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Power for a Price

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I. The War Table

The Inquisitor, it should be known, walks a seemingly guileless and agile path where every request for aid or assistance is coddled in a nuanced and effective sort of way. So is every person expressing a need for help from the Inquisition: she’s good that way. This document arrives by courier. It’s the sort of fussy noble nonsense I’ve no time for: give me action, give me a concrete plan, give me someone to fight and I’m happy.

None of this, however, is about me. My corner of the world is but a grain of sand in the far vaster desert. The Inquisition has taught me the humility of insignificance and so, I defer.

Inquisitor Lavellan’s eyes narrow as she reads the request aloud.

The Inquisitor commands a small kingdom. It is time to exercise the weight of her influence. There remain uninvolved and uncommitted Lords and Ladies, Banns and Arls. Where they could not be engaged with plight or passion, they can be compelled through mercenary means. But there must be a display.

Make it known that the Inquisition has weight and the boons, and the dispensations of the powerful will be open to you. Thereafter, she need not curry influence. She can simply buy it.

The Inquisitor looks first to Leliana (implacable), then in turn to Josephine (thoughtful nod), Morrigan (lips tight with silence), and lastly, me. Our eyes meet.

“Who makes such a request, Inquisitor?”

“To business immediately, of course,” Morrigan smirks. She dislikes me. I’m used to that and so bear the weight of her disdain lightly. There are more important things to spend one’s energy on in this time of crisis.

Any rejoinder I might make is silenced as the Inquisitor reads the name at the bottom of the page. Her gaze turns toward our spymaster. “Who is this ‘Farris the Representative,’ Leliana?”

Leliana’s grin is subtle beneath the hood of her cloak. She wears it always these days, even if she did not when we first met. She has changed, I think, but so have we all. So has the world. “A merchant, Inquisitor. He deals in influence rather than wares. His reach is far, and my spies indicate Farris might prove himself useful.”

“If one wishes to merely buy their way into power.” There are other ways: this talk of playing the Game, of purchasing one’s way to the top—it leaves me cold. Chilled to the bone.

The Inquisitor raises a brow in my direction. “You deem this a waste of resources, Commander?”

She knows me well. However, I am capable of some small amount of détente outside of military circles. “If this is a path you wish to pursue, Inquisitor, might I suggest a Grand March. If we are to show weight”—essentially, the very thing this Farris is requesting in order to turn his profit—“show the legion that you command.”

The tilt of Morrigan’s lips show that once again, I’ve either amused or offended her sensibilities. She blinks almost passively in my direction. Disapproval, again. The Inquisitor, however, nods in consideration.

“Ambassador Montilyet? This seems to be your area of expertise. What would you suggest?”

Josephine bows her head, brows furrowed. It’s the look of concentration she likes to wear when she’s already got the answer well in hand. I suspect I’m far from the only one to know this about her, but she plays the Game and we play along, for the sake of relative peace at Skyhold. “Inquisitor. What this request demands is a fête of your own, to display the allied and powerful.”

Leliana grits her teeth, her sigh of disagreement intended as barely audible. “No, no. Do not display. We will show your reach by simply being where it is most beneficial.”

That is the way of our Spymaster, of course. She and Josephine and I are the perpetual and perfect trinity of disagreement when it comes to taking action. While these decisions might seem trivial, every piece the Inquisitor puts into play becomes a building block for the fate of all Thedas. That is no small task, and not one to take lightly. I am glad such responsibility doesn’t lie on my shoulders. Still, I begin to put my own plan into action. We’ll need some of the Knight-Commanders, and the most celebrated and resplendent of the soldiers from every part of the nation, and—

Inquisitor Lavellan glances toward Morrigan. If anyone knows the Game, it is she. When it comes to trivial society matters like this, her advice carries great weight. She speaks rarely. Instead, her eyes land on Josephine. My stomach, which can go for days with little sustenance during a battle mission, drops to my knees. The back of my throat dries instantly. Maker, no. Not a function…

“A fête of our own it is. Ambassador, see to the details.”

Before I can turn to get back to the important business of defending the world, she adds the order that hits like a bronto horn to the gut. “We will all attend. Dust off your finery, the four of you. Let’s be sure to give these nobles what they expect.”

 

II. The Office

Templars need lyrium to settle their nerves. That’s the way it is, once it’s been fed to them. The Chantry gives Templars just enough of the substance to enhance their abilities, but never enough to make any one Templar a threat to the Order. I see now that a Templar’s life is much like that of a mabari hound kept on a leash. He never feels quite like himself, starting in the days before his vows. Not under lyrium’s influence.

I suppose that’s the point. To enhance but to blunt; to limit one’s autonomy while increasing his abilities.

I also suppose I’m far from the only one to have come to this realization. King Alistair did, or so the tale is told. Damn the Chantry for raising us on such an addictive substance. The lyrium kit sits visibly on my desk for a reason: it’s a reminder that no one man is infallible. No matter how earnestly I yearn for freedom, I still feel lyrium’s seductive pull. I put myself on watch: should my efforts at withdrawal fail, Cassandra knows what must be done.

The path to a lyrium-free existence has not come without cost. If I must pay the price in frozen hands, memory lapses, and lingering headaches, those burdens are small enough to bear. Better that than delirium, or worse: lost in the Fade, unable to tell dreams from reality. Cassandra is my steadfast safety net. For reasons of her own, she believes in me. She believes I have a strength I’m never convinced I possess. If the worst should come to pass, however, her action in replacing me will be swift. This much she swore when I pledged to ally myself to the Inquisition, and I will hold her to it.

With the constant presence of lyrium as both test and temptation, I rest for a moment by the desk in my office. Skyhold is a beautiful fortress, ancient beyond knowledge, strong and as impenetrable as any building could be. The place steadies me, perhaps because it’s the most consistent home I’ve known in many years. My men know I maintain a policy of openness. I’m rarely surprised when the door to the office opens.

I am surprised to look up and see Morrigan. Witch of the Wilds, they call her. How she ended up in Orlais as advisor to Celene… well, a witch and an apostate, the daughter of Flemeth. I need say no more.

“What brings you here?” My words are brusque: little love or trust is lost between us.

Morrigan half-smiles like a cat about to pounce. There’s trouble. The whole thing sends a sharp pain to my temples; one hand goes to each side of my head automatically, if briefly. It’s not frailty. It’s withdrawal, and that process seems to be taking far longer than I had hoped it might.

“I can help with that,” she offers, closing the door and stepping forward. “’Tis a simple matter to relieve a headache.”

“Simple for a mage.” So far as I know, she is unaware that this headache has its roots in lyrium, or lack thereof.

She smirks once again. “I see the oldest habits are the most difficult to break.”

Whether she means a Templar’s distrust of mages or something else, I am unsure. In either case, she’s correct: old habits are difficult to break. I am bound to the Chant, and to the Maker, and… No! No longer. I am bound to the Inquisition, and this I’ve chosen of my own free will. At least I’ve learned a few things from my fellow advisors. Rounding the desk and willing my hands to remain still at my side, I move towards Morrigan.

“You’re offering a remedy of your own free will.” Maker’s breath, that brings back all the old Templar training: never accept assistance from a mage under any circumstance, particularly magical assistance. “Why? What is it you expect in return?”

“So much suspicion. Must it always be a Templar’s first line of defense?” Morrigan laughs, and the sound of it fills my office. Her laugh is oddly comforting, and with it comes a momentary glimpse of a day I’d long since forgotten: autumn in Honnleath, at the village square where my sisters used to go to feed the birds. I hear my mother’s voice. She calls my name, calls for me to put down the practice sword and gather water from the well. Her voice wraps around me, a song, a blanket, salvation in the darkness. As quickly as it comes to me, the memory dissolves. Its sudden absence leaves a pang in my chest.

The Apostate—no, it’s just Morrigan, the newest advisor to the Inquisitor—places her palm on the surface of my desk and looks up through her honey-colored eyes. “I would be seen on your arm at the Inquisitor’s fête. ‘Tis a simple enough request, one even you ought to be capable of providing.”

“Me? Why?” This is the last thing I need. We have operations to plan. I’ve an entire army to oversee, and the well-being of those soldiers is—must be—my first priority. The thought alone of attending yet another function makes my head pound again, enough so I must close my eyes tightly to ward it off.

Again, Morrigan lets out a small breath of laughter. “Come, Commander, must I spell it out for you? Lead you to the proper conclusion? Certainly even a Templar—”

“Former Templar.”

“Very well, a former Templar can piece that together. What say you? A favor for a favor?”

I prefer no indebtedness. Lyrium would be so easy to take just now, but… no, I must be stronger than that. If only to confirm Cassandra’s faith in me, I must be stronger. We’re all ordered to attend the function. What harm could come from one Inquisition advisor escorting another? At the very least, she’ll be a somewhat known quantity. She might even help to keep the dreaded Orlesian social wolves at bay.

Making a deal with an apostate is not the same as making a deal with a demon, although perhaps that truth is less reliable than it ought to be. Hands steady and stable, I nod. “If that is your request, it is one I’ll honor.”

“A wise decision.” Her fine thin-fingered hands gesture in my direction, bringing with them a warm loft of air scented like autumn leaves and apples.

Scented like my childhood. Closing my eyes, I breathe it in like a greedy youngster. For the first time in months, there is no pounding in my head, no dull ache, no craving.

“How did you—”

I look up to see the door closing, my office empty. The sweet spicy aroma is gone all too quickly. I’m no optimist and hardly expect a spell like this to last, particularly a spell I did not request. While it does, though, I fully intend to savor it.

 

III. The Fête

Josephine, who’s fretted over this whole affair for weeks (“ah, do you know how demanding this is? Half the food from Orlais, half from Ferelden, the same with the drink, so we can make certain to offend both sides equally?”), herds us as if she’s the mother hen and we’re chicks about to race off and get ourselves devoured by the wolf lurking in the trees. She’s ordered us into our red formalwear, the same we wore at the Winter Palace. To show pride in power, she said, and we are nothing if not here to show strength and power.

Our guests outnumber us ten to one. According to Leliana’s sources, invitations for this function have been sought after for weeks, sold to the highest bidder, stolen in the dark of night. This happened in Ferelden as well as Orlais. Between her network of spies and the Inquisition guards stationed strategically around the grounds, Skyhold has never looked so elegant—or been so elegantly protected. Nor has it ever seemed less neutral: we are assuredly a power to be reckoned with, and the main hall and tower look every bit as imposing as they must for this fool display to have its desired effect.

The Inquisitor holds court in the center of the room. Since I’ve sworn to the duty, when I enter the room it’s with Morrigan on my arm. In her formalwear she looks less witchlike, I suppose, and more military. We all do, and that’s the point: a show of strength, a display of power, a wielding of influence. Bringing all sides together as we have—we’ve even got a Tevinter and a Qunari with us, for Maker’s sake—is a feat most sane rulers would never attempt. Although I will continue to maintain that a Grand March would have been more expedient, there is inherent value in this… charade.

As if the Winter Palace was not its own brand of torment.

I would have preferred not to have been there. I would prefer not to be attending this function tonight, but as military advisor to the Inquisitor, my presence is required. At my side, Morrigan nods to a masked attendee, surrounded by a gaggle of equally-masked women.

“Your Ladyship.” Morrigan’s voice holds the tint of icy distaste. The subtle dig of her elbow at my ribs reminds me of Orlesian protocol; I bow to our guest—whose identity I have yet to fathom—albeit stiffly. My presence here might be required, but I was only ordered to attend this function. Nobody ordered me to actually enjoy it.

“Madame.”

“Commander.” I catch a glimpse of her eyes beneath the mask, but the blasted things make expressions impossible to read. Her crowd of followers stand by, and they… are they tittering? One of the ladies curtsies to me, which indicates I must bow yet again. When I straighten, the noblewoman—oh, yes, the Comtesse d’Arnee, I read a report on her—seems to be locked in a sort of staring contest with Morrigan, whose hand tightens ever so possessively on my arm. I’m no spy and I’m no ambassador. I might be the least sociable person to have at an important function, but I do know how to read signs and signals. Patting Morrigan’s hand, I nod to the Comtesse and her retinue.

“If you’ll pardon us. Lady Morrigan and I must welcome the Inquisition’s other guests.”

“Perhaps the Commander will save time for me later,” the Comtesse breathes. Once again, her ladies laugh.

No, thank you. My only answer is a tilt of the head. Morrigan and I move across the room to the relative comfort of an area occupied by a number of Fereldans.

“Smoothly done,” Morrigan quips. “I saw you at Halamshiral, you know.”

“Did you?”

Her laugh is rich and pointed. “You had the nobles of the court all aflutter. Come, come, this you must know. They lined up for so little as a glance at you. Most would likely have fainted had you actually returned their smile.”

“I’d rather not think about it.” The words crawl from my throat, my mouth dry, my heart falling towards the floor. She doesn’t know, of course—precious few do—about the way the demon at Kinloch Hold tore into my thoughts, into my heart, and made a mockery of all I held dear. Thank the Maker I had some strength as a Templar and was able to survive Uldred and his minions. Since that time, though, I—trusting myself and trusting others has been, well…

This is not the Circle Tower, and these Orlesians are not demons. Those days are in my past, so I’d best act in a way that reflects that.

“Commander of the Inquisition Army. Your reputation precedes you. ‘Tis a game with them, you know. To see who can be first to claim your heart. Some of them spoke of little else in the weeks leading up to the ball at Halamshiral. A great deal of money changed hands over you, and more than one noble lost most of his inheritance when you simply refused every offer.” A hint of amusement fills her voice, as if I’m some sort of game each noble plays at my expense.

If anyone wonders why I detest fêtes like this, the answer is plain as day. It’s as I told Leliana: I am not bait. I am not bait and this is not Kinloch. This is no torture chamber, although it is, and at any moment, I am free to walk away. I’m inside these four walls, but they cannot hold me should I desire to leave. I remind myself of these facts every night. Every night.

Forcing a smile, I nod to Morrigan. “I have lost no sleep over that.” Let the fool Orlesians spend their money betting on me. I have one focus and one focus only: Corpyheus. He must be defeated, regardless of the personal cost.

*

“Three to one odds,” the Inquisitor laughs. “Can you believe it? Right in front of me.”

Dorian’s shrug is as blameless as his formalwear is impeccable. “I believe I did tell you that the odds would have been five to one at least if I hadn’t been there.” The smile on his face is brilliant, and he manages to both focus on the Inquisitor and survey the room at the same time. It must be some innate Tevinter skill, I decide, one that comes from growing up at parties and functions much like this one, or like the one at the Winter Palace. Thank the Maker I grew up with two parents and three siblings in a small home in Honnleath where the only festivities were the Autumn Festival and a few other gatherings.

“To be fair, he did start it,” Varric offers. The smile on his face calls his bluff—I’ve heard from Cassandra that the wagering between him and Dorian is endless when they travel together—and he helps himself to one of the small exquisite tortes on the plate. There is nothing that could interest me less than a game of who’s-at-fault other than being sideswiped by yet another masked breathless Orlesian, but as the liaison on my arm reminds me, we’re here to show strength and gain favors.

“You take the Orlesians and I’ll deal with the Fereldans,” I tell her in a vain attempt to put myself in a somewhat more comfortable situation.

I feel Morrigan’s smirk before it even shows up on her face. Once again, her arm entwines with mine and her words, low and steady, pour out. “You should accompany me to the Orlesian side of the room, Commander. What greater way to illustrate to our guests that both sides of Thedas are allied in the Inquisition than this? Unless you’d rather step about with Madame de Fer.”

Vivienne, I’ve noticed, does not seem to hold Morrigan in high esteem. Bah, Orlesian politics! I’ve so little patience for any of it. “Andraste save me from all of you.”

Morrigan laughs. “Once a Templar, always a Templar. And by now I thought you of all people would have figured out that in order to be saved, one must do it himself.” Before I can issue any sort of protest, she drags me across the room to speak with the Duke de Freyen.

“Your Grace.” At least I’m not too much a Templar not to know the proper titles for nobility.

“Ah, Commander Cullen!” Behind the mask his eyes light up and his hand moves toward me. Strong, I tell myself, remain strong. You’re doing this for the Inquisition. It’s a blessed relief when Morrigan positions herself between the two of us. I owe her one for that, and the calculating smile on her face and the sharpness of her eyes tells me she knows it as well. Maker’s breath, what a night!

 

IV. Formalities

Perhaps it’s pure stubbornness, but I was raised to believe women should be treated well, and with respect. My eldest sister hammered into my head that simply because one is female does not mean she is weaker or more needy. Mia alone is proof of that, and it is something I’d believe even were it not corroborated by the likes of Cassandra and Leliana and the Inquisitor. One does not settle for weakness during a time of war, regardless of how fair the woman may be to the eye.

Morrigan most assuredly does not require my assistance getting back to her quarters after the fête formally ends, but it’s something I insist on doing regardless. “To keep up appearances,” I tell her as we leave the throne room together.

“To dash the hopes of the men and women of the Orlesian court yet again.” Her voice is a quiet low laugh, tinged with sarcastic amusement. “’Tis no wonder you attract them like flame attracts moths, Commander. They think you’re knee-deep with them in the Game.”

The words I mutter are ones that would likely shock our guests. It isn’t a phrase I use particularly frequently, but my head pounds and my tolerance is low. “I’ve had just about enough of the Orlesians.” It costs me little to admit it, once we’re out of earshot of our guests, who have all been seen to their rooms for the evening. Tonight—or what’s left of it—will be well spent in my loft. Would that I could bar the doors to my office to keep prying visitors away, but if the Inquisition is to maintain a friendly face to those on both sides of the Frostbacks, protocol would dictate I leave it accessible.

“So long as you maintain that attitude, the Orlesians will never have had enough of you. It makes you a puzzle they must rush to solve.” She speaks in as straightforward a way as I’ve ever heard from her. The honesty is refreshing.

“Then there’s no way to extricate from the Game.” I’m in it whether or not that is my intention.

“Welcome,” Morrigan says without irony, “to the Orlesian court.”

“Why is it that the one place I find myself is the one place I wish not to be.” It’s not a question, not phrased as such. Morrigan doesn’t attempt to answer it any more than I do, as we make our way down the corridor toward her room near the garden. The benches are occupied—with guests, with Skyhold residents—some of whom nod at our passing. Others are too wrapped up in their own conversations to notice us, which suits me.

“One moment.” Morrigan steals quietly through the door to her quarters, one finger raised to her mouth to indicate silence. As I’ve had my fill of conversation for the evening, I simply station myself by the door and wait the requested moment. When the door opens again she slides out, nodding. “As I’d hoped but rarely see: peacefully asleep.”

Right. Her son. “He didn’t want to attend the party?”

Morrigan’s laugh is small. “I didn’t invite him. ‘Tis trouble enough keeping track of the politics at a function like tonight’s without also having to keep an eye on Kieran.” Her voice softens around the edges. “Most likely, he had his fill of balls and parties during our years in Orlais.”

“I understand.” When I was Kieran’s age I spent my days playing Templar and my nights dreaming of the next day’s play, much to the dismay of my siblings. Everything that kept me from my goal was wasted time, in my young estimation. “I’ll leave you here, then?”

Now that is a question, although I didn’t intend for it to come out as one.

Morrigan quirks one eyebrow before glancing first to the left, then to the right. Could it be that the evening is nowhere near as over as I had hoped? Maker save me from that eventuality!

“I’ll be awake for some time, catching up on the day’s missives.” My office is hardly a cheery place, but if she insists she not be alone… “Trying to rid myself of this headache so that I might sleep tonight.” I give her a bow worthy of Halamshiral itself and turn back in the direction of my own quarters.

I’m halfway there before her footfalls cause me to turn again and wait for her. “Something you need?”

She laughs. “’Twould seem I have something you might need, Commander.” A wave of her hand indicates the throne room. “Beyond navigating the late-night stragglers on the way to your quarters.”

“And what would that be?”

Those odd-colored eyes of hers sparkle a bit as she nods. “Did the Templars not teach you the art of patience?”

Maker… “They did.” I understand now. We’re still playing the Game, but a more personalized version that runs on Morrigan’s set of rules. If the Game demands patience, I will give it. I have no choice but to wait until she’s ready to explain herself, like it or not. Either that, or be rude, and enough guests still linger so that rudeness is not any sort of option.

I dislike traps. This had best be worthwhile.

 

V. The Letter

“You’re going to work. At such a late hour? Does our tireless Commander never rest?” The laugh I found at first to be an unexpected comfort is, at this time of night, somewhat less enticing.

She mocks me. That can go both ways, though: I don’t fear her by any stretch of the imagination. Turning in Morrigan’s direction, I give an exaggerated bow as if she’s one of our guests from the Winter Palace. “Madame, the Inquisition never sleeps.”

Now her laughter fills with skepticism, but I sense the smallest bit of appreciation in it as well. As those who play Wicked Grace at Skyhold have discovered, I’m quite capable of giving people a reason to laugh at my expense. I’ve overheard my fellow advisors speak of me as a hammer who sees everyone and everything as nails, but that’s not entirely true. I simply believe I often have a more expedient solution to problems than they do.

At times I wonder how far that approach has gotten me. At least it saved me at Kirkwall, the place I learned to recognize flaws in leadership. If Morrigan laughs at my simple attempts at humor, so much the better. I like it when people, myself included, are humanized. It keeps the Inquisition from becoming a second Corypheus.

Ushering Morrigan into my office, I round on the desk and pick up a piece of vellum and a quill. The ink is here somewhere, buried beneath requests from the field—for supplies, for reinforcements, for relief.

“You spoke not in jest, then. You mean to work at this hour?”

“After a fashion.” I allow myself the indulgence of rubbing the back of my neck momentarily. “I’ve a letter to write, and I fear if I don’t do it now, another opportunity won’t present itself for months.” Ah, there’s the ink.

“Who is so important to our Commander that he needs dash off a missive in the middle of the night? Some lost lady love, destined to break the heart of half of Orlais?” Perhaps it’s just curiosity turning the corners of her lips up into an inquisitive smile, or perhaps it’s something I simply cannot fathom. Of course she has her own agenda: everyone does.

I am not bait. What I am is a brother. A poor sorry excuse for one, as evidenced by how long it’s been since I picked up a quill to contact my siblings. I have no reason to hide that. “My eldest sister, Mia. She’s threatened to descend on Skyhold if I don’t reassure her I’m still alive and in possession of all four limbs.”

Now Morrigan does smile. “A fearsome Rutherford sister. I approve.”

The look on her face makes me think she’s just catalogued away something critical, something that will undoubtedly be used against me later. There’s little to be done about it, however.

“This won’t take long.” I set the quill to the vellum and begin writing. Mia, the Inquisition is making excellent progress. When and if time permits, I will visit. As my duties keep me quite busy, I can’t say when that might be. Know that I think of you often, and of Rosalie and Branson and your families. Be well. Your loving brother, Cullen.

As the ink dries, Morrigan moves to my side and reads the letter before I can tuck it away. “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a sister I was close to.” Her voice is softer than it usually is, for a moment, before she continues with her usual acid edge. “If I did, ‘twould be a shame to get a letter like that.”

It’s late, and I’m spent from having to be sociable and pleasant all night. “Fortunately for you”—my words are clipped and unapologetic—“the letter is meant for my sister. She’s accustomed to my brevity.”

The truth of the matter is I’ve been putting off contacting Mia for months now: I have nothing to say, no apologies to make, no sweet tales of victory to share, no desire to lay bare my soul or what remains of it. It’s no business of Morrigan’s, of course, but I’d prefer to keep the peace just now. There’s enough fighting, and enough in-fighting, without aggravating the tenuous balance between advisors.

I look at her, watching her eyes move over the contents of my desk before they fix on the bookshelves, each of the three doors in turn, and finally the ladder leading up to the loft. She has no notion of my dislike of being underground, in a hold, in any sort of captivity, and I won’t go into it with her now. “Did you get what you needed? Out of the evening? Was it worth it for you, having to put up with me all night?”

To her credit, she doesn’t laugh at my words. Instead, she turns slowly from the ladder to face me. “’Tis oddly put, Commander. Circumstances could not have played into my hand in a more expedient way.”

Perhaps I’m simply too tired for the Game. “Tell me, then. What benefits did you reap?”

“Ah,” she nods. “Tonight’s currency is power. By being seen with the Commander of the Inquisition army—by having him appear to be so attentive to my needs—I have earned the respect of so many from the Orlesian court who formerly refused to acknowledge my very existence, or refused equally to acknowledge that I have—had—any value at all at Celene’s side. I must say, you played your part admirably well. Not only did you break the hearts of so many of our visitors from the West, but I believe you even managed to convince them, in that haughty and superior Templar way of yours, that I had actually captured your interest in a way they couldn’t. For that, I suppose I ought to give thanks.”

My hand goes up immediately to stop that line of reasoning. “I did nothing of the kind.”

Now she does laugh again. “On the contrary, Commander. By feigning disinterest, you’ve piqued interest. By taking and making your introductions with me at your side, you’ve gained me more respect in a night than I could have garnered in another year at Halamshiral. You needn’t be smug about it,” she adds quickly. “It’s not you so much as the position you hold.”

Well, I almost blurt out, I’m not fond of you either. Swallowing that back, I wave the ink dry on Mia’s letter before rolling it up and sealing it with wax.

Power for a price. “At least the position is good for something.” Even if I am secondary to my title. My eyes move to the lyrium kit on the desk and linger a moment too long: I feel the weight of Morrigan’s eyes on me, on the small wooden box.

“I know about your lyrium decision.” Her words are soft and simple. “I didn’t before, but one cannot keep secrets at this place. I have yet to decide if you’re being very brave or very foolish, doing this now when so much in the world is at stake.”

This is not a conversation I want to have. Not now, and not with her. It seems that every time anyone mentions the word lyrium, an immediate sharp pain grabs me behind the eyes and at the temples. “Maker.” The word escapes, a simple whisper.

“Now that seems to be old habit with you. Don’t blame the Maker for the Chantry’s foolishness and petty demagoguery.” Moving to my side, she once again twines her arm into mine. “A great many years ago, I told the Hero of Ferelden that I didn’t know what it meant to be or to have a friend. Of all the things Flemeth prepared me for, being human with other people was not one of them. The Hero liked me, though. She called me friend. It’s taken me years to come to grips with what that means.”

She pats my arm, and there’s some small—very small—fondness in it. I can tell that much. It catches me by surprise. “I think perhaps you know what I mean, Commander. Friendship does not come readily to people like you and me.”

“So we’re one and the same? A Templar and an Apostate?”

The expression on Morrigan’s face is either indulgent amusement or barely-concealed impatience. I no longer trust myself to decide which it might be.

“You may call us by those names if you like. What I mean, Commander, is that we are two people used to being alone. Each used to making our own decisions. Used to relying on our own wiles to get us where we both want and need to go.”

“I consider myself anything but wily, Morrigan.” Opinionated, brusque, decisive, single-minded, even as stubborn as I’m so often accused of being, but not wily. I don’t twist others to my desires, either against their will or against my own better judgment.

“Be that as it may, I believe you and I are more alike than you recognize. Regardless, you’ve done me a favor whether you admit it or not, simply by being your determined, unwavering self. ‘Tis one I shall repay.”

No. She owes me nothing, and I’d be a liar if I pretended there had been no mutual benefit to the evening. “You did save me from the inane nattering of more than a small handful of Orlesians. I consider that payment in full.”

“Partial payment only,” she insists. “Here. The rest, and then neither of us shall be indebted to the other.”

Before I can provide any rebuttal, she waves her hand in my direction. Once again, there’s a waft of spiced apple—mulled cider—and crisp autumn leaves. As I did before, I breathe in the spell like a drowning man finding air. A tingle of warmth starts at the tips of my fingers and spreads to cover both my hands; at the same time, I feel the withdrawal headache dissipate like the fragments of a dream upon awakening.

“There.” She nods, one time. “A more expedient version of the previous spell.”

Words elude me. Should I thank her or be angry that she cast the spell without my permission? Or is it time to let the old suspicions and ingrained training go, for once or perhaps finally?

“I shouldn’t like to replace one addiction with another,” I confess finally.

“You won’t.” Glancing at the lyrium kit, she sounds quite certain of that. “’Tis a spell of my own invention, not readily available to others.”

“It’s strong.” Letting my eyes close, I relish the sensation of no headache at all, no cold hands, no confusion. I would like to be able to say I am also free of distrust, but I prefer not to lie. Those old habits may not be something I’m proud of, but they are a part of who I am. “Effective. Thank you.”

Morrigan nods again, just one time, and gives the ghost of a smile. “Commander.” With that she slips out the door. There’s nothing to do but watch her leave and wait a suitable amount of time before stepping out onto the parapet to survey the night skies over the Frostbacks. The constellation Eluvia looms bright in the sky above.

Eluvia. As a young boy I would sit outside at night with my sisters and brother searching the heavens for Eluvia. She’s the constellation of wish fulfillment, and my youngest sister Rosalie would always make her wishes aloud. Mine were silent and still are, but I find I’m not yet too old or too jaded to wish on the stars. An end to this war. Peace across the land. The defeat of Corypheus. And for Maker’s sake, no more fêtes at Skyhold! Offering Eluvia a private smile, I turn back into the sanctuary that is my office, pull out the quill, and with Morrigan’s admonition of its inadequacy in mind, begin a far more inclusive and comprehensive letter to my sister Mia. I owe her that much.

I owe myself that much.