Chapter 1: Prologue
“This is boring.” sighed a disgruntled noblewoman as she tossed her long blond hair back over her shoulder. “Madame Antoinette,” she continued, looking over at the Dowager who sat across the room on a plush armchair. ”You said Master Tethras was an excellent storyteller...”
“And he is,” she replied, her regal voice echoing across the room for all the ladies attending her small salon to hear.
“I fail to see such greatness.” the noblewoman muttered.
“If my story displeases you...” spoke Varric respectfully. “I could tell another. Something that might interest you, perhaps?”
“A request?” she countered.
“If you would like to make one, decide upon a subject or tone, I am sure I can find a story that would mirror what you desire,” he answered willingly. “So, please.” he urged, offering his hand in her direction.
Raising her finely manicured hand to her lips, and tapping her chin gently, the noblewoman contemplated for only a moment on the possibilities before suddenly smiling with a mischievous expression.
“You speak of the former Inquisitor Lavellan often, in your stories...” she started slowly, gradually gaining momentum. “And of her accolades and adventures... Religious strife, war, thrilling political intrigue, a god-like struggle against good and evil...they are all quite exciting...”
“But?” questioned Varric leadingly.
“You speak of nothing in regards to her personal life,” she concluded.
“’Tis true.” spoke up another noblewoman in agreement. “We know nothing of her romantic entanglements.”
“Yes. It was all the buzz in Val Royeaux, for months, after the unmasking of Duke Gaspard and his treacherous sister at the ball.” added another noblewoman with dark, wavy hair. “Whether or not she was involved with someone.”
“I remember.” piped up another. “Surrounded by all those virile men that accompanied her, it was a question upon everyone’s lips. Was it that regal apostate elf, that hulking monster of a Qunari, that suave Tevinter Magister, or that stunning and masculine Commander? Or someone else. Who did she fancy most?”
“The rumors alone were the talk of the town.” the Dowager added offhandedly. “The speculations were endless.”
Varric frowned gently.
“So, you wish to hear of her love life.” he breathed out with disappointment lacing his tone.
A cacophony of yes’s answered back as each noblewoman looked on enthusiastically.
“Something scandalous.” added another. “Always makes for great stories!”
Varric shook his head.
‘I guess I have no choice.’ he thought, glancing sidelong at the Dowager who quickly gave him a knowing look that inferred he had no right to refuse such a request.
“Very well.” he acquiesced.
‘I hope you can forgive me, Lalinaya.’
Chapter 2: The beauty once unseen.
As requested, Varric begins his story. Retelling of the day that he truly saw The Real Lalinaya Lavellan for the first time.
This story is a congruent set of "pairing arcs" that tie into each event from the last. My Inquisitor (unlike my Sarina Lavellan in The Guardians of Bellanaris) is NOT an all-knowing, mysterious, woman with ties to deep Elvhen bloodlines. This Inquisitor is a mysterious, sly, and seductive woman who -unlike most elven women of her age -is very confident in everything. From her abilities as a mage to her decisions in the realm of politics and morality. But, she has one personality 'flaw' that makes her disliked around most -a pariah- especially to her clan and to most humans.
She's an openly sexual creature. And, what I mean by that, is that she a 'sex-positive' woman who carries no shame in flirting with or bedding anyone she deems worthy. No matter who they are. Monogamy is a word, and an ideal, that does not exist her vocabulary.
With that being said, a few warnings are necessary. In this story, Lalinaya is set to have physical and emotional relationships (including but not limited to, just sex) with multiple characters and NO PAIRING IS OFFLIMITS. There will be some jealousy included, but not so much to warrant concern, as I intend to build this story with the notion that all characters who will become involved with her (whether in a deep relationship or just a few one-night stands) will be accepting of her own proclivities willingly. It is a: 'I'll take what she's willing to give and be grateful for it.' type of scenario.
Grammar Note: Any bulk paragraphs written in Italics (unless otherwise specified) are words spoken by Varric as he's telling the story. The story of Lalinaya is written in the third person from Varric's omniscient POV (sort of).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“In the world of Thedas, no other could compare to the woman I met that day, upon a snowy mountaintop, all those years ago.
With deep green eyes; the color of the lush forest of the Emerald Graves; that could pierce through the heart of you with every simple glance. Long wavy hair; blacker than the deepest obsidian; that fell down her frame like water and swayed with every subtle movement like it had a life of its own. Lips, plush and ever-so inviting, that would shame even the most beautiful of blooms and skin, flawless and perfect, as pale as untouched winter snow, Lalinaya Lavellan was an unprecedented beauty that exuded wisdom, strength, determination, confidence, kindness, honesty and a passion for all things. No matter how extraordinary or mundane.
Like water to the parched, honey to the bee, moth to the flame, and the sun to the dawn, all were helplessly drawn to her –without restraint, apprehension, or protest.
Ensnared by all that she was, would be, and could be.
Never realizing it until it was far, far too late.”
Three full days had passed since the Prisoner and The Right Hand of the Divine, Cassandra Pentaghast, had taken the mountain pass and saved a missing patrol of scouts. Three full days had passed since they had entered the ruined remains of the Temple of Sacred Ashes. And three full days had passed since the Prisoner attempted to seal the Breach.
It was mid-morning. The mountain air, not as blustery as the night before, had calmed but carried with it a chill colder than normal and a light sprinkle of intermittent -yet waning- snowfall. The town of Haven, a bustle of activity, went about its business as if nothing were amiss. Even with the Breach looming in the sky above, the threat that demons still roamed the wilderness unchecked, the town’s occupants knew that food still needed to be gathered, and cooked; clothes still needed to made, cleaned, and mended; weapons and armor still needed to be crafted and maintained; and skills still needed to be practiced and mastered. Handling the daily needs of the soldiers, remaining townspeople, and the few refugees that had sought shelter from the chaos caused by the war between the Rebel Mages and the Rogue Templars, the people of Haven did their best with what they had. Content in the knowledge that, for now, they were safe.
Varric, with his trusty crossbow strapped at his back, stood quietly atop of the stairs of the bailey’s mid-level, next to a small hut near the Apothecary, and looked out over the small retaining wall, across the small village, and out past the main gate. Taking in the scenic mountains in the distance with a subtle appreciation for how the snow seemed to glitter in splotches as the sun peeked between the fair-weather clouds as they drifted across the sky and how the world reflected a deceptive air of peace. As if all was right in the world at that moment.
Feeling the approach of another, moments later, Varric took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Hoping that he could, somehow, internalize the calm he felt radiating off the scenery into his own heart and readying him for the conversation that would quickly follow.
“Master Tethras.” came a deep, stoic voice.
“Solas.” Varric nodded, in recognition, as the apostate elf stepped up to his side.
“You’ve been here for quite some time,” observed Solas, his voice laced with a faint hint of curious questioning.
“Concerns?” questioned Solas, subtly prodding for Varric to explain further.
“A great many,” replied Varric.
“Just taking a moment to find a little peace in all the chaos of the last few days, I suppose.”
“That is...understandable. It is, quite often, hard to find respite in time like these.” Solas agreeably commented. “It a wise man that recognizes the need for such things, from time to time, and actively seeks out such reflection.”
“So they say.” the dwarf replied.
“You disagree?” questioned Solas.
“Not particularly,” Varric answered. “It just...sometimes self-reflection can be more a detriment than a boon. A wise man may know that such reflection is necessary, but it is a smart man who knows that such reflection is just a small piece in the grander scheme of things.”
“True enough.” chuckled Solas.
“Has there been any news?” questioned Varric, steering the conversation to a more interesting topic. “How does our newest addition fare?”
“Her anchor is stable for now. The expenditure of energy used to temporarily close the Breach, however, has weakened her substantially. More so than the initial shock of being expelled from the Fade.”
“The weakness has compounded then.”
“Yes. Though she showed no initial signs. Hiding it well.” continued Solas. “The drain on her body was significant enough to warrant these past days of her unconsciousness.”
“She is recovering well, then?”
“As well as can be expected. There is a limit to which we can determine such things at this time. She is a naturally healthy woman. More so than most. And, in the past few days, her color has returned as her systems have seemed to have found their way back into balance.”
“But...Questions still abound. And until she finds consciousness they will continue to grow.”
“Do you expect that she will wake soon?” questioned Varric.
“It is my hope,” replied Solas with a slight smile.
“You have hope in her?” countered Varric, a teasing lacing his tone.
“Of course, but don’t we all?” Solas replied. “After all, to our knowledge, she is the only one with the ability to close rifts. And without her...we will certainly be doomed.”
“But is that all?”
“What do you mean?”
“Aren’t you curious, at all?” Varric answered. “About her, I mean. About where she came from? What she was doing at the Conclave? Or even why a Dalish elf would even care to be there?”
“Who she is? What she is all about?” added Varric with a sigh. “Hell, we don’t even know her name.”
“All valid questions, Varric. But not ones that can be answered while she rests –unable to wake,” said Solas knowingly. “But, to your question, yes: I do find myself curious of her. She is quite the mystery. Worthy of inquiry.”
“But, I am sure that all will be revealed soon.” the elf added.
“I hope you’re right.”
“You have doubts that your questions will not find their answers?”
“No. I have doubts that she will live to answer them all.”
“You are not alone in that concern,” admitted Solas. “Humans are not known to be understanding. Especially when something threatens their most cherished beliefs.”
“The Chosen of Andraste, her Herald, is a lofty title...” Solas sighed.
“And...Add, on top of that, the fact that she’s an elf. And a mage.”
“Precisely,” replied Solas, nodding at Varric. “So, for the time being...at least, until we can be certain that she will not come to harm...it might be prudent to take it upon ourselves to keep her safe. Look out for her.”
“I think your right.” nodded Varric in agreement, before glancing up and noticing something strange on the lower bailey –near the quiet huts just off the makeshift marketplace. “Isn’t that her maid? The twitchy one?”
Turning to look in the direction in which Varric now watched intently, Solas inspected the scene carefully. The young, elven housemaid, who was often times quite jittery, looked even more nervous than usual as she quickly exited the small hut where their new companion had been sleeping. But as she descended the stairs, crossed the lower bailey, and climbed the second set of stairs toward the mid-bailey, Solas noticed that she looked far more nervous than he had ever seen her.
“Could it be that our sleeping friend has finally opened her eyes?” questioned Varric.
“Possibly,” Solas replied as he watched the servant quicken her pace, cross the mid-bailey, and ascend the stairs towards the Chantry. “It would certainly explain why her servant looks as if she has just, suddenly, seen her life flash before her eyes.”
“She is a nervous, little thing isn’t she?” Varric chuckled.
“A feeling that she must feel is warranted. Considering where she is.” retorted Solas. “And what she has, surely, been through as the elven servant of Humans.”
“True enough.” nodded Varric. “It breaks the heart, though, does it not?”
“The fact that she carries such fear. Even here, where there is no chance that she will be mistreated?”
“There is never such a certainty. No matter how much the Seeker, Commander, Lady Nightingale, or the Ambassador wish it to be so, there will always be outliers unaccustomed to treating those they believe beneath them with any sort of dignity. It a precarious situation. No matter which way you look at it.”
“However, having such apprehension and forethought into her surroundings will serve her well if things do go astray.”
Varric couldn’t stop the chuckle that escaped his lips.
“I hardly think living such an existence is something to find comical,” stated Solas abruptly. “And making light of her struggles is disrespectful.”
“It’s not that.” chuckled Varric once more.
“Then, please explain it to me.” requested Solas with a slight narrowing of his eyes. “Because I fail to see what is so amusing about the current plight of the People.”
“Because there isn’t any.”
“Well, at least on that, we agree.” sighed Solas.
“My apologies,” Varric added as he tried to diffuse the misunderstanding between them. “It wasn’t what you said that struck me so strangely. You are quite long-winded at times, Solas –that’s not a complaint, by the way, just an observation –but what you say is not wasted with minced words or embellishments. They are always straight, and to the point.”
“I just couldn’t help but find the way you speak a little entertaining, is all.”
“Perhaps it’s your delivery,” he added. “I don’t know. I just find it amusing at times. And it makes me chuckle.”
“You are a strange one, Master Tethras.”
“As are you...Chuckles.”
“Chuckles?” parroted Solas.
“That’s right, Chuckles.”
“You are incorrigible.”
“Thanks.” chuckled Varric as the sound of many voices speaking all at once echoed up toward their ears.
Looking for the source of the sound, both Varric and Solas looked down upon the crowd that had begun to amass and grow in the lower bailey just below the stairs leading to the hut that held their newcomer.
“It looks like your assumption was correct. It seems she has awakened.” inferred Solas.
“Looks like it.” he nodded as he eyed the growing crowd. “News sure does travel fast.”
“So it would seem.”
“What about it, Chuckles?” questioned Varric almost playfully. “Want to go get a firsthand look at our new Herald? Now that we aren’t fighting for our lives?”
“I would advise against it.”
“No time to sate your curiosity today?” countered the dwarf.
“It’s...not that. She is Dalish, Varric,” explained Solas as he continued to watch the crowd almost warily. “And a mage. Who, until three days ago, was accused of murdering the highest member of Thedas’ most powerful religion and was destined for the gallows. One, who has now just awakened in a place she does not know. Surrounded by humans that just days ago demanded her death and now wait just outside her door –their purpose and intent unknown to her.”
“I see your point.” nodded Varric.
“So? Do you think she’ll run?” he asked with a smirk.
“Not likely,” answered Solas, his tone assured. “While in her mind it may be in her best interest to do so, considering all that she is and what has happened, I doubt she will flee. Though our interaction was brief, she did not strike me as a coward.”
“She was, at least, earnest in her desire to help.” agreed Varric. “Now whether or not that was just a ploy, a placation until she could find her freedom...I guess we shall have to wait and see. To which will be the truth of it.”
“It looks...” answered Solas slowly, before returning to his normal vocal pace, as he watched the door to her hut creak open. “That the truth to such a question has already made itself known. Look.”
“Oh?” questioned Varric before pulling his eyes from the crowd to see the door finally open and reveal their new Herald, as her lithe frame stepped out from the darkness within. “Yes. So it would seem.”
Absent of the tunic and leggings the Ambassador had requisitioned for her after the first day of her unconsciousness, their new herald stood quietly before the crowd dressed in a softly-muted, yet, dark green, ankle-length gown of unknown origin. Her hair, black as midnight, was no longer bound into the tight bun they had first seen upon meeting her. It now fell down her back in unobstructed and silky, obsidian waves that moved gently with the swift breeze that blew through the lower bailey.
For a moment she paused, taking in the crowd before her. From their perspective, it was unclear of her expression, but both Varric and Solas could sense that she was weighing her options. The pause, however, did not last long as with one, visible, exhalation of a deep breath, she closed the door behind her and strode out into the lower bailey without any more hesitation. As the crowd watched on, speaking in not-so-hushed whispers about the woman before them, she traversed the large crowd without a word. Her eyes always keeping straight ahead. A strong determination gracing her frame.
When she cleared the crowd, turned, and began to climb the stairs leading to the mid-bailey, both Varric and Solas got a good look at her for the very first time without the adornments of war.
Unusually tall, with clean, slim lines and a voluptuous silhouette, the Herald carried with her an air of natural elegance and confidence unseen in anyone of her kind in a very long time. The dark green, long-sleeve dress; that looked so innocuous from afar; carried far more details than expected. Designed in a style that authentically mimicked the dresses that Rivaini Seers often wore, it was embellished with soft swirls of a darker thread, carried a plunging neckline, and was cinched at her narrow waist as the dress flared at the hips and showed off the entire length of her toned legs from two splits that ran from the ankle to her hip on both sides. Her face; clean and pale, and marked with an unknown design far lighter than any Dalish would carry; held a natural glow as her deep green eyes –lined with kohl –seemed to nearly shimmer in the mid-day sun.
It was then, at that moment, a realization hit Varric out of nowhere.
“Is it strange that seeing her like this, I suddenly find her quite attractive?” the dwarf questioned, awe lacing his words.
“Yes,” replied Solas coolly. “Quite strange, indeed.”
Before Varric could ask for clarification, the elf did so of his own accord.
“What you see before you is the Herald that is, and was, the moment you met her.”
“You just didn’t notice.”
“And you did?” countered Varric gently as she reached the top of the stairs, turned, and begin walking in their direction.
“I am nothing, if not observant; Master Tethras,” admitted Solas.
“Good to know,” Varric replied as she finished crossing the lower bailey, stopped before the door of the local tavern, and turned to enter.
As her hand reached for the door handle a second later, it suddenly came to a stop just before it made contact. Hovering gently, there was a pause. As all her movements seem to find a stop in time. For a few seconds, she just stood there looking as if she was internally debating on whether or not to go inside as they both watched on.
It was then, at that moment, that Solas could not miss the subtly sly and nearly mischievous smirk that suddenly graced her lips barely a second before she turned her head and looked in their direction.
It was a strange moment. Almost as if she had sensed them standing there watching her rather than seeing them.
She looked at both of them for a moment. Taking them both in, at first, together, then individually. Leaving Solas for last, she let her eyes travel up his form slowly. Seemingly taking him in inch by inch, moment by moment, until her eyes finally settled on his. As they met, she smiled once more with a devilish grin and suddenly winked at him before turning and disappearing behind the tavern door without a word uttered.
Taken aback at such sudden behavior, Solas was immediately stunned as his mind recoiled with a sudden curiosity mixed with disbelief. A strange feeling that required, if not demanded, several seconds of purely flabbergasted silence.
Recovering swiftly from such a surprise, and bringing his mind back to reality, Solas turned to see that Varric had stepped away from him and was now starting to descend the small stairs down to the middle bailey.
Solas quickly cleared his throat.
“Going somewhere Varric?” questioned Solas, a slight knowing tease lacing his voice.
“After that?” answered the dwarf with a mischievous smile gracing his curious face. “You better believe it.”
Solas could not hold back the small chuckle that fell from his lips.
Without another word, Varric nodded a gentle goodbye to his new elven friend and headed for the tavern, as Solas watched him go.
As Varric disappeared behind the tavern door a few moments later, Solas let out a deep sigh of acknowledgment as his mind flickered with a foretelling thought of their new Herald as Varric’s words seemed to echo in reminder.
‘A curiosity, indeed, Master Tethras. A. Curiosity. Indeed.'
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Chapter 3: Solas: Glimpses
Perplexed by their new Herald, and unsettled by their last interaction, Solas decides to learn more about her.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
He didn’t want to admit it. Wanted to fight the truth of it. Would adamantly deny it in front of anyone who would have dared accuse him of such a thing. But, in the silence of the night; alone in the solitude of his own quarters; Solas could not bring himself to refute the truth to his own heart.
She’d gotten to him.
Somehow, with just that one mischievous gesture, she had managed to seed the thought of her in his mind all night long. Before he had even realized it, she had consumed every thought that flickered across his consciousness. And with every thought, more questions came. And curiosity grew. The more he wanted to know of her. The more he wanted to speak with her. Glean even the slightest sliver of understanding. To know her.
He could not, just, interrogate her. Assault her with a barrage of questions without any forethought. Demanding the answers that eluded him. But, waiting for the possible moments of her forthrightness; or willingness to divulge on her own terms; was not appealing either.
He knew nothing of her. Even her name, in the stillness of that night, still eluded him. And only the initial information relayed to him by the Seeker and the Nightingale was all he had to go by.
A mage. Dalish in origin. Part of the Lavellan Clan. From somewhere in the Free Marches.
Sent to the Conclave to spy for her people. In hopes of learning their possible fate. Only to end up being forced from the Fade. Left marked by ancient and mysterious magic that had the power to seal tears in the Veil.
‘But who is she? Really?’
Sleep did not come easily that night. With thoughts of her; so many questions; running rampant through his mind, it took well past midnight –long after the moon had reached its full height in the sky –before he could even settle himself with the determination to search the Fade for possible answers. And he’d searched. All through the Fade’s memory of Haven. Sneaking peeks into the dreams of many, hoping that some insights might lay in wait. While, all the while, hoping that he would stumble across his query’s very own dreams in the process.
As the morning sun crested over the mountains within the Fade, some hours later; blanketing the Fade in its blessed glow and signaling the coming dawn in the realm of the living; Solas sighed deeply with disappointment. For his search had been fruitless. The dreaming people of Haven, even the Seeker, and the Nightingale had held no new information. No inkling, nor a glimmer of more truth, of the woman that was now seen as the world’s only savior. Nor was there even a tremble, nor echo, of her very own dreams hiding in the recesses and hidden corners of the Fade.
Frustrated, yet invigorated, Solas opened his eyes to the waking slowly –taking in the warmth of the dawn streaming in through the nearby window –and let out another sigh. Knowing that he would have to employ other ways in which to learn more about the mysterious Herald who stirred him so easily. With naught but a simple glance, a not so simple smile, and a mischievous wink.
He would need to search carefully, warily, as not to incite suspicion amongst the others. He knew that if he, outright and blatantly, tried to learn more about her –without utilizing restraint –others would become painfully aware of his curiosity quickly.
It would be a weakness. A show of weakness he was not willing to allow. Not to anyone.
Scrubbing his hand down his face, and pulling himself from his bed, he took to task his morning rituals: first cleansing his body, then his aura, before dressing and preparing for the day. All the while mentally preparing himself for the task he had set before himself on this day.
Though his curiosity rested heavy within him, he knew that what he was now determined to accomplish would take time. Time, that he did, and did not, believe he truly had. But, there was no way around it. He would have to be patient. Take his time. Orchestrate and navigate the path of her truths slowly, carefully, and methodically. Otherwise, he would fail again.
“Chuckles?” came Varric’s questioning voice, suddenly, as a knock on the door echoed into the room.
“Yes?” the elf replied.
Opening the door, slowly, Varric peeked into the room and managed a smile.
“So you are awake,” he concluded with a smile.
“Just so,” Solas replied. “Was there something you needed?”
“Headed to the tavern for food. Early enough that it’s not crowded. Interested?”
“Sure,” he answered with a nod.
Soon settled at a quiet table near the tavern’s glowing and warm hearth; with a steaming bowl of fennec and vegetable stew –herbed with a hint of elfroot, rosemary, and thyme –and a warm mug of mead; Solas and Varric tucked in for their meal quietly in the presence of only a handful of early risers; mostly servants; and the tavern keeper, Flissa, as she cleaned mugs with a damp rag and hummed an unknown tune softly to herself. For a time they ate in companionable silence. Just enjoying the warmth of the fire, the subtle and unexpected deliciousness of the food, and relishing in the quiet of the room. Until that is, Varric took a swallow of his mead and immediately cleared his throat.
“Something on your mind, Chuckles?” questioned the dwarf, his eyebrow raised curiously.
“Not particularly,” Solas replied, not willing to discuss the thoughts that still churned in his head after last night.
“Really?” questioned Varric, surprised. “Are you not well?”
“I am quite well, thank you.” replied the elf. Unsure of Varric’s tone. “Why?”
“You just seem off this morning,” he replied. “Well, I do realize, I barely you know you. But, you just –I don’t know –seem out of sorts. Look kind of pale, too. Did you not sleep well last night?”
Solas could not halt how his body and mind suddenly, yet only slightly, flinched.
“Ah, so that is it.” realized Varric. “Something on your mind, I suspect. Keeping you from sleep.”
“Don’t fret too much about it, though.” the dwarf added. “You weren’t the only one.”
Solas, unable to stop himself, looked up from his food and at Varric’s face –immediately noticing that the dwarf, too, seemed to be not as well rested as he should have been.
“Late night?” questioned Solas. Remembering that the last time he saw the dwarf he was headed for the tavern where the Herald had just entered.
“Quite.” Varric nodded, taking another swig of his mead.
“A bit,” he replied. “Curious?”
“Aren’t we all?” Solas countered with a sigh, mirroring his very sentiments from their last conversation the day before.
“I didn’t learn as much as I had hoped,” Varric admitted. “Though, I watched her for quite a while before venturing to strike up a conversation.”
“She spent the entire day in the tavern. And late into the night.”
“Not speaking to anyone. Most of the time sitting just over there in the corner.”
Solas turned his head, noting the table secluded in the back, right corner of the tavern and the chair still tucked up against the wall.
“Doing what, exactly?”
“For the most part, reading,” Varric answered.
“Reading?” Solas parroted.
“Apparently she’s quite the bookworm.” the dwarf continued. “Though, I only saw her reading one particular book. I didn’t get a good look at what it exactly was. When I finally decided to speak to her again, she –curiously –closed it and tucked it away in her chair.”
“Almost, as if, she deliberately didn’t want me to see it.”
“Suspicious,” mumbled Solas.
“A little, perhaps.” nodded Varric. “But, not so much when you think about it. Perhaps she simply put it away to be polite. Not allowing it to distract her from me –knowing that I wished to talk. Or perhaps, it was simply because she was reading something that could be judged as something inappropriate.”
Varric looked at Solas’ almost confused expression for a moment, wondering why he was looking at him like that, and then it hit him.
“Oh, did I not mention?” he questioned nonchalantly. “Our dear Herald is quite a forward woman.”
“You didn’t notice?” countered Varric, a slight challenge in his voice. “You’re not, quite, as observant as you let on. Are you, Chuckles?”
“I thought her little display yesterday would have given her away.” chuckled Varric. “I mean, she barely knows us, and all of a sudden she just decides to wink at us –out of the blue –like a lady eyeing a strapping young man from across the bar. So flirtatious, and unabashedly so.”
“I’m sure it shocked you as much as it did me, yesterday.” the dwarf stated knowingly.
“Quite.” Solas nodded in agreement.
“Then allow me to be the first to warn you, in earnest.” Varric continued. “What you saw yesterday was just a minute shadow of how she truly is when she wants to be playful.”
“She is quite uninhibited. Far more honest than I would have suspected. Unhesitatingly open. Yet completely mysterious.”
“And?” Solas’ parroted.
“Enchanting.” the dwarf sighed. “And bewildering.”
“I have not, in all my years, ever been so captivated by someone, as they talked about something as simple as the weather.” the dwarf admitted. “But, with her, I couldn’t stop myself from hanging on her every word. No matter the subject or tangent she ventured upon.”
“It was a strange and an almost unbelievable feeling. To be honest,” he added, with an awed hint of reflection in his voice. “It was like, with every word and gesture, she was drawing me farther and farther in. Enthralling me, over and over, with a peaceful easiness that I’ve never known another to possess. I felt calm. Safe. Serene. Unhindered by the world’s greatest woes and indescribably comfortable in my own skin.”
“It was extraordinary.”
“Could it have been a spell and enchantment?” questioned Solas, curiously.
“I...I am unsure. I don’t believe so.” sighed Varric. “There were several Templars in, and out, of the tavern all night. I’m sure if they sensed any magic from her they would have reacted.”
“And, there was no reaction?”
“None,” answered Varric, his tone assured.
“What did the two of you speak about?” Solas prompted gently.
“Not much in the beginning. Though I came to realize that she is quite adept at finding ways to make the simplest things amusing. ‘Tired of being a wallflower, Varric?’ was the first thing she asked me when I finally took it upon myself to speak to her after nearly two hours of ‘practically stalking her’ –as she put it.”
“I asked her about her past...a little of it anyway.” he continued. “Wherein she basically confirmed what we knew of her already. You know Dalish, from the Free Marches, etc.”
“I asked about her family, her clan. In that, she was reluctant to elaborate. But what she willingly shared was that she basically grew up with no real kin. She was adopted into the Lavellan clan at the age of six when her magic manifested. Her previous clan, of which the name is still unknown to her, long-since dead she supposed, had –as such situations usually demand –too many mages already. And to protect themselves from Templar attention they sent her away to a clan that had need of a mage. She said she grew up well, there. Though she admitted that others often times treated her differently due to her unfamiliarity in blood. But, all in all, she said it was a good life.”
“Though...” the dwarf added in an addendum, with a noticeable hint of mistrust. “I got the feeling that there was a lot more about that part of her life that she deliberately glossed over.”
“Still, she’s adamant that she cannot remember anything that happened at the Conclave. How she managed to acquire the Anchor, or anything about why she was in the Fade or what happened there, however.” he continued. “And, in all honesty, in that at least, I believe she is telling the truth.”
“How can you be so certain?” questioned Solas.
“She’s completely at a loss, and far more concerned about her missing memories than someone would be if they were simply claiming that they didn’t know. The lack of memory bothers her. Really bothers her. So much so, that the irritation, disappointment, confusion, and earnest desire to understand –to know –the truth is as plain as the nose on her face. Unable to be hidden under a mask of indifference or apathy.”
“At this point, even the threat of death so easily thrown in her direction due to her –presumed –guilt in the death of the Divine does not assuage her own curiosity or wanton desire to know the truth of what really happened –though, I am sure, a part of her still wants to prove her innocence.”
“It concerns her a great deal. Weighs heavily on her. But...”
“But?” parroted Solas.
“As expected, the breach –and what we are trying to accomplish here –is occupying her thoughts more.”
“She was quite honest in that regard. She spoke of her own concern for Thedas. For what could –and will most likely happen –if the Breach is not sealed. If the culprit, or culprits, of the explosion at the Temple, are not found and brought to justice. And what could happen if something happens that makes her unable to help.”
“Those sentiments: she echoed quite often. Especially when she asked me if I truly trusted the people here. Cassandra and her piousness...worries her. She is unsure if she can trust the Seeker to be impartial. Not only with others here but also with her.”
“When I asked her why she had such concerns when it came to the Seeker, she quickly made the point to reiterate the fact that she is both Dalish and a mage. And that Seekers are just Templars in better armor.”
Solas couldn’t stop the little chuckle that passed through his lips unhindered.
“Yeah. Exactly.” nodded Varric. “Now you see what I mean about her sense of humor.”
“But...” the dwarf continued, returning to his train of thought. “Even so, she was earnest in knowing my opinions of all the major players here.”
“What did you tell her?” questioned Solas, in a tone far more curious than he intended.
“I told her that all this is bullshit. And trusting anyone here completely, even me, was not a good idea,” replied Varric honestly. “That her concerns about the Seeker were justified. And that in the case of the Seeker, it would be best for her to venture carefully. Even going as far as to tailor her words to coddle Cassandra in a way. Best not to disturb a sleeping mabari, as they say.”
“True enough.” nodded Solas.
“In truth, I got the distinct impression that she had heavy concerns about many of the others here. More than she willingly admitted. I fear that –aside from the Seeker –both Leliana and Josephine will fall under such scrutiny as well.”
“What makes you think that?” questioned Solas.
“I don’t know really. I just get the sense that our dear Herald doesn’t work well with other women,” answered Varric. “Perhaps simply because –according to her own words –she was raised around, mostly, boys as a child. One of only two girls in her age range for most of her life.”
“Or more likely, by her own admission, it’s because ‘people like them’ are ‘less likely’ to show their true sides to just anyone.”
“Whether or not it’s because they are women, is just my speculation, however. A theory.” Varric added. “I may be completely wrong. It may be something more akin to Dalish nature, their mistrust of Humans –in general –that makes her wary of them. In that, only time will tell. I suppose.”
“But, the truth of such a theory could be easily tested...” Solas began.
“As I am well aware.” interrupted Varric. “I thought the same. So I asked her about how she felt about the Commander.”
“What did she say?”
“She said she had no opinion of him as of yet,” Varric answered. “Citing that their interactions –so far –had been brief. That she had not taken the time to speak with him one on one. Something that she would rectify eventually. But I got the sense that she’s been putting it off deliberately. Her words about the man were quite reserved. A sentiment that threw me a little, because –even though Curly is a Templar and still acts like one –I got the sense that those little tidbits of who he is weren’t the reasons why she was being so reluctant and mistrustful of him.”
“But as to why that could be so, I’m afraid, I am at a loss still.”
“Could it be possible that her mistrust of the Seeker, Nightingale, the Ambassador, and the Commander, could be something more akin to their perceived authority –more than their race, genders, or backgrounds?” questioned Solas earnestly, trying to understand. “Perhaps it’s simply because she knows, deep down, that of all of us here, they are the ones that will ultimately hold her accountable for whatever happens –however this all ends. And that looming accountability makes her uncomfortable –wary?”
“It...Is possible.” nodded Varric. “Dalish –at least all the ones I’ve ever dealt with –have never been willing to submit to the authority of Humans, after all. Easily, that is. It goes against everything they ever been taught.”
“So that could be why she feels the way she does. Why she seemed to be unwilling to trust most of them.”
“But I digress.” sighed Varric. “I doubt we’ll ever truly know why she feels the way she does. Or, moreover, if her feelings will remain the same as we venture forth. Time has a way of changing our opinions of the world more often than we would ever expect.”
“Very true, Master Tethras.” agreed Solas.
At Solas’ agreement, the two fell into silence once more and refocused on the remnants of their meal that had long since gone cold. An occurrence, Solas found, that severely altered the taste of the stew. No longer appealing, he absentmindedly stirred around an asymmetrical and slightly burnt piece of carrot within his bowl as his mind replayed all that he had managed to learn about their new Herald from their very chatty dwarf.
He expected her concerns and mistrust. Considering her current situation, and how all this began. But the glimpses into her personality that Varric relayed had surprised him a bit. He had not expected her to have a sense of humor developed enough to impress the dwarf. Nor did he expect her to be so open with someone not of her kind. From all of his interactions with the few Dalish clans he had managed to come in contact with over the last year, he fully expected the Herald to mirror their distrust of all but their own. Though those sentiments were expectedly extended to most in Haven, Varric had not been included. That, in of itself, was a little odd.
‘Is it because of his inherent ability to talk to anyone that she seemed to trust him enough to speak of things she would not normally divulge? Or is it, simply, because he is not a Human? And, therefore, as different as she?’
‘If the latter is so...’ he thought. ‘Then maybe learning more about her, through my own personal interactions with her, may be more fruitful than I initially thought.’
‘Perhaps I should test this theory tonight?’ he thought as an afterthought.
At that moment, the door to the tavern creaked open with a fretful force behind it so strong that it caught the attention of all who sat within. Solas and Varric immediately looked up and noticed the Herald’s servant worriedly scanning the small crowd and looking almost frightened at what she saw –or did not see.
“You there.” Varric immediately called out, grabbing the girl’s attention before waving her to come to him.
“What’s got you in a tizzy this morning?” Varric instantly questioned as the petite elf came to a stop in front of him.
“Its...It’s the Herald.” the girl answered with a quiet hesitation.
“What of her?” Solas questioned with concern.
“She’s missing, Sir. I can’t find her anywhere.”
“Missing?” Solas parroted, his eyes widening without restraint.
“Oh, is that all?” Varric calmly commented.
“Varric?” questioned Solas. His tone mixed with both disappointment in how nonchalant he sounded and suspiciousness of how the dwarf seemed to not be even the slightest concerned.
“It’s alright.” the dwarf consoled. “The Herald is not missing, my dear. So there’s no need to fret that you have failed to keep an eye on her, as Leliana has undoubtedly instructed. Or that you’ve failed in your ordered duty to keep her comfortable in her surroundings.”
“But, I cannot find her.” the young girl reiterated.
“You don’t need to,” Varric informed gently. “For she is not lost. I know exactly where the Herald is this morning.”
“Care to share, Varric?” questioned Solas, mistrust in his voice.
“She’s down in the clearing, past the eastern palisade,” he answered. “You know, where that small herd of Druffulo like to graze.”
“Don’t go bothering her though.” Varric immediately added, looking at the servant. “I suspect she doesn’t want to be disturbed.”
“But.” the small elf argued.
“Varric’s right.” Solas agreed, grabbing the young girl’s attention. “If the Herald went out of her way to quietly slip out before you came to check on her, she did so because she wished to be alone. And if you interrupt such solitude, It would not be unlikely that she would become very cross with you.”
“But, if it still concerns you, however, we would be willing to check on her for you,” he added. “Would that be acceptable?”
For a moment the young girl hesitated, obviously conflicted about what she should do, but after releasing an accepting breath she nodded.
“Very good.” smiled Varric. “We will attend to the Herald this morning then. You may go back to your other duties until her return.”
“Yes, sir.” the servant answered, giving a little bow before turning away and heading for the door.
When the servant was finally out of earshot, Solas asked the question that had settle in his mind the moment Varric revealed the Herald’s location.
“What is she doing past the eastern palisade?”
Varric smirked mischievously.
“Something fascinating, I’d imagine.”
I put this up last minute, after being up for over 24 hours and half dead from lack of sleep, so their may be some grammar mistakes. Also, I apologize if this chapter seems -at worst- redundant of other fics you may have read but I found I needed to put in some filler content or there would be way to many plot holes later on.
Chapter 4: Solas: Teases
Solas and Varric go in search of their Herald never knowing that by doing so they would witness something that could never be unseen.
Please note: Chapters have been renamed to give readers a cursory heads up as to its main romantic interest.
“Shall we go?” prompted Varric with a chuckle as he made to stand.
“You don’t already know?” countered Solas as he followed suit.
“Didn’t ask.” answered the dwarf. “And she didn’t specify.”
“Specify what?” Solas carefully countered as he rounded the table and followed Varric across the room. “Care to clarify?”
“Oh...” chuckled the dwarf once more, grabbing the door and opening it. “She asked me about it last night. Asked if I could suggest to her a quiet, out of the way place, around here, where she could find a little peace and quiet. A little solitude.”
“Apparently, she's not used to the all this busyness,” he added as Solas walked through the open door and he followed. “The crowds. The noise. The sheer amount of people. Wanted a little time to herself.”
“But doesn’t that seem a little odd, to you?” questioned Solas as he closed the door behind them and they headed towards the lower bailey. “Considering the current situation and the unstable climate –both political and religious – wouldn’t it dictate to err on the side of caution? Wandering off before dawn, attempting to avoid notice, and leaving Haven without informing anyone...It would not be a stretch of the imagination for anyone to assume that she intends to run. To flee this situation. And almost certainly, by doing so, solidifying the arrogant and despotic rumors of her direct involvement in the death of the Divine?”
“One could look at it in such a light,” Varric replied. “But, I doubt anyone would go that far.”
“What makes you think that?”
“It’s a standing order, or so I am told by my own little birds,” Varric explained. “She is to be watched, observed. But, under no circumstance, is she to be interrupted or interfered with. That, is, unless she threatens the life or livelihood of the people here.”
“The Nightingale, it seems, wishes to observe the Herald’s behavior –not completely convinced of her innocence –in hopes of determining if she can truly be trusted. That her intentions to help, to seal the breach and find out the truth of what really happened, is genuine. A farce of perceived freedom to see what she will ultimately do with it.”
“In other words...” Solas responded. “Giving her enough rope to hang herself.”
“Precisely.” nodded Varric.
“But the Nightingale’s tactic won’t work.” the dwarf continued, as they both turned left and descended the stairs to the lower bailey.
“How can you be so certain?”
“Because the Herald, above everything else, is one of the most intelligent women I have ever met,” he answered. “And she is not that stupid. To fall, for such an obvious trap.”
“No.” dismissed Varric. “There is definitely a very good reason why she asked me about such a place. There was intent behind it I am sure.”
“Did she say anything else? Anything that could be perceived as a reason why she would seek out a place of solitude? Other than her uncomfortableness with civilization?”
“No.” the dwarf answered. “Well, not in so many words. She didn’t, outright, say why she really wanted to go there. And I am sure if I had pressed the issue, she would have avoided it and change the subject somehow. But, I got the feeling that whatever her real reason...she just wasn’t ready to reveal it just yet.”
“Although?” parroted Solas, as they descended the final pair of steps and walked through the main gate.
“I got the feeling that something was up with her last night.” Varric explained. “All was well and good for a long while during our chat but nearing the end of our time together her demeanor changed. It was very slight. And if I hadn’t been paying attention as closely as I was, I doubt even I would have noticed it. One minute she was chatty, telling jokes here and there and talking about all manner of subjects with a very real, very genuine smile. And then the next minute, it was like she was suddenly on guard.”
“Something changed, though I don’t know what,” he added. “But the congeniality and comradery that we had shared up until that point seemed to falter. She became somewhat distant. Distracted. And when I asked her what was wrong she played off the change in her behavior as tiredness.”
“I didn’t press this issue.” Varric sighed. “But I wish I had. Because it ended up bothering me all night. So much so, that I couldn’t really sleep.”
The fell into silence once more, as they quietly walked from the main gate and passed a large group of soldiers drilling in the morning sun.
“It seems the Commander has not arrived to oversee the new recruits.” Solas halfheartedly commented as he noticed that Cullen was nowhere to be seen.
“He’s probably in the Chantry again.” Varric supplied. “He, Josephine, and Leliana have been having morning meetings quite regularly the last few days. Going over scouting reports and trying to coordinate our mission to the Hinterlands before we leave next week.”
Silence once again fell between them as the ventured past the soldiers and followed the path through the woods. Startling a few wild nuglings and a fennec or two as they walked; passing the old house where Master Taigen once lived; they exited through eastern palisade just a light dusting of snow began to fall around them. The forest just past the palisade was strangely quiet –save for the sound of distant movement of a few wild rams playing on the stony mountainside just out of view and the tinkling of snow as each flake met the ice-covered trees. Before them the path diverged: The northern path snaked its way back down to the river. The southern path lead towards the cliff face under the shadow of the forest’s trees. And the eastern path; which they both immediately noticed had been used recently; stamped with the footprints of very bare feet; turned east toward the large clearing that Varric had spoke of. Following suit, they traversed the path quietly and kept a look out for their Herald. But heard nothing, nor found any other sign of her, for its entirety.
That is, until the edge of the clearing –and what resided within said clearing –came into view.
Shock immediately echoed through them both. Unable to move, unable to breathe, unable to close their eyes or look away, they stared at the Herald in complete dismay.
Completely unaware of those who now secretly watched on. Alone, she knelt in the deep snow of the quiet and secluded clearing with her legs tucked quietly under her thighs. Her long, unbound hair; caressed by the morning’s peeking sun and dusted with gentle snowflakes; swayed gently in the light breeze as her skin, pale and smooth; peppered with droplets of once-frozen rain and a tinge of sweat; pulled tight and then relaxed with the rise and fall of every measured, slow, and steady breath.
In her own little world; surrounded by nothing but a crumpled, fur-lined cloak strewn gentle on the ground all around her; lost to the obliviousness of it all.
And as bare as the day the Gods gave her life.
For a moment they just stared. Unable to understand what in the world they were seeing. Not understanding why in the world she would be such a way. And almost doubting their own eyes.
For none of it made any sense.
After a moment, how long would be anyone’s guess, Solas found his voice just enough to question Varric ever so quietly.
“What’s going on?”
“Something’s wrong.” was all that Varric could muster as his eyes seemed to narrow and Solas suddenly sensed a strange feeling of wary flowing from the dwarf.
He was suspicious. Worried. And very much so, suddenly, on alert.
“Very wrong.” the dwarf added softly, his eyes immediately scanning the tree line just past the Herald.
Solas began to feel it. The air of uncertainty. Of danger, apparent all around them. Though, it was certainly strange that the Herald of Andraste was literally sitting naked in the snow that –he was sure –was not why Varric seemed on edge. Or why he, himself, could also feel a strange sense of danger all around them.
It was then that said danger suddenly made itself known with a flicker of the Fade and shimmer of reflective light, as a man suddenly appeared behind the Herald with a dagger held high.
‘Assassin!’ Solas immediately realized, as his hand shot out and erected a barrier around her just as Varric screamed.
The Herald’s movements were so quick that Solas could swear he almost never noticed. In an instant, her hand shot up and her fingers suddenly snapped. The movement instantly calling forth a bright flash that filled the clearing in the blink of an eye. Blinded momentarily, Solas and Varric both shielded their eyes and then tried to blink back their vision for several heartbeats. When they could finally see again they opened their eyes and looked on in disbelief at what they saw.
The man, the assassin who had tried to take the Herald’s life, was completely encased in a solid and unbreakable block of ice. A small opening; presumably left so they man could still breathe; where his nose and mouth were; the only reprieve allowed in such imprisonment.
Solas could not stop how his eyes immediately wandered back to the woman still kneeling in the snow. He gave her a cursory glance, checking for any injury, and saw none and immediately began to wonder what the hell was truly going on.
For a moment she just sat there. Quiet. Still. And then, after letting out –what looked like –a cleansing breath, she began to rise out of the snow.
Ever so slowly.
Delaying her upward motion, she reached back for the cloak on the ground all around her.
But she didn’t pull it up swiftly.
Deliberately allowing it to hang from her hands for a few intentional breaths, teasingly, she then slowly pulled it up her naked and snow-kissed skin –before; finally: Solas thought; shrugging it over her shoulders. Tying it around herself and pulling up the hood, soon after, she slightly turned to look at her would-be assassin with a nearly satisfied smile.
“Stop staring, Chuckles,” muttered Varric beside him. “Let’s go.”
Before Solas could answer, or either of them could take a step, they both suddenly heard the Herald speak.
“If you are quite done playing the role of a peeping Tom...” she announced with a sarcastic tone; making Solas’ heart drop; as she then glanced over her shoulder in their general direction.
“Commander.” she continued. “Do remove yourself from the bushes and give me a hand with this. Would you?”
Solas’ and Varric’s eyes immediately began to scan the tree line. And, sure enough, not a minute after the Herald’s order, Cullen reluctantly stepped out of the bushes further up the clearing with two Templars on his heels –looking far more uncomfortable than they both had ever seen him.
Neither Varric nor Solas could stop the soft chuckles that escaped their lips.
“Look how red he is,” Varric whispered conspiratorially as they watch the Commander of the Inquisition’s forces make his way across the clearing towards the Herald looking more akin to a young boy caught sneaking peaks into a woman’s bath house than that of a seasoned General.
By the time Cullen made it to the Herald’s side a litany of apologies were flooding from his lips. Though, she seemed far less concerned that he had been watching her without her permission than he was. Not even acknowledging his efforts to smooth over the situation with such pursuits, she turned her eyes to the assassin once more.
“Is he one of ours?” she questioned.
Slightly surprised that the Herald had not acknowledged his attempts at an apology, Cullen froze for only a second before centering his mind on her words rather than what he had just seen. Turning to the assassin he looked him over carefully.
“Though he is clearly wearing one of our scout uniforms...” Cullen answered, clearing his throat mid-way. “His face is unfamiliar.”
“He is one of Leliana’s then.” she countered.
“Unlikely,” Cullen replied. “She is not one to utilize assassins without sanction. And, I highly doubt that she would directly, or indirectly, send someone to kill you. She doesn’t work that way.”
“Then, perhaps...” she answered, turning her attention to one of the Templars standing behind the Commander, and leveling an almost threatening gaze. “You should have her see to this immediately. Otherwise, I will be forced to assume that our Spymaster in undermining our efforts here; for personal reasons; and will have to deal with such a situation far swifter and with far less tact than anyone would wish to witness.”
Before Cullen could even react, the Templar receiving the Herald’s glare immediately bowed.
“Right away, Your Worship.” he acknowledged before turning tail and sprinting back towards Haven just as Varric and Solas arrived at the Herald’s side.
“Now, with that being said, if you’ll excuse me, Cullen...” her tone changing from authoritative to almost sweet. “I have had quite enough of this cold.”
“Bout to lose your bits, Lala?” questioned Varric with a chuckle.
“Some more than others.” she countered with a teasing chuckle of her own.
“Would you care for an escort?” Solas offered.
“If you wish...” she replied with a smile, as her eyes wandered to Solas and her hands instinctively tugged her cloak a little closer to her body. “I would not begrudge the company.”
“Besides...” she added as an afterthought, as she began to walk and the two of them followed suit –flanking her on both sides. “I am sure your curiosities would get the better of the both of you should I reject such an offer.”
“That is a commendable attitude,” Solas commented.
“Not commendable.” she corrected. “Just respectful.”
“I will –most likely –be made to make a report on what happened here anyway,” she added off-handedly. “Several times over, I’m sure. Best to get some practice in on the retelling...”
“If you are honest, no such practice is necessary,” Solas advised.
“I am always honest.” she countered. “And practice is always necessary. Otherwise, you will gain no improvement. Nor learn nothing new.”
“She’s got you there, Chuckles.”
“So...” Varric prompted as they neared the eastern palisade. “What was that all about?”
“I noticed him last night.” she began. “In the tavern, when we were talking. At first, I just thought he was just another patron. One of the people of Haven, a local perhaps, or even one of our new recruits. So I didn’t think much of him.”
“But, after a while, I began to notice things out of the corner of my eye.” she continued. “Strange movements. Odd facial expressions when I would laugh or get a little rowdy.”
“You know, like when you were telling me that story about that noble that got caught in the Hanged Man with two male prostitutes by his wife and his mistress...at the same time!” she laughed gently.
“Or when I asked you to show me that little magic trick with the mugs of mead...”
“That was actually what tipped me off,” she replied. “That there was something else going on. When I used magic, even that tiny little bit, I noticed how the tension in the room –where he was concerned anyway –seemed to shift. I had honestly felt a little hostility from him all night. But I was unsure as to why.”
“Sadly it is part and parcel of my nature...a gift or a curse depending on how one would look at it...but it is not uncommon for me to receive unwanted attention from strangers on a regular basis.” she sighed. “Whether it is the fact that I am ‘unusual’ elf, the fact that I am Dalish – and, therefore, somehow exotic –or the fact that men seemed to be attracted to me more so than most, I don’t know. But I often find myself being ogled or even harassed by strangers.”
“Even more so now that I am the Herald of Andraste...” she added sarcastically.
“So my first impression was of that way. That he was just attracted to me, or interested in me because of my physical appearance, and that’s why he kept staring at me all night.”
“And so, I initially dismissed him.”
“But, such hostility grew exponentially after I did that little trick. It made me take more notice of him.”
“So I watched him, as we talked.” she continued. “And noticed a great many things –things I won’t completely get into –but of all of it, I noticed that through it all he was always staring at me or the mark with a tinge of hate creasing his eyes.”
“My intuition spoke to me then.” she sighed. “And I realize that he could possibly be a threat to me. So I divulged a plan to call him out. To see what exactly his intentions were.”
“That’s why you asked me for a quiet place?”
“Yes...” she nodded and then smirked. “And, if you recall correctly, I did so with a far louder tone than our previous discussions had held.”
Varric took a second, thinking the moment over, and then nodded.
“Yeah, you were louder.”
“A deliberate act, I take it?” Solas piped up.
“Of course.” she nodded. “I did so with the intention that he would hear. And, therefore, know that I would be venturing to the clearing before first light the next morning.”
“It was a trap.”
“It was simple enough plan,” she explained further. “Giving him a time and a place where I would be alone and secluded. Entice him to show his face. Then his intentions –whether they were because he was infatuated with me or because he wanted me dead –would be known.”
“Risky.” Varric sighed. “Very risky.”
“And foolish.” Solas chided as they advanced on the front gates of Haven. “What would have happened if he had managed to strike you down before you realized he was there? Or if there were more than just him? Perhaps even too many for even you to manage? With no one to aide you?”
“But...” she smiled knowingly. “I wasn’t alone, now was I?”
“Only by chance,” Solas answered.
“You sure about that?” she questioned, glancing at Solas with a mischievous smile.
At that moment, Varric suddenly started laughing boisterously and whole-heartedly.
“You’re a genius Lala.” chuckled Varric.
“See.” she smiled. “Varric gets it.”
“She wasn’t alone, because she planned the whole thing,” Varric explained, sounding a little impressed. “And on the fly, too.”
When Solas looked at him curiously, he explained further.
“She deliberately asked about the clearing loud enough so that he could hear, but also because she knew that if she came up missing the next morning and I found out...I would know exactly where she was.” Varric continued. “And, would come looking for her out of curiosity.”
“But there was no guarantee that you would find out that information out in time.” countered Solas. “She would still be in danger.”
“And that’s where Curly comes in,” Varric answered with a smile. “Right, Lala?”
“Right.” she nodded as they ascended the stairs to the lower bailey and turned towards her cabin. “I made sure that the Commander saw me leave Haven. I knew that the Templar in him would be curious as to where I; an unsanctioned, apostate mage; was going so early in the morning. Alone. And I also knew that as the Commander of the Inquisition’s forces he would feel compelled to follow simply to make sure that, no matter what I was up to, I would be safe.”
“I hadn’t –however –accounted for his employ of other Templars, though,” she added as an afterthought. “A variable that I overlooked. I’ll admit.”
“His hatred for mages may be a little stronger than I had initially thought.”
“It was still foolish.” doubled-downed Solas. “You could have been killed.”
“Perhaps...” she smirked. “But, if this life has ever taught me just one thing, it’s that without risk there is no reward.”
“I may have put my life on the line...” she added. “But by doing so I outed a traitor –or, more likely, an infiltrator –in our ranks long before he could stain his hands with the blood of our people.”
“It was a risk, I know. But a risk that was both prudent and necessary.”
“Still...” Solas countered, this time far more gently than before. “There were other ways to out the assassin.”
“Of course there were,” she replied, coming to stop outside her cabin and turning to them both. “But, sometimes you have to work with what you got.”
Solas could not deny the wisdom in her words. Though he wished he could.
“True enough.” he nodded.
“Now. Thank you both for your kind escort and the chance to ‘practice’ my report.” she said cordially. “But, if you’ll excuse me, a warm bath, a set of clothes, and my soft bed are summoning me with quite a fervor. So, I will take my leave...for now.”
“Yeah. Sure.” nodded Varric. “Drinks later?”
“Of course.” she smiled.
With a slight nod, she turned and reached for the door –pulling it open gently. But before she could enter the cabin proper, Varric spoke up on last time.
“Just one more question before you go, Lala?”
“Alright,” she answered without looking back.
“Why were you naked?” Varric deadpanned, holding nothing back.
Turning her head ever-so-slightly she smirked with that same smile that Solas had seen the day before as she stood outside the tavern and had sized them both up.
“Because...” she said with a nearly erotic sigh; sounding almost like a moan. “Everything’s more fun when you’re naked.”
And with that, she disappeared behind her cabin door without another word uttered.
Chapter 5: Solas: Temptations
So lost in his own thoughts, Solas wastes the day away losing sight of the time. When he realizes his mistake, he ventures to the tavern for a bite of food and to clear his thoughts, only to run into the subject of his distraction sitting quietly in her favorite corner and awaiting his arrival with a endearing smile.
The world was far more different that he would have ever thought.
He expected that some things would have changed in all the time he had been lost to the world.
That...regimes would change. The leaders and kings would come and go as quickly as the last breath of a summer breeze in early autumn. Disappearing as fast as they’d appeared.
That...the people would change. Evolve from their days as those without hope to those who looked into the future with joyful faces and bright smiles. Who would seek out knowledge? Learn to accept those who were different. And carry with them an understanding heart.
That...the thoughts and beliefs of the people would change. Find new ways to see and experience their new world. With an open and curious mind. Accepting the world as it now existed and never hesitating to always keep moving forward.
For change was inevitable.
And could not be avoided.
Or, so he had always thought.
In all the time he had been gone from this world, it seemed, that there was one constant that had never, or could ever change.
And, it hadn’t.
He wasn’t sure when he had first felt it. That indescribable pull. Or what had caused it. What she had done. Or said. To invoke it. But the more and more he learned of her, experienced her presence –the truth of her –the more he could not deny how she had begun to encroach further and further into his thoughts. Until his mind could go no further than a few moments before she was there again. Teasing. Taunting. Tantalizing. Torturing.
And, that morning had made it much, much worse.
He could not forget the way she looked. Kneeling quietly amongst the winter wind as snowflakes fell all around her. How her pale, bare skin glistened in the morning light amongst the quietness and stillness of her solitude. How her eyes twinkled with mischief or how her satisfied smile lit up her face.
Or how his heart had throbbed so violently at the sight.
It had been hours since he had watched her disappear behind her cabin door. Hours since Varric had done nothing but chuckled at her words, and walked away. Hours since he had turned and made his way to his cabin without even remembering that he had.
And his mind could still not let it go.
He had tried to forget. To put it out of his mind and focus on something more real. More substantial. More important. But found he could not. His mind filled with thoughts of her: more questions, more ponderings, more inferences, that he couldn’t stem the tide of his curiosity and fascination. Nor could he stop the overwhelming desire that thrummed him. A desire to know. To experience. To touch. To understand. To find the truth of her. Her absolute truth.
But, more so, to find the truth behind his feelings.
Because it all felt so foreign. Even the slightest hint of attraction for another.
And, it had been such a very long time.
But, it hadn’t been always so.
A rogue in his own right, he’d had his dalliances as a young man. Many, in fact. And all so insignificant that he could not recall much of what they once looked like, let alone how they had met or even their names. A noblewoman here, and commoner there. A barmaid here, a general there. A princess here, a goddess there. Round and round he went, taking pleasure from where it may exist. Never once caring for more than what the night would bring. Or the emptiness left behind as the dawn rose.
Until his vision of the world changed. And he changed with it. No longer was he the carefree wolf bound only by his very own whims. A leader he must become. Putting away his boyish pursuits. For the world demanded his true self. A protector. A rebel. A master of the Fade that would bring forth salvation for all those who suffered under the rule of his kin.
And when it was done, the deed changed the world once more. And, so too, did he. Becoming a distant memory, along with all the once-remembered memories of the world before, he faded away into obliviousness. Lost to the annals of time.
When he awoke. Once more becoming part of the world he had left behind so long ago. He had not thought of anything more than what had become of the hope he had tried to leave behind. How it had horrifically changed. For it was not as he would have wished. The people were lost. Far too lost to know the truth of the world that should have been.
And he could not let it be so. It had gone on for far too long. And it must end. Return to the world it once was. And he would see to it. No matter the consequence.
Never realizing that this world held something that would make him rethink everything.
And she had. Already.
He barely knew her. Had not even learned her name until that morning when the assassin’s blade began to fall and Varric cried out. And knew nothing of what her true beliefs or intentions were. Yet the attraction remained as his doubts and worries grew. And he knew he could not deny it. Though, in his mind, he wishes he could. That with every waking moment of every day since the moment he met her that the desire to answer her silent call grew deeper and deeper. Leaving him far more wanting that he had ever been in his very long life. Desiring a path that he had never thought he would ever find himself wishing for again.
But he could not. For the farce that he had created demanded that he keep his distance. Make no ties that could not be easily broken. So when his mistake at the Conclave was undone he could slip away into obliviousness once more. Free to pursue the truth behind his revival and set the people free once and for all. To, then, disappear from the world’s memory once more. Remaining nothing but a fleeting thought. Lost and forgotten. As he should have been, should have remained, had he not failed so long ago.
Yet, he could not fight the feelings growing deep inside of him.
Or how they tore at his heart. Tearing him in different directions. Begging for him to go this way rather than that. So strongly that he could not deny the validity of them both.
He wanted to know her. To have her at his side. To be with her. But he knew he couldn’t. Shouldn’t. For it would do no justice. Bare no truth. Give no comfort. And in the end, there would be only pain. And, even more, regrets. Far more than he ever thought he would have to bear. And stronger than any that had come before or would come after.
But, what could he do?
He had tried to ignore it. Find something else; an intangible task, an unreachable goal; to better occupy his thoughts. And every attempt had failed. Miserably. Until all, he could hear is the beating of his heart as he stared at her in that clearing. And how it had cried out for her with an unbelievable and unimaginable desire that he could no longer ignore the truth that had now become irreverently his.
Staring off in space for what seemed like ages, Solas closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh as he shook his head.
There was nothing he could do. He knew. Not now.
He was stuck. Irrevocably so. With no true solution that could end all of this without it becoming painful.
“I have to let this go.” he sighed. His head lowered. A frown upon his face. “It will only lead to ruin.”
Taking a few cleansing breaths, Solas tried to clear his mind as best he could. Thinking about this. About her. How he felt. What he could do. Should do. It was too much. Taking up to much of his time. Thoughts. Where so much else remained to be dealt with. Planned.
Opening his eyes, he looked towards the window of his cabin and noticed that darkness had long-since fallen across the world. He had wasted an entire day and nearly half the night, lost in his own thoughts. Letting the day fly by without even knowing. A realization that bothered him even more. For he had so much to do. To be so distracted.
At that moment, his stomach managed a grumble. A reminder that he had not had a bite to each since his post-dawn breakfast with Varric. He shook his head once more. Disappointed even more so in his own foolishness and lack of control.
‘I need to stop this.’ he thought.
Letting out one more sigh, he took to the task of tidying himself up. It didn’t take long. For he had done nothing that would really require a thorough wash or attentiveness. Before stealing his will, reminding himself that he had a purpose. A duty. And that he would not be able to accomplish his goal if he continued to act like a love-struck fool.
Leaving his staff behind, he exited his cabin and shivered at the stiff, wintry breeze that subsequently blew across his shoulders as he closed the door behind him. The temperature upon the mountainside had been dropping in recent nights and tonight it seemed far colder than it had before. Though there were no clouds in the sky, alight with millions of stars and the Breach looming just to the north, intermittent snowflakes still managed to flitter in the wind. Being swept from rooftops and snow-covered trees. The hour was late. Well past twelve bells. And the entire village was utterly quiet. Very few signs of life still lingered. Mostly guards on patrol and nothing more.
Rubbing his arms gently, trying to call forth some warmth, Solas made his way toward the tavern. In hopes that he had not been distracted for far too long that Flissa had retired for the night and there would be food still available. As he descended the stairs to the middle bailey, he noticed that a glow of candles could still be seen within the tavern through the windows, and felt a little hope. For it was a good sign. Perhaps not all was lost.
After a few moments walk, he entered the tavern. Finding it looking far more abandoned than he expected. There were no drinking soldiers. No servants flitting from table to table. No music wafting through the air as the bard strummed the strings of her lute.
And no sign of Flissa.
Sighing in disappointment, Solas shook his head once more.
‘I’m too late.’
Turning with a grumble upon his lips, he made to return to his cabin but just as he was about to grab the tavern door once more, he heard someone clear their throat. His mind suddenly flashed a fight response –believing that someone had been lying in wait – and Solas immediately spun around; magic pooling in his palm.
“Good Evening...” came a gentle voice.
Solas froze, his cast snuffing out in an instant as his eyes fell upon the owner of such a voice.
In the midst of the warm glow from the tavern’s only hearth, the Herald; nestled in the corner dubbed by Varric as her favorite spot; sat quietly –an open book in her hand. Dressed in a near-black, charcoal grey dress –cut in her usual style and accented with a low cut, black-laced bodice, and barefoot, she had stretched herself between two chairs. Sitting quietly in one while allowing one leg to stretch out straight, her other bent at the knee, as her feet rested in the seat of the other. A position, that while looking quite comfortable, allowed the slits of her dress to fall between her thighs and left anyone who happened by a masterful view of her toned, untouched legs.
“Something the matter, Solas?” she questioned gently.
“N...no,” he answered, stuttering.
“My apologies, Herald.” Solas quickly apologized. “I did not intend on disturbing you. If you’ll excuse me...”
“There is no need for such propriety.” she interrupted. “Neither is there a need for you to make a hasty retreat.”
“You have not disturbed me in the least.” she smiled. “In fact, I have been expecting you.”
“Expecting me?” he questioned. “Why would you...?”
It was at that moment Solas noticed her eyes fall to the table between them. And his eyes then followed. Finding a clay pitcher, two covered silver trays, and two mugs of mead –one of which was nearly empty – sitting before her.
“No one has seen you since earlier this morning.” she supplied an explanation before he could even question. “A usual occurrence. Becoming buried in your work. So Varric assured. But I was concerned...”
“Concerned?” Solas parroted, looking up at her.
“It does not bode the body well to deprive oneself of food,” she answered.
“So, you arranged for a meal to be set aside for me?” he questioned. “And, what? Waited for me?”
“To come up for air, yes.” she nodded. “I suspected that after this morning’s little adventure...after my behavior...that you may like to have a formal chat –as we have not done so as of yet. I expected it –for most of the day –in fact. However, when no meeting came, I chose to take my usual refuge here.”
“And this?” he questioned motioning to the table.
“It is always prudent for one to be prepared,” she answered with a knowing smirk.
“Now, come. Sit. It has been quite some time since you’ve last eaten. You must be hungry.”
“Very well.” Solas agreed, wearily. A frown on his face.
“What’s with such a look, Solas?” questioned Lalinaya. “Do you distrust my concern?”
“N...no. It’s just...been quite some time.” Solas answered honestly. “I am...uncomfortable...with such kindness. Such forethought. That...it is unexpected. I had not thought...”
“That someone, or better yet: a stranger, would take a moment to care about your well being?” she finished for him.
“Well...yes.” he nodded.
“Solas.” her voice slightly disappointed. “Do not, ever, dismiss a person’s feelings. It’s quite rude, you know?”
“It may be unexpected, but if you go through life forever suspecting every kindness that crosses your path –seeing villainy where there is none– you will never truly see the hearts of the people who would offer you such care.”
“Now,” she added sternly, sounding almost a like a scolding mother. “Sit and eat.”
“Very well, Herald,” he answered, giving in and taking a seat across from her.
Lalinaya immediately clicked her tongue.
“Must you..." she sighed.
"Pardon?" he answered with a quirk of his brow.
"Titles are both useless and unnecessary, Solas.” she chided. “Its Lala...or at least Lalinaya when we are alone.”
“After all, you wouldn’t want me going around calling you just ‘Apostate’ now would you?”
“No.” he frowned.
“Then, leave the titles at the door. Would you? And, at least, extend to me the courtesy of calling me by my name in private.”
“Thank you.” she nodded. “Now eat something.”
“It’s roast boar and vegetables,” she added, watching Solas lift the dish’s lid a moment later.
“Boar?” he gasped in surprise, looking at the generous plate before him. “Such animals are hard to come by in this part of Thedas. Wherever did it come from?”
“Rare, indeed.” she nodded. “I am just lucky, I guess.”
Solas' eyes immediately shot up from his plate.
“We had a delivery of supplies this afternoon. The merchant delivering them was quite a crass and arrogant man, with roaming hands...”
Solas’ eyes immediately narrowed ever so slightly –flashing with irritation.
“But I managed to haggle him down to a relatively decent price.”
“Unfortunately, though, there was only the one...” she continued with a sigh. “So I chose to have it prepared and proportioned for my closest companions and advisors. The rest was sequestered for the orphans staying in the Chantry.”
“Orphans?” questioned Solas. Surprised by her generosity.
“Oh? Did you not know?” she answered. “We have some ten or so young ones. Mostly humans from the area. Who lost their parents either at the Conclave or killed by demons in the countryside. I have ordered Josephine to make sure they are seen to properly until a Chantry mother from Denerim arrives next week.”
“And what will become of them once she arrives?”
“They will be taken to an orphanage in Denerim. Leliana tells me that King Alistair has greatly improved the living conditions for orphaned children in Fereldan. They are no longer forced into the service of the Chantry, a Circle, or workhouses, are given a good education and are taught invaluable skills that they will be able to use confidently as adults. He has also enacted an adoption program. Placing children with families, mostly nobles, where they can be raised in a loving environment. Giving them a chance at a normal life.”
“Admirable,” Solas replied, taking a bite of the roasted boar. Only to hum in enjoyment a second later.
“Quite,” she answered, seemingly satisfied, as she turned her eyes back to her book. “I should hope to meet him someday. This King who treats all children equally. No matter their history. No matter their circumstances.”
“No matter their ears.”
Leaving those words to linger, Lalinaya went back to reading the book in her hands as Solas continued to eat in silence. While he ate, Solas could not stop himself from stealing glances at the quiet woman before him.
Nor could he stop all that he noticed in those quick moments.
How her long hair had been pulled just over her left shoulder. Leaving her right open and exposed to his purview and the warm air around them.
How her delicate fingers silently skimmed the pages of her book like the softest caresses from a lover.
How the candlelight seemed to dance upon her warm and exposed skin like that of a joyful spirit after finding the most delightful thing in all the world.
How she would occasionally shift the position of her legs: bending one and stretching the other and then repeating; elongating her seductive lines almost deliberately; every so often as if she was slightly restless.
How her brow would cutely crease and her lips would pout, as she read.
How she seemed to sigh so contentedly with nearly every breath.
Or, how it all made his curiosity and desire flare without restraint.
Letting out a quiet sigh of disappointment in himself, Solas reached for his mug of mead and took a long draw. An act completely out of character for himself, simply because he truly detested fermented alcohol made in this era. It was far too dull, the sweetness was long gone from what it used to be. A thin shadow of how it truly began. But, alas, it would do the necessary trick. The burn, a distraction from his thoughts, allowed him to put away the feelings thrumming in him and find a window of opportunity. A way to further their conversation without exposing the treacherous and lecherous thoughts suddenly running through his mind.
“You seem quite interested in that book of yours.” Solas inferred.
Lalinaya looked up him with a slight start.
“Varric mentioned that you liked to read.” he tried to clarify. “He seemed quite surprised by that fact, actually.”
“Why? Because I’m just ‘a filthy, uneducated, and unrefined, forest rat, Dalish?’”
“What!?” Solas exclaimed in surprise. “No! Not at all. Why in the world would you think that?”
“It’s been said,” she said bluntly. “Not by Varric. But others.”
“Whispered quietly among the patrons here: Believing that I did not have the clarity of mind to understand, nor the sharpness of hearing to actually hear them, nor the observation skills to notice how they look at me as if I am something so far beneath them that I need to look up to find dirt.”
Solas seemed to freeze at her words, as a heavy pause filled the room and the severity of her words twisted at his heart.
“Who was it?” he countered a moment later, eyes narrowing. “Who was it? Who would dare say such a thing to you?”
“A nameless face, a faceless name,” she answered. “It matters not.”
“Of course it matters. If someone under the Inquisition’s authority is speaking to; or of; its Herald in such a manner, it’s their duty to deal with it. Especially if it could lead to a dangerous situation or a threat to your life...”
“Like this morning...” she sighed.
“It really doesn’t matter in the long run, Solas,” she explained. “The perpetrators of such slings and arrows have no teeth, nor enough constitution or skill to be a threat to me. They are just words. Hurtful words, true enough. But not words that could ever cause physical pain. That would warrant concern on anyone’s part. Especially mine.”
“And, it’s not like I haven’t had such insults, or worse, thrown in my direction before,” she added. “It just another part of being me, and an elf in a human’s world.”
“Still, it isn’t right,” Solas demanded quietly.
“I never said it was,” she answered. “But what is right and what is just is a matter of perspective. What you or I would deem good and proper, could be considered overreaching or overbearing to another. What you or I would deem right and just, could be considered cruel and vicious to another. Or what you or I would deem respectful and trustworthy, could be considered disrespectful and traitorous to others. So you must determine intent. Interpret their discord from their point of view and react accordingly.”
“This world is filled with such variables; such inconsistencies, such truths; that prudence and logic dictate that one must learn to discern discourse from the threat. To know and understand whether or not what has or is happening is this or that. And then choose.”
“For one who knows not how to choose their battles wisely will surely die long before the world no longer has need of them.”
“You have quite a prophetic look towards the world...” Solas sighed. “Wise.”
“Knowledge comes from education, Solas,” she replied. “But true wisdom always comes from experience, and learning from your past mistakes.”
“Or, the mistakes of others.”
“Agreed.” he nodded. “Is that why you are so weary of Cassandra?”
“Cassandra?” she questioned, slightly startled. “What makes you think I am weary of Cass?”
“Oh, wait. You’ve been talking to Varric, haven’t you?”
“Earlier today, yes,” Solas replied. “He mentioned that you two talked at length last night."
“I see.” she nodded gently. “And did you learn anything of consequence from his retelling that sated some of your curiosity about me?”
“How would you know that I am curious about you?” countered Solas.
“Because curiosity is what you are. That name you carry: Pride, it’s a good name. A strong name. But it is not who you truly are. Deep inside you’re as inquisitive as a small child just learning about their new world. A curious spirit with a desire to know, to learn, to understand.”
“What makes you believe that?” he questioned, sounding somewhat defensive without intending to.
“I am a great many things to a great many people, Solas,” she stated knowingly. “What the world perceives me as can be as varied as blades of grass upon an open field. But above all that I am, could or should be, I am one thing far more than not.”
“It is one of many talents, I’m afraid,” she admitted. “But one that I can neither control nor ignore from day to day. When I look upon someone or something, whether it be for the first time or the hundredth, it is inherently instinctive for me to take in all that I see and put it to memory.”
“I can...” she sighed, almost sadly. “For example, remember the very first time I looked upon my mother’s face. When I was moments old. How the sweat fell from her brow. How she smiled even though her body had grown so weak. How her eyes shimmered with tears and the knowledge that it would be last time she would ever lay her eyes upon me or me, her. And how I cried in understanding.”
Solas frowned. He had not known that she had lost her mother so early in life. Yet the thought of having to live a life with such a memory, he thought, must have been hard to carry.
“Do you blame yourself?” he whispered without thinking.
“For my mother’s death?’ she questioned. “Not at all. My mother tried for nearly a decade to conceive. And when all hope was nearly lost, she finally had her wish granted. Though she died just days after my birth, she died happily. Knowing that her greatest wish had been fulfilled.”
“Yet you miss her still.”
“I am not a heartless monster, Solas,” she answered. “And, yet, though there are times when I secretly daydream about how my life would have been different had she lived, I do not regret my mother’s death. And, in a way, I find it more a blessing than a curse. Had she’d lived, I would have most likely never become the woman I am today.”
“Having been taught by the elders –numerous elders –of my clan rather than just one motherly figure, I learned more about patience, understanding, perspective, intent, and the world than I ever would have learned under just her tutelage.”
“My upbringing may have been more difficult in certain aspects –compared to others who had either their father or mother or both to raise them –but it was an upbringing that afforded me all the experiences and education not normally had by an average Dalish child. Learning to read like scholar, to calculate mathematics like a builder, to hunt like a master tracker, to create art like a master painter, to cook like a seasoned chef, to sew like a master seamstress, to ponder the universe like a great philosopher, to saunter through the idiosyncrasies of a person’s behavior like a talented and well-versed lady of the night, or wade through the endless political sea like an empress after a forty-year reign, are not skills a simple Dalish could ever learn from just their parents.”
“And, for such an opportunity, I am far more grateful than I could ever be.” she sighed. “Because I like who I am. I carry with me no regrets that weigh down my life. For I live a life that only follows one rule.”
“Which is?” prompted Solas, curiously.
“Own everything,” she replied.
“Many in this world do not or cannot accept their own mistakes. Their own failings. Their own choices. Or their own decisions, when things go awry.” she explained. “They differ, deflect, lie, spin, ignore, or deny their wrongdoings. Their mistakes. Never making themselves accountable for their own actions. Their own thoughts. But, more importantly, their own feelings...”
“They live their life constantly pulling across their field of vision a veil to obscure the truth. A mask to hide what’s beneath. Often in hopes to make the breadth of their failings more appealing. More acceptable. And choosing to forget or ignore what they’ve done. Creating a false sense of happiness. When deep down they are far more miserable than they could possibly imagine.”
“That sense of ignorance is something I absolutely abhor,” she added with a tone of finality. “If you cannot own up to your own failings and –instead –try to fix what you have done, or alter your behavior; your thinking, your actions; to stem the tide of your mistakes’ repeating, then you are nothing but a fool in my eyes.”
“Life is far too short to go through it ruining everything you touch. Without making yourself accountable for all that you’ve done. Blaming: the world, your political adversaries, your rival for a girl’s affection, that soldier that is so much better than you at swordplay simply because you are too lazy to train, that dancer that can entice all that look upon her while you stand there as a wallflower, that woman who has a happy life with a loving husband and beautiful children while you are forever alone because you’re afraid to take that leap, that noble who has more money than the Maker himself when you can’t even scrape two coppers together for a piece of bread, or that King who rules all that stands before him while you cannot even rule your own actions, is a foolish life. A life where you do nothing but waste your precious energy on envy, disdain, hate, fear, and fantastical dreams. Rather than taking life by the proverbial horns and just living the best life, you can create by your own hands.”
“I own my decisions. My thoughts. My feelings. My actions. And live a life accepting my failings as well as my victories. All on even ground. If I choose to turn right, rather than left, I do so without regrets –no matter the outcome. Because it is a choice I made.”
“You are quite a confident person, Herald...er...Lalinaya.” Solas began, stammering for a moment. “Strong in your conviction. But confidence does not always equal being right.”
“I never said it did,” she smirked. “Though I live my life this way that does not mean I don’t make bad decisions. That I don’t mess up now and then. That I don’t make mistakes. I am not infallible, Solas. Nor am I perfect. I, just like every person in this world, learn as I go. Learn as I live. And act accordingly.”
“But where I differ from most is that I always accept my mistakes...”
“And learn from them,” Solas concluded for her.
“Very well. Would you care to entertain a scenario for me? So that I may better understand your philosophy on life?”
“Oh? A hypothetical?”
“Yes. Would you be interested?”
“Of course.” she smiled. “Please...”
“Let’s...” Solas began, pausing for a few moments to better think of a way to ask what he had in mind without giving too much away and outing to whom he was referring. “Say that you are a farmer’s wife.”
“And you are married to a man who treats you poorly.”
“How poorly?” she interrupted. “Be specific.”
“He takes care of your necessities: food, clothing, shelter. You do not go without but you live nowhere near a comfortable lifestyle. Where there are no financial worries.”
“Ok.” she nodded.
“However, he treats you as a slave. Making you do all the housework; cleaning, cooking, mending, etc.; on top of making you work the fields from sun up to sun down. All the while expecting you to accomplish everything on your own while he...let’s say...drinks the day away. Getting drunk every night.”
“And when you are unable to accomplish all the tasks he has forced you to do, he becomes furious and beats you mercilessly. And often.”
“He’s a dead man,” she answered instantaneously.
“You would kill him?” Solas replied, startled.
“No man puts his hands on me in anger,” she replied. “Without retaliation.”
“Understood.” nodded Solas. “But what if I were to amend this scenario. And along with said husband, you had two small children to take care of. To raise.”
“What would you do to get out of that situation?”
“That would depend on what resources were available to me.”
“Ok.” nodded Solas. “Then allow me to add another part of the story.”
“Let’s say that the situation that you are living in at that moment is like a plague sweeping the land.” he continued. “That every wife within your country lives the same life. Completely oppressed. Always beaten and mistreated. All with children in tow. You live your life like this for years. Being beaten and trodden upon like something so insignificant that you lose all hope..."
"Then, one day, a man you do not know comes to you. Walking upon the road just outside your homestead. And strikes up a conversation. In said conversation, he learns of your situation. Admits to knowing that it is the same situation every woman in the area is suffering. And offers you a way out.”
“A way to leave your husband. To be free from his tyranny. And find a life where you can be happy.”
“But?” she answered knowingly.
“But.” he nodded. “To save you, someone else would have to die. An innocent. One you did not know.”
“Would you accept his offer?”
“I am unsure,” she replied.
“Unsure?” countered Solas.
“What I would do, how I would choose, would be different depending on certain variables.”
“This man. Is he trustworthy? Does he have said ability, truly? Or is he offering such a way out with an ulterior motive? If he has such an ability, how did he come to it?”
“The children. Are they old enough to travel without being a burden? Without slowing us down. Are they even well enough to travel? Not malnourished? Not unhealthy?”
“The person who will die so that I may be free. Is it another such as me? A wife and mother, beaten and belittled. Or her abuser? Will only one die? Or will there be more than just one death?”
“If I accept, what will –then– become of me and my children? Will I be taken to a safe place far away from my husband? Will I be taken to a place, where there will be a home in which to live? Food to eat? A life, for me and my children? Will there be more suffering there? Maybe even more suffering than what I suffer under my husband’s hand?”
“The man is a wealthy, noble, mage with the heart of a loving father and the power to protect you. The children are old enough, and healthy enough, for travel.” Solas answered. “The person who will die is another such as you or an innocent child. For every one he saves, another will die. Equally. And you will be taken to a place where there is no home, no secure source of food, with political and social unrest, crime, and disease. Where you will start over. From the basics without any guarantee that you, or your children, will survive to old age.”
“Then, no. I would not accept his offer.”
“But refusing would trap yourself in such a life until you died –either by natural causes, an accident, or –more likely– by your own husband’s hands.”
“I will not save my own ass in spite of others,” she answered. “In the scenario, you paint, choosing to accept the man’s offer would be a decision that would lead to far too much suffering than what I would be currently enduring. Leaving me with an even more uncertain future than that in which I already had. And inflicting undue misery upon another for no sake save for my own.”
“But what if I told you that if you do not take his offer you, or your children, would then become one of those who could be sacrificed for another’s freedom. That you or your children could die so that another could be free?”
“Then, so be it,” she answered. “I would rather die so that another could live. Rather than to choose selfishness and sacrifice an innocent just so I could be happy.”
“I would rather take my own fate into my own hands. Kill the husband. And then spend the rest of my days trying my best to help those who had shared my fate find some happiness of their own.”
“You would start a rebellion?” questioned Solas.
“If need be,” she answered confidently. “I would do what I must. What I thought was right, what would be just, what was in my power, and let fate decide if my actions were worthy of success. I could not live my life knowing another was suffering from that which I could free them from. I could not live my life in ignorance and obliviousness.”
“That is not who I am.”
“And, what if –in the end –your actions saved the people. But by doing so you ended up condemning them to a life of poverty. A life of struggle. Of uselessness. Where the world looked down upon them as nothing but a burden. The Rabble. A drain on society. Not worthy of care. Of concern. Or even compassion.”
“Would you leave them to the fate that you so succinctly handed them...Or...”
“I would save them again. Then again. And then again. As many times as it took. So when all my work was finally done, and my life was finally at an end, I could look upon the good life I had finally managed to grant them with a satisfied and humbled smile.”
“But what of the futility of it all?”
“Nothing is futile, Solas,” she answered with another smirk. “Not as long as you still have a breath left within you. There is always time to try once more. The trick is to never give up. To never lose hope. For when hope is lost...so, too, is the future that could be.”
“Very well said.” Solas nodded, his curiosity sated. “You continue to surprise me, Lalinaya. Far more than I expected. And, even, far more than I had hoped.”
“Just wait, Solas.” she chuckled softly. “I’m just getting started.”
Chapter 6: Solas: Taunts
In the quiet, emptiness of Haven's tavern, their conversation continues. But, the night suddenly takes on a disquieting air that Solas had not expected and he is baited into doing something that he hadn't even dreamed he'd be willing to do.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“Pardon?” Solas responds, looking across to the woman before him with a raised eyebrow.
“What would you do in such a situation?” she clarifies. “Would you accept his offer? Or remain behind and accept your fate?”
Solas closes his eyes for a moment and thinks on his answer carefully. What answer he would truly give would reveal more about his true self than he is willing. Something about her calming tone makes him almost want to speak the words that would tell far too much. But, he knows he cannot do that.
Dismissing such willingness, he shakes his head for a moment and answers.
“I would do neither,”
“You would do nothing?”
“I did not say that,” he counters.
“Then what are you saying? Speak properly, Solas.”
“I would flee,” he answers. “And seek a way to be free on my own.”
As his words pass through his lips and float in the air, Lalinaya closes her eyes and frowns. The weight of their decent is not accepting. It is in disappointment. And, her disbelief in his answer does not go unnoticed by Solas.
“You disagree with my choice?” he questions.
“In a way...” she breathes out, only to halt her words and sigh.
Her frown immediately deepens as she lowers her head. Her mind whirling with thoughts unknown to him. And for a tick of time, she is silent. It is in that silence that Solas begins to feel that perhaps he has said something that has disquieted her. Has upset her. And that thought disturbs him more than he would have thought. For Lalinaya is the key to ending the horrific encroachment of the Breach. And his necessity to stay in her good graces is paramount for them to succeed. So that he may continue with his plans. It would not bode well for him to alienate himself from her so early. And, he knows it.
“I have upset you?” he says gently, his tone is almost compassionate, understanding, and comforting.
“So to speak.”
“It is hard to say,” she replies before suddenly smirking and instantly changing her tone of voice –dropping it almost a full octave and sounding sultrier than what he thinks she is intending. “It’s just...”
“I find myself wondering...”
“About?” he questions.
“I wonder about a great many things, Solas.” she continues, her tone unchanging. “About the world as we know it. How it will change. And, how we will change along with it.”
“How to deal with the hand I have been dealt with. How to do what needs to be done with the minimal cost of life and liberty.”
“How to bring peace to this place. Both within these walls and to the world outside them. And to the hearts that reside within and without.”
“How to handle the vastly different people who now look up to me for answers. How to get along with them. How to trust them, and how to make them trust me in return.”
“And how to save a world that would see me written out of history, simply because I do not subscribe to their idiotic idyllic vision of their world.”
“But, what I find myself wondering most of all...in this instance,” she continues, finally turning to face him and leaning forward ever so slightly, giving a nearly perfect view of her breasts. “Is how long it will take before you finally realize that what lies you tell yourself, and tell others, will be words forever lost on me.”
Her words are accusatory and carry an air of weighted knowing.
“What are you insinuating?” he counters. Surprised both by her words and the sudden feeling of dread that settles in his heart at that moment.
“You tell me, Hahren,” she replies. Though her words speak to a nearly known deception, practically daring him to admit it, that sultry tone invoked just moments ago still remains.
It is a challenge. He knows. But he will not rise to the bait.
“I’m sure I have no idea what you're talking about, Herald,” he answers dismissively. His tone now carrying an edge of warning with her added title.
“Do you not?” she questions almost cheekily.
“Then, you surprise me more than to be expected.” she cuts –almost gently, yet the challenge in her words remains. “I did not take you for an unobservant, unknowing fool.”
“But...I guess, it seems, that I’ve misunderstood you to be far more than you seem.”
“Or,” she smiled almost devilishly. “Perhaps not.”
“It’s a sad state of affairs, in any case.” she sighs, suddenly standing without preamble. Her intent to leave, apparent. “And a shame.”
“What is?” he questions, still feeling defensive –yet knowing full well that if Lalinaya knows something about his true identity it would do him well to know for sure. And to deal with it. If it came to that.
Lalinaya simply chuckles and moves to leave the tavern. As she passes him, however, she suddenly stops and turns to him. With a smile upon her face, she leans in –close to his ear –and with a breathy tone, speaks again.
“Wouldn’t you like to know...” she whispers, before adding pointedly. “Little Wolf.”
Balking at that term of endearment –or condemnation, he does not know –something snaps within Solas at that moment and a flood of emotions overtake him. Anger. Concern. Determination. Anxiety. Guilt. Rage and fear. And it is by the fear and rage that he suddenly moves. Reaching out to her before she can retreat from his side, he grabs her by the arm and angrily jerks her back in front of him. She stumbles backward, connecting her lower back with the edge of the table with a great amount of force. Sending all the dishes from its top skidding across its surface and falling to the ground. The pitcher of mead instantly shattering. Before she can recover, or he even realizes it, Solas is on his feet and he immediately advances. His hand shooting out from his side and wrapping around her throat in an instant.
“Is that a challenge?” he practically growls, teeth flashing, as he squeezes her throat aggressively; pinning her down; and leans in.
“With the likes of you?” she scoffs almost playfully, her tone both challenging and breathy. “Always.”
“You dare mock me?” he growls, tightening his grip a little more.
“Would I dare?” she taunts, with a mischievous smile. Her tone never changing or showing even the slightest hint of discomfort from the hand upon her throat.
It is almost, as if, she is enjoying it.
“Don’t you toy with me, woman,” Solas growls. “Tell me what you know!”
“Why should I?” she replies coyly. “What benefit would I gain if I were to show my hand so early in this game?”
“This is no game!”
“Isn’t it?” she replies, her tone still coy. “I push you. You push me. Back and forth. Over and over. We go. Until one of us finally snaps and admits defeat.”
“Then you are at a disadvantage,” he warns. “I was never one to give up so easily.”
“That remains to be seen.”
“Have you no fear?”
“Fear?” she chuckles. “Of whom, you?”
“Then it is you who are the foolish one.”
“Perhaps.” she smiles. “But fool as I may be, you; my dear little wolf; surely take the cake. You think by doing all this. Intimidating me to spill whatever secrets I may carry. Will result in my complacency. That I will simply submit to your will, willing. And because...why? Because you are a man and I am simply an insignificant woman?”
“Or, is it simply because you think yourself better –more powerful –than I?”
“I could kill you right here... right now,” Solas informed angrily. “And, no one would suspect me.”
“But you won't,” she replied, her tone falling deeper into a more seductive tone.
“You sound so confident of that.”
“Because I am,” she replied. “You need me Solas. More than you realize. And, no matter, what I say your anger cannot change that fact.”
“Without me, the world will hasten to its end far soon that anyone would dare wish...or plan.”
“And I know you do not want that...” she adds almost knowingly. “At least, not yet.”
“You know nothing,” he growls once more. “Let alone what I would ever want!”
“Are you sure?” she practically moans. “Or is that what you think simply because you cannot dare to believe that I am clever enough to see you for what you really are?”
“And can see what you truly desire?” she added softly, punctuating the last. “In...Every...capacity.”
“My desires are none of your concern.”
“Oh,” she breathes huskily. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that, little wolf.”
“Your desires become more and more apparent every day.” she continues. Teasing him with her words. “And are far more real than even you know.”
“I know what you desire...” she sighs seductively. “What you secretly beg for. What swims through your veins, without restraint. Wishing, wanting, and waiting. Left unfulfilled. Yet, always yearning for.”
Her words stir Solas, more and more. He knows he should not listen to her. Knows that with every syllable uttered she is baiting him to lose control. To give in to her own agenda. What she herself intends. But he knows he must fight it. He must not give in.
But her words, he cannot ignore.
Anger flares once more at the audacity of the woman before him. How dare she say these things to him? How dare she presume that she knows anything about what he truly wants? What he truly desires. What lay in the shadows of his heart. Forcing away her thoughts, though caught up in them, he drops his hand to her thigh and presses her down while simultaneously tightening his grip on her throat. A bloom of red instantly creeps across her skin. Crawling up her throat and blossoming across her cheeks. Yet, she gives nothing but a smile, in response.
Her unflinching pride; and daring; is stunning. And infuriating.
“Have I offended your precious sensibilities, great Hahren?” she teases breathily. “Do I now deserve your ire? So much that you would willing bestow retribution?”
“Do you wish, nothing more, than to punish me...” she suddenly sighs wantonly. “For my insolence...”
“To make me reap what I have sown?”
Solas instantly tightens his grip with force, this time truly cutting off her air and threatening her life.
“Yes...” he growls forcefully.
“Then,” she pleads softly through the pain. “Do it.”
Her provocation is deliberate. And, Solas grits his teeth.
“Or, are you a coward?”
“I am no coward!” he counters loudly.
“Then claim the justice your wounded pride now demands.” she fires back. “And, do it!”
The anger of Solas’ heart explodes from within him carry not only the rage he fears at her deliberate taunting but something even more visceral. More primal. In his head, his conscious mind screams to stand down. To not fall for her seductive vexation. But his body refuses to listen. Tightening his hold upon her neck and thigh, he invades her space with a dominating step. With no care of how he will be perceived or accepted, caring not for how her insolence may flare at his actions, he pulls her towards him and crashes his lips upon hers.
The kiss is forceful, domineering, and without restraint. As lips force themselves upon the unwitting, intentions clear. He is determined. Resolute. He will make her submit. Make her give in. Maker her concede to his supremacy and rue the moment she dared to provoke him so.
But, she is no weakling. No damsel in distress in need of saving. And she will not concede so easily. Meeting his every movement, she gives just as much as she receives. And, soon, their kisses turn from a match of ironclad wills to those of desperate desire.
Solas releases her thigh, lost in the heat of their kiss, and reaches for the soft leather cording, laced and tied, at the front of her low-cut gown with confidence. Unlacing the knot at the top with nimble fingers of an expert. Before sliding his hand down to the bottom of the weaving and pulling loose the entire patchwork of cording holding the front of her dress closed. Allowing the silky material to fall open and freeing the unbound prize within.
Lalinaya moans into his mouth as his hand finds purchase upon her ample breasts and kneads their unbelievable softness with both tenderness and strength. The feel of his hand, so seductively and excruciatingly simple yet all the more complex, sends shockwaves of pleasure through her in an instant.
Their kiss deepens ever still and Solas finds himself consumed by her very being. As his desire, once hidden deep within him and often pushed aside, crawls mercilessly to the surface. And, no matter how his plans would demand, he knows he cannot stop. Not now. Now, that he has fallen so far.
His desire burns through him like molten gold. Shimmering and shining like the sun. Calling forth all who look upon it to bask within its fiery glow. And Solas cannot help but answer its alluring call. Falling deep and deeper into its grasp, until consciousness of his actions disappears entirely. For her touch is like water to the parched. And, he is so very thirsty.
Need builds. Climbing quickly to a crescendo of a prophetic epiphany long-since overdue. He is breathing hard. Mind muddled with nothing but the thought of her. Of this moment. And his urgency grows. He wants her. More than anything he has ever wanted before. And, he will have her.
Slipping his hand from the rounded mounds of feather-like softness, he lets his hand descend to her thigh once more. But, it does not linger there. It ascends against the creamy white skin of her toned legs before disappearing under the split hem of her gown. It moves ever upward, Climbing to the precipice of her hip before gracefully slipping around her and her pulling even closer.
Solas growls into their kiss as his hands find nothing but bare skin waiting for him. The truest part of her is unbound and uncovered without shame. And that knowledge stirs him even more. To know that she is not ashamed of what her birth, and time, has gifted her. To know that she has chosen to never be bound by any constraints of the world. A free spirit, carefree and knowing. Worldly of the wild, untamed reaches of her heart. And, to the pleasure that can be found within.
His caresses soon turn possessive as his mind reconciles with so much he had never know of her. Compelled to seek her dearest truth with a preciousness and respect deserving only of the well past her years. He deepens the kiss once more, his tongue delving past her delicious lips in earnest desire. And allows his roaming hand to find that which he had yet to explore.
As long, slender fingers slip between her thighs and relish the feel of her slick warmth, Lalinaya mewls into his kiss, and allows her eyes to close. Reveling in the sensation as he lavishes affection upon her more and more. Her hands, once so very idle, reach for him at that moment. Exploring the taut muscles of his chest before sliding up to find purchase around both the stern hand that remains upon her throat and that of his face. She squeezes his wrist, a silent plea, but his grip does not falter. Answering her touch with an increase in pressure. Calling forth a moan so deep and pleased that it rumbles through her body seductively.
With her acceptance so lusciously given, Solas’ resolve breaks. That thin line of restraint snapping with it. Too far gone now. Too unwilling to stop. He quickly pulls his nimble fingers from her warm velvet and sets his yearning free of its confines. His movements are quick. Hastened by the unrestrained desire flowing through his veins. And in a desperate moment of need, he finds the home her own desire has prepared for him. Sliding into the comforting warmth of her core.
Consumed by the feeling, Lalinaya breaks free of their kiss instantly. A pleasured moan escaping her lips as her head falls back and her arms slink around the man in her arms. His movements, a pure seduction of his very own, fill her in a way she could never imagine. Conjuring thoughts of a future not known to her. Where days and years pass in unnatural bliss. Every night the world is upended. Turning black to white. Wrong to right. And death to life. The heavens on earth. Made just for them in the stillness of the night. Untouched for all eternity. And, unending.
His movements quicken as his hand roams her skin. Prophetic words whispered in flowing ancient Elvhen, pass through his lips unheeded. Proclaiming her goddess-like beauty so profound and her indomitable will all-encompassing. Praising every part of her being, like that of a devoted and willing follower praising its maker. His desire, superseding all imagining, grows as his heart races at the very thought of her. Screaming from the depth of his very soul. Begging to have. To hold. To lay claim for all time. Awash with every sensation his mind can no longer think of any more than her. His eyes can no longer see anything more than her. And, his body –his weakening flesh– wants no more than her. For eternity.
Desire left willfully unchecked and unrestrained forces him to go farther. Pushing toward that brink just beyond the horizon. He steps up his movement and as her breathy and sinfully seductive moans grow in frequency and volume, Solas realizes that only mere moments remain. The end of their joining is nigh. And, his mind begs for it to not show its face. To be gone. And allow him to revel in the joy that she brings for the rest of his days.
But, his body demands his quick end. And, there is no way to forestall it. As their moment begins to quickly come to a close, Solas' movements become no longer lengthy and languid. Turning sharp and fast, until they are breathing in tandem with every thrust. The moment builds and builds. Climbing ever higher. Until, as if the world found its very own destruction, the heavenly pleasure of their climaxes explodes in a cacophony of sensations that brings forth their heady calls of ultimate happiness. Washing across their spirits in waves. Waxing and waning like a turbulent sea. Unaffected by time and space.
Moments pass in a languid blur as their pleasure-filled dream slowly fades and their mind become their own once more.
It is at that moment when reality suddenly crashes down upon Solas’ shoulders. And with it, come the inevitable guilt and shame that has always haunted his steps. But, like a snake in the grass waiting to strike down its prey, guilt and shame carry unwanted visitors upon their backs.
Fear and Panic.
Suddenly he is awash with a crushing sense of cruel irony. The reality of what he; the always prim and proper; respectful and wise; worldly companion; has done. What, in a moment of weakness, he has dared allow.
Alarmed by his own actions, Solas slips from her comforting arms is fit of pure bewilderment. So quickly, and without the measured control he always portrayed, he stumbles back. His legs connect with his recently vacated chair and he collapses upon its seat with a thud. Guilt, fear, and shame rushing through him like an accusatory stampede. Reminding him of the truth of what he has done and what will come soon after. Betrayal of his most cherished beliefs. And the sacrifice of the path to achieving his goal.
In a single moment, he has thrown away all advantage he once held. In a single moment, he has put the fate of The People in jeopardy. And, in one single moment, he has changed their relationship forever.
So mired in his self-deprecating, condemning, and disparaging thoughts, Solas does not realize that Lalinaya has moved from her place against the table until he feels her gentle hand caress his cheek. Pulling his eyes away from the spiraling abyss, of the nothingness of his thoughts, he looks up only to see gentle eyes looking back at him. Eyes that carry with them a soft acceptance. Previously unseen.
She looks at him then. Searching for something that she wishes to see. And, yet, does not find what she seeks. She sighs. And, with it, Solas feels his cheek warm suddenly as the smell of the raw Fade assaults his senses. Weakness immediately descends upon him. Sapping his remaining strength. And, soon, his eyes begin to close of their own accord. Calling forth the darkness of unconsciousness with them. Until, reality disappears and he is lost to its calming embrace –his world going black.
Lalinaya is quite cunning, managing to bait Solas into letting go. But, the questions still remain. Does she truly know who Solas really is? Or, was it all a ruse simply to manipulate him into losing control? Or, both?
Stay tuned to find out!
Author's Note: (About this Chapter in particular) Normally, as with most of my stories, sex scenes are usually implied (having happened off-camera, so to speak) but with this series, such artist direction cannot be taken. And, as such, I am forced to depict them. While I do have extensive experience in writing such scenes, with other works not on this platform, I tend to be more visual than emotional with them or more emotional than visual. Often switching back and forth between sub-scenes. And that may come off somewhat disconnected. I do apologize if it seems that way, however, and I hope that you will enjoy the scene as it stands -and please let me know if you do. I would love to hear/read your thoughts on any updates I release.
Chapter 7: Solas: Fears
Solas tries to deal with the emotional aftermath of his loss of control in the tavern with Lalinaya as fear takes the reins within him and threatens to ruin everything he has tried to accomplish.
Quick post, may need edits later.
Confusion, fear, and disillusionment, invades his senses the moment clarifying consciousness dares to return to him. Opening his eyes faintly and straining uncomfortably against the low light of the tavern’s waning fire, Solas clambers for any sense of understanding he can find. For a minute moment, his mind is nothing but a blur of inconceivable and incoherent thought. Jumbled beyond measure. As he tries to make sense of what has just happened to him. A minute more passes and suddenly a slew of images flash across eyes. Recollections of the disastrous night with an even more disastrous end.
Pulling his eyes down from the ceiling, where they had settled in unconsciousness, he immediately scans the room for any sign of Lalinaya. Instantly stiffening at the strangeness that awaits his gaze. The table; the one that had been cleared so violently by his attack on their Herald; is pristine. The covered silver trays, mugs, and; even; the clay pitcher that had shattered upon the ground at her impact are all sitting quietly upon its top. Seemingly undisturbed in perpetuity. Showing no damage at all.
And there is no sign, not even an inkling that she had ever been there at all.
With fear quickly creeping upon him like a predator in the night, he swiftly stands and allows his eyes to take in the rest of the tavern. And, again, he sees nothing out of the ordinary. No sign that anyone but him had been in the tavern all this time. Nor any sign that anything is out of place.
It was almost, as if, everything that had occurred during his time in the tavern had never happened.
And, that thought chills Solas to the bone in the eerie silence awaiting him.
A flashing thought quickly reminds him of his own physical predicament. The fact that when he’d passed out in the tavern, some unknown hours ago, his attire had been in disarray. Left open and revealing to anyone who could stumble upon him. So, he turns his eyes unto himself. Marveling worriedly a second later at what he sees. Or, more importantly, what he does not see.
Aside from a few wrinkles from where he had been sitting improperly in the chair during his unnatural sleep, not a thread is out of place and no coupling, buckle, or tie upon his ensemble is undone.
Suddenly a noise echoes in the distance. The sound of advancing voices.
Panic; once, setting in slowly; slams into him instantly at the sound. His mind suddenly in disarray at the strangeness of it all. As nothing makes sense. His heart rate immediately increases as the panic quickly churns within him more and more, and anxiety tries to overwhelm him in the blink of an eye. He suddenly feels the need to run, to flee, and to hide. To get away from the situation as soon as possible and disappear. Before someone finds him and starts to ask questions. The feeling is nearly overwhelming. Stronger than any feeling he has ever felt before. And, he cannot take it. Turning swiftly he makes a bee-line for the tavern door, rushes out and sprints back to his cabin without even bothering to close the door behind him.
When he manages to make it to his own lodgings, he darts into the quiet space, slams the door closed behind him and collapses against it before dropping to the ground in a tiny flash of relief. Pulling his knees to his chest a second later, however, he buries his face in his shaking hands seconds before all of the swirling feelings within him consume every single one of his thoughts. The turmoil is as violent as a hurricane. Overwhelming and all-consuming. And, utterly destructive to every fiber of his well-constructed, and maintained and measured countenance.
He is a mess, as is his mind, as panicked thoughts consume him. Fear, the most voracious cause of all, stings him mercilessly. Twisting the knife of guilt within him. What he has done, what he had allowed, has ruined everything that he has been trying to accomplish. Anything he has been trying to cultivate. And, any hope of staying by Lalinaya’s side and ceasing the destruction of the world by the Breach is long-since passed. There is no way that he can salvage any of it. Not, now. Not after what he has done.
To force himself upon her, breaking the decorum he so meticulously created to ensure his calming anonymity, and allowing himself to corrupt her so cruelly is the worst thing he could have possibly done to her. Has done, to anyone in his entire life. And he is awash with pure, unadulterated shame. In a brief moment of weakness, he allowed his anger and fear to cloud his judgment and, because of it, she will be forever changed.
Forfeited, now, is the sincerity he tried to portray. Forfeited, now, is the trust he had begun to cultivate. Forfeited, now, is any hope of the People’s return. And, all because he could not restrain himself.
All, because he could not keep the wolf within him –that secretly wanted her –at bay.
The feeling of loss and shame crushes him at that moment. But, it is not the loss of the People’s perceived chance at resurrection and restoration that weighs down his heart the most. As his ancient promise deems it to be. It is to her that the shame centers. That tortures him with a very real pain far too heavy to truly bear. He cannot believe what he has done. That he, in such a moment of weakness, not only allowed himself to lose control and unleash the primal nature of the wolf within him but allowed himself to press such an advantage without a moment’s thought. To take such advantage of a woman who could possibly know absolutely nothing. A woman who could be completely innocent in all things. And punish her deliberate taunting with the violence of the worse kind. All because he could not maintain a sliver of restraint. Simply because he could not withstand her indescribable allure.
“What have I done...” he cries out quietly. His voice shaking.
The magnitude of his actions finally consume him completely with that one question and the emotions barely restrained within him are unleashed. Regretful and shame-fill tears begin to fall down his cheeks in their irreverent and poignant proving of his unforgivable guilt as he buries his face deeper into his trembling hands. Too far gone to keep his decorum. Too far gone to show any calmness or fortitude of will. He cannot stem his emotions for even a moment more. The cruel duality of this moment forever etched down his face. In a moment that hasn’t occurred in five millennia. A moment where he has truly allowed himself to be the man that no one ever sees. A man of emotion. With pride washed away. Vanished. Leaving nothing but the truest part of himself to be seen in the silence of his loneliness and shame. And, stripped raw of any falsity or mask of indifference.
And, all, because of her.
Time passes in the quietness of the moment where only the sound of his gentle sobbing can be heard almost inaudibly. He cannot restrain nor command the emotions no matter how much he wishes he could. So he allows himself such a moment of weakness. Does not try to push it down. To cease such actions. And gives in to the emotions as they come. As they dwarf his very own pride with their sorrowful march down his face. Left to flow freely, unhindered.
Solas’ emotional outburst slowly ends sometime later and with the strange relief that comes with its end, a new emotion invades. This time it is more panic. But stemming not from what he has done, but of what will unknowingly come after. For consequences will always find their way to the unjust. And, he is no exception. With panic’s assault, questions to his safety come to the forefront. The worry of what will happen to him now that he has done the unthinkable.
In his rational mind, he knows the possible outcomes of such actions. Either Lalinaya will accept what he has done quietly, giving no knowledge to another about what happened in that quiet tavern last night and taking such a secret to her grave. Or, she will allow her sense of justice to spur her into action. Going directly to her Commander with the allegations of his misconduct. His assault upon her. And calling upon Cullen’s unflinching sense of justice and retribution to deal with the man who would dare take advantage of Andraste’s chosen Herald. With as much vengeance as he desires. All in pursuit of punishing the monster that dared to hurt her.
He has no doubt that the Commander would see to it that he is punished in the cruelest way imaginable should his actions become known. The man’s sense of justice has always been like a beacon lighting a path through the darkness of the world. Unshakable and unchanging. And, the possible thought that he could ignore such cruelty holds no true merit. Cullen will come for him if his deeds are known. And Solas knows it.
It is to this thought that Solas slides his hand from his face and takes stock in his surroundings. Turning his eyes to the window to gauge the time what has passed since he awoke in the tavern. He finds, quickly thereafter, that time has not allowed him much reprieve. As dawn’s first light has recently blanketed the sky signally the day’s beginning.
The village will soon be alight with life once again. And, time is running short.
Thoughts of the moment Cullen will come for him suddenly fill his thoughts. Imaginings of soldiers surrounding his cabin and angrily beating upon his door. The sound of cracking wood as the only portal to his quarters is broken open. And the vision of massive Templars invading the space, with Cullen furiously on their heels, abound.
And, with such imaginings, Solas’ suddenly feels the need to flee more than any moment in his entire long life. With panic and fear controlling his every action, he immediately stands, rushes across the room, and retrieves his pack from under his reading table. In a flurry of the moment, spurred on by the uncontrollable need to gather his things quickly so that he may leave this place before the inevitable knock upon his door comes, he hurries to find the last remnants of his life within Haven’s walls. Stuffing them quickly inside the weathered cloth bag as fast as possible. In a matter of moments all that he owns, the pieces of his meager existence as it now stands, are all put in their place. The only thing that remains is his staff. Turning his eyes to the corner of the room. He spies it standing there and quickly retrieves it before returning to his reading table. The moment he reaches for his pack once again, however, his world immediately freezes as the sound of an angry, heavy pounding suddenly echoes from his very own door.
Awash with an instantaneous sense of doom, he cannot move. Cannot breathe. As the conclusion to the horrible things he has done has seemingly caught up with him far more quickly than he had ever expected.
He quickly takes stock of his options –what routes and means must he take to secure not only his safety but his freedom– and his eyes, once again, move to take in the space of his cabin. With an emphasis on the windows in the room as the thought of climbing out and escaping in such a way flashes across his mind. However, he has no choice but to dismiss that idea almost immediately as he realizes that with their size there would be no way he would ever fit. That fact only solidifying his predicament even more and confirming that his only chance of escape remains with the only door to his little hovel. The door that at this moment is currently being guarded and occupied by an unknown force.
His mind instantly fills with the harrowing thoughts of how he can manage to flee and what will happen when that door finally opens. What lengths he will have to go to, to secure his freedom. And what destruction and death he may leave behind all for the sake of such a goal. He questions himself at that moment. Wondering if he would be truly willing to go so far. To harm others. Even to kill those who he has built a repertoire with over the last few weeks. Simply so that he does not get caught.
Could he truly end Cullen’s life just to remain free? Or, even Varric’s? Could he truly be that cruel?
Solas immediately shakes away such thoughts. Unable to face the very real possibility that he could actually be forced to do such a thing. Even if it is truly within his ability, to snuff out another life simply to save his own skin...it is something he never wanted to do again. No matter the circumstance. No matter the cost. Too many good people suffered at his hands so long ago. Simply because he could not allow his purpose to be halted before it was achieved. Far too many souls lost their lives, bleed their very last drop of life-blood, at his very own hands. And many more would do so before the end came. To take another life simply because he had no other choice...he couldn’t bear the thought. Or, the sorrow that would haunt him even more than his past already did.
But, if it came to it, he knows that he will ultimately do what needed to be done. No matter how much more his spirit, his soul, will suffer for it in the end.
The knock sounds again, this time louder than before and carrying with it a sense of perceivable urgency, and Solas realizes that a decision must be made. A plan must be contrived. Or, else, he will not leave this place and keep his freedom. With a deep sigh, he takes a moment to formulate an exit strategy that can be adapted should the need for violence make itself known. And makes a decision.
He will play the fool. The unknowing. On the outside. But be ready for any eventuality that may show its face.
Leaving his pack behind, he grabs his staff and makes his way to the door. Before opening it, however, he leans his staff against the wall just behind where the door will open. Once in place, he turns his attention to the door and, to produce the most convincing scene of obliviousness he can muster, he quickly tosses his clothing to make it seem like he had been awoken from sleep abruptly. When he finishes, he takes a cursory glance at his façade and lifts one hand to his eye; to mimic the act of rubbing his sleep away, and opens the door slowly.
He cannot stem the surprise that flickers across his features the moment the door swings open and he sees what has truly been waiting for him all this time.
A very familiar dwarf.
Before Solas can even express the man’s name, however, Varric pushes past him and enters the space without a word. Grabbing the door from Solas’ grip instantly and slamming it shut with haste. With a deep sigh, full of relief, the dwarf turns and immediately reaches up to rub both his arms as a shiver crawls through him.
“Damn,” Varric intones. “It colder than a Witch of the Wild’s tit out there!”
With those salacious and animated words, some of Solas’ tension breaks. But, not all. For he is no fool to be lulled into a sense of safety so easily offered. Even by Varric.
“Can...” Solas slowly answers, venturing delicately so as to not raise suspicion. “I help you with something Master Tethras?”
“Oh?” he replies. Sounding surprised for some unknown reason, before turning his attention to the elf looking at him with a reserved yet curious expression. “Right. Sorry. Did I wake you?”
“Yes...but just.” Solas lies. Keeping up the ruse as best as he can.
“Apologies,” Varric replies. “I didn’t intend on waking you. But, I just had to check.”
“And, what is it that you think you need to check in my room?”
“I was wondering if Lala was hiding out in here,” Varric answers with a slightly worried look upon his face, as he scans Solas’ cabin for any sign of her. “You haven’t seen her this morning have you?”
“Should I have?” he counters, aiming to keep his answers noncommittal.
“I thought...maybe,” the dwarf sighs before dismissing his own thoughts. “Guess not, then.”
“Wouldn’t it be more prudent to check her own quarters, rather than mine?”
“I already did,” Varric answers curtly. “No answer, when I knocked.”
“Thought she may have stopped by here on her way to the apothecary...or something.” he sighed. “But, I guess I was wrong.”
“And, just, why are you looking for Herald so early in the morning?” Solas calmly counters. “If I may ask.”
“Oh? Nothing really.” the dwarf replies. “Yesterday I was telling her about my morning hunting trips, catching game for the cooks here, and she volunteered herself to accompany me this morning. So I went to go get her before I headed out, but she wasn’t there. She was so adamant about going at first. So, I was worried something happened to her. Or something.”
“She doesn’t usually break any promise she makes. So it’s odd that I can’t find her.”
“Did you check...the tavern?” he asks slowly. “Perhaps she may be grabbing some food before the hunt.”
“Not likely,” Varric answers, shaking his head in dismissal. “Just ran into Flissa before I came here. She’s running behind this morning. Hasn’t even had the chance to open yet and won't be for at least another hour.”
“Have you spoken to the Commander? I’m sure if anyone knows where the Herald has run off to, it would be him. Or, perhaps, the Nightingale.”
“I won't go to Leliana unless it’s absolutely necessary. You and I both know what would happen if she suddenly found out that Andraste’s Herald just up and disappeared.”
“True enough.” Solas nods.
“As for Curly, there’s no way he’d know where Lala has gotten off to. Not, after the night he had last night.”
“What happened last night?”
“Oh, that’s right, you weren’t there. Well, Lala and I managed to convince Curly and the Seeker to join us for a few games of Diamondback and a few rounds of drinking. Using the Loser drinks rules.” Varric explains. “And, Curly did not have a good night. Killed far too many pints to even stand straight. It took every bit of strength and concentration Cassandra and I had just to drag him back to his quarters.”
“He won't even see the sun till at least midday, if not later,” Varric added with a gentle chuckle. “Of that, I’m sure.”
“Perhaps she went for a walk.” Solas calmly supplies, hoping that any suggestion he may give will Varric some idea where to look. And leeway to go on his merry way.
“Maybe.” Varric nods. “Though I don’t know why. Considering she was supposed to wait for me.”
“Maybe she got a little restless, and went on ahead.”
“I hope so.” sighs Varric. “In any case, I can at least go check.”
“Sounds like you should.”
“Alright,” Varric replies, looking up at Solas once more. “I’ll see if I can find her. If you see her, though, do tell her that I was looking for her. And, where I’ll be. Would Ya?”
“Sure, Varric.” Solas agrees.
“Thanks,” Varric answers, before adding a quick apology. “And, sorry for waking you.”
“No problem, Varric.”
As Solas bids farewell to their chatty dwarf, a part of him is so very grateful to the man that his heart can't stop from swelling with relief. With just that small conversation he has learned that what happened last night in the tavern between himself and Lalinaya has not been made public. Has not been spoken to any soul. At least, not yet. And, for the time being, he can safely say that his worries earlier are somewhat unfounded. However, even in the relief, he knows that this may not remain the case going forward. He will need to be vigilant in his observations for the next few hours. Perhaps even seek out more knowledge and understanding on his own. Before he can confirm if she did, in fact, keep their meeting last night to herself. And no repercussions are looming just beyond the horizon.
But, even in doing so, the realization that she truly could have kept completely silent about what he did is more disquieting than anything else. And, completely unlike her. She had said it herself. During their conversation, and the telling of the hypothetical story of the violent, controlling man and her self-inserted as his abused wife. No man puts his hands on me in anger...without retaliation. She had said. And the truth behind those words had not been lost in her response. Solas, even at that moment, could feel how much she meant it. How much the very idea of a man hurting her, or taking his anger out on her, would not be allowed under any circumstance.
So, why I am I not already bound and imprisoned? His mind questions earnestly.
Could it be that she did not even perceive my advances as a threat?
Or, could it be that she is merely waiting for the most opportune moment to exact her retaliation in the worst way possible?
Or, even worse still, does she plan to use the truth behind what happened against me? To use it so...as a way to control me and leave me no other choice but to follow her every order. Whatever she may wish?
That final thought makes Solas’ heart drop into the pit of his stomach. As all his fears of being captured, tortured, and executed for his actions against her suddenly pales in comparison to what could truly come to fruition if Lalinaya deems to make him suffer instead. Yet, he suddenly finds, that a part of him sadistically wants to accept such a fate.
Simply because deep down in his heart...he knows he deserves it.
Chapter 8: Cullen: Faith
Cullen awakes after a night drinking in the tavern to find the Herald waiting urgently to speak with him.
My apologies to all my readers. I have been having health issues for quite a while and have been unable to dedicate time for my currently running fics. However, I am happy to say that I am finally in a place where my health has returned to optimal levels and I can now continue with all my stories! Please look forward to more updates, coming soon.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Greeting the rise of the morning sun; a glorious self-sustained ritual of realization of a new day; had always brought joy and appreciation to his heart. The shimmering, waking sun; rising in the east to cast its warm and accepting light upon the world; was always a reminder that with each new day new possibilities were sure to come. But, on this particular morning, the appreciation and reception of the new day was going to be difficult.
After getting roped into an evening of drinking and merriment with his new compatriots, the consequences of said night’s a frivolity were prominent. He had awoken in the early light of dawn, nearly an hour before true sunrise with a pounding ache in his head and a weakness in his limbs that he had not felt in many a year. A perfectly pointed reminder that he had let his guard down the night before and imbibed a little too heavily for his own liking.
He had been certain that his Lieutenant had been aware of his activities that evening and that he had been warned to not wake him without due cause, and had passed out happily knowing that he would be able to wrest away his own foolishness. However, it seems, that no matter how much he wanted to rest; to sleep away the intoxication he was so goaded into the night before; his body and his mind had other ideas.
Blearily, he blinked away the sleep from his eyes as the sound of the day’s early activities began to echo inside his tent from the practice yard just outside. The sound of scraping swords and clashing of shields humming over the din of orders and instructions being called out often, becoming far too much, too quickly, rousing him out of slumber with a confused jolt. For a moment he feared that they were under attack, that some unknown force had come to them under the cover of darkness, hell-bent on eradicating their little movement long before it had legs to stand on. The flicker of fear within him was pronounced and with a jerk and twist, he shot up out of his bedroll and darted into the camp. Coming to a clear stop the moment he caught sight of the simple training going on around him.
“Good morning, Commander,” came a gentle, yet commanding, voice.
Cullen turns to the source of the sound, only to see a familiar face.
“Good morning, Lieutenant.” he nods, pulling back his excitement at that moment and regaining his composure. “Anything to report?”
“Nothing, in particular, Ser,” the Lieutenant responds. “I took the liberty of continuing today’s training schedule in your stead. The soldiers are improving as you expected and, at the moment, there seems to be no issue that would warrant any immediate attention.”
“So,” the Lieutenant adds. “If you wish to continue your recovery, as you intended, there is no reason for you not to do so.”
Appreciative of his Lieutenant’s foresight on the matter, Cullen gives the man a gentle smile but shakes his head.
“That won't be necessary.” the Commander responds. “The morning has already arrived, and there are always things that must be dealt with. You may carry on with this morning’s training in the interim.”
“As you wish, Ser,” the Lieutenant salutes, before turning to leave –only to immediately stop and turn back. “Pardon me, Commander, but I nearly forgot.”
“The Herald came looking for you a while ago,” he informs. “She looked...upset.”
“Did she say why she wanted to see me?”
“No, Ser,” he answers. “Only that, when you had a moment, she would like to speak with you.”
“And, do we know where she is at the moment?” Cullen questions.
“Just there, Ser.” the Lieutenant responds, pointing over Cullen’s shoulder towards the edge of the frozen lake just north of the forge. “She’s been sitting there for about an hour.”
Cullen turns and immediately notices her sitting in the snow; oddly still dressed in the charcoal grey dress he had seen her in the night before and now wrapped in a matching hooded cloak; looking out over the lake with a strange disquiet about her. Seeming almost lonely, yet contemplative at the same time, there is an obliviousness about her that Cullen cannot place and he is immediately concerned.
“Very well,” Cullen replies. “I will see to her. Until I return, continue as you have been.”
Taking a few quiet moments to settle himself, and make himself presentable, Cullen returns to his tent and washes up before donning his armor once more. With a quick once over; and finding himself satisfied with his work; he gives himself a little nod to instill more of the confidence expected in a military Commander and exits his tent quietly. Turning almost immediately in the direction of where their Herald still sits quietly. He heads in her direction, quietly wondering what may be wrong.
As he walks, many moments during the last few days unabashedly flicker across his mind. Reminding him of his few interactions with her. How he met her. How she seemed to be around him. What he knew of her. While, all the while, trying to forcefully overlook that moment in the clearing the morning before.
He had not intended to spy such a scene when he had noticed her leave Haven that morning. Nor had he expected it. When he had spotted her quiet exit from camp, the first thought that had consumed his mind had not been a trusting one. In truth, if he’d been forced to admit it in any way, he would have sounded almost cruel in his thinking. He had truly thought that she was intending to flee and all he could think at that moment was that she could not be allowed to do so. He had called upon two of his Templar brethren without hesitation, without a care to how his actions may be perceived, and followed without restraint. Thinking only of the cause, the Breach, and what would happen if she disappeared leaving them with no way to mend the tears in the sky and not how she would look at him afterward.
Deep in his heart, he knew it was wrong to be so distrustful of a woman who clearly only wished to help but his life and his experiences with mages had always played a part in tainting his views whether he wished it did or not. He didn’t want to mistrust the Herald, but a part of him –he knew –always would.
And that thought disgusted him right down to his core.
She had never done anything that he would have considered to be cruel or malicious. Even when the others demanded her immediate execution for killing the Divine, a part of him stood fast and refused to allow the blade to ever be drawn. The truth was unknown and so, too, remains so. She had a right to defend herself, to explain herself, and no matter how many called for her death even before she returned to consciousness he would defend her right to state her case first. There had already been far too much senseless death already. He would not add another life to that pile, no matter what anyone wanted.
“You wished to speak with me?” Cullen questions as he comes to within a few steps of her.
She pauses for a moment, letting out what seems like a steadying breath, before turning to the former Templar at her side.
“Yes,” she answers, flashing a gentle; albeit, forced; smile. “Do you have some time this morning? I thought it best that you and I speak privately, as we have not yet had a chance to do so since I came to this place.”
“I...” Cullen awkwardly replies, slightly surprised by the nearly out-of-the-blue request for a moment before regaining his composure. “Yes.”
“So you can spare the time?”
“Yes, Herald,” Cullen answers, giving a slight nod in affirmation. “If that is what you wish.”
“I do.” she smiles as she reaches up and offers her hand, quietly requesting his assistance to stand.
Cullen complies, taking her delicate hand in his own and giving her the gentle stability she needs to right herself once more.
“Thank you,” she sighs softly, pulling her hand from his quietly.
“It’s such a beautiful morning. Perhaps we should take a walk and enjoy it?”
“If that is what you wish,” Cullen repeats, nodding in acceptance.
“It is.” she smiles again; this time more sincerely; and motions towards the bank of the lake. “Well, shall we?”
As they walk, silence falls around them and, in that quiet, Cullen slowly begins to feel truly unsettled.
Last night, in the tavern, the Herald’s mood had been jovial, open, but something must have changed and he isn’t sure what, exactly, was the cause. Except for a few flashes of emotion here or there; when she was angry, she felt threatened, or a conversation got a little heated; she was usually very calm and collected. But, this morning he could sense that something was just...off. Her, normally, graceful carriage seemed almost sluggish; as if she had not slept in days; and the look, upon her face, seemed almost far too serious for something as innocuous as a simple stroll through the snow on a crisp winter morning.
“What do you believe?” she questions, softly. “Do you believe that I am a Herald as the others believe me to be? A force for good, gifted to the world by divine will? Or, do you believe as I do? That I am simply a woman who got caught up in something beyond her control and must now do what needs to be done to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent alike?”
“This concerns you, Herald?”
“In a manner of speaking,” she replies. “It’s simple enough to understand those who live a life of oppression, under one form of mastery or another, and why they would see salvation even in someone like me.”
“Given my, quite, extraordinary entrance into these circumstances.”
“However,” she adds, turning to glance up at Cullen as they continue to walk. “What I do not understand, is why those who have lived a life of privilege –even moderate privilege –would fall so quickly into such a fantastical belief as divine providence. That the Maker, himself, would not only send a savior to protect this world, given the belief that he abandoned us all long ago, but that he would send someone like me in his stead.”
“I truly do not understand it,” she sighs in disbelief.
“Are you not religious?” Cullen questions gently. “I was under the impression that all Dalish believed in the Gods of Arlathan.”
“Belief in the gods of our ancestors, and whether or not they are real –and still influence the living world –is debatable. But, yes, I did believe for a time,” she admits. “Until I was old enough to question things. And, then, not so much.”
“So you are an unbeliever?”
“No,” she sighs, suddenly seeming frustrated. “I do not disbelieve that they, at some point in history, may have existed. They may have, in fact, walked upon this earth long ago as the stories claim. But, I cannot say that I believe them to be either divine or influential in this day in age.”
“Aside from how their stories influence those who still believe and how they use their beliefs to influence others, that is.”
“And, the Maker?” questions Cullen curiously. “Does he, too, fall under such scrutiny?”
“Would you feel insulted, if I said yes?”
“Possibly,” he replies. “Had...such a question been asked of me when I was young.”
“No, Herald,” he answers in a kind tone. “Life has a tendency to change one’s perspective as they grow older. The longer you come to live, the more you realize that things like belief and faith are things that you carry with you, no matter where you go. It is not diminished by hate, by vitriol, or by nonbelievers. It can only be diminished by your own thoughts and actions, and what you allow to influence it.”
“Does it bother you that I carry no discernable or tangible belief, not even in the heathenistic gods of my people?”
“Yes, but only out of concern for you,” he admits. “The Chantry mothers often teach that a man without the Maker lives a life lost to the endless void of loneliness. Walking a wayward and aimless path without true direction. Unknowing and misguided. Without hope for a better tomorrow.”
“That faith gives a man the courage to face the day, and to face his enemies on the battlefield, no matter the odds because the Maker will always be there to protect you. Be by your side.”
“And, that without it, you will be doomed to live a life without true promise...without true peace.”
“Do you fear that I am lonely, Cullen?” she retorts, amused disbelief hiding just beyond the edge of her curious tone. “That I walk an aimless path without a safe harbor to return to? That I am unhindered and unsettled? Lost among the storm that is this existence, rudderless and directionless, without true purpose, as well?”
“I do not know, Herald.” Cullen sighs. “That is something only you can know. Though others would gladly tell you otherwise, I’m sure.”
“And, yet, you would not,” she counters. “Is that what you’re saying?”
“No, I would not.” he smiles reassuringly. “While the Chantry would surely tell me that answering in such a way goes against the Maker, I could not; in good conscience; force the beliefs I carry on those who do not want it. Nor would I condemn another for believing differently than I.”
“It is often better to hope for those that are lost, and have faith that they will find the right path, than condemning them for being without the peace the Maker provides.”
“You have a quite progressive way of thinking,” she notes. “Considering you are a former Templar. I had not expected you to be so forgiving, especially in the manners of faith.”
“I am impressed,” she adds with a smile.
“Is it so hard to believe that a follower of the Maker could still retain logical beliefs outside the Chantry teachings?” he questioned, not quite believing such a statement to be a compliment. “That I could be both a believer and one that understands the world as it is –rather than how it should be?”
“No so much hard to believe, but more surprising than anything,” she replies. “You are only one of a handful of Andrastians that have even dared to entertain such a conversation, with such a subject, for this long. Most of the time I find myself at sword point not long after I admit my heathenistic beliefs –to not believing in the Maker. So, it is almost refreshing to know that I am not being threatened with a prison sentence, a life chained to a Circle or, worse, the gallows. This time around.”
“That has happened to you?” Cullen immediately questions in near disbelief.
“Once or twice.”
“How, ever, did you manage to avoid such a fate?”
“By being clever, of course.” she practically giggles.
Silence falls around them once more. Their footsteps crunching upon the snow and the gentle breeze toying with the treetops: the only sounds echoing around them. In that stillness, Cullen’s mind descends into quiet contemplation and a curious wonderment of the woman at his side. The more they walk, the more he realizes that there is so much more about the Herald he does not know.
She is a curious creature. So strange and unknown, yet oddly familiar in the way she speaks and carries herself. Almost as if she had somehow managed to waltz out of a forgotten dream; as if called to this place, and time, with a purpose unknown to them all. A deliberate mystery; somehow left unsolved. Yet, open and bare for the whole world to see. An unusual amalgamation of enigmatic illusion, unrealized intelligence, and unflappable elegance mixed with cordial kindness, peaceful countenance, and a quiet allure that has the inexplicable power of calling every man, woman, and child into her embrace. As if by magic; by the command of a destiny still left unknown.
“Does it bother you?” Cullen questions softly, as they make their way towards the broken dock on the far side of the lake. “Does it make you uneasy, I mean, to be forced into a situation where you must interact with those who would, once, do such a thing to you?”
“Once?” she mutters is disbelief, a slight scowl flickering across her face.
“A poor choice of words,” Cullen admits, noticing her reaction and instantly feeling he has overstepped. “I apologize. I am not...use to having to broach such subjects. How to do so properly, suddenly escapes me.”
“I understand,” she answers, her face falling back into a calm countenance as her, once, cheerful tone shifts to sounding far more serious than he would have expected. “It can be uncomfortable to have to face that which is often left unsaid. Often Ignored as if it doesn’t exist simply to keep the status quo. Or to maintain the blissful ignorance; that so many choose to embrace; simply to protect their precious sensibilities from the realities of this world.”
“I...I have offended you...with my careless words, Herald.” Cullen, suddenly feeling very awkward and practically scolded, apologizes. “I did not mean...”
“No,” she interrupts, waving him off as her harsh tone disappears at the sight of his reaction to her words, and sighs heavily in her own disappointment. “Please...don’t apologize, Commander. I have...I did not mean to imply that you...”
“The,” she sighs, almost tiredly, as she tries to redirect her thoughts. “Plight of the People, of all people under the thumb of those in power, is a fact of this world that I despise. To see that which the world does to them: the erasure of their history, their culture, their beliefs, and their potential; to be forced into slavery, poverty, and squaller; and villainized so thoroughly –simply because they are different or dissimilar to those in power, is a cruelty that I simply cannot abide by. Or, accept unequivocally without protest.”
“It’s...a sore subject for myself, and many people like me,” she admits. “But, I should not take it out on you. My reaction was not appropriate to your honest and curious intent and I jumped to conclusions before realizing that you meant no harm with such a question. I apologize...I shouldn’t have just assumed the worst.”
“I understand, Herald.” Cullen sighs, trying to reassure her –though he is not sure why he feels he must. “I will admit that I am not as well-versed in the history of Thedas as I should be, so I cannot speak on how your people have truly suffered without any true surety. But, I can understand how the forced indoctrination to Andrastian society, and the subsequent punishment of non-conformity, forces those oppressed to feel such animosity.”
“I just hope,” Cullen prompts with sincerity. “That I can alleviate some of your apprehension and mistrust while you’re here. I would not be able to live with myself if I allowed someone of such importance to this world to feel as if they are unsafe among those who claim to subscribe to the same cause and same goal.”
“And, I appreciate that.” she, finally, smiles once again as she turns and leads them both to the end of the abandoned dock.
“To be honest, to your question, I do not –in fact –feel safe in Haven,” she admits.
“While most of the people here are very accommodating, and polite,” she continues; coming to a stop at the end of the dock and turning her attention back to the small village before them. “There is an element of unrest hiding behind the thinly veiled composure of acceptance and understanding that I see here. The animosity and vitriol; once openly spat in my direction after I awoke here; has not completely vanished.”
“No matter how adamant Josephine and Leliana believe it to be so, people do not forgive so easily,” she states, knowingly. “It will take time to earn their trust. This, I know. But, it is my hope that; until such time comes; we will be able to protect what we are trying to build here from falling apart because of it.”
“I, in truth, could not live with myself if we fail to close the Breach simply because I cannot explain my place in all this, what really happened at the Conclave, or why it is that I woke up with this.” she continues, pointedly looking down at the mark upon her hand. “There is, truly, too much at stake for our purpose to be lost simply because of me.”
“You sound as if you would willingly abandon us all, if need be, to see that the Breach is undone.”
“Does that sound unreasonable to you?” she questions. “Is it not our goal to close it? To bring to justice those responsible?”
“Of course it is, Herald.”
“Then, if the situation dictates for me to disappear; either by choice or by death; for us to succeed, would it not be the best choice to make?” she counters.
“You would, willingly, become a martyr?”
“To see all of this mess undone?” she answers truthfully. “Yes, without hesitation.”
“Because...” she sighs. “Though I may not have much trust that the world will someday learn their lesson, and choose a higher –more inclusive –path that protects all people; rich and poor; human and non-human; believer and non-believer; alike, I do have faith that such a day will someday come.”
“Having faith, not in Gods or governments, but in people is the only way I can truly walk through this life with my head held high. It is by that faith, and that faith alone, that I can suffer all that has been cast upon me simply because of who and what I am.”
“If it is necessary to make such a choice; an ultimate sacrifice of all that I am, or could be; all in hopes of saving the world, then I will gladly make that choice willingly.”
“Because, I know that one day...one day, we will all finally have a home, a country, and a world that we can all be proud of. A place where everyone will be loved, honored, respected, and accepted, no matter their lineage, their station in life, or their beliefs.”
“Would you not wish to see such a day with your own eyes?”
“I believe you know that answer, Cullen,” she replies. “Who would not wish to see such a world?”
“Only those who would wish to keep things as they are,” he answers, his tone slightly derisive. “Who would see the status quo remain.”
“Precisely.” she nods.
“I dream of a world where someone like me can live a life without fear, without looking over my shoulder every minute of every day. A world where human and non-human, alike, can live in harmony. Unafraid of the darkness looming in the shadows, or the darkness of hate hiding in another’s heart...”
“A world where, no matter who you are, you can explore the complexities of life freely and without concern for what will not be permitted. Where there are no doors closed to you and opportunity knocks for even the meekest of us all.”
“A life worth living for...A life worth fighting for.”
“Such a dream,” Cullen sighs softly. “It sounds beautiful.”
“But very idealistic, I know,” she replies with true understanding.
“With the world as it is now, such a dream seems unobtainable by any stretch of the imagination.” she smiles sadly. “But that’s what dreams are, are they not? A fantastical goal, born from hope. Both possible and impossible. Yet even though in your mind you know the futility of it all, you still aspire to see it come to fruition. Still hope that someday...someday, you will see such a dream become reality. That you will see it with your very own eyes, before the end.”
“It is hope, that drives us all. No matter what we may say or claim to the contrary. It gives us the determination to face the worst. We suffer, struggle, and fight tooth and nail for every scrap of the happiness we hope we will find. While, all the while, clinging on to the faith that we will be strong enough to endure all this world throws as us and live to tell the tale.”
“Hope and faith, Cullen, is what I cling to every single day. Because... It is with hope and through faith that we will be able to save those we love, protect this world from the monsters looming just beyond the horizon and, perhaps, one day find the peace that the Gods claimed to have bestowed upon long ago.”
“Herald, I...” Cullen begins, instantly stopping short a second later as a flicker of movement suddenly catches his attention out of the corner of his eye.
She seems to notice, as well, and turns her attention in the direction of his interest just in time to notice a man, a soldier dressed in armor; emblazoned with the sigil of the Inquisition; approaching them.
“State your business,” Cullen commands, his hand instinctively dropping to the pommel of his sword upon his side.
“Pardon the interruption, Commander. Your Worship. ” the soldier quickly replies, coming to a dead stop not far from the little dock and immediately saluting. “But, I was sent to retrieve you, Ser.”
“Lieutenant Reiland, Ser,” the soldier responds. “It is nearing the time for the sparring matches to begin. He said you would not wish to miss it, Ser. That you were to oversee it as per your agreement with the men involved.”
“Right, very well,” the Commander nods. “Please inform the Lieutenant that I will return shortly.”
“You may go.”
“Yes, Ser.” the soldier replies, saluting once more before immediately turning tail and withdrawing.
“Sparring?” she curiously inquires as the soldier steps away. “I was not made aware that we would be sanctioning sparring matches among our soldiers.”
“It is not official policy, as of yet,” Cullen admits. “Lieutenant Reiland, however, believes that allowing such bouts will not only improve morale but allow the more seasoned soldiers to mentor our more green recruits –with a more realistic combat scenario, rather than just drilling.”
“And, you agreed?”
“Tentatively,” he nods. “Today’s bouts are to be a test of the efficacy and viability of such training. Whether or not they can be implemented into a more permanent training regiment and whether or not they can be conducted safely –while maximizing the learning potential and experience of all involved.”
“I can see the benefit,” she admits. “to such an experiment. It is not uncommon for an army to employ such an inclusion in their training.”
“I would be interested in seeing how well the men fair with such a challenge, and how well they learn from one another.”
“Mind if I tag along?”
“You wish to join me at the bouts?” Cullen asks, surprise suddenly in his voice.
“Is such a request, so strange?” she counters. “It would do me good, would it not? To get a better read on our soldiers and their abilities.”
“Such knowledge, to know their strengths and weaknesses first hand, will be an invaluable tool should we face a necessity for force.”
“Besides,” she adds with a nearly playful smile. “Wouldn’t an extra set of eyes and an uninfluenced opinion better serve the test, rather than just their very proud Commander’s perspective?”
“To eliminate the conflict of sheer bias?”
“You make a valid argument, Herald,” Cullen replies, once again impressed by how her mind rationalizes every single aspect of her life. “I would be honored to have you join us.”
“Wonderful,” she chirped happily, smiling brightly. “Well, then, lead the way Commander.”
Since I was forced into a hiatus due to my illness I am concerned about the viability of all my current stories.
So, To my readers: I encourage you to leave comments: even if it's nothing but an "I'm still reading this" so I can better gauge if this story has lost its audience or not. If so, it may need to be discontinued -which I do not want to do unless absolutely necessary.
Chapter 9: Cullen: Friends
Sparked by her interest Cullen and the Herald spends the day together watching the bouts of sparring, but when it is all over he finds her disagreeable to a great deal. Willing to listen to her concerns, they retire to the tavern and come to find that they are both more agreeable than he would have ever thought. That they have a commonality that was never to be expected.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
They spent the entire morning together.
And long into the afternoon.
A fact that surprises Cullen.
He hadn’t expected the Herald to truly take much interest in the bouts. Hadn’t expected her to watch so studiously. Hadn’t expected her to take the opportunity to enjoy the camaraderie that the men had been developing together. To participate in their gentle ribbing or their crass jokes at another’s expense. But she had.
When they’d arrived back to camp, the soldiers were already assembled around the makeshift ring of wooden fencing they had erected out near the southern gate of the valley, no more than five minutes from the gates of Haven. Standing at attention the moment they arrived, the men even seemed to be surprised to see her. A few, even venturing to absolve the Herald of her need to be there. Degrading their very own abilities to seem unworthy of her time.
She, however, dismissed their concerns quickly. Smiling brightly and playing to their egos often. Prodding them, daring them, to show her exactly what the most talented soldiers in Thedas could really do. And the men, her soldiers, didn’t disappoint. Seemingly boosted by her sweetly-given challenge. Desiring to do exactly what she wanted. To make her proud of them.
The first bout of the day pitted soldier against soldier. Sword, and shield against sword and shield. And, for the most part, they did quite well. Their skills, being green recruits as they were, were pretty on par with one another. The bout coming to draw without a clear winner a little while later.
The second of the bouts pitted a more seasoned recruit, a man that had nearly six years’ experience in the Fereldan army, against another man with equal experience, formerly of Orlais. This particular bout brought to the forefront tactics more advanced than the first. With shield techniques native to both countries coming in to play. It lasted longer than the first, but in the end, the former Orlesian soldier was named the winner. Much to the chagrin of many, including the Herald herself.
“But, he cheated,” she argues quietly, turning to Cullen. “That was a cheap shot.”
“There are no such things as a cheap shot in battle, Herald.” chuckles back the Commander. “Especially when your life is on the line.”
“But,” she sighs. “It still was unnecessary.”
“How so?” questions a younger-looking soldier standing on the other side of Cullen. A green recruit from Denerim named Liam, who looked unbelievably interested in her opinion.
“Yeah?” questions the Orlesian summarily accused of taking such a cheap shot, who just happened to walk into earshot and catch the Herald’s gentle condemnation of his technique the second it fell from her lips. “How so?”
“You really want my opinion?” she counters.
“Yes, definitely, Your Worship,” the Orlesian replies earnestly.
“You didn’t need to counter his wide sword swing with a kick to the bits and a shield block,” she answers, almost proudly, turning her attention to the Orlesian and raising her voice so all could hear. “His right side was wide open for the killing blow the second he shifted his body weight to recoil from the previous attack and reset his stance for the backhanded strike he attempted. One swift strafe, to counter his momentum and a quick thrust...and then, boom, he’d of been done.”
“Your knee-jerk reaction, going for his bits, cost you time that could have better prepared you for another possible attack –say from another enemy soldier coming up to you in your blind spot.”
“You were also so focused on the enemy before you that you could have easily hit or hurt a fellow soldier with that ill-conceived jump-swing thing you attempted,” she adds, with a slight dig to her voice. “Just to impress.”
“Ah, yes,” chuckles the Commander again. “His situational awareness does seem to be a little off to me as well.”
“I am impressed that you noticed it,” he adds with a smile.
“Well,” she chuckles back. “I not just a pretty face, you know. I do have other talents, Cullen.”
“I’m sure you do,” the Orlesian replies, humor in his voice.
The moment turned light in the face of her playful jab in his direction. They continued to watch the next six bouts, sharing commentary here and there with one another as they saw fit. The time spent together was good and Cullen could easily see what it was about the Herald that Varric seemed to like so much. She was cool, calm, and collected, educated in the tactics of war with a keen eye, but quick to lay down a smart comment or a down-right coy joke to liven the mood if need be. She was jovial with the men as well. All of them seemingly appreciative of her criticisms, even when they turned a little harsher than he would have expected. She had gained a modicum of respect today, he was sure of that, and she had made quite a few friendly acquaintances as well.
“So, what’s the verdict, Herald?” questions Cullen as the last of the bouts come to end as the sun slowly began to sink in the sky. “What did you think of our little experiment?”
“I’m not sure if I can sign off on these bouts,” she admits, motioning for him to follow her as she stepped away to begin their walk back toward the gates, her tone: somewhat reserved. “At the moment.”
“Concerns?” he counters, falling in step with her.
“Quite a few,” she admits.
“Well, I would like to hear them if you wouldn’t mind explaining your reservations.”
“And, I intend to,” she smiles. “But not now.”
“At least, not until I have had some food,” she adds.
“Are you hungry, Herald?”
“Famished,” she answers with a little frown. “I just realized I haven’t eaten since...Oh, my goodness, last night, in fact.”
“Then that is something we definitely need to remedy, immediately.” Cullen counters, a worried scowl flickering across his face. “How in the world did you not manage to eat today?”
“I got a little distracted,” she practically giggles, glancing up at Cullen with a coy smile.
“Then I must endeavor not to do that in the future.” he counters.
“Don’t you dare.” she chides.
“But?” counters Cullen.
“Well, if you are so concerned, you can always join me for dinner, Commander,” she smirks. “Make sure the Herald is eating properly, and all that, while we discuss my views, opinions, and concerns on the bouts today.”
“How does that sound?”
“If that is what you wish, Herald.”
“No, now none of that.” she scolds, looking up at him with a disappointed frown. “You say that phrase a lot and I’ve already had enough of it. I asked you what you thought. I did not ask you what you thought I wanted to hear.”
“So, answer me, properly Cullen.”
“Do you want to join me for dinner and a little conversation on military strategy?”
“Yes, Lalinaya,” Cullen answers with a properly apologetic nod.
“That’s better,” she smiles again. “Now, are you coming along? Or do you need to tend to anything before we go?”
“Wait here and I will accompany you,” Cullen replies hurriedly. “I just need to speak with my Lieutenant and then we can go, alright?”
“Very well,” she nods. “I’ll wait.”
Cullen quickly shuffles off back towards the tents to speak with Reiland and leave standing orders for the rest of the evening. The moment takes only a few minutes and he is soon returning to the Herald’s side.
“Wonderful,” she chirps, her voice sounding far more jovial than a moment before. “Then, shall we?”
It wasn’t long until the two of them were settled in a small corner table near the back end of the tavern. Away from the large group of men, mostly soldiers, currently drinking heavily after a long day of training. Their apparent rowdiness muted by the sight of both the Herald and the Commander entering together. Now too reserved to jeopardize their leaders’ opinion of them so readily.
Cullen was appreciative of the unusual quiet, for however long it may last. After last night, the drinking and his early morning wake-up, a headache had been slowly developing during the day. Only kept at bay by distraction, now threatening to return if he didn’t manage to medicate a little. He didn’t really want to bother, however, hoping that perhaps with a little food the little demon lingering around the edges of his mind would decide to, kindly, take its leave and spare him the necessity of downing copious amount of ale to combat it.
Cullen wasn’t much of a drinker. Never much it fact. Always doing his best to avoid it when he can. Simply because he didn’t like how it made him feel, during and afterward. Uninhibited, with no control. A Commander without his wits about him. A dangerous scenario, if threats were to make themselves known while he was incapacitated. No, definitely none of that. Very often, at least.
“Now,” prompts Cullen, as he pulled his eyes from Flissa; as she placed their meals before them; and turns to their Herald sitting across from him. “What shall we talk about first?”
“Your issues with sanctioning the bouts, perhaps?”
“If you wish to begin there, with work, I suppose it’s a good place to at least start,” she replies, reaching for the crusty piece of bread upon her plate and tearing off a small chuck. “Though, I’d like to get a few bites in first.”
“Ah, of course, Lalinaya.” stammers Cullen a bit. “My apologies, I got ahead of myself.”
“There’s no need for apologies, Cullen.” she admonishes. “And, please, do call me Lala while it’s just us.”
“That would not be appropriate,” the Commander replies, watching her finally pop the piece of bread in her mouth. “I am, already, violating proper etiquette by calling the Herald of Andraste by her given name, as it is.”
“Specifically, by my request.” she counters, swallowing her food. “A request that I am now altering under specific conditions.”
“I’m sorry,” she offers. “But I must insist that my friends call me Lala, in private.”
“Are we friends?”
“Not, yet,” she smiles coyly, tearing off another piece of bread. “But I’m working on it.”
Cullen couldn’t stop the chuckle that pushed by his lips, even if he tried, as genuine smile stretched across his face.
“So, you are, Lala,” he replies with a nod, amusement shading his voice. “So, you are.”
The moment falls quiet between them, each of them turning their attention to the food before them slowly going cold. But, the conviviality of the moment does not falter. At least not for Cullen. Even in that companionable silence, there is a, strangely, serene contentment that remains without flaunting itself or stirring the natural awkwardness that would usually rare its ugly head in such intimate circumstances. And, it’s a nice feeling. A feeling not often had, but truly welcomed.
“So,” she prompts, placing her fork upon her nearly empty plate after a time. “The bouts.”
“Yes,” he nods.
“First and foremost,” she begins politely. “I want to start off by saying that, in no way, have I decided to halt the current, preliminary, plan to implement official sparring within our ranks. I admit, and agree, that such practice can and will be a boon to not only the morale of our men but a great learning experience for our troops.”
“As you have expected, predicted,” she adds in addendum before continuing. “However, from what I observed today, I believe that there are some fundamental issues that need to be addressed before such a plan can become an official practice of the Inquisition.”
“Such as?” Cullen prompts, raptly paying attention.
“The first thing that, immediately, comes to mind is my concern for the soldier’s safety,” she answers, leaning back in her chair a bit. “I saw quite a bit of behavior, today, that I would consider very dangerous.”
“Namely: Choice of weapons.” she retorts bluntly.
“The fact that we have allowed them to use real weapons during sparring matches in disconcerting, and dangerous,” she explains. “And, quite, unnecessary.”
“They must use their weapons to gain proficiency, Lala.”
“Not necessarily,” she counters calmly. “Weighted, mock weaponry can be forged and serve the very same purpose. Blunted wooden swords and wooden shields are often used as de facto substitutions, to curb the possibility of non-combat sustained injuries.”
“I’m not sure we, currently, have enough resources at our disposal to allocate such a requisition.”
“Leave that to me,” she replies with the flash of a confident smile. “I already have my eye on a grove of trees near here that would serve well for the purpose I propose.”
“Not only for the weapons but also for retooling that atrocity of construct we are calling a sparring ring.”
“Yes,” chuckles Cullen, suddenly remembering how one of his Templars managed to collapse a section of the ring’s wall with a well-timed uppercut to his sparring partner. “It’s quite rickety, I’ll admit.”
“I am glad that I’m not the only who is not oblivious of its condition,” she notes before she continues. “My only other concern, as for safety at least, are some of the rules and conditions for victory. However, that can be adjusted as we progress with the tests –to iron out the finer details.”
“Very well,” nods Cullen in understanding. “Any other concerns?”
“Yes,” she nods again. “But, first I need clarification on one particular aspect.”
“Who decides the paired combatants for each bout?” she questions. “You?”
“Ah, I see. Then, it makes sense.” she sighs.
“Why the pairs were set up so evenly matched,” she replies only, then, to explain further. “The biggest issue I noticed is that each soldier, or Templar, that was to spar was paired with another soldier or Templar of either equal experience, equal training, equal skill, or an equal mix –at all times.”
“There was not enough variety, no enough challenge in each bout,” she adds. “Making it truly difficult for the men, both participating and not, to actually learn something new through testing their own mettle or observing.”
“Watching a display of technique is far different from experience a new technique first hand, after all.”
“Fair point.” Cullen nods.
“I’ll admit that I hadn’t thought that far ahead.” he offers. “I had only thought to implement the opportunity to have such training by example. Fully expecting our soldiers to retain the techniques simply by watching the demonstrations.”
“But that is my experience burying the lead,” he admits. “I have been a soldier, a Templar, a man in leadership, for so long that I sometimes forget how difficult it can be when you’re still learning. Simply expecting them to already know, to readily understand without hesitation.”
“My apologies, Lala.” he sighs. “I have neglected a part of my duty, without thinking.”
“Everyone makes mistakes, Cullen.” she admonishes. “Even a talented man like yourself.”
“Great men know when it is necessary to lead, and are humble enough to follow when they must,” she adds in recitation. “My Hahren said that to me once...During a particular time in my life when my stubborn, teenage self, thought I knew everything there was to know.”
“He also said that no man; or woman in my case; should ever stop learning, should ever stop seeing the other side of the coin, for those who do will truly miss out on a great deal of knowledge and growth. Leaving only ignorance to fester, unrealized.”
“Wise advice,” Cullen agrees. “And a suggestion that I will take to heart, going forth. You have my word.”
Lalinaya immediately frowns at it his words and lets out deeps sigh.
“I should apologize,” she offers. “I didn’t ask you here to lecture you.”
“Do not apologize, Lala.” Cullen counters with a smile, inwardly chuckling at the irony of that turn of phrase. “You were merely pointing out an oversight that needed to be addressed, and I appreciate that.”
“Any more concerns?”
“Only one more, but one that I find the most overlooked,” she replies.
“It is in regards to our Templars.”
“What of them?”
“Their display today was a disgrace,” she states flatly.
“I beg your pardon?” Cullen counters, suddenly feeling slightly insulted.
“No offense, Cullen,” she explains with a sigh. “But their behavior today was unacceptable and unnecessary. The taunts, the cajoling, and mockery of our regular soldiers were not only immature but disrespectful.”
“You fault them on their ribbing of the other recruits?” he questions, confused, not understanding why she was suddenly singling out the Templars when the soldiers were just as much participating in such behavior.
“Only when they display no expertise and still insist on flaunting their superiority to make themselves feel better qualified to be here than another.”
“Display no expertise?” Cullen repeats, with a questioning lilt.
“Let me ask you, Cullen,” she counters, answering with another question of her own. “What is the primary job of a Templar, under Chantry Law?”
“To hunt down rebel mages and nullify the threat they pose.”
“Precisely,” she nods. “And did any of the bouts we witnessed today have any of that expertise on display?”
“No,” he answers, only to immediately clarify. “Because there is no necessity to do so.”
“Nor is there any well-tested mages here that would be willing to put themselves in harm's way, simply so the Templars can prove their worth.”
“I can think of quite of a few that would just love to take a sanctioned whack at a Templar or two...” she muses with a soft chuckle. “Or, ten.”
“Absolutely not.” Cullen immediately argues. “It would be too dangerous.”
“There would be rules, of course.” she counters. “But such matchups are necessary, Cullen.”
“Without practice, without honing their skills further, how well do you think they will fare against an army heavily fortified with mages –considering our minuscule contingent of Templars, at the present moment?”
“But, still,” Cullen tries to argue, knowing full well that she had a fair point but rebuking the idea that she should be the one to put herself in harm’s way, simply for practice. “You should not be the one...”
“What makes me any different, from any other mage, within our organization? Aside from my mark?” she counters. “Are my skill not worthy enough to be put to the test against your men? Do you not believe me fit enough to handle sparring with Templars that have had years of training via the Chantry?”
“It's not that...” he sighs, in defeat, already instinctively knowing that he was not going to win this argument, no matter how hard he tries. “I am simply worried about your safety, Lala.”
“And, I understand that.” she sighs. “But you must understand my position from the other side of this as well.”
“I’m Dalish, Cullen,” she offers in explanation. “I have not had the pleasure of interacting with Templars as some mages have. Nor was I raised in a Circle that would see me thoroughly educated on the consequences of crossing them or their abilities.”
“My experience in such matters is...rudimentary at best,” she admits willingly. “And such training, as is what I am proposing, would be a benefit to my abilities and an opportunity to hone my skills, in equal measure, as well.”
“There would have to be strict contingencies in place...”
“And, I am willing to allow for such concessions,” she replies with complete understanding. “But, in this, I must insist. Otherwise, I will not be able to sign off on this proposal when the time comes to discuss it, officially.”
“Besides, I am not the only mage recruited to the Inquisition,” she adds, almost as an afterthought. “I’m sure that, not only will the other mages here find it invaluable to have real experience dealing with Templar’s abilities in a safe environment but it will also allow both Templars and Mages to find some common ground, some respect of each other’s potential and abilities, and establish a sense of trust among those where none could believe could be had.”
“Then,” sighed Cullen with a nod. “I shall defer to your judgment on the matter. At least...for now.”
“However,” he adds. “I must also insist that you allow me the authority to put an end to all of it if it comes to light that such an arrangement poses too much of a threat to all those involved. I do not wish to put our people in any more danger than is utterly necessary and I do not want to lose them needlessly, to accident or design, simply under the guise of unorthodox training methods.”
“Agreed,” she nods. “With an addendum, of course, that we are under the agreement that; in, at least, my case; ultimately it will be my decision as to whether or not I participate and how I decide to do so. I will not have you subversively coddling me, due to my importance to the Inquisition. Nor, will I have you forcing me into capitulation simply based on your perceived fear for my safety.”
“War is war, after all, Cullen,” she adds. “And, the probability of death is always possible.”
“Very well,” he sighs. “As long as you promise me that you will not allow yourself to be put in a situation that would, truly, threaten your life.”
“That you will not act recklessly.”
“I will do my best, to alleviate your concerns,” she answers with a coy smirk. “But, I can’t promise...not to be reckless.”
“That would be the equivalent of me promising never to breathe.” she chuckles. “Which I cannot do, for very long, at least.”
“But, I will try. You have my word.”
“Very well, then,” Cullen sighs, quickly deciding to change the subject. “Anything else?”
“Nothing officially,” she smiled.
“Tell me a little more about yourself, Cullen.” she requests.
And, he obliges. For quite some time, in fact. So much so that the hours pass by quicker than expected. But, he doesn’t even notice. Too swept up in their conversations. The back and forth of interesting information on their backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences in this world and her tender-hearted, and often playful jokes bordering on suggestive assumptions and insinuations at times.
The time together is almost thrilling to Cullen’s nearly mundane life. To find someone so open, so kind, and fun to be around, yet not being made to feel awkward or out of place by it. It was almost as if they had known each other their entire lives, lifetime friends, merely catching up after a long time apart. Cordial, comforting, and caring like that of a reminiscent bond from ages past reforming slowly before his very eyes. Welcomed and wanted, before he ever realized he had missed it.
She, he finds; as the evening progresses; had been brought up with a different set of variables than most Dalish. An orphan raised not by a single, solitary, pseudo parental figure but by the clan as a whole. Answering to not a single, or pair, of parents but to her entire extended adoptive family. A fact that, oddly enough, she does not regret or lament. Often coming off very proud of her early years, of the opportunities afforded to her by her situation, and touting kind and true respect for all that she was so fortunate to have. Humble and honest, appreciative and understanding, never once denouncing them as a hardship of any kind.
“Is that why you are so...accepting, of the situation you now find yourself in?” he had asked. “Because you were raised to understand that the world is not always the same for another?”
“That the world is not always as you expect to be? And, can be different without detriment?”
She had only smiled and nodded at his earnest question, but Cullen did not feel an aversion to answering it outright from her. She seemed more inclined to relent to his assertion. That she was more open-minded and open-hearted because she was given such experiences as a young child. That it was because of how she was raised, that she could carry such empathy within her and understand the hearts of men as she did. That she had found her understanding, not on her own, but by the grace of those who taught her how to do so.
It is quite late by the time Cullen realizes they have lost all track of time. The thinning of the tavern’s patrons, and the yawing of Flissa as she sat quietly behind the bar nearly drifting off from time to time, the cause of his recognition. They should retire for the night, get a good night’s sleep, and he knows it but a part of him doesn’t want the night to end so soon. But, he knows he cannot be so selfish. She had been tired early in the day, looking as if she hadn’t even slept the night before, and now he had managed to keep her distracted, as she would put it, for the entire day. A fact that he eventually mentions which elicits a strange response from her he had not expected: indifference.
“It’s getting late,” he reiterates. “We should call it a night.”
“Should we?” she counters, with a barely hidden frown. “Getting tired, Cullen?”
“A little,” he replies honestly. “As should you be, too.”
“It has been a long day,” he adds.
“But, a good day?” she leadingly questions. “Right?”
“A very good day, Lala.” he smiles.
“Then, why should we end it so soon?” she counters coolly.
“So that we can have another tomorrow?” he counters with a playful smirk of his own.
“I guess,” she answers, heaving a disappointed sigh. “If you must insist.”
“Very well,” she accepts. “Would you be kind enough to, at least, escort me back to my quarters before you return to yours?”
“If anything just to make sure I return there safely?”
“Of course,” he replies, standing as he answers and offering a hand to help her out of her seat. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Thank you,” she smiles, slipping her hand in his and allowing him to guide her to her feet.
As she rights herself, Cullen does not miss the moment she releases his hand and slips her hand around his forearm. Or the fact of how his heart jolts at the contact. Pushing it back, however, he looks down at her with a questioning look and she just smiles.
“My apologies,” she offers. “I know I am overstepping, but I am afraid I may need some assistance tonight.”
She immediately glances back at the table, quietly drawing his attention to the empty pitcher of ale on top.
“I may have gone a little overboard with drink,” she admits softly. “Too enthralled in such interesting company and conversation, to properly pay attention.”
“You do not mind, do you?” she asks, a tinge of worry lacing her voice.
“Not at all, Lala,” he replies, a flicker of confidence about him. “It is my duty, to keep you safe, after all.”
“Thank you for your understanding, Cullen.” she smiles honestly.
“Just don’t make this a habit, Herald.” he goaded.
“I won't,” she promises. “You have my word.”
With a simple nod, in agreement, Cullen and Lalinaya make their way to her quarters under the quiet and clear, star-filled sky without much more conversation. When they arrive, Cullen reaches up and pats her hand gently wrapped and resting around his upper arm and smiles.
“Safely home,” he notes with a soft sigh.
“So I am,”
“Thank you, Cullen.”
“Anytime, Herald,” he reassures with a kind look of care. “Rest well.”
“You too, Commander.”
Fluffy Cullen is the best Cullen.
Chapter 10: Cullen: Foes
After a useless day of tiring meetings, Cullen retires to the tavern for a little peace and quiet. Only to find a looming threat and foes around every corner.
The morning was crisp and clean in the moment in which he greeted the day. Feeling much more refreshed than he had the day before, and finding himself looking forward to the day’s goings-on more so than ever before.
Early morning duties fell in line as they had always done. Bringing with them their own unique problems as they do but no difficulty did he find.
By midday, he found himself in another usual place: the war room, awaiting the arrival of his cohorts and their magnanimous Herald. In the stillness and quiet of the empty room, he soon finds himself thinking upon the memory of the day just passed. And of the time he had been granted, being by Lalinaya’s side. And how he had retired to his quarters last night, after bidding her goodnight with a lighthearted spring in his step that he had not seen or felt in a quite a long time.
A kind soul, so much more than most, he found. Surprisingly and unexpectedly different from all of the many souls he had come across in his life. So sure of herself, yet fully aware of her own shortcomings. Holding no fear, yet truly understanding even the slightest danger in the tiniest misstep. Cautious, yet bold. Reserved, yet daring. And, always, willing to advance even though all around would call retreat.
An extraordinary woman.
“Good morning, Commander,” Josephine interjects politely, interrupting his thoughts, as she sweeps into the war room –her writing board in hand. With Leliana, quick on her heels, and Cassandra a few steps behind.
“A-ah... Good morning,” Cullen stammers, unprepared for their sudden arrival.
“Something the matter, Commander?” questions Leliana, her keen eyes never missing even the slightest tell. “Did we catch you at a bad time?”
“N-no. Not at all,” Cullen stammers quickly, before recovering. “Good morning Leliana, Seeker.”
“Good morning,” Cassandra replies with an affirming nod.
“Well, then, shall we get started?” the Ambassador prompts.
“Started?” questions Cullen, slightly confused. “Should we not wait for the Herald?”
“Lala,” the Spymaster replies, with a nearly imperceptible sigh. “Will not be joining us for the midday meeting.”
“According to her handmaiden, the Herald is currently still in bed.”
“Is she ill?” Cullen counters, worriedly, as a desire to suddenly see her flashes through him.
“Not ill, per se,” Josephine sighs. “It seems our overzealous Herald has been neglecting her personal needs as of late. And has not slept properly in several days.”
“To be more accurate,” Cassandra interjects, looking cross. “Has not slept AT ALL in three days.”
“Three days?” he parrots in pained surprise.
“Yes, unfortunately,” Leliana confirms. “It seems that the Herald has been too singularly focused on her duties to bring herself to pay attention to what her body needs. Putting us ahead of herself in an attempt to do as much as she possibly can for our benefit.”
“And now she is paying the price,” nods Cassandra sharply. “For ignoring her own health.”
“Are you certain that her exhaustion is completely due to her unwillingness to stand down?” Cullen counters. “Or could there be some other cause to her sleep deprivation? The mark, perhaps?”
“Has Solas been informed? What has he found?”
“No, Solas has not been consulted,” Leliana sighs, shaking her head in disappointment.
“Because it was not necessary,” the Seeker explains. “Adan looked her over and confirmed that her body’s necessity of sleep had been deprived. And that is what is causing her to need to sleep the day away.”
“As a result, as our resident healer, he has advised and insisted that she be left to rest and recuperate. And not be disturbed. Which, given the circumstances and her importance, we have agreed.”
“So until she recovers fully, she is relieved of duty –in such capacity, and excused from our meeting today.”
“I-I understand,” sighs Cullen heavily.
His tone is full of disappointment, but whether he is simply disappointed in her self-neglect or his inability to see her, he does not know. His mind poses such questions to him but he pushes them aside to think of dutiful things instead. Hoping to ignore the strange feeling that wants to well inside him.
The day creeps by in the interim. The meeting running through the midday, extending late into the afternoon, before they finally call it a day.
Much to Cullen’s agreement. After hours upon hours of reports after reports, maps after maps, and relentless and circular discussions of far too many subjects to keep straight, he had already had enough. Getting somewhere and, yet, nowhere at the same time. Round and round with no real progress, the day had been wasted in many aspects. And, now, all he really wants is simply some peace and quiet –and a decent meal.
It always happened when meetings ran long. So wrapped up in their latest emergency or the mini-crisis of the day, their meetings always seemed to distract them from the simpler things in life. Often getting heated for no real reason. Emotions strained with frustration and irritation over this and that. Distracting them all to the passage of time, until someone finally realizes all that they had overlooked and one of them decides to call a proverbial draw in their discussions.
Cullen takes in a steadying breath and lets it out slowly as he steps out into the world once more, under the twilight sky fading to darkened night above. Trying his best to put aside the irritation their last discussion invoked in him and turning his focus on food and, perhaps, a little frivolous interaction. A conversation or two just to bring back a semblance of normalcy. With that in mind, he turns and makes his way towards the tavern with nothing more than a simple sigh. Hoping that with some food and some company he can erase the bad mood he’s currently mired down by.
As he nears the tavern, feet quietly shuffling through the latest snowfall, he cannot help but notice that their resident Fade expert is out and about. Standing near the retaining wall on the upper level of the lower bailey, and staring up at the sky in quiet contemplation.
The strange Elf was often far too quiet for his own good, and Cullen can’t help but wonder what could be on his mind this time.
They had not had many interactions. Not many conversations in an official capacity, and none in private. A fact that bothered Cullen in a way he wasn’t sure he could really explain. Somewhat disconcerting and comforting at the same time. It was like there was more to the man than what the world saw. The man who guarded his secrets well yet did not outwardly dismiss those who would seek his counsel. Always reserved and well mannered, but always distant no matter how courteous he tried to be. And never really open to interactions aside from dealing with the task at hand.
Brushing aside the thoughts of the Elf, and dismissing them with a hope that things may change as time passes by, he simply gives the man a respectful nod as they catch sight of one another, and then rounds the corner. Disappearing without a word to the Mage into the tavern a moment later.
Cullen immediately sighs at the sight of the interior as he pulls the door closed behind him. A little spark of calming joy flickering in him at the unusual quietness of the space. Finding that the evening meal crowd has already dispersed for the most part. Leaving only a few tables occupied by a small group of men, a couple of servants and, he quickly finds, Varric –sitting alone in the back corner of the room. A smile creeps across his face at the sight of the dwarf. If anyone would be willing to lighten his mood it would definitely be their resident storyteller.
Turning his attention for just a moment he gives Flissa a slight wave, a quiet signal between the two that he has come for a meal and an ale. She nods back, and with that confirmation, Cullen makes his way to the back table and to Varric. Noticing as he gets close that the dwarf’s attention is quietly preoccupied with the journal before him and the quickly moving quill in his hand.
‘Ah, writing again, I see.’ Cullen, inwardly, intones in understanding. Not surprised by the sight in the least.
“Varric,” he greets, his voice soft as not to distract the man too much as he glances down at the dwarf.
Varric nods, not tearing his eyes from the prose before him, and simply flips the tip of his quill in the direction of the empty chair across the table from him. A quiet invitation to join him, which Cullen takes without disagreement or audible acknowledgment. Sliding into the seat across from the man without any other need for a more formal understanding and simply allowing the dwarf to continue with his work uninterrupted.
His food arrives a few minutes later: a mix of a freshly-cooked, hearty-looking stew, poached vegetables, and a piece of crusty bread paired with a warm mug of ale. Knowing full well that Varric would not find it insulting for him to eat without the dwarf, Cullen tucks into his meal and allows the silence between the two to linger. The sound of Varric’s quill scratching against parchment the only sound breaking the din.
Cullen takes his time, for the first time in a long while, savoring the stew more so than he ever really did before. Finding it more agreeable than usual. Perhaps, simply, because he had not eaten since the early morning. The ale is sweeter today, he notices as well, taking a sip after a piece of bread chose argumentatively to go down a little sideways –causing him to drink a little more than he was used to.
After a time, the meal disappears from the table. Finished wholeheartedly without complaint. And, as Flissa walks away from the table with the empty dishes, he reaches up and pours him another mug from the pitcher placed between them before her exit. As it fills, he turns his attention to Varric and notices that his mug has been bone dry for quite some time. Understanding his distraction is the cause, he pours the dwarf some as well.
Varric only gives a nod. Silently telling his Commander that he is aware, though his attention is preoccupied. And Cullen understands, placing the pitcher back on the table. Deciding forthwith to allow the dwarf his distraction a bit longer, he simply picks up his mug, takes a few sips, and chooses quietly to enjoy the comforting silence between the two.
For he knows, it will not be long before Varric’s attention breaks and he will rejoin the reality that he is currently ignoring. And so it comes to pass, nearly an hour later, when Varric finally lets out a relenting sigh of capitulation and drops his quill back into the inkwell for the final time.
“Everything alright, Varric?” questions Cullen, noticing that though the man looked relieved in a way his face carried with it a slight look of irritation.
“No,” the dwarf replies, looking up at his Commander for the first time since Cullen arrived. “I’m afraid not.”
“What seems to be your problem?”
“It’s not my problem,” Varric answers, his jaw working through the words with a little more strength in its movements. “It’s our problem.”
“Or, namely,” he clarifies. “Lala’s problem.”
“If you’re angry about her treatment of her own health,” Cullen offers. “That she’s been neglecting herself...just know you’re not alone in that.”
Varric immediately scoffs.
“Her failure to sleep properly is not the issue.” he dismisses. “That’s something that can be easily remedied. It’s the looming threat to her life, where I take issue.”
“Threat to her life?” Cullen parrots, concern truly in his voice. “What are you talking about, Varric?”
Instantly, and with the sternest look Cullen has ever seen on his face, Varric lifts the journal in his hand and forcefully drops it onto the top of the table between them with a resonant and pointed thud.
“There is a conspiracy here,” the dwarf warns, a sudden chill in his voice. “And Lala is the target.”
“What are you talking about?” Cullen counters, glancing at the journal between them.
“I have been on a mission for the last few days,” Varric explains, his voice growing even colder as he leans back in his chair with a slight growl. “A personal one, ordered by myself.”
“I got wind of an underlying threat to Lala’s life...here, within Haven’s very own walls,” he continues, pointing to the journal. “So I decided to do a little digging.”
“One of my informants spoke of a growing conspiracy between several of the men, along with a few servants, that told of a plot to take down our so-called Herald of Andraste. A plot, where at its conclusion, would see to her death at the hand of a righteous band.”
“Just take a look,” advises Varric, motioning to the journal again. “And read it for yourself.”
Cullen reaches out and with a hesitant hand pulls the journal towards him. His eyes instantly trained on its open pages. Finding, immediately, a myriad of quotes and tidbits of information written in Varric’s hand. Taking them one at a time, he reads the words staring back at him and his brow increasingly creases into a deep scowl as seconds pass by.
The words speak of conspiracy, truly, but not so much as they speak of the hatred and vile thoughts of those within their company. Demanding her blood, her life, for a myriad of reasons. Many of which: revolve around the death of their Divine. Justifying their thirst for her blood out of a sense of righteous justice for the loss of someone so pure. Taken from this world by the hands of a demon, a low-life rabbit, and an apostate whore, who has sullied the Maker’s name in words and deeds, and who dares to look down upon the faithful with such arrogance and pride and deem herself their better in every sense of the word.
Their cruelty is nearly unfathomable, and their ire is vicious and unrelenting.
“Who?” Cullen demands, his own voice now turning dark with his own deadly warning.
“Far too many than you would like to believe,” Varric grumbles. “A far too many to name.”
“Varric,” Cullen growls, looking up from the journal. A thinly-veiled threat: a warning that he better not lie to him further.
And, to Varric’s credit, he does not hesitate to elaborate.
“Whispers,” he answers. “Nothing more than whispers, I have found. Some: simply spoken out of frustration. Out of misunderstanding or out of an unwillingness to open their minds to the possibility that Lala is not the villain –the criminal, they seem to think she is. While others know very well her true place here and still cannot see past their own condemnation.”
“Innocent frustrations, turning into discourse is one thing,” he adds. “But, for a select few, it seems that their bloodlust runs deep. So much so, that they would see the light from her eyes fade by their very own hands.”
“The words before you are only a sampling of what is in the hearts and minds of those who would see her pay for her actions. What my own little birds could gather secretly within the last few days. And they speak of treachery and action looming on the horizon. And what they fear, what will happen, if we do not seek out the fiends responsible, before it’s too late.”
“Is the information reliable?”
“More so, than most,” Varric answers with a sigh of disappointment. “As one tends to believe one of their own more readily than another.”
“In your case, at least,” he adds.
“One of my own?” counters Cullen. “One...one of your informants is a Templar?”
“Yes,” the dwarf nods. “A young one, in fact, who is very much an idealist and an open-minded soul –who would not see our Herald harmed by his brothers.”
“He...cares for Lala. More so than he really should, I’ll admit,” Varric adds. “But his heart is in the right place. He trusts her. Believes that she is the best hope for Thedas. And will not allow her to come to harm without doing what he can to prevent it.”
“Give me his name,”
“You know, I cannot do that,” he replies “To do so would put him in danger from all sides.”
“Why didn’t he come to me, then?” Cullen counters.
“What good would it have done, without any proof? On mere hearsay...” the dwarf argued in justification. “Would have you been so inclined to believe a fresh-blooded recruit with no station or importance? One without a proven track record of upright standing? One who would violate the Chain of Command so blatantly, just to see you told? Or, would you have ignored him –perhaps even punished him –for overreaching beyond his ability?”
“I am not so cold-hearted Varric,” argued Cullen.
“I am well aware...but, would a new recruit know that?” counters Varric with a raise of an inquisitive eyebrow. “Your reputation, whether you want it to or not, proceeds you, Curly.”
“You are too well known to be a stern and an efficient Commander. Too well known to be by the book in many aspects. How could he know that you would not reprimand him if he came to you with such information? That you would listen to him?”
“Rather than going through proper channels? Especially when doing so would put his own life in danger...”
“Then, her loudest dissenters linger within our Templar ranks...” Cullen instantly sighs, putting two and two together.
“Yes, and as it is so, there was no other path to take other than coming directly to me. And, safeguard his own life from his betters’ reprisals.”
“I understand,” sighs Cullen, reaching up and running his hand through his hair –completely frustrated.
To know that so many of his people are walking such a path; a path of hatred directed solely at her; is hard for him to fathom. He had known that there was some residual animosity among his men, or more so among the faithful, but he had no idea that their ire and hatred had grown so potent. That they would be willing to take matters into their own hands to bring justice to she, who they believed unjust, guilty of the murder of the Divine and the mass murder of the clerics at the conclave. Had not thought that they would allow their hatred of Lalinaya to fester so cruelly and willingly entertain going so far beyond their own convictions to erase a woman who; in Cullen’s heart; had done no wrong.
“I know this is hard to hear,” Varric offers. “But the truth, as you are well aware, cannot be ignored. Lala is in danger, Cullen.”
“If we do not do something,” the dwarf advises softly, his voice: solemn. “She will surely be faced with her end far sooner than she should ever be.”
“She will die, and with her death, the world will be left at the mercy of the Breach and those behind its very creation.”
“She is not safe here, anymore, Cullen.”
“Which...” he adds softly. “Is why Leliana has been so adamant about pushing up the date of our trip to the Hinterlands.”
That statement gets Cullen’s attention immediately, causing him to jerk his eyes away from the journal before him to look up at the dwarf.
“How could you know about that?” Cullen counters, suspicion suddenly lacing his words.
How could he know about the source of their heated disagreement during their last meeting?
“Because I am the cause behind her urgency,” Varric admits. “Or, more specifically, my information is.”
“She is aware of what you’ve found?”
“Yes,” nods the dwarf. “I went to her first. Thought it best to inform our Spymaster of the current danger within our very own walls. A conspiracy right under her own nose she, curiously, was unaware of from the very start.”
“Too focused outwardly to see that which lingered in the shadows all around us, I suppose. And, a fact, that she is now singularly aware of and willingly deigning to remedy.”
“Are the others aware as well?”
“Aside from you and Leliana, Solas is the only other who is now aware of my concern. Though I did not go into detail with him as to why I feared for Lala’s safety.”
“Why not?” Cullen questions. “And what of Cassandra? Did you not tell her?”
“I mentioned my concerns to him a few days ago –before I had even the slightest inkling of the truth behind my worry. So, he is well aware that something may be wrong.”
“I did not go into detail with Solas, however, because it is not something that can be done at this juncture. He...And Lala, it seems, have had a disagreement of some sort and because of it, he has seemed very cross the last day or so. Refusing to speak to anyone, really, and secluding himself in his quarters for most –if not all –of the day.”
“I suspect, to reflect on his actions –whatever they may have been and perhaps deciding how best to apologize. At least, that is my hope.”
“But...as such, due to his unavailability...or unwillingness, to interact with me he is currently behind on the latest information.”
“As for the Seeker,” Varric sighed heavily. “I thought it best that she be kept in the dark for now.”
“The Seeker’s attitude toward me is well documented. The disgust and mistrust she has for me are as plain as the nose of my face.”
“Truthfully,” he sighs. “I feared that she would not listen and if she did, would not believe a word I said.”
“But, aside from all that: it is her impulsiveness and her innate sense of justice that has dissuaded me from being so forthcoming.” Varric justifies. “Cassandra is not one to hesitate to act, oftentimes out of pure emotional reaction. If I were to tell her that Lala is in imminent danger, she would act accordingly –and without thought. And could, ultimately, put Lala in more danger than she is already in.”
“So you thought it was a safer bet to come to me and Leliana?”
“Yes, at least for now.” Varric nods.
“And, what do you expect us to do about all this?” counters Cullen. His voice nowhere near condescending, offering up true curiosity instead. “Any suggestions?”
“First and foremost, I would not tell Lalinaya about any of this,” Varric advises. “Though she will end up being very angry with most of us when she does find out, telling her now will only add to the stress she is already feeling due to her new position as our Herald. To burden her with this, unnecessarily, will do nothing more than make her even more worried about the rest of us –rather than herself.”
“Because that is just the person she is.” the dwarf adds with a sigh. “In the interim, however, I would suggest that we prepare ourselves accordingly.”
“What are you thinking?” questions Cullen.
“Three things,” Varric continues. “Are abundantly clear from my information. One: that their intent is determined. Two: that they intend to exact revenge for the Divine’s murder somewhat soon. And three: that they are well adept at preparations to make it happen.”
“And, more specifically, on the third count, that there have been rumors of several actions they intend to make against her.”
“Primarily: either poisoning her food or catching her late at night on her way back from her long evenings spent in the tavern. Some going even further to assert that a knife in the back at any point in time, no matter the location or situation, would be ideal –so long as her tyranny comes to a vicious and swift end. And, justice is finally served.”
“So I would suggest we set our attention to those intentions first. Make arrangements to have the Herald’s food and drink monitored at all times. Perhaps, even going so far as to set an appointment of a trusted person, whose only job is to assure the safety of her meals?”
“As for the proposed assassination attempt, going after her on the streets of Haven and catching her unaware: an armed escort...or personal retinue of guards would be ideal.”
“Lala will never allow that,” Cullen dismisses knowingly. “Willingly –without an explanation.”
“I am well aware,” nods Varric. “But that does not mean we cannot, secretly, assign a contingent to work covertly. Nor does that mean we; or more precisely, you; cannot increase the active guard roster after nightfall and put more men on the streets to protect her at night.”
“Or that any of us, those of us at least aware of the situation, cannot also go out of our way to remain behind; or linger along; so as to be present to escort her to her quarters at night.”
“At least, until, we can leave for the Hinterlands, that is,” Varric confirms. “Leaving is the best option, in my truest opinion. She will be more protected by doing so. Away from the threat.”
“Leaving you, then, free to attend to her dissenters as you see fit. And with as much malice as you wish. Without her knowing. While, all the while, she will remain safe under our guard.”
“That can be done,” Cullen agrees with a nod. “Her safety is paramount, after all.”
“She must be kept safe.”
“Safe from what?” a soft lilting voice suddenly answers back.
Startled by the interruption, Cullen and Varric immediately look up to see the smiling face of their Herald looking at them as she steps up to the table. Stunned by her sudden appearance, both men are rendered speechless in that moment. Neither able to answer as quickly as they would like. Giving Lalinaya time to question them further.
“Let me guess,” she chirps, walking around the edge of the table and sliding behind Cullen’s chair, only to place her hands on the Commander’s shoulders, give them a little squeeze, and lean into their space. “Cullen has found another to complain to about his reservations about me joining the bouts and is trying to convince you to talk me out of it.”
“The bouts?” Varric repeats in question, giving Cullen an inquisitive glance and catching the nod from the man telling him subtly to play along, as she quietly lets him go and slips into the empty chair beside the Commander. “Yes. Well, he does make a few fair points.”
“And, I would expect no less from our Commander,” she agrees, looking over Varric’s shoulder and giving a little wave to Flissa, meandering on the other side of the tavern, before turning her attention to the men sitting around her. “However, though his worry is justified, simply not allowing me to participate on the basis that I will get hurt will do me no favors.”
“Nor will it do any favors for our soldiers and Templars,” she adds.
Varric immediately stifles down the balk that nearly, and forcefully, makes itself know in that moment. Knowing full well the gravity of her words are graver than she could even know.
“Templars?” he questions; panic suddenly in his voice. “You intend to pit yourself against our Templars?”
“Yes. My skills are just like any others and need to be honed and practice to improve. If I ignore any opportunity to better them, I will not only be doing a disservice to myself but also to the Inquisition. Putting others in danger for no real reason.”
“Could you not accomplish the very same thing by sparring against regular soldiers, instead?” Varric counters.
“And what specific improvement would I gain?” she retorts firmly. “After all...If the intel about the Templar/Mage conflict is on the level, and accurate, I will eventually be forced to embattle both sides. So the more preparations I make, and the more experience I have in dealing with Templar suppression techniques, the better.”
“She’s got you there, Curly,” chuckled Varric, turning his attention to the man across from him and reluctantly agreeing with her logic with a nod.
“Here you go, Your Worship,” Flissa interrupts, slipping in behind Varric and placing a filled mug of ale upon the table before her.
“Will you also be dining with us tonight, as well?” questions Flissa for clarification.
“Yes, please,” Lala replies with a smile. “Though nothing too heavy, if you don’t mind.”
“Something simple and light, then?”
“If it is manageable,” she smiles. “If not, I understand.”
“No need to worry, Your Worship,” chirped Flissa. “I am positive that I have something to your liking. Just give me a few minutes.”
“Alright,” Lala nods, watching as Flissa bows quickly and steps away from the table without another word.
“How are you feeling?” Cullen asks quietly.
The concern in his voice is palpable but Varric is sure that the change in subject is deliberate.
“Better, somewhat,” she replies, taking a sip of her ale. “But I will be much better after some actual food and a little more rest.”
“So try not to worry so much.”
“I don’t think that could be possible,” counters Varric, knowingly, as he levels a nearly-scolding look at her. “For either of us.”
“Noted,” she answers, before turning her attention back over Varric’s shoulder and flashing a smile at Flissa quickly and efficiently approaching with a tray in her hand.
“Here you go, Your Worship,” she offers, placing the tray on the table before the Herald, a few moments later. “I hope it is to your liking.”
Cullen, Varric, and Flissa watch as Lalinaya lifts the lid of the tray and peruses her meal: A plate of poached vegetables, a bowl of mixed and sweetly seasoned fruit, a couple of large crumbles of aged cheese, and a few rounded pieces of unleavened bread.
“Perfect,” Lalinaya beams, looking back up at the tavern owner. “Exactly what I had in mind. Thank you, Flissa.”
“You are quite welcome, Your Worship,” she smiles in return. “If there is anything else you need please feel free to give me a wave.”
“I will,” Lalinaya nods.
“I’m a little jealous, I think,” comments Varric offhandedly after watching their Herald tuck into her food for a few minutes.
“Why?” she counters, popping a piece of cheese in her mouth with a playful smirk.
“It seems Flissa has a soft spot for our Herald.” the dwarf observes, looking up at Cullen in jest.
“And why would you think that?” she counters with a little laugh of her own.
“Cause there is definitely some blatant favoritism going on here. I never get any meal even close to looking that delicious,” Varric jabs. “What about you Commander?”
“No,” Cullen chuckles. “Never.”
“Perks of the job,” she retorts with a smile. “I guess,”
“You want some?” she offers, her smile turning into a mischievous smirk in an instant. “As you are well aware...I’m not above sharing, after all.”
“Tempting...” Varric breathes with slight amusement in his tone. “But, I’ll pass.”
“At least, for now.” the dwarf adds with a mischievous smile of his own.
“A pity,” she practically teases with a wink, before turning her attention back to her meal.
Cullen falls silent at Lalinaya’s retort toward the dwarf and his reply. Suddenly feeling an awkwardness trying to creep into his mind as the air around them perceptively turns mysterious. The familiarity between them seems a little too familiar than he’d expected. The two of them seeming closer with one another than just their implied friendship. Almost, as if, there was some salacious secret between them of which he was left unaware. Leaving him feeling uncomfortable, and honestly wondering what it is he has missed.
The conversation between the three falls silent for a few moments. Varric and Cullen turning their attention to their drinks and allowing her a little peace and quiet to finish her meal. And before long it is she who breaks the quietness of the space.
“Oh,” she realizes. “I nearly forgot.”
Varric and Cullen turn their attention to her in time to see her slip her hand into a small hip pouch hanging at her waist and producing from its confines several folded pieces of parchment between her fingers.
“Here,” she offers, bending her wrist in Cullen’s direction and taking a sip from her mug.
“What’s this?” he questions, taking the folded pieces of parchment from her.
“My plans for the bouts,” she smiles.