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When The Storm Breaks

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Some stopped their hurried preparations for the coming storm to listen when the first shrieks echoed eerily off the cliffs surrounding the Hold. More came out of their homes to sate rising curiosity when the distraught keens became louder, having noted that they were – very quickly - getting closer. The guards called out when the pounding of hooves and frantic shrill neighing could be heard sharp over the rumbles of the Lady’s sky. A horse, panic-stricken and in a hard gallop, was barreling toward the Hold.


Its hooves thundered up the lit path and pounded heavily as it crossed the bridge. The horse barely slowed as it charged into Stone-bear hold proper, it skidded slightly when it abruptly came to a halt in front of Thane’s Hall. Prancing nervously as it glanced around, its terror-wide eyes taking in the people drawing hesitantly closer. Though it appeared to be somewhat relieved to not only see people but that it had managed to raise such alarm. Thane Sun-hair looked around critically, evaluating the cliffs for signs of threat while also seeking her brother - Stone Bear Hold's Thane-Second and Master of the Beast - but he was already sprinting toward the creature.


He wasn't certain why, but he had begun preparing to leave before even hearing it. As it got closer to the Hold, he distinguished it as a distressed bleating wail. He finished packing quickly and had just slung his pack over his shoulders, ready to head out to search for the poor creature lost in the storm; but, before he knew it, he was running toward the main Hold gates and it took him but a moment to signal all others to back away. They knew to spread out and form a corral with their arms held wide, remain still and silent. They knew to do no more - the beast-master was already whispering as he stepped with quiet confidence, inching toward the terrified horse.


It was an amazing creature, it's graceful stature was distinctly feminine and she snorted at him, eyeing him cautiously as he approached her. Eyes wide with fear, she pranced and beat her hoofs against the ground urgently; as if willing - pleading – for someone to understand her. She was magnificent, even in the state she was in, while rearing and whinnying in duress. He was surprised - in awe really – knowing immediately that she was of the Lowlands. Yet, she stood as tall as any horseflesh of his kin, even his own trusted, which stood a massive eighteen and a half hands high. Her coloring was striking; at least, what little of her true coloring could be made out in between the small splotches of mud splattered over her entire form, and thickly coated her legs and stomach.


Under all the mud, she appeared to be marbled smokey gray with beige, with what he thought would be a pale - almost white – hue to her long, currently matted and soaked mane and tail. Its legs were thick, heavily corded with muscle and longer hair trimming its lower legs, making her appear that much larger and formidable. She snorted and nudged the tips of his fingers extended out to her impatiently - as if urging him faster - then huffed in annoyance at his apparent lack of understanding but it was obvious to him that her anxiety was not just from the storm. Her sudden appearance, coupled with her size and the state of terror she was in gave her a wild air of intimidation. It was undeniable, she was a strong beast, yet, she held her power with an elegant refinement; no doubt gentle in training and temperament.


The high cliffs above the Hold shielded the settlement from the brunt of the angled downpour, but his words were barely audible over the rising surf crashing against the lower walls of the Hold or the heavy roll of thunder coming in off the valley. He continued speaking - cooing, lulling, soothing and enticing - as if it were just he and the mount. Stepping forward one short, slow pace at a time while constantly whispering and murmuring comfort. Being of the Lowlands, he assumed it probably could not understand him – his Common was almost two years out of practice, so he spoke his native – but he continued speaking to her in his smooth, steady, warm, low tone. He could not shake the feeling niggling in his gut; he felt there was something else bleeding into her panic, like an air of protectiveness. A stunning creature the likes of this - strong and proud - was obviously well cared for. It appeared to be a shared sentiment if her distress was any indication; she cared for whoever had lost her just as well. She was strong and sure-footed, built for distance not speed, but capable of running great distances with enduring stamina when required... And, something, very clearly had required it. Unease pricked the beastmaster's awareness again when he caught the barest glimpse of the embellishment on the beast's lowlander harness seat, but the giant of a steed reared again making him refocus as he paused in his forward press.


"Easy... Easy girl..." He cooed gently, smoothing his hand up her nose, still only loud enough to be heard over the storm. "I know sweetling… I understand you're scared… but you came to tell me something. So, I'm right here, and I’m listening, what's got you so upset, huh? Good girl, just calm down..." He continued, slowly stepping to her side, in front of her eye to allow the horse to see him fully. "Good… you can trust me; I will help fix whatever is wrong... That's right, nothing to fear from me... I'm just here to help.”


He murmured with a smile, slowly running his hand along the length of her side, and slowly – very slowly - he reached to untangle the lead from where it had caught haphazardly around the seat pommel, “Beautiful girl... that's it... let me help." he stopped dead in his movements when he caught sight of the embossed seat again. Looking to the horse's eyes once again, she threw her head back in an urgent whinny, rearing a foot or two off the ground so that she could stomp with emphasis, multiple times. He understood instantly and her actions only confirmed the icy fear that pricked his mind and dreaded feeling in his gut, both spurring him into action immediately. It had taken but a blink of his eye to recognize First-Thaw's seal, then he was mounted - still speaking in his native tongue but louder and laced with urgent understanding. He knew she may not understand his words, but gods willing, she understood his meaning; “Show me where to find her – Run!"

He had barely spoken the words and the mount bolted into action, rearing slightly as she turned back the way she had come, he barked to his kinsmen to clear the path. The powerful horse's muscles rippled, flexing with power and fueled by haste. He let out a sharp whistle over his shoulder and then commanded the guards to ready the auger as the mount took off. Within a moment an Avvar wolf-hound streaked through the Hold, trailed immediately by several others. The pack quickly fell into pace with the horse as soon as its hooves thundered over the bridge and back onto solid ground. Knowing instinctively, the hounds took up defensive positions around the horse, but remained out of its direct path – for both safety from the beating hooves, but also ease the horse to their presence.


She was moving at a literal break-neck speed, through the now almost black surrounding them, but was diligently following the weak pitch lit torches that were dotted along the path. She was heading deeper into the valley – though, the beacons seemed to be growing ever dimmer, if not extinguished already in the deluge. Normally, he would have never entertained the idea of venturing out with a mount this late into the evening - not even on his own trusted. Let alone an unknown Lowlander horse unused to Avvar lands... but, this was already very distant to anything he would deem as normal for an evening.


Truly, the potential for a misstep on the rocky, and often steep or uneven land of Korth’s basin was moderately high when mounted on a Hold steed, while walking on a dry spring day, at high sun. But, at night – Korth’s Teeth… At night, in a winters-end storm, on a horse from foreign lands, spooked and anxious to find her rider – while running as fast as her legs could carry her… The potential for catastrophe was - well, if he were to be optimistic... Sky-high, at best.


The hounds knew their place though, even if they did not know the mount their pack leader rode. The hounds would not only protect and ward off beasts by scent and sound, but shifts in pack movements would alert the horse to any changes in the path. Therefore the horse would be less likely to stumble or trip on an unforeseen obstacle, though, the end to such a small fumble would more likely be a life-threatening crash. He sat up off the seat, crouching forward to not only guard his face against the lash of wind and harsh rain but to allow his body to move fluidly. He let the reins out loose, silently giving her permission to run, as he mouthed a prayer to the lady to lift them on the speed of her winds.

 

 


 

 


She supposed she had always been considered a little odd, even as a child, long before her magic had become apparent. Odd, because of just how much she loved storms. She loved the steady, rhythmic calm of rain but even more so the curiosity of thunder and the intrigue of lightning. She always seemed to know when it was going to storm, throwing her windows wide and eagerly waited. Or, if it would just be a downpour, to her mother's dismay and certainly all of the housemaids - especially her Nan; she would sneak outside to play. She loved running, splashing and jumping in puddles - mostly of mud – with her brothers. All of the siblings goading one another to make the splash just that little bit bigger. Then, they would spin in circles on the grass, arms akimbo while trying to catch raindrops in their open mouths until they all fell over in a dizzy spell.


So, when the wind picked up whipping her cloak up and forcing her hood off her head, she glanced up at the black clouds that dominated the sky above, hoping for that familiar excitement to grip her... It never came. She sighed, but it became a muffled sob, she knew it was stupid to hope. This was just her life now, this feeling that was growing more and more, or really, it was a lack thereof.

She felt nothing. No excitement, no joy or even anticipation. No caution, no care at all. Nothing. She was numb. She could see her breath, she knew it was cold, but her numbness was not physical. She had almost become accustomed to it since it was ever constant as of late. It was rooted within her, heavy, droning, and all-consuming.


The storm had actually come on quite quickly; considering it had been gloomy most of the day but never did a drop fall. Then, only after a few preliminary drops had fallen, the clouds had rent and unleashed a monsoon. Driven by winds strong enough to push them off the path, they headed into the deeper brush for protection. Even now, with the distance to the sea growing, the waves could be seen crashing up and over against the wall of the ice giants den. They were growing, great swells becoming hard and battering - reminding her of the Titan... Shaper of the World. Smashing and shaking, groaning and quaking, the waves broke, and the sky flashed, then boomed with a roll of thunder... How could she not feel anything?


Between crashing waves, howling wind in her ears and lashing of rain against her face, she could not hear over the uproar and she closed her eyes since trying to keep them open was useless. Then she felt it... the only thing that could make her feel, and her mind was suddenly louder than any storm. She gritted her teeth, stifling a groan and clenched her fist, bawling it against her chest. She tried to continue on, tried to push on faster, she needed to find shelter before she was too far gone...


'Not now...' she pleaded with whoever it was that truly was this worlds Maker. 'Please, just not now... not- Aahhh!' She cried out and recoiled at the surge of pain that flared viciously just as the first crack of lightning split the air and within seconds the rolling crack of the thunder boomed overhead - reverberating off the cliffs and echoing across the basin valley. All the while, she was screaming, tears blinded her as she continued to scream. She flailed wildly while screaming out her agony, screaming out the burn of betrayal, screaming out her shock and loss. Unable to stop herself, even though the outlet brought her no relief, she screamed. The sky dark with ominous black clouds was now almost pitch, the wind was wailing, admonishing, forewarning - like the Dread wolf howling into the night. She did not even register her abrupt change of direction, too lost to her screaming. Suddenly the whole world muted and calmed, and finally - finally, her tortured shrieks blissfully fell silent the instant her head hit the ground.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“I have collected an offering and request to be tested by Hakkon's Trial.” She told Trainer Arken, “I just hope I don't embarrass anyone too badly.” She prodded in good humor.

 

“Oh! Yes! I like this – better have the fight to back up those words, Inquisitor. I'll prepare the arena and make sure you face only the Hold's strongest. You'll have one hour - prepare well.”

 

“Agreed, one hour.” She told him smiling.

 

The Trial of Hakkon was on, they needed to win three consecutive rounds and they were already up by two. The arena master had advised that this battle would far out-weigh the two prior.  Apparently, the Avvar had been holding back, since she had withheld the Iron Bull from fighting in the trials. It was, of course, for the safety of the Avvar fighters, just in case Bull - unintentionally - went full berserking Reaver on them. They had assumed her team: Cassandra, Varric, Cole, Dorian and herself, couldn't possibly pose a true challenge without the giant Ox-man running wild. Clearly, they had never faced a: 'Cassandra Pentaghast', and now understood just how flawed they're perception had been. The Avvar would no longer hold back – this only made her giggle excitedly.

 

The Avvar crowd roared, seemingly louder than the prior two battles and her attention was drawn to two new opponents who were stepping down from the dais centered above the fighting area. Thane Sunhair herself and her brother and Thane-Second were joining the fray, in addition to the other ten they had already fought. The Inquisitor bowed her head slightly and smiled cheekily at Thane Sunhair, then called out, “It's about time we were offered a real challenge, Thane Sunhair, I am eager to gain your favor.” The Inquisitor told the Thane.

 

“Aye Inquisitor Lowlander. You seem to be only having fun, but the god's of Stone-Bear Hold would see you tested fully – these trials are already the stuff of Skald and song, I look forward to the outcome.” Thane Sunhair called back welcomingly, a smile evident in her tone.

 

The horn sounded and both arena gates swung open revealing the arena grounds. It was indeed a trial now, Cassandra kept much of the attention on herself while Cole flitted around, blinking in and out of sight in a green haze – while Varric stood atop a great outcropping of rock, singing a song to Bianca. She and Dorian let loose the full fury of storm and fire – knowing the Avvar mage's and Auger were present so that visible barriers over the hunters and warriors took the damage, not the fighters.

 

All but she and Cole had been taken out, but they only had two fighters left – Cole being preoccupied with Thane Sun-hair. That left the full attention of the Thane-Second – a mammoth Avvar Bruiser of a man – on her. The crowd fell silent when he bore down on her in a full run, swinging his giant maul in a horizontal arc. It hit the outer edge of her front barrier causing it to shatter like a pane of glass. She felt herself flying sideways through the air as the ice shards of her barrier shot out at the Thane-Second like daggers. He dodged and rolled using his armored cloak - a thick red and black fur pelt - to stop the ice from drawing blood, and was up again running toward her just as she slammed through the gate of the Avvar fighter staging pen.

 

She hit the back wall of the pen but stifled the vocalization of pain that tried to break free by biting down on her lip - very - very hard. Her head pounded and vision was a bit hazy, though she had been lucky that her Inquisitor helm took most of the damage. He had slowed his pace and was now walking – stalking... more like prowling – toward her, and the moment he crossed into the pen area, she smirked... she had him. Within a moment a blizzard was swirling around her, blowing the high pen gate closed behind him then with a wall of ice - froze the entire gate. He wanted a fight and she would allow him no retreat.

 

She yanked off her helm and tossed it to the side as she forced herself to stand up – refusing to grimace, or give any indication she was in pain. His eyes – bright hazel  – were the only detail she could make out under his monstrous helm, they were on her immediately, taking in every detail. She stood tall - not one to cower or fear – nothing of her visage so much as hinted that she was even the slightest bit intimidated by him. She still held her staff, it was loose in her hand and her posture was that of someone undaunted as if he posed no real threat to her.

 

She had intentionally trapped him in here with her because the confines wouldn't allow him to use full strength attacks. So, she was surprised when he didn't attack at all, but instead set the head of his massive maul down. Then, slowly – very slowly – he took a step closer to her, then another. Two steps in the length of his natural gait - even hesitantly shortened with benevolence as they appeared - closed the distance between them by half. He moved easily, graceful in his strength, the Thane-Second appeared to be very much the powerful feline king of the Frost backs he resembled. He moved his giant maul with him as if it weighed nothing more then a light driftwood walking stick. Though his demeanor was gentle and tentative his helm made him look ferociously intimidating up close. It was extremely well made, unless she was mistaken and she doubted she was - based on her knowledge of the ages present relationship of respect and bountiful trade between the sons and daughters of Korth's Stone-Heart and the Avvar; it was made of finely crafted dwarven red steel. It was fashioned to resemble the ferocious face and maw of the Frost-back Red-lion; most likely sculpted from the very same one who's pelt now armored his back.

 

Her pin-straight, chin-length brown hair whipped up lightly as the blizzard continued to swirl around them, a piece of hair getting stuck to the blood on her torn lip, but she didn't notice – she was too engrossed in his gaze, that had yet to leave hers. She wasn't a small woman, easily matching Cassandra's six-foot stature in height and weight, but this man - this Avvar Bruiser – he towered over her by over half a foot. Being over six and a half feet tall still made him over a foot shorted then Bull, but something about him told her he was no less capable... or intimidating.

 

Slowly his hazel eyes moved from the storm cloud gray of her eyes to her lips, focusing on the small injury that blemished her lower lip and he seemed to frown. He lifted his hand as if to sooth the torn flesh then pulled it back slightly. She hadn't flinched, but he seemed to second guess his action, raising his hand to pull his helm back off his head instead. Within a moment, he had shaken free a shock of blond, slightly sweat dampened wavy curls that fell just past his chin, and his eyes met hers again. The color and wavy length of hair only served to make the color of his eyes deepen, making the shade appear more akin to hot amber gold honey.

 

He took another step closer to her. Just one purposeful and sure step but it's length covered three-quarters of the remaining span between them. With less than a foot separating them when his hand lifted - moving as if of its own volition – he did not stop himself. Instead he gingerly - brazenly - cupped her cheek. She blinked slowly, as his palm smoothed up her cheek, then gently, so gently, lifted the stray strand of her short sleek hair from her injured lip. He stared into her eyes, absentmindedly rubbing the soft, silky strands between his forefinger and thumb before tucking it timidly behind her ear.

 

Even more surprising was how she tilted her chin up and to the side - inviting more - when he smoothed his rough calloused digits down the shell of her ear then continued down the line of her throat. This man... when he touched her, gooseflesh erupted over her body. The sensation was so foreign - pleasurable -seductive - to her, that she thought she might have even sighed aloud. She forced herself to breathe steadily while questioning the desire she felt; she was standing in the middle of a blizzard, why did she feel so warm?

 

His low growl and the look that flashed in his eyes confirmed that she definitely had sighed, and he had caught it. She didn't even care, she wanted to lean her cheek into his touch when he smoothly palmed her chin and brushed his thumb gently under her bottom lip. She took another deep breath, looking up to meet his eyes - realizing she had been staring at his lips - both wholly oblivious to the snow gathering around their feet.

 

The blizzard obscured they're senses from anything but each other and blessedly, the sight of them from the waiting arena. She licked her lips, the coppery tang of blood sharp on her tongue, he copied the action as if tasting as well. He took another small - final - step, bringing their bodies flush. He had yet to break their gaze, save a few slow, heavily lidded blinks. His fingers pushed into her hair lustfully as he cupped the back of her neck, his lips were a breath from hers and something was begging, pleading for her to just close the distance. He was drawing closer, his nose brushed her cheek, their breath panting in soft unison. And, she wanted to... wanted, more than she had ever wanted to do anything ever before. Wanted to just rise up on her toes - wanted to press her lips to his... Maker - she wanted... wanted to feel.

 

But... He stopped.

 

His brows raised faintly and eyes widened almost imperceptibly, then narrowed as he tilted his head. He licked his lips, dragging his lower lip into a bite as he considered her. Looking down at her, her lips mere inches from his, there was a question in his molten gold eyes; did he – really - just feel what he thought he had felt? His eyes moved from her eyes, to her lips, then back again. She blinked, as if questioning... then remembering, and she tightened her grip. Had she really forgotten? How? How could she have forgotten?

 

As he looked into her eyes again, he saw that they were brighter now. No less hooded, but the storm in the depths of her eyes was calmer now... more radiant. Her eyes were deep pools of the dark blue, akin to the waters of the sea at high moon. She was smiling at him, teasing – boasting - with her eyes. Lifting his head a bit further, he lifted his elbow and craned his neck to look – head still turned somewhat to the side he smirked. He nodded a few times, as if in approval then closed his eyes leaning his forehead to hers; having found his answer. Feeling heady and brash from the feelings he invoked, she nuzzled his cheek softly with the tip of her nose. Then slowly - seductively – she brushed her lips against the corner of his mouth tilted closest to hers and breathed softly, 

 

“Yield.”

 

Then pushed the dagger she had positioned under his ribs up a bit further. She watched his face – that gorgeous, Avvar Hold gods-blessed face – as his resignation became apparent. He pursed his lips softly, as something close the disappointment passed over his face before it was quickly gone and he smirked. He slowly withdrew his hand from the back of her hair - where it had been massaging small circles against her scalp - as he took a miniscule shuffling half-step back from her. Though, he noted she appeared quite chagrin, if not just as disappointed as he was at the span of distance he had created. The corner of his lips quirked ruefully at her teasing touch and his soft smile warmed his words, as he rumbled low,

 

“Aye, lass... I yield.” He said as he twirled a few errant strands of her hair around his index finger. He took a deep breath, his exhale whispering against her lips, making her involuntarily tilt up and forward - as if she could chase away the palpable regret in his eyes if she could just meet his lips with hers. He lifted his head before she could act. Too soon he had reluctantly dropped his hand and took a full step back, and she oddly felt disappointed - a loss - when he stepped back. She couldn't help but hope for some form of double entendre in the meaning of his words. She quickly schooled the frown of longing that furrowed her brows as he bent and picked up her helm for her. He placed it in her hand after she tucked her dagger away and declared,

 

“Well fought... Inquisitor. I, Cullen - Thane-Second of Stone-bear Hold, deem you victor in Hakkon's Trials. You have proven your mettle and I will vouch for your prowess and ferocity in battle as favor to our Hold.” He told her, bowing his head respectfully just as the gate was opened by Cole. The Thane-Second then turned on his heel - nodding with a small smile and patting the spirit boy on the shoulder fondly - without another word or glance at her, walked away.

 

She let out the breath she had been holding, then took a few more as she observed - appreciated - Cullen walk away for a moment or two before she turned to glance at Cole and whispered, "Cole... why didn't you help me sooner?” She asked, a touch of incredulity in her tone.

 

“Because you didn't really want me to. He didn't like that he hurt you – it hurt him to see it...

'Storm in her eyes - fight in her soul… Brave - strong... beautiful. Crave... want... need to - Gods yes - louder... Need to hear more. Need to feel more - feel her lips - taste her... Just a bit closer. A dagger? Brilliant - She burns… Roaring - Fire in my blood!’

I don't understand; your dagger in his side made him want to kiss you more...?' Cole said trailing off, sounding confused.

 

“Thank you, Cole, that... really does help.” She said. A sly smile tugged her lips while she watched the man, the Holds Thane-Second walk away.

 

Chapter Text

Hooves that once pounded on the packed ground were becoming squelching beats against the ground – the natural saturation already overwhelmed. The whipping winds and lashing rain built more and more, so much so that Cullen had almost been unseated, choosing to dismount and allow the horse to lead him by hand. The wind howled and wailed, only seeming to quiet with each sharp crack of lightning. That alone was the only break in the monotony of the sound droning in his ears that the storm would allow.

 

The rain came in merciless sheets - unrelenting torrents - and they were truly in the dark now, no beacon to light the way but for the flash of lightning. It was only when the path - saturated and unstable remnants of a path - sunk and fell away beneath his feet, did Cullen notice where the loyal animal had brought him. They were on the edge of a cliff, the swamp - but even the ever-present glow of the swamp seemed to dull under the storms rage; another deafening crack boomed, the lightning flashed, then, he saw her.

 

Adrenaline roared in his blood, heart pounding loud in his ears – even louder than the snap of tree limbs, bending and creaking in the wind. She had fallen, rolled down the embankment and was now laying in the rising waters of Swamp Kulddotten. Sitting down, he commanded his hounds to find a way for him to get out again, before he pushed off the ledge, scrambling to remain upright as he half slid - half ran - down the earthen wall in his haste. He ran to her - tried to run to her - the clay of the swamp bed pulling and resisting as he dragged his feet forward. 'Gods... please,' he whispered, begging for their blessing in this - he needed to get to her - save her.

 

He roared - feeling his lagging and taxed muscles find new strength - wrenching his feet free of their clay bindings and lifting his knees high moving forward with purpose. Wading through the heavy silt and muck stirred up by the rain he splashed and slid the last few feet to her. He called her name several times as he quickly looked for obvious injuries.

 

Thank the gods – he felt the beat of her heart, but it was weak, and she looked like Hakkon's blood-chill had already set in, he needed to get her back to the Hold – he could do that. He would get them out of here, back to the Hold and get her warm. He could do this - but...

 

‘What if she dies...’

 

His hounds barked sharply, quieting when their master turned to look. However, relying on sight was futile - he could barely see anything in the oppressive darkness of the storming swamp, only the eerie glow of the swamp vegetation illuminating his surrounding. For a tense moment - one that seemed to stretch and twist, consuming time he knew he did not have - Cullen listened...

 

The urgent - nervous - yapping of his hounds made him focus harder, listening to the sounds beyond the rain, beyond the swamp hear the sounds around them... beyond the scope of his own hearing - using his God's gifted talents, taking on the sharpened hearing of that of his hounds... What he heard sent a chill down his spine.  The adrenaline in his body was already steadily becoming unchecked, but that sound... It sent another chill down his spine, sharper than the first, and knew immediately – it was fear. That must be the name of it. It was unfamiliar to him, but the moment of time paralyzing, sense dimming panic that gripped him, could be nothing else but fear; if not utter terror.  

 

When he had arrived, he couldn't hear anything over the rain, but now... the trickling, bubbling flow ever present in the swamp was rushing, building, rising and... getting louder. Large amounts of loose soil, rocks, branches, and logs, and even whole trees were being swept down the mountain. The massive amount of rain pounding the last of the snow has nowhere to go but down – down – down until it reaches the lowest point and can't flow downstream anymore; until it reaches the swamp, where it pools and will rise – was rising.

 

He was out of time. He needed to get them out of here before Korth's winter runoff buried them under an inescapable mudslide, if the rising water didn't drown them first. He needed to get them higher. He pulled her into his arms quickly, lifting her up, laying her over his shoulder. Then ran as best he could - gods - as fast as he possibly could. There was no time, he needed to get them higher - right now. He knew any moving water higher then shin high would more than likely be moving fast enough to trip him, so he used the massive twisted tree trunks and gnarled limbs as bridges to get them higher. 

 

The hounds had found an old dirt path along the inner wall of the swamp, that looked like it was still intact, but that would put him on the side furthest from the horse. The water was roaring too fast to make the crossing to it an option. He would just have to find a safer way, get there, and follow the hounds back to the Hold. Logically, it sounded reasonable, simple even. Just get there and be safe; but every direction he looked, the more fear began to morph into dread – everywhere he looked… was hopeless.

 

River Varsdotten was far beyond swollen, it had burst from its banks now. The water was no longer – just - progressively climbing now, it was pounding, swirling and raging. Though it could not even be deemed water at this point, it was now an enraged slurry of mud and debris. Far too high, thick and fast-moving now, he didn’t dare move from his perch, Cullen knew; they would be pulled under by a fierce rip current. It was at that moment, he recognized resignation begin to plant its self firmly within his heart; silently ordering his hounds and the horse, back to the hold.

 

He couldn’t allow more to die because he, himself had failed, unable to get them out. He failed her, she would die - they would both die, because of him. Cullen felt another unfamiliar and not at all comforting feeling wash over him; for the first time in his life, it was this moment he felt the absolute and undeniable talons of Despair take him whole. 

 

Cold and taunting, Despair tightened its grip on his heart and mind as he called for aid once more, “Mountain Father, Laughing Lady, Gods… please - hear me now! She is yours - blood named and beloved! Please, gods, I don’t know what to do!”  He shouted in a wild, terror steeped cry. “Gods, please… don’t take her. Don’t let her die, please.”  He begged as he hugged her tighter, tears streaking hotly down his chilled face.

 

He knew in these desperate moments, he should be praying to Korth for aid, for they were deep into the realm of the Father. But desolation and hopeless pessimism weighed heavy upon him as he held her in his arms, - he had failed her. Though there had been a lack of options, he had chosen wrong. The tree limb he had been able to climb with her on his shoulders had put them up against a sheer rock face, the path that once bridged the angled assent had washed away. There was no way he could get them any higher - he failed. It wailed loudly in his mind, and his prayers when to the Lady instead.

 

He prayed – begged - the Lady of the Wind and Sky, should they die as fated, that she guides her messengers to find them. An offering of body, bone, and blood as succor; only wishing for the goddess to accept their souls together. He had carried part of her - His Lady, for two years. Living day to day until she found her way home; he prayed to the Lady that they never be parted again.

 

"god's… help…”  he begged inaudibly, one last time. Burying his face in her neck as he cried, "Maraina..." he whispered to her. hopelessness and misery having frozen whole around his heart. "I’m sorry, Love… forgive me.”

 

 


 

 

Storvacker roared approaching the guards stationed at the hold-bridge, they stepped aside allowing the beast to continue over the bridge unhindered. Earning more than a few concerned looks from the sentries watching, as she disappeared into the torrential rain after leaving the main gates. It wasn’t long before she returned, with Branson, Rosalie, and the others dwelling at the fishery cabins, in tow. All of them, having grabbed onto the beast's fur in some way or another to steady themselves in the sheering winds. The Hold beast and clan guardian, having all but broken in their doors. Forcing them from their beds – packing what they could carry and retreating to the higher lands and safety of the Hold.

 

As it appeared, Storvackers intervention seemed to favor them, ensuring they not be caught in the monstrous tide that surely would have had them swimming from their roofs come morning; overall, however… it projected a very ill omen. One that meant the storm would not soon break, nor would its beating waters grant any favor to those who’s misfortune saw them standing in its path of destruction. 

 

Amund emerged from the cliffside path and into the Hold, with naught but a few nods of acknowledgment from the Hold guards. Only speaking curtly as he passed the last sentry near the Hold common yard. “The Thane – she’s at her fire?”

 

“She is,” The Sentry warrior answered, allowing the Lady’s Shaman and trusted Hold-friend to hurry past and into the Hold proper without question. Skywatcher moved hastily, toward the hall.

 

“Thane Sunhair – I bring news,” Skywatcher called as he entered the Thane’s hall.

 

“Amund? Why are you… Is it about Cullen? What’s happened?” Mia asked, worry sharpening her tone.

 

“He’s left the hold already? Then, my apologies. The storm slowed me much, I am later than the Lady wanted. You must rally the Hold, Thane. The Lady councils that the waters coming are muddied by the land of dreaming, wild and wrought by gloom. The goddess cautions that this storm will make Korth’s mountains weep cold's tears; warns his slopes will sag, sunder and spill downhearted. The rain's Herald the Thaw, we must heed her call... Where is the boy – have you seen him?” Skywatcher asked quickly, Thane Sunhair looked confused.

 

“Rally? Her, who? What boy? Korth's Teeth - Skywatcher! What is happening? Speak plainly, do you know where my brother is?” She demanded, very nearly grabbing the massive shaman by the scruff of his neck and shaking him until answers were her prize.

 

“Apologies, Mia. Cullen--” Skywatcher was cut off by shouting outside, and the alarm bell being sounded. 

 

“Thane! My Thane! - someone get the Thane!” The Augur was shouting as loud as he possibly could, in between his tolling of the hold bell. The bells alarm relayed the urgent call of the Augur, making all clan members drop whatever they had been presently doing and immediately sprint to the Thane's Fire.

 

“Make way – move!” Mia yelled, pushing past the throng of rapidly gathering clan members within the entryway of her hall, so she could get outside. “Shut - it!” She roared at the gaggle of chattering members in front of her, they silenced immediately. Looking up to the ledges above, Mia cupped her hands around her mouth and bellowed, “Delrin – what say the gods?!”

 

“The gods demand our aid - My Thane!” The Augur shouted down to Mia straightaway, stilling his warning hammer upon the bell. “They speak of deathly waters rising, fast and flooding. Two of hold-kin blood are trapped and fading in the Kuldsdotten,” Augar Barris finished urgently.

 

There was a heavy pause as all in the Hold processed the Augurs words, then within a moment, the Thane snapped to action; issuing orders as the Hold became a hive of organized chaos. “Warriors! Rope, winches, axes, spikes and hammers – and ready a barge-sled, I don’t need rutted wheels slowing us down!” Thane Sunhair barked,

 

“Rangers! Make your calls true, I want to know exactly where our people are! Hunters, ready only the Holds strongest burden beasts. Fishers, I want life-ward vests - anything you can fashion to float! Mages, to the Augur's hut to supply yourselves!" She ordered in rapid succession, looking up to Barris with her last. The Augur offered her a salute across his chest, before turning to do as bidden.

 

"Trades, Crafts and any other able body – we'll need firewood, blankets and furs, herbs and salves. Get plenty of stew and brew on the fires, boil tubs of water; we are going to have a lot of cold, wet people and beasts when we return! I’ll not have Hakkon’s cold-sweats weaken the Hold! Move!” Thane Sunhair shouted, pointing and gesturing as she rallied the Hold.

 

“Rylen,” She snapped urgently, waving the Master of the hunt over as she saw him jog past, “What say your beasts – give me a direction,”

 

“South-east side of the Kuldsdotten is our best scry, My Thane.” He answered, then added more somberly, “Mia…”

 

“I know… Cullen - I feared as much. We need to find him and whoever was riding in this storm to start - the fool.” She bit out, Rylen gripped her shoulder and nodded – silently concurring with her unspoken fears.

 

“We are ready, My Thane,” Finn - acting Master of the Beast in Cullen's absence - called out to Sunhair, just as the last of the hounds took their positions. 

 

"Move out! The gods demand our haste!” The Thane commanded, setting an urgent pace as the clan's party jogged with her. Storvacker roared beside the Thane, before the Hold Beast charged forward, leading the hunt for their lost Hold-Blood.

 

Chapter Text

 

The Inquisitor reached for the stave strapped to her back as she made to move toward Thane Sunhair where she was seated in her large throne, after the Thane had bid her to come forth before the Hold’s Hall fire.

 

“Our Guests are Welcome… So long as their weapons stay sheathed.”  The Thane-Second said in warning, crossing his arms over his chest after stepping in front of the Inquisitor – very effectively blocking the way forward. The Inquisitor paused in her movement, tensing under his gaze only a fraction of a moment.

 

“Then, you will be reassured to know, Thane-Second, that this is not – my – weapon.”  She told the massive man, looking him straight in the eyes. “I am a Mage…” she told him, “mages are never truly unarmed, after all.”

 

“Stand down, brother.” Thane Sunhair said, a grin pulling at her lips as she eyed the intensity with which her brother was ‘evaluating’ the threat. “Apologies, Inquisitor. My Second is only doing his duty to our hold.”

 

Only a moment passed but the tension between the Thane-Second and Inquisitor seemed to crackle. The Thane-Second’s gaze was intense – she would assume the people around them would think it was animosity or concern for Hold Safety that made the moment stretch; but – no - she knew better.  The Inquisitor unconsciously licked, then gingerly bit her lip where it had previously been torn – while wishing a blizzard would engulf the two of them.

 

"Yes, My Thane." He said, acknowledging the Thanes spoken authority, but did not - could not - look away. He was held captive in the tension between them, just as much as she was. Yet, his upper lip twitched as if he were suppressing an arrogant grin. His expression told her he had noted that she was, once again, staring at his lips. As though compelled, he copied the lustful action upon his own lip. Though his mimicked gesture was just as barely discernible as hers, his lip quirked ruefully as one eyebrow perked. He was looking down at her with a smugly confident smirk.

 

'Damnable - sexy - Avvar brute,' She thought. She wanted to smack that disgustingly handsome expression off his face. 'Dammit'

 

The look in his eyes - that heat - he knew full well how greatly his gesture was affecting her. She took a sharp breath in through her nose, feeling gooseflesh race down her arms like a shiver, and making her nipples harden. Thankfully, at Cassandra's insistence, she had agreed to wear the regalia of her Inquisitor's armor. More specifically, at that moment, she was grateful for the heavy  'Inquisition heraldry' emblazoned - nipple shielding - chest plate the armor set afforded; Maker be praised. She wrenched her gaze from his, quickly sidestepped him and was behind him before he even really registered that she had moved.

 

“Thane Sunhair…” The Inquisitor began, she glanced to the Thane-Second more out of courtesy than for actual permission. When he nodded once in assent, she swept the stave in a wide arc above her head as she unsheathed it from her back. Ancient carvings engraved into the entire structure immediately illuminating, as if glad for her touch. “To you, the Avvar of Stone-Bear Hold – and, in fact – All Avvar.”  She declared. Then, continuing her showmanship, she called flames into her free hand.

 

Her eyes, unbidden sought the Thane-Second's from where he had moved to stand, at Thane Sunhairs right side. The Inquisitor's lips tugged slightly as she smothered the grin that wanted to spread wide. Allowing the flame to burn for a moment, as she held his gaze, then like the petals of a flower dancing on a soft breeze – she lightly blew the flames so that it gently settled around the staves focusing crystal. It wasn’t necessary, she could have allowed her mage-fire to snake up the staff as she did when fighting; this just looked better.

 

It was all for the show and tale Varric had convinced her was necessary she tell. Yet, not all was for the show. For instance, meeting the Thane-Second's gaze as she urged the flame into place with her breath - definitely not. She did, however, feel a small measure - a really rather sizable amount actually - of pride at the smolder his expression held. Since, from his perspective, her gesture upon the flame would have appeared as though she were blowing him a kiss; a slow and very deliberate one.

 

All Varric's coaching seemed to be time well spent when all those gathered in the Hold hall  gasped, awed or murmured there astonishment as a massive spectral great axe formed from the flaming, twisting nether wisps that surrounded it, “A gift.” she poignantly stated, finally looking away from the Second and back to the Thane directly.

 

“With this stave by my side and wielded by my hand, I have conquered horrors and vanquished my foes… I have slain many – many- Dragons, twisted gods beyond counting and men alike; This weapon is steeped in the blood of my enemies. Enemies to all life and things held dear, all that sought to harm our world.” She continued dramatically, having turned and begun pacing somewhat around the Hold's fire as she spoke her feats. She felt fairly confident since she was well aware that  the gift of weighted word, spun in Tale, was of greater value to the Avvar people,  than that of any treasure she could give.

 

“but this,” She said, raising the spectral axe brandished stave higher in the air for all gathered to get a better look – noting, all in attendance were hanging on her every word. Even Varric seemed impressed, “With this, I, Inquisitor of Sky-Hold, did slay the Darkspawn Magister Corypheus. He who, championed withered Tevinter of a bygone age. A high priest of the Old God Dumat - of the original Magisters that breached the golden city and tainted it black. He who was once believed to be immortal, sought to rent the Lady’s sky whole, tear her down, and assume her seat within the heavens… I killed him - with this...

 

But... not long ago I learned that this is no weapon that I could justly claim as mine… not anymore. Not since I learned the full truth of its origins… and that it is no ordinary weapon.  Recently, I took on a Quest, one of my own was lost to time - Eight hundred years ago, the Inquisitor – Ameridan, traveled here to defeat a Dragon that was terrorizing the Lowlands. I am here to recover his body so that he be given proper rites and be sent from this world. During my research, I was able to confirm the truth of this weapon and it is that truth which brings me to your Hold, now...” She paused a beat or two for effect, as she returned from her pacing, to stand solidly in front of the Thane.

 

“Like Ameridan, much of the Avvar legacy that remained had been lost to time; now found, I would see this piece of it returned to Her people - to you. I am here, offering my Thanks, to you and the gods that guide all Avvar... For  granting me the honor of finding it, as well as blessing me with the strength and fortitude to wield it..." She fell silent for a moment as, what could only be described as a throng of spirits - the Hold's 'gods' - appeared all around the Halls Flames.

 

She instantly felt their kind benevolence and the excited happiness they exuded for her arrival... It seemed they already knew exactly what she had found. So, looking around, she smiled brightly as she continued, speaking as much to them as she did to the Thane. " I offer my gratitude  for I have discovered that this stave, is, in fact, that of Tyrdda Bright-Axe; Avvar Mother.” The Inquisitor declared proudly.

 

At this revelation, Thane Sunhair seemed as if she would leap from her seat if she didn’t fall off it first. the Inquisitor smiled after Thane Sunhair composed herself and stood. The Inquisitor leaned slightly, offering the Thane the weapon – she didn’t dare look around – look at him. She could feel the Thane-Second’s eyes but held fast as she looked to the Thane. Thane Sunhair blinked in surprise as the runes dimmed, spectral axe blade folding in on itself and dissipating after it left the Inquisitors grasp into her own. The Inquisitor cleared her throat, bringing more eyes upon her as she became more somber.

 

“Also, with this,” The Inquisitor pulled a folded waxed fabric map from her breast pocket, bowing her head slightly to the Thane as she allowed Sunhair to take it, “I offer my humble and most sincere apologies - for taking the stave without knowing its true importance to your people as well as my thoughtless desecration of your rested kin. This map details where the stave was found – none of the area, except the stave, was disturbed. Once I discovered its significance, I made the logical assumption that the location I found the Stave is most likely the spot Tyrdda was sent to the Lady, and surrounding area sacred. I immediately dispatched Inquisition forces to secure the area and are awaiting members of your Hold to ensure its preservation.” The Inquisitor's statement hung in the air, not awkward per se; but it was slightly tense for a moment or two as the Thane considered all that the Inquisitor had said while examining the stave. The Thane looked up, past the Inquisitor - seemingly looking to the god's. The Thane seemed to nod slightly as if something unheard had been understood before she spoke,

 

“Aye, our Tyrdda left the lands of the Father to join her Lady lover in the sky... But, weapons are meant to be wielded, and my hold kin would agree-" Thane Sunhair began with a beaming smile as she grabbed the Inquisitor's hand and wrapped it back around the stave - the ancient engravings that adorned it once again pleased; singing and dancing to life once more.

 

The Thane clasped her hand over the Inquisitor's grip and pushed the stave back into her care. She then used her grip over the Inquisitor's holding firm – not allowing the Inquisitor to refuse.  The carvings that adorned the sacred Avvar stave roaring to life, giving birth to the spectral great axe blade in all its molten glory.

 

"By the marks of your legend, Lowlander or not - it was meant for your hand, just as it was hers.” Thane Sunhair said smiling back at the Inquisitor. “You honor us and our gods with this gift, and I grant you favor within our Hold.  Bringing honor and rest to your Inquisitor-kin is a worthy quest, we wish you good journeys and the wisdom and guidance of our gods to ensure your success, we will aid you in any way we can. You and your friends are welcome here – always; come, share our fire, our drink and our feast.” The Thane declared for all in the hall, making the Avvar clan members cheer, thumping their fists upon their chests in exuberant agreement.

 

It was during the uproar that the Thane leaned toward the Inquisitor once more and casually added only marginally quieter - really, not at all quietly - “Maybe the furs of our beds as well…” And leaned back again as she looked from the Inquisitor, side-long at her brother. Thane-Second's eyes widened a fraction and mouth fell slack, gaping a few times, as though willing some semblance of denial to come forth. None came, so instead, he cleared his throat with an awkward cough and quickly looked away. Thane Sunhair chuckled heavily as a fevered blush rose on her brothers face as he - still diligently looking away - rubbed the back of his neck.

 

“I-um…” The Inquisitor began, glancing to the Thane’s brother and back again. “Ah-Thank you… Thane, that is… um- very kind of you…” The Inquisitor fumbled for words, feeling the heat of blush start to consume her face and neck. Thane Sunhair laughed heartily - at them both - before she finally granted them mercy and called for everyone to move to the feast hall. 

 

“Come All! Tonight we feast to celebrate to life and legacy of our past kin, Trydda Bright Axe, and Inquisitor Ameridan!”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“You know…” The Inquisitor began conversationally – humming deliciously as she took a moment to chew the bite of tusket she had bitten directly from the bone, “Most professors and scholars – our skalds – described Tyrdda as a wise, diplomatic, and generous woman. It was actually a Chantry scholar, a Chantry Sister in fact - someone who is a priestess in that religion-" She clarified,

 

"that figured out that the ancient Alamarri word for "axe" was the same as "weapon" – but only after finding the Stave. I think it was kind of a nasty shock when the Chantry’s scholarly priestess found out that Tyrdda was a mage.” The Inquisitor said with a laugh bubbling up. Then, her train of thought was interrupted and she softly giggled.

 

A small wisp of a spirit, one of the Hold's 'youngest new gods' circled her head, blowing her hair gently tickling her cheek as it played. "Thank you, I'm glad you're pleased," she softly whispered. She imagined Cassandra was likely staring daggers at the harmless little thing, so she urged it away with a gentle wave of her hand. She was still smiling as the 'god' disappeared and looked to the Thane, resuming the conversation as though never having been distracted.

 

“The Chantry has always tried to lock Mages away… ‘Magic is meant to serve man – and never rule over them,’” The Inquisitor mimicked in a higher pitched voice, as she used her hand to gesture as though it were a mouth yapping, the Thane and Thane-Second both chuckling heavily at the Inquisitor's  jesting display.

 

“-but I found it rather obvious really. Clearly, Tyrdda's legend mark of 'Bright-Axe' is referring to her weapon, really the only way a weapon could be bright would be with magic. Storm magic is bright, but fire holds a greater connection in regards to one's temper - or rage - so personally, I believe Trydda was an Inferno Mage. It makes sense that her weapon would glow since Mage Fire burns much hotter than normal flames." She said matter of factly, reaching toward the candle on the table in front of her, palm up cupping a small flame to compare the mundane flame to her Mage-fire.

 

"The hotter the flame… the brighter the light it produces." She said, urging her flame hotter, becoming so bright that the light produced had a white, almost blue hue to it. Closing her hand, the flames disappeared as quickly as they were brought to existence. Picking up her tankard, she took a brief sip, then continued,

 

"Based on the timeline I was able to establish in which the weapon came into her possession, it was unlikely it could have been an enchantment; as Tyrdda had yet to ally with the dwarves. The stanzas of her Saga actually make reference to it specifically, and from what I understood, it is more likely that it was gifted to her from her Elven spirit lover." The Inquisitor said, looking between the Thane on her right, and Thane-Second seated on her left. Neither looked at all shocked or even the smallest bit curious of her presumption regarding the weapon’s origin. She adored learning, researching and discovering – or in this case, rediscovering – facts and so far, the Thane and her Second appeared to be thoroughly engrossed by her opinions and were enjoying the knowledge she was sharing on the subject, thus, she continued without hesitation.

 

"Trydda's saga refers several times to Trydda specifically scorching her enemies with fire and the weapon having a glowing Crystal, not to mention the multiple times the axe is referred to as being brought to life by her temper… So, yeah - obviously, Tyrdda was a mage.” The Inquisitor finished, unable to stop her sardonic dry humor from bleeding into her tone.

 

But she couldn’t help it, she didn't think the Chantry scholar was a scholar in the truest sense of the trade if she had allowed her Chantry affiliation to cloud her perception to the point of blatant ignorance; not when the facts presented were clear as day, to anyone with an open mind. The utter sarcasm the Inquisitor expressed in her wording, the look on her face and accompanying gestures had Thane Sunhair barking with laughter, as was her brother – though, his sounded more like a dorky snigger.

 

“Aye Inquisitor Lowlander – It is known. It has always been known,” Thane Sunhair said, the warmth of laughter still evident in her tone, “I think I would have liked to see your Chantry sister’s face when she found out though.” She added with another snorting laugh. The Inquisitor nodded in enthusiastic agreement, trying hard to swallow her mouth full of mead, then laughing readily with the Thane, and her Second. 

 

After a moment or so they calmed and the Thane-Second asked playfully, “Do you Lowlanders think it only true if ink is put to vellem and bound in linen?” Apparently referring to the written word, and the organization of said words on the pages of books.

 

“Well, no – but I certainly would have returned Trydda’s stave sooner – I honestly would have never even sanctioned the Chantry Sister and Inquisition researchers if I knew more about how important Trydda… I’ve found that everything the Lowlands know of your people about equal to the bullshit they spit about Mages - if I could have just picked up a book and read about it instead of…” She lost a bit of momentum as he raised an eyebrow and smirked at her.

 

He had just finished taking a few gulps of ale, then -as if teasing her further- wiped the foam from his lip with his thumb and dragged the digit over his tongue, “um-Instead of-ah… traveling all over the lowland Frostbacks searching for the Stanza’s of Trydda’s saga straight from the stone in which it is carved.” She told him, refusing to look back at him – looking to Thane Sunhair instead.

 

“Go on then,” He prompted, nudging her playfully with his elbow so that she spilled a bit of her drink on her tunic sleeve. “I want to hear of these travels… what did you learn of us? – Inquisitor.”

 

Maker’s ass – she liked the way he said her title. It wasn’t mocking, or boastful, it was… was… the only word she could equate it to was ’Smooth’.

 

“You want to know what I know - humph?” She said, jostling his elbow with hers in return making him drop his tusket rib. The bone clattering loudly back to his plate, making him chuckle heartily at her payback strike... Sweet Andraste she liked his laugh. “Because I really do know a lot… oh, um – Okay. Let’s see… where to start...” She paused, gathering her thoughts as she pushed up her sleeves.

 

“Well… Six Hundred and twenty years before the founding of the Tevinter Imperium, Trydda's tribe was living in the Ferelden Hinterlands,  near the present-day Lake Calenhad. She was said to be strong and very beautiful, and because of this, she had many suitors - all of whom she rejected. She did, however, have a lover, a spirit - the Lady of the Skies - in the form of an elf. One of her suitors was a chieftain of a rival tribe by the name of Thelm Gold-Handed.

 

Thelm merged with tribes that fell on bad times by domesticating its members with luxuries such as fattening food. His numerous warriors were skilled in battle and wielded fire-enchanted swords and dragon scale armors. Whilst he dreamt, demons approached him and filled his head with thoughts of conquering a golden city full of treasure lying across the Waking Sea, beyond the Valley of Ferelden. He pushed his tribe to their limits in pursuit of this dream.

 

He approached Tyrdda with gifts of gold and silver in exchange for her warriors. Tyrdda's tribe was weak from the winter and Thelm tempted Tyrdda to wed him with stories of the golden city full of food, across the sea. She sought the counsel of her lover, who was not fooled by Thelm's promises. Tyrdda refused her suitor's temptations and did not agree to an alliance with Thelm's tribe, stating that the Fade lies and its demands can never be satisfied.

 

Thelm didn't take Tyrdda's refusal well, he came back adorned in armor for battle, wielding a silver shield and dragon bone sword. A fight broke out between the two leaders. Their warriors cheered as the Chieftains battled, but Thelm still tried to persuade Tyrdda to join him in his quest. Again, promising the warmth of the Golden City of the north. He justified this saying that the whispers in his dreams promised him so. Tyrdda scorched his gleaming silver armor with fire and ultimately killed him. Thelm was then given a Sky-Burial and sent to the Lady.

 

After the battle, Tyrdda decided to leave the comfort of the lowlands of the Fereldan Valley, moving her tribe into the Frostback Mountains. Shelter was scarce, and the strong winds and low temperatures of the mountains affected Tyrdda's tribe heavily. Thus, she set camp in a found cave. However, it turned out a dragon had already claimed the cave as it's home. No blade could harm the beast, and the tribe couldn't leave the cave because of the weather outside. Tyrdda shouted out to her leaf-eared lover that she gave up power to be with them. As she did, a bolt of lightning from the sky struck the cave. It caused a cave-in that crushed the Dragon under falling rocks - killing it. 

 

The tribe ventured deeper into the cave and eventually met dwarves in the Deep Roads - ready for a fight. Tyrdda's lover explained to her that the dwarves were confused to have met Tyrdda's tribe, but that they were also honorable. Tyrdda approached the dwarven leader, a prince by the name of Hendir, and acknowledged that the cave belongs to the dwarves, and proposed trade instead of war, and an alliance, which the dwarves accepted.

 

In a dream, Tyrdda's lover instructed her to have a child, because she needed to continue her tribe. Her lover then prophesized that one day there would be a descendant of her bloodline named Morrighan'nan who ‘in strength must shine.’ Choosing to heed her lover's advice, Tyrdda had Hendir sire a child with her. Her tribe grew strong and ensured the survival of the Avvar. Thanks to the dwarven trade and prosperity, the Avvar defeated their enemies, be it humans or demons, with diplomacy, magic, and swords.  After appointing her daughter as the new chieftain and gifting her worldly goods to the tribe, Tyrdda was laid to rest in a sky burial, so that she could join her lover once more.” She finished quietly – noting that all in the Hall had stopped their conversations to listen.

 

A pin could drop, and it would probably sound like the breach closing.

 

“I-um… I also know the stanzas of The Saga of Tyrdda Bright-Axe. Or, well - the best 'common' translation I could…” The Inquisitor stammered shyly, looking down at her tightly clasped hands in front of her, self-conscious due to how loud her voice seemed in the silent hall.

 

“I think it would give us all happiness to hear you speak it, Inquisitor,” Thane-Second told her quietly – maker his breath on her ear felt good - she quickly pulled down the sleeves of her tunic to cover the goosebumps he left behind – too late – dammit - he saw. The Inquisitor cleared her throat, took a few sips of her mead to wet her mouth and took a deep breath before she began speaking, voice strong so that all in the Hall could hear her clearly.

 

“I tell the tale of Tyrdda Bright-Axe, mountain maker, spirit's bride:

Free, her people, forged in fastness, made in mountains, hardy hide.

Wise in wisdom, calm in counsel, great in gifts her grateful guests,

Sacrificed she did to spirits, took their teachings, followed quests.

Bright her axe, unbreaking crystal, stirred to flame when temper flies,

Gifted from her leaf-eared lover, laughing lady of the skies.

Bested blades of all who tried,

Maiden, spurning all requests,

Tyrdda Bright-Axe, Dreamer's Eyes.

Avvar-Mother, of her making.

 

Thelm Gold-Handed, fingers greasy, jeweled rings with glitter shone,

Took in tribes in times of trouble, fed them fat to weaken bone.

Warriors great and great in number, sun-kissed swords to fight his wars,

Drake-scaled shirts their bodies covered, heart-wine stained the salty shores.

Told his tribes a tale of treasure, over sea to north it gleamed,

Whispered words to drive the droves to golden city where he dreamed.

Counseled quick in dreams alone,

Voices wiser man ignores,

Pushed the tribes until they screamed,

Heed the dreams and cross the Waking.

 

Honey-tongued was Thelm to Tyrdda, gifts of gold and steel to start,

Wanted Tyrdda's men for warriors, stolen tribe from stolen heart.

Cold, her tribe, the Gold-Hand counseled, lean from winter's wind-knife chill,

"Be my bride and cross the Waking, eat the gilded city's fill."

Tyrdda Bright-Axe, fraught with fury, crystal axe-head stirred to blaze,

Heeded well her leaf-eared lover, unabashed by lustful gaze.

"None shall break my tribe apart,

Not with demon-words that kill,

Fear my fury's fiery rays,

Dream-words lie, their thirst unslaking."

 

Tyrdda Bright-Axe, Thelm Gold-Handed, battle brought with blade and ax,

Thelm in mail and shields of silver, shining sheen to turn attacks.

Blade of dragon bone now blooded, warrior throats wrung raw with cheers,

Tyrdda stands, her bright ax blazing, leg still weeping battle-tears.

Bright the ax of leaf-eared lover, laughing lady of the skies,

Fire flares as Thelm Gold-Handed, honey-tongued, repeats his lies.

"North to warmth, and golden cities,

Whispers speak in Dreamers' ears!"

Silver scorched, the liar flies

On ravens' beaks, to dream unwaking.

 

Tyrdda Bright-Axe, bold and bloodied, took her tribe from placid plains,

Tribes with blades by farming blunted chased and fought, their parting pains.

To the mountains, shorn of shelter, snow-slicked peaks gave wind its bite,

Found a cave to save her tribe, but dragon fire lit the night.

Beast no blade could break came roaring, mountains slipped their winter gown,

Tyrdda shouts to leaf-eared lover, "You I chose above a crown!"

Lightning split the spitting rains,

Sundered over prideful heights,

Dragon fell in rubble down,

Crashed and crushed in earth's mad shaking.

 

Tyrdda Bright-Axe, proud her tribe, free from fallow fat below,

Built in battle, fed on fighting, strong from struggle did they grow.

Deep in caves, the stone-men tribe, Hendir's warriors, stout and strong,

Met the tribe with axes ready, armor gleaming, sword-blades long.

Spoke with Tyrdda did her lover, gentle whispers soft she made,

Dwarven hearts were sundered, simple, still with honor. Thus she bade:

"Let the tribe the dwarf-men know,

In their caves, where they belong,

Not with battle but with trade,

Hendir's dwarves, give peace unbreaking."

 

Tyrdda Bright-Axe, Dwarf-Friend Chieftain, with her leaf-eared lover lay,

Woke she did to love-sweat morning, lover gone in light of day.

Dream-words whispered, spoken soft, still the silence crushed and crashing,

Dead her tribe, unless a child could keep her line in warrior fashion.

Aval'var, so named the lover, called "our journey, yours and mine,"

One day child of Tyrdda's blood, Morrighan'nan, in strength must shine.

Lover's whispers to obey,

Hendir, dwarf-prince, friend in passion,

Babe produced to serve the line,

The Avvar tribe, her name, our taking.

 

Tyrdda Bright-Axe, Avvar Chieftain, strong her tribe with dwarven trade,

Battles brought to men and demons, won with wisdom, fire, and blade.

Then did Tyrdda look to Hendir, dwarf-prince friend, children-giver,

Took her freedom, Hendir glad, wished her what he could not give her.

Chose her child to stand as chieftain, after all last wrongs were righted,

Gifted goods of worldly want left her tribe no more benighted.

Skyward, one last trek she made,

To her lover, dream-delivered,

Raven-feathered, reunited,

Hearts both whole, now neither aching."

 

As the tale neared its end, her voice had taken on a wistful quality  - yet, still sounded obnoxiously loud at present, because the Avvar Feast hall was as still as the Still Ruins of the Western Approach… Then – the silence spell broke when Skald Fulna leapt to her feet clapping loudly, cheering for the Inquisitor. Within an instant the hall erupted in cheers, feet stomping the stone floor and fists banging on tables. The Thane and Thane-Second were banging the table so hard as they cheered, their ale sloshed, and the mugs and plates bounced. The Thane-Second paused his cheering for but a moment, wrapping his arm around the back of her chair as he leaned close to whisper in her ear, 

 

“Well done – Inquisitor,” 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The vegetation of the Kuldsdotten was exotic and oddly beautiful in its suffused azure hues, he felt a loss at not spending more time here. Knowing after the flood, this landscape would never be the same. The land would be different, the plants and wildlife would be different, even the flow of the water would change. He wished it wouldn't. Yet, being Avvar, Cullen knew change all too well, the Avvar and Change, being old friends. All things in the realm of the Father are temporary, Avvar are built to adapt and overcome.

 

Watercourses change, winds waft and wane, sometimes the sky weeps until mountains spill...  people live and die.

 

It is all just change. It is the Avvar way.

 

Still, he wished for the subtle, serene luminescence now, but it too had changed. The last of the light devoured entirely by waters weighted and burdened by churning dregs. He had never acknowledged how soothing and peaceful the general lull of the swamp was, and now it was gone. The darkness within the hollow of the swamp was vast as the sheer cliff above and as heavy and oppressive as the waters below. No light in the darkness, though, he supposed there was really no need of it. Whether he could see it or not, the waters were coming - it wouldn't be long now. The water was already lapping up and over the tree limb now and would soon be at their sides. It was cold but not just bone-chilling, but breath-stealing. It stopped lungs from seeking air and dulled the wits, with want of sleep. The roaring waters had taken on a droning quality, his hearing so saturated by its sound, it was almost hypnotic in its tedium.

 

Cullen couldn't hear his imprint barking, so much as he felt her. It was Lenna that kept him somewhat in the present. He felt her drawing closer again, around the outside perimeter of the swamp, back and forth... He should have known, of course, she wouldn't leave - even when commanded to. Avvar wolfhounds would do all they could to save their imprinted mate, he prayed she wouldn't. No, Lenna knew better than to dive into such a dangerous situation without the proper aid - she was loyal, not stupid - and in a way it gave him comfort. At least she was safe above the swamp. At least when the rains cleared and waters receded, Lenna would find them and guide others to bring them home. He knew his sister would ensure he and Maraina be given their sky burials together, and in doing so he also knew Mia, Branson and Rosalie would find a measure of comfort. That thought kept him holding tight, he would hold here for as long as his body would allow. If not for him, then for them.

 

Cullen wrapped himself around Maraina tighter, pulling his knees up and away from the water inching closer. He did not even know if she was alive. She had stopped shivering; her clothes were too bulky to feel for the rise and fall of her chest. No light to see her breath, they were too tangled together to safely check her for a heart-vine pulse. All these things he reasoned why he couldn't be certain - not truly wanting to know. Not willing to let her go, regardless.  

 

"THERE! It's him!"

 

"Thank the Gods!"

 

Cullen lifted his head, thinking he had heard voices and his head recoiled violently when he opened his eyes; bright light assaulted his vision. Squinting to focus, hesitant to believe. It could be a trick, twisted gods luring them to their deaths by promising salvation - a way out. Jaws of Hakkon had used bad magic before, even done so in this very place. Not all wickedness of the Jaws of Hakkon had yet left the basin, he had heard stories of such deceptions.  But the lights were... everywhere. There were Mage Lights floating throughout the swamp - twinkling and growing - like lanterns held aloft in worried mothers’ hands.

 

"CULLEN!" He heard his name, Mia?

 

"Mi-ah," He croaked, throat raw from his shouting prayers and wracking sobs. "Mia!" He tried again, it was a little louder but just barely, it seemed futile, he was exhausted. The time spent holding so tightly to Maraina, while keeping them upright had been taxing, but the simple bodily act of shivering had sapped him almost entirely. He felt weak in body and mind, but his spirit had been renewed, despair burned away by the bright lights of his kin.

 

"Mages!" Mia bellowed into the storm, "Form a way! Cullen! We've spiked our lines, once the way is clear, Lenna is coming to you. Will you be able to bind off true?"

 

He truly didn't think he could manage to tie a rope securely in his state. Nor did he want anyone risking themselves for him. But what if his knots slipped, what if he lost his grip and she fell... he couldn't carry her. To lose her now after all this, to lose her after seeing her again - after finally having his arms around her once more... he could not bare it. "Gods - please... she's nearly home." He prayed. Within a moment, he felt as though new life was breathed into him, his strength and perception sturdy once more as he yelled, "Yes! Bind two together, and I'll carry her across,"

 

"Who's with you?" Mia called, and Cullen shouted back loud enough for all to hear over the storm,

 

"Raina First-Thaw!"

 


 

 

Ughh! Again...” Bull grunted, “Ooof... Again!” The Seeker withdrew and struck him again... harder. “ Raaw-Come On!” Bull roared at Cassandra. “This is why the Qun doesn't like women fighting! I should have asked one of these big-ass Avvar guys to hit me instead.”

 

The Seeker's expression was barely phased by his words, but the Ox-man certainly felt the full strength of her fury. On her next strike, The Iron Bull landed on his ass – hard. He rolled back, sprawling as his legs lifted over his torso briefly before thumping back to the ground. Cole didn't seem to notice Bull's predicament though, he just sat by the Thanes Hall, happily watching everyone and the going's on around the Hold. Varric and Dorian on the other hand, both laughed wildly from their perches in front of the rock wall; even as the latter handed bits of his coin to Varric.

 

Why in the Maker's name anyone ever bothered to bet against the Seeker, she would never understand. Bull was laid out on the ground blinking as if in awe, apparently unable to breathe. He then suddenly gasped in a deep ragged breath and on his exhale - and in a pitch comically higher than she thought someone named 'The Iron Bull' would have been capable of - he wheezed, “Good one... Thanks.”

 

“What does the Ox-man demand for?”

   

She was surprised to hear his voice so close to her ear and as she turned her head to face him, she couldn't help the – stupid – smile that curved her lips. Sweet Andraste, these Avvar men were just... so nice to look at; but this one, in particular... Oh yes, she decided she really liked this one. Thane-Second and Master of the Beast as he was referred to by Thane Sunhair, her brother and Hold Champion – Cullen.

 

Maker Preserve her, she really liked this one. She liked his voice... and his easy smile... and his warm amber eyes, and his wavy chin length blond hair... and... Well, suffice to say she thought he was very nice to look at in a generally pleasing - all over - kind of way. She blinked dimly, realizing they were just standing there smiling at each other. She cleared her throat softly - awkwardly - remembering he had asked her a question.

 

“Ah, yes, the Ox-man... uh-I mean Qunari.  His name is Iron Bull - He is training. This training method is used by the Qun, the belief structure of Bull's upbringing. By doing this training he is mastering his fear. He...” She trailed off looking around, then motioned him to walk back with her – further from the training; both smiling at Cole as they passed. The Thane-second gestured her to proceed further and to the side, wordlessly offering the sanctuary of the currently empty Hold fire hall to guard the privacy of whatever she had been hesitant to admit in the open, while still allowing her to supervise the training of her team.

 

“He... He doesn't like demons. He has reservations about spirits in general but is, ah- is sort of scared of Demons and for good reason; we deal with a lot of them. So, with everything we discovered on the Lady’s Rest - the truth of Ameridan’s mission here… You heard just as I did, he was sent here to slay the Avvar dragon... From what Professor Kenric has found in his studies so far, and the information Thane Sunhair and yourself provided about the first Jaws of Hakkon; specifically, about how silent Hakkon has been to all Avvar for so long…” She trailed off in a moment of contemplation,

 

“I have a strong feeling... and if what I think did, in fact, come to pass… it’s not good. If the Jaws of Hakkon succeeded in binding Hakkon to flesh, it was likely in the body of that beast. If Hakkon has truly been bound for as long as I suspect... Well, I had to consider that we may be facing a very - very - large demon, the moment that ice wall comes down; and I felt it only right to be honest with Bull – so that he could prepare.” She explained heavily, then smothered a giggle when she looked over to where Bull was still sprawled on the ground.

 

He chuckled with her as they watched the Seeker prod and poke the Iron Bull's head and sides with the stick numerous times, then kicked the downed Qunari’s boot with her own; taunting him to get up with memories of adamant fortress, and the nightmare they had all endured.

 

'You fought in that siege - every demon there wanted to tear you in half! The Nightmare wanted into your mind - wanted your fear!' Cassandra reminded him firmly, as she moved away and readied her striking stance once more - and of course, Bull took her bait.

 

'I bet - you Demon Assholes!' The warrior roared as he leapt back to his feet, 'Who's stuck in the fade, huh?! Hit me! Raa-ah! And who killed you! Ah-Oof! That's right! IRON-FUCKING-BULL!" He yelled, then panting to catch his breath he said, 'Ah! That was good... been a while since I needed it. Thanks, Cass.'

 

“Though, I did keep the part about Hakkon possibly still being a physical Dragon a secret from him, just for now… he loves fighting Dragons.” She whispered conspiratorially to the Thane-Second as her team finished up and moved away to refill their waterskins. Cullen smirked at her admitted 'secret'.

   

The Seeker placed the stick back into the weapon rack having noted Bull's renewed confident demeanor. Cassandra allowed him a small smile and punched his shoulder with a short nod in acceptance.  'You did well, Bull. I am impressed by your fortitude.' the Seeker said, then passed the Ox-man a huge waterskin - of which half the contents were rapidly gulped down, and the other half dumped over his head. A furiously disgusted 'Ugh!' rose loudly, and the Seeker turned to quickly punch Bull in the shoulder again. A lot harder this time since the Seeker had been caught in Bull's splatter - Bull of course, couldn't stop laughing. As they had watched the resumed training, he had been considering all she had revealed, and after the others had moved off, he spoke plainly.

 

“You are a wise leader and a caring friend to safe-guard your team with such cautions.” He told her, admiration in his words clear. She was taken aback by his praise, so he allowed her time to recover by voicing his assessment aloud. “So, he trains this way to have no fear to weaken him during battle...” Thane-Second clarified to himself, “Does this only work on his people?” He asked, sounding a bit impressed.

 

“Huh... I'm not sure. It is training used by the Qun, but to be honest, I've always assumed it was because Bull is a Reaver.” She said, sounding pensive.

 

“Reaver? What is this?”

 

“Oh, sorry – a Reaver is a type of Warrior... like, special abilities he trained to harness in battle. Iron Bull trained to use injuries, pain and even the blood of his enemies to give him stamina - kind of like fuel.” Cullen nodded when he understood her meaning. “More injury, more pain – more power, harder he hits. The more he makes his enemies bleed, the stronger he becomes, and faster he attacks. It is only temporary though... like when the gods grant a Warrior or Hunter greater perception or a second wind in battle.” She told him. He smiled at her then, he hadn't really stopped smiling at her, but at the respect in which she spoke of the gods his smile grew wider.

 

“He is...” He paused, as if grasping for a word just past the tip of his tongue – while gesturing slightly with his hand.

 

“Strong? Intimidating?... Crazy as fuck?” she offered casually - chancing a look at him but didn't catch his eye because he burst out laughing at her joke.

 

“Yes. All of those, maybe.” He said still laughing, admiring her blushing cheeks as she giggled with him. “If what you say is true, I think he is a warrior worthy of Hakkon Winter's Breath...” trailing off slightly as he finished much quieter, “As are you.”

   

“Oh...” She breathed, blinking in surprise at such a compliment,

 

“You and your friends are admirable warriors. I am proud to fight at your side, and by those you deem friend.”

 

“I – Uh... Thank you... Thane-Second.” Her mind was scrambling for any shred of diplomacy Josie had drilled into her head over the past year and a half, “I... as Inquisitor I mean – am honored by your words. We, uh - The Inquisition... appreciate the opportunity to call the Avvar of Stone-bear Hold our friends and allies...” She rambled on until he quietly held up his hand to stop her.

 

“No.” He told her gently after she trailed off. His smile while still there, it was just barely visible – but his eyes were still warm,

 

“What?” She asked in shock.

 

“Not Inquisitor. Not Thane-Second. Not Inquisition, or alliance to our Hold.” He told her soothingly, calming her nerves at her perceived diplomatic failings. “I – Cullen,” He said smiling as he placed his palm flat on his chest - Maker – that was nice to look at, too. “Am honored that You have deemed me worthy to fight by your side, and by those of your friends. You...” he allowed his sentence to hang as he slowly moved his palm toward her, stopping short of her... upper chest region – hovering over her heart. His head tilted to the side, like a curious Mabari and he smirked slightly as he seemed to be waiting for something, before softly asking, “Your name?”

 

“Inquisitor?” She asked, “Herald?” she tried again after he shook his head, “Trevelyan?”

 

“No,” he repeated.

 

“I don't...” she began, looking down at her fidgeting hands in confusion.

 

“Not your Duty Name, not some Honor Name people unknown call you, or lowlander noble name.” He explained calmly, smiling softly as he tenderly lifted her face with his index finger so that she met his eyes again.  “You... just you lass, what is your name?” He asked gently, as if soothing a trapped or injured animal.

 

She blinked dimly then her eyes widened, even as a deep furrow wrinkled her brow. Her eyes had become distant and somewhat downcast – as if looking through him. Her eyes were shifting back and forth rapidly; as though she were searching the memories of her mind.

 

How long had it been...?

 

Her breath stuttered and mouth slightly gaped as it dawned on her… Not one person in the entire time since the Inquisition reformed had anyone actually called her by her - real - name. Maker, not even Dorian - her best friend, he just called her Cousin.

 

“Ra... Raina.” She breathed shakily then said a bit stronger, “Maraina.” Still staring unseeingly, she did not notice that Cullen, or maybe it had been her - had stepped closer; or that in her shock at her realization, she had unknowingly grabbed his hands to steady herself.  

 

“Good,” he said quietly, squeezing her hand softly to urge her eyes back to meet his.  Holding her gaze, he laid their joined hands against his chest as he took a breath in through his nose and out his mouth. With his other hand on her hip he closed the distance between them turning their bodies closer to the wall - sheltering her against any wandering eyes with the entirety of his frame. Without a word, he exaggerated the rise and fall of his chest with each slow breath. She nodded and copied, breathing with him.

   

“Maraina... My name is Maraina. My brothers and those close to me... they used to call me Raina.” She tried again after some time had passed and the worst of her panic had ebbed. Yet, to Cullen, she sounded as though she were confused or scared when referring to herself by name. It did not sit well with Cullen.

   

That this woman be risen so high by the Lowlander’s, revered and praised; yet no one had ever ensured she remained whole, happy, and known as her true self. Left and lonely, high on their pedestal of belief. She hadn't felt how detached and lost 'Raina' truly had become. Nor had anyone thought enough to ask. All they saw was their 'Herald of Andraste - Inquisitor.'

 

"I am honored to meet you, Maraina...” Cullen said sincerely, as he looked down into her eyes. Then pulled her close once more, holding her securely in his arms. He continued breathing deeply, grateful as he felt some of the panicked tension that held her body rail straight fall away; and she relaxed into his arms fully, resting her head against his shoulder.

 

He felt honored by her trust. That she - this warrior woman mage, that he had admired the instant she had stood against him in the arena, with all the strength and fierceness she commanded - would allow him to see her true self. Bare, whole, honest and hurting. Yet, she did and accepted his offered comfort- gods be praised. She felt perfect laying against him like she was meant to be there... as though the gods had built his form solely to shelter her from worry or despair. It seemed too much to ask of the gods that this not be the last, so instead, he just asked that his comfort be a soothing balm for her, any time she had need of it.

 

“I... Thank you, Cullen – for calming me down, I don't know what came over me. I - I have to go now... need to prepare to leave… Rifts along the river,” She said, lifting her left hand with a shrug, “but I just... Thank you,” She told him again, “Thank you for... well – for learning my real name...” She said, the deep crease of her brows easing as a sheepish smile widened on her lips, internally thinking that was an odd thing to thank someone for.

 

“You are welcome.” he said smiling warmly, giving her hand another light squeeze, “And, I thank you, Maraina... For allowing me to know the truth of its beauty.” He told her quietly, holding her hand for another moment or so, brushing his thumb over her knuckles softly before finally allowing her fingers to slide from his. He felt a twinge of regret at having to let go, but he did enjoy watching her blush hotly and pause - stumble - in her backward retreat. Her mouth was opening and closing clearly trying to respond but she couldn't make words form, so he continued to relieve her of the effort. He smiled admiringly as he stepped back and said, “Fight well. We will feast upon your return. I hope you will speak with me more... I wish to know you.”

 

“Yes.” She thought she managed to say but nodded her confirmation just in case then turned to make her way to camp to don her armor for the coming excursion.

 


 

 

“No!” Barris shouted down to them, “Not the pools! The gods say…”

 

Mia cut him off mid-sentence and yelled, “Her chill is deep, Barris,”

 

“We need to get her warmed - now!” Cullen shouted to Barris over top of Mia's yelling as they both continued past the augur – rushing toward the Clan’s hot springs, under the Arena seating dais.

 

Mia-An-Ruthdotten. Cullen-Ar-Ruthsen. We bade you - STOP!” The Augurs voice rang out much – much louder. It had taken on an eerie vibration, echoing in and out of focus. It seemed to echo around them as much as it did within. Cullen, Mia and every person in the hold, froze.

“She who stopped the sundering... kept Us as Ourselves...

Too cold. Too much. Too hot. Too fast. She is Ours. As you are Ours.

Mia-An-Ruthdotten; one who is heart and mother to Hold...

Ours beats but beat of colds too deep and fading.

Cullen-Ar-Ruthsen; Held in Ours heart, that holds hers too...

Heart-bonded and Beloved. In strength did we give, so able, so safe did you keep.

Mia-An-Ruthdotten; bade you did We true... Sent did We when hearts-kin calling...  Gifted was Our haste.

Find you what you sought We did... always keep Ours safe.

Cullen-Ar-Ruthsen; answer when you bade, We did and swiftly was Our sended aid...

Heeded was your heart its cry, lifted from breaking did We soothe.

Cast down despaired tears in darkened fright - it was We that lit the night.

She who is Ours, as We are to you, We and she, as Hold-kin, with you.

Too cold... too cold. 

Ours to protect - Ours into care!

Ours beat to cease its beat by the heating...

Too hot! Too fast! Too cold... too cold!

She is Ours! 

We will not allow you to stop Ours heart's beat!

You will bring her to Our flames.”

 

Barris then fell over, barely able to catch himself, before he was all but fast asleep as the gods finished speaking. Hold members were quick to aid him pulling him to the nearest home, and setting him to rest; since, while not terribly common, it was known to occur.

 

For a moment, Cullen and Mia looked at each other as if they had both been scolded by their parents. “Move,” Mia said, breaking the silence that had fallen over the Hold – voicing the direction they were to move in, clearly not required.

 

Branson and Rosalie rushed to the Augur hut ahead of them, Branson with a cot and Rosalie with a large wicker basket of blankets and furs. Rosalie had just finished piling the blankets and furs on the cot and removed herself from the hut to make room, when Rylen, Finn and the others carrying the stretcher entered. Branson piled several cords of wood at the door, while Rosalie retrieved another basket of supplies from the cabin next to the Augurs hut. It was heavy with several enchanted waterskins and towels, salves, herbs, cups and a large kettle, leaving the basket in Mia’s care.

 

Mia thanked everyone quietly as she closed the door, moving quickly she put the basket by the cot and began helping Cullen. Cullen was already in the process of removing Raina’s sodden and frigid outer gear beginning at her feet, so Mia moved to her coat. It was only after Raina was entirely undressed and wrapped in a thinner blanket, did Mia give him any indication something was wrong.

 

 “Cullen,” Mia said his name quietly, he looked up from where he had been tucking the blanket around Raina’s legs and feet when his sister nodded him over to her. She held his eyes for a moment, before she partially moved aside Raina’s upper blanket – exposing her arm… more specifically, its lack thereof.

 

“Aww Love… the cost levied was indeed high.” He murmured, as he lifted her from the stretcher into his arms, kissing her brow, as he moved her to the waiting pallet. “You’re home now, Maraina. Nothing will hurt you ever again… you’re home and you’re safe.” He promised her as he set her down. Mia began tucking the enchanted towels and waterskins around her as soon as Cullen set her down.  Cullen moved to the top of the cot to allow Mia to lay a pile of thick furs on top, as he tucked a towel around her hair after placing the last waterskin under the pillow.

 

“You next.” Mia said flatly, looking at him as if he were an idiot for still standing there in his drenched clothes. He blinked at her a few times, not sure what she was referring to. He felt fine – the gods had seen him renewed. She stared at him, then raised her eyebrows gesturing to his clothes. He looked down at himself, only then remembering his clothes were soggy and he was soaked to the bone. “Body heat, Brother – it’s meant for sharing.” Mia said, with a nod toward Raina’s cot. “The gods are keeping her and will see she warms, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help hasten her healing. I’ll bring you some stew and whatever there is hot to drink.”

 

“Thank you… and Mia,” She paused, turning back toward him, waiting patiently for words. She was surprised when he swooped her into a tight hug. She immediately hugged him back just as fiercely. “Thank you for coming for me… for getting us out.”

 

It took Mia a moment to reply, emotion making her throat thick, but eventually managed a semi-convincing scoff and said, “Like anything could stop me, I always track you down, remember?”

 

“Yeah…” He said, finally loosening his hold on her but neither were inclined to part fully, and she softly smiled up at him.

 

“I am happy for you Cullen… Raina is home. Our clan is whole… we have many things to be grateful for.” Mia said quietly as they both looked to Raina’s unconscious form,

 

“Thank the gods… if they hadn’t stopped us...” His voice hitched and he leaned into Mia's embrace once more. She rubbed his back as she said,

 

“They are wiser than us, and love her as we do. We were fools to ignore Barris’s warning as we did. I’ll prepare our offerings, though I don’t believe they will hold our ignorance against us. They know our hearts – we were only doing what we thought Raina needed. Calm yourself brother,” She comforted, “It will not do for you to dwell on it, she is safe now and in the care of our gods. They will see she wakes when she is ready.” She said, surety firm in her tone. She rubbed his arms lightly stepping back to turn toward the door.

 

“Now, get your arse out of those clothes and into that bunk, Raina needs you. I have no doubt she will wake sooner if she can feel you close.” She told him, a little softer than her normal teasing sisterly tone. She ruffled his curls lightly, “I’ll be back in a bit with your food,” before she stepped from the hut closing the door quietly. 

 

As ordered, Cullen shed his drenched clothes, readjusted the waterskins to her front, and climbed into the pallet. He wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in the back of her neck as he silently thanked the gods for all they had done for him. She was alive, she was safe, she was home, she was in his arms…  it wasn’t long before the dry, comforting warmth had lulled him into a heavy sleep.

Chapter Text

Folding Samson’s missive, Raina placed it back in the pile of requisitions in progress. She took a deep breath, pleased to know the Inquisition surgeon would be escorted to their Frostback base camp post-haste; knowing how organized and efficient their Commander was, she was sure the surgeon would be arriving in the basin within the next two days.

 

“I’m glad you did that… It will help.” Cole said, appearing silently – squatting on the requisition table before her.

 

“Oh, thank you, Cole, so…?”

 

“Yes… but we should go back there first – it will help,”

 

“Uh… okay, sure – we’ll go back to the Hold – maybe there is a map or something to help narrow it down.”

 

“Yes.” Cole said again - appearing next to her Oath-Bound steed, scratching her – him – it? - behind the ears, oblivious to the horses attempt to nibble his hat. “He likes helping… its why he stayed.” Cole said as she stepped beside the horse with the tack.

 

“He’s probably happy you’re his friend to Cole,” She told him, but he didn’t appear to be listening to anything she could hear. After a few minutes she had the horse tacked up and ready to go, seating herself in the saddle she asked “ Do you want to ride with me or prefer to… you know,” she gestured vaguely, waving her hands as if to make a ‘poof’ then, grab her chest in mock shock.

 

“Yes… that.”

 

“Ok, well scout ahead for me then, I would rather a gurgut or something did not try to eat our friend here,” she said, patting the - benevolent spirit possessed – horse’s neck. She waved good-bye to Harding as she called out to her, "If anyone needs me, I'll be at Stone-Bear Hold."

  

Harding gave her two-thumbs up before waving back and calling, "Don't stay out too late Quiz’s - you wouldn't want the Seeker coming after you and interrupting... anything." before the scout flexed her arms and puffed out her chest. Then proceeded to give what Raina assumed was her stout friend's impersonation of a big, strong Avvar man throwing something over their shoulder and running - more like prancing - away. 

 

Whatever it was made Raina laugh loudly as she blushed. "Oh no - you're right, Lace. I would not want -that- interrupted." She agreed with a cheeky wink to the dwarve. "I'll see you later 'My Lady Harding'." She heard the scout squeak in embarrassment and turn away blushing. Still laughing softly, Raina turned the horse toward the base camp gates and set off to the Hold.

 

“Hunting, following a scent. Something good, fresh, a treat, then trapped, nets and clubs and pain…” Cole whispered as they moved through the swamp pass.

 

“Where?” She whispered, dismounting on the upper ridge of the southern swamp pass.

 

“She’s nearby. Caged, cramped, can’t get free. We need to help her…” Cole said, sounding urgent.

 

“Can you get a--" Gone - he was gone, “--number on them for me? Nope- okay... that's fine. Totally fine, no-no don't worry about it. You go on ahead - I’ll wait right here.” Raina sarcastically whispered, finishing the conversation to herself. She huffed a heavy sigh and pulled her staff from its slot on the saddle, hobbled her horse, then settled in to wait.

 

She was wearing armor, but it stood out brightly in the Lyrium-esk glow of the swamp. If she was to have any advantage in this place, she was going to need to ditch it and blend in. As she waited for Cole to return, she quickly removed and covered her breastplate and bracers with leaf’s and branches then made pastes of clay. The first was just the light, almost white clay of the swamp bed, the second was a moss green and the third a dark oak brown from the leaves’ and dirt.

 

Backing up so that she was completely covered by brush she undid her leather tunic, thinking that if she was going to completely ruin her clothes with clay and the stink of swamp, Josephine would be more amenable if it were just her tank top undershirt that would need to be burned. Maker, she wished she just kept some of the clothes Stone-bear Hold had gifted to her in her bag. She worked quickly, smearing the streaks and patches across her body, and face so that her solid form would be harder to isolate - All the while, praying to the Maker that she wasn’t accidentally smearing herself in that deadly – madness inducing plant thing Vivienne wished to harvest.  It was hard to hear over the sounds of the swamp – and something else was bothering her. She could feel some sort of... something. A ward perhaps, but tried to put that out of her thoughts when she heard a bird – one of those noisy basin parrots take flight… and rustling below her?

 

She crept to the edge and looked down. Avvar Hakkonites – 'shit.' she internally swore. It looked like they had spread out into several small bands throughout the swamp, but the largest group was gathered closer to her, almost directly under her. She could make out several Hakkon spellbinders and archers, even more warriors, and - 'shit, shitting shit-crap' there was a Bruiser leading the cluster directly under her. She absently wondered if the gods of Stone-Bear would hear the same pain Cole did and send help.

 

“Shit,” she breathed as enlightenment sparked. If she could see them, they more than likely had sentry archers somewhere around here that could see her. “Shit,” she huffed again - thinking she should have torn Cass away from her swords and shields book. She knew the Seeker had already read the newest volume at least fourteen times since she had convinced Varric to write it for his biggest fan...

 

Amending that thought to include the fact that she should have never assumed a quick horse ride from the base camp to the Hold would be easy – or straight forward. 'Shit.' There were a lot of ways this could go bad... Not for her, she could handle herself - but if the Hakkonites got their hands-on Cole... she didn't want to think about what the Spellbinders would try to twist him into. 'Come on kiddo, where did you go...' She thought nervously.

 

“Oh Shit-“ she spat, hearing a fight break out inside the dungeon. Fearing for her compassionate boy she snapped a barrier around herself as she launched herself forward off her cliff perch. She used her fade-step to throw herself bodily through the Hakkonite bruiser, freezing him as she reassembled from the fade.

 

"The Inquisition send's its regards," She sneered at the Bruiser - still fully alert within the ice but unable to move.

 

Turning quickly, she cast fire glyphs all around, as she stood at the center of the veritable minefield, then began warming up. She was about to make these ice worshipping assholes dance in fire. She began by picking off individuals that had wandered too far from their packs before they got their bearings, blasting them with her flames with every completed stave form. This also had the added benefit, the Hakkonites would assume she could only fight with her magic; thus, they would try to get close.

 

Fire launched from her chest in great missile barrages and simmered around her body, wearing her mage-fire like an added layer of armor. She threw cast after cast before one finally got brave enough to charge. She leaned all her weight on her stave and pulled her legs up to her chest - all but roaring as she kicked the warrior charging toward her in the chest with both feet. The Hakkonite flew backward landing in a glyph. The ward erupted with a great boom, sending the Hakkonite flipping - ass over tea kettle - through the air as his arms flailed wildly; cutting down the archer behind him before he was awkwardly impaled on his own sword.  

 

'Serves you right, you fucking undisciplined idiot...' she thought. Harnessing the momentum of her body, she swung around her staff and hurled a stone fist at the bruiser. Being held in the ice for so long did the trick - making him brittle - and he shattered the moment the stone hit its mark.

 

She quickly fade-stepped again, this time she was focused on the closest Spellbinder. She had his neck snapped and he was dead at her feet as soon as she was solid once more. She pushed the slumped Spellbinder forward and to the side slightly, pulling a new barrier around herself as she stepped over him - critically evaluating those that remained.

 

The Hakkonites closest to where she was seemed dazed and unable to wrap their heads around what was happening. She wasn't sure what was so confusing though, her sudden appearance and the quick succession of the deaths of their brethren - not to mention the complete disintegration of their bruiser leader. It wasn't really that hard to figure out, they were under attack - maybe they should fight back…  Even still, they were... just looking at her.

 

‘Holy Maker - Hakkonites really were rather dumb…’

 

"What the fuck are you waiting for?! I'm right here! I'm the Inquisitor! Come and get me you dumb-ass Hakkon hole-licking shit-heads! Fight me!" She taunted as loud as her voice could carry, throwing her arms wide in the air as she postured to the Hakkonites all around her. 

 

'Please... help me - please... make them take the bait...' she prayed to any god listening.

 

If the Hakkonites could bind a powerful Avvar God into the body of a dragon, she was terrified for what they would do to Cole. “Cole! Are you ok – where are you!?” She yelled since all semblance of stealth was gone.  Her shouting – at least – had worked in her favor, might as well have a crowd if you were going to put on a show.

 

Whipping her stave around again, she slammed the butt of it on the ground and readjusted her grip – holding it two-handed while grounding her stance and allowing the enchanted markings to sing with her magic. The sight of it made the Hakkonite charging at her falter in his step. All the better for her, as she swung the massive celestial axe blade arcing toward him, cutting him down without hesitation. By then, all the remaining Hakkonites had come running.

 

Glancing around, she knew there was no way she would be taking all of them in melee, but  she didn’t have much mana left in reserve either. She quickly patted her leg and was a bit relieved to feel her – one - emergency lyrium potion,  thinking fast she hurled a stonefist directly at the ground at her feet. The force behind it causing a wave of repercussion that slammed into the Hakkonites, throwing them off their feet and setting off her remaining fire glyphs. As she was propelled into the air, she smoothly flipped backward catching her balance on a massive tree limb. She immediately dropped a devouring veil forcefield where she once stood. Then on second thought, added a healthy dose of lightning to the magical cage she had created - just for good measure.

 

Satisfied none could escape, she easily downed a lyrium potion. Pushing the empty vial back into the small bag strapped to her thigh, she called down to the panicked and furious Hakkonites, “When are you assholes going to learn not to fuck with my Inquisition! Where is my friend?!” she demanded.

 

“Death to you Inquisitor!  Your blood will be Hakkon’s glory!” one of the Hakkonites yelled at her. Her staff’s blade erupting from the crystal as she gestured to the Hakkonites with it, as she all but roared back at them,

 

“Fuck Hakkon - He's Next! You hurt my people – it’s your death that you should be concerned with! You worship winter – only fitting you die by fire! No Body – No Sky Burial - Nothing left for birds to find! I damn you to the void!” then released her firestorm, calling the molten fire of meteors down upon them; her worry for Cole fueling her anger, making her fire almost white.

  

“Cole!” She yelled as the ground shook with the pounding of rock and flame amidst the incomprehensible sounds coming from the dying Hakkonites. She was so angry - scared - 'If you've hurt him, I swear...’ with a growl she threw her hand to the sky using the mark of the rift - ensuring her promise to the Jaws of Hakkon was kept.  

 

'No birds will ever find you.' she thought, before taking off in a sprint down the tree limb toward the opening of the dungeon - to Cole, only to stop short just as she was about to enter.

 

“I’m here.” He said, appearing beside her. She gasped and threw her arms around his neck hugging him close; squeezing him tighter with a relieved sigh upon feeling the tiny pinch on her shoulder, signifying the amulet that safeguarded him against corruption was still secured to his tunic.

 

“I’m sorry you thought I was hurt, they did hurt your people… they would have hurt them all—” Cole looked up, in the direction of Stone-bear Hold. She looked back, it appeared as if half the Hold had heard the commotion and come ready to fight. She blinked in surprise... then felt a bit sad. She was enjoying her time here, enjoyed feeling... normal - but now they were looking at her the way most people did, with awe - like she was more than just a real person.

 

"Some do, but only because they’ve never seen anyone fight like you - they won't see you that way for long... you'll dine and drink and be one again," Cole said, then he placed his hands on the sides of her face, so she finally looked up - up where he stood. Following Cole’s line of sight – she met Cullen’s eyes.

  

"He doesn't see you like the others - he sees you - the real you...– ‘burns hot and bright, warrior woman mage, god's she is so brave - strong - beautiful…'  wants to know you… he wants to make you – feel – happy… it makes him loud. " Cole said. But she wasn't sure she had heard everything he said since her mind had turned to mush the second her eyes fell upon him.

  

‘Fucking Maker- he is so handsome in his armor.’ She thought, biting her lip. 

 

“He likes the way you look too… He already did, but especially right now – you look like one of them.”

  

“Oh,” she said, a wide grin spreading remembering the clay streaked camouflage she had made for herself when noticing her veil quartz armor would be spotted. “Good... I like it when he looks.”

  

“He knows, He can’t take his eyes off of you – ‘even better with a smile,’”

 

“My-Goodness!” She said, feeling a hot wave blush her body, “You are… extra helpful today, thank you Cole.”

 

“I’m sorry I didn’t come when your hurt called, I couldn’t leave though – she was scared and asked me to stay. She wouldn’t let them hurt me.” Cole said, by way of introducing her to…

  

“She… is a bear… well, hello, it’s very nice to meet you…”

 

“Her name is-” Cole was cut off by a triumphant roar behind them just as the bear walked out of the old prison the Jaws of Hakkon had trapped her in; and into full, unobstructed view of the members of Stone-bear hold. 

 

“STORVACKER!”

 

In surprise, she turned seeing that the roar - battle cry - was coming from the Thane-Second. He roared and howled, stomping his feet and beat his sword against his shield. The cheering quickly becoming louder as all the warriors began slamming their swords against shields, stomping and clapping and hooting, howling and yelling. At least they seemed happy, if they weren’t, she would have been extremely intimidated at that moment.

 

“STORVACKER!” Thane-Second howled again, “Inkvisitorn räddade Stovacker! Bbeastet är starkt och gratis igen!” He cheered in a booming voice and echoing off the high cliffs of the swamp as the other clan members cheered with him – cheered... for her? It seemed like they were cheering for her and the bear - though, she had absolutely no idea what he was saying - what ever it was... Maker -it sounded delicious.

  

“He said: ‘The Inquisitor saved Stovacker. The beast is strong and free once more! She’s happy you hurt the ones that hurt her, she wants a hug,” Cole advised as the bear stood on hind legs and pawed her closer until she was nothing but a set of legs surrounded by a mass of fur.

  

“Oh!!! – Okay – this is new…” Raina laughed into Storvacker’s chest, hugging the bear warmly in return, patting it on the back a few times as it stepped down and turned back toward the hold.

  

“She’s tired, and hungry, and wants to go home.”

 

“I’ll be right behind you, I just need to get ‘Purpose.’” She said, then quickly jogged up the tree limbs to the upper path – stopping short to curiously examine something odd hanging from a branch. Removing the item from its hanging cage lightened the odd feeling niggling in the back of her mind.

 

"What are you...?" She asked herself as she examined the item made of bone she had pulled from the small cage.

 

"Well fought, Inquisitor - freeing Storvacker is a great favor to our hold." came that delicious, smooth voice a few feet from her - Maker she could practically feel his handsome smile in his voice without even looking at him. But, oh how she liked looking at him, so she looked up from her perch on the tree limb. Thane-Second Cullen peering down at her - god's help her - even with that helm on his head hiding most of his face he was easily the most handsome man she had ever seen. She smiled up at him, but was soon distracted again by the thing she was holding - no, there were more - she could feel them...

  

"I didn't do it for favor, I did it for Cole... but Thank you..." she replied after another distracted moment, "Do you know what this is?" She asked, gesturing in his direction with the item in her hand.  

 

"What have you found?" He asked, easily moving down the tree limb to her position to get a better look at the item; Or at her, by the look in his eyes, she hoped it was the latter - if not he really had a thing for bones bound with magic.

  

"I'm not sure... it feels... wrong." She told him cautiously. "What would the Jaws of Hakkon be doing with this magic?" She asked, more to herself than him.

  

"Stories from spirits... Bound in Blood and Bone... Augury." Said Cole quietly at her back.

 

"Indeed, we shall speak to the Hold Augur of this."

 

"Good idea..." Raina agreed. "though I can't imagine anything 'bound in Blood and Bone' is anything but dangerous Blood Magic."  she added.  "Do you feel them too?" She asked Cole, not turning to look at him as she tied the object to her hip.

  

"Yes. I don't like it."

 

Cullen looked to her, expectant so she answered his unspoken question. "There are others, I can feel then... trying to push - force me back."

  

"Not you... us, me - before I was me - you feel it because you are bright to us - are like us but and not..." Cole said nervously.

  

She turned, lifting his hat to see him fully - he did seem more nervous. She moved to hug him again, "I don't want you near them while they are active..." She told him,

 

"I know... you're worried for me. You won't let them hurt me.  I feel the same - for you - like Bunny... but older and grown." Cole said.

 

She nodded, then kissed his cheek and hugged him briefly again before saying, "I want you to go back to the Hold - help Storvacker get settled. We'll finish up here and meet you there."

  

"Yes... I will - it's loud, him and you - echoing each other – both wants the same, wants from each and the other ... together wants tangling - duty-forced makes both deny... only after divide. Sorry... that didn't help - I can help there." Cole said before he was gone. She was curious – really very confused - what he meant but pushed it away as she looked around critically; spotting four more.

  

"Once pulled from the binding the magic is broken, let's grab the others - There, you see those lights?" She told Cullen as she pointed to four more hanging items, glowing yellow in contrast to the natural bright aquamarine blue of the swamp. He nodded, and they split up. 

- - 

After collecting the odd things, she made her way back to Purpose, “Care for a ride, Thane-Second Cullen?" she asked him slyly after she had dug up her bright breastplate and braces hidden under the brush. Though she seemed to be suppressing a giggle at his expression.

 

'gods - yes,' He muttered, as he looked to the sky, rubbing the back of his neck. He cleared his throat and took another few sharp breaths through his nose before attempting speech once more. "Yes, Inquisitor… Maraina - I would-ah... back to the Hold." he said. He silently thanked the gods she chose to secure her armored gear to her saddle, he liked it better there.

 

"This beast - it is...?" He asked,

 

"Yes - I just ask that you please do not touch his sword... I am unsure as to what would happen to him."  She said. Odd he thought, how regardless of what she was doing or what they spoke of, she always managed to surprise him, he was impressed that she would allow the creature to serve, and she seemed to notice it in his expression because she added,

 

"Yes, I love and adore my 'god' - boy of Compassion, like he was my baby brother and my mount is a 'god' of Purpose who is happiest being a horse... They want to help, so I allow it." He smiled at her, he couldn't stop it even if he had tried, she was just so captivating to him.  How gentle, thoughtful and kind she was, as opposed to the warrior he had just watched call down a storm of fire and rocks, in her wrath to protect a spirit she loved as kin; like they, the Avvar, would - like she was one of them.  She mounted, the flex of her muscles was strong - ensuring he was given a perfect view of her beautifully thick thighs and bewitching, firm, round arse. 'Korth's teeth'  he muttered a little louder. Well, at least his cuss had made her smile grow wide.

 

"Really, Cullen, by now I think you have seen enough of my character to know that I- the Inquisition," She amended without missing a beat, "is a friend to all those willing to help"

 

"Nej, inte 'Inquisition'" he grumbled under his breath, then clearer - if a bit firm, said, "Aye, Maraina - I am well aware of your finer qualities..." he said as he pushed his helm back off his head. He very purposefully moved to the back of the horse, to compose himself; though, the view of one of her plump -very fine - qualities, did not help his hardening cock grow any softer.

 

He growled low in his throat, securing his shield on his back. Then removing his sword from his side and securing it to the steed for something to do with his hands - other than... That other something the fire she flamed to life within him, demanded. He flexed his hands a few more times and paced back and forth. He was trying - begging the gods - cool this fire; if not he was sure he would pull her off this oath-bound god and worship her - everywhere he could reach.

 

This extraordinary kind, caring, spirit-kin warrior-mage, lowlander Lady - fresh from battle and slick with sweat - he wanted to worship her right here in the soft ground and glow of the Kuldsdotten... by the lady - why did he think of that... He was supposed to stop thinking about those things. She was the Inquisitor - a lowlander; but, laughing Lady - in this light his Maraina would be ethereal.

 

His? When did that solidify within his heart, he questioned internally. She was not - would never be... He had always known. He couldn't lay with her, this woman would never - could never - even if that was all it ever could be - she would never be just a pleasure fuck. Not to mention she wasn't Avvar, the lowlanders equated sharing a bed and taking pleasure with another to that of lifelong bonding. He felt oddly nauseated and dismayed, at the thought of her life bonded to another... He shook himself and the twisted envious beast the idea of her bonded to lay with another had caused to snarl venomously within him, away. Driving those thoughts to the back of his mind, he refocused on the outstretched hand she offered him; inviting him to… mount her from behind.

 

Lady help him - gods help him. He needed to control this. She was the Thane of her Holding, and he the Thane-Second of his, alliances had been made to the benefit of both their Holds... yet, even still. He wanted her waking to love-sweat mornings with him, and presently, he wanted to claim her - right now - atop this horse.

 

'Gods - stop this!' his mind pleaded.  Neither could leave their lives. They were honor and duty bound in service to their holds. Not only that, she was the lowlands Maker-Bride Herald, all of Thedas lay demands on her shoulders...  He wanted to hold her, be a sheltering rock from the oppressive solitude the lowlanders had chosen her for but they came from entirely different worlds. She would never even consider... She was a high-born Noble lowlander, and he, nothing more than an Avvar brute - a barbarian.  Yet, even after thinking of all the logical reasons nothing could change, one thought still rang louder - he could think of little else but:

 

'Claim you, mark you - make you mine... my only and only mine.'  

 

He groaned hearing her breathy moan as he settled behind her. At hearing that, he couldn't stop himself. He grabbed her hips and pulled her flush with his; entirely aware she could feel how hard he was for her... hoped she was thinking of all the ways he could make her scream his name. Why wouldn't these thoughts leave him… he groaned again as she rolled her hips, her arse - very deliberately- against him in return. It was a losing battle - he knew.

 

 "Comfortable... Cullen?" She asked him teasingly. As if sensing the feeling roaring off him. By the Mountain-Father, she was... toying with him. He had no doubt that she knew exactly what he was thinking; oh - this game, he could play.  He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her back so that her almost bare and painted back rested against his broad bare chest. Grinding his thick, fully erect and weighted cock against her ass was not entirely intentional, but the sweet - sweet - sound of unexpected pleasure she had been unable to halt gave him the surety that it was not unwelcome.

 

He slid his hands from her hips down the length of her long powerful thighs while he nuzzled her neck. Then planted a sweet, barest whisper of a kiss - much like she had teased him with, in the arena - against her collar bone. A chuckle rumbled deep in his chest at feeling her bodies reaction to him - though the sound was also similar to a possessive, pleased growl. For he knew now - it was obvious; she burns for him, just as hot and needy as he did for her. With his lips pressed to her ear he whispered seductively,

 

"Aye, Maraina… having my body wrapped with yours, as we grind together… it's exactly where I want to be.”  She breathed in sharply as tingles of gooseflesh raced over her entire body making her shiver harshly against him. He elicited a soft – frustrated – whine from her while he dragged his hands from her thighs, up her sides to her shoulders and down her arms. He hummed approvingly as he did, savoring each and every tiny bump he caused to rise on her skin. Finally, he gently plucked the horse reins from her lax and currently useless hands and softly clicked his tongue, signaling Purpose to walk on toward the Hold.  He felt rather confident knowing for certain that she, like him – would be sitting through the Hold feast able to think of nothing else but his body moving against hers.

Chapter Text

The Inquisitor looked around the feast hall enjoying the bustle before the final feast of the Games began. The energy of the momentous three-day festival of Competition and Games thrown in honor of Storvacker's return still thrumming high in the air. She was pleased to see that instead of their official seats at the head table - her team had preferred to integrate with the Avvar. The camaraderie of Hold Games had them choosing to take up celebratory drinks, toast and mingle with them. The change in opinions made her blissfully happy, to see that two factions that she adored – loved, acknowledging without question that she was indeed, quickly coming to love this place and its people; seeing her team enjoying the festivities of the Hold Games, as opposed to the original introductions, the change was night and day.

 

Honestly, when the Inquisitor's party had first arrived in the basin, she had been disappointed with a few members of her team. Cole and Varric had absolutely been themselves, and while Bull was – understandably - quieter than normal, Raina hadn’t been frustrated or upset by him in the slightest. She recognized Bull was just nervous about the idea of being around spirits. Even still, he hadn’t been in any way rude to the Avvar, on the contrary, it was obvious that Bull respected the Avvar warrior clan, and Thane greatly. Raina was a bit more concerned that he might accidentally offend the hold gods. Raina knew she could trust Bull to get over it quickly, he just needed a break from the Hold’s spirit-gods. Accordingly, Raina had Bull lead his chargers to clear the Varsdotten river shores of Hakkonites, so that supplies could get through.

 

On the other hand, Sera was her same, annoying, bigoted self -  along with Vivienne’s cold elitist mindset; their attitudes had, quite frankly, been expected. However, Raina had felt that the Knight-Enchanter’s skills and resurgence healing abilities would be of advantage. It had taken Raina quite a bit more consideration of Tempest-Archer Sera's hunting and tracking skills, in the terrain that needed to be explored, before she had deemed that Sera’s abilities marginally outweighed her -fucking- attitude. Hence why, against her better judgment, Raina had brought the two women, anyway. Well, Madame de Fur's arrogance was on point, and quickly managed to outdo her usual, entirely disdainful and condescending bitch-self. Considering the differences between the two women, Raina might have almost found it amusing that the ‘Noble hating not an Elfie Elf’s’ attitude had not been much different than the pretentious Iron Lady's; if she had not been so irritated by both at the time. The Inquisitor refused to tolerate the Worst-Jenny's and the Knight-Enchanter's blatantly disrespectful - if not outright hostile - attitude toward the Avvar.

 

Though she had hidden it well, Raina had found Madame De Fur's expression quite funny when she had informed the snob of her decision; she was leaving. Inquisition soldiers and a group of Avvar would escort her safely through the Mountains. Being a powerful Knight-Enchanter or not, was irrelevant when the majority of Vivienne’s skills were voided to the point of obsolete, against the enemy they faced. Therefore, Raina justified Vivienne’s dismissal due to the Jaws of Hakkon’s huge resistance to ice magic; not in any way implying it was actually because she was a bitch that Raina would likely help the Avvar lynch, if she insulted them, or their god's one more time.

 

Thus, Vivienne was being sent back to Orlais. The Avvar had even graciously offered to bring Vivienne back to Skyhold for her belongings first, if that was what she wished. Even that kind act had garnered some snobby remark. The Inquisitor allowed Vivienne to choose the end destination because Raina, at that point, could not care less. Raina was just glad it was done, and she had managed to keep it civil, even if it meant she had to blow some hot air up the frost mages ass.

 

Raina was rather intimidated by the Inquisition's lovely Diplomat, and forthrightly so - Raina was not ashamed to admit it, either. Josephine literally could make nobles, diplomats, and nation leaders weep at her feet, merely with her graceful sweetness and the luring charisma of her wits. Thusly, knowing Josephine would not be pleased if someone with Vivienne's connections was shunned, she had quickly derived a solution. Raina had a very official and important looking document drafted for her. One stating that as one of the Inquisitor's inner circle and most valued agents within the Highest echelon of the Inquisition, Vivienne's assistance was needed establishing trading partners in Orlais for the Inquisition's Avvar allies. Her mission was to secure reliable - fair - vendors for the items the Avvar are unable to procure within the hold, as well as stock trades for them to sell their wares. At the prospect of using the power and influence the Inquisition had amassed to somewhat throw her weight around in Orlais's fashion society and the Orlais merchant guild, Vivienne seemed ecstatic; at least as much as her frozen facial features would allow. Therefore, by order of the Inquisitor, and authority granted by her office as the leader of the Inquisition, Vivienne was sent merrily on her way to Orlais to make the necessary arrangements for the trade to start moving in the next month.

 

Sera - like always - had railed against Raina's decision to send her away. Raina, at first had been sympathetic to the elf. She just as much as anyone - because mages were people too - knew how scary magic could be if wielded by the wrong person. It was no different than a sword, dagger or a fucking bow. Raina understood the power mages held was intimidating, but most people at least had some semblance of open-mindedness. But not Sera, no - not even after a year and a half,  traveling with no less than four inner circle mages; all of which had not once threatened her, harmed her and only ever done all they could to protect her... Well, after all that, normally opinions would tend to change and fears would somewhat ease - except if you were Sera.

 

At first, Raina was just going to send her back to Skyhold, but after the tantrum she had thrown, insults she had spit, Raina just couldn't stand her anymore. The Inquisitor had warned the bratty shite-mouth after her shit show in Verchiel; not to run her mouth off again or cause problems - or she would be gone. The way Sera had gruesomely kicked in the noble's head had been horrifying. Not to mention that the fucking lunatic-elf had done so before Raina had the opportunity to grasp the full scope of the situation, or even had a chance to annex the man's lands to the Inquisition; so that the Inquisition might possibly be able to protect feed and shelter the people there. Sera was only pissed she didn't get her coin, she didn't truly care that the person sent to pay her - unaware of any danger to themselves due to a blatant withholding of details on Sera's part - had been killed, though she had briefly tried to pretend.

 

Raina hated how the elf was always so much more concerned about getting paid then about the people she gets killed by her own omission of information. In Raina's opinion, Sera wasn’t a Red Jenny in the sense the crew is supposed to be known for - people, protecting people, for the good of all. Sera was quite literally the worst Red Jenny, ever. She was greedy, spiteful, rude and argumentative, and Raina would no longer tolerate her, not anymore. Not in this place, and especially not when her insults were targeting these kind, generous and tolerant people.

 

Blackwall's leaving to the wardens removed the only person who seemed to have endless patience to deal with the bitchy whiney elf. Raina missed her now fully-fledged warden friend but would not hold him back after Corypheus was dead. Bull had stepped up after Blackwall's departure, recognizing how painful and grating Sera's constant sniping about mages and magic were to Raina. Raina knew it wasn't fair to Bull to have to deal with Sera's bullshit either, but - giving Sera yet another chance - had accepted his offer to have Sera run with the Chargers while in the basin.

 

Well, it hadn’t taken long for Sera to burn that bridge too. Not only was she insubordinate to the point of very nearly getting someone killed, her constant wining to Dalish about elfie elf’s and incessant comments about wanting to see Krem's 'lady bits', were unacceptable. They were finished with her, Sera was no longer welcome with the Chargers. Raina used the same logic she had with Blackwall’s - and Solas's - departure, in dealing with Sera. Sera had joined the Inquisition to fix 'the hole' - it was closed, the asshole that made it dead.

 

Sera's attitude had gotten her shunned by the Chargers - literally some of the most easy-going and inclusive people Raina could think of. She certainly was no longer welcome in Raina's party; and there was no way she - the Inquisitor, would subject anyone else in the Inquisition to the Tempest’s temper tantrums - Sera was done. Raina had sent her packing, supplying her so that Sera could get to where ever in Thedas she wanted to go.

 

So long as Sera's destination was really fucking far away, Raina had naught but giveth one Maker single caring fuck where she ended up. Though, she did leave Sera with one parting piece of advice before she was escorted from Avvar lands. If she - or her little band of rogue Jennie's - attempted to hinder or in any way, fuck with the Inquisition's dealings; Sera would be dealt with the Nightingale way - and swiftly.

  

Raina had, in fact, been most disappointed... angry - really very angry - with Cassandra and Dorian. They had been standoffish - almost snobbish - toward the Avvar because of their beliefs and customs. How dare they...  after all they had learned of the corruption and 'initiation' of All Seekers of Truth, or the stigma of - all -mages from Tevinter and the practice of blood magic... Not to mention Cassandra was raised by a Mortalitasi Death Mage, and Dorian was a blasted Necromancer himself! How dare they... how could they possibly have the gall to judge how the Avvar lived their lives or practice their beliefs?

 

It made Raina furious. Well, they definitely were not standoffish snobs anymore, that was certain. Raina had sidelined them both... all but yelling at them for their disgusting judgmental and bigoted attitude. Choosing to only allow Cole, Varric and a small compliment of Avvar Warriors - which Also, Maker be praised - just happened to be led by the Hold Champion, Thane-Second Cullen - to accompany her. Their first order of business was getting a boat to get to the Lady's Rest. Thane-Second Cullen telling the keeper of the fishery, his brother, Branson that Mia... Thane Sunhair? Had given permission and that himself and Delrin... Augur Barris? Would accompany the Inquisitor's party so that, hopefully, none of the gods be offended. She had mused internally, how odd that she had never even thought to ask if the Thane or Augur had any given names beyond their titles...

 

After they had returned, they split up into smaller groups in order to locate Rosalie, the absent Avvar climber, who incidentally, also happened to be Cullen's baby sister - who had yet to return from her climbing excursion. They had then gone on to locate, and rescue Professor Kenric's research assistant Colette, in the swamp. The Inquisitors augmented team then proceeded to close a rift as they scouted ruins ensuring Colette could continue her work safely. Then, she and her Avvar party had come upon poor Jace… The Hakkonites had brutally murdered the inquisition researcher. Then, desecrated his body by mounting him to the wall inside an abandoned cabin with swords as if he were a trophy. Upon returning to the inquisition base camp to ensure Jaces body was retrieved and his final letter sent; Raina informed Kenric of her discovery of Telanna on the island. Afterward,  following up on Harding's suspicions, Raina had led her team on a hunt to find the missing Scout Grandin.

 

It had taken approximately three days when all was said and done, but Cassandra and Dorian had clearly understood and of their own volition admitted their ignorance and apologized. In order to unburden her regret, Cassandra had approached the Thanes Hold-Fire and had asked to speak with the Thane. Thane Sunhair had listened as Cassandra had fully expressed the circumstances of her Navarren upbringing, as well as her training as a Seeker and she apologized for her prejudice. Thane Sunhair had accepted Cassandra's words and her apology without ceremony - which Raina knew the Seeker appreciated. Dorian doing similar, to the Auger, but more importantly, being a necromancer - Dorian also formally humbled himself before the Hold gods; or at least as humble and serious as Dorian was capable, either way the Hold gods had accepted.

 

They had all worked hard to gain the favor of the Avvar, bring honor to the gods and Hold. Truly, it had only been about three weeks - not even a month, but she very much felt a part of the Hold. Or, at least as much as any 'Lowlander' would be considered. As she observed, she smiled warmly, almost giggling as she spotted Cassandra. The usually stoic, reserved - shy – Navarran Warrior Princess was arm wrestling with Rylen, the Master of the Hunt. Unsurprisingly the Seeker was close to another victory. The Hunt-Master was obviously giving it his all, but inevitably his arm slammed to the table in defeat. Cassandra crowed triumphantly, pumping her fist in the air but her opponent did not seem to mind in the slightest - grasping her arm and shaking it when she offered it to him, stating 'good match'. The normally stalwartly gruff man began to laugh heartily after they dropped their handshake and raised his tankard clinking it amicably with the Seekers, urging each other to take a few large - slightly competitive - gulps of ale before slamming them down. As the Inquisitor continued to observe, the pair quickly launched into a debate about the best ways to take-down and dismember all manner of large creatures.

 

Moving on, her gaze scanned the room further and she smiled again when she caught sight of Dorian. As if feeling her eyes, her cousin looked over catching her gaze. By the Hold-gods, even after the way their day had started, before even getting to the Hold for the last day of the Games... The few hours she and her team had spent killing the obscene number of gurguts they encountered - rivalling the record held of bears fought in the Hinterlands - to get to and close a newly reported rift in the valley; not to mention taking down a fucking Ice Giant that had attacked them as they made their way back to the Hold... Dorian, as always, appeared impeccably un-mussed. She was sure it had to be magic, a spell of some sort. Hair - perfect. Mustache - fabulous. Robes - spotless and shimmering with luster. They shared ancestry and were bred of similar stock, it just wasn't fair. Maker - she loved him, but there was no way that Vint could be that gorgeous all the time. He could probably wear the most horrendous bejeweled plaid-weave armor imaginable, and it would likely be the hottest new trend in Orlais. Smiling adoringly at him, her cousin raised his goblet – no doubt full of that Avvar dark ale he secretly adored – toward her in salute while giving her one of his award-winning smiles. She nodded as she returned his salute and the smile before he returned to what appeared to be a very enthusiastic book discussion with the Augur, clan mages and – oddly enough – Trader Helsdim.

 

Her smile softened as she saw that Varric and Skald Fullna had enthralled all the younger hold members, and parents with small children, in the tall-tales of their story-telling death-match. Her attention, and that of the entire hall was drawn to the Iron Bull when he roared. All but falling over in great rolls of laughter with some Avvar warriors and the Chargers as they all traded glory stories in between their drinking cheers. And, then there was Cole. Her smile widened again as she watched him. Her sweet cinnamon bun of a spirit-brother was so happy, he looked as though he was practically floating around the room.

 

All her confusing and uncertain feelings for Cullen aside, taking in everything going on around her... Raina felt a great loss at the idea of ever having to leave this place behind. She really did love it here. She took a deep breath and sighed heavily, Cole appeared in front of her the moment the breath left her. He was perched on a table corner before stepping down as he looked – listened - to her. 

 

“Are you troubled?”

 

“Oh?!” She jolted slightly then laughed at how silly she felt, “Hello, Cullen.” She smiled brightly at him, cheeks flushed from drink and her immediate - really rather constant thoughts of their - days prior and all too Maker-damned short - horse ride together.

 

“Hello, Maraina.” He said, in that smooth, delicious accented voice of his, and smiled back. Sweet-god's, Cullen had stepped slightly closer as he greeted her, and now she could feel him, as though they were touching side to side; from her shoulder to her hip and down past her thigh, it was all she could do not to curl into his warmth.

 

“You're not hurt – not really.” Cole told her quietly.

 

“No, I guess I'm not.” She told him,

 

“Not hurt... but you're sad - will never happen - not all. You won't.” Cole told her in his soft, matter of fact way.

 

“Cole, sweetie – could you try to explain? I need your help to understand what you mean.” Raina asked him kindly.

 

“Soft, warm, comforting... you like it here, you like being real – you forgot, but he made you real - you rippled like water after he dropped the first stone." As Cole began, she felt Cullen ever so softly brush his knuckles against her right hand and she gratefully hooked her pinky with his. She wanted to hear Cole's helpful words but couldn't help meeting his gaze side-long. She smiled shyly as her eyes met Cullen's, but returned her focus to Cole almost immediately,

 

“Eyes opening to dawning light... hands shaking, gripping, holding, breathe...  solid, safe - now you see, then you smiled. You want to swim - water freed, flowing, puddles splashing. Drip - drop - raining - Raina... you want to be you. Don't worry Maraina... he wants you to be you too. Only you - not Inquisitor - not Inquisition."

 

Cullen was gripping her hand fully now, drawing comforting - grounding - circles on the back of her hand with his thumb. When Cole had begun recounting the moments they had shared after training, he squeezed her hand gently. Raina took a deep breath at the pressure; remembering once again, to breathe - breathe with him. Cole had looked to Cullen then, nodding somewhat, approving of whatever he had gleaned in that moment before focusing intensely on Raina again.

 

"It’s not real. You are. It's heavy... the mask they make you wear. Dark and hard and cracked and old... you don't like it, but a Trevelyan must always do their duty; Modest in temper, bold in deed. People talk about the Inquisition like it's a person, but it's not even a thing. A dagger can be a way to let the pain out, but even if it isn't it’s still a dagger. The 'Inquisition' isn't real unless it has something real to make it, it’s like a spirit…  but they made you become its spirit. You make it real and it makes you forget.' Cole told her, Raina blinked rapidly, but she was unable to stop the emotions Cole brought forth from watering her eyes. She looked down, hiding her face as she hurriedly smudged the tears away and she sniffled softly. Then just as quickly, she stood straight once more, returning her hand to her side; but before her arm could come to rest fully, Cole grabbed her hand instead. He lifted Raina's marked hand, gripping it comfortingly in his as Cullen still stalwartly held her other.

 

“Glittering to gloss a hidden hurt... but he sees through, sees you true... burden by Creators faulting, then was committed to you... See how lonely onus is for you. He wants to help, wants more… Trapped in trappings, then circled set free, but lessons learned were hard and cold. He makes you want to un-learn the lessons that taught you not to hope for more...  hope for yourself. Mission – duty here, soon to be done - have to leave…” He paused, dropping her hand to instead place his hands on the sides of Raina's face. Holding her gaze, as if willing more than her ears to hear his words.

 

“But you won't... not now – later, but not all. Your heart... it beats new, beats sure, beats with song of hold-kin blood... You are you, and here made whole. Then not alone. Never alone. Even if you’re not here – you will be home. Even when you're lost, you will find home... I'll help.” He told her somberly.

 

“Thank you, Cole...” She whispered as she gathered him into her arms and hugged him tightly, smiling when he returned it. As she pulled back, she lifted his droopy hat and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “I mean it Cole, your right. We still have a lot to do here, and even when I leave, I will always carry this place with me. Thank you for helping me understand.” The Spirit boy beamed at her, clearly happy that he helped. “I hope you will always help me.” She said hugging Cole again,

 

"Yes..." Cole whispered to her before they released each other.

  

“What about me Cole, how do you see me?” Cullen asked Cole, feeling as though if there were ever a moment of truth... this was it.

 

“Yes... You're happy that she's happy... you like her smile and think her eyes are pretty. You see her differently than the others... you're different.  She burns with you... hot and bright, so bright… She shines to you, but not the way others see her... shimmering, you can hope, and she can heal. Salve, sooth, make the pain better. Honest, and sure, caring and calm... You made her remember the her - she forgot. But you saw her all along... you want to know more, see more... a lot more.”

 

Cullen cleared his throat awkwardly and rubbed the back of his neck, then sheepishly chanced a glance at Raina. Taking in the wide grin - and bright blush - on her face, he ignored his own heated cheeks and gave her a bashful smile with a short shrug. Returning his focus to the boy, Cullen nodded his head, wanting him to continue. “Safe and Solid... Protecting and Proud. You know she has to leave, but part of her will always stay. You'll hold it for her until she finds the way. You'll keep it safe.”

 

His smile seemed to have widened at Cole's words, “Thank you, Cole. I am honored to know you and I hope you will return to our Hold, you will always have a place among us.”

 

“Yes...” Cole said before he smiled shyly, then he was gone.

  

“That was...” Cullen trailed off,

 

“Yeah... I know.” She told him,

 

“He is a fine young man. I am glad you took him under your wing – he is a gentle soul – he would be changed if denied his purpose,” He told her, but then his eyes narrowed, and he smirked while he considered her. “You do not jump at the sight of gods, and spirits – but you jump at the sound of my voice... is it so frightful to you?” He asked, referring to when he startled her earlier.

 

She was openly staring at his lips. Then her eyes roamed over his entire visage and thought about saying 'Fuck it,' and just kiss him. She was dying to have his arms around her again. 'Fuck her noble title and station, Fuck the hall of Avvar, Fuck the Inquisition,'- where was a blizzard when a girl needed one.

 

“What? No, of course not, I mean... I like your voice.” She stammered, then sipped her tankard but her brain wouldn't stop thinking of, well... all of him.  She was trying to think of words that wouldn't make her sound as dim as she just had... but, she was practically giddy, and couldn't help herself as she blurted, "As if your voice would be scary to me - god's - I love your voice. I even like watching your mouth move when you..." She trailed off awkwardly, realizing what she had just said when his eyebrows raised slightly, surprised by her blunt admission.

 

'Oh Fuck - what the fuck is wrong with you!' She berated herself.

 

"I-uh never mind." She mumbled, then forced her mouth closed with an audible click of her teeth. Shit! Why in the void had she told him that!? She needed to stop drinking and move away from him - right now. No, she should take another drink - block the words. Dammit. It didn't matter, she just needed to do anything else; so long as she stopped talking. She was nearly thirty years old for gods-sake; why in the void could she not stop babbling like some silly - stupid - love-struck girl.

  

“Then, I Thank you, my lady Maraina.” He said gallantly, with a flourishing bow of his hips and wave of his hand. The action made her giggle smittenly at his effort, then gasp audibly when he took her hand and brought it to his lips – placing a warm lingering kiss on the tips of her fingers.

 

Sweet Andraste… how could he make the barest breath of a kiss on her hand - in public - feel so sensually erotic it would surely make a Chantry Mother faint. He pulled her hand closer resting it against his heart as he stood, biting his lip to try and smother his own chuckles at her reaction.

 

Leaning closer he dropped the volume of his voice, shielding her expression from onlookers and ensuring the privacy of his words he murmured, “I am glad to know you have such high praise of my mouth, Maraina... For in your words a truer fact is shown..." Holding her questioning - alluringly hooded - gaze for a moment, allowing her to consider his meaning. Then, moving closer still - his breath a warm caress against her skin as his lips just barely grazed the shell of her ear, he whispered,

 

“The truth, that you - as I do, have pondered much on... the seduction my mouth would offer you.” He said to her, absolutely no hint of doubt in his wording or the imagined interpretation he wished to awaken in her mind.

 

"Maker-yes..." She sighed unconsciously, then as if her wits and the noise of the hall surrounding them came back to her all at once, she slapped her fingers over her mouth to stop any more traitorous confessions. He grinned wickedly at her when her head seemed to recoil in shock and whipped up to look at him, her mouth fallen slack behind her free hand.

 

"Your... Wait-what?!... Oh – Arse! You're teasing me! You said that on purpose!” She squawked, as she yanked her other hand from his grasp and swatted his chest playfully as she stepped back, “Here I thought that some of your more... flirty statements were just charming slips of the tong..-Language but... Cullen! You're just messing with me... flirting and trying to make me blush.” She said with mock indignation, one hand on her hip as she used the other to waggle an accusing finger at him,

 

“I'll have you know, my good Thane-Second Avvar Sir - that in the Lowlands, it is considered rude to tease someone in such a way. Well, I guess except in Orlais... those bastards make it a game.” She said, scoffing slightly – even as she blushed hotly and bit her lip. Cullen grabbed her still raised hand and pulled her closer, holding her hand against his chest again, and his other hand rested on her hip.

 

“Hush... my strong, beautiful Maraina.” He crooned huskily, enticing her to look at him regardless of her blush at his words. “On my honor, the gods and my Hold, I do not tease. Yes, I have been... how you said, - 'flirting' - and trying to make you blush. I like it better when you smile. When you think too much you seem troubled and sad. If I can be the reason you smile, then my course is sure. I promise you, Maraina... I wish only to please you.”

 

“Oh... stop it!” She said with a giggle, giving him a playful shove as she turned away. “And... stop doing that... thing with your voice – the way you say my name... its... tingly.” She said biting her lower lip again as she looked away, then shivered her body to exaggerate her statement. “Just stop talking and look pretty - my face is red enough right now, though...” She trailed off, she had regretted the separation of their bodies instantly after pushing him back a step, but she had to admit, being able to look at  – admire - all of him, almost made up for the loss; so she did, brazenly looking him over from top to bottom and back again, then said,

 

“I... I probably wouldn't mind if you... flexed a little. And, smile at me, you know...” She gestured flippantly at his face, “In that... arrogantly handsome way you do. I will, of course, pretend to not be looking. I am a proper Lowland's Lady after all.” She told him matter of factly before sipping from her tankard of cider.

 

“Of course, Maraina, if that is what pleases you.” He rumbled low, leaning slightly to speak close to her ear again under the ruse of privacy.

 

“god's help me...” she muttered, when she glanced at him side-long and caught sight of him smiling – smirking – back at her. He was doing exactly what she had said, arms crossed flexing his chest, arms and torso rigid even in his lithe posture - Maker. He was leaning against the wall on one shoulder while facing her slightly. He was completely unmoving, even as the Hold cooks began entering the halls by all doors carrying massive platters of food. She peeked at him again,

 

He, of course, caught her looking, still smiling at her expression, "Does this please you, my lady Maraina?" he asked in a low rumble. His question and the veiled suggestion meant for her alone. Fuck - that tone, the suggestion his voice held had her desperately wanting to hear him speak like it more. 'YES!' her mind wanted her to scream, but she scoffed and looked away.

 

She heard him chuckle as he moved to follow when the Thane bid all to take their seats. He grinned at her, having heard her mumbling about 'Insufferably handsome Avvar brutes' under her breath as he took his seat at the front table beside her. The hall quieted for but a moment when Thane Sunhair stood, allowing her to call the Final feast night of the Games, to begin.

 

--

 

It was not as though she had been required to stay later, but he certainly had hoped she would, as she did most other evenings. She was always so busy, all the demands the Lowlanders heaped upon her. He supposed with it still being relatively early - summer's end dusk was still yet approaching; her duty had once again called. He did not wish that was the case, but the only other assumption he could make was that he had offended Maraina with his attempted 'flirting'. That concern had only grown when, not only had she departed the feast hall so shortly after finishing her meal, she had removed herself with little if any, by way of farewell to him... and before he could reason with himself to stop, he had followed not far behind her. Cullen spotted her going about the Hold, clearly looking for something – or someone. She was still a guest, he reasoned he should help her look. It sounded like a valid enough reason to seek her out – and spend more time with her.

 

“I got this – it helps.” Her flesh god-kin said, appearing beside her.

 

She swallowed her gasp taking the rough tattered parchment he offered and seemed quite pleased by whatever it was… now he was curious – so he watched. He didn’t watch long because the boy seemed to grasp her forearm and they vanished before his eyes.

 

Cullen’s curiosity had far surpassed its peak now. He needed to discover what the two of them were up to. Guest or not, this was the home of his Kin, this was his Hold – he would do whatever was needed to keep them safe. Tracking them visually would be a fruitless waste of time, but there were other ways to track. He mentally called out to his imprinted, willing her to come assist him. The Avvar wolfhound was beside him within moments, he was confident her keen sense of smell would flush out even an invisible threat. Then pushing his gifts further, he used his God's gifted ranger talents to call out to the animals just beyond the Hold, asking them to relay any movement. Satisfied, he moved to begin tracking where he had seen them disappear.

 

Walking out of the hold's back gate, he stopped when he got to the fork in the path. After a moment he moved further, feeling the animals pulling him toward the Kuldsdotten. He paused, crouching into shadow as he began looking as much as feeling the environment around him.

 

Still, he had an odd sensation, hearing garbled alerts from the animals around him but Lenna hadn’t alerted. Truly, the hound seemed relaxed, at ease and calm. He gave the hound a questioning look when he saw Lenna lay down in the middle of the path. Squinting as he eyed her, his eyes widening when she then rolled on her back... and lifted her leg? Odd, it looked as if... as if she were begging for belly scratches? What in the god's name was going on?

 

“Is there something I can do for you, Thane-Second Cullen?”

 

He froze the instant her warm breath tickled the shell of his ear. She slid her hands over his shoulders and partially down his chest from behind, almost hugging him. He couldn't even suppress his groan at the provocative nature of her words, or the feel of her chest pressed against his back - gods the fire this Lowlander ignited in his blood - it roared to life once more. He turned his head to look at her side-long, though he couldn't see her, only able to make out a shimmer of illusion in her form.

 

Maraina had taken to wearing the clothes of his people most days but as the Thane of her own Hold, she had adapted it to the painted greens and greys of her clan scouts; and Cullen thanked the god's for that favor now, because he could feel her - feel every inch of her against him. He also felt her breath hitch slightly when he turned to look toward her voice. He was sure now that he had brought his lips very near her own and he felt the beat of her heart quicken against his back when he did. Cullen's brow furrowed slightly as he felt her pull away from him. She seemed to hesitate, then withdraw and stand straighter, and pause a moment or so before she said, “Or were you following me – for the view.”

 

As if she were unable to help herself, she had leaned against him again and he groaned softly, feeling her barely brush her lips on the corner of his mouth; but she had moved her mouth to his ear before he had been able to chase her lips with his own. “There are better ways of getting a look…” She whispered slyly,

 

“gods – Woman.” He grumbled, Cullen watched her intensely, as the last bits of illusion shimmered and fell away from her body. He couldn't take his eyes off of her and openly admired her form as it came fully into focus. He was entirely enamored by her and couldn't help thinking, ‘gods preserve me - all the ways I imagine looking... You have no idea,’. Though, he managed to suppress the needy moan that wanted to be voiced when she lightly brushed her hands down his arms as she moved to stand in front of his still kneeling form.

 

“She does a little… she wants –“.

 

“Cole…” She interrupted the boy softly, as though she were coaching a small child in etiquette.

 

Fearing he had actually spoken aloud instead of just lamenting as an inner thought, Cullen glanced to the boy; then he finally noticed Lenna. That traitorous hound... Cullens ever vigilant imprinted was in fact, flopped on her back,  happiness plain on her grinning maw. The god-boy was speaking softly to only the hound while diligently scratching Lenna's belly. Her stubby tail was wiggling so hard, the hounds entire body - all three hundred pounds of it - was enthusiastically waggling back and forth, in the dirt. Cullen scoffed, thinking Lenna looked ridiculous and not at all fierce or beastly; her tongue drooping on the side of her face, preening and panting happily under Cole's affection. No wonder she didn’t alert, the daft pup.

 

“Sorry… it's loud – you’re loud with him. Together you would be quiet – but loud in a different way…”

 

“Um-Cole – Thank you for trying to help, but the Thane-Second and I have other matters to discuss… oh, on second thought – Cole, sweetie, what do you think? Yeah?”

 

“Yes. He will help." Lenna lurched to her feet, looking around confused, no doubt wondering why her belly scratches had ended so abruptly, but Cole had disappeared. Within a minute or so, the god-boy reappeared next to Cullen - holding the Hold Champion's maul. "This will help. He doesn’t know it yet but he wants it too. Would do it himself if customs were different.” Cullen raised a questioning eyebrow as he stood to his full height, crossing his arms with a playful expression as Raina considered him. She was standing so close – he wanted to touch her as she had him,  except - everywhere… and with his tongue.

 

“She wants that too-“

 

“Cole.” She said, a little firmer now, face heating – the beautiful pink hue visible even in the moonlight. Cullen blinked, understanding dawning on him as to just how Cole is gifted – and silently asked the god,

 

‘Du hör mitt sinne och hjärta?’

 

“Yes”

 

 ‘Allt?’

 

“No. I hear hurts... sometimes needs and wants when they are loud.”

 

“jag behöver henne?”

 

“Yes… longer than the knots would allow... always.” Cole answered quietly, Cullen took a few moments to consider,

 

‘tack själv’, then said aloud, “Thank you, Cole.”

 

“Well… that was rude.” Raina said, looking between the boy and Cullen a few times – clearly perturbed. “What was that all about?” Cole tilted his head – listening, to both and after a long moment of contemplating he told her,

 

“It will be better if he tells you… you’ll be ready to hear it then.”

 

“Uh – ok,” She said, with obvious confusion. “Are we all ready? Oh, and Thane-Second Cullen… I almost forgot. If you are to join us tonight – I will listen to your advice, you are an expert in this area and the beasts within, but during battle, you obey my commands and you will not speak of what we are doing tonight to anyone - not a word - no one. Understood?”

 

Once again, the provocative interpretation of her words that his mind supplied had fire roaring in his blood – and straight to his groin; the least he could do was return the favor, so never breaking her gaze Cullen told her, “Aye, Maraina. I am yours, command me – Inquisitor.”

 

By the god's, she was beautiful as she floundered for words. He smothered his grin as he watched her expression's run through a myriad of emotions, too shocked by his statement to hide any of it. To him, the thoughts that fueled her facial changes told him exactly what she was thinking... At this knowing, he could no longer stop his smug grin - as though he could hear her mind. Her expressions all but screamed at him: ‘By the gods – Yes! I command you to - damn it – no. Do not think that… Oh Korth's fucking teeth - shit!'

 

“ah-Good. Thank you…” She said, clearing her throat. “Let’s go, we’re not far from the first of the Fade-touched beasts - I find myself in need of hitting something, a lot.”

 

“She really likes it when you--”

 

“Cole!” She snapped in embarrassment.

 

“ … Sorry – you’re both just so… so loud.” Cole sighed. Raising his eyes to meet Cullen’s, Cole passed him the maul. Cullen smiled gratefully to the boy then easily shouldered the weapon, securing it across his back. Yet, Cole was still looking at him, as though he were asking for permission, so Cullen waited. Unsure as to what the boy was asking he nodded once, granting his trusted permission to the god-boy without any further probing. The boy seemed to accept because his hand quickly wrapped around Cullens wrist, his other was holding Raina's hand.

 

Within a moment a glamour shimmered over them. Cullen blinked in awe, as he felt light bend away and twist around him, and he felt much lighter; as if the blessing bestowed had allowed him to retain all his physical strength but appear as naught but a shadow of his physical form. He had never received a blessing of the like before and was absolutely astounded.

 

"Thank you," he whispered to the boy. Cole nodded, then tugged his arm so that he moved with them, instead of letting go.

 

"Come along My brave Thane-Second - you don't want to miss the fight, do you?" Raina whispered as her shimmering shadow form made to walk away, still holding the boy’s hand.

 

Laughing Lady, he felt like an idiot. A proud, stupid, grinning idiot. It had spread wide across his face the moment she had referred to him, as hers. He knew it was just a meaningless nuance of the common tongue, but his cheeks still warmed, and smile consumed half his face regardless. Raina was ahead of him, so he did not bother hiding his wide, toothy, idiot of a grin as he answered her,

 

"As you command, My lady Maraina." Walking forward with them, taking the first steps of what promised to be an evening of adventure - Lenna padding happily beside him.

Chapter Text

The first day, they had arrived just past mid-day so she had spent the afternoon with Professor Kenric and lead scout Harding, learning all she could of their mission and the surrounding land. It was at Kenric's suggestion that she had approached the fisher and request a boat the first time. At the request of the fisheries keeper, Branson, she had attended Stone-bear Hold to attain permission from the Thane.

 

Being able to prove to the entire clan of Avvar, in the arena, that she wasn't just a figure-head was a bonus. It had earned her - The Inquisition, guest welcome within the Hold. And, by proxy, this status had opened up the entire Hold for her to explore, which she eagerly did. While visiting with the people of the clan, Cole had honed in on Finn's sorrowful hurt almost immediately, and upon speaking with Finn further, his story broke her heart.

 

He had just lost his father, who was one chosen by their god's to return in another life. Finn being bedridden for so many months, was unable to complete his duty that would ensure his father be given proper funeral rights. Finn had been gravely injured while saving the life of another hold member. His leg had not just been broken, the bone had likely been shattered, and unable to set properly making it impossible for him to hunt for the offering. Avvar customs dictate that Finn had failed in his duty to his father, and those same customs would demand Finn lose his name, seeing him disowned as punishment.

 

She had to do all she could, so she had sent her request as fast as possible. In her missive to Samson, she detailed all she could about the type of injury and how it occurred for the surgeon. She listed what supplies she wanted sent, as well as salt, preserved food stuffs and other grains that the Avvar couldn't obtain within the Hold or their lands.

 

She smiled, it made her happy to know that the surgeon would be able to help reset Finn's leg. With 'science' fixing the physical alignment of the bones, and magic to speed the healing of his muscles and flesh; it was possible that Finn would be up and back out hunting soon. Maybe even by the day after next. By Samson's information, Amund's arrival was to be approximately a week ahead of the caravan, and Movran and his entourage would arrive in the basin about a fortnight after. Amund had already been at the Hold for several days. Therefore, Raina was confident Samson's quick deployment would see the surgeon and caravan of supplies, arriving at the Hold within the next day or so.

 

Rylen, the Holds Master of the Hunt had told her three offerings were needed, but she was able to deduce through all her questions that in accordance to the laws and traditions of the gods of their hold, only one offering was absolutely required to be obtained by Finn's own hand. Just one, meaning if he healed quickly, there was a chance he could honor his duty to his father and keep his name. After she, Cole and Cullen had taken down the fade-touched gurgut that lived in the swamp, Cullen had returned to the Hold with her and Cole, then led a group of hunters back out to the swamp with all the equipment needed to retrieve such a large beast. Upon his return to the Hold, he had made offerings to the Hold gods in all three of their names before he brought the beast to Rylen and remained to help the Master of the Beast prepare it for Gyna, the clans Sky priestess.

With everything else that had happened that day, her body felt exhausted. Her mind on the other hand, had no desire to allow her rest and was, at present running circuits of all she was feeling at the moment... Fuck. Her day really had been a whopper though - a lot had happened. She supposed it had been a long day, though some things that had occurred during it seemed as though they had passed as fast as a blink of her eye. She wished time magic wasn't so wildly unstable because there had been several days she wished specific blinks of time had taken hours. She was glad Cole had sought out someone he could help, it wasn't fair that her emotions make him anxious, there really was no way he could help - no one could.

 

There was no way she would sleep so she hadn't bothered to leave the Hold just yet. Instead she laid flat on her back, looking up to the stars... Maker, she loved the basin. She loved the sounds of the water lapping and breaking against the lower cliff walls - it was so calm and the breeze was always just right. The moons were always so clear and bright here and the stars just as sharp. She needed some time to think, she had a lot on her mind and knew her companions - really, just Dorian and Varric - would pry. So, she had sought the last place Cassandra or some other Inquisition anyone - mostly just Cass, would think to find her.

 

She had come to the arena, and more specifically, climbed to the rock plateau that rose over the water, just past the large stone pillars. They had been welcome in Stone-Bear Hold not even a month, and she loved it. But this spot, at night, might very well be her favorite. So she allowed the sounds of calm water, the distant song of crickets and the hum of the Hold's nightly routine to consume her as she meditated. She needed to sift through her thoughts. gods knew, there was a lot of them and she needed to figure them - it - out. She thought back to the day Cole and she had freed Storvacker, that horse ride, the feast that followed... then tonight.There had been many long conversations, sweet moments and gestures with him, but that day - that horse ride... that's when she had felt things really change...

 

She had enjoyed Skald Fulna's epic retelling of 'The Saga of Storvacker Caged.' Though, she had felt it was a touch over the top, she had been - loudly - over ruled. The Thane-second endorsing the entire account to be factual and adding his testimony from earlier that day to the tale from where he had sat drinking with Varric, Branson, Finn and Rylen.

 

She couldn't believe he had been watching that long - the whole fucking time! From before she had even frozen the Bruiser. The Avvar of Stone-bear, specifically the Thane-Second hadn't even seen her or known anything was amiss; just a search party to track Storvacker.

 

Raina had called over to him, demanding -teasing him- to know why he hadn't led his men down to help her. He had scoffed incredulously and snorted somewhat as he laughed, before simply calling back that having fought against her in the arena as well as by her side several times, that he, 'was no fool,'. Elaborating further by stating he knew her 'wrath would be a sight to behold,' and that he had 'wanted to admire the view.' He then proceeded to - she knew but couldn't actually see - casually readjust the crotch of his pants under the table as he continued to 'View' her intensely.

 

'Dammit, he's too damn charming for someone who can barely speak common,' she thought, if a bit dimly and knew it also wasn't entirely accurate, either. When she had first arrived, he had obviously already known the basics of the Common language. But, in speaking with him so often, she had noticed the effort he had put toward learning as much as he could. And he now, aside from his heavy accent - and sweet fucking Maker she loved his accent - had become extremely proficient... Therefore, knew exactly what his words would do to her.

 

'So, no - he's just really fucking charming and confident as fuck. Dammit!'

 

Fuck, he was just so... so intimidatingly sexy. The way his lip curled, in that rueful - knowing - smirk. How could he do that?! Make her want to both smack and kiss him at the same time, with just a look. He absolutely knew, she knew - he knew it... He knew his action would remind her of their ride back to the Hold earlier...

 

She scoffed as she rolled her eyes at his explanation - more so, cowardly looking away. Her action had really just been to break the dead-lock their eyes were trapped in. She couldn't hold his gaze, not with all she was thinking about... all the scenarios her mind conjured of him...

 

"Fine, some Hold-Champion you are..." she'd finally told him aloud, before mumbling 'Lazy - arrogantly handsome - Avvar brute.' Under her breath - clearly a touch too loud since it made Thane Sunhair laugh bawdily and pat her on the back a few times. 'Keep it up Lowlander and you'll have yourself a legend Mark before you even find your First Inquisitor. I thank you for all you've done.' The Thane told her, having paused as she passed by Raina, where she stood near the casks of ale and wine with Dorian.

 

She had tried her best to implore Thane Sunhair that no thanks was necessary but she wasn't having any of it, so The Inquisitor just let sleeping mabari lie. Since, the Thane had already moved on to mingle with the Hold's newest guest and Inquisition arrival, Amund SkyWatcher.

 

Well, shit. At his entirely intentional reminder, her face burned with blush and entire body burned with something... much hotter. Raina had been somewhat surprised that her clothes hadn't burst into flames and stray remnants fall away to ashen dust at the way he had looked at her then. The raw... indomitable focus his eyes held as he openly admired her from across the room.

 

Thinking of it now, even though it had happened days ago... it was having the exact same effect. god's, what was happening to her? What did these feelings mean?

 

She hated not being able to just open a book and find the answer. Her mind was oriented to problem solving. Without the means to educate herself on a subject, her mind would just formulate conjecture and rebuttals, as it dug its own rabbit-hole to descend into...

 

She was approaching thirty years of age for Makers sake. It wasn't as though she was uneducated on the mechanics of bodily interludes. On the contrary, really - it would have been impossible for her to spend over a year and a half on the road with her circle of friends, and not obtain a very in-depth and thoroughly graphic generalized education, on all things within the scope of sexuality. Albeit, never really having a genuine opportunity to... test out any hypotheses fully. She was a noble female, and was raised in an unwaiveringly devout Andrastian home, with strong bonds within both the Chantry and Templars.

 

She had many blessings, in education and possessions but it also included all the other trappings. Like the constant preachings about virtuous propriety and the importance of contracts of marriage and what would be forced upon her.

 

She had been taught that in order to bring honor and prosperity to her family and the Trevelyan name, and it's legacy; marriage contracts of intent had been initiated for her hand at birth, and that the negotiations would begin once she reached maturity, so long as she was deemed adequately fertile - each point validated by the arrival of her first moon flow. Once a satisfactory contract was accepted, she would be married. It would then be her duty to allow said contracted husband use of her body whenever he was so inclined. It would be her duty to ensure she pleased said husband, as well as duty to sire at minimum, two male heirs - with a heavy emphasis on the first babe arriving within the first year of marriage.

 

It had sounded painfully violating and horrible... to be used, hurt, repeatedly forced to allow someone to... it had terrified her. So much so that the day she received her first flow she had become so wrought with panic and fear that she had manifested a storm.

 

The winds had been so damaging that they had sheared part of the manor roof from its studs and uprooted a large section of the Trevelyan vineyard. Fences and pens throughout the entirety of the Trevelyan equestrian enterprise were damaged; allowing several prized studs and mares in with the mundane stock. The rains that accompanied it flooded the lower pastures and ruined the gardens.

 

She hadn't meant it, but she was also relieved - glad even, when her father had contacted the Knight-Commander. The next day her second oldest Brother and Templar Knight-Corporal, Philip, had come to save her from her awful noble future. Bann Trevelyan held enough clout and favor with the Ostwick Chantry, he ensured she would remain in the Ostwick circle's care.

 

Thus, coupled with her upbringing, and her subsequent Circle education - not to mention the constantly vigilant older brother Templar giving any and all interested parties the -smite capable - stink-eye, Raina hadn't exactly been open to exploring physical relationships; even if there had been anyone brave enough.

 

To her, Love, Romance, Marriage and Sex, were all never to be confused or considered synonymous. Love, folly, Marriage, duty - Romance, folly. Sex, duty.

 

There had always been stories in the circle... that sex had the potential to give pleasure. In the circle it seemed as though one obtains pleasure while the other is left wanting - she had even stumbled upon a few trysts herself. They were frequent enough, rumors of secluded corners, empty rooms, and even in the dorms. Soft muffled noises, rustling of bed clothes and blankets amidst the subtle creaking of a bedframe late at night...

 

It wasn't as though she was unaware of what desire and lust felt like... or at least she had thought she had, at least a little bit. Until now, now she doubted she ever had; not until Cullen touched her - since the very first time. Something had started here, in the arena - maybe that was why she had been drawn here to think... If she had just pushed up on her toes, if she had just dropped her dagger before he noticed... then maybe... maybe he would have kissed her, and she would better understand. Maybe that was all it was, some lingering curiosity... Yeah, right - Fuck that.

 

Curiosity didn't make skin thrum with tickles of gooseflesh, nipples harden, stomach drop out or make small clothes damp. Cullen did all those things to her - if she so much as thought about him.

 

But she supposed the Chantry would tell her curiosity killed the cat... lust, desire, and all those naughty, naughty things. It was just standard daily reminders to her by the Chantry's teachings and rhetoric within the circle. Mages are both sin of man and scorn of the Maker made flesh... lust is weakness and desire would see a mage killed... but hearing those soft sounds in the night, in her shame - hadn't been able to stop herself. Curious seeking fingers, exploring the moisture between the folds of her sex, pressing upon the tiny nub she'd found, hesitantly applying pressure, rubbing tight circles there until it brought her some measure of relief.

 

He made her feel, made her want... and she wanted to... wanted to feel - wanted it, wanted him... and everything and anything that entailed. She'd never felt anything pull within her so strongly, and considering she literally had an ever-constant key to the fade yanking her all over Thedas, she supposed, that should speak volumes... She should be terrified, at most, apprehensive and guarded, in the least. But she wasn't, not really... Well, maybe she was a little scared, but she didn't know what for. It was all just... so confusing.

 

When researching for this excursion, she had learned of the Avvar beliefs and customs... If two people did, in fact, want more than an interlude, they could choose to marry but it was only temporary. Whatever feelings there were between the people were essentially castoff at the end of the term. Like a contract - a duty - done and gladly over. She knew to the Avvar, everything was temporary, so sex was just a means of momentary pleasure, then moved on from. Was that all he wanted her for?

 

Of all her inner circle education she knew there was more than just sex and pleasure. The best example she could think of was Dorian and Bull. They had a very sex-centric relationship, it was true, but they were committed, they were solid. No marriage, no contract, no duty to stay together... but they did. So, not 'just sex', either.

 

Therefore, there was some missing value she had left unaccounted for. Maybe the value was both love and romance, and maybe it had been overlooked because it was so rare. Regardless of their background, upbringing, beliefs, or a constant war between their homelands that had been ongoing for two hundred years; she was certain what Bull and Dorian had found was love and doubted their feelings would ever change. It had taken time to grow and become solid - so, it wouldn't be possible for that kind of feeling to affect her at present.

 

Therefore, not love then - if no other feelings were supposed to be a factor based on the majority of her findings from the circle, conventional society and with the Avvar... If that was the case, what the fuck was she feeling?

 

She knew if she explored whatever this was with Cullen more, then he changed or no longer held an interest in her... whatever she felt now, she was intelligent enough to know that she would feel extremely dejected and hurt. So, honestly shouldn't that be enough of a clue? If something had the potential to injure someone whether emotional or not, it's still a wound, and no doubt a deep one... why the fuck would they, would anyone... why would she do it? Pain, it could cause pain - it would hurt her. Normal, clear thinking, logical people did not intentionally force pain upon themselves... She had even run away from her old life because of it and the pain... the husband that would force himself upon her.

 

Odd, how most people thought of the circle as a prison... but, running away and manifesting magic, to her those were the same thing. They were freedom. To her, her newly minted mage status had freed her from the trappings of her noble duty. She had actually enjoyed her studies - but she couldn't blame the other mages for their want of freedom. She had wanted to come to the circle and had felt safe there - she knew most mages had been happy and safe in their old lives and felt trapped in the circle, just as she had felt by her noble duty. She and Philip had stuck together and were able to make it back to the Trevelyan estate with a small group of others, both Templars and Mages. They had all traveled to Fereldan, under the banner of house Trevelyan by Divine invitation...

 

Then the sky erupted, conclave destroyed - everyone, including her brother - dead, with she the sole survivor. With some fade-fire mark on her hand, she had been forced to step the fuck up and save the world...

 

Well, considering all that, maybe logic wasn't the right benchmark to be evaluating these feelings with, at all. Nothing in her life, at least anything of recent memory, could conform to the rigidity that logic implied. Consequently, it was fitting then, that nothing she was feeling lately could be called logical either.

 

Nevertheless, did it really matter?

 

Regardless of the elusive name of the unfamiliar feelings or any real want or need to resolve them by actions - she couldn't... she did not have the freedom to take that risk. She was the Maker-damned Herald of Andraste, and the noble Inquisitor Trevelyan. She could not risk being hindered by emotional depression just because a boy she liked didn't like her back. It was ridiculous folly. The Inquisitor could not entertain ideas of such nonsense... even though The Inquisitor - She, might want to.

 

There was still so much the Inquisition - the world - needed her to do. There were still lingering rifts, clean ups, peacekeeping and any number of other things that needed her focus. For example, at present she needed to locate Ameridan, find a way to break through a magical wall of ice that had stood solidly in the basin for eight ages; as well as find and kill demon Hakkon, who was more than likely the size of a damned dragon...

 

A Trevelyan must always do their fucking duty.

 

She wished she had someone she could talk about this with, but although she knew her friends loved her as she did them... she just couldn't face their teasing right now. Not about this.

 

She wished he would have kissed her. She wanted to understand. She wanted to feel... She wanted... wanted his focus, wanted his touch... She wanted to feel him against her again; that ride back to the Hold had been far - far too short. Maybe that was all he intended it to be - a short tease... when he realized how inexperienced she was, he'd lose interest. Or, what if that insight made him more insistent... What if all he wanted was no more than to use her for his own pleasure and discard her.

 

She didn't truly know what he wanted from her, if he was just messing with her to tease and prod her or if he was actually attracted to her - why he would hold any interest for her at all. Was it just a conquest, like she was to so many suitors. Maybe he just wanted a new bedpost notch and use her body for his own pleasure. She supposed the idea of bedding a Lowlander, especially the Inquisitor, might offer him some sort of boasting rights...

 

No. None of those.

 

No, Cole had told her... well Cole had said a lot of things, she really didn't remember most, but she knew how much Cole liked Cullen. Surely, if Cullen held any ulterior motives, especially any that would cause her pain, Cole would stop it. Cole had said Cullen was Safe. He is solid. Also protecting and said that Cullen would keep her safe... but did Cole mean in a general way, or was it safe to allow herself to have feelings for him?

If Cole trusted him, and she knew Cole did, then Cullen would likely not treat her poorly, or if anything, Cullen had been very open about the respect he held for her, as a warrior and a person. He's held her, cared for her, guided her through her panic attack, and Maker - that charming brute certainly knew how to dampen her small clothes with his flirting...

 

Soggy small-clothes notwithstanding, these feelings he stirred to life within her were... were... gods - they  were a damn distraction, was what they were, and she wanted them to stop! If she could just figure them out...

'god's - please, just make me understand and stop this.'

 

Fuck, could she never just catch a break...

 

"Can I sit with you?"

 

"FuckAhh!" Raina's attention was startled out of her thoughts and she shrieked embarrassingly high as a barrier shimmered over her body. She jolted upright, quickly slapping her hands over her mouth. Though covering her mouth at this point had absolutely no effect on the cuss now presently echoing off the high cliff walls of the Hold and out into the basin valley. "Sweet-gods Cullen..." she panted "I didn't hear you approaching."

 

" Maraina - I-I'm sorry. I did not mean to scare you - I'll leave-" He implored, hands out as he backed away,

 

"No... no. Don't go, I-uh I was just startled. It's fine... I'm fine... Was there something you needed?" She asked, a little hurriedly, craning her neck to look up at him,

Maker's Breath! How long had she been lost in thought? how had she not heard him approach, let alone climb up the rock face? she wondered as she dropped her barrier, still panting somewhat at the adrenaline that spiked.

"No, I just hoped... maybe - you wouldn't mind if I... it's a nice night and I-" He stopped, rubbing the back of his neck. "but, I disturbed you... Apologies Maraina, I will leave."

 

"Stop. I-ah I mean, stay - that's not a-a command-shit. It's not an order or anything. It is a nice night, and, I-ah, would really like it if you stayed - only if you want to."

 

"Then I will." He said, sounding a bit relieved, then sat down next to her and looked up where she did. Raina could smell him, he had obviously changed after their hunt and must have washed up after finishing with Rylen. It surrounded her now, she tried to focus on how good he smelled, or she would start babbling.

 

Elderberry... Oak... and cloves. She had cleaned up and put on clothes Thane Sunhair had offered her and Cole, after seeing the messy state they were in, no doubt knowing exactly what Cullen, she and Cole had been doing; though not a word had been spoken of it. Raina had been grateful for the elfroot soap and wash basin she had been provided, but hadn't noticed if the soap held much of a scent... she really hoped she did not smell like swampy Fade-touched Gurgut right now...

 

Maker - her mind needed to stop - it needed to just shut the fuck up right now.

 

They sat there for some time but something... some sort of tension felt tight, ready to snap - or, maybe it was just her. She had just been about to blurt something out to release some of the awkwardness she was feeling when he layed back and spoke instead.

 

"Do you know the stories of our stars?"

 

"Oh-Uh, no... There were no star charts in any of my research." She said awkwardly,

 

"Not all wisdom is found in books." Cullen said, smiling softly as his gaze remained skyward.

 

"Yeah, trust me - I know. That is a fact I am entirely too aware of at the moment." She fidgeted slightly with her hands then took a deep breath, exhaling with a huff. "But honestly, how do your people learn anything if it's not written down?" She blurted, then blushed, "I am so sorry - that came out wrong - I did not mean it as it sounded, I didn't mean to imply that-"

 

"Maraina... I do not feel any offense at your words." He said honestly, reassuring her easily. "We do not place our knowledge or wisdom in books as Lowlanders do. Our legacy is held by the Great Bear Sigfrost. He is the keeper of all knowledge. Our tradition is passed by word, story or song. If we want to learn - we ask. If we have a question - we ask." He told her simply. "Whether it be a clan elder or a master of the skill - we ask. If it is history or of Hold life, it is story or song you'd seek; or if by the god's themselves - we ask. We learn from those wiser than ourselves," Cullen provided,

 

"But, what if it's not something easily spoken of? What if it's something... private, something I don't want anyone else to know... that I can't speak of to anyone else?" Raina asked, sounding disheartened.

 

"Then, that is for the gods," Cullen provided immediately.

 

"I tried that already..." Raina huffed, her exasperation obvious.

 

"And, how did they answer?

 

"They didn't... probably because I'm not Avvar. I was thinking about... everything and asked them what it all meant. I got no answer. Then you startled me and made me swear so loud that I can feel the Seeker disapproving from my base camp."

 

He sat up, looking almost as confused as she felt. "You asked the god's for answers, but I interrupted? I'm sorry, Maraina."

 

"No, not really. I asked them a few different times, a while ago. I was just lost in thought when you came, that's all. You didn't interrupt." She said. Raina looked to him when he didn't speak and was surprised to find him smiling softly back at her. He looked away but seemed to be trying hard to stop his smile from widening.

 

"What?" She asked.

 

"I do not think you will believe me..." Cullen said, a few nasal chuckles escaping as he continued to stare at the sky.

 

"Really? and, just how do you know that?"

 

"I... I don't... I suppose, but with no book to make it so, I have no way to prove it to you" He said, teasingly.

 

"And, you think I will assume you lie?"

 

"I'd not lie. Lies are for cowards and traitors. No - not a lie, but sometimes truths can be hard to hear if not seen."

 

"Cullen, just say what you mean."

 

"You are a treasured guest of our god's and Hold. You spoke to the gods after making a gift to our hold and offering to our god's. An offering of a beast touched by the lands of dreaming... and you think the gods did not answer you?" Cullen asked, still smiling at her, he wasn't condescending in any way. It was more like he was listing facts so that her scholarly aptitude could understand them like facts on a page.

 

"I'm sorry, I still don't understand."

 

"After we gave our offerings and thanks to the gods, you came here to think on your concerns, yes?" He said, and Raina nodded her confirmation. "But, then I came here, seeking you out..." He said. He paused as if hoping she would come to some elusive conclusion by herself. "So?" Raina asked, shrugging in confusion. "That's not an answer," she said, her exasperation beginning to bleed into her tone. Cullen took a deep breath and rubbed the back of his neck, then looking at her, he dropped his hand back to his leg and said.

 

"Whatever learning you seek, the gods have deemed I am the one to share it, Maraina."

 

Raina was surprised, then blurted, "Awww fuck!" and dropped her face into her hands. "That doesn't help at all... You can't help me - You are the last person I would want to talk about this with." She bemoaned.

 

With Raina having covered her face, she did not see how greatly her words had pained Cullen. His expression appeared as though Raina had slapped him - with a stonefist. "I'm sorry... I-I should go - return to my duties," Cullen said after a minute or so as he began to stand up, to hurt by her words to function any sooner.

 

"Oh-shit! No-wait! Cullen, I'm sorry... I didn't mean it... not how you understood it - I swear." She babbled, trying to reach for his arm but he stood and crossed his arms as he stepped back.

 

"Your words were clear and their meaning understood, Maraina. I have no knowledge of value to you, and you do not wish to speak of your concerns with me, at all - only if I were the last." He said rather firmly.

 

"No," She whispered, as she shook her head. "No!" She said stronger as she began to get up. "That's not what I meant... I'm sorry Cullen. I want to tell you... I do, but I..." She said shakily, "I don't know what you want from me..." she whispered, looking down at her hands.

 

"Want from you? I do not seek anything from you... Maraina, you are troubled, please, let me try to help." He said to her much softer, stepping toward her again.

 

"I-I don't know... how to explain. Cullen I-ah, I find myself thinking about you, often and I-ah - I've come to care... - a lot, but I... I think, I'm also scared, and this is all so confusing..." she huffed again, closed her eyes while pinching the bridge of her nose and shook her head. "Just, I... it's nothing, nevermind."

 

"Maraina, what's wrong?" He asked gently, resting his hands on her upper arms hoping it would urge her to look at him.

 

"It's nothing, just... please just forget I said anything. I don't even know what I was trying to say, anyway." She answered, but it was little more than a defeated sigh. She cleared her throat forcefully as she swiped roughly at her eyes; annoyed at the moisture that had the gall to weep free.

 

"Maraina... please, talk to me. Did I... have I upset you?" He asked, just as softly. "I am sorry if my recent actions have upset you. I should not have touched you without your permission, I will not do so again." He apologized, dropping his hands from her arms to his sides, but she managed to catch one of his hands in hers before he could withdraw fully as she stammered,

 

"No- I like it when you... I-ah... I don't know Cullen. I don't know what I feel. I'm so confused. But, you've done nothing to offend or upset me... I wanted you to touch me - but, I've never felt anything like... like when you... I have no idea what I'm feeling." She said, with a helpless shrug.

 

"This feeling then, when did it start?" He asked, still speaking quietly. Kindly focusing on what was upsetting her, instead of her admission.

 

"I'm not sure... but I think it was... was," She glanced up to meet his eyes, but quickly looked away to shy to finish, and instead said, "Nevermind."

 

"The Arena." He offered, though he said it as a fact - as though only confirming a statement already known to be true.

 

Her brows furrowed, and she nodded her head in confirmation, chancing a look at him.

 

"Maraina..." He said her name as he cupped her cheek, lifting her face to look at him - willing, praying she would look at him, but her eyes remained slightly downcast. "I feel it too..." Her eyes finally shot up to meet his. "I feel it... like fire in my blood. I have never felt anything of the likes." Cullen confessed shyly and he became quite bashful when her brows lifted high in shock.

 

"Oh..." She said dimly blinking a few times, "You do? I... thought it was just me. I... god's... this would have been so much easier if I had just... Cullen - in the arena... you were - I thought you..." Her brows furrowed deeply as if becoming angry at herself and she huffed out a breath through her nose.

 

"I'm sorry Maraina... I don't understand," he said regretfully.

 

"It's not you, I just can't seem to put words together to form anything of sense. You and I, in the Arena, it seemed like you wanted... and I wanted you to - will you... gods! Fuck it - I want you to kiss me Cullen!" She finally said in a frustrated rush.

 

That - Cullen understood. One step - he cupped her face and his lips were on hers instantly. His lips were soft and solid moving on hers, and she melted. After a long few moments passed he gently pulled away, but just barely.

 

"That was... really nice." Cullen said bashfully,

 

"Yes... " she purred against his lips and he couldn't help but kiss her again. He kissed her with a bit more pressure, sliding his arms up her back and across her shoulders - wrapping her in his embrace as he molded their lips together; but still keeping it fairly mild. Mild, until he pulled away; doing so with a teasing flick of his tongue, and a mild suck of her lip, making her moan softly against his mouth.

 

"Maraina, I've wanted... needed to kiss you since the first time I saw you - I can't explain it." Cullen said pulling back to look at her, grinning shyly at how beautiful she was as she looked at him, eyes dark with lust, breathing heavily and cheeks flushed.

 

"I need... please Cullen, teach me how you would have kissed me then," She said breathlessly, "plea-" cutting her off Cullen kissed her hard. Cullen wrapped an arm around her lower back and down to her arse, pulling her against him roughly as he thread his fingers into her hair cupping the back of her head. A shocked squeak parted her lips but it quickly morphed into a low moan - Cullen had, without hesitation, accepted the invitation her parted lips offered - swirling his tongue with hers and rapidly deepened his kiss. It took her little more than a fraction of a moment to become accustomed to the sensation, and she matched his ardor and need immediately, throwing her arms around his neck. He groaned in bliss the moment she began to kiss him back - as if tasting the fire that burned so hot and bright and beautiful within her.

 

Raina moaned at the flood of sensations he caused when both of his hands cupped her arse, holding her tightly against him as she pushed up into the kiss. Her fingers wound in his hair and the fur mantle of his armored pelt, pulling him down to her. They held each other, caressing, touching, feeling - the way she had never wanted with anyone before. This is how he would have kissed her that day... this is what she had been feeling - the nervous, aching need - as if somehow, her intuition had been begging for this... She had wanted to kiss him since those first moments in the arena; and now, she kissed him the way she hadn't known she had wanted to, every moment since.

 

Now, she was beginning to understand... Thank the gods.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Boss...?” Bull whispered excitedly, though his tone was somewhat tempered - airing mildly on the side of hesitance, or maybe more so disbelief.

 


Raina glanced to Cullen and smirked proudly, he smiled back at her, then covered his mouth with the back of his hand to stifle his chuckles after he noted how quickly the Ox-man's intimidating, threat inducing face and over-all demeanor had changed near instantly. The Iron Bull, Raina's self-assigned bodyguard and brutal enforcer, had been overtaken by a rapt fascination - The Bull now appearing near docile in his awe. Truly, the Ox-man held an almost child-like exuberance, completely wonderstruck in his expression, as the massive man gazed upon the great beast, bound in frozen stasis before them; suspended above where they had regrouped, around a brightly burning brazer, in order to ready themselves for the final fight. After a moment or so - to allow Bull to fully admire the full scope of the situation they were about to take on - Raina finally answered The Iron Bull's implied quandary to her,

 


“I see it Bull...” she said sweetly,

 

“Atashee?” He breathed,

 

“I kept that part secret as my special gift to you.” She told him just as sweetly,

 

“Boss - I knew you were holding out on me, but that is... that is fucking Magnificent!” He rumbled, joy and... probably lust - blending together in his tone.

 


“You remember that Avvar god, the one Thane Sun-hair gave us permission to give a long overdue re-birthing to?”

 


"Ah-I get it. Right, got it - you're shitting me..." Bull reasoned, sounding a touch deflated with disappointment, but his expression soon morphed after realizing Raina had shook her head, indicating his presumption was wrong. "You're... not... shitting me?!" Raina grasped Bulls horns, giving him a gentle head-butt against his forehead then shook her head 'No' once more. Her cheeky smile still wide on her face, and she just waited, watching him as a look of gleeful shock took hold of his face, "Okay... so Boss, you're telling me that - that thing... that is actually a... Demon - Possessed - Dragon?!" Bull hissed - more like blissfully groaned. His expression now bloomed wide into an ecstatic - somewhat manic - and entirely happy grin. Truly, Bull was so giddy with excitement he looked as though he were practically dancing in place. "Awwoh Shit Boss! That's... Fuck that is bad-ass! And we're gonna...?!”

 


“Fuck yeah we are!” She whispered, but the few Avvar with them were not prepared for her lowlander cuss and stifled their chuckles as best they could. She grinned back at them and winked playfully at Cullen.

 


“Ataasheee!” The Iron Bull hissed wildly trying not to be too loud, then stooped wrapping the Inquisitor in his arms – lifting her off the ground as he hugged her close. Her feet dangling awkwardly earning another few muffled laughs from the group; minus Cassandra of course, who just rolled her eyes and scoffed with a disgusted noise, but her small smirk betrayed her. “Boss?” Bull asked dreamily as he laid his cheek on the top of her head.

 


“Hess-Mull?” She muffled into his chest,

 


“Boss - You're the best,” He told her, holding her out at arms length, though he had yet to put her feet back on the ground.

 


“I know,” She told him, “You say that every time I find a Dragon for us to kill.”

 


“Well, in case - you know, this Avvar god-fucker kills us... just, you're really the best.” He told her hugging her close again, rocking back and forth a few times while nodding emphatically -  only setting her back down a minute or so later.

 


“Love you too, Bull... all of you.” She said, teeth chattering but still managed a warm smile as she looked around to all her companions - Dorian, Cassandra, Cole, and Varric. Then nodding to the Avvar warriors and hunters that had come through the fray with them. “Now, we all know what to do..." She began firmly, but lost focus for just a moment when Cullen bit his lip at her, after covertly mouthing her a kiss - Maker. Taking a deep breath, her eyes heated upon him but she soon looked away, her expression darkening, becoming fierce with determination.

 


Gesturing over her shoulder at the Dragon suspended in magical bindings above them, her spectral great axe burst to life, as she whispered bluntly, "Stone-bear's - take out the Hakkonites and make that damnned demonic chanting Haroffsen shut the fuck up. we'll be with you up until Hakkon attacks - then you disengage. I imagine attacking one of your primary God's - regardless of his presently twisted state - would bring ill favor upon your Hold when his spirit returns to the Avvar in a year's time." The Avvar all saluted, solid fist pound against their chests with a nod of understanding and readied their weapons after Raina returned the salute and nod to all of them.

 


"Good... now, my team - lets go rebirth the fuck out of this Hakkon asshole – yeah?!” All her resolve focused solidly on getting the entire party through this battle as orderly and efficiently as possible; she really wanted the kiss Cullens expression had promised would come after.

 


“Yeah! Ataashi Hakkon - Taarsidath-an halsaam!” The ox-man roared - almost gleefully - as he leaped off the ledge, bearing down like a charging bull toward the many Hakkonite bruser's guarding the chanting Gurd Harofsen.

 


---

 


They had done it – Hakkon was dead, or at least, to the Avvar he was... pleasantly re-birthed. What ever happened to him, the threat was gone, and the celebrating was in full swing.

 


Her attention - and that of all of the feasting Avvar - was drawn to the Iron Bull when he roared,

 


“To killing a Demon Dragon like heroes of Legend!”

 


She chuckled with Cullen at Bulls cheer, both raising their drinks concurrently, but she soon found her thoughts lost as she gazed at Cullen beside her. She was openly staring at him - at his lips... More specifically at his newly minted scarred upper lip; courtesy of a frost ward explosion set off by the demonic Gurd Haroffsen when Cullen had struck the killing blow. She had tried to counter it by front loading her barrier with a wall of fire, but being so close to Hakkon – the literal epicenter of all things cold - her flames hadn't been able to burn hot enough to stop all of the shrapnel.

 


“I'm sorry I couldn't block all of it in time,” she murmured as she assessed the damage, absentmindedly pulling her finger over the anomaly down his cheek and smoothing her index finger over his lip. She giggled smittenly when he kissed the pad of her finger and grasped her hand in his own, turning her toward him fully. Perhaps that was why he declined proper healing, she knew the Avvar wore scars like badges of Honor, but maybe he knew that such a mark upon his lips would make his mouth even more irresistible to her; because, 'Maker! How could a scar make someone look that much more devastatingly handsome', she sighed internally, wanting to kiss and suck his new scar more and more the longer she looked at him.

 


“I do not accept your apology for I wear it proudly and I am honored to carry it. Why? Do all lowlanders see such as unsightly.” he asked, gesturing to his newly scarred lip, then to his alternate eyebrow, to an older scar that cut through the side edge of his brow, down his temple to the top of his cheek, and then another few on his chest.

 


'Oh, sweet fucking Andraste - shitting Maker!' She thought urgently, he apparently thought her staring was rude and that she saw his scars as a disfigurement.

 


“What-gods-No! That's not what I was thinking of, I-ah, shit - I mean..." She caught herself before she let too much slip, so she shyly said, "I'm sorry, I don't - Lowlanders, I mean - don't think them unsightly. Well, maybe in Orlais, but have you seen the clothes they wear?” She scoffed, “They look ridiculous. As you pointed out Cullen I am a Lowlander, and as I have told you when detailing much of my earlier life; I am, in fact, a Noble Lowlander Lady.” She said sweetly, batting her eyes demurely, before rolling her eyes at the stupidity of her noble trappings. There was no way she was going to allow this man to assume she found him in anyway unsightly, so she channeled Cassandra's fundamental brashness and barreled on.

 


“So, personally – No, I would say it is not at all unsightly - surely, not-" she told him, pushing her hair back on the left side of her face, and craining her neck up. Revealing a thin, pink almost white, scar that was neatly hidden in the contour of her jawline. A physical reminder of the battle for Haven. She raised and eyebrow at him smugly as his eyes followed her every move. She pulled her scarf down, unwrapping it from her neck for his appraisal; A heavily scarred slash through the visible area; courtesy of Corypheus, before she sent the fucker to the fade in pieces.Though her skin was painted in the hardened opaque armor of the Avvar, the puckered ruddy hue of her scar was still clear beneath.

 


"Do you think them unsightly, Cullen?" She asked in a teasing tone, but all he did was lick his lips, then take a forced gulp of his drink. She really hoped he was only trying to remain composed, really hoped he was picturing himself throwing her over his shoulder... But, she didn't truly know how much she was affecting him, just resumed the conversation as she rewrapped her scarf around her neck.

 


"Just because I am considered a proper lowland lady does not mean I don't appreciate how obnoxiously good looking you are, or how handsomely you wear your scars - especially that new one on your mouth, I really like how it tugs your lip when you smile at me...” She blurted with a nonchalant shrug of her shoulder and looked away, taking a long drink. The way his eye's had been devouring her scars, and her drink made her words braver, but she wasn't going to push her luck by watching for his reaction, even as he chuckled lowly at her words.

 


“Then, I Thank you again, My Lowlander Noble Lady Maraina.” He said gallantly, once again giving her a flourishing bow of his hips and wave of his hand as he did the week or so prior. Stepping behind her, he pulled her back against him by her hips, wrapping his arms around her midsection, hugging her close so that they would appear to just be watching the hold around them he said, "For it pleases me to know you admire my form as such... as you say: 'good looking', and 'handsome'. And, I do always enjoy being reminded of how much you think of my mouth..." He teased quietly against her ear, smiling when he felt her body shudder against him, as she sighed,

 


"Again with the 'mouth' talk and romantic tone... Dammit - must you be so damn charming all the time?" she grumbled, turning in his arms so that her front was concealed against his chest; in order to hide her now entirely hard and obviously protruding nipples. She felt embarrassed, knowing full-well the reaction he was having on her body would be clearly visible to all in the Hall, due to her painted Avvar attire. "Stop it - it's not fair..." She whined quietly, "I've never... I don't know how to act when you make me... feel all... Ugh - I don't know, but it makes me feel embarrassed." She whispered, face scrunching with frustration, feeling inept at being unable to voice how she was feeling to him. Raina's mild inner distress was quickly forgotten when Cullen quickly stooped his head to kiss her lips softly. 'Maker, that scar...' it was still so new, gods - but she loved it. Hugging her close so that the candor of his words were only for her, he said,

 


"Do not think so poorly of yourself Maraina... I can see what you are thinking on your features," He murmured, then gently brushed his lips upon the crease that had formed in the center of her brow. "I only want you to be who you are, how you are and only ask that you know you can be your bare self with me; no, apologies that was a poor word -" He hastily corrected when she smirked and stifled a giggle at the implied meaning of his use of 'bare self'.

 


"God's Maraina, your upbringing... your - as you called - 'noble trappings'... the expectations and rigidity of Lowlander life... the pressure put upon you by Lowlander society, its as if it has... I do not want to cause offense," He cautioned, but she didn't seem concerned so he continued, "Maraina, it seems to me... as if it has twisted your mind. I know Avvar life is much different, but you seem to be happy here..." Raina smiled brightly and nodded, she was indeed the happiest she could remember being, even Skyhold hadn't made her feel so at home than she did in this place... with these people - with him.

 


"I am, I have never felt so happy anywhere else..." She confirmed quietly, still smiling broadly up at him.

 


He smiled back, then as if unable to stop himself, Cullen captured her mouth in a kiss; but it wasn't 'just a kiss'. Oh no, the way he kissed her was, it felt like so much more. This was a hard, ravenously deep, toe curling - small-clothes soaking - entirely passion drenched, kiss. Soon both were dragging in ragged breaths through their noses, but they only broke their kiss when someone - Branson - whistled loudly at them - the entire table he was seated at cheering at them.

 


Cullen groaned into the kiss before pulling his mouth from hers when Raina squeaked, surprised by the sharp whistle directed at them. Mortified, her head jerked in the direction of the sound but she quickly buried her face in Cullen's chest, shyly giggling after recognizing not only Branson, but Finn, Rylen... Varric and, Sweet Andraste - Cassandra was sitting with them as well. All of them - the entire table - clapping at their heated exchange. Cullen just smirked down at her, when she peeked up before burying herself against his chest again, he kissed the top of her head, chuckling in unison with her giggling. Raina was embarrassed for getting so desperately caught up in Cullen's kiss but when she peeked up again, her eyes locked with Cassandra's. The Seeker's gaze held such a look of romantic happiness for Raina that she couldn't help sharing a small smile with her best girlfriend. Though, only a minute or so later the table had forgotten them entirely and resumed their own conversations. Doing so rather quickly after Cassandra - with a disgusted grunt - punched Rylen and Varric both in the arms, demanding they leave Raina and Cullen alone; not to mention Cullen quite literally telling Branson and Finn - rather bluntly - to Fuck off.

 


"I do not apologize for kissing you as I feel so inclined, but I do apologise for my brother being an arse..." Cullen said, chuckling into her hair after his jesting apology made Raina's body shake with laughter against him. When she felt it was safe to do so, Raina lifted her face from hiding and smiled up at him,

 


"It's alright. I like it when you kiss me... especially like that... I'm glad you did," She said with barefaced honesty. " -and I'm fairly certain Varric was the one actually responsible - he probably bet Branson coin to do it." she added dryly.

 


Cullen chuckled as he tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear and hugged her close again, "You are likely not wrong, even my arse of a brother would not normally draw attention to... or interrupt such displays of affection. They are simply just... such as they are among us, the Avvar." Cullen mused trailing off, holding her quietly for a time, caressing her arms and back as they observed the celebration throughout the hall. Cullen jerked slightly in shock when Raina erupted in a fit of hysterical laughter within the circle of his arms. Doing the same to Varric and Cassandra still seated nearby - around the same time the Ox-man began yelling some sort of chant, repeating it several times.

 


“What is meaning?” He asked her, noting that she burst out laughing and blushing every time the cheer was chanted, but she couldn't stop laughing. “What is meaning?” he asked again pointing toward the Iron Bull when she finally calmed and wiped the tiny tears that had formed from the corner of her eyes. “The Bull's words make you laugh - your face, bright, beautiful with laughter - I wish to know the words that do this...”

 


“Oh! Taarsidath-an halsaam, Maraas-Lok?” She blushed again. He smiled. “His language – called qunlat – his words mean... um, Maraas-lok... that means: to drink. And, uh... Taarsidath-an halsaam” she paused as another bout of giggles bubbled up, then tried again, though she could barely lift her eyes to his, “It means... uh - I will bring myself sexual pleasure, while thinking of this with great respect.” Cullen blinked, then burst out laughing.

 


There was a loud sound of chair legs scraping on the wood floor from the table closest to where Cullen and Raina stood, as Branson whipped his body around to stare in their direction, blinking dumbfounded at them. Finn – seated next to Branson - barely managed to avoid snorting his ale out his nose, before turning to look at them as well and asked,

 


“Apologies for interrupting... My common is pretty sharp but, I think... I really think I misheard whatever you two were on about... what... what did you just say?” Finn stuttered,

 


“No, you heard correctly Finn – that's what Bull is shouting... well, the closest Common translation at least.” She told him still giggling at his dumbfounded expression.

 


“Jag kommer att ge mig sexuellt nöje, när jag tänker på detta med stor respekt!” Cullen clarified to Rylen and Branson, all men bursting out in raucous laughter once understood. She bit her lip, the way his mouth and lips moved as the sounds rolled around his tongue was enticing – Maker, she really was going to be thinking about his mouth a lot more, especially now that his new scar wouldn't allow his mouth to stray far from her mind. When all men looked back at her, she shrugged and nodded again, confirming to Finn what exactly he had overheard, as they all laughed again.

 


After another moment or two, Cullen called out to his sister - who was drinking with Bull, repeated the same sounds - words – but added a few more before and after. Thane Sun-hair laughed bawdily, then leaned forward to ask Bull something. Bull roared, laughing hard - and making Dorian, who was sitting in his lap, cringe knowingly - as Bull yelled, “Taarsidath-an halsaam! Maraas-Lok! - Boss!”

 


“Yes Bull...”

 


“Taarsidath-an halsaam!!! Maraas-Lok ” Raising his massive stine in her direction, “Come on, Boss!”

 

 

Raina grinned wickedly at Cullen who was grinning back – his eyes were bright and hot upon her. Feeling brash and heady from his recent kiss and the look in his eyes she winked at him, before standing up straight as she turned to face Bull, and the rest of the waiting hall of Avvar. She took a deep breath to fuel the volume of her voice, raising her mug in salute before yelling with Bull,

 


“I will bring myself sexual pleasure, while thinking about this with great respect! Drink!” then expertly chugging the rest of her cider in six large chugs and slamming her mug on the table almost in unison with Bull. Cullen clapped his hand on Finn's shoulder with a jovial shake, they grinned at each other when Cullen flicked his chin at Finn and Branson. Still laughing wildly, both nodded without hesitation – accepting Cullen's dare. Finn and Branson stood up with Cullen, straight and tall, then together they roared the same declaration in Avvish,

 


“Jag kommer att ge mig sexuellt nöje, när jag tänker på detta med stor respekt – dryck!” Then slammed their tankards down after downing their ale. The hall of Avvar - those that hadn't fully understood Raina's cheer - erupted with cheers of agreement and repeating the statement.

 


Still laughing, Cullen pulled her into his arms, hugging her close again, speaking against the shell of her ear so that his words were only for her, he whispered, "You won't be thinking of Hakkon - nor will it be his name you will be praising - when your sexual pleasure peaks tonight..."

 


"God's... Cullen," She hissed, turning her body to hide her front - once again hiding her hardening nipples - and buried her face against his chest, mumbling, "Dammit... fuck - stop making me think of... Maker."

 


Cullen chuckled a half-hearted, "Apologies Maraina," Holding her quietly for a long while before he resumed the sweetly hushed candor of their conversation after noting that the others closest to them had, either become quite distracted, if not left the table entirely and moved elsewhere. "Maraina... what I wanted to say earlier - before I was distracted... is that I see how happy you are here, but I also see how much you have grown here as well. Like Cole said, it appeared as if you had forgotten who you really were - inside... but you found yourself here... simply embracing our culture and beliefs - the freedom and acceptance our way of life embodies... But, I suppose in a way, you still seem to be trapped. It appears as if - in your mind - you believe your lack of interest in intimacy you felt in lowlander youth should be deemed as though it were a deficiency... It is not. There is no such pressure here, with us - The Avvar... with me." He told her with a soft, tender smile while cupping her face with his hand.

 


"I would never wish you to be anything but yourself, true and whole, and I would never judge you. Not in anyway, for anything, especially not your past. Nothing in your past - or something you perseve you lack - could make my feelings change... Nor will I allow you to think such..." He paused, noting she appeared as if she wanted to speak.

 


"But... it's temporary, the Avvar... feelings... everything is, isn't it? Just momentary pleasure until feelings fade, it doesn't last... your... desire for-uh... relationships, or anything more, it's all... just temporary." She said, sounding a bit sad,

 


"You can not truly believe my feelings are so infirm, false, would sicken or tire, do you Maraina...?" He asked gently, but she only answered with a mild shrug, "Ah... I... I think I understand..." He said pensively. After a moment of considering her reservations he nodded slightly a few times, as if in understanding. Her eyes were contemplative as she shyly looked up, his eyes held their usual smiling warmth as he looked into her eyes, but her eyes fell again while he thought of how best to answer. After another moment or so, he nodded again, firmer than before and began to patiently explain,

 


"You mean our Marriage... as it would be compared to that of Lowlanders. We have ceremonies, and fire dances, but yes Maraina, our marriages are finite... They are such, so as to allow those that wish to part... in rare cases a relationship may have soured, but usually, such partings are due to the deemed match being that of alliance and duty had required it... The Avvar are a free people, and if one or both matched no longer wish to be joined, then they can part; no bias, or hard-ill feelings - once the knotted years have been fulfilled." He educated quietly, then lifted her face from it's saddened, downcast level to meet his eyes - looking deeply into her eyes with an emotion she didn't know the name of but desperately wanted to - as Cullen continued,

 


"But, Maraina... if the pair are wanted in all ways - heart, spirit, mind and body... and claiming declared - the bond of marriage willingly offered and accepted by both - they are married. If the pair find that during their allotted years together, they have remained happy in their loving bond - they would not wish to forget those feelings and part simply because the knotted years have been fulfilled. It is more likely that their bond would have only been strengthened by the years passed... If this is the case, after the knotted time allowed has passed, those that wish it are free to simply choose to remain together - or, if they so desire... Maraina, the knots can be re-bound. Being free to choose, and so wish it, they can be bonded in marriage once again." He told her, kissing her cheek after his statement made her expression brighten upon him, he smiled softly down at her as he offered his remaining explanation,

 


"The pair voice their oaths to each other anew, and their vows reaffirmed. The knots - this time - would be blessed by the love and haste of our gods, thusly, the knotted rope would fall apart more easily... resulting in many more years together. At first their bond would have been wanted due to their shared love and friendship, although originally found forged stout... in some could fade. But, to enter into a second bonding of marriage, their love would have been tempered, strengthened and been tested true by time. Therefore, when a bond is renewed it is blessed to be much longer than that of the prior marriage... Maraina, the fire you ignite within me - how strongly... how deeply I feel for you..." He trailed off, taking a deep breath he leaned his forehead to hers.

 


Cullen closed his eyes and paused briefly, appearing to truly savor whatever feeling he had attempted to put into words for her. Holding his eyes shut, his smile became so wide, so tender and warm as he whispered, "I have never felt anything like this... never anything so... powerful, or unyielding - as I feel for you." He told her with absolute honesty, kissing her sweetly before opening his eyes. Then whispered a touch firmly,

 


"It will not change. It will only temper in strength... the way you make me feel... I know not what it is Maraina, but it is precious to me; you are precious to me. I would fight to the death before submitting or allowing anything to change it... nor will I allow you to think down on yourself because of a past shadow upon your mind... You understand my meaning, yes?" He asked as a whisper closer to her ear, then kissing her cheek. She met his eyes and nodded, understanding all he was saying. Still smiling as he looked down into her eyes, he continued,

 


"Good... You've told me of your childhood, family and others - Lowlander 'suitors', how they quested after you... that your virtue made them near hostile in their persistence of you. But, even knowing what I do... I can not - would never - lie to you. I can not tell you that what you confessed... that I am the only one you have allowed to hold you... the only one you've wanted to kiss you... that you've only ever experienced excitement by way of my touch... It-uh, gods - Maraina," He paused, his grip on her tightening for a moment as he leaned his forehead to hers again, closing his eyes tightly as he attempted to control the desire that roared in his blood the moment he began to think on what she had confessed to him. He swallowed thickly, smoothing his hands up and down her back, as he took a few slow breaths.

 


"You know I feel the same for you... no judgement, or pressure from me... right? Just say what you're thinking Cullen, I trust you," Raina reminded him, murmuring against his lips before kissing him sweetly, then patiently waited for him to resume.

 


"Yes... my hesitance is not for shame, my only concern is how hearing such of me might cause you unease... I felt such fire for you the moment you faced me in the arena and I hesitate because I fear you may assume that I am like them... your past suitors. That your mind might twist my words, and think that being so untouched as you are, might be the reason I care for you as greatly as I do..." He began provisionally after lifting his head and looking into her eyes once again, then slowly, purposefully - walked her backward a few steps, so that they were in the darkened corner between the wall and the Hall's massive kegs.

 

 

Their backward progress was only halted when he pushed her lightly against the wall, their entire forms except for the very top of their heads completely obscured from sight; he ensured their interaction was made entirely private by giant wooden casks hiding them from the hall. He took another deep breath then confessed, "When you shared such of yourself with me, learning that... even thinking of it now, well, it... does things to me. You know it does - and I am not ashamed of how you make me feel. I want you to know, I feel much pride at the thought... knowing that you desire me so, when others could only dream of holding your interest - and I am proud to admit that you have the same effect on me, as I do to you." He whispered against her ear. Cullen punctuated his confession by subtly grinding his hips forward while cupping her arse and holding her back securely; pushing his hardened cock against her in the barest.

 


Though he knew his visage likely blushed as he did, when she gasped nearly inaudibly at his brash contact, he couldn't look away from her eyes. He watched, looking deeply into her eyes as he held her - the deep storm grey of her eyes, being consumed, almost blotted out entirely, by the black pools at the center of each. She suddenly threw her arms around his neck kissing him firmly, quickly escalating, burning hot and fierce with her desire for him, immediately pushing her hips up against him in return.

 


She lifted her leg, wrapping it around his hip - Cullen immediately moved his arm down her back, hooking his arm around her leg, lifting it higher as he pulled her against his cock entirely. Her instant reciprocation and obvious acceptance of the pressure of his cock between her legs, as well as the scorching lust with which she kissed him, drove him wild. Cullen growled approvingly into her kiss and began rhythmically grinding against her harder; making Raina shudder and wantonly moan into his mouth.

 


The lull of the celebration around them was extremely loud, not only with the sound of voice, song and cheer, but also the occasional, yet unmistakable sounds of Lust. The Avvar were a hot-blooded people, their strength of honor and drive for bladed victory, equal to if not surpassed, by their freedom and unabashed will of their sexuality. Accordingly, such sounds were common place, it was just the Avvar way of celebrating the shared high after a raid and battle; especially after one as monumental as tonight's - not to mention the veritable rebirth of a god, long thought lost. Most clan members tended to do whatever they felt so inclined to, where ever that meant - even if it meant right in there bustling hall - entirely unconcerned by their Lowlander allies present, just as he and Raina had been prior to the interruption. Cullen had accepted Raina's justification of Branson's whistle so easily because it made sense - being at Varric's insistence - because to the Avvar, such open displays were normal place, expected even. It was just the Avvar way and the members of Stone-bear Hold were indeed celebrating - without any reservations or concern of how they did so. Therefore, acts of passion and displays of raw affection were overlooked - if they were even noticed at all by the Avvar, and certainly never intentionally interrupted as Branson had done.

 


Though, as Cullen had held Raina quietly when she had hid against his chest, he had noted that it clearly wasn't just the Avvar that intended to celebrate their victory in such ways. While true, Branson and Finn had become rather engaged together, Cullen doubted they had even noticed the others departing the table; but the Seeker seemed rather insistent, yanking Rylen from his seat and leaving the hall not long after the Iron Bull's and Raina's cheer. Skald Fulna having a similar intent, and Varric appeared rather agreeable to that inclination - allowing Fulna to drag him from his seat, and back to her usual corner perch on the other side of the hall. Obviously, many in the hall were presently occupied as such - or had left the hall to do so - either way it was later now, more drink consumed, inhabitions gone. Many others were not only doing similarly, but likely more so, than he was currently doing to Raina in their secluded corner.

 


Yet, Cullen knew what Raina had been taught by the Lowlander's chantry and their mage prisons. That free and open expressions of passion and lust were perceived to be in someway shameful or even un-natural. Though she had distanced herself from such taught falsehoods, he still felt that on some deep unconscious level, her mind was still bound by the past lies she had been forced to conform within - even though she no longer wanted to believe them. This understanding made Cullen want to break the chains forged upon her mind, by force.

 

He buried his face in her hair, kissing and sucking the tender flesh of her neck and ear as he gripped her arse firmly in his hands. He kneaded the sumptuous flesh for a moment before lifting her a few inches, recaptured her mouth, resuming their desperately heated kiss. He then slowly and very deliberately let her body, her hips - the heated apex of her thighs - grind down his entire length while he allowed her feet to touch back down. Raina moaned at the surge of arousal his action caused, but Cullen dutifully - regrettably - stifled the soft, beautiful sound of her pleasure by deepening his kiss for a few moments. Regardless of it not actually being at all discernible by others, especially not over the roar of the hall, he knew she would likely assume her escaped moan of passion would be overheard, and it would cause her distress. He hated cutting off that joyous, delicious sound, but the idea that she might be distressed by it spurred him to do it, heedless of how much it pained him to do so. After a few long moments, he eased himself back from her hips a fraction, not wanting her to be embarrassed, uncomfortable, or in any way distressed, he slowly parted his lips from her but only enough to softly murmur,

 


"I am certain now that you understand my meaning fully... you arouse me equal to the likes as I do you. So, knowing this, Maraina... how does it make you feel?" He asked, though his whispered question was a touch hesitant.

 


"I, I-ah guess it makes me... feel good. Proud... It makes me more sure of myself... Knowing I can... being able to um-entice you, I, I-ah... like it." She whispered honestly, though her words made her too shy to look him in the eyes, Cullen cupped her cheek, urging her to look up with a soft kiss But, when her eyes still remained slightly downcast, he leaned to whisper his question against her ear.

 


"Good. Are you ashamed by how I react to the merest thought of you?"

 


"No, of course not... god's - I love it. I-um... like the way it makes me feel... knowing that, I-ah - I feel... flattered by it." She hastily whispered, Cullen nodded affirmatively before saying,

 


"My point. I like it too. I like being the cause within you, and I like how you make me feel in return; Never feel embarrassed by it Maraina - I understand your hesitance, and obvious desire for... privacy; but where ever you are, whenever I make you feel... it is only natural - never be ashamed, or embarrassed by how you feel - it gives me much pleasure knowing I am the cause. The reaction your body has to me... and mine to you - its, I do not know the words... but it is nye a thing of shame. You've answered honestly about how arousing me makes you feel - so I will offer you equal measure... Seeing the marks of Victories you wear upon your flesh... how proudly you display the proof of your bravery - showing me such the way you did... To me, each is a mark of beauty and life. I swear to you Maraina, seeing them only served to make my mouth water all the more with want of taste of you... all that I am... I burn, hunger to find and taste each and every battle proving mark you bare... You are fire in my blood and it pleases me to know that I make you feel it too... but, I would never want for you to be uncomfortable or frustrated with how I make you feel. I only wish for you to thrive upon it, be confident and sure in yourself - as I see you... as I feel you are." Cullen whispered, looking upon her with every emotion his words had voiced.

 


"Maker's Breath, Cullen... I-I want to get out of here. I don't know how you do it... with just words but, god's - I need... I have no idea what exactly... but I really want privacy - with you... right now - to figure it out." She shudderingly whispered, eyes hooded and pupils wide as she gaped at him.

 


He smiled at her flustered state, kissing her warm - furiously blushing - cheek and hugging her closely to him, enticing her to rest her weight against him wholly, while she bemoaned further, “God's help me... I like the way you make me feel, but sometimes - like right now, in public - the way you make me feel is incredibly frustrating; how am I suppose to function when all I can think of is... 'that'?" she muttered to him, shaking her head and rolled her eyes, then she bit her lip with a sigh, hugging herself tighter against him, when he chuckled lowly understanding the underlying meaning of her words.

 


"I could suggest solutions that would clear your mind of such distracting ideas, but as we are unable to truly escape for the time being - Mia has yet to make... her announcement - I will refrain. Though I believe your mind will not allow you peace from your thoughts... until later, but I must confess... I truly hope your thoughts are of the likes of mine... of my mouth - on you... everywhere." He whispered to her seductively and she gasped softly,

 


"Fuck, Cullen - stop it," She scolded playfully, before hiding her blushing face by laying it upon his chest, Cullen tucked his chin on her head, smiling broadly. Not releasing her he turned them, walking them back into the open from their seclusion. They stood there holding each other for a short time before both began shaking with laughter, sharing their joke silently with a knowing look. Cullen and Raina both having immediately noticed the rather frumpled state at which both Seeker Cassandra and Rylen - the hunt master being much less concerned by appearances than his counter part - had stumbled hurriedly back into the hall; by separate doors no less. They each had just re-taken their seats when not more than a minute or so later Mia stood, banging her empty stein on the table as she called the attention of the Hall to order.

 

---


Thane Sun-hair called for silence once again, after all the Inquisitor's favors to the Hold had been recounted, as well as all the other deeds she had assisted with were detailed by each individual hold member she had helped.

 


Thane Sun-Hair continued, “I deem that these are not the actions of a 'Guest'. They were not the actions of the Inquisitor, or Inquisition. These are the deeds of a person. A woman who is caring and kind, wise and loyal. They are the actions of one who embodies the unconditional love and support offered to Kin of one's Hold. Therefore offerings have been made in your name, Maraina - to our Lady of the Skies above, and the will of our Mountain Father below. It is with great pride, that I, Mia, the Legend Marked Svarah Sun-Hair, Thane of Stone-Bear Hold, do declare you legend marked Kin of our Hold. Surrounded by the love and blessings of the god's of our Hold, They have named you 'Raina First-Thaw O' Stone-Bear.’ You are Kin - Blood of our Hold – Raina, and we will pray that the Lady guide you home, to your clan, when you're done saving the world." Mia declared proudly,

 

Raina was so happy she was speechless. How could she even begin to express herself at the declaration given. She hadn't even noticed that the words had caused her to begin tearing up until she heard Cole's soft voice.

 


“Happy, Home, Kin – Blood, Blessed - Real.” Cole smiled brightly as he turned to Thane Sun-hair. “Your words make her happiness sing... the most beautiful thing she has ever heard. The tears are because she doesn't know the words to the song... It's pretty... I like the song...”

 


“Yes... Thank you Cole. You helped.” She said after a few shaky, watery, sniffling breaths. The little spirit boy beamed at her, and she cleared her throat noting that her voice did indeed sound choked with the weight of sentiment. Though, she couldn't stop smiling, even through her tears and tried again, “Thank you, I am honored to call you Kin – to be embraced in such a way,” Her voice hitched and she looked to Cullen, he offered his hand in support and she took it freely and squeezed. “My name... Thank you.” She whispered to him, he squeezed her hand in return.

 


“We respect the person you are, and only expect you to be who you wish to be; You are only you to us Maraina.” Cullen whispered back, making her stifle a sob into the fur mantle of his shoulder as he wrapped her in the strength and comfort of his arms. He encompassed her body and shoulders completely, gently threading his fingers in her hair as he cupped the back of her head, shushing and soothingly rocking her from side to side. She clutched to him, molded into him as he pulled her closer, he was her shield from the room of onlookers while also comforting her, allowing her a moment to enjoy being so completely overwhelmed by her joyful sobs.

 


After a few moments she reassembled her composure, with a few last sniffles she looked up to him again. He softly wiped the few stray tears from her cheeks, placing a soft kiss on each in their place and slowly released her - though their hands refused to part. She turned back to the room, to... her Kin, breathing deeply to speak louder.

 


“Thank you, this - it means the world to me.” She finished, nodding again while giggling as she wiped at her happy tears. Cullen lifted and spun her several times in an exuberant bear hug, as the clan roared her name repeatedly in joyous welcome. For she was Raina First-Thaw O' Stone-Bear.

 

She had found herself in this place, with these people – with him... They accepted and embraced her wholly as their guest, and now she was Hold-Kin blood, she was one of them... She was Raina  First-Thaw; She was Avvar.