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How To Avoid Diplomatic Incidents

Chapter Text


 

"So. Small clothes were mentioned."

Josephine nearly fell out of her chair. 

Brin Lavellan rolled a quill, idly, between her fingers. 

At first glance, her focus appeared, solely, on the object, at hand. At second: something that looked very near a smirk.

But, it could have been a play of the light, or the various strokes of the woman’s tattoos, or her imagination, for all she knew and the other was concerned—because a moment longer—and the elf’s face was the very model of Dalish impassivity. 

The ambassador straightened in her chair.

How convenient. 

“My lady?” The perfect intonation of muted misunderstanding. The elf was not the only one who could feign nonchalance: she had perfected it in five different languages.

"Small clothes." An internalized sigh. Because the words were entirely too brazen. And if the woman could say those two, so shamelessly and with no observable heed of company, she could only imagine the spare ‘colorful’ phrases that might be uttered in the presence of their next visiting dignitary. "I don't know whose. Leliana wouldn't tell me."

Leli—Maker.

Josephine laid her quill to the right of her parchment; folded her hands. "Mistress Lavellan…"

“We agreed you wouldn’t call me that.”

"And I requested you refrain referring to me as 'Scribbles'."

A smile. One she had to ignore from the simple distraction. “But it's clever—and awfully spot on. Unlike, 'Jotting' or 'Chicken Scratch’; those hardly roll off the tongue.” A beat. “Well. My tongue. I’m quite convinced yours could roll any it put its mind to. But we aren’t all Antivan, are we?” 

Her lips parted. Closed. “‘Chicken—" 

“Oh, I'm sure you have wonderful penmanship, being a diplomat, and writing to those important people. But think of the conversations it would start! ‘Madame Chicken Scratch, you say? However did you come by such a title?' Then you would laugh politely, and they would laugh politely, and I would have more wine because—Orlesians.” She made a face. “The next thing you know, they’re joining our cause. Ready to fight, send aid or approve edicts, all because of a well placed moniker.”

“You mentioned small clothes.” Yes. The other had gone so far with the business of this ‘moniker’, that she actually employed the previous, albeit mortifying, subject to cease the current one. 

Brin pointed the quill at her. "Right. I hope you know, your friend, Leliana, is an incurable tease. We were right in the middle of a charming discussion on how the two of you became better acquainted, and then, she mentioned escaping to real parties and smalls being pinned on chantry boards—but wouldn't say more.” Dipped, auburn brows. “I begged like you wouldn't believe, but nothing. So, I hoped to gain your assistance."

Josephine straightened, again. Hoped the warm light of the candles masked the heat creeping up her neck. "With?"

"The smalls!” Oh. Lovely. 

And, she was certain. So very certain, that the scarlet had bloomed in her cheeks for all to see. 

“Come on.” The other woman seemed wholly unaffected by her condition—except for the was there/wasn’t there, smirk. “Aren't all Antivans sexual deviants with wondrously open minds?"

"…Is that the official, Dalish opinion?"

A shrug. “You shemlen all look the same, so we have a system.” She counted off her fingers. “Orlesians: fancy; Fereldans: hounds; Antivans: illicit purveyors of sex."

A frown. “You do realize that is the equivalent of humans viewing the Dalish as ‘uncultured barbarians’?

“Yes. But now we’re even.” Her clear eyes sparkled, before she tsked impatiently. “Now: the—"

Josephine raised a hand. “Please.” An actual plea. She had dealt with marquis who were less difficult. “What is it you wish to know?"

Another smile—accomplished. And, if the discussion matter hadn't been so wholly inappropriate, she might have actually admired the expression. The way the tendrils of her intricate markings crinkled and stretched along porcelain skin, and—

All right. So, there may have been a bit of admiring. 

Brin leaned forward in her chair—seemingly unaware of her staring. “Were they yours or Leliana's?"

"Really?" The ambassador leaned back, a single brow raised. "Not the color, or the material, or if the nail ruined the lining forever?”

A smirk. Slow. “Only if they were yours."

Oh.

…Oh.

Ahem.

Another subtle shift. “They belonged to Leliana.”

The elf's face broke into another brilliant smile, though—she was sure…there was the briefest instant of disappointment in her eyes.

“I figured as much. It's always the religious ones; too many rules, and such." The Herald rose from her chair, returning the quill she ‘requisitioned’. "Suppose I'll let you get back to work. Can’t live up to that classy moniker if that hand of yours is still.” A wink. “Thanks for the help."

"Of course." The ambassador dipped her head in a respectful bow.

Brin turned away with a two-fingered wave.

Josephine waited for the definitive ‘click’ of the door, the natural silence that came with her designated space…

She fell back into her chair.

Sighed….

A smile.

Serves her right.

The smalls had been hers — in fact, she wore them not long ago — but maybe that would teach Leliana not to tell the Herald of Andraste, stories of personal nature.

…Not that a part of her wasn’t interested in the outcome, the look on Lady Lavellan’s face, if she were to discover the truth. 

Josephine’s expression grew…before she reached across her desk to capture the leather bound quill the other toyed with, dipping its tip in ink to proceed in her daily correspondence, once more.

Chapter Text


 

“You spoke Elven.” Brin watched the human glance up from her paperwork, a customary, if not readied look of calm expectation, as her hand continued to write. She never did knock; it appeared the other had become accustomed to it. Good show, Scribbles. “When we were first introduced, you offered a Dalish greeting—though, your accent was atrocious.” The scratching of her quill stopped; Brin smirked softly. “Still: I am curious. On how you learned the little that you know. My people do not so willingly part with pieces of our stolen language.” She moved further into the room, completely ignoring the opposite chair to press a hip into the side of her desk. “Was it charmed off an unsuspecting, Dalish youth, you happened to pass by?”

A small smile: measured; polite. “Nothing so fanciful, I assure you. In fact, I suspect you’ll find the tale decidedly uneventful.” Josephine set her quill aside, an action that signaled she now gave her full attention. “I mentioned my family’s historical occupation, that my younger siblings, now deal with the mercantile affairs?” A nod. “When we commanded entire fleets, we did business with nations—all manners of people, of varying origins and backgrounds. On occasion, my grandfather even supplied Dalish clans amenable to trade with humans. What Elven I know are from his limited interactions.” An inquiring glance. “It is a more formal greeting, among your people, is it not?”

A smirk—she could not help it. “It’s for strangers. No Dalish would use such careful words to address their own.” She ran a hand through the curly mass that was her hair, pushed several rebellious strands away from her eyes. “‘An’daran atish’an’…” the human looked entranced, eyes narrowed slightly—as if intent to perfect the phrase, if she ever need use it again; Brin cocked her head. A parlor trick. “Do you know what it means?” Knowing, bright eyes…before the ambassador seemed to reconsider, shook her head, instead. “‘I dwell in this place. There is peace for you, here.’”

She watched grey orbs soften, satisfaction tug the corner of her lips. “A beautiful sentiment. I find myself, amazed, so much can be conveyed in so little.”

And wasn’t that unexpected? She had never seen a shemlen reaction to her people’s customs, less than belligerent. Here, this one thought it “beautiful”. “And, what do your people say?” Brin shifted along the ambassador’s desk; moved to sit on it fully. “To make others feel welcome?” 

The human appeared taken aback—by the question, by her actions—but, only for a moment. “Formally?” A nod. “Bienvenido. Of course, that changes depending on who is being addressed…” another moment, and she found herself perversely attracted to the little wrinkle forming on the other’s brow while she thought, “Mm. Perhaps, ‘siempre serás bienvenido aquí’.” Brin raised a brow. “‘You will always be welcome here’.” Josephine clucked her tongue. “Ah, but it lacks a certain… integrity, from what you gave earlier.”

“I quite liked the sound of it. Before the translations.” She crossed a leg. “It sounded like you were propositioning me.”

Those grey orbs scampered away. “I would never think to do something so impractical. Or distract you from your duties, Your Worship…”

A sigh. “Taarsidath-an halsaam.” 

“Is that…” her features knotted in confusion, “Qunlat? How do you—” the ambassador’s lips pursed perceptively. “The Iron Bull.” Narrowed eyes. “What does it mean?”

Brin smiled. “Would you like more?” A disapproving stare. “Elven.” Stressed—and she did her absolute best to keep her expression from growing. “Then, the next time you’re asked how you came about it, you can give an exceedingly more exciting narrative.”

Josephine crossed her arms. “Not long ago, you told me your people did not part with their secrets, so handily. I doubt I have anything of sufficient worth for such a rare privilege.”

“And, if I could think of something?” A conscious shift under her gaze, and the elf took a twisted pleasure in the color to her cheeks. “You’re a diplomat: wouldn’t one think sharing these sorts of things with you, could help others understand the Dalish better? There’ll not be any give if there isn’t a bit of take. And vice versa.” 

The ambassador nodded seriously, features slipping back into a mask of impassivity. “Quite true. The fact that there is so little in common between our two factions, along with the oppression the elves have suffered, promotes little room for discourse or understanding.”

Brin apprehended her quill (much to the other’s chagrin), twiddling it between her forefinger and thumb. “Shemlen don’t understand us because we don’t wish them too—not that those on your end are any grand harbingers of acceptance, either.” She smirked. “The two work well together. But only if you’re of a mind that ignorance is bliss.”

Josephine frowned; clasped her hands. “I imagine being away from your clan, is…” a pause, “It must be difficult adjusting to so many…” another; the ambassador sighed. “There is just no easy way to ask how you feel, living amongst humans.”

“Well: no one’s called me ‘dirty, knife-ear’ or poked me with any sharp sticks…” The other woman looked horrified; Brin burst into laughter. “It’s dear to see you worry, but I have interacted with shemlen, before. Not every Dalish clan despises your lot; some of us have realized you’re a necessary evil.” 

“Oh. Well.” She cleared her throat. “How very sensible. I was unaware different clans among the Dalish possessed varied feelings on the subject; those who dwell in Antiva are somewhat…forceful. I suppose I assumed that hatred, universal among you.” The human appeared disappointed in herself. “An assumption on my part. One I thought myself above making.”

Curious. “Why?” 

“Assumptions can be lethal—ruinous, for any diplomat. One must always keep an open mind in the ever present search for common ground.” A frown. “That. And it was unfair to you.”

Another moment where the human had surprised her — on her face was regret. And ‘regret’ was only shared amongst equals. “You expected worse?”

“I did not know what to expect. But, it should have been more.” Her eyes fell to her desk. “It is…an occupational hazard. One that leads to less disappointment.”  

Brin leaned forward, used the butt of the writing instrument to tap the underside of the woman's chin. “There, there, Scribbles: it isn’t the assumptions; it’s how you act on them. And I had more than a few about your kind, myself.” A smile. “You wouldn’t believe the tales we hear as children. That if we were bad, shemlen would steal us from our aravels at night…” she chuckled to herself, before sighing. “Ah, but, you’re all quite dull in reality. Selfish.”

The other’s brows furrowed. “‘Selfish’?”

“How to say this?” She moved the quill to her own chin, balancing its tip against the pad of her finger. “Shemlen awareness extends, only, to self. With a clan, everyone’s connected: the food one eats is food another cannot. The same with a bow or an arrow, or clothing. Anything that’s found, is everyone’s—can be used by everyone. That’s how Dalish think. Not, ‘what will I eat’, but ‘what will the clan’. Not ‘mine’, but ‘ours’.”

“How is that different from the desire to take care of one’s family or loved ones?”

“It’s in the limitations. Everything we do, or hope to find, will be to the benefit of all Elvhen. A shemlen seizes land, gains power, and it's only rewarded to a few — family; loved ones.” Her eyes narrowed. “You’re all shemlen, yet you refuse to help one another. Because of lines you drew in the dirt.”

The ambassador stared at her, the smallest hint of surprise burning through despite her attempts to remain impassive—and, really, it was a look she loved. When humans realized she wasn’t stupid.

The quill she held was suddenly plucked away, a soft, silken fabric replacing its hard tip, as Josephine dabbed a handkerchief against her fingers. “Really. You must stop playing with quills, and mind your appearance, my lady. You’ve ink all over.”

Ah. Well.

Brin scratched her nose with her unblemished hand.

Not entirely stupid.

The elf looked from her hand, to the woman fussing over it. “‘Lath’bora viran.’” Grey orbs met hers, expectantly, but she shook her head. “The translation isn’t important, so much as the intent.” A pause. “It… is an inexplicable longing for something a person cannot know.” Her brows dipped. “It’s what happens each time I speak Elven—when any of my people speak Elven. Each time…it is ‘lath’bora viran’ — we speak, but don’t understand.” 

Pieces. Ignorance

Forever scrambling toward more confusion.

Saudade….” whispered. An answer. And even though she didn’t know it’s meaning, it felt like an echo. Josephine’s touch lingered…Until realization. She colored; gingerly pulled her hand away. “I—there is much, yet, to be done. Is there anything else you require, Your Worship?”

“Kicking me out, eh?” The ambassador looked close to protesting; Brin smirked, pushing off her desk to stand. “I suppose it’s what I deserve for ruining your handkerchief.” She pocketed the piece of cloth. “I’ll see if someone around here is decent at removing stains.” A beat. “Maybe Cole. He likes fixing things…”

Brin laughed, catching a distinctive shiver, right before she departed.

Chapter Text


 

The Inquisitor would not sleep in her room.

Varric had informed her that he had seen their leader stalking the gardens at unholy hours of the night (“Now, now: don’t get all diplomat-y on me, Ruffles—I just figured it was a Dalish thing. You know, picking daisies and shit. You wouldn’t believe the tales I have on one I knew back in Kirkwall…”), and it had not been the first time a recruit made their way to the training grounds for morning practice, only to stumble upon the ‘Herald of Andraste’ curled up with a practice dummy.

And then, entire sessions would be delayed because that recruit, nor any other, possessed the sheer courage to wake a single, slumbering elf, half most their sizes. Their commander, included.

Apparently, the consensus was their leader was ‘cute when she snored’.

“If it bothers you so much, Josie, you should speak with her.” Their spymaster had that detestable, ‘Oh, yes, I do know’, smirk she could never call her out on. "I've heard you're quite good at it."

And, what did that mean? She didn’t

Her friend’s expression only grew.

The ambassador crossed her arms.

Hmph. Master of the Game, indeed.

So, since she was clearly the only one who found fault in the harbinger of their cause sleeping outside, on the ground, (honestly, even Cassandra held her tongue, because ‘she was not hurting anyone’, and as long as that held, ‘a few eccentricities could be forgiven’) she would have to be ‘diplomat-y’.

Josephine spotted their leader lying in a thicket of tall grasses, on her stomach—without a blanket?—and she actually had to stop herself from turning to go fetch one, because what if she caught cold—a weathered bow and a single arrow at her elbow, eyes focused on a thing she could not see.

“Your Worship.” She rubbed her hands together to ward off a slight chill; it was a crisp day, the leaves ruffling, unperturbed, by the gentle insistence of the breeze. "I ask your pardon for the disturbance, but—”

"Shh."

Her mouth fell. And there was a time she simply stared. ”…My lady?"

The other finally looked away, coppery brows dipped low. "Quiet. Mythal, you'll scare all of creation." She looked back to the spot she concentrated on; cursed. "He got away. Ahh…” The elf fell to her back with closed eyes, a passing frustration touching her features before her lips turned in a smile. "You win this round, lethallin."

A moment—two—to form her next words; in part, because she truly was lost in the whirl of events that appeared a constant with this woman; in part, because the other's hair, orange and brown and everything in-between, splayed, wild, against the yellowing grass, made the most stunning contrasts…. 

A blue eye peeked up at her. 

Josephine looked an inch in the opposite direction, masking any noticeable embarrassment with a concise, clearing of her throat. “Your Worship—”

"I'd been tailing that hare for hours.” Brin popped up from the ground, sinewy arms, supporting a lithe body on either side. “Sure, the first few were a bit of sport, but then,” her smile widened, “we wanted to see how far the other could go.”

A…hare? Had that been what she focused on? The ambassador shook her head; no—no, she had come for a reason. “My lady. I would like to know why you are out here.”

A strange look. “I just said: to trail a hare.”

She resisted a sigh. “Of course — I meant, why you remain.” Another blank stare. “Outdoors. Instead of taking residence in your room.”

Ah.” A nod, understanding finally taking root—before that timely stoicism. “I don’t like rooms.” 

She frowned. “If your lodgings, in Skyhold, do not meet your expectations—”

The elf laughed. “Simmer down, Scribbles—the lodgings are fine. Well. Besides the walls. There are too many of them. And I get antsy in closed spaces.” A look that said a human would not understand, the woman looking off to the distance…before glancing back to her. “Come here.” She patted the spot beside her. 

Josephine looked to the grass—the dirt—and then to her again. “On the ground?” 

“Yes, Princess.”

Oh! She was not—yes, she had been privileged enough to have access to the finer things in life, but—Maker: and, now she was pouting

Brin looked up to her, smug and innocent, all in one.

The ambassador crossed her arms.

There would be an official competition, one she would personally sponsor, on whose knowing smirk she detested more, Leliana’s or the woman in front of her. 

Josephine collected the hem of her dress, gathered it into careful folds she could secure in one hand, before using the other to successfully rest herself on the ground.

The Inquisitor turned to smile at her—and she could not account for the effect, without space and a desk between them. “I didn't think you’d actually do it.” Her eyes were as brilliant as sea glass, sparkling with mirth. “And if I asked you to take off your shoes, and wiggle your toes in the earth?”

“I would decline. Respectfully.”

Another brilliant smile, one she could not help but feel pleased to take part in. Even if at her own expense. The elf nudged her chin in the direction she looked to, before. “You caught me in the middle of tracking. I was finding us dinner.”

“Mistress Lavellan,” a grunt she ignored, “You are the leader of the Inquisition—there are people, more than qualified, to handle meals and procurement.” 

Dark brows dipped, again. “I am 'more than qualified'. Before I was ever ‘Inquisitor’, I was a hunter, responsible for feeding my clan.” Her eyes were cold, holding none of their former levity. “Do not take that away from me."

"I…" a loss of words—she did not know Dalish customs—few humans did—but, offense was universal, and the woman looked very much the recipient of injured pride. ”Forgive me. I did not mean to insult you.”

The other woman stared at her, evaluated her intent…before smirking. “So. You’ll help, then?”

What? “‘Help’?”

“Catch the hare you helped get away.” The vexing expression grew. “Wouldn’t want to insult the Dalish…”

“You—” she crossed her arms, again, “you are impossible.”

“I’m a challenge. You like those, don’t you?” She did, but this single woman may prove too much for her. Brin let herself down, only to flip to her stomach, again; rise and grab her weapon. “Now. On your knees.”

And, she would have been wholly affronted, had the elf not managed to say the words with a straight — if not astonishingly serious — face. 

Sigh. ’Diplomat-y'. 

Josephine gathered her skirt, once more, tying a knot to one side, before rising, as instructed.

“Here.” The bow and arrow were handed in her direction; she shot the woman a look of utter incredulity. “Don’t worry: you won’t be using it.” A wink. “Wouldn’t want anyone losing an eye.”

The Inquisitor nodded after she (reluctantly) took possession of the items, apparently pleased with herself. “You look good. Holding my bow.”

And maybe it was the appraisal in her tone: the dark turn of her accent—the sweep of her eyes—but, she flushed, all the same.

“Might we continue?”

The remnants of a smirk…before the woman raised a hand, shifted a few paces forward. 

An imperceptible shift; the elf erect and sure, circumspectly surveying the area…before a pause. Narrowed eyes and fiery curls shifting in the wind for minutes at a time…until she would change direction. Move forward, again.

“Look for an ear. Or an eye.” There was no backward glance, only the assumption that she was behind. “It’s rare to spot a complete hare.” 

Josephine trained her eyes on the open landscape, seeing nothing more, than endless tufts of grass—until the greens, yellows, and browns began to blur and form a single, undistinguishable mass. She blinked. “You mentioned trailing this hare for hours?”

A tsk. “I’m disappointed, Scribbles. I didn’t figure you for impatient.” 

The ambassador sighed: she had attended eight, Orlesian christenings, brokered unanimity among merchant princes, and even outlasted several dwarven merchants in trade; patience was not an issue. “I meant nothing, Your Worship, beyond the simple suggestion, we continue to move. Or, even, split up to cover more ground.”

“You’re seeing it as a means to an end. A goal to get to and be done with.” The Inquisitor finally looked back to her. “The kill is important; the kill is what feeds you. But, the hunt…is tribute to the forest’s children. Respect for earlier sacrifice.” Blue orbs burned with conviction. “Until we die. And, pay tribute, in return.”

Another lapse in her words—because that was wonderful…. 

Humbling

She had never seen food beyond what was presented at a table. 

“There.” The other’s voice was barely a whisper on the breeze. “Do you see it?” 

Josephine strained her eyes in the direction the woman indicated—about to sigh in complete and utter frustration—before spotting the flick of an ear. The shiver of a nose.

She swallowed a gasp, eyes darting back to the elf, with a series of nods.

Brin smiled at her, a finger to her lips, before gesturing to what she held.

The ambassador held her breath as she passed it along, dug her nails into her dress as the Inquisitor notched the arrow.

It…exquisite tension,

And—

Release

And—

Result

The hare was still where it once stood.

Yes!” A fist pumped in the air — before Josephine immediately covered her mouth with abject horror. Oh. Oh, no. “I…humbly ask your pardon, Your Worship.”

A single, raised brow. Before the other woman dropped her bow; cupped her face. “You. Are. Adorable.”

A calloused thumb grazed her cheek.

She considered death by mortification.

“My lady…”

The Inquisitor smirked, licked her lips…before she withdrew. Stood to her feet. “Come on.” She held out a hand. “With a victory cry like that, I suspect we’ll have hare for weeks.”

Chapter Text


 

“Send the troops.”

“Your Worship — please.” Josephine rose to her feet, brows knitted with protest. “This is a delicate affair: we must tread lightly. Sending an armed force, will only impart a stance of retaliation, without thought to diplomacy—exasperating the situation, instead of resolving it.”

“So, I should put my trust in a diplomat?” Brin glared at the ambassador; the woman did not want bloodshed—she even understood the concern for this not to affect the Inquisition, adversely—but, this…It was too close. And, there were some things one did not talk about. “My clan was attacked — my family was attacked. And, you want me to place their lives in the hands of a shemlen?” A scoff, sharp and derisive. “What will a human—any human—do about the loss of a few elves? A few less knife-ears encroaching their lands?”

The grip on her tablet, tightened. “I understand—”

“You don’t.” Narrowed eyes.

The briefest flicker, the faintest crack hurt — before, it never was, the woman’s mask, wholly re-established, once again. “Your Worship.” A flat, level tone. “You must think beyond the immediate, and see the repercussions, after. A diplomat could monitor the situation, quell any further attempts of violence against your people.” She raised her quill, jotting something down quickly. “There is a lord, charged with the lands, in that area, who I am told is quite close to the Duke of Wycome.” A glance up. “I can request his aid, on behalf of the Inquisition; he, in turn, can petition the Duke on the Dalish, and have a true chance at preventing further reprisal.”

No.”

“Your Worship—”

Brin slammed a hand against the table. “Enough, Ambassador.”

Widened, grey orbs.

A weighted silence.

“Take a care, Inquisitor.” Leliana addressed her with carefully narrowed eyes, from her designated corner of the war room. “Josephine merely offers guidance in the way she, thinks, best—as do we all.” Tight and concise; the point of a concealed dagger. “Making her, the target of your frustrations, does nothing.”

Her eyes snapped to the spymaster’s, jaw clenching and unclenching as her fingers clawed against wood.

The Dread Wolf take her, if the woman wasn’t right.

But, there was so much anger. Directionless and wild.

Fury.

A heavy hand through her hair — and she nearly growled in frustration…before pushing out a breath. 

Another

Brin looked up.

Josephine looked away.

Elgar’nan…. 

Cullen cleared his throat. “More to the point: I’m afraid, we don’t have the resources to send the force you have in mind. There are other matters, currently engaged, and our men are already stretched thin.” Furrowed brows. “I would only be able to spare a small company—useless, if this were to escalate into open war. A result that seems, inevitable, given the involved parties.” The man frowned at the table. Met her eyes. “My apologies, Inquisitor. I can only imagine how you must feel… But, I must agree with our Ambassador. Any infantry backing the Dalish will be seen as a demonstration of hostility.”

She grit her teeth. “Then I’ll go.” 

“Out of the question.” The ambassador still avoided a direct joining of their eyes, but her tone brooked no argument. “The situation is far too unpredictable. As the leader of our cause, we cannot afford to risk your life so carelessly.”

“Would you call me your ‘Inquisitor’, if I did anything else?” Her hands balled into tight fists. “I risk my life, daily, for people who often don’t know whether to thank me or hand me their dirty linens—and that’s after the disgust and fear.” She scowled. “Now, you’re telling me I can’t risk my life to help those I actually care about?”

“I believe I have a compromise.” Leliana stopped pacing, only to cross her arms. “These ‘bandits’ that attacked your clan are obviously the Duke’s men. He wishes to scheme in the dark and distance himself from the slaughter.” Her mouth turned faintly, the slightest show of distaste. “If that is so, then the answer is obvious: if we kill the Duke, we also kill his intentions.”

“It is too convenient. What will the gentry think of this death, so soon after the Dalish have been attacked?” Josephine posed, quill suspended, indignantly. “No; assassinating the Duke of Wycome, is nearly the same as presenting an army.” 

“Like all nobility, he can be replaced.” A smile. “And that is where you come in, Josie. I am confident you will be able to find a candidate more…amenable to the Dalish.” The ambassador frowned; Leliana looked back to her. “You cannot respond with blatant opposition, and you do not trust a human representative to negotiate on your behalf. This way, you will have your vengeance, and the message is clear.”

Brin looked between the three advisors:

The dip of Josephine’s brows as her lips thinned. 

The set of Cullen’s jaw, rigid with dissatisfaction.

The expectancy of Leliana’s single, raised brow.

And, she needed to make a decision.

“Kill the Duke.”

The spymaster bowed. “At once, Your Eminence.”

 


 

The assassination had failed.

Leliana had slipped into her office, quiet and burdened—another weight added to too-heavy eyes—the small message of one of her rooks, unraveled in her fingers. 

Josephine lowered her quill. Bit her lip.

Silence.

And then. After untold moments… The woman finally spoke.

The assassination had failed.

The Inquisitor’s clan had been eradicated.

Erad

The assault on her mind had been immediate.

How would this affect their leader?

How would they move on from this?

How many of the others knew?

How is she; How is she; How is she?

“I’ve already told her.”

Miserable. But, the look in her friend’s eyes was unfathomable; strong, saying ‘it had to be me’.

“Where is she?”

“I don’t know.”

Now, Josephine wanders the grounds, frantically, asking everyone she comes across, if they have seen the Inquisitor.

No one knows where she is.

She searched the usual places, the nooks and crannies and wilderness she usually discovered the elf occupying.

The only place she hadn't checked—

Josephine turned on her heel, making her way back to the castle. 

A pause, before reaching to the door of her room. A deep breath, as her fingers grasped the latch — and she prayed she could handle this.

Push.

Shattered glass. Scattered papers. Torn sheets.

The sword marking the woman as Inquisitor, tossed to the floor.

“Your Worship?” Her voice was not as strong as she willed it—the thought concerning—but not as concerning as the elf she could not see.

Because — if she wasn’t here

A tiny gasp.

Josephine whipped her head toward the sound, spotting a splayed leg — following it to the rest of the woman crumpled in a corner.

Bleary, blue eyes, stained with red.

Unfocused.

Staring at nothing.

Her hands were bloody and bruised.

A hand to her heart. “Mistress Lavellan…”

The elf did not react.

Had she not blinked….

The ambassador gathered her skirt; cleared a spot beside her; sat as close as she possibly could.

She. Was supposed to— 

But.

There were no words.

There were no words.

A tear marked her cheek. Her eyes squeezed shut, shivering to the sound of broken sobs beside her.

  

Chapter Text


 

“Varric?” A tempered curiosity, far less surprised than she actually felt to see the dwarf at her door, his hand falling from a series of light raps; Josephine swiftly committed the last read line in her report, to memory, before setting the document aside. “Is something wrong?”

The man rarely came to her office — less so, so formally — unless to slip in to spin her a tale or two. When she appeared to be 'drowning in legislation', he once told her. 

Varric raised a placating hand, moving to take a seat in the chair across from her desk. “No need for alarm, Ruffles: the way I see it, even Corypheus will think twice on dropping in on our humble, little fortress, uninvited, with the stack of paperwork you’d shove at him. I don’t think darkspawn are big on dotting their ‘i’s and crossing their 't’s.” There was a slight curve to his lips as he settled into his seat. “Untimely doom aside, I wanted to know if you'd spoken to our fearless leader, recently.”

“I have not had the pleasure. Given recent circumstance…” a beat — and how did one mention the slaughter of another’s family with tact? Her expression tightened. “Has something come up that I should be made aware?”

The dwarf paused, as if deciding if he should continue or keep what he believed to himself. “Let’s just say, I’m, more or less, concerned. It’s a terrible habit of mine: compulsive worrying. One day, I’ll learn not to get involved with hero types, with noble aims and fragile hearts—keep the relationship strictly professional, for the story’s sake.” He sighed; crossed his arms. “Something that used to be in her eyes, isn’t there, anymore. Not surprising with what happened to her people…But, that’s the thing with heroes: the world doesn’t wait for them to get back on their feet.” 

Her gaze fell to her desk: she had known this would be an obstacle of note — did her best to regulate the Inquisitor’s condition while she remained within Skyhold. But, she could not be there when the woman went outside its walls, had no jurisdiction in the days—weeks—she did not see her. 

Now…

Her fingers tucked into her palm. “Is it so severe?”

A grunt. “I've seen it before. A Dalish losing their clan…” the shadow of a memory passed his brown eyes, “It isn’t like anything we know. They don’t come back from it. Not fully.” No humor lingered in the corners of his mouth, and she faced an expression so severe, it was as if she spoke to someone else, entirely. “When she’s out there…A person with nothing to lose fights differently. She’s an archer — usually, the two of us stay on the outskirts, pick off enemies from a distance. But, she’s been charging into fights, lately, taking hits I’ve seen her dodge.” He shook his head. “The rate she’s going, she’ll only get herself killed.”

Josephine frowned. There had been times she'd witnessed, rather than heard, the Inquisitor's increasing incidence of injuries; viewed, with her own eyes, bruises, blood and twisted limbs…And the elf merely laughed. A terrible, wheeze of a sound; all the way to the infirmary….

She never followed. 

Her heart could not handle it.

“Look,” Varric leaned forward in his chair, “I’ve seen the way she listens to you. I just thought I’d ask if you’d say something to her.”

The ambassador nearly scoffed:

Listens’? “There must be more suitable candidates.”

“None she looks at the way she looks at you.” She looked away, incapable of meeting that — what was this look? When— “And, I've seen Tiny's brand of liquid therapy; I don’t think the tavern can take much more of those particular ‘sessions’.” Another frown; the latest petition to pass her desk requested patches for several horn-spaced holes in a large cask, as well as the restoration of three broken windows. Varric stood to his feet, straightening his coat. “I’m not telling you to draft her an edict on the dangers of reckless behavior, just…go talk to her. That's all I ask.”

She stared at the dwarf:

‘Talk to her.’ As if it were a simple thing.

There had been a deliberate distance. One she felt necessary ever since finding their leader in that broken room. It had not been her plan to fail, but the woman hadn’t approved it, either—and how could she be sure, hers would have succeeded, where Leliana’s, whose competence was undeniable, had failed?

But. More than that.

She did not…

Still, did not…

Have

Josephine sighed, pure concern staring back at her. Nodded. “Very well.” She folded her hands, already formulating a means of approach—not that she held any illusions of its, or any of its equivalents’, success. “I will see what I can do.”

 


 

Another seed, pressed into the earth.

Brin closed her eyes…feeling cool soil push against her fingernails….

The roll and quaver of a bird’s song.

The rustle and whisper of stirred branches.

And, for a moment — when things were still…and, light kissed her knuckles, she escaped. Could almost breathe the Planasene Forest….

Hear

A harsh draw of air.

She moved to cover the seed’s hole; 

Murmured an Elven prayer…

“You’ve planted more trees.”

Hesitant. Brin didn’t look up from the small swell of earth beneath her fingertips.

“You watched, then?”

A smirk: the human’s very pause was indignant. “I wished to find you; an ambitious undertaking in its own right. It seemed, natural, to start here…And there is a view of the gardens, from my office.” Another pause. Unsure. “It’s quite beautiful…”

The elf looked up, taking in the careful wilderness surrounding them… 

Her sanctuary.

No worker she hadn’t approved was allowed to touch the garden—and she had overseen its future care, personally, preserving what had become overgrown and wild—shearing only what was necessary…It nothing like the stifled patches of grass most shemlen claimed a garden, with neat rows and clipped edges, but a lush expanse she let run free. Fruit trees and indigenous flowers and mosses between paving stones and plants that climbed the fortress walls…

All intermingled:

Cultivated, just enough, to stay in harmony with the structures and people surrounding it.

Beautiful’…But, not a forest.

Not her—home?

She never had a home. Her clan

Brin secured the last of the seeds, fingers curling into a fist.

“Seventy-three.” Josephine stared with open confusion; her eyes narrowed. “How did you know they were trees?” Lips parted wordlessly. “Lucky guess?” Dipped brows. “I’ve planted seventy. There were seventy-three.” Family; comrades; her first kiss — now: a number. That. She could not fathom

Face

Not yet. Not yet.

She looked to the ambassador, instead, marked how sharply, she was out of her element—she did not fit—with no papers and a desk to hide behind. “You’ve found me.”

A barely perceptible shift in the human’s body language, and …hesitation, her mouth a tight line — a nod.

But no words.

Brin drove a finger into willing soil, shaping another hole.

Long, indefinite moments with nothing said between them. Intermittent chirping and cool breezes. And she almost forgot the other woman was there

“Can I help?”

The elf paused; found grey eyes. “…You know this is dirt, right?”

A frown. “I am aware.”

A beat. “Dirty dirt…”

Josephine huffed, rolling up silken sleeves and lowering to her knees.

Brin raised a brow—because look at the princess, now—the woman clearing away leaves, before pressing a nail against the earth, testing its resistance. 

“Seventy-three.” A glance to the hole she started. “Then, you require two more?”

She stared at the human. Nodded.

“How deep?”

“The first knuckle.”

An answering nod — and the woman worked. Dappled light playing along freckles and bronzed skin; brows drawn the exact way, as when she scanned her documents and mitigated unfortunate events—with no heed of immaculately trimmed nails or the dark coat of residue left behind on her fingers.

It… effort, and concentration, and care

Brin looked away. “You don’t have to do this.”

“No;” those pale orbs remained on the ground, "but, I choose to." The ambassador looked up. “Will these suffice?”

A gesture to her work; another wordless nod: the holes were faultless. Explicit and properly spaced. She loosened the grip of her hand; set down three different seeds in a tight row.

Ignored how her fingers shook.

“Father; brother; brother.”

The human said nothing. Closed her eyes, for a time, and glanced at the seeds, sadly….

And, she appreciated that. That she never overstepped.

Never asked.

Because, she. Had saved the hardest, for last.

An unstable breath—anger

Anger.

Her hand clawed the ground.

All of her clan… Her own people wouldn't know it for years. A decade of unmarked death. She could not share it— 

All of it was hers.

A jaw, tensed, beside her, the other’s throat trembling.

She didn’t know what to do with that. Because, there had already been an incidence, where the human did more than was necessary…

Seen her broken.

Her eyes were dry.

Brin collected the seeds; pushed them into earth; filled their corresponding holes.

Flattened each spot.

Revas

A waterskin was in her hand, its stopper freed with a flick of her thumb; she watched the dirt darken and shimmer, marking the last of the graves.

Brin removed a handkerchief marked with the Montilyet crest—took the human’s hands. “I wanted to finish this before leaving for the Exalted Plains.” She poured water over them; brought the cloth gently down each finger. “Ma serannas.”

There was some passing thought, those grey eyes flickering away—the woman seeming to waver — before soft, warm hands carrying the smell of earth caught either side of her face.

“Come back to me…”

And, it was that same care — concern and fear and—

She looked away from the rest. Pushed her to the ground, instead.

Hovered over her, stole her lips—swallowed the soft moan trapped between them….

“Inquisitor…” she didn’t like it; pity and knowing

“I want you, under my tongue…” their lips grazed; Brin pushed her into the dirt, “Maybe here?”

Parted mouth and flushed skin…

It the only way she wanted to see the woman.

A twig snapped behind them.

The ambassador pressed away.

She held her still. “We’ll finish this…” rumbled into her ear, “when I get back.”

Brin released her. Stood to her feet.

Varric appeared from a bend of trees, offering her a grin and a bow. “A thousand pardons if I’m interrupting, Your Inquisitorialness, but I’ve been ‘asked’” more scoff than word, “by the Seeker to ‘ascertain where you were’.” He nodded his head to Josephine—and she gave him credit for having the decency to act surprised. “Ruffles.”

The human had already situated herself into a sitting position, a hand evenly smoothing the skirt of her dress. “Varric.” 

Brin smirked, recovering her waterskin. “The mounts are ready?” The dwarf nodded. “Lead the way.”

She spotted Varric pass on a suspicious backward glance to the ambassador, before they made their way to the courtyard. “Well. That wasn’t interesting.”

“I’m sure I’ll see your interpretation.” A conspiratorial grin. “In your latest serial.”

His expression grew. “What do you think of the name ‘Seduction in Skyhold’?”

“I think, I care far less about the title and far more on the illustrations…”

Varric chuckled, giving another impromptu bow. “Your wish; my command.”

Chapter Text


 

“Inquisitor?” Her quill stilled: she was all but certain a fiery flash had passed the parted door to her office, it, a decidedly marked contrast to the prevalent darkness just beyond.

Silence.

Josephine blinked; sighed—resigning herself to the very likely odds that it was the cursory flicker of one of her candles’ flames (and not the ever-mounting strain on her eyes—

“Scribbles?”

Goodness

She lowered the hand from her chest.

The Inquisitor raised a brow.

…Yes, of course. She was the one behaving strangely, when the woman had all but materialized at her doorway.

“Your Worship,” she creased the ruined correspondence, folding it neatly in two, “I hadn’t realized you remained awake. Were you headed to the gardens?” The same, curious stare, before a nod; Josephine laid her hands against the soft wood of her desk, pressing away to rise from her chair. “Might I accompany you? I find myself, in need of a…” she pursed her lips, “brief respite.”

“A break?” Surprise replaced expectation. “I didn’t think you did those.”

A wry smile. “Under normal circumstance, you would be most right. Yet, I seem to be developing a headache the size of Thedas…” two fingers were at her temple; truly, it was an occupational hazard, at best, this particular case merely proving… persistent. “Perhaps fresh air will be the cure.”

Shrugged shoulders. “Couldn’t hurt.”

And that was all, the Inquisitor nodding her head toward the door, before slipping back into darkness.

The woman did not engage in conversation, and Josephine welcomed the silence; the more routine, if not constant, bustle of daytime activities, in the fortress, all but a distant memory in the wake of a solemn evening.

Undoubtably, the rare Quiet, the soft clicks of her shoes (the lesser taps of soleless feet) against the torch lit stone, were quite agreeable — still; a certain finesse had its play.

She wished to insert herself as delicately as possible.

The ambassador was grateful for the company—very much so—but had little doubt she filled the role of ‘intruder’, interrupting what was, likely, a nightly ritual for the other woman.

But there was plenty to take from silence; plenty to learn if one knew what to look for.

The Inquisitor’s body had a language all its own — it spoke for her — each, sure stride, another confident syllable. She walked with defiance, as if each step, spurned the assumptions of another — and, was that unprecedented?

She knew—

The words strike her so suddenly, her breath catches:

What does she know?

She knew a face. A face the Inquisitor showed everyone: brash, and arrogant, and indomitable

Action; action; action. To face opposition at every turn.

They had been intimate, on several occasions. She knew the other’s body more than her state of mind.

That,

that…

Her brow furrowed. It was not a good feeling.

She glanced the surface of emotion…

Stopped.

To go further meant asking what she wanted out of their… arrangement. It would mean making a fine, definite line.

She knew how to make no other.

…But, she did want to know more. If she could keep it that simple—evade the whys—then, it was a natural notion:

Practical.

In every sense.

The woman was their Herald; the tip of the Inquisition’s spear — how better to represent her to the curious masses? To know the Inquisitor, was to portray her—the entirety of their cause—more effectively.

Yes,

Yes.

A soothing logic. Evading the scope of ‘feelings’.

Josephine dipped her head to the guards posted at the side entrance the other had chosen, the men giving solemn ‘m’lady’s and immediately saluting the woman next to her—a show of fealty the Inquisitor utterly disregarded as she pressed forward.

Instead of chastising her (the woman grew surly with any acknowledgement of her status, and she already has a headache), she fell a step behind; sifted through several possible conversation points, a thing to establish her investigation.

What is your impression on this? Ah, yes: that impression. I feel the same way about that, as this. And, certainly, you have an opinion on these?'

But, the Inquisitor was not polite company—bore no ties to the etiquette of pleasantries or the measured dalliance of courtly exchange. And, she has to constantly prepare herself for a blunt end or an honesty she could not face.

“Never thought I’d hear you silent so long.” Her very point; she looked up to see the woman facing her, casually ambling backwards. “Didn’t think a person could think so loudly, either.”

“The result of an unwilling participant.” Brin grinned — and, already, she’s failed. Fallen into a ploy so exorbitantly obvious, she’s actually embarrassed

If it had not been for this awful headache,

If it had been anyone else

She would have sidestepped it with appropriate decorum and incomparable ease.

Josephine watched the elf turn from her, again, a line of satisfaction to her back as she entered the vague outskirts of the gardens, brusque hands, thrust, into the pockets of her trousers.

They were so markedly different… She could not help but wonder what the Inquisitor found attractive in her. The woman was constantly in motion, perpetually charging into the next happenstance—doing—that she could not fathom what about her or her duties, kept the woman remotely interested.

So, she asked. Though, not in so many words.

A backward glance — and she noticed how the other hooked to the left, avoiding a massed cluster of shoots, newly sprung. “You don’t look at me and see a pair of ears.” A careless shrug; that effortless candor, “Besides the titles, I'm no worse or better than anyone else, you’ve met.”

She’s flattered—certainly. But…Surely, the woman knew she was “better”? If not, from the simple fact that she was their leader, then from the sheer amount of influence she wielded with her. “I imagine, few, would be able to endure the trials you have; less, as admirably.”

There was a scoff. “There’s a difference between ‘loss’ and ‘sacrifice’.”

“True: but there is also a choice. You have chosen to fight — to continue fighting.” Many, will look to the woman—their organization—and merely credit the defeat of Corypheus, but, she is well aware there are demons, one fights, each day. “You risk your life, for the good of all Thedas. Regardless of race or background, it is an undertaking worthy of respect.”

“I heard you told some baron off for calling me ‘slant-ear’.” It was followed by several breaths of silence—despite its humored tone. “You know, I don't care about that, right?”

Another turn.

“Be that as it may, I refuse to allow those, seeking clout and sanction, to disparage you, within our very walls.” The baron had not been the only to speak, so; several Orlesian dignitaries had claimed her a saint, next to the late Divine, herself, for working with a bestial degenerate.

The Inquisitor stopped; faced her again with sharp eyes, a fist pressed against a tree. “What else did he say?”

“I will not give validation by repeating it.”

Better the woman knew only supposition. Better, she not have to hear such ignorance, at all.

A smirk—but, it was too tight. “I don’t give a damn what others say about me—but, when they belittle all Dalish—as if we couldn’t possibly be anything more…” and, even in the relative darkness, she sees the white of her knuckles,

“Let us change subjects.” Was it not enough the woman had to deal with such things daily? She wished to give her other things; to say, ‘it isn’t always suffering; not always’…. Josephine lowered the fist, let their hands linger…before, continuing forward. “I am captivated, each time I walk the gardens—and, of course, I have never experienced them, at night.” She turned to smile at her. “There is a way about them, a certain lushness…” her fingers grazed a low hanging tendril, shimmering in the moonlight. “And, always, an element, not there, before.”

The Inquisitor stared at her—and there was something about her reaction: the vibrancy of her eyes and the gentle turn of her lips—that filled her with a stunning sense of pride, as if she said exactly the right thing.

A few steps, the woman eliminating the distance between them, and her stomach lurched, because—Maker, she already knew how potent the other could be…But, there was only a thumb across her chin; a nudge to the way ahead. “Come on.”

Josephine exhaled, restoring the tattered remnants of her composure as she followed, once more, amazed at the ease, in which the other traveled; even in the inky darkness, the moon guiding her with iridescent beams, the Inquisitor moved with a confidence borne of familiarity.

She did not ask where they headed.

Not when she felt, so completely, that she was in capable hands.

The woman finally slowed when they entered a small clearing, coming to a halt in front of a tall, sinuous tree.

She caught the sharp glint of a blade, her brows dipping as the woman placed it to the haphazard shapes of the tree’s trunk, murmured something in Elven she heard once before — cutting several peeling pieces from its base.

The knife was replaced; Brin turned to her, presenting one of the slivers. “Chew it.”

Josephine felt her lips part and close in rapid succession. “That…is the bark of a tree.”

That maddening smirk. “And, I want you to put it in your mouth…” she spoke of the bark of a tree—the bark of a tree—and, still, her cheeks flushed, unheedingly, “It’s a remedy: for headaches.” She picked a few leaves from a sloping branch, knotting them together to secure the small bundle. “The inner bark can be used in a brew.”

Oh.

That

A rush of heat — nearly startling…stealing her breaths; flooding her chest…and there is a tingling, all the way to her toes….

Josephine swallowed (breathed), smiling considerately as her fingers secured the tiny offering. “Thank you. My lady.”

She… she doubted this was the woman courting her…But. Everything else between them has been unconventional.

She thrived in order. This had no rules…

The Inquisitor had already nodded, body falling to action, once more—a flower in her hand, soon after, the elf plucking delicately curved tendrils emanating from its center, before discarding it completely. And, then, her hand was active, again, long fingers tangled in a shrub, collecting something she could not see.

“I’m amazed you can find anything, in this darkness…” pale bands of moonlight, their sole illumination.

There was a crooked grin, as if the woman knew something she never could (and that is how she always feels); Brin sucked on one of the wiry tendrils, the stem pressed attractively between her lips, as she snapped the strip of bark she still possessed.

Placed one of the halves in her mouth.

Two of the dark things were added as well, the woman chewing thoughtfully — nodding at the taste of her creation.

The Inquisitor stepped toward her, taking one of her hands and turning it palm-side up, removing the bark fragment, a flower tendril, and what she could now identify as berries of some sort, from her cupped hand, and depositing it in her own.

“A bit of flavor. For the princess.”

A frown she did not feel — because that was certainly preferable to ‘Scribbles’—though, only just so—but, more than that… It was so like her. Doing instead of words, to show her how.

A secret smile; her finger brushed the pebbly surface of one of the berries. “Is chewing sufficient, or must I swallow the bark, as well?”

“You can spit it out, if you want — the important thing is to swallow the juices.”

Josephine nodded, choosing the flower stem, first, sucking on it as the other had, before — and there was a surprising burst of sweetness…already fading, the moment she noted its discovery. The sliver of bark, was next, and she winced when it met her tongue—immediately, taking in the berries (the woman had given her three), and nearly sighing from the relief of their sweet pungency.

It was…different, an underscore of bitterness — but not unpleasant. And, already, she felt the impertinent throb at her temple, begin to lessen.

Or, perhaps it was her imagination; the residual tingles she still feels from the considerate act—

The other’s proximity….

Before she could think on it any longer, she’s being pulled to the tree—to the ground—and there’s a gasp, (she swallowed the concoction on instinct)— because, all too suddenly, she’s in the Inquisitor’s lap, a firm presence behind her, as warm breaths kissed her skin.

Her eyelids fluttered — closed involuntarily.

Mm

The contradiction of the woman’s body; how it was thin and graceful, and strong beyond compare…And there was, always, the concern on how right she felt, wrapped in the other's arms.

Josephine sighed, tarrying in that feeling just a little bit longer…before she caught the hand at her waist—held it up—exposed it to pale swaths of moonlight.

Their salvation. It made her tremble, the sheer power, held, in a single hand.

“Does it wound you, still?”

The elf flexed two of her fingers. “Not enough to stop using it for recreational activities…”

Another shiver—unbidden, as she was assaulted by memories of, exactly, what those fingers could do

She felt the curve of lips against her ear, (she wisely decided to keep her silence) as she continued to explore the other’s hand, tracing knuckles; ligaments; bone—and, she could not tell if it was her weary eyes—a trick of the moon—when she thought she saw a green spark, the mark, there, shimmering.

“Take off your shoes.” Murmured. Behind the command, a tone she’s never heard:

Soft.

Warm….

It bypassed her sense, completely, and, without additional consent, her legs press to her chest, as she leaned forward to slip off the leather slippers, she wore. Did her best to ignore the damage dirt would do to her stockings.

“Then take them off.” And there’s a hand at the start of her thigh…

But, what really catches, is the lack of sexual deviancy.

The hand was still. Like a gentle reminder.

Yet, she acquiesced. The Inquisitor helping her lift her hips as she loosened the garters below her knees, the stockings falling into silken puddles at her feet.

How did she do that? How did she make her, so willing, to abandon everything she knew?

Josephine shivered from a sudden chill against her bared legs, and the other woman pulled her back in; deeper into the solid warmth of her body.

A single finger slipped past her, pointing to a reveal in the tapestry of leaves and branches above them.

A gasp.

Because the stars were brighter. Everything’s brighter with the other woman near—and, this—

This

was wonderful.

(Perfect.)

Because, she finally realizes — realizes what the woman tried to do, all along:

It nothing. And everything, all at once.

It’s them. Their own little world. Darkness, and stars, and moonlight…The night humming with insects; the steady ‘thum thum thum’ of the other’s heartbeat.

She’s…

Amazed.

How the woman did this. Crafted this level of intimacy with no words, at all….

But, she isn’t like her. Words were all she knew — and she needs to convey, even the smallest semblance, what this moment means.

“They are breathtaking…” and when was the last time she simply gazed at the stars? Saw anything more than the gaping, green wound in the sky?

“They make me feel insignificant. I love and hate that.” She held her breath; Brin shifted behind her. “We’re all just fragments; trying to make our marks on a world that will always outlive us. Desperate to find a way to prove we even existed.”

Josephine sighed—kept her silence. The woman had such beautiful thoughts: she wished she heard them more often. Did not wish to disrupt the one she was given, now.

It, a rare, sacred moment…when she was let in.

She felt busy fingers, untangling her hair — and, if she were honest, she’s surprised the pins lasted even this long. “You should take more breaks.”

Yes. She really should….

“A world in crisis does not wait.” The words leave her lips accordingly, like a script she’s read so many times before; the hand that remembers the proper weight to apply to her quill. “And, there is always something else to be done…” already, the niggling guilt gnawed at her conscience, a twinge at the back of the skull—this was to be a brief respite—she should not be here; she should be working; there was no time…. Josephine closed her eyes; leaned into her further. “You will have to steal me away.”

“I’ll do more than that.” Growled.

A smile. Yes. Yes, she would.

Her chest felt light.

Despite her heavy mind.

Go; go; go

She shifted in the woman’s lap; faced her and pressed close. “Kiss me…”

Because, the woman’s lips halted the incessant voices,

made her forget

whether she wished to or not.

Brin leaned up from the tree—snaked a hand to the back of her head:

Berries, and honey, and the bitterness of wood.

Sharp. Sweet. Bitter.

She sought something in the kiss, softer; kinder than all the others. As if the other’s lips could give the answers that she needs

Answers? To what?

If she…

Did she…

What do you wish this to be?

But, a tongue wipes them all away — there a stunning revelation stirring within her, quick and all of a sudden—

She wants the distraction,

The woman makes her stop.

“Brin,” slow — the kiss had been sweet, and she felt her eyes close, simply to let its sweetness, penetrate her, again, “what are you thinking?”

Suddenly: it is all she wants to know. Her own thoughts had evaporated, it as unpleasant as it was dizzying.

Those blue eyes were treacherous, gleaming oddly despite the omnipotent darkness…When they look up at her—she does not trust herself. “How I want to see you naked, in the light of the moon…”

Her familiarity with the woman's bluntness did not make her cheeks burn any less. “Is there ever a moment,” her nails catch against her tunic, “you are not undressing me with your eyes?”

“No.” A creeping smirk that made her shiver; it was easy to fall back into the pattern; the groove was already there. “At your desk; at the war table; whenever you're scolding me…”

She felt her cheeks burn hotter. There were, indeed, multiple occasions she caught the Inquisitor staring at her, with such shameless disregard for any others, present—

The fervor; the urgency…Her gaze was addictive.

Heady.

She sees herself in the woman’s eyes, and sees who she wants to be.

…But, it could not last.

The Inquisitor shifted — as if she feels it, too — closer to the tree; further from her.

Twinge. “I should return to my duties…”

She could not tell, the darkness made it unclear, but in the elf’s knowing smirk, there was perhaps, something wistful, as well.

Two fingers, pressed to her temple. “Your head?"

“Better. Thank you.” She collected her shoes; her stockings. “Will you stay?”

An answer they both knew.

A nod, regardless.

The Inquisitor would stay: with her nature; and her broken rules; and her native peace

It is organic.

Josephine thought how it would be, to fall asleep in her arms, under the shelter of a tree, to wake…to the sun and her smile.

And, she felt the separation so acutely, it left an ache in her heart.

“Sleep well, Your Worship.”

Chapter Text


 

“Once upon a time, because that's how these things always go, and some traditions shouldn’t be broken: there lived a very clever fox, who made her home in the woods, near a small village.”

A crowd of huddled children (and Cole) ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ as Brin leapt from behind the log Varric sat on, wearing a fox pelt and a necklace of three, sharp fangs. She stroked her ‘tail’ appreciatively and smirked at her audience, before slowly approaching the young group with raised hands and light, playful steps.

“The fox was sure of herself and easily bored, so she would spend her days playing tricks on the humans.” The Inquisitor drew a finger down the underside of a girl’s chin, causing her to giggle with delight while the others looked on with envy. “The humans were greedy and not very nice—not unlike a group of dwarves in a certain guild" Varric cleared his throat, "—so, the fox would spend, all her days and all her nights, thinking of new tricks to use on them.”

A boy cried out in joyful shock as Brin placed two hands over his eyes, quickly darting away, before he could properly look behind himself. The children squealed and clapped their hands, following 'the fox’ with rapt, bright eyes (especially when she stole the Kid’s hat — wait. Whose?) as they called out to be ‘tricked’ next.

“But, the humans were too easily fooled, and, before the fox knew it, she was quickly bored again.”

An exaggerated yawn, and Brin stalked away from the crowd with a disinterested sniff, accompanied by a chorus of dismayed ‘aww’s.

“Now, now: don’t start pouting—this is where it gets good.” Varric licked a finger, turning the page. “One day, the fox came across a lone girl in a field.” Josephine stepped out, next, a faint flush to her cheeks as she adjusted a satchel at her hips, the Inquisitor perking her head in her direction. “As luck would have it, the fox had heard of this girl: a kind, simple soul, who cared for her sickly parents and tended to their collection of apple trees.”

The ambassador removed one of the apples, rubbing it against the apron over her skirt, before kindly smiling down at a shyer child, hiding behind her brother, and bending to hand it to her.

“The fox had never seen a human so kind and pure, and thought,” Brin rubbed her chin, smirking, “'If I can fool her, I'll be the best trickster in all the land! No one will ever be able to outdo it!’.”

More light, playful steps, until the Inquisitor was tapping Josephine on the shoulder, the other woman turning with a surprised gasp, before being pulled away.

“Over and over again, the fox approached the girl, offering her coin,” a pouch was produced from the Inquisitor’s belt; ‘the girl’ shook her head, “power,” the pouch was abandoned, the hand curling into a fist; another rejection, “and even land,” the hand spanned the expanse behind them, only to meet the same response, “but the girl would never fall for any of her tricks, a polite ‘no’ and a smile, her only answer.”

Brin backed away, with sharply drawn brows, a hand on either side of her hips as she stamped her feet with displeasure — the children giggling wildly at the lively display.

“This upset and confused the fox: every human she’d come across, had always wanted something—wanted more—why was this one different? Why did the girl not want anything?” Another turned page. “The fox decided to ask the girl, these very questions, only to be met with another, kind smile.” Josephine removed another apple; gazed at it fondly. “'I already have everything I could ever hope for.’” A glance to 'the fox’s’ eyes. “‘I could not think to ask for more.’.”

Brin eyed her strangely, snatching the apple away from her hand, before turning to disappear behind Varric, once more.

“The fox, not knowing what to do with the girl’s answer, ran back to the woods to think even harder on a way to trick her.”

Josephine frowned, raising a hand, only to lower it again, the young group behind her calling for ‘the fox’ to come back.

“The next day, a brave hunter,” Dorian gallantly stepped from around the dwarf, “with a fantastically fantastic mustache,” the mage bowed in appreciation, “came to the girl's farm. 'I've heard the fox was seen around here;’” two fingers wiggled above his head, like ears, “‘she's tricked many of the villagers, and they’ve paid good coin to be rid of it.’.” Josephine placed a hand to her lips. “‘Have you seen this fox? Can you tell me where it’s hidden?’. But, the girl merely shook her head, ‘I’m sorry, kind sir: I did see the fox, earlier, but I do not know where it has gone.’.”

Dorian scrutinized the ambassador sharply, the other looking away and to the ground, before he nodded, tipped his hat and turned away.

“The girl was distraught…uh: that means really really 'sad', kids. She ran to the woods to find the fox, to warn her of what was to come. 'Oh, fox, oh fox!’.” Josephine turned to each side, a hand pressed to her forehead in search, “‘Where are you?' she cried. 'What I have to tell you is very important! You must come out and hear me!’.”

Brin leapt out, again, cocking her head suspiciously at ‘the girl’, and circling her cautiously.

“'What do you want, human? Why have you summoned me?’” Josephine pointed behind herself, urgently. “'The hunter!’ the girl shrieked, ‘A man is coming to find you! You must run away!’ But the fox was suspicious.” The Inquisitor’s eyes narrowed. “‘Why would you help me? I’ve done nothing but try to trick you and cause misfortune.’ .”

Josephine slowly approached the Inquisitor, reaching out to take hold of her hand.

“‘It is true, you have played many tricks on the villagers, but that does not mean you deserve to die for it.’.” A smile. “‘Nor do I wish you to.’ Little did the girl, know, the hunter had decided to follow her on his handsome steed.”

Iron Bull came out from the other side of the log, on all fours, carrying Dorian on his back.

“Whinny. Neigh.”

The children burst into laughter and clapped their hands.

“The hunter, readying his bow,” Dorian aimed a bow at the Inquisitor, raising a shoddily made paper arrow with his other hand, “shot the fox with a single arrow,” Sera suddenly popped out from Bull’s side, carrying the paper arrow with a loud ‘peeeeew’ sound, (in impossibly elaborate turns and arcs) hitting the Inquisitor square in the chest.

Brin’s mouth opened in silent horror, as she staggered backwards, a hand gripping her chest as she fell to the ground.

“The girl immediately dropped to her knees (joined by all the children crying out ‘don’t die, Ser Fox’), pressing to the fox's side, with tears in her eyes.” The elf weakly turned her head. “'Do not cry, girl.’ The fox said to her. ‘This was my own doing. If I had not been able to play so many tricks on humans, had not only seen their greed, perhaps I would have trusted one in the end.’.” Varric closed the book in his lap. “Huh. Pretty sure that one was about eating your vegetables. Or something.”

All of the children rose from their logs and ran over to the ‘dead’ fox, poking and prodding, until Brin suddenly rose and caught one of them in her arms. They all screamed and scattered as she released her captive and laughed, watching Josephine hurry to calm them.

“Suppose there’s a reason to keep you around after all.” The elf rose to her feet, dusting herself off as she smirked at the dwarf. “Beyond the chest hair.”

“Just one of my many talents — though, I was expecting the happier end. Rainbows; puppies: that sort of thing. The stuff they write for kids, these days…” Varric shook his head, rising from his own log and tucking the book under his arm. “Speaking of, someone should probably go console the Kid: tell him you haven't really died.”

“Good luck finding him.”

“Wasn’t he?” He glanced around. “Shit.”

Brin chuckled, patting the dwarf on the shoulder, as she made her way back to the ambassador, the woman all but surrounded by a ring of adoring orphans.

One of the younger girls tugged at Josephine’s hand. “Will you play with us again, Miss? You're so pretty!”

“Oh!” A hand to her chest. “Well. I am sure, we will all, be willing to participate in the future.”

“Think that was the most diplomatic ‘yes’ I’ve ever heard.” Grey orbs found her as several of the children swarmed in her direction, playing with the pelt’s tail. “I think they like you.”

“Not as much as the fox.” A small smile. “I did not know you would play your part so… enthusiastically.”

“I do everything, ‘enthusiastically'." It was a good blush, the darkening of the other’s cheeks far more noticeable in the sunlight. “It’s good; every once in a while. Like that,” she nudged her chin to the elf, human, and dwarven child—and Sera—riding on Iron Bull’s back.

Her smile softened. “However did you get the Iron Bull to play a steed?”

“Beyond mentioning the perk of Dorian riding him?” A smirk. “I promised he could be the dragon in the next story.”

“Ah. Yes.” The human’s lips pursed in a way that made her want to bite them. “I do not know why everyone insists I play the princess.” Brin raised a brow at her. “Oh, do be quiet.”

She grinned, ruffling one of the orphan’s hair. “I appreciate it. You doing this.” Those grey orbs met hers, again, warm and deliberate. “So many of them lost their parents back in Haven…” a pause; she looked away, “Stories are important; children need them.”

“Yes. They do.”

“Varric groused about the ending — wanted one where the fox didn't die.” The ambassador nodded, as if she couldn’t agree more. “I think. I would have preferred the fox dragging the girl away…” a push nearer, lips grazing her ear, “So, she could eat her.”

Brin smirked, watched the human flush all over again, before growling and chasing the orphans that yanked at her tail.

 

Chapter Text


 

“What?” A growl. The door met the wall with force; a servant had fetched her while she was in the middle of training recruits. “They lack experience with archers,” Cullen had said. Less with Dalish ones—(there was a small smirk)—and she was all but happy to mark the difference. With smug, hairy shemlen who saw her smaller frame and old bow and ears — and it had just started getting really good

“Brin…” breathless; anxious—real, grey eyes jumping, shiny—soft, to hers; the Quill fell. The ambassador rose from her chair. Parted her lips… Until it was built up, stone by stone. The false face. Usually, it was imperceptible — it is. This time, it looked like a struggle; Brin felt her own eyes narrow—her body reacts, senses already heightened to delicate shifts. “Inquisitor—”

“I don’t care.” The woman was going to apologize, beg for pardons—be proper, “Why am I here?”

She watched the human move—pace: from the desk; to the window; back, the sweat from her exertions already cold against her skin, the wrappings binding her breasts, sticky and damp.

“I,” hesitation…the ambassador’s voice faint; strained with more than one emotion—she didn’t think it could do that—hands wringing with a nervous energy, “find myself not knowing where to begin.” There was a glance to the ground, hastily drawn brows — as if that were unacceptable, before, a breath; two. “My family…” she straightened, “The Montilyets are in crisis.” 

Brin stared at her. “They’re dying?”

“Goodness, no!” Widened eyes—a hand to her heart; the elf cocked her head: ‘crisis’ meant there was no food. ‘Crisis’ meant plague and a harsh winter. ‘Crisis’ meant someone tried to wipe them out. What did ‘crisis’ mean to shemlen? “Allow,” shaken; the thought seemed to linger, “allow me to start from the beginning, Your Worship.” A nod. “There was a scandal. More than an age ago, but Orlesians have long memories. Even when pertinent details are—misplaced with time.” Her lips pursed. “The Montilyets… were disgraced; banned from our trade with Orlais. Because of this,” those dark brows, bowed, again, “our personal fortunes have never had the chance to recover. In fact,” wringing hands, the woman looking pained even to release the words, “we have been in debt for over a hundred years.”

“Then it isn’t urgent.” Grey eyes met her sharply: thrown—indignant; she didn’t look away. “It’s been a hundred years — you even knew what you were up against — and not one of your people was able to come up with a solution?”

“What solution would that be, Inquisitor?” Josephine’s hands fell away, a new sharpness to her features; a tightness to her tone. “Orlais is the ruling power of Thedas: any merchant who wishes to expand beyond his homeland knows he must gain the Empire’s favor—even if he does not wish to trade there. We were no burgeoning venture — we had fleets — how is it, do you believe, that an enterprise of such size could maintain its earnings?” There was no pause for an answer. “To be banned from Orlais is the greatest stain on a merchant’s reputation — who will trade with them? Who would risk the Lion’s ire, the threat of similar action? And what of our competition? Surely, you do not believe we are the only mercantile family in Antiva?”

“Then you adapt. It isn’t as if you lack for options.” What opportunity wasn’t waiting for humans?

What couldn’t they do?

“You suggest…” incredulous; the ambassador stepped to her fiercely, “Simply drop everything we have built? Years of backbreaking work, of progress—years of shaping our name and establishing our reputation—and start anew?” Her nostrils flared. “And how should we support ourselves, in the interim?”

She felt her lips curl back—the bared teeth. “Call it what it is: ‘the Montilyets’ didn’t want to give up their precious lifestyle.”

You—” fireheat—before, her eyes shut; opened, “you have no idea, what pains my family had to go through — the strains we were forced to endure—how every head of our house, since, nearly drove themselves to an early grave because they could not save what mattered most!”

“And what of my family?” Josephine turned; bit her lip. Brin looked at her: looked at her clothes; jewels; rings—sneered. “You’ve survived.”

“That isn’t enough.” Weaker—but the fire was still there.

She sees that fire and it feeds her own—it swells—crackling like the simmering cauldron behind them. “It’s enough for my people.”

Why isn’t it enough for yours?

Pop.

Why do you get better?

“We’ve sacrificed—”

“You don’t get to say that word.” Snarled—she didn’t get to use it. “You don’t know what sacrifice is.”

Grey eyes narrowed. “You are the only one who can suffer, then?” She sees red; the ambassador lifted her chin. “Claim ‘ignorance’, but it is a double-edged sword, Your Worship.” Clenched teeth, clenched fingers, “Is it too much to ask — for it to mean something? For everything we have done, not to be in vain?” Her brows tremble. It’s such a good act. “For generations, doing everything to keep creditors at bay — selling our ships; selling our lands… It must mean something. That,” a hitch; those eyes soften, “it cannot be my legacy to the Montilyets. It cannot.”

The words don’t touch her. They don’t get close

‘Lands’?

‘Fortunes’?

Everything the woman says sounds like privilege.

Pop.

“Inquisitor.” She’s backed away—her body didn’t make it a choice. Distance. Needing, “Do you hate me so?” Yes. No. “I would not begin to compare our circumstance…But, in essence: is the desire so dissimilar? No one wishes the burden of failure. The pang of a heavy heart.”

Brin squinted at the words in her mind — found something the human had said before:

‘Common ground’.

“No.” No. No. No. “You haven’t given up everything. You haven’t lost everything.” They’re not alike. Everything the human lost, coin can replace. Coin; coin; coin. “What have you suffered?” Shallow. Everything is shallow. “When have you gone hungry?”

“I’m not blind.” Hard: the response; her eyes. “Would you not—” the rest is bitten back—say it—the other’s gaze flickering to the floor. A substitution. “You know loyalty. Duty. I worry for my family—my siblings’ futures.” A careful step; easing the space she made between them. “Is it wrong to hope they never know hardship?”

“Yes.” The world is hardship. Life is hardship. “You’re crippling them. And torturing yourself over something you can’t fix.”

A shift. “I was not aware that was different from what your people, do.”

Snap. “Dirthara-ma asha!”

Shock:

Fear

…Before the ambassador regained herself—

Squeezed her eyes shut,

Pinched the bridge of her nose.

Brin watched her struggle—pick up the pieces. Flexed and straightened her fingers.

“That,” the hand fell. A sigh, “was low of me. I am… hardly at my best,” she shook her head; shook off whatever else could have been. “Forgive me. Your Worship. I should never have allowed the conversation to broach such intimate territory; the subject has been lost.” Contrite. Succinct. “I have negotiated terms to reinstate the Montilyets as landed traders in Orlais; those agreed upon, in turn, were formally drafted, then sent to Val Royeaux for final approval.” The elf raised a brow; Josephine’s lips parted wordlessly.

Narrowed eyes. “What?”

A trembling throat—flickers of dark emotion. “Recently…” silence. The ambassador swallowed thickly. “The couriers tasked with delivering the documents have been killed.”

It’s the first thing

That,

Touches

“They died for your games?”

Hunters were taught to embrace death—dealing it; meeting it, it had to be known—for the highest cause. The clan’s survival.

But to do one’s duty and die for nothing?

Death without meaning.

The highest insult.

“This is no game, Inquisitor.” More sorrow than offense—and there was something honest in her eyes. “They were targeted: the documents intended to restore my family’s status, were destroyed…in a grand, if not deliberate, display.” Her mouth thinned. “Whoever murdered them, did so with the intention of ruining the Montilyet name.”

She looks the selfish words in the face—feels the resentment boil anew. “There’ve been deaths, and all you can think about are pieces of paper?”

There was a look—a moment—truth; curved brows; vulnerability

Pain.

Is that who you think I am?’

Yes. No.

Shift.

Another face.

“I wish to know who saw fit to murder my couriers, as well, Your Worship.” Dark, silent eyes. “If you do not believe in my other motivations, then I ask you help me grant peace to those who survive them.”

She ground her teeth:

A change in tactics.

Pop.

‘I cannot win you this way, so let me appeal to your honor.’

This. Woman

Fenedhis lasa.

The ambassador seemed to note her victory, but there was no satisfaction. “I have already requisitioned Leliana’s assistance on the matter; she has made inquiries, on my behalf, that bore success.” A scowl: she did not want to hear that name; the other did not linger. “There is a comte in Val Royeaux—his Lordship Boisvert—who claims he has information on the ones who killed my messengers.” A pause…Reluctant. Brin dug nails into her palm. “Of course, such enlightenment rarely comes without cost.” The human looked to her—sadly? “He has requested your attendance. That Your Worship be present when I meet him, so he is seen publicly conferring with you.”

“More shemlen games.”

There was no argument against it. “He is using us. But, if he knows who assassinated my people—”

“Their names.”

The human looked taken aback, a moment of utter confusion, before her lips parted. “Your Worship?”

“What were their names?” Hissed through her teeth. “You’ve only referred to them as things—when they died for your family. Your lifestyle.”

Understanding. Remorse. “I see.” Josephine laced her hands together; looked to the stones of the floor…To her. “Tomas,” a trembling lip, “and Henriette.”

Brin repeated the names—said them with her own tongue:

Promised vengeance,

Before releasing them to Falon’Din.

The ambassador watched—hesitated—as if wary to destroy the moment.

“I beg you,” a physical shift—and now, there is no space between them, “Please.” The veils lifted from those artful eyes. “I ask that we indulge Comte Boisvert’s request. I must know who killed them both, just to harm my family.”

“I’ll go.”

A breath; a smile — relief. “Thank you. You cannot know what this means…” a fond touch.

Brin backed away.

“I’m not doing it for that.”

You haven’t manipulated me.

“No. Of course not. I,” there was a flicker of hurt. Shame. Josephine nodded. “It is,” stone by stone, “most appreciated. Inquisitor.” 

 


 

There is such a shift.

It was not often that she saw the Inquisitor this way—anything but that smirk; the fast, reckless actions—solemn. Impenetrable. The way she is with a bow.

Despite the widely accepted stigma against the Dalish, tales survive of their skill—the ferocity of their hunters(‘barbarians’ and legends, in one). Even through the hatred, they were respected. Feared.

She sees the other’s eyes and knows why: cold. A terrible coldness. Saying rash, drastic things she did not wish to decipher.

She should not be able to. Not here.

If she can decipher them: everyone else can.

It is that naturalness that is so alarming. Her words; her thoughts — her actions, were naked. The Inquisitor did not clothe her words like others did—like she does—with half-truths and secrets and misdirection. She is naked, and it is beautiful and obscene.

Josephine looked to the honest face, in this place, in the heart of the Game—

wants to blush.

Embarrassment.

Envy?

This… innocent animosity.

(It is all very dramatic, but Orlais does this to her. And she adapts; wears it as a second skin.)

The Comte sat, eased into the velvet of his chair, and is, immediately—similarly—affected.

Nothing unseemly. Nothing overt.

Just a small shift. The smallest shift. A heightening of the guard.

(Why is he guarded?)

She's seen it before,

She knows it:

The elf's sheer presence, even in the absence of speech.

She did not need to speak her efficiency.

How foreign in this land of words.

She planned this, of course, this advantage. She had told the Inquisitor, Comte Boisvert wished to use her for status, but she knew how off-guard she became in the other's company—(she unravels) why wouldn’t she utilize it against others?

Boisvert reached for his drink, an intricate thing with delicate designs and far too many jewels, attempting to veil the stumble. “I would be remiss if I did not offer my esteemed guests a goblet of wine. I have quite the collection.” His wrist tilted, swiveling the vessel deftly (she remembers the courses she had on wine tasting, alone) as his free hand summoned a servant. “You will, forgive me, of course, for starting before you.” A simpering smile; a generous sip. The mask turned in her direction. “An Antivan port, perhaps?”

The Inquisitor said nothing. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees her gaze honed on a bee gathering nectar from a flower. There is a stray thought on if she found the scene familiar.

(Is she the insect? The plant?)

“You are too kind, Your Lordship.” Josephine bowed her head, lifting it, once more, to reveal a turn of her lips; a dip of her brow. “I doubt, however, either the Inquisitor, or myself, could stomach such indulgence, in light of the dark circumstance that brings us here.”

A polite way to say she did not wish dulled senses. Of course, a single glass was hardly a risk—neither was two; but the more one sipped, the less one spoke.

The Comte shooed the servant away. “Yes… I imagine even the most vigorous of appetites would be ruined by so garish an affair. Bringing the culprits to justice will be a most satiating cure.” She noticed how difficult it was to read his eyes (Blue? She wonders; the dossier she compiled favored a darker shade), behind the mask—the tight edge of shadow—how he turned his head, just so, and was unknowable. The angle was common. “A worthy cause, surely. And not without its benefits.” The mask shifted to the elf next to her; another half-smile. “I’ve seen many flock to your fortress, for only a glimpse—but, an honored visit from the Herald, herself?” He chuckled. “Ah. I can feel the daggers of envy from here….”

Cold eyes. A gesture to a rather aged scroll she’d noted as well. “Give us the information.”

There was a lapse—a considering? (Respect? Tension?) Hardly a moment, hardly a pause, before Boisvert set the goblet aside. Straightened in his chair. “Certainly: and may I say, Your Worship, how refreshing it is to see such decisive action. As expected of the leader of a reconstructed Inquisition.” The noble canted his head, graciously—the sun catching dazzlingly on his golden mask—before looking back to her. “You are quite fortunate, Lady Montilyet, to be under someone, so willing, to investigate the untimely deaths of your people.”

‘Willing’. The word sticks—strikes her mind with its vivd incongruity.

No. No, the Inquisitor had been anything but.

The woman was unmoved—(…disgusted)—with her lifestyle; the concerns attached to it — and there was a part that wondered if the elf despised her, even now… But, she’s shaken.

Terrified

This was never supposed to touch her family.

(Maker. Her couriers…)

Perhaps her methods were ill-suited. Perhaps she could have been less heavy-handed.

Less

But, that is academic.

She knew no other way.

So, she plays this role—the distressed damsel—while her mind turns and turns.

“We are all fortunate; the times are dire and sure action is needed.” Every opportunity is one to further the Inquisition; every opportunity is one to spread their leader’s good name; Josephine folded her hands in her lap. “It is my sincere belief, Thedas rests in the most capable of hands.”

“Indeed.” The Comte leaned forward, a gloved finger idly tapping the scroll. “Have you heard of the House of Repose?”

He asks her, but his eyes are on the Inquisitor.

“An older guild. Quite infamous in Val Royeaux.” Ignorance would do nothing for her: the thought of hired assassins in Orlais is never surprising. Less, in the wake of ruined documents and dead couriers…Though, there is a small comfort in knowing the murders were not random. “Assassins do not act on passion: if we deal with the House of Repose, then there is someone, higher, pulling their strings.” She flicked through several families in her mind, possible rivals who would see the Montilyets as future opposition. “You have found evidence, as to whom?”

The scroll was unfurled, turned in their direction; her eyes devoured it. “A copy of a document, found, in their archives.” She grips the table; her heart jumps—‘eliminate’? Maker. So, that is why—Maker have mercy. Boisvert reclaimed his goblet, resumed the lazy sway of its contents. “Note the signature.”

“The Du Paraquettes…” breathless. This is why she yielded no results—the name had not even been considered, the family dying out as a noble line some sixty years ago. A tragic end. One her family would assume if she did not resolve this; her brows drew sharply. “How old is this contract?” There is nothing on the scroll to indicate when it was drafted. “The Du Paraquettes were the Montilyet’s rivals, yes—but that was ages ago. Surely the House of Repose knows their line has dissolved, since then?”

“A fair estimation. The contract, however, was drafted one hundred and nine years ago, when the Du Paraquettes were at the height of their influence.” Another unhurried sip. “As I am sure you are aware, a contract in Orlais falls prey, neither to time or happenstance.” The sharp nose of the mask dips, and she sees those eyes. “The House of Repose merely fulfills its contractual duties;” the goblet eclipsed his lips, “does what it must….”

She recovered her hands. Straightened her spine:

Too many triggers, pulled all at once

Something is wrong

Her mind warns her; her body is calm.

“You are not Comte Boisvert.”

The goblet was lowered.

And she feels the shift

“Who are you?” Snarled; the Inquisitor was halfway out her chair—wide-eyed; fingers tight with tension.

Josephine felt a shiver entirely inappropriate to the situation; next to the other woman, she feels as if she could take on the world. (That is her influence: when the Inquisitor was on one’s side, they felt invincible. When she was not, utterly forsaken.)

A smile — not an act, an illusion of nobility, but something genuine. Saying,

‘Well done’.

“You are as astute as they say, my dear lady.” The unknown man crossed his legs, though she noticed he did not lean back, and there was a new tenseness as he faced the one beside her, despite his smooth veneer. “I am, but a portion of the House of Repose, Your Worship; a representative, if you will. I wished to test myself against your ambassador’s lauded skill in perception,” a small smirk, “but it appears I was no match.”

“You did quite well, monsieur;” the mask, especially, was a deft touch (had it been specially made?), “but revealed too much.” She laced her hands; the reveal had been satisfying, but the Game persisted. “And there was a touch of contrition, most nobles notably lack.” A smile; there was more, of course, (the Inquisitor played her role wonderfully, her severe air making the killer, respond.) but she did not make a habit of telling her would-be murderers how to kill her better. “Is the real Comte Boisvert, unharmed?” A nod. “Did the House of Repose send you to assassinate me?”

Such words.

The thought, alone, is harrowing, but she keeps it from her voice.

“Perhaps I should have stressed the term, ‘representative’.” He tapped two fingers to his knee, as if in apology. “I have not come for your life—today, at least; in fact, the House of Repose deeply regrets its role in this affair. The contract against your family is an ugly business, and so unusual, we felt the courtesy of explanation, in order. As well as the need to inform you as to why your couriers were killed. Naturally.”

“Did you kill them?”

Josephine studied the line of the clenched jaw; the sneer on those lips (that strange accent: earthy and strong.). Is that sharpness for her? Her couriers? The woman’s usual way? The Inquisitor has a penchant for lost causes, and she says what is on her mind and her heart, regardless of subject.

The assassin tilted his head. “I have killed many in my time, Your Worship. But, forgive me: I thought it obvious.” He considered her—and even with the mask—she could tell it was with the utmost regard. “It was I who killed Lady Montilyet’s messengers and made sure the documents were destroyed. The very reason I chose to tell her, in person.”

The Inquisitor was silent, the same terrible coldness—but, a recognition, as well. She supposes a league of murderers sending a murderer has a poetic sense of honesty.

“I doubt you would be here, if you did not plan, continuing your course of action.” An accurate assumption: she was too close; the sacrifices had to have meaning. The golden mask stared. “Tell me, my lady: how do you plan to deal with the situation?”

“By starting at its source.” She already has the workings of a strategy: the correspondence she’ll need to write; the officials she will have to contact. “The Du Paraquettes are the ones who penned this contract; I doubt the House of Repose will acknowledge, any other, to annul it.” There was nothing given to show otherwise. “Though far from nobility, descendants survive—they will be sought out.”

“A convoluted venture, to be sure.” An amused, if not surprised tone. “You are aware that the House of Repose will be obligated to stop you?”

“I am aware.”

It is a flash, a sudden movement—the Inquisitor stands. “Call it off.”

The assassin rises. “I cannot.” He tugs the bottom of his right glove. “It is beyond my power.” His left. “The wheels are already set in motion.”

“Inquisitor,” and now, she stands; she does not like the way the other’s hands twitch; how her teeth, show, dangerously, “Orlesian businesses live and die by their reputations—who will utilize an assassins’ guild that regards its commitments so carelessly?” Everything the House of Repose has done has been proper—even if the results were less than ideal. “If the contract is simply ignored, the guild will suffer.”

Ar tu na'lin emma mi.”

She does not know what it means. But there is a smile (thin—so very thin—but a smile, nonetheless) to the man—a gesture away from the balcony—the tone was neutral — nowhere near the words snapped at her, days before, with a frightening anger

The assassin bowed. “Your acumen does you credit.”

Josephine exhaled. “Of course. I quite—”

A blade—

Everything is too fast

In the Inquisitor’s hand

In the assassin’s throat

Maker; Maker; Maker

The golden mask is ripped away. Tossed to the city, below.

His eyes are blue, frozen in pain—

Another blue pair; cold—

Cold.

The blade was whipped back. A graceful, arc of red.

Hot—sticky—wet, on her cheek.

The body falls.

She’s paralyzed….

Noises. Shouts.

The very shadows seem alive

Hands.

She’s pushed

under the table.

Arrows.

Blinding.

Red; red; red.

 


 

“What were you thinking?”

“That the assassin who killed your people was in reach of my blade.” Brin felt the corner of her lips curl—satisfying. Killing him had been good. His naked face;

The shock

She hadn't understood half the things the Orlesian said; thought to return the favor.

“So, you thought to solve violence with violence?” The ambassador’s hands jabbed the air while she paced—exasperated—accent dark and heavy and stretched; slanting her words, weighting them.

“Should I have sent a diplomat, instead?” It hit its mark; the woman’s face collapsed—she wouldn’t take it back. “I thought to save your life.” A lapse in that anger; she blew a breath through clenched teeth. “I don’t take chances. Not anymore.”

Emotion tumbled back. “I don’t need you killing others on my behalf! The House of Repose sent the assassin as a show of decency—how will it seem now that you’ve murdered him?” Pinched, drawn brows—frustration. “It will look as if I’ve accepted their challenge!”

Appearances. “You would have let him go?” The human stared as if there was no other option—she doesn’t understand it. “After he looked you in the eye and told you he killed your people?” Tomas. Henriette. And she just smiled. “What if it had been one of your family?” Maybe then she’d have a proper reaction. Maybe then it’d be real. “You asked for my help — this is what you get. Unless you want more of your people dead.” Dark, flashing eyes. “I don’t care if you’re angry. I don’t care if you disapprove. Both mean you’re alive.”

They wanted her in chains — a leashed murderer to smile, and be polite—less ‘elfy’; play their games

until they needed something killed.

Then, they threw her at it.

“Would it have been so terrible to negotiate without violence — to end our talk with peace? To have left Val Royeaux without blood on our hands?” Josephine clucked her tongue; glared at her sharply. “But, no—you are not satisfied unless you are barreling through diplomacy and coercing results as brutishly as you can!”

Save it.” Spat—seethed. “Wanting your lands and your ships, hoping pretty words and fancy letters won’t mar your conscience—ruin that ‘integrity’.” A sneer. “Get ‘blood’ on those hands…” she took the human in—took in that vanity. “None of those things are possible. None of those things exist.”

“Because you refuse to see anyone’s way, but your own! Ever since your clan—”

A hand to her lips. Wide, grey eyes.

She tasted blood. Breathed

Shook.

The hand curled with regret,

Reached out—

Brin caught the woman’s wrist; gripped it fiercely… Released it.

Warned her.

Silence.

Trembling fists. Her shoulders rose and fell.

Josephine’s hands approached—hesitated—approached, again, slow…slow, grazing her jaw; cupping her cheeks.

“Brin…” parted lips,

The door swung open.

And, it’s so complete. The swift detachment of the human from the situation.

She disengages

Appearances.

“I hear we have quite the assassination plot on our hands.” A light tone. “It seems things have escalated since,” pause—as if the spymaster tasted the air of the room, the lingering tension; a dark shift. Sharp eyes—to her. To the ambassador. “Am I interrupting?”

“Hardly: the Inquisitor and I were merely, debriefing, our efforts in Val Royeaux.” Leliana regarded her. Josephine smiled—and she watched both women test the other’s faces—making her way back to her desk. “A thing of which I suspect you’ll have little need; you are aware of everything that transpired, are you not?” Her chair scooted forward; folded hands against wood. “The situation is far from ideal, but solvable; I have already constructed a viable plan.”

Brin snorted.

The line of the ambassador’s lips tightened.

Leliana raised a brow. “Knowing you, Josie, it is ingenious, meticulous, and far too long.” A frown—almost a pout; the spymaster crossed her arms. “There is a contract out on your life; the time for talking has come to an end.”

“Look at that.” She waved a hand: sardonic. “Now that your friend’s said it, maybe you’ll actually listen.”

Josephine straightened in her chair. “It appears I will have no quarter.” Brin smirked. “I have only just finished telling the Inquisitor that I wished no more bloodshed on my behalf.”

A smile. “Inquisitor: I heard you dispatched the Repose assassin posing as the Comte, as well as his accomplices, quite handily.” The spymaster tipped her head. It wasn’t acknowledged. “Well done.” 

“Leliana!”

She tsked. “You are too stubborn, Josie." Yes. "And there is a faster way.” Another glance in her direction. “The House of Repose sent one of their agents to destroy our ambassador’s documents? I suggest we return the favor.” Curved lips. “Within the guild, is a vault, where all original contracts are stored for safekeeping. I propose, my men infiltrate it, secure the one against the Montilyets, and make it disappear. Then, the assassins’ obligations are no more.”

“No—contacting the Du Paraquettes and elevating them to nobility will work.” Josephine’s fingers arched against the desk. “There is no need for anyone else to risk their lives.”

“Even when you risk your own?” A pointed stare. “More guards will be assigned to your office, day and night.” Leliana raised a hand, halting the imminent protest. “No arguing. Each minute, delayed, is a threat; the House of Repose won’t be idle long.”

“I’m going with them.”

Both humans looked to her sharply.

What?”

Leliana faced her: accessing, narrowed eyes. “So kind, Your Worship.” The words were ice. “I wonder: are you so generous with all of your companions?”

A smirk. There had been some thing the spymaster had wanted to investigate—a letter; a dead woman—there were better things to do. “Only the ones I like.”

She steps to her. “If you have something to say, Inquisitor,” she wields the title like a knife, “say it.”

Leliana!” The ambassador looked horrified.

“The last time I gave you an important mission, you managed killing my clan.” She hated how the human was taller—how she had to physically look up to her. “I don’t trust you to get the job done.”

“Your Worship—”

“The Inquisitor is right. I failed.” Something resembling emotion in those chilling eyes—she didn’t care—before it was locked away. “The House of Repose is well hidden and well fortified. My agents are trained in the art of infiltration—you are not. The risk is high.”

“I managed getting into your Conclave.” As if the Dalish didn’t have their own assassins; the spymaster was unamused. She didn’t have to like it—that was better. “The best of your agents. Have them readied.”

“Inquisitor—please—” pleading, grey eyes:

The woman was standing.

She’s tired of talking. “Dismissed. Spymaster.”

The coldest gaze she’s ever met.

“Of course. Your Worship.”

 


 

A shut door.

“It’s done.”

Josephine looked up from her desk—the drafts; the small army of candles—to set, blue eyes,

Needing the confirmation. Their hard truth.

Maker….

It’s…

Over.

(It’s over, It’s over, It’s over)

She. Scarcely believes it,

It—all of it — everything

Years

So long.

So

A tight, burning pressure.

Her. Family….

She closed her eyes. Pressed both hands to her face—

Breathed:

Safe.

Their lives were no longer in danger.

They could rebuild.

The Montilyet name would retain its weight. Its dignity.

All of the heaviness. All of the guilt

Not…gone. But—

Fleeting….

“I…” her hands fell; her lips worked fruitlessly, “there are no words.” A helpless rush of air—the thought was laughable. She rose from her seat; moved from her desk; bowed deeply. “Thank you,” her voice splintered at the edges; she swallowed—again. “Thank you. Your Worship."

The woman stared at her—looked away. Physically turned. Conflicted—(pained?)—by whatever she saw.

Josephine bit her lip. Looked to the floor.

They’ve said such terrible things.

Terrible, wretched things…

Now? Now that there was no longer a crisis—no urgency as an excuse. Now that her family—their name—was no longer in jeopardy.

Now that it was over.

Where does this leave them?

An ache in her heart.

She’s been this vicious, this single-minded in her endeavors, before (There are no morals in the Game. And the Player cannot be timid or merciful.) — but never in this capacity; never with such consequence;

Never with a person, she—

She

She knew where her loyalties lied. The Inquisition is paramount. Her family is more. That she cast whatever they have (what? What do they have?) aside so easily—

Set it aflame….

“Abelas.” She looks up. Elven? It feels like the first soft thing the other’s given of her language since this unfortunate event; the Inquisitor leans against a bookcase, a hand clenching; unclenching. What goes through her head? “I don’t agree with the things you said—I won’t. But, I blamed you for the deaths of those messengers when you couldn't control that.” Clench. Release. “You wouldn’t have sent them with those papers if you knew they’d die for it.”

Wouldn’t she?

(She would not.)

The woman had taken their fates so personally. She wonders if all death affects her in such a way. Now…

But, it is appreciated. It is one of the things she admires most:

The Inquisitor was rigidly idealistic. But held the mirror up to herself, as well.

“That is…most gracious of you.” More than she deserved? “With the circumstance…” no, “with my family’s future under duress,” a beat, “I am afraid you have not seen me in the best of light.”

“But I have seen you.” Set, blue eyes.

…Yes,

Yes.

Silence.

She,

She realizes—

She realized…

She doesn’t understand the Inquisitor.

(The Inquisitor may never understand her.)

To say something — and it is.

That

It seems so helplessly… So, hopelessly, foreign.

It does not fit.

In her mind. In her world.

She always tries to see what lies beyond. Searching—always searching—for more (the words must be more — what is the point, otherwise? Why else would someone use them?)…

But.

There’s nothing.

It,

They:

Her words,

Are.

How? How can she deal with that?

There is an instinct within her that says the pause stretched too long—that it is no longer comfortable—that something must be said… But words fail her.

Why did the elf stay? In this silence. She could leave (she has left). That she did not, implied something had not been said.

What do you wish to say?

“I was so worried—relieved…” she’s never had this many stumbles in conversation; her cheeks flush, “You sacrificed yourself in dealing with the House of Repose. That you return, safely…”

Another tug in her chest. One of Leliana’s agents had been lost.

(If…. She doesn’t…She couldn’t)

Another life stolen.

“With bloodied hands.” A tight smirk. “No finger wagging?”

Her brows dipped. “I am not the innocent you think I am.” Should she tell her? Why?

Why she avoided violence. Why she pushed so vehemently

She owed that much, did she not?

“There was a boy.” A foolish boy. But not as foolish as her. “I was a bard. A spy. A killer.” Another life; another person. “And, he. He was my opposition.” She closed her eyes. ‘Opposition’. The word seemed so dramatic. “He drew a knife; I pushed him down a flight of stairs.” It flicks through her mind like a tragic play. Scene; scene; scene. “And he died. I killed him.”

Did that matter to a warrior? To a person holding a title with which killing was a prerequisite?

“Why was he your enemy?”

“He attempted to kill my patron.”

“You swore loyalty?”

There is no loyalty in Orlais. “No.”

“Then why did you do it?”

“Because…” a stumble. She knew the elf would do this—push and push and push; turn the mirror, “That was the life I thought I wanted.”

Romantic. Exciting 

Until the death.

The Inquisitor is silent. Clench. Release.

Is she a monster in her eyes?

A hypocrite?

‘The greatest pretender’?

A tearful gasp.

The emotion swells

Those blue eyes are unsympathetic. 

She presses her face into her hands.