"I smell like nug dung," Ellana protested, dodging away as Cullen reached for her.
The stars were bright overhead, and the moons were low. Cullen had been roused by the horn signalling the Inquisitor's return, a sound he'd been anticipating for the past two days. He'd dressed quickly then hurried down to the courtyard. Despite the hour, a small crowd had gathered around the returning Inquisitor and her companions. Cullen had shouldered through, his heart singing when he saw her dismounting.
Now Cullen’s breath misted in the cold as he assured her, "You don't."
She smelled like lavender and elfroot, like the moments just before a thunderstorm. He'd always been intensely aware of her scent, even moreso since they'd become lovers.
Beside them, Sera was pouring loose sand from her boot, complaining that half of the Hissing Wastes was trapped in there.
Ellana squirmed. “I’d really like to wash. I’ll come to your quarters after?”
He nodded and reluctantly let her go. Although he waited for her until the dawn tinted the horizon, she did not return to his side.
That was the first indication that something was amiss.
Smiling sheepishly, an apologetic Inquisitor waited for him in the war room later that morning. "I fell asleep."
He scratched the back of his neck. “No harm done.” Who was he trying to convince? He cleared his throat.
Ellana covered her mouth and turned her face towards the war table.
“Ah, Cullen, you’re here,” Cassandra said as she entered the room.
Josephine and Leliana followed, heads together, voices low. Leliana smirked, secrets twinkling in her eyes.
Josephine inclined her head. “Commander, we need to talk about the state of our new recruits. Comtesse d’Arnee has expressed interest in funding our cause, but will only do so if the facilities and training regimes are to his tastes.”
Leliana slipped a sealed envelope to Ellana, who smiled and hid the note in her sleeve.
Odd. No report would be hidden up a sleeve.
“Commander?” Josephine tapped against her noteboard.
His neck itched again, but he clamped his hands together and tried to ignore the crawling sensation on his skin. “I, uh, yes… Of course. What do you want to know?” He’d have to ask Ellana what was going on later.
Pinning down the Inquisitor on her first day back from a mission proved to be an exercise in futility. Between the demands of Cullen's own position and her tireless schedule, his candles were burning low when his door creaked open to admit her.
He was still working at his desk as if he'd lost track of time, as if he hadn't been keeping an eye on the movement of the sun, and then the moons, dreading that she would not come at all.
He had fought the urge to go to her quarters for over an hour. But he refused to be that needy. He could wait.
Then there she was, fidgeting in the doorway, her long hair shining in the candlelight. His muscles felt as if they were carved from wood and his heart beat too quickly. He wanted to go to her, but he could sense something was wrong.
"May I, uh, borrow your coat?"
He blinked at her. Of all the things he'd been expecting her to say, that was possibly the last. He rose, pulling his coat off his shoulders. "Are you cold?" She didn't get cold, in general. Growing up living outdoors, she was not as sensitive as he was to temperature. Visions of some sickness picked up during her travels assaulted him. "Are you ill?"
"No." Her fingers brushed his as she accepted the coat, pulling it to her chest and burying her face in it. Her skin was warm. "I... I have a... thing." She gestured over her shoulder, still holding his coat.
Again, he was struck dumb.
She shifted from foot to foot. "I'll return this in the morning, shall I?"
The morning? Bitter disappointment flooded through his stomach. "Yes, by all means. Whenever is convenient."
She flashed him a relieved smile then disappeared around the door again.
Cullen shoved the feeling of unease to the back of his mind as he reached to open the door to Josephine’s office. He had slept poorly, and this time he could not blame the nightmares. His own insecurities had robbed him of rest.
Lavellan was a busy woman. He could not expect her to drop her other duties to see to him every time she returned to Skyhold. Still, it stung. After every other homecoming, they had spent the next nights wrapped in each other's arms. Following Adamant, their reunions had been feverish in their intensity.
Now, she had things that required her attention in the middle of the night. Things that weren't to do with him. Things that apparently required his coat.
He would have to fret about the coat later. The Inquisition needed him at his best now more than ever, and he couldn’t allow his relationship with the Inquisitor to dull him.
There was a murmur of voices within that indicated Josephine might have been holding a meeting. Yet, her door was slightly ajar. He stopped to listen.
"In case you haven't noticed, the man's not easy to fool." Varric's Free Marches accent was unmistakable.
"Oh, I wish her the best of luck, that's all I can say," Josephine responded.
Cullen's heart thudded. They could have been talking about anyone. It was rude to eavesdrop.
"I don't know why she doesn't just tell him," Cassandra said.
"Because, Seeker, you know how he'll get."
"Yes, but surely this sneaking around is wo—"
Cullen opened the door fully, pulse racing.
The room fell instantly silent as the occupants turned to look at him.
“Cullen.” Cassandra’s voice squeaked on the last syllable. She gained colour. Varric started laughing, but Cassandra shot the dwarf a murderous glance that turned his chuckle into a shrug.
“Commander?” Josephine grabbed her noteboard and held it before her like a shield.
Cullen frowned. “You wanted to see me? About the recruits.”
“Oh!” Josephine’s gaze darted down to her board. “Of course, how silly of me.”
“What were you talking about?” Cullen crossed his arms. He willed them to tell the truth, and yet he dreaded it. Their strange reactions seemed evidence enough of just who they’d been discussing. Still, there was a chance he was being paranoid.
Cassandra’s blush deepened. “Talking? We, uh…”
Varric leaned against the ambassador’s table. “The Seeker was just bugging me for a signed copy of my new novel. She’s quite a fan and wants to start a book club.”
“I’m not a— I don’t— I’ve told you, Varric , it was research!” Cassandra spun, and Cullen suspected she was trying to hide her flush. Too late.
His stomach knotted as she stomped out of the room, and he jolted when she slammed the door behind her.
It was a lie. They had been discussing no such thing. Which meant they must have been discussing… her . What would Ellana keep from him beside the obvious? A love affair kindled in the heat of battle, consummated in a tent beneath the stars. Someone else had stolen her affection while she’d been out in the Hissing Wastes, and she merely lacked the courage to tell him.
“Well.” Varric pushed away from the table. “My work here is done.” He winked at Cullen and sauntered out of the room.
The audacity. Even for Varric, that was cold.
Cullen stared at the door for a moment, then faced Josephine. “Would you care to explain, ambassador?”
“There, ah, is nothing to explain. Who understands the friendship between those two?”
He let a note of iron leak into his voice. “Is everyone in the Inquisition keeping something from me?”
“Of course not.” Josephine fidgeted with her pen. “Now, about those recruits—”
Cole popped up next to Cullen, causing his heart to bounce.
The boy stared at him with those disconcerting orb-like eyes. “She sneaks, she hides. The kitchen, the stables, shadows in corners. His beard splits as he smiles, ‘Whatever you’d like, Inquisitor.’ She’s happy, it’s working, but—”
Cullen slammed his fist on the table then rushed out of the room. Blackwall, of all people? Impossible. Still, the two had been friendly before this last trip, cosy even, sharing a draught at the tavern. And if Cole said…
He shoved through the market throng and stopped by the well near the stables. She was there, the Inquisitor, wearing the smile he loved so much, with her hand on Blackwall’s arm.
Blessed Andraste! Cole was right! The pain in his chest could not have been sharper had Ellana’s twin blades made the cut to remove his heart.
Cullen retreated to his quarters, where he stood panting against the door. He turned the key and the lock clicked shut, then removed the loose floorboard by the corner of his desk. He pulled the vial of lyrium dust from the secret place under the board and stared at the glowing contents for what felt like an eternity.
The lyrium would dull the pain of this betrayal. It would take him to a safer, happier place. All he needed was one shot. Just one...
She’d hate it if I did this.
He roared as he hurled the vial against the wall. Hundreds of glass fragments glimmered in the beam of light from the broken ceiling and crashed in a cloud of blue dust. Not as satisfying as a lyrium-high would have been, but breaking the vial had helped.
What did I do wrong?
Cullen paced his office, pulling at his hair. For hours he’d examined his own behaviour. There must be something he’d done or said, something that had turned her passion cold.
He could find no indication of any problems in the lead-up to her trip to the Wastes. They had stayed up far too late the night before, sharing wine and conversation beneath warm covers, making their moments together stretch as long as they possibly could.
Even now, even angry and uncertain, he craved more such moments. The memory of her soft touch lingered; his stomach still tightened at the thought of her. He had been so proud when she’d chosen him. Of all the men in all of Thedas who would have sunk to their knees before her, she had courted him . He was flawed, he knew he was. Deeply flawed. But he thought he had made her happy.
No answers will be found here.
Before he even fully realised where he was going, he’d ascended the stairs to her quarters. His breath halted with sudden nerves. He wasn’t certain he was ready for confirmation, to hear her actually say the words. But a larger part of him needed the closure, an end to this torment. If the rest of Skyhold knew then, by the Maker, he should know too.
Her door was open and no noise emanated from within. Good . Bitter dread had half convinced him he’d hear giggles and sighs upon approach.
With a soft knock, he entered.
He halted at the top of the stairs. The Inquisitor was not present, but every surface was covered in presents . Two large boxes and one small one, secured with a bow, took up all the space on her desk. There were vases of sweet-scented flowers piled up beside the bed and a number of packages beside her closet. He forced himself forward.
So, the Inquisitor had admirers. That was nothing he didn’t already know. She’d received gifts before, though not as…numerous. Still, there could be an explanation beside the obvious. He strode to her desk, aware he should not be looking but unable to help himself.
There was a note, as he’d expected there would be, discarded next to the box with the ribbon.
My Lady, Please come see me in the barn at your earliest convenience. Yours faithfully, Blackwall.
Yours. It was a punch to the gut, that word. Cullen reeled, fighting the urge to throw the pretty box across the room as he had the lyrium vial. Blood roared in his ears and his chest was hot and tight.
Behind him, someone gasped. Ellana stood in the doorway. His coat was draped over her arm. Her eyes were large and her cheeks were flushed.
“Cullen.” The word was breathless.
“I came to… I wanted to speak to you.” He fought down his anger. If Blackwall truly had bought her all these gifts…it was so much more than he, Cullen, had ever done for her. Little wonder the Warden had won her heart.
Cullen didn’t want to prompt her. He wanted her to confess now, but she remained silent, staring at him.
“Your door was open,” he said, defensively.
“I… You’re probably wondering what all this is.”
“I can explain.”
Her mouth moved. She cleared her throat and passed him his surcoat.
He accepted it with numb fingers. “I think it’s very clear what’s happening here.”
“Is it?” Her voice was not hers. It was high-pitched and strangled.
A knock sounded at the door and before he could tell her otherwise, she called for the person to enter.
He both hoped and dreaded it would be Blackwall, but it was a messenger. Orlesian by his dress. He bore another gift. This one in a golden box with a bright silver bow.
“My lady Inquisitor, I was instructed to deliver this safely into your hands and no one but yours.”
“And here my hands are,” she said, reaching out. A smile lit her lips. How could she smile at a time like this?
“Who’s it from?” Cullen asked.
Ellana’s attention snapped to him, but before she could say anything the messenger bowed. “Ma Petit Fleur is honoured to provide the Inquisitor with our most excellent and singular culinary wonders. I dare say you will not find delicacies such as this anywhere else in all of Thedas.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Ellana blanched. The messenger’s eyebrows pulled together as he peered at her. “I apologise, I was not aware…” He dropped his voice, but Cullen could still hear every word. “Usually in this sort of circumstance it is customary to leave a note when placing the order.”
This sort of circumstance? Cullen could take no more. He strode past Ellana, past the aghast messenger and out into the hall. He needed air.
The wind had fangs that sliced through Cullen’s bones. His surcoat had grown threadbare with age and wear. Still, the ice made him feel real, as if the heartache of the last few days was an illusion.
The light had not yet gone out in the Inquisitor’s room, and many visions of her and Blackwall assaulted Cullen. He had always known he was broken, undeserving of her. The pain would be duller, had she just told him to his face.
Had he driven her to sneak around? Always duty first, romance second - that was his way. Who could blame him, after Kinloch? Though he probably couldn’t use that as an excuse forever.
Maker, what a mess.
He rubbed the back of his neck, muscles tenser than ever.
Footsteps thudded dully from behind him. Cullen sighed. The reports would always find him, no matter where he hid. Not that it could be considered hiding if I keep coming back to the same place. He turned. “What is it now?”
But it wasn’t a soldier with a report.
Cassandra’s eyes stretched and she retreated a step. “Cullen?”
Cullen clenched his jaw. Cassandra had known. She had gossiped about the Inquisitor’s new paramour without even a thought spared for Cullen. He had trusted her with everything, his addiction, his command, his life! But she had also betrayed his trust.
“Nothing to discuss behind my back tonight?” He came to his full height and crossed his arms.
“I, ah, I have no idea what you -”
“I’m not stupid, Cassandra! I know what’s going on!”
“You… you do?” Cassandra seemed to shrink in her armour.
“Of course I do! I just can’t believe you didn’t tell me!”
Her eyebrows twitched and she retreated another step. “Please understand, Cullen, it was meant as -”
“Understand!” He slammed a fist to the crenulated wall behind him. “How in the Maker’s name do you expect me to understand?”
Her lips quivered and her expression became uncertain. “We didn’t mean to hurt you. I… I don’t -”
“Commander!” Varric’s stocky form crashed up the stairwell. He ran closer, wheezing for breath, and doubled over, to support himself with a hand on the wall. “We have trouble, Curly. You need to come right now.”
Cullen’s spine froze. “What is it? Is the Inquisitor -”
“It’s Samson,” Varric said. “They’ve found him close by. Rumours of some kind of templar weapon. You’re needed!”
Duty versus romance. Cullen stood in the center of the scale to consider both options. Having Samson in his grasp was bigger than his heartache. For the sake of Thedas, he would have to be the commander now, and worry about picking up the pieces of Cullen later. Duty. Always duty.
He nodded at Varric. “Tell me what you know.”
“We have to walk as we talk.” Varric beckoned with a hand and Cullen followed.
Sunset over Haven used to bring feelings of peace, however fragile, in those troubled times. Now, the beams of light seemed to set the jagged spikes and wooden splinters of former houses ablaze.
Red lyrium had crept out from the temple ruins to bloody the area.
“Well, shit.” Varric’s jaw set.
Cullen could only nod. Such great destruction in so short a span of time. Andraste preserve us. “I see no sign of red templars.”
Varric nodded. “I have the distinct feeling that intel was slightly exaggerated.”
“We should search the area,” Cullen said.
“Lead the way, Curly.”
Plodding through the debris did nothing to lift Cullen’s mood. They found no leads on Samson or his men and set up camp for the night. He had rushed out of Skyhold for nothing. A wasted opportunity.
To do what? Stare at a window from the battlements, wondering what’s happening within?
The return journey to Skyhold was somber. The failure to locate Samson and the day spent on horseback did nothing to relieve Cullen’s angst.
Throughout the day, heartache turned to annoyance, annoyance turned to anger, which bristled under the surface. By the time evening fell, they were back within sight of Skyhold and Cullen could no longer contain it.
“Blackwall,” he said. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
Varric shot him a sidelong glance. “You’re going to have to make a little more sense than that.”
Cullen stopped and stared at the dwarf. “The Inquisitor and Blackwall! I know of their affair! Will you deny it even now?”
Varric’s lips pulled to one side. “Oh, that . The dalliance . Honestly, Curly, we didn’t tell you because we didn’t think you needed to know.”
“You didn’t think I -” Cullen ground his teeth and balled his fists. “You knew I was involved with her! Somebody should have told me she’d fallen for another man!”
“I’m a storyteller, not a snitch! Besides, the way I see it, commander, this chapter may have a surprising ending.”
Cullen gaped at Varric. His mouth moved but his voice wouldn’t come out louder than a squeak.
Varric chuckled. “You look like you need a pint. On me. Come along.”
The last thing Cullen wanted was people and noise, but the dwarf wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, he allowed himself to be guided along towards the Herald’s Rest.
As they approached the tavern, Cullen was struck by the silence shrouding it. Usually merriment emanated from within, the music pulsing through Skyhold like a heartbeat. But this night, it was dark and still
What time was it? Surely not that late. The back of his neck tingled with unease. Something was not right.
Visions of red templars and Samson danced at the front of his mind. Had he been lured away purposefully? Had they infiltrated Skyhold? If so, then why the Rest?
His hand hovered over his sword, but Varric didn’t seem at all concerned as he reached to open the door. He was smiling.
The tavern was dark within and terror chased through Cullen. “Varric I don’t -”
At once the room lit up, vivid as a rift. Cullen stumbled backwards in fright. Varric’s ensuing laughter was joined by other voices.
Cullen blinked in the suddenly too-bright light. The room was filled with people, but his eyes were drawn to Dorian who stood on a table in the centre of the room with his arm outstretched from casting a spell. It must have been he who lit the lamps.
“I think we broke him,” Varric said as Cullen continued to stare.
Something soft brushed against his hand and he looked down to find Ellana, standing beside him. She leaned close and kissed his cheek. “Happy nameday, Cullen.”
But his nameday was in... Harvestmere. The month had changed and he hadn’t even realised. He’d been too wrapped up in his work to keep track of the days. She slipped her hand into his and guided him across the room. The crowd parted around them. So many people, all smiling. His friends, his colleagues, his men.
He found himself at the bar and the wheaty smell of ale became an anchor. Sera was standing on one of the stools, holding a piece of cloth taut, obscuring whatever was behind the bar.
“Ready?” she asked.
Ellana nodded and Sera let the cloth drop. “Tada!”
A cake was revealed. It was four layers high and lopsided with sticky frosting running down the side. However, upon it was perched an intricate golden lion ornament that seemed as if it belonged on an entirely different cake.
“I’m sorry it doesn’t look like much,” Ellana said. “I made it myself. I’ve never, eh, baked before.”
“I helped,” Sera said, proudly.
Vivienne, towering nearby with her hands on her hips, huffed. “Licking out the bowl is not helping. I do apologise, dear. I did try to convince them to let me order you something from Orlais.”
“We did let you order something from Orlais, Vivienne,” Ellana said sweetly. She pointed at the ornament. “I have it on good authority that that is from the best bakery in Thedas.”
The best bakery… he turned to look at her. That’s what had been delivered to her room?
“It’s crafted from spun sugar,” Vivienne said. “Entirely edible, even the garnets that form the eyes are sweets, or so I’m told. You do enjoy the lion aesthetic, do you not, dear?”
Ellana was still holding Cullen’s hand and she squeezed it tightly. “I know it looks funny but I remembered you telling me about your family’s honey apple fudge cake and I knew I had to at least try to make it for you.”
“Honey apple… you don’t mean to say…” He looked to the cake and then to her again.
She nodded enthusiastically. “I wrote to your sister for the recipe.”
“Sister? How did you…?” He’d never disclosed much about Mia beyond that she lived in South Reach.
A low chuckle behind him made him turn. Leliana’s arms were folded in front of her chest. She smirked. “I had some people in the area. They managed to track her down.”
“You spied on my family?”
“Relax, Commander. The interrogation didn’t last too long.” He hoped she was joking. “My scouts sent a bird two days ago with a recipe. I’m told that they’re bringing further gifts for you upon their return. Something about a woolen hat…”
The onlookers laughed and Cullen’s cheeks burned. He returned his attention to Ellana, still hardly daring to believe she was there. He was struck speechless by the gesture. She’d gone to so much trouble, recreating this happy memory from his childhood, organising all of this. His insides thawed, the ice and bitterness washed away. She wouldn’t have done that if she truly no longer loved him, surely. Yet doubt lingered. What Cole had said about Blackwall…
“This is... incredibly thoughtful of you,” Cullen said, softly. He couldn’t remember anyone ever doing anything like this for him before. “It is the perfect gift.”
“Oh, this is not your gift.” Ellana grinned, then she looked out at the gathered throng around them, eyes seeking someone. She rose onto her toes and waved. “Blackwall! Bring it here!”
People moved aside for the Grey Warden. He was carrying a varnished wooden box, which he handed to Cullen.
Cullen’s heart pounded in his ears as he accepted it. Moments before he had been convinced this man had betrayed him, but nothing about the way he was looking at him said so. Blackwall’s eyes sparkled with admiration, his cheeks glowed with his smile. “I... eh, it’s possibly not quite done. I’d like to add more details, do a bit of finishing.”
There didn’t appear to be anything wrong with the box. It was made of a deep dark wood and it would no doubt be useful. He was about to thank Blackwall when Ellana reached over and popped the lid open.
The inside of the box was inlaid in a checkered pattern, and along the edges were velvet pockets housing tiny wooden pieces.
“It’s a chess set.” His voice was barely a breath.
Ellana picked out three of the little pieces. “It’s about time you had your own. Blackwall spent the entire trip in the Wastes whittling. Look at this detail.” She handed Cullen a pawn carved of dark wood. Except, instead of being a typical pawn shape, it depicted a man with a shield. A templar, to be precise, with a tiny dab of red on his armour and on the side of his face.
“That’s incredible,” he said.
“It’s us versus Corypheus, in case you hadn’t guessed.”
She showed him another piece and he couldn’t help the smile that pulled at his cheeks. It clearly represented her. She was holding out her anchor hand, while the other was perched on her hip holding a dagger. On a her head, a crown indicated this was the queen piece. Then she showed him the final piece she’d pulled out.
It was him. He had his sword raised, mimicking her pose. The bulky fur of his surcoat was unmistakable. And on his head, the crown of the king.
He met her eyes. “Surely I should be a knight?”
“Why? You command our armies, you fight at my side and you are my partner. Who else would I have as my king?”
Partner. He’d been so terribly wrong about everything. Blackwall was standing there beaming proudly at his gift being well-received. Everything Cullen had witnessed, everything he’d assumed. It was about this. A gift. For him.
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Say you like it?” Ellana prompted.
“I do. I honestly… I’ve never… I wouldn’t have imagined…” He stopped himself. “Thank you.”
“Now can we drink?” Varric’s voice drifted over through the people.
There were other gifts too. Cole gave him a dagger, explaining that Solas advised it would be useful as a letter opener. Leliana and Josephine presented him with a new surcoat exactly like his old one, except the fur was sleek and shining, and the Inquisition sigil was embroidered in gold thread along the edges.
"We know how fond you are of your current coat, Commander," Josephine explained, "but it is starting to look a little worse for wear."
"We tailored it to match the old one exactly," Leliana added. "You shouldn't feel the difference at all."
"That's why the Inquisitor needed mine," Cullen realised.
Beside him, she laughed. "I knew there was no chance I'd manage to sneak it away from you, so I figured the direct approach was probably best."
Cassandra's gift was a pen engraved with some lines from the Chant: Though all before me is shadow, Yet shall the Maker be my guide. She blushed as she handed it to him, immediately locking her hands behind her back. "I'm not skilled at selecting gifts. The pen was Varric's idea."
"It's for all those reports you love writing," Varric said, raising his mug.
Had Cassandra known that that particular line from the Canticle of Trials had seen him through so much?
"You selected the verse?" he asked.
She nodded, colouring further. "It is one that has inspired me in times of trouble. I hope you are not still angry about this? I did tell them that a surprise was not suitable, but they would not listen."
Angry? Yes he had been angry with her. Replaying their conversation, he realised how she could have interpreted it and the thought brought laughter spilling up and out of his mouth. Cassandra's face relaxed into a smile.
"No, I'm not angry." He assured her. "I... I certainly wasn't expecting this."
"Good," Ellana said. "I thought our rouse was up when you saw all the gifts and party supplies strewn about my quarters."
Cullen's eyes met Varric's. He was hoping the man wouldn't give him away, wouldn't expose how paranoid he'd been. But Varric only smiled and lifted his mug to his lips.
There was good food and fine wine and dancing and too much drinking. The cake was perfect and Cullen had three slices, hoping no one noticed his gluttony. And then, as if that wasn't enough, people started making speeches.
Cassandra went first. She spoke about the day she'd recruited him and her words were stiff but heartfelt. She told everyone how pleased she was with her decision and though he was embarrassed, his chest felt warm and light. He had worried often that she might regret her choice of commander. Especially after Haven.
Ellana stood on a stool and declared that she was proud of him. Proud of all that the Inquisition had accomplished thanks to him. Proud to have him as her commander. His face was burning hot by the time she climbed down and he dared not look at the surrounding faces for fear they'd think her words came as a result of their relationship. But everyone cheered.
Then his men. In various states of sobriety, took turns telling stories. They embroidered some parts and some tales were lost in multiple interruptions as each man thought he recalled the details better than his fellows.
It was late by the time people started to drift, or stumble, back to their own quarters. Eventually, Cullen was left alone with Ellana and this, by far, was the highlight of the evening.
"Did you enjoy yourself?"
"I can't believe... all this... for me? How long were you planning?"
She chuckled, resting her head on his shoulder. The familiar scent of lavender and elfroot drifted to his nostrils, overpowering the surrounding smell of smoke and ale. "Funny story, that. I arranged everything so we'd have the better part of a week to pull this off. Then I was delayed in the Wastes. Blighted templars. Literally." She sighed. "I'm glad it all worked out. I was certain you'd guess what we were up to. You didn't, did you?" She looked up at him with beautiful wide eyes. "You're not just pretending? You really were surprised?"
He planted a reverent kiss on the top of her head. "Yes. I most certainly was."