“Lead Scout Harding is requesting backup in the Emerald Graves.”
“Are you sure, Leliana? Harding? Our fearless archer?”
“Yes. If she’s asking for help, Inquisitor, I assume it’s because it’s needed. Her note says, and I quote, ‘I have seen four giants. Men with big swords would be helpful.’”
“Commander, do we have the resources to spare?”
“We do…but I’d prefer to keep our reserves for if they’re needed elsewhere. No offense meant, but scouting missions aren’t typically suited for a drove of warriors. The Chargers have been begging for a go at things. Why not let Krem lead his men there? They have some scouts in their employ that could help Harding scour the area, and the Bull’s fighters are some of the best around.”
“Get it done.”
The response from the raven is a relief. Harding rolls up the scrap of parchment and puts it in one of her pockets. The Chargers are on their way. While she has little experience with them directly, she’s seen the Iron Bull’s men at work and has been satisfied by their expertise. With Commander Cullen’s trust in them, and with the Inquisitor’s approval, she can breathe a little easier.
Within two days, Harding has the manpower she needs to finish her scouting mission. Krem, the Chargers’ lieutenant, a man she’d seen around but had never spoken to, is swift and efficient with his instructions to his troops, but confers often with her and defers to her judgment when it comes to analysis of the area. “We’ve got scouts of our own, but you’re in charge,” Krem had said. “You tell me what you need, I tell them what to do.”
They make a good team. Harding marks areas she feels would be good for establishing camps later, and they make their own the first night near the southern end of the Emerald Graves, where things are a bit more…civilized. Harding has a terrible fear of giants she’s never told anyone.
Around the campfire, Harding takes the time to write all of her notes as she usually does, in great depth. She knows the Inquisitor doesn’t read all of these, but she wants to help as best as she can. At the very least, Leliana appreciates her attention to detail.
“Head’s up!” one of her scouts says, and she raises a hand to catch a flying biscuit, shoving it in her mouth and continuing to write. Next to her on the grass, legs sprawled and reclining on his elbows, Krem laughs.
“You’ve got nice reflexes.”
She pulls the biscuit out, chewing a bite. “Thank you. Lots of practice. People throw things at me often.”
“Maybe you should tell ‘em to stop.”
“Usually it’s food, so I don’t mind.”
Krem laughs again. It’s a nice sound. She’s never paid much attention to laughs before, but she likes his, and the Inquisitor’s—that unexpected giggle that seems to surprise both her and everyone around her. Harding likes the Inquisitor a lot; she always seems to be interested in what Harding’s doing, making sure she’s happy and well stocked with any supplies she needs. Harding hasn’t had a lot of interaction with the Dalish, but the Inquisitor’s all right.
Finishing up her day’s notes, Harding puts them away, focusing now on her people around her. Twelve scouts are all she’s able to have nowadays. The Chargers are making it much easier, though. They should be able to have a good picture of the Emerald Graves within the week.
“Want some?” Krem asks, holding out a flask. “It’s from Tevinter. We’re really good at churning out blood mages and adequate mulled mead.”
Before she can answer, one of her scouts—Arlanna—laughs. “Harding don’t drink on missions. She gets too—”
“Not another word!” Harding says quickly, growing embarrassed. “Let’s just leave it at the part where I don’t drink on missions.”
Krem gives her a long look. His eyes are some indistinct shade in the flickering fire. She’s guessing brown, maybe hazel. But why is she guessing? This is stupid. She has a job to do. “Good to know,” Krem says at last before turning away. He’s smiling a little, and she’s blushing.
“We have a request from Lieutenant Cremisius Aclassi of the Bull’s Chargers, Inquisitor.”
“Oh? And what’s that?”
“He requests ‘a delicate and sneaky individual’ for an outing at the Storm Coasts, and requests Lead Scout Harding by name, as she is ‘a small package of murder.’ She’ll be delighted by the description.”
“Is Harding otherwise occupied?”
“She is not. In fact, she’s had a whole three days to do nothing. I think it’s getting to her.”
“Let her go, then. Keeping her happy should be a number one priority.”
“You’re too kind, Inquisitor. I’m on it.”
Krem is delighted to find Harding at their camp when he returns from a short hunt. It seems longer than two weeks since he’d seen her last, had the chance to admire her abilities and what she brings to the table. She’s sitting on a huge knapsack, writing with her plain black quill, a raven squawking nearby. When she turns and sees him, her face lights up. He rather likes that look directed at him.
“Small package of murder, huh?”
He laughs. “I knew they’d tell you that.”
“It’s the best compliment I’ve ever gotten.”
“I’m sure I can think of better ones.”
Her eyes widen in surprise, but her smile doesn’t falter. She looks down at whatever she’s writing before putting it away and standing. She’s so little, barely comes up to the middle of his chest. Like the rest of them, she’s mostly soaked through from the rain. Her hair has darkened, turning a deep auburn. He can’t get over her freckles.
“So what can I help you with, Lieutenant?”
“Need someone with a keen eye to watch out for my men down on the coast,” Krem says, dropping the fennecs he’d managed to trap. The fur will be useful, and the meat, he knows, is downright delicious. “We’re scavenging a shipwreck but something keeps picking us off. No one’s been killed just yet, but I’ve got several out of commission until we get back to Skyhold.” He indicates one of the tents, where from inside he can hear some cursing. “They’re not too pleased about it.”
Harding nods, shifting from foot to foot. He’s noticed how restless she is and wonders how much of that is a product of her job and how much of it is herself. “I can help you with that. Found anything good in the shipwreck?”
“Sort of. Some golden statues that could be melted down and put to better use. I’ve got a feeling there’s more there so I don’t want to give up yet, but I can’t risk my men getting put down. Your help is appreciated.”
Harding shields her very green eyes from the rain and gives him a smile. “Your appreciation is appreciated, Lieutenant. Where would you like me to start?”
“Let me get some stew going so they’ll stop whining at me about being hungry. Then I’ll debrief you?”
“Sounds good to me. I’m happy to help.”
Krem takes a breath as he gathers the fennecs and turns to search his pack for a knife. She’s distracting him a little, and he isn’t used to being distracted. For years, being a soldier has been enough. He doesn’t know why he wants that to change now, but he…does.
Harding is astute as always as she looks over a map next to Krem, their bellies filled with stew, suggesting a plan of attack of her own that he feels foolish for not seeing before, and admits as much to her. She laughs. “My job is to be as sneaky as possible while getting a good reading of the lay of the land. Your job is to hit things. Don’t feel too bad about it.”
“Hey, I do some tactical work, too,” he says, bumping her shoulder with his own…then catching her when she nearly falls over. He’s got to remember that for as solid and sturdy as she seems, she’s got a different center of gravity and can be toppled easily in the right conditions. He starts to apologize but she only laughs and waves off his words. Says something about it happening all the time and she doesn’t mind. In fact, she sits closer to him, reaching for the map to peer at their demarcation of the coast itself. There are little freckles on her earlobe.
Clearing his throat, he returns to their mission at hand, pointing on the mapping and showing her where he and his men will be so they can coordinate their positions. “You’ll be on your own,” he says. “The men I’ve got with me aren’t equipped for sniping.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m pretty good at what I do.”
“I’ve noticed that.”
She grins. “Glad to hear it.”
The mission goes smoothly after that. With Harding’s help, they catch a couple of Venatori archers and dispatch them neatly. Krem wasn’t wrong, at least; there’s a ton more gold on the shipwreck, plus letters and incriminating evidence against what sounds like a powerful noble family in Orlais. He and his men gather everything up for the trip back to Skyhold. They load Harding’s solid black pony with their findings, and she joins Krem on his gelding, seated close behind him with arms around his waist, pressing her face into his back to hide from the rain.
He’s preoccupied by the way her body feels against his for the entire nine-hour journey.
“Now that we have our most pressing business accounted for, Inquisitor, I have a request from Lead Scout Harding.”
“Really? She must be having a hard go of it, if she’s asking for help.”
“Well…Leliana and I have a theory that our commander denies, but…Harding requests some ‘muscle’ to scout Red Templar territory in the Western Approach. ‘Twelve scouts isn’t going to cut it,’ she says, adding, ‘I’m about to start throwing grenades and destroy all of the evidence.’ She would like Lieutenant Cremisius Aclassi and his Chargers to accompany her.”
“Oh? Krem again?”
“Inquisitor, if I may, the ladies here believe that—”
“Cullen! Don’t spoil it by telling her! Let her figure it out herself!”
“Let me figure out what?”
“Nothing, Inquisitor. Please allow me to send Krem and his men to assist Harding. Please, please, please.”
“All right, then. But soon you’ll have to tell me what you think is going on.”
“Thank the Maker,” Harding mutters, as soon as she sees Krem and the Chargers—and a few of Cullen’s men, it looks like—coming into view. Her scouts are out doing their jobs as best as they can, but she’s been increasingly concerned for their safety. She knows that Krem will assist her in marking locations, at least enough for Inquisitor Lavellan to do her job.
Krem approaches the camp first, dismounting from his horse and giving her a wide smile. Harding flushes with pleasure. She can’t deny that she’s pleased to see him and doesn’t try to, rushing up to him with her maps in hand.
“You came at the right time,” she says, shielding her eyes from the sun. “This place is…awful. I can’t guarantee my people’s safety out here. Please tell me you brought lots of big weapons.”
“We always have big weapons. We’ve got your back.”
“Good. I’ve already got a plan in mind, and I was hoping you’d follow along.”
“Let’s hear it, then.”
Twelve scouts, thirteen soldiers including the Chargers and Krem. Harding suggests that they pair a scout with a soldier. Their goal is to scout the area, not take down all the bad guys. That’ll come later.
Krem says her plan is…okay, and she agrees. But they come to the conclusion that, for the time being and with their particular task at hand, it should suffice enough to return information to the Inquisition.
Once her scouts return for the evening, she assigns them each a soldier. They break for dinner, then they’re off again, with a two-day supply of food and water, weapons, and their small camp rolls for sleeping. By the fire, Harding is alone with Krem. She didn’t actively plan this, but she’s not unhappy with the outcome.
“So what’s my task, ma’am?” Krem asks, looking at the dark, star-strewn sky. His heavy armor is off, draped over his pack. He’s tall and slim and his shirt fits very well and has lots of buckles and straps on it. It would take forever to—
Harding shakes her head, can feel her heart beating too fast. “Oh, um. I hadn’t thought that far, actually. Let me see what we can, ah, get done. I just. Where did those damn maps go? I had them and now they’re…gone.”
“You’re pretty cute, you know that?”
She bites her lip, shuffling through her papers. She won’t look up at him. She can feel him looking at her. “Oh. Um, thank you.”
“You sound surprised.”
“Are you surprised that you’re cute or that I think you’re cute?”
Swallowing hard, she finds the map she’d been looking for. “Little of column A, little of column B.”
There’s a long pause. It’s been over a year since she even felt this way about anyone, much less reacted this way. It must be purely superficial. She doesn’t even know him that well. And still she jumps a little when he sinks next to her on one of the blankets, reaching for the map in her hands. She lets him take it. Their fingers brush and she focuses on the feel of his callouses. Almost tries to hold on.
“Looks like your scouts have got things pretty well covered, but you and I could go to the south. We could cover more ground that way.”
She nods, glancing at him now, admiring his jawline and the bridge of his nose and his cheekbones. When he meets her eyes, she looks back at the fire. She’s embarrassed. “That sounds like a good plan. Should we pack up now and go?”
“We could play a game of cards first, if you like.”
“I’m awful at Wicked Grace. But if you’d like…I could teach you how to play Diamondback.”
He grins at her, reaching into his pack and pulling out his cards. “Would you be surprised to learn I already know how to play?” She is and tells him as much. “Rocky taught me,” Krem continues, shuffling the deck and shifting so they’re facing one another. His shoulders are broad and tapered. “He got kicked out of Orzammar, you know. Some noble shit and blowing up a something something. But he taught us, and I got pretty good. Should we place a wager, then?”
“I’m awful at betting, too.” Since he seems comfortable without his armor, she shrugs out of hers too, one buckle at a time. Her bow is nearby, just in case. “I tend to lose more coin than I’ve got when I start betting.”
“We don’t have to bet with coin.” Krem deals and she swallows.
“Then…what could we bet?” Pants? They should wager pants.
“If I win, you kiss me.” He sets the deck aside and she stares at her cards so she doesn’t have to look at him. Maker, but he’s…
“And…if I win?”
“You make your own bet, ma’am. I made mine.”
She almost wagers his pants. But instead, she takes a breath. “If I win, you kiss me.”
“Sure you’re prepared to make the same bet? No one’s a clear winner.” If she looks very carefully, she can see that he’s blushing, even though his eyes are steady on hers and his smile is crooked and confident.
She nods, laying down her first card. “Yep. I’m prepared.”
Twenty minutes later, Harding is punching Krem in the shoulder. He can’t stop laughing. “You’re doing this on purpose!” she says, glaring at him. He looks delighted with himself, which is unfair.
“Listen, I said if I win, you kiss me. I never said it was going to be easy.”
She had tried to kiss him while sitting down, then on her knees, but she’s still too short and he refuses to bend to her. Huffing, she scrambles to her feet, hands on her hips. Without her armor, she’s a little cool in the dark desert. Now, she’s half a head taller than he is, and he angles back just enough to meet her eyes. His are definitely a light hazel.
“Maybe we should play another round,” she says, pursing her lips. “I can’t be certain you didn’t cheat.”
“I wouldn’t cheat at that. I want my wager fair and square.” He reaches out and lays a hand over hers. His hand is so big. She’s only been with dwarves before. “Look, I’ll stay very still. It’s your call.”
Harding has to put her free hand on his shoulder to keep herself steady. His eyebrows rise a little and she almost chickens out. But then she notices his blush and his parted mouth and she thinks he must be at least half as interested as she is, right, to be doing this, so she’s clearly not the only one left wanting and maybe she should just—
She kisses him. The scent of his skin speaks of bonfires and the bear leather of his armor. His hand on hers tightens and she slips inside his parted mouth easily. Twice. Three times, before pulling away and putting a hand to her heated cheek. She’s having a rough time breathing. She’s very warm, all over.
“You’re stopping?” he says, reaching for her. She lets him. They kiss again, his hands cupping her face, his mouth in turns tight and hard and pliant. Despite half of her senses being gone, she does resist when he tries to pull her onto his lap. Maker, but she’s aroused.
“We can’t—here,” she says, putting a hand over her heart as though that will keep it from bursting from her chest. “We have—we. I. We have a job to do, Krem, I don’t want…I don’t want the Inquisitor to say we can’t work together again.”
“She wouldn’t,” Krem says, drawing his knees up and running a hand through his hair. “But you’re right. We should go scout the south like we planned. Maybe, ah…back at Skyhold, we can. Talk. Play another round.”
She shakes her head. “No way. I’m not playing cards with you again.”
“I suppose that’s fair.” He’s looking at her with a clear question in his eyes. She hesitates, leans in and kisses him gently. He makes a noise and she sighs.
“No more cards, but…I think this is probably okay.”
“I’ll take you up on that, Harding.”
“Lace,” she tells him, watching as his eyebrow quirks upward. “You can call me Lace.”
“Josie, calm down, you’re going to give yourself a heart attack.”
“Leliana, did you read this request? Did you?”
“Yes, darling, I read it.”
“What are you two on about—oh, Maker, is it Krem and Harding again?”
“Commander, how dare you make light of their love.”
“Inquisitor! Ah, good morning. Well. Leliana and I—”
“My sources say that Krem and Harding have become somewhat of an item, Inquisitor.”
“Oh? That’s very sweet. Can’t say I’m a little disappointed that Krem is taken, but they seem like they’d be good for one another.”
“Excuse me? You’re a little disappointed?”
“Ah—you know what I mean, Commander.”
“Yes, I do, Inquisitor.”
“Oh, will you two stop bickering? You’re going to make up in half an hour anyway, in Cullen’s office…probably on his desk. We have more important things to discuss. Like the fact that Krem requests assistance at the Winter Palace.”
“The Chargers are doing some patrols, aren’t they?”
“Yes, indeed they are. Krem has an excellent plan, Inquisitor. Pair a Charger with a spy. As long as they dress the part, no one will be the wiser.”
“But won’t the, you know. Non-humans be a little obvious? And unwelcome?”
“Krem has thought it out, commander. Dalish will be a diplomat from a quiet clan that stays mostly in Nevarra, and Rocky is taking the name of a dwarven noble whom he vaguely resembles. Their status will be enough to grant them passage into the Palace.”
“And Harding? I assume she’s going, yes?”
“Oh, yes! I mean, yes, Inquisitor. Harding will also be able to pass as a dwarven noble. I have just the idea for a dress for her; she will look positively radiant.”
“Is…a dress wise when there might be fighting?”
“Inquisitor, you wound me with your doubts. Believe me, I know what I’m doing.”
Krem’s first instinct is to laugh; after all, he’s never seen her in a dress before, and she looks so different he has a hard time fathoming that it’s even her. But those freckles are a dead giveaway.
His second instinct is to swear in Tevene and shuffle her somewhere dark and out of the way. He finds a middle ground and gives her a long look up and down and a smile. “This is new.”
She presses her lips together, gloved hands fluttering at the dark green velvet bodice, laced with little jewels. The shape of her is absolutely stunning, and even moreso in such a cut. The sleeves that barely cover her shoulders are lined with lace, as is the low neckline. At her throat is a plain-cut emerald on a silver chain. Her hair is out of its usual style and instead flows across her shoulders in soft, vibrant curls. The skirt on the gown is…enormous. “Josephine had it made for me. She said if I’m to be allowed into the Palace, I need to look like royalty.”
“Whoever made that dress has got a talent for shaping, that’s for sure.”
She hits him in the chest and he grins down at her. “Well, it’s not completely frivolous. Look.” She bunches up the satin skirt in her hands and starts to pull it up. He moves in closer to hide her before he realizes that she’s wearing tight-fitting nugskin breeches beneath. “See these buttons at the waist? The skirt unsnaps. It’s separate, so if I need to fight, I can. I can even wear my boots! You can’t see them at all, this thing is so damn big.”
“At least it’s easy to take off.”
“Keep that up, Aclassi, we’ll see who’s taking what off tonight. …Wait, that didn’t sound as threatening as I wanted it to. Shut up. You look nice yourself. Finally took a bath, did you?”
“Ouch.” He catches her hand when she goes to smack him again, pulling her in a little closer. Skyhold is busy as the company gets ready to leave for Halamshiral; nobody would notice if they were missing for five or ten minutes. “Maybe we should take a walk before we go. Long ride and all.”
She wiggles away from him, sidestepping him easily though he’s not really trying. He rather likes it when she’s playful. “No way. You’re going to mess up my hair or something. One of the Inquisitor’s ladies in waiting did it for me. They even painted my lips and said I shouldn’t eat or drink anything so it doesn’t get smudged, which means you will just have to wait.”
“You’re telling me you’re going to spend the next twelve hours without food?”
“You have to suffer to be pretty.”
Krem throws back his head and laughs. “Then you must always be suffering, huh?”
She flushes heavily in her pale cheeks. Maker, but she’s a gorgeous woman. If he doesn’t watch himself, he’ll start saying asinine things soon. Out loud. “You’re a smooth talker, Cremisius Aclassi. You’d better put that tongue to—” She cuts herself off, a hand going to her mouth but stopping short—probably because of the paint, like she said, a dark ruby that brings out the auburn in her hair. “Oh Maker bless me, I need to go.”
Krem laughs all the way to his mount.
They reconvene just outside the gates of the mansion. Harding is holding herself differently, probably at the direction of Lady Montilyet; her head is high, shoulders thrown back, and each step she takes is deliberate. When she sees him she nods her head and offers him her arm, which he takes. He’s also standing up straighter and has finally stopped smoothing the fabric against his chest. The Chief assured him that his shape is straight and strong.
“My lady,” he says to her, and she snorts, fortunately out of earshot of the condescending nobles nearby.
“Don’t you start with me,” she whispers. “If you make me laugh, I’m going to embarrass myself.”
“Didn’t say that to make you laugh,” he says. “Wanted to be, you know. Proper and shit.”
She snorts again. “Stop, Krem.”
“What? Do you find it funny that I’m being crude in a place like this?”
“Yes, now stop. Just walk me in and smile condescendingly. Pretend I’m your dwarven concubine.”
He finds himself grinning and tries to tone it down. “My concubine? I’m into that.”
She gives him a look that promises pain later, and he winks at her, which makes her blush again. They walk into the palace and he notices that they’re both watching things carefully even while trying to blend into the crowd. He’s glad he requested her help; she’s so keen and observant.
“I don’t like the masks,” she tells him, when they’re standing near the top of the staircase. He keeps a hand on her upper back, gently directing her left and right when other partygoers have a complete disregard for her. She’s nearly been knocked over twice already. Krem has to keep his temper in check. “They make it really difficult to see what’s actually going on. I don’t know if anyone here is dangerous, but they’re definitely all jackasses.”
“Chief said the same thing. I think we just need to keep an eye out for obvious threats. Cullen’s men are watching the Inquisitor; we need to watch for the rest.” A plate of hors d'oeuvres comes by, on the raised palm of a bored elf, and Krem snatches a few little cakes for them both, offering one to Harding before remembering what she said about her lip paint. “You could take a little bite,” he offers, but she rolls her eyes and shakes her head, looking around.
Overall, their experience at the palace is incredibly boring. Krem leads her to the ballroom floor when they’re expected to dance and has to focus very hard on not stepping on her tiny feet. She’s much more graceful than he expected her to be, easily sweeping the floor and gently directing him while still keeping up the appearance that he is leading. Which he’s definitely not, having to more than once apologize under his breath.
“I clearly need to give you lessons,” she says, as he leads her off the floor for a break. By the set of her shoulders, he can tell that she’s wary of their surroundings—anyone can come up to them and attack now and it would be difficult to retaliate. “When we get back to Skyhold, I’m going to whip you into shape.”
“Learning to dance was never exactly part of my training as a soldier. Where’d you learn how to do it, anyway?”
“From books, mostly. Being a shepherd is not exactly the most exciting job one could have.”
“You were a shepherd? I didn’t know.” He realizes how little he actually knows about her life before she became lead scout for the Inquisition.
“Yep. Grew up in the Hinterlands. I joined the Inquisition for something more exciting.” She smiles up at him. “Expected something a little different?”
“I’m not sure. I knew you were a surfacer, but…”
“Not much else.”
“Guess not.” He clears his throat. “I could stand knowing a little more about you.”
She smiles at him and her eyes seem soft. “Hopefully there’ll be time for that back at Skyhold. I’d…like that as well. Ah. Krem? What are we doing, exactly?”
He places a hand on her back and directs her from the floor, finding a small window nook unoccupied by snobbish nobles. She doesn’t seem to mind being led. “Sorry. Didn’t want to talk where other people could hear.”
“Good idea.” She looks more nervous now, wringing her gloved fingers together. “I mean…you and I. We do the flirting thing. We’ve…done the kissing thing. I guess what I’m saying…it’s all for fun, right?”
He chuckles, leaning against the windowsill and watching her carefully, assessing her body language. She’s not looking uncomfortable in any way, simply anxious. He rotates her words in his head and picks them apart, concluding that she’s asking because she wants more and is unsure if he does. “I’m certainly having fun. Are you asking to woo me?”
“No! Well. Maybe.” She pushes her hair away from her face and takes a breath. “Look. I really like you. I’d enjoy spending more time with you. But if I go much further, Krem, it’s going to be that much harder to pull away, so. I guess what I’m asking for are boundaries. If you want to draw the line at fun, I can probably do that. But if you don’t, I can’t guarantee I won’t—I’m a bit tenderhearted, I suppose.”
He lets himself cup her cheek gently, careful of her hair and her darkened lips. “I’m not usually inclined toward saccharine displays of affection, but you are one of the most beautiful, intelligent, funny and strong women I’ve ever met. I don’t want to draw the line at fun. I think that would be…really unsatisfying.” He swallows. “But you need to know—I. There are a few things you need to know before you say you want to commit.”
“I know it’s dangerous, Krem. We’re in a war. It would be so easy for me to lose you or vice versa. But Inquisitor Lavellan told me once that this is the best time to go all in. We might not get another chance.”
He smiles at her, arm going around her shoulders when she leans in closer to him. She has to know. He hasn’t said anything, but she has to know. “We should still talk more first. Once we get to Skyhold.”
“Good plan. Maker, but I’m hungry. If it doesn’t touch my mouth directly, I can probably eat, right?”
He can think of a couple of ways for her to smear her lip paint. “At this point, it probably doesn’t matter. Go for it, Lace. I’ll be on duty to make sure nothing smudges. At least, not right now.”
She punches him in the shoulder and he laughs.
“Ladies, what’s going on here?”
“Oh, Inquisitor! Forgive me. We’re, ah, sending Krem and the Chargers to the Hissing Wastes with Harding and her men.”
“Has Harding asked for this backup?”
“No, Inquisitor, but their love is so new. I want to keep them together as much as possible.”
“Josie, your romantic heart is showing.”
“I am just saying, Leliana, that in a time like this we need all the love we can get.”
“I don’t disapprove, Josephine. I think it’s a great idea.”
“Oh! Inquisitor, you are so lovely. Come, let me get you some fine wine.”
“It’s you,” Harding says, pleased when Krem and the Chargers are unpacking in the campsite. She’d been in her tent, writing her usual notes for Leliana. The Hissing Wastes are enormous and quiet and beautiful on a night like this, under the stars that watch over Thedas. “I don’t know why they sent you, but I appreciate the help.”
“I don’t either, but I wasn’t going to turn down the chance to see you.” Without a second glance at his men, Krem pushes her back into her tent and drops to his knees, hands going to her hips and pulling her in for a kiss. It’s been almost two weeks since she saw him last, when they’d spent several days together at Skyhold, talking and touching and drinking ale and walking the battlements. His mouth is like coming home.
She pulls away after a few moments and sighs, fingers carding through his hair. The expression on his face makes her heart hurt. “I’m glad you’re here,” she says softly. “I mean, outside of the fact that this area here is so massive my scouts and I can spend weeks and not cover everything so your help is sorely needed…I. I really missed you. I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Me too.” He doesn’t look away, and his eyes are intense as he watches her, making her feel very naked despite being fully clothed. “Seems we came at the right time, huh?”
“Yes, definitely. We’re done for the night. There’s…there’s hardly anything here, Krem. Barely any fade rifts that we’ve seen. It’s going to be—”
He cuts her off by sweeping her legs out from under her, catching her as she falls with a gasp and laying her down on her bedroll. He’s done that before and it’s always disconcerting—one moment she’s upright, the next she’s on her back. Disconcerting but…rather pleasing.
“Can we talk about work in the morning?” he says, sliding out of his armor. Her heart beats heavy in her chest, travels down to between her legs where it makes its insistent pounding known. “I’d just like to—I’ve been thinking about this for so long, just let me—”
“You can do whatever you like,” she says, groaning when he’s in his loose shirt and breeches and nothing else. So used to seeing him fully clothed, she can’t keep her eyes off his narrow waist and hips, the natural broadness of his shoulders. She can see his new chest binder when he bends toward her, pleased that he finally took the Iron Bull’s advice to get something more comfortable for their longer working days. Poor Krem was starting to have permanent bruising and she didn’t like that.
“Can I?” he says, working on the straps of her breastplate, which she helps him with. “Anything?”
“Maker, yes. Krem. Really, you can. Please.” It’s been so long. She was only fifteen the first time she’d been with a man, and nineteen the second and third times. Even then, no one had lit her on fire from within the way Krem does.
She does her best to keep her noises at a minimum while he systematically undresses her, kneeling between her spread thighs and looking her over. She shivers. It’s cool in the tent, but she knows she’ll heat up soon enough.
“You’re so beautiful,” he says, and she swallows hard.
“Touch me. Please.”
“Inquisitor! Look! It is official. Harding requests some time off so she and Krem can take a short trip together.”
“A trip? Where?”
“She wants to show him her farm where she grew up. Is that not the sweetest thing you have ever seen? Ah, the Maker has blessed these two.”
“Can we afford to spare them?”
“For three days? Inquisitor, I beg of you. I will go scouting in her place if that’s what it takes.”
“Josie, you have a hard enough time being within a dozen yards of the stable. What do you think you’d do in the real outside?”
“Leliana, I will do anything for love.”
“That won’t be necessary, my dear Lady Montilyet. Tell Krem and Harding they have three days, then they need to return to Skyhold. Maker knows the walls will fall down around us without the two of them to hold it up.”
“Thank you, Inquisitor. With so much evil in the world, I wish to cling to the good.”
“As do I, Josephine.”
“Can you please not look at the commander like that right in front of us? It’s disturbing, you know.”
“Then avert your eyes, Leliana.”
“Yes, Inquisitor. Of course.”