"That is a pretty belt, Cassandra," said Leliana. "Did your secret admirer give it to you?"
"I bought it myself," said Cassandra. "And how did you...I do not have a secret admirer!"
The Herald opened her mouth and then closed it again. She put down the book of Chantry history she'd been going over with them and looked across the table at Cassandra with a suppressed smile. "I'm torn between wanting to protect your privacy and being deeply curious."
"There is nothing to protect," said Cassandra. At least someone treated her with dignity.
"That is not what I heard,' said Leliana. "I heard that a beautiful, expensive gift appeared mysteriously in your quarters, and that no one could tell you how it got there."
"...what kind of gift?" Lavellan's eyes had gone wide.
"A statue of Andraste," said Cassandra. "Hardly the most romantic object."
Leliana smirked. "Which you treasure closely, and keep by your bedside." Lavellan's eyes got wider still. Cassandra felt a flush of embarrassment. She respected the Herald, and enjoyed having her respect in return. She did not wish to appear foolish in front of her.
"It...is a very nice statue," said Cassandra, weakly. It was, the carving was simple but expressive, and Andraste's face wore an expression of determination and hope instead of the usual blank piety. Seeing it inspired Cassandra to feel the same. "I am sure was a gift from...someone who appreciates my work for the Inquisition. Or was a mistake. There was no note, it could have been meant for anyone." Though it had been so perfectly suited to her taste that she hadn't tried very hard to find its rightful owner, if one there was.
"That is what makes it a secret admirer," said Leliana.
The Herald re-opened her book and traced her finger down a diagram of Chantry hierarchy. "Doesn't sound very romantic to me," she said, to the page. "Maybe someone just saw it, and thought I bet Cassandra would like this, she loves Andraste. And then they were...busy, and forgot to give it to you, and then you were out, so they just left it in your quarters. And then they felt silly so they never mentioned it." She looked up at Cassandra and stared, her voice decisive. "Yes, I'm sure it was something like that. A secret admirer would write a flowery love note or leave flowers. This was just someone being nice."
"Thank you," said Cassandra, glad someone could be sensible. And really, she expected better of Leliana, why bring it up now, of all times? The three of them had been having a very companionable conversation, teaching the Herald about human society was a pleasant break from actually dealing with it. "Do not put such thoughts into my head, I have enough to worry about."
Leliana leaned towards Cassandra, resting her chin on her hands. "You do not find it romantic? It does not make you swoon to think that someone is quietly pining for you, but too shy to admit their feelings, perhaps even to themselves?"
"No," said Cassandra firmly, but then her natural sense of honesty made her relent. "Fine...yes, it would be romantic, if it were true. But I am sure it is not, and imagining an admirer that did not exist would be mortifying. If I do have an admirer, let him express himself explicitly."
Leliana raised her eyebrows. "How do you know it is a man?"
"I...well, I would hope for their sake that they were. Any woman would have no...but this is foolishness! It was just a statue, Leliana. Surely you have real secrets to uncover."
"Oh, do not worry about that," said Leliana with a smile.
Varric grinned and held the book out towards her so that the cover shone in the sunlight.
"Ugh! Who told you?" At least no one else was here to see her humiliation. It had probably been foolish to think she could hide the truth from Varric forever. At least three people knew her secret, and as Leliana would tell her that was three too many.
Varric's grin widened. "Now that would be telling. But if you're not interested..." He started to turn away.
She couldn't help herself. "Wait!"
She had to snatch it from his smug little hands in the end, but it was worth it to find out what happened to the Guard Captain. The dwarf even resisted the temptation to end his story on a cliffhanger again.
To her surprise, the Inquisitor asked to borrow the chapter after she was done.
"But you are the Herald of Andraste!" said Cassandra. The Inquisitor grimaced. She did not like to be reminded that others saw her as a holy figure. But that didn't change the fact that it was true.
"And you were the Right Hand of the Divine," said Lavellan. "If it's good enough for you, why shouldn't I read it?"
"I suppose, if you actually enjoy them," said Cassandra. The Inquisitor had certainly earned the right to read escapist literature if anyone had. The last few weeks had been stressful for all of them, but especially for her. She had nearly died. Cassandra and the others supported her as well as they could, but there was only one Inquisitor.
The Inquisitor leaned against a tree and smiled up at Cassandra. The dappled light made her spiralling tattoos look like an extension of the shadows. Her smile was a flash of white in the darkness, it made Cassandra's heart warm to see her happy. "They actually remind me of some of our tales, all that passion and adventure."
"Really? I had not imagined Dalish tales to be so...earthy."
"Dalish enjoy earthiness as much as anyone else. The tale depends on the teller," said Lavellan with a smile. "And the audience. The version you tell adults is not the one you tell children. When I was apprenticed to be a Hahren, there were a lot of rules about who gets to hear what stories. Anything you've read in human books is just second hand retellings of whatever we're willing to share with outsiders. The real stories are much better."
"You were apprenticed to be a Hahren?" said Cassandra in surprise. "Is that not one of the leaders of the clan?" Cassandra had met many Hahrens in her dealings with alienages and Dalish clans over the years, and they had seemed as commanding as any Arl or Knight Commander. She narrowed her eyes. "I knew you were not just the 'simple hunter' you have always claimed."
"I did not become a Hahren," said the Inquisitor. "I enjoyed telling stories but, as they told me when I was encouraged to choose another path, I have no skill for leadership." Getting the Inquisitor to accept being the Inquisitor was a work in progress, though she approached her responsibilities with the same studious determination she applied to everything.
"Perhaps you did not then," said Cassandra. "But that was surely many years ago. You are not the person now you were then."
"No, I'm not," said the Inquisitor. She looked at her hands wistfully, probably thinking of the life she'd left behind. And then she shook her head and smiled. "I suppose Varric is a little like a Hahren himself, writing up history in a form people will enjoy and remember."
"Never tell him that, I beg you," said Cassandra. "He is arrogant enough. And I shudder to think of anyone treating Swords and Shields as actual history. I enjoy them very much, but they are terrible. Even within romance literature there are many much better examples."
"So you've read a lot of romances, then?"
Cassandra crossed her arms. "Does that surprise you?"
"A little?" Lavellan looked down at her feet. "You've always seemed so pragmatic, above the sort of petty sentimentality that makes the rest of us act like idiots."
Cassandra pulled herself taller. "Romance is not petty. What is life without passion, without the pursuit of something more? Liking these things does not make me any less competent."
"Of course not! I like that you like those things! I just meant..." The Inquisitor kicked her feet against the grass. "Never mind. I'm glad you liked the book. And if you have any recommendations for romances about dashing Dalish rogues in charge of large political organisations being swept off their feet by uh...being swept off their feet, let me know." She smiled at Cassandra self consciously.
Cassandra laughed. "I am not sure I have anything that specific, but I will see what I can do."
It felt like she'd been awake for days. None of them had wished to linger near Adamant and they'd set a fast pace back to Skyhold. Cassandra had not slept well during their brief times at camp. And there was more work waiting for them when they arrived home: messengers for Cassandra with information on the Seekers, soldiers wanting orders from Cullen, endless people of all kinds wanting to speak to the Inquisitor. And of course the necessity of rehashing events for those who had not been there.
Cassandra sat up with a start and realised she'd been dozing. She rubbed her face where the hard wood of the war table had left a mark.
Josephine was looking at down at her in concern. "Perhaps you should rest. I am sure after your ordeal..."
"After my ordeal I am not sure I want to rest," said Cassandra.
"I know the feeling," said Iron Bull. "Sleep leads to dreaming, dreaming leads to the Fade, and the Fade is full of demons." He shuddered. Seeing the huge qunari express her own fear of sleep made Cassandra feel less cowardly.
"I keep dragging you all into these situations don't I?" said the Inquisitor. "I invite you to a simple battle and we end up in the Fade, or attacked by dragons, or in some horrible future." She looked tired too.
"You did not drag any of us anywhere," said Cassandra. "And it is thanks to you that we escaped all those situations." The Inquisitor was still looking at her with a worried expression. Did she look that bad? Cassandra forced herself to sit up straight and put her nightmares about demons and the Divine out of her mind.
The Inquisitor gave her a small smile and then turned to Cullen. "Well then, let's see if I can't turn this situation to our advantage as well. What do we know about the Wardens' plans since the loss of Clarel?"
By the time Cassandra persuaded herself to go to bed the forge was dark and she had to carefully navigate the stairs by candle light. She was all set to throw off her armour and collapse into bed when she noticed something on her desk.
It was a bunch of flowers, bound with string and attached to a note. Peering through the darkness she read:
The note was written in a neat, rounded hand on plain paper. The flowers were small, nothing you couldn't find in the Skyhold garden, but the soft scent made the room feel more welcoming. If she was more awake she might have felt surprised or discomforted. Instead, Cassandra placed the flowers next to the statue by her bedside and fell easily into a long, dreamless sleep.
A small token of my appreciation, in the hope of brightening your day (or night).
From your secret admirer.
The note was still there when she woke up. The flowers too, though they were looking worse for wear.
So she really did have a secret admirer. How strange. Who could it be? She had sometimes suspected the Inquisitor of flirting with her, but her behaviour recently had been nothing but respectful, and surely she wouldn't... It probably was a man: they seemed more prone to these kinds of romantic gestures. The only man who'd shown the slightest interest in her lately was Iron Bull, and she couldn't imagine him being so indirect. Cullen then? Or Blackwall? They were decent men, and not unattractive, but she felt nothing for them but a friendly respect. It would be strange if they were to try to court her.
She laughed at herself. All she had was a note, and she was jumping to thoughts of courtship? It was probably a joke. Maybe Sera had left it.
She read over the words again. In the hope of brightening your day. And it did brighten her day, though there was no one she could think of who she would want to court her. She did not have time for courtship or lovers. But the idea of a lover, the potential... that she could enjoy without being distracted from her purpose.
She decided she was happier not knowing who had left the note. Whatever the truth, it would only lead to disappointment if it were to come out. Chances were she would not hear from them again anyway.
A week later there was another note. There were no flowers this time, just a simple sketch of a nug holding a rose in it's mouth. It was not a very good sketch. Cassandra could only identify the contents from two helpful labels saying "nug" and "rose". There were no other words aside from the same signature: From your secret admirer. Cassandra laughed, and found herself charmed, though this did nothing to remove her suspicion that someone was playing a joke on her.
The notes continued at irregular intervals for the next month or so. Sometimes they came with flowers, or a small gift, but mostly they were just short, mild messages of affection. I hope you are feeling better after your injury or You looked especially fierce today.
And then the notes stopped. Every day Cassandra returned to her quarters to find her desk empty aside from her books and papers. She missed the notes and felt silly for missing them.
She was almost at the top of the stairs before she realised someone was in her quarters.
The Inquisitor looked radiant in the afternoon sunlight. Her warm brown skin was edged with gold and glints of silver glittered in the darkness of her hair. She made the plain wooden building seem like a cathedral. Cassandra's heart filled with pride or faith or some other warm emotion.
Hearing Cassandra's voice, the Inquisitor looked up guiltily from...was that a note?
"Where did you get that?" Cassandra stepped forward and snatched the note from the Inquisitor's hands. It was written in a familiar hand, she could see the words affection and greatly esteemed. She folded it back closed quickly.
"It was...someone must have left it here. I wasn't sure...is someone bothering you, Cassandra?" Oh this was horrible. Must all her embarrassing secrets come to light? And of course it was a note like this the Inquisitor saw, not one of the usual ones with a cheerful picture or innocuous good wishes. Had she thought the Inquisitor radiant? She was a demon sent to torment her.
"Bothering me? No, it is just...you should not have read that, it was none of your business!" Cassandra tried to glare but couldn't look her in the eye.
"You're right, it's not. I shouldn't have read it. I was waiting for you here, and I thought..." Her voice wavered, was she that upset? She shook her head, her face troubled. "Look, if you were having a secret love affair I wouldn't care, in fact I'd be happy for you. But it looks like this guy is just...sneaking into your rooms and leaving you notes? That feels kind of creepy. Do you want me to find out..."
"No!" said Cassandra. "Inquisitor, you must not...It is not creepy. A little strange, yes, but...harmless. Someone is probably playing a joke on me or..." No, that was not sufficient. She needed to persuade the Inquisitor to leave this be. "I am sure that whoever is leaving me these notes, they mean nothing serious by it, and it will never come to anything. I certainly feel no need to find out who it is, it is better this way. But... but I like it." The admission mortified her. This was like one of those awful dreams where everyone could see her naked. "Ugh! You must think me a sentimental fool. I know. It is ridiculous. But I do not need your protection, Inquisitor. Or your judgement."
"I'm not judging you," said the Inquisitor, her dark eyes earnest and her voice certain. "I don't think you're a fool for enjoying this person's attention. Or that it is ridiculous that someone could fall in love with you. As long you're happy with things as they are...I'll leave you be."
"Please. And Inquisitor, I beg you...forget this ever happened."
"Of course. But Cassandra...you have nothing to be ashamed of. And you deserve better than someone who is only brave enough to express themselves in notes, don't let this..." Cassandra growled and the Inquisitor held up her hands. "Sorry, sorry, this is none of my business. I won't bring it up again."
"Anyway, I just came by to tell you we're having a meeting this evening with the Ambassador from Antiva. Will I see you there?"
Cassandra nodded mutely.
"Good. I'll see you then." The Inquisitor smiled and waved goodbye as if the world hadn't just ended.
Cassandra stood and watched her go. The Inquisitor knew. She knew, and she judged a little, but she seemed to still respect Cassandra, and overall nothing would change. Cassandra hadn't realised how afraid she was of the Inquisitor finding out until it happened, and now it was done.
What had she been afraid of, really? Being laughed at? Rejected? She knew better than that. The Inquisitor was, if anything, too open minded, and if she could accept Cassandra's differing opinions on magic and religion she was hardly going to despise her for a little romantic foolishness.
And Cassandra trusted her not to tell anyone else. It was probably doomed to hope that the others would never find out, and the idea didn't scare her like it had with the Inquisitor. But any delay on further teasing was a blessing. Leliana had already made some sly remarks about Cassandra seeming happy lately, but there was no keeping secrets from her.
Cassandra looked down at the letter in her hand. You cause me a lot of trouble she thought at it's author, whoever and wherever they might be. But she couldn't pretend she wasn't looking forward to reading it.
Cassandra felt herself blush. Until now she had half convinced herself that her "admirer" was simply being friendly, in an odd sort of way, but here was unambiguous expression of romantic interest. Declarations of affection usually made her very uncomfortable, but she did not feel so overwhelmed without the pressure to reciprocate or respond.
I had almost convinced myself not to write to you again. For I suffer the curse of all secret admirers: I avoid the possible rejection of approaching you openly, but also have no way to know if my affections are at all welcome.
I do not dare dream that you would return my feelings. My only hope is that you might find some little joy in knowing you are esteemed. For you are greatly esteemed. The depths of my esteem for you are so great that they pass through depth into height and become huge towering mountains of esteem in whose shadow I gladly toil, and in which you are the only light.
The other curse of being a secret admirer is that one is expected to express oneself in poetic metaphor, a task to which I am poorly suited. But I try my best.
As I said: I did not intend to write to you again. But you insist on being lovely and charming and my heart refuses to stop caring for you, even though I repeatedly tell it to stop being so inconveniently smitten. And so, dearest and mostly greatly esteemed Cassandra, your humble admirer asks a simple boon.
If, as I suspect, you find these notes tiresome, then you need do nothing. Ignore this message, and you will never hear from me again. I apologise for any unhappiness I may have caused you.
If, on the other hand, you find some small enjoyment in my silliness, and do not object to my further attentions, then I ask for a small sign. There is a loose stone on the battlements on the north west wall overlooking the gardens. If you wish me to continue my doomed courtship, turn the stone over so that the white underside is visible. Should my attentions ever become troublesome, turn it again, and I will be gone.
It would be traditional here to claim that I will die if you reject me, but honesty bids me say that I would probably survive it, so feel no qualms about rejecting me if that is what you desire. My first and only wish is your happiness. If that is best served by my silence then I will happily hold my tongue. Either way, I thank you for your patience. You would have been well within your rights to have Leliana ferret me out and have me hung for trespassing by now.
Whether or not we speak again, Lady Seeker, I wish you every happiness going forward. You are a remarkable woman: forthright, driven, compassionate, and beautiful. You will always have a place in my heart.
Your Secret Admirer
From the Inquisitor's reaction she'd expected something unseemly, but this was just...sweet. He was charming, whoever he was. Or perhaps not 'he', there was something about the tone...but Cassandra knew better than to make assumptions about that kind of thing. She found she didn't really care. She had no way to know what they looked like regardless, and just because she'd only been significantly attracted to men in reality didn't mean the idea of a different gender was unappealing in principle. When she thought of her admirer she just imagined an indistinct glow of warm feelings.
She had missed the notes, before. She would miss them still if they stopped for good. She did not like to admit it, but she had become fond of her secret admirer, whoever they were.
Perhaps that was reason enough to put an end to it. Did she really want to risk forming an attachment? She knew nothing about this person. It was almost impossible that anything real could come of all this. She enjoyed the attention, and the romance of having an admirer, but she did not have time for such distractions. Not if she was becoming truly attached. It was one thing to accept these attentions passively, but to actively encourage them seemed very unwise. And what would the Inquisitor think of her, if she knew?
She did give herself permission to seek out the stone. It was exactly as described, a small grey stone streaked with white on the base that had come loose from the wall. It was high above the rest of Skyhold and very out of the way. She wondered how her admirer had found it. Were they a guard who'd come through here on watch duty, perhaps? She didn't know any of the guards very well, but that didn't mean one of them couldn't have noticed her. It didn't matter. She was not going to hear from them again, whoever they were.
She held the stone in her hands for a long time before putting it back, white side down.
The Inquisitor was like glowing ember against the night sky, her dark colouring and red uniform contrasting with the pale marble of the balcony. She had cut a dashing figure on the dance floor with the Grand Duchess, lithe and elegant, the perfect combination of power and grace. Even now there was a quiet energy to her, a magnetism that drew Cassandra across the empty space.
Cassandra walked out into the cool night air, enjoying the way the sounds of the ball slowly receded behind her. "We can return to Skyhold whenever you like," she said.
Lavellan turned to look at her, but didn't reply. She looked exhausted, no longer wearing the mask of the of the confident and charming Inquisitor.
Cassandra stepped towards her. "Is something wrong?"
The Inquisitor gave a thin smile. "Things went according to plan for once. I'm happy." She didn't sound happy.
The Inquisitor looked out into the night across the shadowed gardens of the Winter Palace."I was just thinking... about how all this trouble started. Hundreds dead, a country almost fallen to ruin, and it all boils down to who jilted who, and which cousin gets to be head of the family. It's all so petty."
Cassandra leaned against the balcony. "The key moments of history often are. I comfort myself by remembering that it is all the Maker's plan." Far beneath them, a multitude of servants escorted guests, gathered empty glasses, and quietly removed blood stains. Above them the stars glittered silently. In the distance, ever present, loomed the Breach.
The Inquisitor turned her head away, frowning. "That must be nice. If the Creators ever had a plan...I don't think it was this."
Yes, tonight had been a confronting reminder of how far the elves of Halamshiral had fallen since the days when they ruled these lands. Cassandra had had to stop herself from snapping at everyone who'd made unpleasant remarks about the Inquisitor's background, she could only imagine how the Inquisitor must feel.
She leaned closer, her hand brushing against the Inquisitor's arm. "Inquisitor...I know you do not believe in the Maker, or that you are Andraste's Herald. But we have made a real difference tonight. Thanks to you, the people of Orlais are safe from civil war, and the elves of Orlais have a voice where they previously had none. If nothing else, it is your plan, and that is enough to make me sure that it will succeed."
The Inquisitor turned towards her. "You have a lot of faith in me."
"Yes." Cassandra willed her to see what Cassandra saw in her. How could she hold the role of Inquisitor for so long, and do so well, and still be so full of doubt?
The Inquisitor did not look comforted by Cassandra's words. She looked afraid. She looked down at her hand, where the faint glow of the mark made the skin an eerie green. "I wonder how much faith Briala had in Celene."
"That is hardly equivalent!"
"Isn't it? I have more and more power. I judge without oversight, command battles, control armies...I just decided the ruler of a country. Who will be able to stand up to me if I lose my way? How long will it be before I can't tell the difference between those who truly care for me and those who are blinded by my position, or see my friendship as their only chance at power?"
Cassandra made a dismissive noise. The Inquisitor's humility was both endearing and frustrating. "If you think I would ever be afraid to stand up to you, Inquisitor, you have not being paying attention."
The Inquisitor smiled, and Cassandra felt much better. That was more like it. "True. You were willing to defy the Chantry and your own order. I suppose one small elf isn't too intimidating by comparison."
She was in fact very intimidating, but that wasn't the point. "You concerns do you credit, Inquisitor. But you have not surrounded yourself with lackeys or mindless acolytes. None of us would be here if we did not believe in you, in Ellana Lavellan, not just in the position of Herald or Inquisitor."
"Thank you." The Inquisitor sighed. "Sometimes it feels like Ellana Lavellan doesn't exist any more. But perhaps that's for the best." She looked very lonely, swallowed up by her responsibilities. Cassandra recognised that look from the mirror, especially from the days following Lord Seeker Lucius's death. Divine Justinia had worn it too, sometimes. "Ellana Lavellan was just a washed up Dalish hunter with a taste for storytelling. The Inquisitor's the one who gets things done."
Cassandra put her hand on the Inquisitor's. "You still exist, Ellana, my friend." The Inquisitor smiled and squeezed her hand. It felt good and right. She should not feel alone. I should ask her to dance thought Cassandra, and then shook her head at the incongruity of the thought. She didn't even like dancing. She let go of the Inquisitor's hand.
When they returned to Skyhold Cassandra went to the battlements and turned over the stone.
I hope this letter finds you well. I have been trying to write you a poem, but words cannot capture your splendour. Also, as lovely as your name is, it is hard to find many words that rhyme with it. Here is my best attempt:
In far Rivain there is a lark
they call this bird Calandra
I hear it's song is beautiful
but lovelier still's Cassandra
You've wound your way around my heart
like the creeping pachysandra
For you I'll gladly play the fool
My dearest love Cassandra
I've kissed my share of Toms and Johns
Been loved by Jane and Chandra
But I would rather sigh and pine
for you, my one, Cassandra
(And since I care for you so, sweet Cassandra, I shall stop there)
Thinking of you always,
Your Secret Admirer.
The plain was nearly deserted. Out of the corner of her eye Cassandra could see Iron Bull and Vivienne taking down a wall of archers, but all she could see in front of her was the shield of the templar she was facing. She hacked at the metal with her sword, causing sparks to fly but having little other effect.
The templar grinned at her past his shield as he pulled to the side and struck towards her. She dodged and held up her own shield before hacking at the templar again.
"Give up," said the templar. "I can do this all...urk!" His face twisted in pain as the Inquisitor appeared behind him in a puff of smoke, pulling her daggers from his belly. His arms went slack and his shield began to fall. Cassandra took the opening and sliced across to take off his head. The Inquisitor smiled grimly and stepped backwards as the templar's body fell to the ground between them, staining the ground red.
"I think that's all of them," said the Inquisitor. "Good work. Now if we..." There was a loud cry and the sound of impossibly large wings.
"Dragon!" shouted Cassandra. She instinctively pulled the Inquisitor towards her and held up her shield for them to crouch behind.
"Get to cover!" cried the Inquisitor. Cassandra tilted her head towards some nearby rocks and the Inquisitor nodded her head. They took a breath and ran, barely avoiding a blast of flame that turned the templar's body to ash.
The rocks were just large enough to fit them both. They seemed safe for the moment. Cassandra peeked up her head to watch the dragon. It was huge, a spiky blotch of yellow blotting out the sun.
"Look at that thing!" Iron Bull's cheerful voice shouted from behind a ruined wall. "Can we kill it?"
"Another time, Bull," shouted back the Inquisitor, wearily. They were so close together that Cassandra could feel the vibrations of her words. This close, the Inquisitor smelled of blood and sweat and whatever powder it was she used to vanish on the battlefield. Her hair had come astray, long black strands sticking to her face and floating around her head like a halo. Her eyes were bright, and her breath was coming quickly. Cassandra found herself unaccountably aware of Lavellan's small breasts heaving under her thin armour, of the muscles on her arms, the pink blush of her lips. The Inquisitor shifted around to search through her pockets and Cassandra felt herself warm at the contact. She flinched away, mortified. She respected the Inquisitor. Admired her, liked her as a friend. But she should not be attracted to her.
"Cassandra, are you alright?" The Inquisitor blinked at her in concern, and then ran her eyes over Cassandra's body to check for injuries. Maker's breath, had her eyelashes always been so long?
"We should go. Now." Cassandra tilted her head upwards. "The dragon is circling around towards the others, we can act as a distraction and should have time to make it to the trees before it can get to us."
"Good idea." The Inquisitor nodded and then shouted the plan to the others. "Ready?" Cassandra nodded.
It was a difficult run, the ground was uneven and Cassandra was still fatigued from the earlier battle. They had barely made it into the safety of the trees when the dragon swooped down from the sky to blast the plain where they had stood a few moments before. The dragon cried out in frustration and then wheeled back to try and catch the others. But they had made it too, there was a happy shout from the other arm of the forest. Iron Bull and Vivienne could make their own way safely back to camp from there.
The Inquisitor leaned on her knees, breathing heavily. "Why is it always dragons? Wasn't your family supposed to have sent them extinct?" Her voice with rough with exertion.
"We did our best," said Cassandra.
"Well, as long as you tried." The Inquisitor smiled and Cassandra felt herself simpering like a lovestruck schoolgirl. They started back towards camp and Cassandra had to stop herself staring at the sway of her hips. Why was this happening? And Cassandra had been worried about the secret admirer distracting her.
The traitorous thought occurred to her that perhaps the Inquisitor was the secret admirer. She was certainly kind, and romantic, and fond of Cassandra. She had offered faith and encouragement at every turn. A tempting vision presented itself of the Inquisitor declaring her affections, of her calling Cassandra dearest and beloved as the secret admirer had. Of Cassandra admitting her own partiality and the two of them running off to find some romantic happily-ever-after.
But this was delusion. What happily-ever-after could they find like this, caught on the precipice of the end of the world? Cassandra felt attracted to the Inquisitor, and who would not, but she did not love her, surely. It was too soon, too fast, too intense. Even if Lavellan did somehow care for Cassandra, for them to act on it would be impossible, a terrible idea.
The Inquisitor had more important things to do than write silly love notes. And since when did Dalish elves buy statues of Andraste? The idea that the Inquisitor would stoop to such foolishness was inappropriate and vain. She should forget the possibility even existed.
"Cassandra?" She realised that the Inquisitor had been speaking to her, something about the templars they'd just fought.
"My apologies," she said, "Could you repeat that?" She willed herself not to notice the Inquisitor's lips as she repeated the question.
Cassandra looked at the letter with distaste. She was always so terrible at writing. But it would have to do.
Dear Secret Admirer,
I have decided it is time I spoke to you directly. As much as waiting for you to visit my desk while I am away counts as direct. It feels strange to write to you. I wonder who you are sometimes, and why you are so convinced that I would reject your suit. Are you married perhaps? Or very old? Or very young? I do not expect you to reveal yourself, and perhaps it is better this way. Regardless of your situation I have no interest in taking a lover. But I have enjoyed receiving your letters.
So to the purpose of this communication. I wish to thank you for your many kind words. I cannot return your affection, for I do not know you. But I can appreciate it. And I wish you to know that I do not mind it. Not even your poetry. Your letters have brought me happiness many times when I was in need of it. Also, the confits you gave me last month were quite delicious, where did you buy them?
In addition, I would like to know more about you. I respect your wish to remain anonymous, but it feels odd for you to know so much about me when I know nothing of you. I assume you are a member of the Inquisition, and that telling me your role here would reveal too much. But what did you do before you came to Skyhold? Are you married? (Please tell me you are not married) I am not able to return your affections, but beyond that what do you hope for from me, and from this correspondence?
Finally: Cassandra is indeed a difficult name to rhyme, but consider the suffering of the royal poets of Nevarra, tasked for centuries to write poetic odes involving the name Pentaghast.
Looking forward to your reply,
It stayed on her desk for a week, and then vanished. The reply arrived the day after.
This told her nothing. Cassandra smiled to herself and sat down to draft her reply.
Dearest and most marvellous of Cassandras,
I cannot express the joy I received from your note. That you would ever deign to reply to me, and in such a positive form! This humble writer's heart near burst from happiness. I am glad, so glad, to know for certain that these trifling missives bring you joy, and that even my execrable poetry does not cause too much pain.
To answer your questions: I bought the confits in Val Royeux, from the baker's cart near le Masque du Lion. I am not so far from you in age that it would cause concern. And no, I am not married. I was engaged once, but my fiancé decided my prospects were too poor and left me for an apprentice armourer. I would rather not go into too much detail about my earlier life, but this may give you some idea of it's glamour. As for my current employment, you are right that telling you would reveal too much, but I will remind you that not everyone who passes through Skyhold works for the Inquisition.
But I would not willingly deny any wish of yours. Here are some things I can tell you about myself: my favourite colour is blue. I enjoy long walks in the forest, and have impossible dreams of taking you on such a walk one day, hand in hand. And I am quite the warrior: This morning there was a spider on my wall when I awoke, and I vanquished it all by myself. I am sure it was your influence that has made me so brave.
As for what I hope...my hope is, and always has been, to bring you happiness. Now that you and I are in a mutual correspondence (what bliss!), is there anything I can do to aid in this goal? Do you have any preferences regarding the form my affection takes? Would you like more odes to your beauty or less? Is the ratio of compliments to general good wishes acceptable? Should I seek training before I assault you with any more of my attempts at art? Who are your favourite poets, and to what extent can I get away with plagiarising them?
You see you have opened the floodgate of my curiosity, Lady Seeker. And that does not even include the many questions I would ask on other topics. You are my favourite subject, and I would happily make you my lifetime's study.
In unbearable ecstasies at your very existence,
Your Secret Admirer
"Yes Cassandra?" The Inquisitor looked up from the collection of maps and treaties spread out over the war table.
"Before you joined the Inquisition, before the Conclave, did you ever, were you ever..."
The Inquisitor smiled encouragingly. Was that anticipation in her eyes? Or just her usual friendly interest in what Cassandra had to say?
"...did you ever visit Orlais?" Cassandra wasn't sure if she should despise herself for cowardice or congratulate herself for being sensible.
"We may have crossed the border with Nevarra a few times," said the Inquisitor, "but never went West of the fields of Ghislain. So I never really saw Orlais until I joined the Inquisition. Why do you ask?"
"I was merely curious," said Cassandra.
It wasn't that Cassandra ever forgot that the Inquisitor was Dalish. Her appearance aside, Ellana Lavellan never let an opportunity pass to help her people, whether it was promoting an elf to the highest position in Orlais or helping a small Dalish clan find supplies for the winter. Though she took her responsibilities as Herald seriously, she was always very clear that she supported the Chantry for the sake of the people within it, not because she actually believed in its tenets.
But it was one thing to discuss theology in the abstract, or to read a book on Dalish myths. It was another to see the Herald of Andraste bow her head and perform heathen rituals in the ancient temple of an elven god.
Cassandra felt superfluous and unwelcome. She hung back with Sera, trying to keep out of the way as Solas and the Inquisitor pored over crumbling mosaics and muttered enthusiastically to each other in a mixture of Elvish and Common.
"Creepy weird old ruins full of creepy weird old demon pictures," muttered Sera. "Why does that undead elf thing have to walk so slow?"
Cassandra was inclined to agree, but just sighed.
"It is strange to see signs of age in such an unchanging place," said Morrigan. "Was she aged when they began their slumber, I wonder? Or is this the fate that awaits all those who labour here, if at a slower rate than the rest of us might expect?"
The witch paused, waiting for someone to respond to her words of wisdom. When no one did, she pretended to become fascinated with the carving on a statue. Lavellan and Solas gave each other a significant look which Cassandra mentally translated as Shem.
It was probably unsurprising that the witch expected anything to be different at the Well of Sorrows.
"I am the best suited to use the well," said Morrigan, clearly frustrated to have come so close to so much power, and yet have it kept from her grasp. Would she fight them for it, if it came to that?
"You cannot be trusted," said Solas, and for once Cassandra agreed with him. She did not believe in the elven gods, but there was no ignoring the massive power their worshippers had possessed. To give all that power, all those centuries of knowledge, to a power hungry apostate with no assurance but her word...
Ellana glared at Morrigan, the twisting trees of her vallaslin pulled down along her brow. She had never sought power for it's own sake. She could be trusted to only use this knowledge for the good of the people of Thedas, and to help the goals of the Inquisition. Mythal might not be real but her people were, and if anyone should have the knowledge of her priests it should be an elf who wore her mark.
Yet Cassandra could not bear to see it happen. What was this geas Abelas had spoken of? What would these ancient magics do to Ellana's mind? Let Morrigan take the risk thought Cassandra. If it is truly between you and her...
But Ellana did not ask Cassandra's opinion.
It glows like Veilfire thought Cassandra, watching a fine mist rise from the well to surround Ellana as she drank.
And then the well exploded.
Ellana was never truly alone, now. The voices of Mythal's priests whispered always at the edge of her mind, flashes of memory and thoughts not her own, intruding at odd moments and every time she closed her eyes.
It had changed her, she could tell. Josephine kept quietly frowning and subtly poking her in the side. She had the feeling that more than one diplomat had been offended by the Herald of Andraste seemingly ignoring them as she stared into space distracted by voices they could not hear. Sera's irritation at Ellana's elfiness had progressed to outright distrust. And Cassandra...Cassandra had become painfully distant. Had looked away in meetings, refused to answer letters, acted as if there was nothing between them. And perhaps she was right.
Ellana stopped at her door. With sudden certainty came the thought There is someone in my quarters. Was that the voices of the Well? Or just her training?
She opened the door carefully, prepared for anything from an assassin to a lost ambassador. But it was just Cassandra, standing by Ellana's desk and looking up at her in horror and surprise.
They stared at each other for a long moment. Then Cassandra strode towards Ellana, and the door, her eyes cast downwards and her face dark. She pushed something into Ellana's hands. A letter. She stepped quickly towards the door.
"Stay," said Ellana. "Whatever it is, please."
Cassandra stood at the door, eyes squeezed shut. She closed the door and bit her lip, then nodded. "Read it, then."
Ellana slit the envelope to reveal a smooth white piece of paper, folded neatly but covered in a spiky black scrawl of ink spotted with blotched out words.
Ellana looked up and saw Cassandra staring at her, fingers twisted in nervousness. "Cassandra..." she began.
I have held myself back from speaking to you for so long that I do not know where to begin. I do not know if you can guess why I am writing to you. I do not know what you think of me. I do not know if my suspicions are correct, and that you have been my admirer all along, or if voicing these suspicions will make me seem vain and foolish. I have been confused, and afraid, and so I have remained silent. But then you drank from the Well of Sorrows, and I thought you were lost to me forever. And I realised: none of it matters. Whether or not you care for me. Whether or not we have a chance at happiness, with all that weighs on us, and all that we must do. None of that changes the fact that I love you.
Cassandra waved her hands in negation. "Finish it, please, I cannot bear it."
She had been so sure that Cassandra was angry at her, had never dreamed... Ellana let the letter fall to the floor. "Yes."
Mine is not an unselfish love. I do not wish only for your happiness. I will not settle for chaste notes, or brief moments snatched in the heat of battle. I want everything, I want passion and romance and to be swept off my feet. I want you to love me and accept my love in return. If you want this too, then you know how to contact me. I will be waiting.
If you do not want all of that, then I have made a fool of myself for nothing. Forget I left you this letter, I beg you, and let us be simple friends again. Whatever you feel for me, whatever you want, you will always be a dear friend, and I am inexpressibly glad to have known you.
"...yes?" Cassandra's voice was small, her eyes full.
Ellana stepped towards her. "To all of it. Yes, I was the one who sent the notes. Yes, I love you. Yes, I want passion and romance and..." She was preventing from continuing by Cassandra's mouth meeting hers.
They fell against the wall, Cassandra's gloved hands roughly grasping at her face and pulling at her jacket. In her surprise Ellana simply gasped, her arms loose at her sides. Cassandra's lips were warm and ardent and the cool metal of Cassandra's chest-plate pushed into Ellana's breasts. She reached gently to touch Cassandra's back, the armour hard and smooth against her skin. Cassandra sighed into her mouth, and then kissed her lightly, taking Ellana's face into her hands. She let go and leaned back, giving Ellana room to breathe.
Ellana put her arms around Cassandra. She had Cassandra in her arms. It felt as right as she had always thought it would. Her lips burned and her heart was full to bursting. "How long have you known?"
"I think I always knew," said Cassandra, her beautiful face lit with joy and the hint of a blush. "But I did not wish to admit it to myself. I could not believe...I still cannot believe it. What possessed you to be be so...so strange! I cannot claim I did not enjoy it but...the Herald of Andraste! Drawing pictures of nugs!" She pushed gently against Ellana's shoulder and Ellana laughed.
"Blame Leliana, she put the idea in my head," said Ellana. "When I gave you the statue I really didn't mean anything by it. I'd meant to buy gifts for everyone, but I was still getting used to having money of my own, and I, uh...spent it all on yours." She laughed and pulled Cassandra closer. "But maybe I loved you even then. I can't see what else would possess me to buy a statue of Andraste."
"And then you lied about it!" Cassandra glared at her disapprovingly. Luckily Ellana found her glares as charming as her smiles. "You told me you did not work for the Inquisition...and you! You were in my room! Offering to protect me from yourself!"
"A fair and damning accusation," said Ellana, seriously. "Would you like to...to punish the..." She burst into giggles and had to hide her head on Cassandra's shoulder. "Oh, I'm sorry. I just, I...." She took a long breath. "Dearest, beloved, Cassandra. The horrible truth." She lifted her head and smiled at Cassandra apologetically. "I am only charming in letters. In person I'm a complete mess."
Cassandra snorted and kissed Ellana on the forehead. "I am well aware of your flaws, dearest Ellana. But for some reason I love you anyway."
Ellana beamed at her giddily, all pretence at being suave forgotten. "You really love me," she said. She squeezed Cassandra tight.
"Yes," said Cassandra with a breathless laugh. "I really do."
"And I meant everything I said," said Ellana, taking Cassandra's hand and kissing it. She carefully unbuckled Cassandra's glove and let it fall to the floor, then placed a soft kiss on the bare skin of her palm. "You are the most amazing," another kiss, "compassionate," another buckle, "beautiful...is there no end to these buckles?" Ellana looked up from Cassandra's shoulder, her hands caught in the seemingly never ending collection of belts around Cassandra's waist. Cassandra looked down at her with far too pleased an expression.
"This was easier in my imagination," muttered Ellana.
"It was less awkward in mine," said Cassandra. She pulled something at her waist and the whole mess finally came undone.
"Another victory for the Inquisition!" said Ellana. Cassandra huffed in amusement, and Ellana reached up and kissed her.