The symbolism of having the Conclave at First Day hadn't escaped Cullen, but the fact remained that it was the middle of winter in the foothills of the Frostbacks. Even when the snow wasn't falling, it still covered everything as far as the eye could see, icy and blinding. But, the tavern was doing good business and the merchants kept fires going, and most of the faces he saw were hopeful -- it was a good look. It was almost enough to make him hopeful, if he hadn't been so familiar with how tightly people held on to their fears and beliefs.
He rubbed the back of his neck and took a deep breath, wishing the squeezing pain in the back of his head would pass. He knew it would. It had to. No one could possibly spend every single day with a headache, no matter how his body tried to convince him otherwise. Really, he just needed to focus on something. Then he could ignore it.
That needed distraction came in the form of a qunari, hard to miss as he trudged through the snow, easily towering over the humans he passed. Stares followed him as he went, lingering on the set of horns that swept up and back from his forehead, pausing on the massive sword strapped to his back. Cullen squinted through the headache and tried to remember his name.
"Adaar," Cullen remembered at just the right moment, extending his hand for the qunari to shake. Tal Vashoth, he reminded himself. Not Qunari. Some of them, at least, took the distinction very seriously. "Well met, again. I was hoping to run into you."
"Hard to do much running without tripping in all of this, Ser Cullen," Adaar said, looking down at his boots, "but here I am, anyway." His hand dwarfed Cullen's as he shook it, his grip surprisingly light, likely to avoid crushing any delicate human fingers. His smile was wide and white against grey skin. "I had a few questions about where you would like our people to be."
"Absolutely." Cullen's faint smile was awkward and relieved. "Where do you estimate the choke points to be in the--"
"Oh, look! Dogs!" bellowed a familiar voice from near the gate. "That's how you can tell you're in Ferelden, you know, Ser Peryn! Dogs, dogs, dogshit, and dogs!"
"Oh, shit," Cullen muttered, taking a deep breath. "Walk with me, Adaar. I need to take care of something, and then we'll go up to my desk, where I have the maps, and sort this out."
A tight group in Ander robes came up into the town, the hoods hiding their faces from view, but even the loose cloth couldn't hide how tall one was, or the heft of his beaded beard. Another was in recognisably Templar robes of a sort Cullen had only seen in books, and two more dressed as if they might be with a more monastic arm of the Chantry. The fifth dressed in sweeping purple with blue and gold trim, clearly still an Ander cut, but styled in a way that reminded Cullen of First Enchanter Irving's favourite robes. Foolish, of course. He knew Hossberg's First Enchanter was a good bit taller than that, but ... something about them was more familiar than he liked -- particularly the part where one of them was obviously Anders. He'd know 'dogs and dogshit' anywhere.
"That is... a very colourful group," Adaar commented, following just behind Cullen's shoulder, a bit too tall and wide to make a convincing shadow.
"You don't know the half of it," Cullen sighed, running his hand through his hair and reminding himself that screaming at Anders would not be the best course of action. "Yes, yes, welcome to Ferelden," Cullen said as he intercepted the Ander group, pausing to stand, arms folded, in front of Anders. "Now, what exactly are you doing in Ferelden?"
"Enjoying the fine mountain air, of course," Anders replied breezily, his wide smile visible under the hood. "It's good to see you too, Ser Cullen. Anton hasn't turned your hair grey yet, I see."
"Not for lack of trying, I assure you," Cullen replied, his words clipped. "Though you're not exactly helping either, Anders."
"Hey, I'm perfectly Fereldan!" the second tallest figure protested, hood still pulled down to hide his face.
"No, I meant... Anders." Cullen pointed to the imposingly large mage in front of him.
A shorter member of the group shoved back his hood to reveal a face Cullen had been expecting -- Cormac. "Well, you could've meant our other Ander!" he said, tossing an arm around the man in Templar robes.
"Are we so rare you can call us so? There is only one?" Peryn started to laugh, only to be brought up short as he remembered the last time he'd said something of the like. "Apostate! You're him!"
"Blight fuck it, Cullen," Cormac sighed, grabbing Peryn's arms. "Calm down, Peryn."
"He's not an apostate," Cullen assured the other Templar, quickly. "I once made that mistake as well, but he is genuinely a Grey Warden, and I have Commander Amell's signature to prove it."
"Allow me to introduce Knight-Commander Cullen, of Kirkwall," Anders said, stepping out from between Cullen and Peryn. "Husband to the viscount, Anton Hawke, Lord Amell. I promise I would not be out running around in the wild without Solona's approval, and Cullen was unkind enough to ask for it, once, weren't you?"
"You do remember what my job was, don't you?" Cullen drawled. "But, Warden or not, this isn't exactly the best place for you to be right now. Your Warden status may not protect you if the wrong person figures out who you are."
"If they figure out I'm Jan Kasselmann?" Anders asked, much too innocently. "Now, why would anyone have a problem with that?"
None of this was helping Cullen's headache.
Peryn looked back and forth between Templar and mage, looking lost and more than a little shaken. He wanted to argue, to feel betrayed, but if the Knight-Commander in front of him didn't condemn him, Peryn didn't think he could.
"I don't even know what to do with this," Cullen lamented. "But, fine, okay. Just try not to get anyone killed, yourselves included." He trailed off, trying to make out Anders's other companions under their hoods. There was something else familiar here, and Cullen had a feeling he was going to regret finding out what.
"Oh, come on, when was the last time Mack and I got anyone killed?" Anders emphasized the name, to remind Cullen what to call their friend. "I'm a healer. I get people less dead, not more dead! Speaking of which, you're looking a bit shit, Cullen. Here, lean in." He held up his hands, lit with a healing glow Cullen would recognise.
"It's fine," Cullen sighed, resting his forehead on Anders's palms. "It's just a headache."
"Is this a jest?" Peryn finally snapped. "You have been a Warden healer since we met, and you splinted my arm? You did not heal it?"
Cormac shrugged. "We were foreigners. You're a Templar. We'd been through this once already, with Cullen, and ... that took weeks. No offence, Peryn, you're a great friend, but when we met, we didn't know you well enough to judge that you wouldn't drag us down to be held at Hossberg until you could get confirmation back from Solona. You know that would've been the right thing to do, and so do we. The potions were good, though, weren't they?"
"The potions were the best I've had outside the tower," Peryn admitted, shaking his head. "And you are right. I would have taken you to be verified. You were building the house then, yes? I can see avoiding the trouble, but ... it is still a poor thing to do to your friend."
"As soon as we could prove I'm who I said I am, we told you. The Knight-Commander of Kirkwall can vouch for me. And now, we're in Ferelden, if you want me to send for Solona. We can run up to Amaranthine, after the Conclave. I want to see her, since we're in Ferelden. I'm sure she's got stories." Anders shrugged, trying to look like there was nothing wrong at all, and he spent his time with Templars all the time -- which, to be fair, he really did, these days. Between Cullen and Peryn, they'd become a regular fixture in his life, again. Couldn't shake them after all.
"Forgive me this, then, Ser Peryn." The shortest member of their party pushed back his hood. "Senior Enchanter Alim Surana of Kinloch Hold. Do you remember me, Ser Cullen? You were very young, the last time I saw you. But, I need to be sure there is room for me at the Conclave, proper. I have come to hear and be heard, and I believe the title is sufficient to grant that. Do you know if First Enchanter Torrin has made it out? I'd love to let him know we made it to the Anderfels, without losing anyone. I picked an excellent group to travel with."
Once again, Cullen found himself speechless for a moment. Surana looked older, certainly -- they all did -- but he was that same... unusual mage Cullen remembered meeting when he was still new to the Order. "Of course I remember you. You... are a bit hard to forget."
"Senior Enchanter?" Peryn finally managed to stutter out. He tripped over a word or two in Ander before he was able to collect his thoughts enough to continue, drawing in a deep, steadying breath. "You are a mage?" He stared at Fen'Din, then turned a pleading look on the tall, hooded man next to him.
The tall man cleared his throat, scratching his head under the hood, and Cullen scowled, certain he knew this man too. "You know I've got mage blood," the man -- Kinnon, if memory served -- said. "I'm sympathetic."
Cullen was starting to feel bad for the poor Ander Templar, particularly when he looked at Kinnon with that kicked puppy look.
"So you knew?" Peryn pressed.
"Of course. But, the First Enchanter said he could go. Who am I to question that, if he doesn't bring blood magic or demons into it?" Kinnon shrugged, far more tensely than was usual for him. "Besides, we were travelling with dwarves, and when we got up there, we had a Templar to call on if anything went wrong! We knew where to go. I can name every Chantry from Nordbotten to Tallo!"
"I am a responsible adult travelling with the permission of my Circle," Fen'Din offered, breezily. "Perhaps I should have checked in, when we came through Hossberg. I admit that would have been wise, in the past tense, but things were very uncertain. Our First Enchanter was newly elected, after the former had been murdered for no reason we could uncover, in that massacre at Val Royeaux. The walls of our tower had finally caved in after centuries of neglect. I could not know who to trust, and we sought nothing more than a safe place to move our mages and their accompanying Templars out of the reach of the madness that had seized Orlais. These are troubled times, Ser Peryn. I can only hope this Conclave leads to peace."
"These are things you distrust me with, even after you know me?" Peryn's accent was heavier than usual as he tried to sort through all of this.
"We do know you now," Anders assured him, "and we are trusting you now. Do you think we would have travelled with you, would have revealed ourselves to you like this if we didn't trust you?"
That took some of the sadness from Peryn's eyes, but the poor man still looked overwhelmed. Cullen clapped a hand on his shoulder. "I'll buy you a drink later."
"Careful, Cullen," Anders teased. "He might drink you under the table. Especially if you're drinking cordial."
A high-pitched laugh forced its way out of Cullen's lungs. "We agreed never to talk about that, so this is me, changing the subject. Senior Enchanter, you mentioned Torrin. I'm afraid he won't be able to make it. He sent me his regrets this morning."
"A shame." Fen'Din shook his head in a way he thought approximated regret. "Do you know where he is? I would like to pay my respects, while we are here."
"I believe he's in Redcliffe, at the queen's orders. Lord Hawke's working on a new tower, but I guess they're not done, yet. Can't say I'm surprised. Even with that family, you can't build a whole tower that fast." Cullen chuckled wryly, then glanced at Cormac and Anders. "Are you two expecting him, here?"
Cormac laughed. "No, but I wouldn't be surprised if he showed up. You know what he's like. I said I'd visit after the Conclave, but..."
"Maker, don't let him bring that lunatic elf along." Cullen rubbed the back of his neck, again.
"What his husband?" Anders asked, grinning broadly. "I'm very fond of that lunatic elf."
"No, the other one. The Dalish one." Cullen groaned.
"Ah, that one. I'm more fond of his wife." Anders nodded solemnly. "But, we brought our very own lunatic elf, just to liven things up."
"That's Senior Enchanter Lunatic Elf, thank you," Fen'Din retorted, looking utterly unperturbed. "Speaking of which, if Torrin is not here, am I the only representative of Kinloch Hold?"
"You... may be," Cullen admitted, glancing over his shoulder toward the Chantry. "Sister Leliana would know. I have to go that way, anyway, to get the maps for Serah Adaar."
"Leliana's here?" Anders's face lit up. "Maybe I'll get to see what it takes to make a nightingale sing, after all."
"Give me all of your potions, first," Cormac suggested, with a snort. "Maybe I'll be able to save you."
As he filed in next to the colourful Ander group, Adaar decided that he had no idea what he had just witnessed. He wasn't about to ask, either, not with the way a few of them were watching him out of the corner of their eyes. Unfortunately, a disarming smile and a compliment to Ser Peryn, the human next to him ("Nice sword.") were not the way to get them to stop doing that, as Adaar learned the hard way.
It was, however, a way to get the tallest human, this Anders, to start snickering. Adaar would count that as a success.