Far too long in the Western Approach had made Solas and Cassandra grouchy and sullen, and when they weren’t bickering they travelled in strained silence, pointedly ignoring one another. The inquisitor had long since given up trying to reconcile her companions, instead opting to scout the distance for any signs of Venatori, leaving them to their sulking a short distance behind. She saw nothing, however, and they all looked so tired, so she motioned to them to take a rest. With huffs of tepid annoyance, they plonked themselves down in the shade offered by a sand dune, backs turned to one another. Lavellan sighed. Deciding to take her rest where she could observe the desert, she sat at the crest of the dune, and sipped a little water. After a while, Cole scampered up the dune to join her, and she smiled at his approach.
“How are you holding up, Cole?” “Annoyance…they want to talk, to shout, but they are tired, frustrated, the hot fills them with fatigue, like a blanket, but not comfortable.”
“We’ll be leaving soon, then they can shout at each other somewhere more pleasant.” She offered her water skin to him and he took it with slight hesitation, before taking the world’s smallest mouthful of water and returning it.
“You are tired, too. Longing, as well, for…” He frowned. “I cannot hear it.” The inquisitor smiled slightly.
“I want to get back to Skyhold. We’ve been in this blasted desert for days I’m sick of it.”
“But that’s not what you’re longing for it’s…something else. A person?” She laughed.
“You’re too perceptive. Here.” She held the skin out again. “Drink more, you look dehydrated.” At that, Cole gave her a wide beam, an expression which startled her; he so rarely smiled. He took a sensible mouthful this time, which satisfied her. “We should get moving.” She sighed, and looked at her friends, still sullenly ignoring one another.
“Oi!” She called, and they frowned at her. “Come on, I know you’re tired, but the faster we meet up with the soldiers and wipe out the Venatori the faster we can get back.” Solas and Cassandra exchanged a glance, harrumphed at one another, then trudged up the dune to meet them. “C’mon.” After what seemed like a scorching eternity, but in reality was probably only about half an hour, Cole reported the presence of inquisition soldiers nearby, and so the party altered their course towards them. The soldiers had nestled a little camp in-between two giant rocks, which Lavellan noticed was pleasantly cool, for a desert, and which provided good shade. That would be good for the soldiers; less heatstroke, and the rocks created a choke point were they to be attacked. She snorted, wondering when she’d become so aware of battle customs. Like an actual soldier. She guessed she’d had to be; one wrong move would mean her death, and bizarrely the death of the whole of Thedas. She was still wrapping her head around that one.
“Nothing to report, Ser.” Announced the requisition officer as she strode in, and she nodded curtly in reply, slightly sick of hearing that phrase. There was never anything to report. Scanning the camp, she spotted Gately, the officer in charge of this mission, and beckoned her companions to follow her as she made her way over to him.
“Ah, Inquisitor! Allow me to welcome you to camp. Unfortunately you won’t be able to rest long; we just spotted Venatori movement on the ridge.” He gestured to the foreboding cliff, and Lavellan saw boxes piled up on the ridge, and then movement. “There’s another one of the buggers.”
“What’s in those boxes, red lyrium?”
“We believe so. Let’s get in there, smash it up, smash them up, and get back to Skyhold.”
“Nice and concise.” He laughed and thwumped her on the back. She had to conceal the fact that it felt like he’d just broken all her ribs, and offered a weak smile, silently screaming. “Come on soldiers, let’s move out!” There was a cry of consent, and the mass of steel began marching along the ridge, swiftly followed by the Inquisitor and her party, after Cole had helped her recover.
As they moved, Solas and Cassandra began bickering again, in a way which wouldn’t even seem like bickering unless you knew them. It was completely passive aggressive and sarcastic; a battle of veiled insults. Lavellan hadn’t even known Solas was capable of sarcasm. Eventually she could stand it no more, and spun around abruptly, poking a finger in each of their faces.
“Will you two cut it out. This is the last thing we need to do before a fight. We’re meant to be a team, stop this. Now.” Solas turned his gaze skyward, arms crossed, but Cassandra lowered her head.
“You are right. This is very unprofessional of me, I apologize.” Lavellan smiled.
“It’s all right. We’re all overheated and tired. Let’s go and get this over with.” They nodded.
The raid was as uneventful as a raid could be, and they successfully eradicated the Venatori, as well as shoving the boxes of lyrium off the cliff to shatter below and get lost in the sands. Lavellan wiped her forehead after pushing the last box off, sick of the heat, sick of the fighting, and very much wanting to curl up in her massive bed back in Skyhold with Josephine. She grinned, thinking about her return. Josephine would make a fuss, she always did; checking her over, making sure she wasn’t hurt, reacquainting. Feeling better already, Lavellan went to gather her friends and make sure they were ready for departure; she wanted to spend as little more time her as possible. Of course, it would be a few days before they got back, especially since they were travelling with a company of soldiers, but she felt good now that their missions were complete.
After a brief stop at the camp to gather up belongings and provisions, the company set out for what had become home. The mood was high, the soldiers exchanging battle stories and banter, which they could do with ease since there’d been no fatalities. A few lay groaning in wagons used to transport the injured, but she’d been informed they would recover.
“How are you, Lavellan?” She jumped, having been lost in her thoughts.
“Oh, Solas. I’m fine. I just want to be home.”
“Well, Skyhold.” Solas smiled.
“I wanted to apologise, for being confrontational earlier. That was beneath me.”
“Don’t worry about it Solas. I was getting irritable too. It’s hard not to in this heat.”
“You’ve been a good friend to me. I am grateful for that.”
“And you to me.” They exchanged smiles as Cassandra fell into step beside them.
“Josephine will have missed you.” She said by way of greeting, causing Lavellan to blush and stutter her reply.
“Well, I-I um…”
“That’s who you were longing for?”
“Cole!” The others laughed, and she ruefully rubbed her neck, her face becoming even more flushed than the desert had already made it. “How do any of you know, anyway.” She grumbled.
“You are not subtle, Inquisitor, and neither is she. Josephine has been distracted as of late, as have you, therefore it is not impossible to deduce that there is som-“
“Okay, okay!” Cassandra stopped speaking and gave her an amused look, one which quickly turned to horror.
“Venatori, watch out!” There were gasps as a large group of Venatori could be seen rushing towards them, then the blurred slither of dozens of swords being drawn.
“We’ve been tricked!” Yelled the Captain. “It’s an ambush! Stand your ground.” The soldiers shook as the Venatori, a group of warriors and skilled mages considerably larger than the Inquisition’s party ran towards them, bloody curses on their lips and murder in their eyes.
“They would sacrifice their own people for an ambush?” Cassandra exclaimed incredulously.
With each second the Venatori grew closer, the chanting of their spellbinders increasing in volume, causing fearful looks among the soldiers.
“Stand firm!” Called the captain, but there was pain in his eyes. He knew there would be losses. Severe losses.
“Captain! We cannot face this attack! We must retreat!” Cassandra rang over the shifting soldiers. The Captain gave her a defeated stare.
“We cannot retreat. Their spellbinders would pick us off one by one.”
Solas moved in front of Lavellan, staff outstretched towards the oncoming horde.
“Protect the Inquisitor! She’s too important to lose!” He called, and the force shifted into a defensive position around her, Cassandra and Cole also moving in front.
The Venatori were still on the ridge, thundering footsteps mashing with the sounds of fired spells.
“Shields!” The force covered overhead, spells clattering on the magically reinforced shields. Somewhere to her right, Lavellan heard a scream. No.
“Captain this is hopeless!” The force paused, all eyes on the captain as he raised his face to the sky, then beat his fist against his shield.
“Then we’ll give them a fight they’ll remember, eh?” Then he turned, unwavering gaze fixed on Lavellan. “Run, Inquisitor. The inquisition can’t lose you and we can cover your escape. Go.”
“No! I won’t just leave you all to-“
“Lady Pentaghast, take her and run.” Cassandra paused, tears in her eyes, then she stiffened, nodded, and grabbed the Inquisitor by the arm.
“We have to go, Inquisitor.” Cassandra began dragging her towards the back of the force, Lavellan resisting with every step, watching with desperation as Solas and Cole disappeared within the frightened soldiers. Another volley of magical attacks caused more screams. The drum of spells against shields sounded like thunder.
“I said no, Cassandra! I will not leave my people here to die.”
“You are too important! Without you we cannot seal the rifts!”
“What sort of Inquisition abandons its people? I will not go.” She shook Cassandra away, and, ignoring her cries for return, ran towards the Venatori. Surely there was something she could do. Anything.
“Lavellan!” Solas cried out after her as she broke free of the force but she didn’t turn back. The Venatori were almost off the ridge now, almost onto the Inquisition. Suddenly an idea came to her. Increasing her speed, she flung her arms in front of her and began gathering the energy she needed. Green sparked like lightning from her hand. I need to be closer. She skidded to a stop at the edge of the cliff, vaguely registering Inquisition members running after her, but she was focussed on the spell she needed. Reaching within and then beyond she pulled magic from her, pushing the strands towards the cliff and a deadly purpose. Once the strands had melded with the rock, she pushed a rift from them.
The cliff exploded, a cascade of debris and Venatori tumbling into the drop, green light sparkling. The ground kept opening up, closer and closer and she knew she should move away but she could not. Her body would not move and the cliff was coming. Why can’t I move? Get up! Then she saw a spellbinder, hanging from the crumbling edge, one hand extended towards her, mumbling. His look was poison, his mouth twisted into a cruel sneer. No! People were shouting for her, running, but they couldn’t reach her. The ground beneath her feet opened up and she fell into darkness. Once she had fallen, the spell was broken, and she grabbed desperately at the rock, trying to slow her descent. It was to no avail. She hit an outcropping and pain ripped up her side. Then another, and the pain was gone.
The Inquisition group stood still in shock as the last few stones tumbled down, some with their hands over their faces. Solas shook his head in disbelief.
“She can’t have…”
“No!” Cassandra rushed to the cliff, gripped the edge hard, peered down into the dark. “She is not dead.” Others joined her, mumbling prayers or words of shock. “Stop that!”
“Cole, what do you feel?” Solas asked, holding Cole’s arm tightly. Cole shook his head.
“We’re going down there. Solas. Cole.” They followed Cassandra without words, both chewing their lips. Cole was breathing quickly.
“I like her.” He finally said, quietly, fearfully. “I don’t want to lose another friend. I won’t!”
“Hush, Cole.” Solas spoke, not unkindly. “We’ll find…her.”
“Lady Pentaghast! Where are you going?” The Captain called. His voice contained no ounce of bravado now.
“To find the Inquisitor.” She replied, without slowing, without turning around.
They could not access the bottom from here; the sides were sheer, so Cassandra led them silently to a slope about ten minutes away which offered access. When her pace increased to a jog, no-one complained. A few soldiers had followed them, and were muttering disbelief, as well as fear. Once in the darkness Solas lit a light and took the lead. They made their way back towards the forces, examining every nook and still body they saw, then allowing themselves small sighs of relief when the next body was not hers.
“Ooooiiiiii! Pentaghast! What do you see?” Squinting, they could just make out the silhouette of the Captain at the top of the ridge. No-one replied, instead focussing on any sign of Lavellan. Suddenly Cole gasped, and pointed towards a small body, lying still. Unmistakably her. They ran to her side, frantic and yet reluctant, fearful of what they might find. Cassandra reached her first, placed a gentle hand to her shoulder.
“Inquisitor?” No response. “L-Lavellan…” Solas crouched opposite her, also placing a hand on Lavellan. He closed his eyes, brows furrowing in concentration.
“She is alive. Barely. She needs treatment immediately. Two soldiers bent to pick her up, but Solas hit their hands away. “Idiots! Do you want to kill her? She must be lifted with care.” After waving a circle clear around her, he held his staff between his hands, closed his eyes, and mumbled a few words. Lavellan lifted into the air, arms hanging and head lolled, looking very much as if she weren’t alive. Silently, they made their way out.
When they reached the main group the majority rushed forwards, but Solas waved them back angrily, moving Lavellan to one of the wagons, where he lowered her gently onto the cushions. Two Inquisition members entered the wagon, casting fearful glances over the Inquisitor’s unmoving body.
“What can we do, Master Solas?”
“You are doctors?” They nodded. “Bind her left arm and leg, they are broken. I will take care of the injuries to her head and ribs.” They nodded again. Cassandra and Cole peered anxiously into the wagon, as did as many of the soldiers that could fit around. After passing a hand over her torso frowning at the damage, Solas looked up quickly, then narrowed his eyes. “We need to get back to Skyhold as quickly as possible. I will do what I can but I have not studied injuries this severe. We need to move.”
“Alright! Get going!” The Captain called, and suddenly there was a flurry of activity as the soldiers moved double time, spurring the horses into motion and marching quickly towards home. Solas assessed the damage to his friend’s body once more. If she survives until tomorrow she might just make it. He thought. He closed his eyes, and almost prayed.
They did not stop at nightfall, fear of the Inquisitor’s condition worsening spurring them onwards. She still had not awoken, and Solas had been dribbling water into her mouth in an almost fruitless effort to get her to drink; she rarely swallowed and when she did convulsions racked her, which only made her breakages worse. They were out of the desert now, though, which made travelling faster and easier.
“How is she, Solas?” Asked Cassandra, looking in through the wagon window.
“Not any better, not any worse.” Cassandra grunted, and looked away.
“It’s my fault. If I’d taken her away…”
“I do not think there is much you could have done, Seeker. She was determined in her actions, I do not think you could have stopped her. It is not your fault.”
“…Thank you, Solas. I… Well, our squabble earlier seems senseless now, doesn’t it.”
“A little, yes.” There was silence between them for a while, the only noise the trudging of tired soldiers and the calls of night birds.
“Do you think she’ll survive?” The question she had avoided asking until now suddenly came to her lips, and her eyes widened at her own proclamation of uncertainty.
“I do not know, Seeker. I believe she will, because she is my friend and I have to, but in truth I do not know. All we can do is wait.
They marched until past noon the next day when the Captain finally called a halt. Seething, Cassandra stomped up to him and demanded to know the reason.
“We cannot march all the way to Skyhold without rest, Lady Pentaghast. We need rest, the horses need rest.”
“You do realise that the Inquisitor’s life is on the line, Captain?”
“Of course, but if we keep walking both the soldiers and the horses will drop dead, and then where would the Inquisitor be? Let everyone have a bit of sleep, and then we’ll move out again.” Cassandra threw up her hands in exasperation.
“Cold, and dark…no…too hot…it burns everywhere, pain, sinking seething howling, biting into my bones with frozen teeth. Hot, cold, can’t see…” Cassandra bolted to the wagon passed Cole, who’s eyes had glazed over in sensing. Solas was bent over Lavellan, speaking urgently.
“Lavellan? Can you hear me? It’s okay. I know it hurts but we’re treating you. We’ll get you back to Skyhold just hold on.”
“Inquisitor!” Cassandra made to enter but Solas motioned her back.
“Do not crowd her.” She ground her teeth but remained in the entrance, fluttering her hands with lack of anything to do to help. Cole ceased his chanting and stepped up to the window.
“She is asleep now.”
“This is the second time she’s done this.” Cassandra seated herself on the edge of the wagon, arms folded. “Who does she think she is, risking her life like that?” Despite her words, a smile crossed her face.
“You admire her?”
“She’s very brave. Very stupid too.” Cole nodded slowly.
“But I’m not letting her do that again. Not ever. She’s done enough.”
“We may have to, Seeker. Corypheus is yet to be stopped.” Solas added darkly.
“She does not have to do it alone!” Cassandra exclaimed, then appeared abashed at her outburst. “Well. I’ll go…check on the soldiers.” Once she had shuffled away, Cole took her place. He frowned at the Inquisitor.
“We need to get there quickly. It hurts her very much.”
“I know. We’ll get there as soon as we can.” Cole continued to frown, and Solas smiled a little at his unique nature, then sighed. “We haven’t had a chance to talk recently.”
“Why do you feel heavy? Normally you are light, in and out, walking on nothing, but now you are down.”
“I’m concerned for Lavellan, of course.”
“But more than that.” Solas took a long breath in.
“I wanted to apologise, Cole. To you. It was your decision to become more human but I clung to your old nature even though it wasn’t mine to keep. I am sorry I caused you strife.”
“You did not cause me strife you…like spirits for what spirits are, humans are…trapped, you thought it would be bad for me. I do not hate you.”
“Thank you.” Cole smiled at him, an expression he’d only consistently begun displaying since his move towards being more human. Solas decided that if the outcome of the transition made Cole smile, then it was worth it. Then Lavellan groaned, and all thoughts were on her once more.
It was past midnight when a lone rider cantered into Skyhold, leapt off her horse, and scurried into the keep.
“Hold!” The guards exclaimed, when she bustled up to the door which led to the spymaster’s chambers.
“I need to see Lady Leliana, Commander Cullen, the ambassador, anybody!”
“I don’t have ti-“ The door swung inwards, revealing a sleep bedraggled but none the less poised Leliana.
“What is it?”
“It’s the Inquisitor, my lady, she’s gravely wounded.”
“What?” Leliana darted back inside then emerged again, pulling her chainmail shirt on. “Follow me.” They moved quickly about the hold, first for Cullen, then for Josephine, and when they were all gathered in the war room, Leliana commanded the messenger to report fully.
“The mission in the Western Approach succeeded, my lady, the Venatori have been wiped out, but the Inquisitor was gravely wounded.”
“What! How, what happened, how is she?”
“Calm, Josephine, let her report.”
“We attacked their camp, destroyed the lyrium, and we thought them all dead, but as we left the Approach another group ambushed us, a much larger group, and we had no hope of defeating them. The Captain ordered Lady Pentaghast to flee with the Inquisitor, but the Inquisitor refused. The Venatori were coming over the ridge, and I don’t know quite what she did, but the Inquisitor made the cliff explode. All the Venatori fell down. It may have had something to do with her powers, her hand was-“
“I don’t care about all that! Is she alright? Please…” Josephine begged, gripping the messenger by the shoulders.
“She was…alive when I left, lady ambassador, but…” Josephine turned away, hiding tears from the others. Leliana bade the messenger continue. “Once of the Venatori spellbinders managed to hang on to the edge, I think they used a spell to prevent the Inquisitor from moving because she fell down.”
“And how many fatalities?”
“Leliana!” Josephine cried.
“Four, my Lady. There would have been many more had the Inquisitor not acted…I think we may all have died had she not.”
“How was her condition when you left?” Cullen asked, placing a hand on Josephine’s shoulder.
“Precarious, Commander. She…” They glanced at Josephine. “She’s broken a lot of ribs, an arm, and a leg. She also suffered head wounds, and there’s signs of internal bleeding. Master Solas was doing his best to treat her, but he said there was little he could do. They’re hurrying back to Skyhold.”
“And when was this?” Pressed Leliana.
“Oh, yes, this occurred two weeks ago. They should be two days away at the pace the wagons can go.” Leliana nodded.
“That is all, thank you.” The messenger bowed, then hurried out. Josephine’s face was in her hands, barely controlled sobs shaking her body. Cullen squeezed her shoulder.
“We should send healers out to meet them.” He said, and Leliana nodded again, swiftly striding from the room. “Josephine…” He moved to comfort her further, but she pushed him away gently, holding herself tall once more.
“I’ll go out to meet her too.”
“You-“ He paused, then sighed.
“Okay. Be careful.” She gave him a weak smile, then left to gather provisions for the trip. Once in the privacy of her own room she let the tears roll freely down her face as she packed. Shirt, Riding boots, trousers, bedroll. She chanted in her head, refusing to allow the image of the broken, bleeding Inquisitor into her mind which threatened entry. Bread, wat-water… A sob took her, and she sunk to her knees in the middle of her room.
“I told you to be careful.” She whispered.
An image of the Inquisitor’s face before she left flashed through her mind. She was smiling, happy, and they were in the garden again; where they always went to escape.
Josephine clutched her pack tightly to her chest, closed her eyes, breathed in and out slowly, then rose to her feet. She smoothed down her robes, wiped her eyes, and then left. The stables were empty of healers when she arrived, which caused her to frown in impatience and bubbling anger. How dare they put her life at risk? Why aren’t they here yet? She headed inside, then halted abruptly when she saw stalls empty.
“Josephine…” With a sinking feeling, Josephine turned, and saw Leliana, her eyes pleading.
“Where are the healers?”
“Gone.” Josephine took an irate step towards Leliana, who closed her eyes.
“Josephine, you can’t fight. You would have slowed them down, and your feelings for the Inquisitor would cause distraction.”
“That is not your place to decide.”
“I’m trying to help the Inquisitor, as well as you.”
“Help? What if she…what if she dies when I’m not there! Leliana I can’t…how could you? What if she dies…Le-Leliana…I love her, what if she dies!” Leliana’s eyes widened.
“How dare you preside over our relationship!” Josephine shouted through tears. The usually stoic Leliana seemed perturbed, and she raised her hands in a placating gesture.
“Josephine she’ll be fine. We thought we lost her in an avalanche but she survived that, as well as Corypheus and his archdemon- Josephine stop.” Josephine had begun marching to the next occupied stool, intent on dragging that horse out and sprinting to wherever her love was. “Josie…you don’t know the way.”
“Don’t call me that.” She gritted her teeth, then let the reins she carried fall, before striding out of the stables, ignoring Leliana’s calls.
On the second week of their journey back, the Inquisitor opened her eyes. A chorus of ‘Inquisitor!’s rang out, but all she could register was horrible, biting pain. Pain like a stinging itch inside her, a deep pain in her mind. She must have made a noise, for a cool cloth was pressed to her forehead. It did not help much, but it was a little distraction. She could make out stars above her, and see the trees being blown about by the wind. Peaceful. Then a mash of colours blocked her vision and she squinted involuntarily. It moved back a bit, and she could now make out a face. Pale, elven. Solas. She tried to say his name, but the words caught in her throat and she groaned instead as pain shot up her side and through her head. Another face entered her field of vision. Cassandra. Why is she frowning? Cassandra’s lips moved, but Lavellan could not hear her words.
“Do you think the Inquisitor recognises you?” Asked one of the healers who had arrived yesterday, casting their concerned gaze to Solas, to whom most had deferred in this matter.
“I am…unsure.” Her eyes were flittering between their faces and they watched with apprehension. Cole tapped her cheek lightly as he held the cloth to her head, then smiled when her eyes met his.
“It hurts less than last time.” He said in his monotone voice, and they all sagged with relief.
“It is good that you arrived when you did.” Solas praised the healers, then tried to catch the Inquisitor’s attention himself. “Do you recognise me, friend?” Lavellan opened her mouth as if to reply, but then her eyes closed in pain, face contorting. The healers’ hands moved over her body, pressing and smoothing, muttered spells attempting to ease her suffering. “Cole, how is she feeling?”
“Restless. It drags her down, a soft muted weight, but she wants to be up, to see. Not…trapped here.”
“But less pain, now?”
“Less pain.” Solas nodded, then focussed on her quickly when her eyes opened once more.
“Lavellan?” Her eyes were glazed, head lolled to the side in weakness, but still, she spoke.
“S-sssolas…” Then she coughed, and the movement made her whimper as her damaged ribs were shaken. A dribble of blood trickled down her chin.
“She’s still bleeding inside. Focus on her chest.” Healing efforts moved to her lungs, the air thick with concern.
“She recognised you, that means her mind is undamaged?” Cassandra asked, biting her lip. She’d been keeping watch over the Inquisitor, and thus had been the first to notice when her eyes had opened. Her call for attention had practically thrown the blankets away from the healers, so hasty a response that in another situation she may have found it comedic.
“It is too early to say. If anyone could surpass this, however, it is her.” Cassandra sat back against the tree, exhaling slowly, rubbing her forehead both in weariness and hesitant relief. “Do not fear, Lavellan. We shall be back in Skyhold soon.” Whether she heard him or not was unclear, as her eyes had closed again. Soon after, Cole reported that she’d returned to sleep. The camp was a little lighter after that, the fear that she’d damaged her brain having been mostly abated, and her waking appeasing. The healers stayed by her side as she slept, soothing her hurts, and Cole kept an ardent attention.
Solas retired to his bedroll, as they had paused for a rest, pulling the cover up to his forehead so that his guilt was hidden. In the darkness he chewed his lip, and tried not to be consumed by ‘what ifs’.
In Skyhold, Josephine sat on the battlements, gaze cast out over the mountains, exhausted eyes scouring the tracks for any sign of the Inquisition force. She clasped a container of warm tea to her chest, but it did nothing to assuage the bitter cold that the wind brought from the snow-capped mountains. It pierced her clothes, but still, she kept her shivering vigil.
“Josephine.” She frowned, drawing her knees to her chest.
“What is it.” Leliana sighed, and lowered herself to sit next to Josephine, then placed a blanket over her friend’s shoulders.
“You shouldn’t sit in this cold, you’ll get ill.” Josephine shrugged, not looking away, but she did not spurn the blanket. “I’m…sorry. Maybe I should have let you ride with the healers.”
“It was not your place to let me or not let me.” Leliana lowered her head.
They sheltered under the blanket as the night aged, watching snowflakes drifting on the wind and through the valley. Owls called to each other in the darkness, reminding Josephine of the time Lavellan had taken her into the woods nearby and shown her how to replicate the noise. An owl had flown right into the clearing and startled her. Lavellan had laughed for ages. Josephine pressed her hands into her eyes, stifling tears. Seeing this, Leliana touched her arm under the blanket, and her voice was gentle when she spoke.
“In truth I was afraid. I did not want you to get there and find her- I didn’t want you to be alone if that happened.”
“Don’t try and tell me you were trying to protect me.” Josephine turned her face away, and her next words came quivering. “I should be with her.”
“I’m sorry.” Hesitantly, Leliana wrapped an arm around Josephine, and when she didn’t meet with resistance, she pulled her friend close as she began to shake with contained sobs. “I’m so sorry.” A biting gust struck them as they sheltered under the blanket, causing them to both shiver. “You can’t stay in the cold all night, Josephine.”
“I’m not moving.”
“At least watch from Cullen’s quarters. His window looks onto the mountains.” Josephine thought, and then nodded, and Leliana hoisted her up. With a brief knock on Cullen’s door, they entered, and with surprise found him awake and sitting at his desk, resting his chin in his hands. “Not sleeping?” Leliana asked, and he gave her a rueful smile.
“Worry is keeping me awake.”
“It’s keeping us all awake.”
Josephine pulled a chair to the window and resumed her vigil with exhausted eyes while Leliana poured three cups of tea from Josephine’s container and distributed them. Cullen received his with a nod, but Josephine payed no attention to her beverage. Leliana thought to stir her from her worried musings, but then decided against it, feeling that she might not appreciate it. She perched herself on the edge of Cullen’s desk, exchanging a dark look with him. After a while of silence Cullen exhaled heavily and rubbed his face. Leliana shot him a sympathetic glance; they were all sleeping badly. Though she had fought it, Josephine’s eyes had slid shut, her cheek pressed into the stone and her legs tucked up onto the chair. Once Cullen had confirmed she was asleep, he fixed Leliana with a piercing stare.
“We need to plan for the worst. We’ve left it too long.” She grimaced, then nodded.
“If she does not…”
“We can do it. We may not be able to close the rifts…maybe eventually the mages will find a solution, but we can defeat Corypheus. We must.”
“And if the breach opens again?”
“Let’s pray she survives.”
“She will.” Came a small voice. They jumped, looking guiltily to Josephine, who was staring out of the window once more. She was clenching and unclenching her fingers. Suddenly restless, she stood, and walked to the door. “I’m going to walk around the battlements. I need to stay awake.” Leliana made to follow her, but Josephine waved her away.
“Josephine, you need to sleep.” Said Cullen, concern lacing his voice.
“When she comes back, I will sleep.” With that, she left, closing the door quietly behind her.
The next day the party reached the mountains. Lavellan had been quiet since her waking last night, and the healers were concerned that this indicated a worsening condition. Needless to say, everyone was worried, and so they hurried along the mountain path at a quicker pace. Cole had taken to riding in the wagon with Lavellan, as he was the first who would be able to sense her awakening and so alert the others. So far he had been silent, though. Every so often the healers would check in on her, but mostly the company kept moving, focussing on their goal. As dusk began to fall, Cole suddenly gasped.
“Come! Quickly!” In an instant Solas and Cassandra were at their sides, as well as the healers.
“Cole? What is it?” Solas asked, but Cole was staring intently at Lavellan. She started. “Lavellan?” Instead of replying, she twisted to the side, a pained moan escaping her lips. “Hold her down; she’ll injure her ribs.” As hands pressed into her shoulders, she twisted again, and they tightened around her.
“Is she awake, Cole?” Cole shook his head at Cassandra, but his frown indicated unease. Lavellan started to push against their hands, face set in a grimace, then she began muttering; a stream of unrecognisable words. “Elvish?”
“No…” Solas replied. “It’s nothing, gibberish. Her fever is getting worse.” Cole had already re-wet the cloth and was now pressing it to her head. She calmed at the touch of it, her body sinking once more onto the cushions they had placed under her.
“She’s dreaming. Hot and cold, demons and failure and white hot foes.”
“We should keep moving, we can get to Skyhold in a few hours if we go swiftly.” Solas lead the others from the wagon, and Cassandra motioned the force to continue onwards. Any soldiers that grumbled at the cessation of their rest were quickly reprimanded by the Captain, and soon everyone was off. They were all exhausted; they had stopped for only brief rests, at most four hours at a time, and so had been marching almost continually all the way from the exalted plains. Despite the harsh pace, complaints had been few. Most had peered in the wagon where their Inquisitor rested at least once and returned with grim expressions. After the journey to Skyhold most of the Inquisition had gathered great respect for their leader; she had risked her life, after all, for people she had known but a few weeks, and in their eyes this made her worth following. To say the least, they were worried about her.
Hours passed in loaded, weary silence, but eventually Skyhold came into sight and they breathed in relief. Their paces increased further, many uttering quiet cheers.
“Take her immediately to her quarters when we get there.” Solas commanded a few soldiers, who nodded.
“Why not the infirmary?” One asked, and Solas gave her a disparaging look.
“It is cramped and uncomfortable, I will not have her in such conditions.” As they walked up to the gates the watchers shouted.
“The Inquisitor!” They ran to the gate control and pulled it open, allowing the force to enter.
Josephine had been perched on Vivienne’s divan, looking out, when she saw the gate open. Immediately, she had been on her feet, sprinting down the stairs. She passed Dorian, who whoahed when he witnessed her flight, then followed her at a rushed pace. She entered the courtyard at the same time as Lavellan’s wagon, and pushed through the crowd of soldiers to her.
“Ambassador!” Cassandra exclaimed, taking in her unkempt hair, creased clothes, and slightly unhinged expression. Without pausing, Josephine pushed her aside and then she was suddenly at the wagon. She hadn’t prepared herself for actually seeing her love broken and battered, and she paused now, nerves stalling her. Then she shook her head.
“Out of my way.” She instructed two soldiers who were reaching into the wagon, and they looked at her in surprise before complying. Now she saw her, and tears came to her eyes. Lavellan lay still on the wagon floor, one arm, a leg, and most of her torso bandaged. Her face was flushed and her hair matted with dried blood, her breathing fast and heavy. Shaking, Josephine reached out a hand and cupped her cheek. She was hot to the touch, and mumbling unintelligible sounds. “My darling…”
“Ambassador Montiliyet.” Solas greeted, striding to the wagon. “We need to move her.” She blinked quickly, nodding, at a loss for words. The soldiers she pushed aside earlier now moved forward to take the Inquisitor. One carefully moved her closer to the edge of the wagon, then she was lifted as gently as they could manage. Luckily she was an elf; being small made her easier to carry in her condition. Josephine kept a hand on her cheek as they began to move her to her quarters, rubbing her thumb over her warm skin. A small crowd moved around them, familiar faces poking through anxiously to get a glimpse of their Inquisitor. As Dorian was approaching one of the soldiers carrying her rammed their foot into a rock, jostling Lavellan.
“You fool!” Josephine shouted, her hands gripping Lavellan’s shoulders to steady her.
“I’m sorry I-“
“Oh give her here.” The Iron Bull pushed through the crowd, extending his massive arms to gather her up.
“Okay clear out clear out.” Dorian called, though his usual buoyancy of attitude was absent. Nobody moved. “Come on it’s not a show, give the woman some space.” They moved back an inch and he rolled his eyes, then motioning Bull to continue. Josephine struggled to keep stride as they climbed the stairs, Solas, Cole, and Cassandra following at a slower pace. Dorian hurried ahead to open the door to her quarters. The hall, luckily, was clear of people, Cullen having “encouraged” them to leave when the Inquisition force arrived, and so Bull strode through the empty hall, a huge bulk of a man holding a tiny broken elf, silhouetted against the torchlight. As they approached the throne, Lavellan started to stir in his arms, her eyes moving rapidly behind their lids. Josephine murmured her name.
“Hang in there boss.”
Dorian saluted as they passed, then followed them up the stairs. As soon as Bull had lowered Lavellan onto the bed Josephine sat herself down next to her, stroking the hair back from Lavellan’s face.
“Oh, my darling…”
“The boss won’t be beaten by a few Vints. Don’t worry about her.” Bull smashed his fists together, giving Josephine a hearty grin. She gave a weak smile, then settled herself so she was lying, keeping one hand on Lavellan’s face, which had rolled to the side to face her.
“Exhausted…three ribs and…” Solas’s voice came drifting up from the stairs, accompanied by the low hum of another man’s voice. Soon after they emerged, Solas with a great brute of a man and the surgeon. The large man approached the bed and hunkered over the Inquisitor, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as though remembering a long gone beard. After a while he straightened. Nodding once to Solas, he rolled up his sleeves and pressed his hands hard into her ribs, causing her to squirm in her sleep. Josephine’s outraged cry preceded the visible lines of magic which spread across Lavellan’s torso, curling around her chest.
“I’ve done what I can.” The man rumbled, retreating back from her, rubbing his hands together.
“What did you do?” Josephine asked, trying not to snap her words. The man smiled, raising his hands in a placating gesture. He then retreated down the stairs without an answer, but as he left Josephine saw a line of blood dribble down his arm, which he hastily concealed. She thought it might be best not to find out. As long as Lavellan benefited, it did not matter how.
The surgeon began the mundane healing work now; properly binding Lavellan’s broken limbs and frowning at their treatment. After a quick exchange with Solas that Josephine failed to hear, the surgeon motioned Josephine off the bed, to which she protested.
“Her leg needs resetting. I need room. Move.” The surgeon seemed to consider her words. “Please.” She added, seeming to attempt a smile. Dorian winced at her coarse treatment, then patted the cushion next to him on the sofa he had commandeered. After fussing for a moment, Josephine left Lavellan’s side and fell heavily next to him.
“Are you sure you want to be here Ambassador? It’s not something I’d like to witness my loved one going through. Or, well, hear- er, anyway-“
“I’m not going anywhere.” Her eyes were fixed on Lavellan, but she was swiftly obscured from view as the surgeon moved to the foot of the bed. There was some mumbling, and then a sharp crack. Josephine winced, gripping her knees tightly. Then Lavellan’s leg was wrapped again, covering the black bruises which swashed her skin. Hesitantly, Josephine approached again, then gasped when she saw that Lavellan’s eyes were cracked open, and rushed the rest of the way. “My love.” She whispered, cupping her cheek with a gentle hand. Her eyes flicked to Josephine’s, her mouth opening as if to say something. Solas broke the moment by quickly tipping her head up and trickling an odd coloured liquid into her mouth. Lavellan coughed slightly, face twisting, but Solas held a hand over her mouth so that she couldn’t spit it out.
“Swallow it, Lavellan, otherwise it will hurt.” She frowned but eventually complied. She then turned her gaze back to Josephine, who smiled warmly through the tears in her eyes.
“Can you hear me, my love?”
“Josie…where am I?” Her voice was barely discernible but made everyone sigh in relief.
“You’re home, my love. You’re okay.” With tears in her eyes Josephine leaned into Lavellan and pressed their foreheads together, slowing her breathing with the knowledge that Lavellan was okay. Lavellan made a little mumble in reply, then her eyes drifted shut once more and she was gone, chest rising and falling in the reassuring pattern of sleep. Josephine smiled, fingers stroking Lavellan’s cheeks, a smile rising on her lips. Dorian rested a hand on Josephine’s shoulder, squeezing lightly, before leaving the room. The others soon followed, parting with glances to Lavellan and nods of reassurance to her watcher. Soon Josephine was alone with her, and she felt she could finally relax. Careful not to jostle her love, she shuffled under the covers next to her and settled against the soft pillows, her eyes not leaving Lavellan once. She rested a hand on Lavellan’s cheek, and kept it there as she felt herself drift into sleep.