didn’t know much in the way of how things were done in the Free Marches. But he found it odd that she had lived an entire twenty-eight years and her father had been unable to find a suitable husband to marry her off to. Wasn’t that essentially why nobles married other nobles and then procreated? To either bear an heir to pass on their heritage to or a daughter to marry off in order to increase their stature, their lands, their riches? But twenty-eight years and no suitor? That could only mean one thing… there had to be something wrong with her.
Cullen forcefully yanked himself out of his silent brooding as he turned a corner, leading him into the Divine’s private alcove. He found her holding one of her new baby nugs, cooing at the little pink pet she adored so much. Her two guards stood off to the corner, their eyes searching and scanning for any sign of harm that could come to their Most Holy.
“Commander Rutherford,” she began in her softly rich Orlesian accent. “I thank you for taking the time to pay me a visit.”
“Of course. I am honored that you requested my company,” he replied with a courtly bow.
She offered him a small smile as she lifted the wired door to her baby nug’s cage and set the animal inside and atop its nesting carefully before turning her full attention to Cullen. “I wanted to personally congratulate you on your impending nuptials.”
“Thank you,” he mumbled softly as his amber eyes drifted around the small alcove, taking in an additional five cages she had added from when he had seen her last, which had been merely four days ago. He had heard that she had been growing her collection but hadn’t dreamed she would grow it so fast. In their past life, when they were friends and she wasn’t, well The Divine… Leliana had always joked that when she one day slowed down and had time to do what she wanted to do, she would have liked to have breeded nugs. It appeared she was working her way up to that now.
“I remember the first time I met you,” she sighed reflectively. “You were just a young man, new to the Templar Order. So eager to be the best Templar you could. And then… Well, there’s no need to tear open old wounds I suppose.”
Cullen nodded, grateful to not have to relive the horrible nightmare of what had happened to him all those years ago. Some nights, he still had vivid dreams of that past he so wanted to forget. No matter how hard a person might have tried, one never did quite get over something so devastating and the fact that the details would haunt him until the end of his days was a thought that had crossed his mind more than once.
“I know that this is not what you pictured for yourself, being married off into nobility. However, Gaspard would have never nominated you for this important gesture if he did not have the utmost faith in you. I have the utmost faith in you. You have certainly come a long way since I first met you.”
“I’m grateful someone does,” Cullen jested, drawing a soft chuckle from the pale skinned red-head.
Clearing her throat as she suppressed her laughter, Divine Victoria gestured to one of her guards who in turn found his way to her side in a matter of a second, a package in his hands that had been carefully wrapped in shiny golden paper with a precisely tied silver ribbon on top. Her Most Holy accepted the gift from her guard before turning her attention back to Cullen and offering the package to him.
Hesitantly, he reached out for the gift. “What is this?”
“I did some research on your betrothed… called in a few favors to get some information. Inside that package is a gift for her. I’d like you to see that she gets it.”
“You did research,” Cullen asked, one brow cocked inquisitively.
“Commander, I knew that would pique your interest.” She stepped next to him and wrapped her arm in his. “Join me for some tea and we’ll talk.”
The two began to walk to towards a balcony overlooking the courtyard, to a small table already set with tiny porcelain tea cups and scones. Cullen politely waited for the Divine to take her seat before claiming the one across from her. One of the palace servants hurriedly joined them to pour tea before bowing graciously and sauntering off.
Divine Victoria took a dainty sip of her tea before clasping her hands together on the table and smiling knowingly at Cullen. “So where would you like for me to begin?”
He swallowed nervously. How much did he really want to know? It almost made it easier going into this marriage blind. The less he knew perhaps the less he could concoct all kinds of bad scenarios in his head. “Her name would be nice.”
“Oh yes. I suppose it would. Her name is Lady Freia Trevelyan, sole daughter to Bann Leonidas Trevelyan and Lady Annabel. She is a very educated woman who spent most of her teenage years traveling abroad with her Aunt Lucille, whom I hear she is very close to. She is well known and beloved throughout Ostwick for her charity work amongst the down-trodden. She volunteers regularly at her local Chantry where she helps prepare and serve meals to those who still suffer from a flood that destroyed several small villages in her homeland.”
So, that bit of information did please Cullen some. But anyone could be what they wanted the people to see them be. She could still be a snotty noble bitch and serve meals to the down-trodden. This did nothing to ease his tortured mind.
“If I might ask,” Cullen ventured, “why is a woman of her age and stature not already married? Isn’t that a bit odd?”
“I agree. From what I was able to gather, she was once betrothed to a man, a noble from Nevarra by the name of Markus. He died before they were able to wed but my contacts could not find out many details on the man or his death. All that I was told was that his passing hit young Freia pretty hard and that since then, Bann Trevelyan has been unable to find a proper suitor for her.”
“I’m afraid that is a question I cannot answer.” The Divine bit into her scone before staring at Cullen almost mischievously and for a split second he saw a glimpse of Leliana and not Divine Victoria. “You will have plenty of time to get the answers you seek… a lifetime in fact,” she chuckled.
“Yes, yes. Laugh all you want. I am absolutely frightened by what I’m about to be forced into, but as long as you’re amused…”
To that, she laughed heartily. “Now there’s the Cullen Rutherford I know.”
As if realizing his blunder, he quickly cleared his throat and stammered, “My apologies, Most Holy… I didn’t mean to … that is…”
“Cullen, it is alright. We were friends before I became Divine. It gets so tiresome sometimes having everyone walk on eggshells around me. I find your candor to be refreshing.”
He nodded as he took a sip of his tea, grateful for her friendship, both old and anew. “Do you have any advice for me?”
“Just remember that an arranged marriage is negotiated on both sides. That just because someone is born into nobility does not necessarily mean that they accept their fate any more than one who has not been born into nobility, such as yourself.”
“So what you’re saying is she may not be any more thrilled about this than I am.”
“That thought is somewhat comforting. But… what if she hates me?”
“Just be your adorable self, Cullen. And I am sure that she will not hate you. Who knows, maybe you two will even fall in love,” she said with starry eyes. “Stranger things have happened.”
“I assure you that will not happen. I do not even believe in such frivolities,” he snorted.
“That’s only because you have never had romantic feelings towards a woman. I think anyone is capable of falling in love.”
“I suppose I will have to take your word for it,” he conceded as he relaxed in his chair and finished his tea, carefully avoiding her Most Holy’s scrutinizing stare.
Love! That was just something bards wrote songs about… such things did not exist, at least not for him. If he could just be on somewhat friendly terms with his wife to be, well that would be enough for Cullen.
Freia Trevelyan. As time ticked by, the day passing before him ever so quickly, his stomach began to flutter nervously. Soon, he would be face to face with the Trevelyans… with Freia. Cullen was trying to have no expectations but his nerves would not let the thoughts abate. He wished to get this over with already. The waiting was driving him slowly insane
Another quick cameo from one of our favorite DA characters. I couldn't exactly write Leliana, aka Divine Victoria, without staying true to her spymaster ways.
We are working our way up to the big meet with the Trevelyans. Can't wait to finally introduce Cullen and Freia to one another. It's going to be interesting to say the least.
Thanks again for the comments and kudos. You make my little writer heart soar! xoxo
Cullen practiced breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth as he paced the length of his room restlessly. He had to keep wiping his sweaty palms across the fabric of his breeches and then shoving his hand through his hair so that he could massage the nape of his neck with trembling fingers, as was his nervous habit. Time was now winding by quickly and in a few short moments, he would be face to face with his future.
He tugged at the collar of the navy blue jacket, feeling like his air supply was being cut off. Cullen had been on the front line during the Great War of Ferelden, had brutally fought and killed men while they tried to brutally fight and kill him. There was much that had happened in his life that he should have feared and none of it could compare to the sheer terror that was enveloping him now.
Cassandra had tried to distract him with idle chit-chat. She spoke of Cullen’s second in command, Rylen, now settling into Cullen’s old role of Commander and how the men missed him but seemed to respect and admire Rylen immediately. Her words made him angry, her intention to soothe his nerves by talking about one of the many things in his life he was being forced to give up, the thing that brought him the most grief over its loss… needless to say she was not helping and Cullen quickly dismissed her by lightly grabbing her by her upper arm and leading her to the door of his room. He had glowered at her surprised face as he shut the door on her and turned and walked away.
His next distraction came in the form of Dorian, who had sashayed into the room with a bottle of wine tucked carefully under his arm and two wine glasses nestled between his fingers by their stems. But the last thing Cullen wanted to do was drink. He had done enough of that the night before and well that went so spectacularly well… he didn’t think it would be in his best interest to repeat his stroll down Lack of Inhibition Lane. Dorian had been dismissed as well.
So when the next knock came from the other side of his door, Cullen closed the distance in three very quick strides, threw the door open, and growled, “What?!?”
“Well hello to you too, little brother,” Mia smirked.
He did not say a word but reached for her upper arm, tugged her inside of the room, stuck his head out of the doorway, looked left, looked right, and then shut the door hurriedly. Cullen leaned his back against the wooden frame, closed his eyes, and sighed in relief.
“Expecting someone else?” Mia inquired.
“No,” was his brusque reply. “Hoping it was not someone else.” He reached for his eldest sister and pulled her into his embrace, tucking her head beneath his chin. “I am so grateful to see you.”
“We had tried to make it here sooner but we ran into some rather foul weather in the Hinterlands that put us behind by a day.” Mia leaned back and stared up at him, being that she was a good foot shorter than he. “You look dreadful!”
Cullen lifted one side of his scarred mouth in a smirk, reaching for Mia’s hand as he released her from his embrace, and lead her outside onto his balcony where they could sit and talk. He waited for his eldest sibling to take her seat in one of the plush chairs before he joined her in the one next to her.
“How are you faring?”
“Truthfully?” Cullen cocked one brow and tilted his head, giving her a sideways look.
She nodded, encouraging him to unload his burden.
“I feel dreadful. I fear Emperor Gaspard has made a huge mistake. I do not know what I am doing. And these people are going to be sincerely disappointed this evening when they find out that their daughter has been promised to a Ferelden farm-boy turned Templar, instead of the well-connected nobleman I’m sure they are expecting.”
“Don’t do that, Cullen,” Mia chastised, her shoulder length blond curls bobbing as she shook her head in admonishment, her gray eyes narrowing in on him. “Don’t you dare look at yourself as less than what you are. You’re not just some Ferelden farm-boy turned Templar. You are the Commander of the Royal Army.”
“I was the Commander of the Royal Army.”
“Alright, you were, but only because the Emperor chose you to participate in something much bigger. This is not just an arranged marriage to some girl… Cullen, this is a diplomatic alliance that you are forging with these people. That is important to Orlais, to Ferelden… to keep peace in Thedas. Do not make light of your role in this.”
“I suppose,” Cullen shrugged, really trying hard not to concentrate on the importance of the task at hand but leave it to another well-meaning loved one to remind him that so much rested on his ability to pull this off.
“So tell me. What are the terms of this agreement?”
“Quite simple so far. I am to be a protégé under Bann Trevelyan, learning how to run his lands, rule over his people, and maintain his armies so that when he is ready to step down, there is someone capable to take his place.”
“That’s not so bad,” Mia smiled encouragingly.
Cullen shook his head and sighed. “There’s more.”
“Alright. I’m listening.”
“I am also required to conceive one grandchild with his daughter within our first year of marriage,” he replied with slight embarrassment, already feeling his cheeks turn pink.
Oh. That’s all Mia had to say was oh. It was one thing to be forced into marriage to a woman he did not know but to so bluntly put on a stipulation stating that he would be forced to have a sexual relationship with this woman until he was able to produce a grandchild was a little much. Cullen had been flabbergasted when he had originally heard this and all of these days later still found it hard to not be bothered by this request.
Mia glanced away uncomfortably as she very carefully said, “If this is something that troubles you, perhaps you should talk to Branson. He could talk you through how everything… you know… works.”
Cullen choked, feeling his cheeks heat up and turn every shade of red possible. “I know how everything works. I’ve had sex before. In fact… I just had sex last night,” he sputtered defensively.
“With a woman?”
Cullen stood up abruptly and threw his hands in the air. “Why, you are the second person who has asked me that today! Of course with a woman!”
“My apologies. I just… Well, when it comes down to it Cullen, I just do not know that much about you other than the scattered details you give us in your letters. So when you seemed bothered by the fact that you are expected to have sex with your wife, to bear a child with her… Well forgive me if my mind went to either you have never had sex or you preferred the company of men.”
Cullen groaned irritably, dragging his fingers through his thick hair. “Makers breath,” he grumbled. “I’m going to make a mess of this.”
Mia stood up and placed her hands on Cullen’s wrists, pulling his arms to his sides and holding them there. “You are going to be fine. Try to have a little faith in yourself.”
He heard the door to his room open and offered Mia a small smile before pulling out of her grasp and turning towards the doorway. Dorian greeted Cullen with a dramatic bow as he motioned for him to follow. “It is time,” he stated in a theatrical voice.
Cullen took a deep breath, lowered his head, and followed Dorian out of the room like a man being lead to his final meal before his beheading.
He and Dorian trailed Josephine into the extravagant dining hall. The long ornate table looked as if it could hold up to fifty of Thedas’s finest, a dazzling chandelier casting prisms of light against the stone walls, enough food and drink spread out to feed a small village. Cullen was quite intimidated by the sheer magnitude of formalities just in the dining hall alone. He wasn’t used to such extravagance and hoped that every noble occasion wasn’t quite this elaborate.
The Trevelyans had yet to arrive and so Josephine quickly turned to Cullen, a bright smile on her face. “Now remember,” she began as she smoothed her hands across his jacket, “Leonidas is not only a very intelligent man, he is known amongst his people as a kind man. He does not like most nobles even though he is of noble blood himself. So, try to relax and just be yourself. He’ll appreciate that more.”
Cullen nodded, grateful for Lady Montilyet’s advice.
“As for Lady Annabel. There is nothing she loves more in this world than her daughter. If you win over Freia, her mother will follow suit.” Josephine sighed a little too dramatically for Cullen’s taste as she placed a fragrant white flower into the lapel of his jacket. “Lady Freia loves her family dearly and is her father’s daughter through and through. She is highly intelligent and also known to be a kind soul amongst her people. And like her father, she has a low tolerance for nobility so do not feel the need to put on airs in front of her. It will not win you any favors. Lady Annabel, on the other hand, loves salons and balls and has been known to drag her daughter to as many as Lady Freia will allow.” Josephine nodded to the flower she had placed on Cullen’s jacket. “Freia is a sucker for lilies. Might I suggest once you have a moment alone with her, you offer her the one in your jacket.”
Cullen nodded, unable to do much else as he tried to absorb all of this information Josephine was handing him at the last minute.
The door on the other side of the dining hall opened and Cullen felt his palms get sweaty and his heart beat speed up again. He tried to swallow, yet felt like he was about to choke on the bile rising in his throat as his stomach began to pitch nervously and waves of nausea washed over him.
“You’ll be fine,” he vaguely heard Josephine whisper to him between her clinched teeth. “Now smile.”
Cullen placed a strained smile on his face as his amber eyes watched Bann Leonidas and Lady Annabel Trevelyan close the distance between them. His betrothed walked behind her parents, so petite next to the very tall Leonidas that Cullen could only make out the top of her head… chestnut colored hair cascading in soft curls that glistened in the light cast by the chandelier.
Josephine cleared her throat and smiled brightly as she lifted one hand out invitingly. “My Lord, may I present to you Ser Cullen Rutherford.”
Leonidas Trevelyan’s entire face lit up, soft cobalt eyes raking over Cullen as his future father-in-law offered his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Ser,” he said in a soft tenor, his accent almost musical. “I have heard much about you from Gaspard. He has been quite forthcoming with stories of your many heroic feats.”
“The pleasure is mine, My Lord,” Cullen replied politely as he embraced the Bann’s hand in his own and gave it a firm shake.
“None of that My Lord business. We are to be family soon. Please call me by my given name, or just Leo.”
Cullen smiled… the first sincere smile he had worn all day today. Some of his trepidation was fading as he was realizing that his future father-in-law seemed to be exactly what people said he was. It was comforting to say the least.
“May I present to you my lovely wife, Annabel.”
Annabel Trevelyan was indeed lovely. Her blond hair, light green eyes, and pale skin was quite the contrast to Leonidas’s olive skin, raven-colored waves of hair, and dark blue eyes. Together, they made a striking couple and as Lady Annabel stared up lovingly at her husband, it put Cullen at ease even more to see the fondness between them. It also gave him hope.
He took Annabel’s offered hand in his own and leaned down to press his lips to the soft skin on the back of her hand. When his gaze met hers again, he could see a softness in her expression, a kindness in her eyes and Cullen could tell she was a woman with a heart of gold.
This was definitely turning out better than he could have hoped for so far. Now… the moment of truth.
“May I present to you my daughter, Freia,” Leonidas beamed as he stepped aside.
Their eyes met… familiar bewitching hazel green eyes framed in thick, long lashes that bore a striking resemblance to the woman from the tavern whom he had… NO!
He had been very inebriated last night and could have quite possibly been wrong… And yet the horrified expression on his betrothed’s face assured him that he wasn’t. Freia Trevelyan… his future wife… future mother of his child… children… It seemed they had already met. The night before. In the tavern. When he had taken her virginity. Against the fucking door!
Well the shit is about to hit the fan!!! And just when poor Cullen was beginning to think this might be alright...
Next chapter to be chocked full of all kinds of adorable Cullen awkwardness...
Thanks for reading and I really do appreciate all of your kudos or comments. I'm really enjoying writing this so far and I hope you all are falling in love with these characters as much as I am :)
“M-m-my Lady,” Cullen stuttered as he took her hand in his and bent down to press a kiss to it, fighting a slight grimace as he heard Dorian chuckle from somewhere behind him. It was not a surprise to anyone that knew him that words were quite the obstacle when it came to women. If only they knew the underlying circumstances for why his nerves were working at him times a thousand.
“Ser Rutherford, it is an honor to finally meet you,” was her meek response.
He dropped her hand and straightened, trying to force a smile to his face. Lady Freia’s eyes searched his for a brief moment before darting away uncomfortably. Oh this was all kinds of uncomfortable and if Cullen couldn’t save this situation, get out of his own head long enough to make this any less painful… Makers breath but this had to be hands down the most awkward he had felt around a woman in his entire life. What had he been thinking last night?!? That he could act irresponsibly, be spontaneous for once in his life without any repercussions? Hadn’t he learned if nothing else in his thirty-three years that there were consequences for every action and to think that he could do something like sleep with a woman he didn’t know… have a one night stand and expect nothing to come of it… well that just wasn’t Cullen’s luck. What a mess he had stumbled into! He just wanted to kick himself!
“Excellent!” the Bann’s voice boomed exuberantly. “Now that the introductions have been made, let us feast!”
Cullen politely pulled out a chair for Lady Freia and waited until she had taken her seat before claiming the one next to her. Thankfully, Lady Montilyet jumped right into conversation with Bann and Lady Trevelyan, asking about their trip to Halamshiral, boasting about the wonderful weather they were having, coordinating what salons and balls she and Annabel had attended together, working their way into idle gossip about this Lord cheating on his wife with this Lady. Cullen had been barely listening, ghosting his way through his meal while he sat nervously twitching next to his betrothed.
This entire ordeal had promised to be unnerving before he had even entered the dining hall. But this! This made him want to slink down low in his chair and disappear. In all of Thedas! How was it possible that this woman of all women had to be the one he had chosen to have once in a lifetime meaningless sex with. He had never ventured to do such a thing and so the irony behind the situation was laughable if he didn’t feel like screaming at the top of his lungs.
He kept his gaze down and quietly picked at his meal, smiling and nodding when he felt it was appropriate so that he could feel he was somewhat participating in the conversation. His eyes studied his plate of food with intense interest, trying with great difficulty not to steal small glances of his wife-to-be sitting next to him. Freia was doing a remarkable job at pretty much keeping to herself as well, smiling and nodding appropriately as she studied her food with an earnest interest of her own.
It brought Cullen some small measure of satisfaction to know that she was just as uncomfortable as he was. He hadn’t stepped into this mess alone… And if had not mistaken, hadn’t she been the one to instigate the entire scene from the night before? He had just been the innocent drunken bystander caught up in all of this.
Who was he kidding? Drunk or no, he still had had enough of his faculties to say no. He had chosen not to. She was there and willing and Cullen had chosen to think with his dick instead of his brain… his drunken dick.
Across the table from him where Dorian sat he heard a soft, “mmm-hmmm,” and felt a slight kick at his shin. Cullen’s head shot up to Dorian who was staring at him with a hint of amusement tinged with confusion. Yes, yes, Dorian knew Cullen was completely inadequate when it came to women… had been a long time running joke between the two friends since the day they had met. But because Dorian knew Cullen so well, he also had quickly figured out that this level of awkward quietness Cullen was displaying was even out of character for him.
Cullen’s eyes widened as they travelled from Dorian to Freia and then back to Dorian. And as if Dorian had some strange magical power to read minds, he grinned while his own eyes travelled to Freia before meeting Cullen’s again, wagging his eyebrows comically as if asking, ‘are you saying what I think you’re saying,’ to which Cullen rolled his eyes and nodded, causing Dorian to let out an involuntary soft chuckle that was luckily unheard by the three adults that were conversing amongst themselves at the other end of the table.
Cullen all but groaned as Freia’s own head shot up and she eyed both Cullen and Dorian suspiciously. He met her intense gaze, felt like a chastised child under her stony glare. His attempt at offering her an apologetic smile did nothing to wipe the unamused expression from her face.
“He knows,” she silently mouthed the words to him, more of a statement than an actual question.
All Cullen could do was shrug his shoulders and offer her one quick nod of his head. The way she looked at him, in disapproving admonishment, made him feel like a teenage boy who couldn’t wait to tell all of his friends about the virgin he had deflowered and gotten busted… If only she had known it wasn’t like that. Instead, she shook her head with disgust and looked away from him, her eyes burning a hole through the table as she pushed the barely eaten meal before her around on her plate.
Josephine’s voice startled him so that he involuntarily jumped and cleared his throat nervously, his eyes flicking to Dorian who was picking at his food with an amused grin on his smug mustached face, then to Josephine who was hurling a politely strained smile in his direction.
“Hmmm… yes,” he muttered, forcing himself not to lift his hand from the table and rub at the back of his neck lest it be a dead give-away to his awkward nervousness.
“The Bann was asking if you would like to retire with him to the terrace for drinks so that you two may talk privately…” Josephine said in a strained voice, that forced smile still in place while her eyes shot proverbial lightning bolts at him.
“Oh yes… of course.”
Bann offered Cullen a conciliatory smile as he stood, nodded to the women and Dorian, and said, “Then if you will excuse us.”
Cullen stood awkwardly, muttered a quick, “good evening,” to the table and followed Bann Trevelyan from the dining hall.
They walked in silence through the main hall and to the outside terrace where a shining silver tray set with two crystal sifters and a decanter of honey-colored liquor awaited them. Twilight had began to descend across the endless sky, painting the heavens in the most magnificent oranges and pinks. A soft breeze played across Cullen’s face, a nice welcome from the stuffiness of inside the Winter Palace.
Leonidas uncorked the decanter and poured the honeyed liquid into the awaiting glasses before setting the decanter off to the side and lifting one glass to Cullen and keeping one for himself. He took a long pull from his drink, his eyes carefully watching Cullen from the tip of his glass.
Cullen cleared his throat and tried not to fidget nervously under the Bann’s scrutiny, claiming a sip from his own glass. A little voice inside of his head kept whispering, he knows what you did last night. He wanted to crawl into a hole. If only this man did know what had happened between Cullen and Freia the night before… The deal would be off and Cullen would be shamed… exiled… or worse.
“I understand that arranged marriages can be difficult, especially for one who has not been brought up thinking that they will one day have a wife chosen for them. How are you faring?” Leo asked with a warm smile.
“I am honored to have been chosen for your lovely daughter, My Lord,” Cullen replied with the diplomatic answer that had been fed to him by Lady Josephine.
The man waved his hand in the air dismissively and said, “Bah! I pride myself on being a straight-forward man so cut the bullshit and tell me how you really feel.”
“I am frightened down to my very core,” Cullen responded with a humble laugh.
“I remember when I was to wed my beautiful Annabel. I was not given the opportunity to meet her until we were standing before the Cleric and making our vows to The Maker. So the night before the wedding, I had taken one of the horses from our stables and just started riding as far away as I could get. I did not care where I was going… anywhere but there I suppose. It took my best friend to come looking for me, to drag me back kicking and screaming. But then, the next day when I stood before that Cleric and The Maker and all of my family and friends… and I saw her for the first time… she took my breath away. I knew that The Maker was watching over me and that the woman before me would not only become my wife and the mother of my children, but my friend and confidante… someone who would have me in sickness and in health. But something else happened as well… something beautiful and pure… something I never expected, nor had I ever known. I fell in love with that amazing woman, with her beauty and kindness, with the way she always knew exactly what to say and how to say it when I needed her to say it. Annabel has never told me what I wanted to hear just for the sake of obedience. Her guidance has seen me through turmoil, through decisions both good and bad. My wife is an extraordinary woman and my life would be incomplete without her.”
Leo took another sip of his liquor, draining the glass of its contents. He poured himself another glassful, took a quick drink, and then bestowed a brilliant smile upon Cullen. “My Freia is a beautiful woman through and through. She is kind and generous, amazingly intelligent and witty… she is a true prize for any man. But…” His smile faltered as he drained his glass again. “I raised her to think for herself and although I find her independence to be important to who she is, many men whom have tried to court her have found it to be less so. I’m telling you this, Cullen, because I want you to understand. Freia can be a handful at times. I believe she does so on purpose, to make sure that the man who is vying for her affection is worthy of such. I fear you are not in a position such as those who have tried to tame her before you, as this has been pre-arranged and it would bode very bad on both yourself and Gaspard if you were to back out now. Having said that, I want you to know that if you put in the effort and win her heart, she will be as fiercely loyal to you as her mother is to me. Freia has the capacity to make you go completely mad. She will test your patience in ways you cannot even fathom. But she also has the capacity to love deeply. And once you have passed her tests and earned that love, I promise she will make you the happiest man to walk Thedas.”
“May I ask, Ser, why it is that she makes it so difficult?” Cullen ventured. Fear crept up in his throat at the Bann’s words. For it wasn’t that Cullen lacked patience. But what he did lack was the sort of finesse required to woo a woman. If he was to forced to pass Freia’s tests… Cullen wasn’t sure if he had what it took to win her over. And that thought worried him because there were a lot of things he was capable of. But the one thing he refused to contend with was a difficult woman. He was a man and men had pride and if she challenged him every step of the way, it would make his job of one day taking over the Bann’s responsibilities nearly impossible. How could he ever expect the people of Ostwick to respect him, an outsider, if his own wife did not?
Leo sighed reflectively. “My Freia was in love once.”
“Ser Markus from Nevarra,” Cullen supplied, remembering the brief bit of information Leliana had supplied him with.
“I see someone has done their research,” the Bann chuckled. “Yes. Ser Markus from Nevarra. They had been friends from childhood, Markus’s father and I having known one another from our own childhood. Our families spent many holidays together and as time went by, Markus and Freia’s friendship grew into something a bard would write songs about. I had never seen two kids so in love.” Leo shook his head, a sadness creeping over the features of his face. “They were to be married and the night before they were to make their vows to one another, Markus was tragically killed. He had ventured off into the woods to retrieve some of Freia’s favorite flowers for her to hold with her the next day while they committed their lives to one another and was attacked by three bandits who had been camping nearby. He was found that morning by his advisor.”
“My Freia, madder than a nest of hornets, went after those three bandits and killed them.”
Cullen’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth to inquire but shut it at the Bann’s humorless laughter.
“Yes, you heard me correctly. My girl is quite the fighter in addition to all of her other amazing qualities. I taught her to defend herself from a young age and well… she hunted those men down and dispatched of them... all three of them by herself. When she returned, her face and clothes covered in blood, she silently walked through our home and straight to her room without uttering a word to a single soul. Freia locked herself in her room for days… wouldn’t come out to eat, barely slept. When she finally did emerge from mourning, my Freia was never quite the same.”
Cullen’s gaze trailed from the Bann’s sad face to the slowly descending sun. He needed a moment to digest what he had just been told. His heart ached for the young girl that had lost her love while in the same heartbeat he found himself impressed by that same girl who had hunted down those that had killed her betrothed and avenged his unnecessary murder. Cullen understood hurt and rage and the need to get even with the ones who had ignited that emotion inside of you. And by knowing her story, having insight to what made her who she was, Cullen felt like he might have had an idea on how to make this marriage between them work. Right then and there he determined that as soon as he and the Bann were finished here, he would go and find Freia so that they might talk.
Much like himself, she was not looking for love. She had already had love and he could clearly tell just from her father’s words that Freia had no intention of replacing it. But all who had spoken of her had said she was an intelligent woman. If Cullen could appeal to the practical side of his betrothed, to get her to understand that this was to be a business arrangement and nothing more… perhaps she would accept her fate. It was worth a shot if nothing else.
Cullen left the Bann on the terrace long after the sun had descended and the moon had risen against the night sky. He made his way through the dimly lit halls of the palace to the guest wing where Lord Trevelyan had said they were staying. Yet as he came to the cluster of rooms that were being occupied by his future family from Ostwick, Cullen found it quite irritating that he was being denied entry. It didn’t matter what he told these guards, they would not let him pass. He couldn’t fault them for doing their job but at the same time, he had been really hoping to have a moment alone with Freia this evening.
As he hung his head in defeat and began on his journey to the other side of the palace where his room was situated, he felt a hand wrap around his wrist and tug him out of the candlelit hall and into the shadows of an alcove.
“I hear you are looking for Lady Freia,” the male voice whispered to him from the darkness with an accent that distinctly belonged in the Free Marches.
“I am,” Cullen replied as softly.
“I can take you to her,” the man offered.
Silence hung in the air around them like a thick fog. Cullen tried to wait the man out but was finding the events of the day were starting to take its toll on him and his patience was worn thin. “Well?” he finally grumbled.
The man stepped out of the shadows slightly, cleared his throat, and allowed his dark beady eyes to glance down at his hand he held open in front of him, palm up.
“Makers breath,” Cullen sighed as he reached into the pocket of the still too tight breeches and pulled out a coin, placing it in the greedy little snake’s hand. He made a mental note to find out who this man was because first thing he was going to do was get him so far away from his wife-to-be. Clearly his loyalty lie where the most coin was and someone like that had no business being responsible for his betrothed.
The short man from Ostwick with a face that could only be akin to a rat, lead the way down a long hall until it spilled out into a beautiful garden of winding hedges and exotic flowers strategically placed in symmetrical patterns throughout, a three-tiered fountain in the middle of the foliage. The blended colors were paled under the starlit night but Cullen imagined that the garden would be something to behold in the bright light of day.
They crossed the magnificent garden, beneath a vine-wrapped archway to a door hidden amongst the stone wall of the palace. The man nodded towards the door and continued walking, leaving Cullen there to eye it suspiciously. With slight hesitancy, he placed his hand on the handle and turned, slowly opening the heavy wooden door. A choir of male voices immediately carried across the room and to the doorway, raucously laughing and talking.
Cullen squeezed his eyes tight as one voice stood out from all the rest and if the day had not already been chocked fool of ironic situations, he would have chuckled.
“Curly!” beamed the gravelly voice of one Varric Tethras; rogue, storyteller, and sometimes unwelcome tagalong.
Cullen forced his eyes to open and his gaze swept the room to the scene before him. About five male guards ranging in age sat around a large wooden table in literally nothing but their small clothes, all but one who seemed to have lost the last round and sat with only a shield covering his private area. A deck of cards was strewn across the flat surface, along with empty bottles of wine, scattered coin… and one wily female sitting proudly at the head of the chaos, wearing all of her clothes thankfully and a full metal helmet atop her pretty little head.
Cullen coughed into his hand to hide his chuckle as his eyes found their way back to the also fully clothed dwarf. “Varric,” he nodded, afraid to say more for fear that he would be overcome with a fit of laughter.
“We were all just getting better acquainted over a friendly game. As you can see,” Varric added for good measure. “These guardsmen are off duty, so need to bust their balls or anything. Especially since they have very little of their dignity left, thanks to my new lady friend.”
The guardsmen began to laugh as they lifted their mugs into the air in a toast to their cunning adversary at the end of the table.
“Curly, would you like me to introduce you to my new friend, Hustler down there?” Varric asked in an exuberantly inebriated whisper which wasn’t a whisper at all. “She plays a mean game of Wicked Grace, that one!”
Cullen’s stern gaze left Varric and trailed over the scene again before landing on the woman at the other end of the table who had now lifted the visor of the helmet so that he could see her face. It took all of his willpower to hide his amusement as she threw him a bright grin and a very boisterous wave. “We’ve met,” Cullen bit out between clinched teeth.
“Well pull up a chair,” the dwarf offered. “I’m sure we can make room for one more.”
Cullen held Freia’s challenging glare. “I am afraid I will have to pass, this evening.”
“Oh that’s right! Curly here is getting married tomorrow,” Varric announced to the room, causing the guardsmen to cheer and lift their tankards now to Cullen.
“Is that so?” Freia asked with a mischievous glint in her eye.
“Yep. Our Commander has been conscripted into marriage to some noble woman from Ostwick.”
“That sounds absolutely dreadful,” she replied, her amused eyes never leaving Cullen’s.
“Never pegged Curly to be the marrying type. No offense, Rutherford, but if you need some assistance in regards to where you put what on your wedding night, I’d be willing to give you some advice, free of charge,” the dwarven storyteller offered drunkenly.
“None taken,” Cullen growled in response to Varric, grimacing at his betrothed’s amused expression down on the other end of the table. “My lady,” he directed at Freia. “A word?”
“Certainly,” she beamed, yanking the helmet off of her head and spinning it across the table. Every man stood as she rose from her chair, even the naked guard whose shield remained strategically placed over his ashamed manhood. Freia nodded to her band of merry misfits and strode over to where Cullen stood, smiling up at him like the cat that ate the canary.
Cullen shook his head and cleared his throat again to hide the laughter bubbling up inside of him. She was definitely adorable, he’d give her that. He held the door open for her and followed her outside into the moonlit garden.
Once they were alone, Cullen turned to her, Freia’s face illuminated by the gentle glow of a lantern hanging from a lamppost by the tiered fountain. He took a moment to study her features, having been unable to allow his eyes to focus on their first meeting the night before due to the obscene amount of alcohol he had imbibed and definitely failing miserably to make eye contact throughout dinner. But now that he was there, standing before her, no blurred vision or other Trevelyans—or Dorian—around to add to his discomfort, Cullen was rather pleased to have a moment to appreciate the beauty of his future wife. And she was beautiful, in an exotic, non-conventional sort of way. Her hazel eyes were almond-shaped and the way they studied his face in return caused his stomach to do a quick flip and his pulse to speed up slightly. One perfectly manicured dark brow lifted mischievously, challengingly as she held his gaze.
Her face was slightly heart-shaped with attractively high cheekbones, a dainty nose that he could clearly see sported a soft spray of light freckles across the bridge, slightly puckered lips that he knew for a fact were very pliable and soft when drawn into a kiss. Freia’s long chestnut brown hair had been loosened from the up do she had worn at dinner and lay in careless waves over her shoulders and to her mid back. She was… Cullen was at a loss for words.
“You wanted to have a word, Ser?” she smirked, her lilting voice smooth and melodic.
“Uh… yes. I’d hoped we’d have a chance to talk before tomorrow. I did not, however, expect to find you had maneuvered half of the Emperor’s guards down to their small clothes with a game of Wicked Grace.”
She laughed… a soft laugh that fell from her lips so carelessly. Cullen envied the ability to laugh like that. “I… yes,” Freia responded, swallowing her laughter and trying to look all serious. “I apologize if my choice in wiling away the hours so late into the evening displeases you. I do not sleep well and therefore, sometimes find it’s easier to keep myself otherwise occupied. I will do good to remember my place now that we are to be husband and wife.” She said the last part with a slight crinkle of her nose.
“I’m not… that is, I did not say I was displeased… all I meant was…” Cullen stopped and took a deep breath, clearly messing this conversation up right from the beginning. “It was just not expected.”
Freia nodded, her eyes never leaving his, her stare intense. “What was it you wanted to speak with me about?”
“About last night,” Cullen replied shyly, lifting his hand to the back of his neck and massaging the tense muscles with his fingers. “And tomorrow, of course.”
Freia smiled at him, but not the good kind of smile… She smiled at him in a way that lead Cullen to believe that she would very much like to stick him several times with a very sharp dagger. “As you well know, last night is not something I’ve ever done before. I do not see the need to discuss the events, if it is all the same to you. And tomorrow… I have no say in tomorrow as I assume neither do you and therefore what could we possibly have to talk about.”
“My Lady…” he began defensively, dropping his hand from the back of his neck.
Freia put her hand up and shook her head, that deathly smile falling from her face and replaced with what could only be described as full on, unadulterated hatred. “Cullen… may I call you Cullen?” He nodded but she continued without really even noticing, Cullen figuring she could care less if he was alright with her using his given name or not. “I was put on a boat… I hate boats… and brought here under the auspice that my father was meeting with an old friend and my mother and I would do some light shopping, maybe take in a few of the spectacular shows I’ve heard so much about, and perhaps attend a few balls… which I also hate but if I agree to three a year my mother let’s the other ten slide. It was not until we arrived in Halimshiral yesterday morning that I was told by both of my parents who claim to love me very deeply that we would be shopping for a gown… for my wedding! ‘My wedding?’, I say to my parents. And that is when I learn of you and the arrangement that had been made behind my back. So, one can only imagine that learning in such a less than delicate way that the rest of your entire life has been planned out for you and you have no say in the matter sort of does something to you. And that is why last night I set out from our rooms, saw you sitting at the bar, obviously inebriated beyond words, and decided that I was going to take one thing into my own hands. What are the odds that I chose to have random sex for the first time ever with some random man sitting at a bar who just happens to be my future husband?!?” She finally took a breath, before stepping away from Cullen and throwing her hands in the air dramatically. “The odds are phenomenally low and yet here we are!”
“My lady, I…”
“I’m sure you are a lovely person who had the unfortunate disposition to be dragged into this the same as I. And I feel bad for you… I really do. But I honestly do not know what there is to say that can make this situation any better. So I thank you for the sex we had last night… It was a blast. But I highly doubt this,” she waved a hand back and forth between them, “is going to work out in your favor.”
Cullen crossed his arms over his broad chest, lifted one side of his mouth in a lop-sided grin, and just stared at her. Oh, she was feisty! She was feisty and mouthy and absolutely adorable and Cullen couldn’t help but like her for all of those reasons. He wouldn’t dare let her know this of course, and so he continued to just stand there and stare at her while he watched her face contort into several different emotions ranging from angry to confused to curious to finally uncomfortable.
“What?” she said defensively, squirming beneath his stare.
“I just wanted to make sure it was my turn to talk,” Cullen replied in a steady voice, pretty impressed that he had been able to hide his amusement with her because he needed to face facts… she was quite amusing.
“Well, go on then.”
“What I wanted to say to you was that I too have never done anything like that before either. I was very inebriated and you were very much there. I realize that marrying a man you’ve never even met can be somewhat daunting. And I had hoped that you and I could come to some sort of arrangement of our own.”
Her grimace turned into a slight smile. “You have a lot riding on this working out, do you not?”
“I do,” he conceded.
“And I’m quite sure my reputation for being difficult has preceded me…”
“It has,” Cullen nodded.
“So what sort of arrangement did you have in mind?”
“It’s quite simple. For all intents and purposes, we will make our vows tomorrow before our family, friends, and the Maker himself. And we will vow to honor and obey one another.” She snorted derisively but Cullen continued. “But I do not need you to honor and obey me. You should be free to do as you wish.”
“Alright. What’s the catch?”
“I merely ask that you show me respect and I will show you the same. There is no reason that we cannot do what needs to be done and still be able to live our lives however we see fit. I’m not asking for you to love me, Freia… I only hope that one day you could like me, even if it’s only a little. But I need you to respect me for the sake of your father, so that I may learn what needs to learned from him and one day take over for him. The people of Ostwick will never respect me if my own wife does not.”
“Alright. I’ll think about it. But what about… you know… sex. Are we required to?...”
“Um… well… you see, one of the stipulations from your father’s negotiations was that we bore him a grandchild within the first year of marriage and so…”
“I see. That’s very audacious of him, don’t you think?” she said with a slight grin.
“Y-yes. I thought so.”
“I suppose we could try to manage through it once or twice… just until I am with child. Last night wasn’t that bad. But then, we wouldn’t have to again, yes?”
“Not if you don’t want to,” Cullen agreed.
Freia quietly contemplated her next words, a small smile forming on her beautiful face. “I guess it can’t be too bad. You’re not exactly hard on the eyes. And if you are true to your word and will let me just be unless we have to… you know… appear as a unified front and of course… that whole making a baby thing… then I suppose…” her voice trailed off.
“You’ll try?” Cullen asked hopefully.
“I’ll try.” Freia threw him one last little smile, her eyes roaming the length of him, causing Cullen to fidget nervously under her silent scrutiny. "Nice pants by the way... they're very fitting."
Cullen shifted from one foot to the next and groaned as she turned and walked away... the little minx.
Varric Tethras- my favorite trusty dwarf.
So, I have a feeling our little Miss Freia is going to give Cullen a run for his money. But I personally think he needs a woman to keep him on his toes.
Hmm... this could get very interesting indeed.
Thanks for reading. I appreciate everyone's comments and kudos. Keep 'em coming ya'll!
This is it! Their wedding day. This was a lot harder to write than I thought but only because I didn't want to overdo it. I wanted it classy and simple.
Next comes the wedding night... hmmm... Will they seal the deal? You'll have to read on to find out.
Cullen paced back and forth outside of the ornate wooden double doors of the Grand Ballroom, his fingers fiddling with the iron cufflinks on the sleeves of his midnight blue formal coat. His nerves were threatening to get the better of him and it was all he could do to force himself to breathe. Very shortly, he would be standing before his family and friends, before the Maker and Andraste, pledging his undying devotion to a woman he barely knew. The thought was quite unsettling to say the least. Life as he knew it was about to change forever and Cullen felt like his heart was going to beat right out of his chest. His palms were sweaty and his mouth dry. What in Thedas was he thinking when he agreed to do this?!?
Oh right! He had been thinking he had no choice but to do this not only for the Emperor but for Orlais, and for all of Thedas… Ugh! Why did he have to be such an over-achiever?
Out of the corner of his eye he saw his sister, Mia approach and Cullen tried to plaster a warm smile on his face if for no other reason than to match the one she sported as she made her way to his side. How he loved his sister. It was a shame that his devotion to his career had kept him from being the brother he knew he should have been. There was no time for self-loathing right now however. His cup was running over at the moment with doubt and his own inadequacies. He’d have to set this one to the back of the fire for now. Perhaps his new life would provide him with the opportunity to make up for his years of being absent from his siblings. It was something he would try to strive for… forging a better relationship with his family.
“Mia, were you able to…” Cullen began.
“Yes. I placed it in your wedding quarters.”
Cullen let out a soft sigh of relief. He had almost forgotten to purchase the customary wedding gift to be exchanged on their first night together as husband and wife. It had been difficult enough trying to decide on what to get her, having very limited knowledge into who Freia was or what she liked. Cullen could only hope she didn’t hate his gift. It may have not appeared as such at first, but he had put a lot of thought into it.
Strolling from the other direction was a tall and lankier version of himself, his younger brother Branson, along with his own wife and son. They were the picture-perfect family and Cullen could only hope that one day he would find a third of the happiness with his own life that Branson seemed to have obtained in his.
“Cullen,” Branson said softly. “Are you alright?”
Cullen cleared his throat nervously and resumed his pacing. “I am. I just need to keep moving so that my legs do not give way.”
Branson whispered to his wife, placing a gentle kiss on her cheek before she took their young son and disappeared through the double doors. A quick nod to Mia and she followed suit, leaving Cullen and Branson alone.
His younger sibling turned to him and smiled. “Tell me, brother. What has you so shaken?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps I am about to be bound in union to a woman I’ve barely even met. What if I disappoint her? Her family? What if I…”
“Cullen,” Branson interrupted. “I cannot fathom being where you are standing right now. I had the fortune to choose my beloved. Nevertheless, it did not make my wedding day any less nerve-wracking. My advice to you is to go into this with an open mind. Do not make expectations for yourself because in the end, you will find disappointment. Take your time and learn to trust her as she will have to learn to trust you. And if you are lucky, you will find true friendship with this woman. Perhaps you may even find love.” Cullen opened his mouth to dispute those words but Branson placed a pausing hand up. “I said perhaps. Many marriages are built on a great friendship. The love part is merely a bonus.” Branson gave Cullen the warmest of smiles.
“Thank you, Branson,” Cullen said with his first sincere smile of the day. “Any other advice would be most welcome.”
“Learn to listen. Women are very emotional creatures, as we both know so well having grown up with two sisters. I have a bit more experience dealing with them, having lived through my wife’s pregnancy, and of course, now Rosalie’s.”
Cullen nodded, feeling a pain of sadness at the fact that Rosalie was too far along in her pregnancy to travel to his wedding and had to stay behind. But he understood and had made a promise that once he had gotten settled into his new life and was able to take a trip, he would have to bring Freia to South Reach to visit his family so that they may officially meet.
“Having said that,” Branson continued. “By listening to what they say instead of dismissing them, you will gain legions of useful knowledge. Trust me on this. It took me years to figure all of this out. Had I known from the beginning that my wife is much smarter than me… I could have saved myself a few nights sleeping in the den,” he said with a laugh.
Just then, the double doors opened and Dorian poked his head out. “We are ready for you,” he said with a bright smile.
Cullen took in a shaky breath. This was it. The moment was here.
“Good luck, Cullen,” Branson offered with a soft pat on the shoulder before leaving to join his wife, son, and Mia inside of the Grand Ballroom.
Cullen swallowed his fear, took a steadying breath, pulled his shoulders back, and put one foot in front of the other. The moment he stepped into the Grand Ballroom, all eyes turned to watch him slowly make his way towards the double staircase. As he walked towards his destination, his amber eyes randomly making eye contact with his friends and family who had all gathered here on this momentous occasion… Dorian with a gleam in his eye and a quick wink, Cassandra with a small smile and a nod, Varric with his shit-eating grin, Mia with a tear in her eye and her hands covering her mouth to try and hide her gentle sob, Branson with his arm around his lovely wife and son, Divine Victoria with her hands stoically clasped in front of her and a soft expression on her face… With all of these people here to support him, Cullen felt his confidence rise just a little. He could do this!
He carefully made his way up the staircase to the balcony overlooking the Ballroom to where the Grand Cleric awaited with a solemn expression on her otherwise non-descript face.
A soft melody began from the small orchestra and Cullen turned his attention to the double doors just as they were opening. It was as if the sun had just parted the clouds after months of rain. Just the sight of her made the air whoosh out of his lungs. She was… There were no words to describe the beauty of the woman making her way towards him, her arm wrapped in her father’s as he escorted her through the sea of Orlesians who were quite visibly stunned by her beauty much in the same way Cullen was.
Freia’s simple white dress was strategically designed to enhance the natural shape of her waist. The bodice was delicately embroidered and hugged her ample breasts while the skirt flowed naturally around her long legs and trailed behind her. Long brown hair fell in a disarray of curls around the crown of her head and down to the small of her back, a crown of white and pale pink flowers weaved through the mass of curls.
Cullen held eye contact with her as Bann Trevelyan walked her up the stairs and to Cullen’s side. It took all of his willpower to tear his gaze away as they all three turned to face the Cleric.
“We are all here today,” the Cleric began, addressing the crowd of people gathered in the Grand Ballroom, “to bear witness to the joining of this man and this woman, in holy matrimony. It is the intent of the Lord Trevelyan of Ostwick to give his daughter to this man so that he may honor and protect her as long as they both shall live.”
“It is,” Leonidas said thoughtfully as he lifted Freia’s hand to his lips, brushing a soft kiss across her skin, before reaching for Cullen’s hand and placing it atop of hers.
Cullen nodded to the Bann as he offered them both a courtly bow and stepped away to take his place next to his wife.
Their eyes met again and Cullen found that breathing had become difficult, his heart pounding loudly in his ears. Her eyes… she had the most magnificent eyes he had ever seen. They were the perfect mixture of green and blue with a hint of golden flecks. He could get lost in those eyes for days if given the chance and an emotion in him he had never felt washed over him. Cullen felt compelled to her, protective and a little possessive even. There was something so astounding in the notion that she was soon to be his and his alone.
“Ser Cullen Stanton Rutherford,” the Cleric said in a projecting voice, pulling Cullen out of his silence musings. “Do you vow before all of these people, unto the Maker and Andraste herself, to take this woman into your life and into your heart, to protect her and honor her as your wife?”
Still lost in her eyes, Cullen replied, “With all that I have and all that I am.”
“Lady Freia Evelyn Trevelyan,” the Cleric began, turning her attention to Freia. “Do you vow before all of these people, unto the Maker and Andraste herself, to take this man into your life and into your heart, to guide him and honor him as your husband?”
Cullen could see her eyes search his, for what… he was uncertain. Yet, as if she found what she was looking for, her expression softened and a sincere smile graced her face as she said, “With all that I have and all that I am.”
“May your lives together be filled with health and happiness, love and compassion. And may you one day walk into the Maker’s light hand in hand. Now you shall seal your bond as husband and wife with a kiss.”
With a nervousness unlike anything Cullen had ever experienced in his entire existence, he released Freia’s small hand, place his larger hands on her waist so that he could pull her into his embrace, and leaned forward, his lips whispering across hers in what was meant to be a quick kiss. Yet, once their lips touched and he felt her leaning into his chest, their mouths lingered much longer than he anticipated. It was like a spark of electricity radiated along his entire body, from head to toe. He could hear cheers from the crowd around them and that was the only thing that pulled him back to reality. If he thought he could get lost in her eyes for days… Cullen could have kissed her for weeks. And when he reluctantly ended their kiss, his eyes found hers. She looked taken aback, shocked even. He couldn’t help but smirk, quickly realizing that the reason she looked so startled had nothing to do with an aversion to him as he had originally thought and had everything to do with the fact that Lady Freia had felt that spark between them the same as Cullen. And in that very moment, Cullen realized…things had just gotten a lot more interesting.
It had been a whirlwind of introductions after that. Josephine had courted them around the Grand Ballroom, presenting Ser Cullen and Lady Freia Rutherford to every noble and dignitary that had shown up to wish them well. Cullen and Freia Rutherford, she had said. The phrase struck him right between the ribcage, the waves of nausea and anxiety festering so deep, Cullen could feel himself sweating. He had never been someone’s husband before, had never planned on being such, and to hear it aloud made him want to hyperventilate. But he had come this far. There was no backing down now.
There had been a feast unlike any feast he had ever seen in the main dining hall where he and Freia had literally just met the night before. More strong and sturdy tables had been brought into the ostentatiously large room, four to be exact, all strategically placed to make a large square in the middle the room. A moderately sized entourage of specially invited guests poured into the room and graciously waited to take their seats until Cullen and Freia had been escorted in and seated themselves.
The dining hall filled with laughter and conversation, the tinkling of fine china and crystal goblets. And there poor Cullen sat, pushing his food around on his plate as he silently brooded. All sorts of thoughts were bouncing around in his nerve-addled brain. He didn’t know what to say to Freia, who had busied herself talking to her mother who sat on her left. His lovely sister, Mia, sat to his right and cheerfully talked his ear off but Cullen was not able to process the words that were coming out of her mouth. Because if he was finding himself uncomfortable just sitting there next to his lovely wife trying to have a meal, what was to come next would prove impossible.
By Orlesian custom, after the wedding feast had been consumed and the final toasts been made, the happily married couple would then be shooed off to their wedding chambers where they would exchange their marital gifts and then consummate their vows. Now, sex shouldn’t have been that difficult for them seeing that they had already done the deed two nights before. But that had been different. Alcohol had been involved, intense inebriation tearing down Cullen’s inhibitions and allowing him to get out of his own head for once and just act. This was somehow different and Cullen was ashamed to admit he did not know if he had it in him to go through with it. Obligatory sex with an albeit very attractive woman who just so happened to be his wife now was not something he could get behind. If she showed a single sign of not wanting this, he would not force the issue. And by the way that she kept her attention steered away from him throughout the feast, refusing to make eye contact once and carefully tending to the conversations around her with rapt interest, Cullen would venture that Freia was still no happier with this arrangement than she had been last night when they spoke.
Time had passed much too quickly for Cullen as the final course of the extravagant meal was served and the conversations had started winding down. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bann Trevelyan rise to his feet, wine goblet in hand and raised in the air. Silence fell over the room and all eyes became trained on Leonidas. And as he cleared his throat, prepared to make the final toast, a cold sweat washed over Cullen as the nausea settled in once more.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I wanted to thank you all for how welcoming you’ve been to myself, my lovely wife and daughter, and our small entourage of soldiers that escorted us here. I also would like to extend the most gracious of thanks to our host, Emperor Gaspard De Chalons,” Leonidas nodded to the Emperor who stood briefly to address the crowd of admirers, bowed slightly at the waist, and then returned to his seat. “He has welcomed us into his home, arranged the beautiful ceremony earlier, and provided this feast to celebrate the joining of his former Commander and my one and only… my heart… my Freia.”
Cullen heard Freia mumble something softly to herself and only imagined they were not kind words directed at her father. But he chose not to react to it, figuring those thoughts she had accidentally mumbled aloud were not meant for his ears.
The Bann turned his attention to Cullen, his glass still raised high in the air. “I suppose she is your Freia now,” he said with a wistful laugh.
Out of nowhere, a surge of electricity built up inside of Cullen again. It started at the tip of his toes and trailed throughout his body, causing his stomach to do obnoxious somersaults and his heart to speed up. His Freia… The thought that this woman was technically his now was both frightening and exhilarating. There was now the idea of a life he had never thought he would have floating in the back of his mind. A wife and children, maybe even a dog. The possibilities were endless. He had never longed for such things simply because they were not the life he had chosen for himself. Military. That was what he knew and loved. That was going to be his life. Yet, Cullen was slowly realizing that maybe this marriage, that being bound to a woman for eternity, was something he could have wanted for himself if he had given it just the smallest of thoughts. And in the present, sitting there next to his wife, Cullen could acknowledge for the first time since all of this had started that maybe being this woman’s husband would not necessarily be a bad thing.
“I am honored, Ser Cullen, to call you my son-in-law. And with the utmost sincerity, both I and Annabel would like to welcome you to our family.”
Cullen lifted his glass to the Bann in salute and smiled. Freia turned to face Cullen for the first time since they had taken a seat at the table, her own wine glass lifted, a small smile on her otherwise stoic face. Their gazes fixed on one another and whatever words of congratulations that were spilling from his father-in-law’s mouth sort of dissipated in the air around them. He searched those soulful hazel eyes, wondering when he had become so invested in figuring this woman out. She was indeed a mystery. There was a mixture of sadness and curiosity reflecting in their depths as she too studied him intently.
As Leonidas delivered the last of his speech, Cullen reluctantly pulled his attention away from Freia so that his eyes could scan the room, take in the sight of all of these people he did not know intermingled with his family and his closest friends. They all drank from their glasses simultaneously, prompting him to do the same. And with a nervous giddiness he was so desperately trying to hide, Cullen set his emptied glass down on the table and turned to his wife once again, a warm smile lifting the scarred side of his mouth. Her eyes glittered with mischief and intrigue. They both knew what was before them. And they also both knew they had two choices. They could make this situation extremely awkward and uncomfortable. Or they could take it for it what it was… two people who needed to quickly get accustomed to one another because whether they liked it or not, they were now husband and wife.
They made the walk from the dining hall to their wedding chambers in complete and utter silence, barely stealing glances now and then. Once they were inside the decadent room and the doors were shut trapping them inside together for the duration of the night, the awkwardness clinging in the air around them felt almost suffocating.
“Would you… uh… would you like some wine or…” Cullen stumbled, frantically trying to make this less uncomfortable.
“Yes,” she smirked, her mouth twisted into a little half smile. “Alcohol would probably make this evening a lot less awkward, don’t you think?”
“I didn’t mean to… that is, I wasn’t trying to…”
“Cullen,” she cut him off. “I would love a glass of wine, please.”
He nodded and stepped away long enough to uncork the bottle of Vint-9 Rowan’s Rose and pour them both a glass. Cullen returned to Freia and simply smiled as she accepted the wine from him and took a hefty sip.
Their eyes remained trained on one another as they drank their wine in silence, the room earth-shatteringly still. Freia was the first to break that eye contact, stepping away from Cullen and walking slowly around the room, taking in the plush furnishings and ornate decorations.
“They’ve certainly spared no expense here, have they?” she jested.
“It’s a bit too much if you ask me,” he replied with a light chuckle, his own gaze taking in the opulent canopied bed large enough to fit five people.
She turned to face him, a small smile lifting her lips. “I agree.”
Well that was comforting to know, thought Cullen. It was encouraging to know that the lavishness of the room did not appeal to her either. Perhaps he had been lucky and was in the presence of a noble that didn’t quite fit the mold of those he had encountered in his past.
Cullen cleared his throat nervously and said, “I meant to say this earlier but you look absolutely beautiful, my lady,” before taking a long pull off of his glass of wine.
Her dainty nose crinkled just a bit. “Freia,” she corrected.
“Alright then. Freia.”
“Thank you, Cullen.”
There was just something about the way she said his name… goosebumps. He wasn’t sure if it was her accent or the melody of her voice, but there was something almost sensual about it. Cullen could close his eyes and just listen to her talk, the sound of her voice that soothing to his ears.
“I have something for you,” Freia said as she took one last sip of her wine, set the glass down on a dresser, and walked over to where her trunks had been stowed by one of the palace attendants most likely during their wedding ceremony.
Freia returned to Cullen’s side with a medium sized package wrapped in brown paper and tied off with a string. “I’m sorry if it is not to your liking. I had very limited time to prepare a gift for you.”
“I’m sure I will like it very much.”
That earned him a bright smile. She nodded to the package. “Open it.”
Cullen carefully withdrew the string and peeled the brown paper away. He lifted her gift from the confines of its wrapping and held it out before him, completely stunned. The soft red fabric slid across his fingers as he viewed the extravagant overcoat she had given him. It sported golden corded trim and a red and black fur collar that was akin to a lion’s mane.
Freia took a step forward and fingered the fur collar. “I had asked Dorian about you last night after dinner, while you were having drinks with my father,” she explained. “He is most delightful, by the way. And quite the fountain of information.”
Cullen chuckled. “I’m sure he was.”
“He told me only good stories, I swear it. My favorite was a story about how you received the moniker of the Lion of Ferelden.”
“I see,” Cullen remarked, his hand immediately going to the back of his head as he began to blush.
“You were down on the battlefield, your men thought you to be dead. But not Ser Cullen Rutherford. Gravely injured, you stood, your eyes glowing with menace as you growled just like a lion and managed to fight through two more waves of the enemy. Quite an impressive tale.”
“Not as impressive as they tell it.”
“Ah. I enjoyed it nonetheless.”
Cullen held up the coat and smiled. “This is extraordinary and I thank you.”
“You are very welcome.”
Cullen placed the coat carefully over the back of one of the chairs by the fireplace and walked over to where his own belongings were, reaching for the package that Leliana had given him and the one Mia had purchased and wrapped for him. He strode back to where Freia stood and handed her both gifts.
“Two?” she asked with a tilt of one eyebrow.
“The one on top is from the Divine. I encourage you to open that one first as I am just as curious to see what is inside.”
“Hmm…” She set Cullen’s gift off to the side and turned the Divine’s package over in her hand, eyeing it suspiciously before tearing into the wrapping. Freia removed the top of the box to expose two very exquisite matching daggers, the blade glistening in the glow cast by the firelight, the grips made of some kind of rare leather with a jade-colored stone imbedded within. Freia lifted out a small piece of parchment, reading the Divine’s curvy penmanship. Tears formed around the edges of her eyes.
“Are you alright?” he asked, concern etched on his face.
Freia nodded as she placed the letter back into the box, covered the daggers with the lid, and set it off to the side. “Quite alright.” Her sad expression was immediately washed away and replaced with a brilliant smile as she reached for Cullen’s gift. “May I?” she asked,
She opened the package, pulling the book from within the wrappings and held it up so that she could examine the cover. Carmenum Di Amatus. Her eyes met his briefly before with rapt interest she opened the book and flipped through some of the pages.
“I… uh… I don’t have a lot of experience giving gifts but I thought we could… that is, if you like of course, read it together.”
“On aching branch do blossoms grow, the wind a hallowed breath. It carries the scent of honeysuckle, sweet as the lover’s kiss. It brings the promise of more tomorrows, of sighs and whispered bliss,” she read with a sweet smile.
“Yes… well… um..” he muttered, clearing his throat nervously.
“Cullen, this is a wonderful gift. I thank you.”
“You are welcome.”
Cullen had changed out of his formal attire into a softly knit white tunic and loose-fitting trousers. He paced back and forth before the fire in his bare feet, waiting for Freia to return from the bath she had insisted upon taking in the other room. Not that he would ever deny her of such, but the longer she took in the other room, the more time he had to lose himself in the random thoughts plaguing him. At this point, the day had been a riot of anxiety and emotions he was unfamiliar with. But this night… Cullen did not know what her expectations of him were exactly and that was slowly killing him. The last thing he wanted to do was mess up this first night of the rest of their lives together.
He heard the door to the bathing chamber open and shut, and stopped pacing so that he could turn to face her. Freia wore a simple silky white robe that was only held together by the sash tied around her waist. Her soft brown waves hung in a haphazard braid that fell across her right shoulder. She bit her bottom lip as she visibly took in a nervous breath and padded over on bare feet to where Cullen stood before the fire.
He looked down at her face. Being a good foot taller than she, Cullen imagined how easy it would be to just tuck her into his embrace, her head against his chest as he rested his chin against the top of her hair. He wanted to do so but felt the gesture was a bit too much for where they were at so far in their blooming relationship—if it could even be called that.
Freia continued to work her bottom lip between her teeth, staring up at him with those bewitching eyes. “I guess this is the part where we…” her voice trailed off and Cullen could see the emotions warring behind that beautiful stare.
“We don’t have to if you…”
“No. We must. Avoiding it will only make it more difficult.”
“Are you certain?”
Freia nodded, took a step back from Cullen, exhaled a shaky breath, and before he even knew what her intentions were, she lifted her hand to the sash of her robe. It only took one tug before the robe came undone, the soft fabric opening effortlessly, sliding from her shoulders, down her arms to fall into a pool around her feet.
His mouth went dry and his cock immediately stood at attention as his eyes devoured the vision standing before him. Freia, bare to him, the soft glow of the firelight dancing over her naked body. She was…
Ah... the suspense. Will they or won't they? I guess you'll just have to keep reading to find out.
Sorry to leave it hanging like that but the chapter was getting kind of long and plus... What kind of writer would I be if I did not leave you wanting more?
I know... I'm such a tease, LOL.
He could not prevent his wandering eyes from taking in the sight of her standing before him. His gaze raked over the soft contours of her body, the way her flawless skin glistened in the firelight. Cullen could feel his pulse speed up, his hands becoming sweaty. He wanted her in a way he had never wanted another woman. Uncertain if it was because of her intense beauty or the fact that this woman was his wife… she belonged to him in a way she would never belong to another; the idea was daunting. He took a timid step forward.
“Freia… I…” Words failed him. He wanted to tell her to put her robe back on, that she needn’t do this. He wanted to tell her that. Yet, a more primal, wanton side of him wanted to devour her with his hands and mouth, to sink his pulsing cock so deep inside of her. “Are you sure?” he finally asked on an exhale of air, not sure what he wanted her answer to be, but realizing he had never wanted something more than for this moment to progress into the next.
Those hazel eyes bore right through him. She stood tall and proud, did not falter under his scrutinizing stare. Cullen could only think the woman had to know she was perfection to behold for there was no trepidation in the step she took towards him. The next step forward placed her within less than an arm’s length away and Cullen practically gasped. One hand lifted to caress his stubbled jaw, trailing fingertips drawing across the roughened skin of his face to his hair. She gently ran those long fingers through his golden curls, her eyes never leaving his. Slowly, Freia leaned forward and brushed her lips against his, kissing him ever so carefully at first, tempting and teasing as she deepened the kiss. He felt her tongue work through his slightly parted lips and begin to mingle with his own. Cullen kept his hands by his side, his finger tips itching to reach out for her and touch her bare skin, his desire for her barely contained.
Freia pulled away from him, capturing his bottom lip between her teeth and tugging before she ended the kiss completely. Still a breath away from him, her eyes studying his intently, she whispered, “I would not be standing here before you, naked, if I did not want you to put your hands on me, Cullen.” Her hands reached out to him, grabbed the hem of his tunic and tugged it up his abdomen, up his broad chest, and over his head, tossing it on the floor. Those same deft fingers worked at the button on his loose fitting trousers and pushed them down over his hips, allowing his erection to spring free from its confines. He carefully stepped out of the breeches and their eyes met again, Cullen feeling exposed and slightly vulnerable under her serious stare.
Freia took a step back, allowed her eyes to assess him from head to toe, one brow cocked mischievously as a crooked grin tugged at her mouth. “My husband, you are…” she lifted her eyes skyward as if searching for the right word before that crooked grin erupted into a brilliantly seductive smile, “… quite impressive.”
“Is that so,” he murmured, her seductive gaze wreaking havoc on his senses.
“It is. You are quite handsome, indeed,” she whispered, taking a step forward to close the distance between them.
Cullen closed his eyes and prayed to the Maker to give him strength against this temptress, lest he pick her up where she stood, carried her teasing little self over to the bed, threw her down and ravished her immediately. He could feel her skin against his, the pebbled flesh of her hardened nipples brush against his bare chest, and her hands… Maker’s breath! She raked her fingernails over his shoulder, down his back, around his side and across the muscles of his abdomen… then caught him completely off guard by palming his erection, her curious hands slowly gliding up and down his hardened shaft.
“I’ve never seen a naked man before,” Freia commented with a soft chuckle. “So I really have nothing to compare you to. But may I be so bold to say, you truly are a sight to behold.”
“Freia… I…” he stumbled, a low growl rumbling in his chest as her hands continued to slide up and down the length of him.
“And this stumbling and muttering over words thing that you do when you are nervous… it is absolutely adorable.” Freia moved closer to him, if that was even possible. Her mouth hovered over his teasingly, soft lips whispering against his before moving across his jawline, nibbling at his ear lobe. One hand continuously caressed his erection while her lips teased and taunted the delicate skin beneath his ear. She grazed his ear with her teeth as she whispered, “I think if we are going to be forced into marriage with one another, we should at least learn to make the best of it. Don’t you?”
“I…” he swallowed hard, words again failing him and leaving him nothing more than a stuttering, mumbling fool. “Yes,” Cullen finally muttered, her hand moving more quickly up and down the length of him. He could not take any more of her teasing and let out a low and feral growl. He heard her gasp as he tugged her hand away from his pulsing erection, cupped her firm backside in the palm of his hands and lifted her from the ground, forcing her to wrap her long legs around his waist. His mouth captured hers in a brutal kiss, lips devouring lips. With careful strides, Cullen walked them over to the bed, never breaking the raw kiss that now enveloped the both of them. Once he felt the mattress against his shins, Cullen placed his hands on her waist, lifted her from him, and tossed her onto the bed.
Freia at first gasped again and then chuckled as she bounced against the soft mattress, her eyes lighting up with mischief and delight. “Why Ser Rutherford… what in Thedas do you plan on doing with me now?”
Cullen chuckled as well as he dropped down on the bed beside of her. “You are…”
“Yes?” she inquired with one brow cocked.
“A feisty little thing, aren’t you?”
Freia laughed as she lifted her hand to his hair again, her fingers toying with his soft golden curls. “You think so?”
“Well… If nothing else, I am guaranteed to keep you entertained.”
Cullen’s eyes held her gaze and the slight smile he had on his handsome face dissolved, replaced by an intense longing to touch her, kiss her… fuck her. He timidly lifted one hand and then withdrew nervously, unsure and trepid. “May I touch you?” he finally asked, not wanting to do anything she did not want him to do.
Her smile faded as well. Freia nodded and swallowed hard, her eyes closing and her lips parting slightly.
Cullen’s strong hands brushed across the soft skin of her breast, feeling the dusky colored peaks stiffen beneath his touch. He pinched her nipple between his thumb and forefinger, rolling the sensitive bud back and forth, his eyes lifting to her face. A soft moan escaped through her parted lips, encouraging Cullen to venture forth bravely. He leaned forward and captured her other breast in his mouth, sucking her in as his other hand deftly worked at her. His tongue flicked against her sensitive nipple, taking turns licking at her and sucking her into his mouth. Her back arched off of the bed as soft moans and gasps filled the silence of their room. He glanced up at her face again as his assault on her breasts continued, reveling in the sight of her face drawn in a haze of want and desire.
Cullen cautiously released his hold on her breast, his mouth still tugging at her while his free hand roamed down the length of her slim abdomen to the soft mound between her legs. He felt her body tense beneath his and trailed his mouth away from her breast, across the column of her throat to her ear. “Trust me,” he whispered as his teeth grazed her ear lobe. His words of assurance eased her and he felt the tension leave her body slightly. Cullen took in a deep breath meant to gain some control over his over-stimulated libido. He had to remind himself that she was inexperienced and if he meant to make this a pleasant experience for her, to give her what she deserved in the way of pleasure which he had been amiss to do the first time they had been intimate… he needed to slow the fuck down. This was about her, not him.
“Look at me,” he encouraged and offered her a slight smile. “I can stop at any time. You must only say the word.”
“No,” was her breathless reply. “I want you… I want you… please don’t stop.”
“Alright. But if you change your mind…”
Her eyes glazed over as she closed them once again and bucked her hips forward to meet his hand. Cullen chuckled softly, happy to oblige by brushing one long finger against her wet folds. She moaned softly and Cullen instantly found the source of Freia’s pleasure with his fingertip and began rubbing against the sensitive bud slowly. Her body began to writhe beneath his touch, Freia’s head turning to the side and becoming buried against his neck. He continued to move his finger back and forth against her, increasing the speed of his ministrations. He could feel her breath against his neck, her soft cries muffled against his skin. Her hips bucked forward against his touch, and as he quickened his fingers her moans became louder and louder. While his fingertip continued moving against her, Cullen felt his own erection grow even harder if that was possible. And with Freia panting and moaning against his neck, it took all of his willpower to hold onto his self control.
He drove one finger inside of her, pulling an animalistic groan from her lips. One finger slid in and out of her wet folds as his mouth found her breast again and his teeth began to tug her nipple, his mouth sucking at her. She writhed and moaned beneath him, and Cullen added a finger, driving two inside of her wet heat. Freia bucked wildly against his hand, her back arching as her head fell back, her mouth parted, and a primal scream escaped her. He could feel the wetness of her center explode against his finger tips and removed his mouth from her breast, lifted his head to look at her so that he could see her exquisite face ride out the waves of her orgasm. Cullen withdrew his hand from between her legs and just continued to watch as the affects of her climax washed over her.
Her eyes opened and stared up at him, a lazy smile firmly in place.
“Are you… I mean… Was that…” Cullen stumbled.
Without warning, Freia hooked one leg around his waist, twisted her body over his so that he was pinned down against the mattress and she straddled him, palmed his cock in her hand and lowered herself onto him. He felt her moist heat envelope him and shuddered with a loud growl. Freia took him inside of her wholly and completely, her hips rocking against his, her hands resting on his shoulders and the soft skin of her breasts brushing against his chest. She moved with him inside of her, slowly at first, as if getting used to the feel of his length between her legs. And then as she gained more comfort and confidence, Freia sat up and moved her hips, taking him deeply as she threw her head back and moaned.
Cullen forced his eyes to remain open as he watched her. He had never had a woman take charge like that before and the sight of Freia riding him was one that he was thoroughly enjoying. Her full and exquisite breasts begged for his hands and so he was only happy to oblige, covering her with his palms and kneading the soft mounds of flesh. He pinched at her nipples with his thumb and forefinger which only intensified her desire, causing her to grind her hips against his more fiercely. She moved like a woman with experience, her body knowing what it needed and wanted from his to feel complete. And although Cullen knew that she had never experienced the joy of sex prior to their coupling two nights ago, Freia held nothing back, moving against him in fearless ecstasy.
He dropped his hands to her waist, guiding her hips as she continued to rock against him, taking him deep inside of her womb. Cullen felt the pleasure inside of him bubbling and boiling… threatening to erupt. He held onto what little control he had left until he felt the wetness between her legs completely envelop him, heard her cry out in pleasure as she rode out another orgasm. Cullen lifted his hips off of the bed to drive deeper inside of her, once… twice… three more times until his head began to spin and he felt his own orgasm erupt within him. He let out a low growl as he held her against him and spilled his seed inside of her. His eyes never left her face, her own now open and watching him intently. Their gaze held as they both fought to catch their breath.
Cullen had been with women in the past but nothing had ever compared to this… to this woman and this moment and this feeling. If they got nothing else right in this arranged marriage of theirs… this was the one thing that they easily had down pat. The passion and attraction between them was unlike anything he had ever experienced with a woman in his entire life.
“That was…” Freia began, breathless.
“Unbelievable… “Cullen finished for her.
His words garnered a bright smile and an even brighter laugh as Freia leaned forward and pressed her lips against his. “Indeed.”
I'm sorry it has taken me so long to get the next chapter posted. Life happened and I had some personal issues to deal with. However, issues are dealt with for now and hopefully I can try to start posting back on a weekly basis.
Thank you to all who have left kudos and comments in my absence. I hope this new chapter does not disappoint since I made ya'll wait so long for it :)