'Twas the night before Satinalia
And all through Skyhold
Not a creature was stirring
Except for the Herald
Josephine's pinched voice echoed down the hall, "-and I've secured a harlequin for tomorrow after that unfortunate accident with the bards."
Leliana laughed, "You should run your entertainment list by me first, Josie."
"I do not understand the point of this," Cassandra grumbled.
"Is is Satinalia," Josie tried to explain. Despite their voices carrying easily I could only spot the faint glow of the eternal candle upon her board, my fingers digging into the cracked door.
"It is a waste of time," Cassandra continued, "We've barely cleared out the debris or found quarters for our people and already you speak of feasting and...clowns." Her voice shuddered with that word.
"Harlequins," Josie corrected.
"They are vile either way."
"We need this, Cassandra," Leliana interjected, "Our people need this."
"Our people need a proper roof, not to sit around clapping their hands in amusement and losing themselves to milled wine."
"Mulled wine," Josie corrected again.
Leliana's sigh echoed down the corridor from Cassandra's resistance. Somedays it was a wonder those two ever got on enough to decide what to eat for dinner, much less craft the Inquisition. I stepped back from Josie's door, leaving those two to convince Cassandra. The last thing I wanted was to get dragged into another "Which one of us is right, Inquisitor?" arguments.
I wanted to get to the war room, but scaling the battlements and dropping down through a window would be wiser than facing the wrath of a Seeker forced to wear a funny hat. She snapped the Satinalia mask in half after Josie presented it to her. The war could wait for another day.
Few people dashed about the grand hall, most of the servants hunkered down in a preparatory sleep, but one or two tried to tie bunting to the scaffolding. Somehow, they kept slipping off their knots, the inquisition's eye staring up at the mostly patched roof.
"Inquisitor!" a young elf shouted, almost dropping the basket she carried as she bent to a knee. Must be new or with the flocks of invited guests.
I waved to her, "It's all right. If you see the ambassador or seeker, I was never here."
She glanced towards the door where the voices rose and nodded solemnly, "Yes, your worship."
"Good evening," I called, trudging towards my quarters.
"Happy Satinalia," rang out behind me.
* * *
I sprang from sleep, the curse ringing in my ears but no shadows moved in the darkness. The fullness of the second moon cast across the empty carpet, still on her climb over Thedas' sky. It couldn't be much past midnight.
A forgotten nightmare must have kept me tossing, knotting up blankets around my legs. I began to unravel the mess, hoping to free my feet when another crash echoed from below.
"Shit! Bollocks! Arsebucket!"
Jumping out of my bed, I dashed down the stairs, my feet sliding upon the steps, the twisted blanket following. I yanked back the door, my hands searching for a weapon I didn't have, when a mass of blonde hair flopped before my face.
"Oh, it's you."
Shaking my head, I glanced up to find the elven face flipped upside down, one hand dangling free while the other clung above her.
"Sera...?" I started, ducking below her dangling head and stepping into the empty hall.
"What?" she asked indignant, as if it were perfectly normal to find someone trussed up and hanging upside down above a doorway.
"Well, it's like this, see. It's supposed to be Satinalia, right? Big day. Lots of eating those little sticks with cream in 'em, and breaking open casks, and spinning around until you vomit the sticks all over the floor."
"But it's not a proper Satinalia, a right one, without embrium knotted in those balls. Hee, hee, balls."
"I thought Satinalia was about masks, and feasting, and something about an important speech." One I kept putting off, no matter how many times Josephine asked how it was getting on.
"Who told you that rot? Nah, nah, got to have the embrium. Only...we ain't got any embrium in the alchemy stores, so I'm making due."
"And that's why you're hanging upside down?" I asked.
"Don't be daft!" she shouted, kicking her legs as if I were the fool.
"Do you want help getting down?"
She kicked her legs together again, banging her shoes as if that could free her and shook her head, "I got this."
I eyed her up, the knots digging deep into her flesh but only nodded, "If you're sure..."
Sera looked about to argue when her lips smirked, "What the tits are you wearing?"
I looked down to find myself still in my pajamas. Fear of another invasion from Corypheus' army kept me from bothering to dress. The tunic was soft and long enough to reach almost to my knees, perfectly acceptable sleepwear, but what stood out was the sunburst symbol of the chantry large enough to cover the chest, my stomach and almost my thighs. Josie found it amongst some leftovers from Haven. Finding a replacement had been low on the priorities.
"It's the night robes of the Inquisitor," I said, steadying my shoulders.
"Psh, looks like yer chest's about to spawn out a demon...It can't do that, right?"
"No," I said shaking my head, "at least, not yet."
The hunger of being roused from a deep slumber knotted up my stomach. I patted the sunburst and stepped towards the kitchen doors. Before opening it, I turned back towards Sera, "You're certain you're all right?"
"Stop being such a fusspot. I got shit to do!" she shouted. Sera didn't twist or rise from her predicament, her only free hand still dangling. Well, if she was still like that when I came back later I could cut her loose. I opened up the door and left her to her own decorating machinations.
Sliding down the stairs, warm scents of roasting sage and jellied things swam through the air. A few of the kitchen help dashed past, still checking on things despite the late hour. This was the first real holiday the Inquisition would host and Josie took it upon herself to impress every dignitary that wandered by to see what the fuss was about. The pilgrims cluttering up the courtyard didn't help much either, everyone insisting what was the proper way to celebrate the moon.
"Tiny, twisted, tan. It wanted to be a tree, but the squirrel found it first."
"We don't talk to our food, Kid," Varric's voice boomed through the stones. I found him patting Cole across the shoulder as he smashed a small hammer into a nut, spraying the remains across the once clean counters.
Cole picked up a sliver of the husk, twisting it in his fingers. "You do not like them."
"Nope," Varric said, cracking another and placing the freed nut beside its brethren.
"Then why do you break them?"
"It's tradition," I said, causing Varric to look up. Cole was still absorbed in the nut. He never jumped.
"Exactly, can't have Satinalia without roasted oaknuts..." Varric paused to inspect the charred remains, "or whatever these are."
"I wasn't expecting anyone else awake," I said, picking up one of the nuts and chewing off a small end. My face puckered from the bitter burst across my tongue, yet I kept going.
"Everyone's excited," Varric said, shattering another oaknut. "First big todo since rolling out the carpet." He inspected the nut before lining it up with the others. "They're also avoiding all the nobles crushing anyone's toes and stinking up the place."
"She wishes she could be one despite being the wrong shape. The deer will rein, but what about Olive?" Cole whispered to his nut.
"Do spirits have holidays?" I asked Cole, grabbing two more bitter nuts. Varric rolled one in his fingers but wasn't drunk enough to take a bite.
"Every day is the same in the Fade. Here it's not, it's new and same. New-same."
"I think that's a no," Varric translated. "How're you holding up?"
"Me?" I asked reaching for the half empty bottle and poured a finger into a glass.
"First time being the big Inquisitor, wearing the hat, ordering people to be jolly. It's a big responsibility."
"Unlike closing the breach, stopping the mage rebellion..."
"None of those involve small talk with a grand cleric while a clown jumps in your face."
Taking a long draught of the glug I weighed the coming storm and gritted my teeth, "You make a fair point."
"The hat is magic. It brings life but it can't stop the seasons. Or hold rabbits," Cole said aloud, his watery eyes gazing off into the kitchen fire.
"If the grand cleric starts in on her bunion story, maybe the kid can teach you his vanishing trick," Varric said, smashing another nut.
"It's not a trick," Cole broke from his own world to look at me beneath his hat, "But it's hard to forget you. Like mis-remembering the sun."
"Oh, yeah, speaking of mis-remembering," Varric continued, shattering three nuts at once, "on the way here we saw a little scuffle breaking out."
"Someone celebrating a early? Cassandra get her hands on a clown?" I asked.
"No...though I'd sell tickets to the last one. Sparkles left his cozy alcove and headed off towards the stables."
"The stables...oh. Maker," I sighed, dropping my head into my hands.
"You could see how it'll play out," Varric said, shrugging his shoulders.
"Blood on the fist, ice across the ground, horses scattered through the hold. It was just a joke," Cole's voice cut through, chilling the warmth of the kitchen.
"Of course, that's what would happen," I said, finishing up the last of my drink. "I best put on that Inquisitor hat."
"You might want to put on some Inquisitor pants too."
I shook my head, there wasn't time. If Dorian got to him before...Maker, what was that man up to? Grabbing one more of the horrid nuts, I left Varric and Cole to their micro-celebration. Opening up the door to the courtyard, I turned back and said, "Oh, Sera's hanging around in the grand hall. If she's still up there in an hour, you might want to cut her down."
"Why am I not surprised," Varric muttered. He lay down the hammer and jumped off the kitchen stool. "Come on kid, you're gonna need those daggers of yours."
"No one wanted who-hash, anyway," Cole said, following after Varric.
The chill of the mountains smashed into the skin of my exposed shins. This was a very unwise idea, but even as I stepped down the staircase I could already spot the burning brazier lighting up the stables. A pair of shadows fought upon the far wall, one gesturing wildly while the other puffed up its chest.
A string of Tevinter curses rang out followed by some gruff marcher swears. "It's tradition!" Dorian's voice grew above his usual pitch as the argument looped around itself.
"It's foolish," Blackwall muttered back.
"Yes, now you're getting into the spirit! Here, put this on," Dorian reached into a sack and removed a monstrous hat. Twisted into a cone, it stood three feet tall with a bell dangling off the top. Scraps of fabric formed the body, no pattern or color repeating.
Blackwall glared at it, refusing to unfold his hands wrapped around himself. Looking up, he caught sight of me and unhinged his stance, "Inquisitor." The voice around my name pleaded a silent "Please, save me."
Dorian glanced back towards me. He properly threw on a long dressing gown to bite back against the cold despite still wearing his typical robes. "Don't go believing she will to side with you. This is official business here."
"Dorian, what are you doing?" I asked, stepping deeper into the warmth of the barn. The bit of heat burned across my frozen legs, bringing back life.
"Satinalia," he said, waving at the monstrous hat as if it all made sense, "you know, the celebration."
"Nope, not getting it."
He sighed over dramatically, "You southern barbarians never cease to amaze me."
"He wants me to play a fool," Blackwall cut in, his beard slightly shaking in rage
"Not fool, king. You'd be a king," Dorian continued.
"King of fools. I know about your celebrations, mage."
"Mine? I thought they were everyones... Apparently being on the ass end of nowhere sucks the joy from all," Dorian said, playing the wounded party.
"King of fools?" I asked, trying to keep the two from ripping into each other, not that I'd really blame Blackwall. The hat was truly that bad.
"Not you as well. Surely you're more sophisticated than..."
"An unwashed barbarian?" Blackwall finished for him.
"As you say." Dorian's quip got another growl from Blackwall.
"I thought this holiday was all about feasting and praising the moon and something about gifts. Leliana stressed the gifts."
"Only pious twits who pledged their somnolent souls to the chantry celebrate the feast of Satina in solemn prayer. True Thedosians remove that stick from their ass."
"Keep pushing it, mage, and we'll see how far that staff of yours will go."
"Promises, promises," Dorian tsked, "My point, we in Tevinter usher in Satina with a game of sorts. We find the most idiotic man in the town and elect him king for the day."
Blackwall growled, "And he's decided it should be me."
"I decided nothing, it was a vote from the people. Antivans adore their King of Fools. They celebrate even more vibrantly than Tevinter, if you can believe it. You wouldn't wish to disappoint our madam ambassador, would you?"
"She did not put you up to this!"
"Oh, I believe I found your exposed shin," Dorian mused, leaning back as smug as ever.
"I'll expose your innards if you don't drop this," Blackwall said, stepping towards the mage.
"It would be interesting to see you try. Like a bronto learning how to knit."
"Dorian! Blackwall! Enough!" They both stopped, mere inches from blows, to glare upon me, then the sheepish feeling set in. Tension washed away as their Inquisitor dressed in maker-awful pajamas proceeded to chastise them both. "This was supposed to be a break, a moments peace away from death and gloom. But I've got Cassandra threatening to kill every clown lent to us, Sera swiping herbs and knotting them in the ceiling, Cole speaking to nuts, and you two bickering like schoolchildren with a crush!"
"Please," Dorian interrupted, "I have standards."
"Knock it off!"
"Sorry, Inquisitor," Blackwall said, his weary eyes glancing down, the bags thicker in this late hour.
"I ask for your forgiveness as well," Dorian said, his smart-ass tone fading away. I should try yelling at people more. Maybe it'd work on Corypheus.
"Good!" I sighed, blinking weary eyes, "Good..."
"This doesn't, however, solve our conundrum."
"There are nobility here from Orlais, Antiva, Nevarra all expecting a show. To not have a king of fools is to spit upon their ancestors."
"I'll return to the Grey Wardens before I play your games," Blackwall said.
"It wasn't I who voted for you," Dorian said, holding his hand up, "Evil magister's honor."
"You were more than happy to deliver the news, however," I said.
He laughed, "Of course. Wouldn't you?"
"Okay, okay, fine...Blackwall," I said, "would you be willing to wear the stupid hat-"
"For a few hours, just to entertain the children."
"The sticky fingered ones love you the same way they care for the family dog."
Blackwall glared at Dorian but didn't lunge for him. This was a start.
"And Dorian," I said, getting his attention, "Since you were so kind to bring this tradition to the Inquisition's doors I think you should be the one to wear the crown for the feast."
"What?" His face fell, causing Blackwall to laugh so hard a snort shook his beard. "But that can't be done. There aren't two kings of fools."
"The Inquisition's breaking a lot of rules," I said, waving my hands, "What's one more?"
"You heard her, Dorian. I'll wear the hat if you will."
Sparkles snorted, "Very well, but know that I hate you now."
"It's a pain I shall have to endure," I said, touching the sunburst across my breast.
"I suppose this is what real leadership is, making decisions so no one's happy. I'm rather glad I skipped out on the whole thing."
"There's the Dorian we know and love," I said, lightly batting him on the arm.
"Speak for yourself," Blackwall said, but the malice was gone. Instead, he picked up the garish hat, glaring at the thing, but not ripping it to shreds. It was a Satinalia miracle.
"Well, if that crisis is solved," I muttered, "I seem to still be in my pajamas and freezing to death."
"I was curious about..."
"Goodnight, Dorian!" I shouted, cutting him off.
"Goodnight, Inquisitor," he responded.
I turned away from the soothed egos as Blackwall said to Dorian, "I'm not wearing that stupid outfit, though."
"Perish the thought. It's far too stylish for you. I was thinking you should try to spice up your look though. Perhaps some ribbons or holly though that mangled beards of yours."
Most of the stalls were closed up and locked away, but a few braziers yet flamed in the light, children unable to sleep through the night rubbing their hands beside them. Their weary parents sat beside, trying to talk them to sleep. Satinalia will come quicker while they're enveloped in dreams. But they weren't having any of it. One slipped a mask over his downy head. It was nothing like the Orlesian ones, intricately carved and painted to represent some noble family. An untrained hand whacked at a hunk of wood until a misshapen face emerged, but that didn't bother the child.
"Mum," a soft voice called from below a toss of blankets, "is that the Herald?"
I turned from the boy trying to knot his oversized mask on and felt a few more eyes landing upon me.
"I am uncertain..." the Mum said and I followed her line of vision towards my un-heraldic attire. A burn began up my exposed legs, making for my frozen cheeks. More people began to twist away from their fires, trying to spot the Inquisitor amongst them.
Battlements. That was the only hope now. Fading back into the shadows, I raced up the stone steps, wishing I slipped on real shoes instead of some thick socks. Broken chunks of stair bit into my feet, but the cold drove me up...where I faced the crumbled remains of what would have been a way back to my warm bed.
Shit. This damn place was a maze even a month after moving in. Wind whipped against me, the cold biting through a tunic that I was going to burn the moment I returned to my room. Huddling against the cold, I began a slow jog around the battlements. Voices sprang up below, most in conversation, a few heated, but singing peppered without. Mage and templar, elf and shem, dwarf and...was there anyone dwarves didn't get on with besides other dwarves? All huddled together under one banner, waiting for tomorrow, for an excuse to release the fear blanketing them and let loose.
"They've been singing most of the night."
I turned away from the gatherings to find the commander walking towards me. "Anything good?" I asked, trying to play off the surprise. I'd been to enraptured in the people to hear him.
Cullen paused a few feet away, his hand running across the stone wall, "Not much I can make out, though that tavern bard was trying to get a round of Empress of Fire going."
"Maker," I muttered shaking my head.
He smiled, "Indeed."
"What brings you out here, commander?"
"Funny, I was about to ask you the same."
"Oh the usual. Demons, mages, templars, preventing a war..."
In the bright light of satina I watched his soft eyes twist up at my exaggeration. "Shall I rally the guards?" he asked.
"No, I believe I have prevailed once again."
"There was never any doubt. As for me, our ambassador let slip to one of the visiting Dukes that I was once a templar."
I leaned back from the wall and turned fully towards him, "Does he have something against templars?"
"No," Cullen said before sighing and placing his elbows upon the wall. "In fact he has what even the chantry would call an unhealthy fixation upon them. He even owns a replica of templar armor. I could only escape his barrage the first time because a scuffle broke out in the barracks." He twisted away from all those people below who believed in us to stare across the mountains. "I fear it would take another avalanche to remove him the second time."
I scratched my chin, "Well, it's a good thing we got those new trebuchets you asked for."
Cullen laughed, then fell quiet; the maudlin spirit that hovered over him never far away. "I pray we never need them."
"I dunno, it'd seem like a waste if we don't fire them at least once."
"After what happened to you at Haven?"
"I walked out, that counts as a victory."
"And if you hadn't..."
"Cullen," I reached over and picked up his folded fingers, "I did. And that was thanks to you." His doleful eyes met mine and that same burn began up my frozen shins.
"I...uh, that is to say..." he stepped back but didn't drop my hand. The high winds twisted at my tunic and for the first time he became aware of my sartorial choices. "You are in...sleeping attire?"
"Demons don't wait for you to put pants on, apparently," I muttered, crossing my arms against my chest. Sera, Varric, even Dorian spying me in this didn't cut to the quick, but self consciousness clawed at my spine now. I wouldn't mind an avalanche or the floor opening up right about now.
But Cullen touched his gloved hand against my shoulders and said, "You're freezing. Here." Before I could object, he pulled off the pelt across his shoulders.
"I can't...you'll be cold hiding up here from Duke du Templarfan."
"Think of it as an order," he said, already sliding the pelt over my shoulders. His body heat trapped inside the coat enveloped me, but the smell of him, notes of metallic armor polish and musky sweat, almost knocked me to my knees. I feared that opening my mouth would cause a giggling schoolgirl to fall out.
"Th...thank you," I stuttered not from the cold.
His scar rose in a Cullen small smile before his shoulders shook from the winds. Gallantry didn't stop the cold.
"I'm surprised you didn't say anything about my sleeping attire," I said, trying to distract myself.
"The giant sunburst? The garish colors? It doesn't seem a bit much?"
He laughed, "Templars wore the same as the priests."
"Of course, the chantry wasn't going to craft us special sleepwear. What? Did you think we slept in our armor?"
"I always pictured you sleeping naked," the words slipped past my brain before I could yank them back.
Cullen blinked rapidly, clearing his throat as a bit of red rose in his pale cheeks. The blush highlighted the few blonde hairs lost amongst his darker scruff. "I...well," he coughed again before adding, "I'm not a templar any longer."
"That is...good to know," I said, pushing the runaway hair out of my face. Cullen settled in beside me, the two of us staring across the stars framing satina's face. I could reach out, knot my arm around him, fall into his chest. His face remained relaxed, peering across the shifting snows.
I tried to bite back the yawn, but it clawed up my throat ready to ruin the moment. Cullen turned to find me covering my mouth in shame. "The hour is late," he stated the obvious.
Nodding my head, I accepted defeat, "Yes, I suppose so. Big celebration tomorrow and all. Can't have the Inquisitor nodding off during the...what was Josie throwing together?"
"A play about the betrayer sons, I believe."
"Riiight," I shook my head, "Should be...fun?" I began to slip the pelt off my shoulders, but Cullen interjected.
"No, you have a further walk back to your room. Keep it."
"You're certain?" I asked, perhaps better aware of the rumors my walking around in the commander's coat would craft.
"Yes. It is not as if we will not see each other again," he smiled again.
"I hope not. I'm not suffering as head of the feast alone."
For a moment his fingers reached out to pat his own coat's shoulders, but they dropped quickly to his side. "Happy Satinalia."
Below us, the people rose up in song, not the chant of light, but an old one born from before Andraste, to fight against the terrors of darkness and guide back the sun. Reaching over, I knotted my fingers around Cullen's and said, "Happy Satinalia."
Yawning again, I released his hand and trudged off to my warmer but much emptier bed.