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A Picnic

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He wouldn’t have thought it when he first arrived in the Frostbacks, but yet it’s true. The sun does warm things up, even this high in the mountains. It took until the heart of the summer to do so, but still, when Maretus walks outside in the courtyard on a rare free day, he’s pleasantly surprised to actually feel warm in the sunlight.

It’s enough to shuck at least one heavy coat and tunic layer, leaving him in a cloth jerkin and shirt beneath and feeling comfortable. He’s got a lot of free time today, as well—no armor because no training. Everyone deserves a day off every now and again, and that includes Inquisition troops. With no one to train and all caught up on his paperwork, he decides he might linger a bit longer at the tavern, perhaps have an extra beer with his lunch.

The Herald’s Rest is bustling with activity when he arrives—it’s nearly full, as it seems everyone decided to take some extra time for a break from their duties to enjoy the good weather. It’s nearly as crowded as the inn was back in Haven on so many cold nights. Maretus frowns a bit and pauses at the entrance, eyes scanning for an opening to push his way through to some open space for lunch.

Inside the tower there is very little activity. The few healers that have stayed stationed in Skyhold have no work to do. The only patients thus far have been those with colds or minor injuries from training accidents. Rarely there will be someone with a more serious injury, but for the most part all is quiet. With the uncannily pleasant summer day, all her healers are eager to be outside instead of cooped up in the tower. Vanora, equally bored by the lack of work, is happy to indulge them so long as they're willing to check in for any people who need their assistance.

With nothing else to do she ventures outside, unsurprised to find that the courtyard is full of people. It seems that much of Skyhold has decided to take a break. Though it’s warmer and her cloak has been left in the tower, she still wears enough layers to keep warm, not entirely trusting the weather to stay pleasant. Wandering through Skyhold, she finds herself near the barracks. One of the soldiers let’s her know, unprompted, that Maretus was at the Herald’s Rest.

Sure enough she finds him there, lingering at the door, perhaps looking for a place to sit.

“So it’s true that everyone really is taking a break today.”

The voice coming from behind him startles him for a brief moment before recognizes it, after which he immediately relaxes and turns to face Vanora.

“It seems so. I can’t blame them—the weather’s finally warm. I think I know why there’s such a big Summerday celebration here in the South—after such long winters, just being in the sun makes one want to celebrate.” His mouth twitches at the corners in the hint of amusement.

A swell in conversation rises around them like waves on the sea, making it difficult to hear and speak over. With his head, Maretus motions for her to back out of the Herald’s Rest where it’s easier to converse.

“It seems like it might be a losing battle to find a table for lunch here,” he says with a touch of regret. Their shared dinners is something he looks forward to every day, and an added lunch suddenly brightens his day of even more. Good to have company instead of simply by himself with nothing to do, he reasons—good conversation, at least. “If you don’t feel like wading through, would you care for an alternative?”

"Long winters, dreary springs and autumns, and it feels as though summer will only be here a few days. Still, it is good to see the sun and actually feel its heat."

Leaning towards him to peer through the door of the Herald's Rest, she is unsurprised to see that it is as full as the tower is vacant. It is indeed a losing battle to find a table to eat at. Their usual spot is taken, as is every other table in the place. The bar is full and people without spots are filling up all the spaces in between. Not a place she wants to be, much less try to eat in.

"I think an alternative is in order," she agrees, straightening back up. There are other places in Skyhold to eat, surely not every table in the great hall is filled, but it isn't a space conducive to private conversation. An idea strikes her suddenly, brightening her features.

"What do you think about having a picnic? I'm sure Titus would like some exercise with such a nice day, and it would be a shame to eat inside with such nice weather. One of the cooks just left the tower the other day after I helped her shake a nasty cough, surely she'd be amenable to providing us with some food."

His eyebrows lift appreciatively at her suggestion, and the brightening of her face. He likes when that happens, he decides privately. “A picnic?” Not a moment later, a sly narrowing of his eyes accompanies his sidelong glance over to her. “Hopefully not somewhere down the mountain,” he teases.

“But,” he goes on, “that sounds excellent. A privately made meal taken away from the crowd to enjoy the warmth? A prime idea in my book.” He starts walking again, with the surety of someone who knows his companion will be right beside him.

“If you want to persuade that cook for a travel bag, I will ready our horses?”

She laughs, a sharp noise as she exhales, "No, certainly not down the mountain. I think one trip was enough excitement for a while."

Falling into step beside him as he heads away from the tavern, she nods in agreement, "Excellent. I'm sure she'll be willing to oblige. She may even have something sweet."

"But not too sweet," she amends, "I know you don't have the same sweet tooth as I do."

Brushing some stray hairs back from her face, Vanora nods, set in her plan, and gives Maretus a wave before she peels off towards the kitchens, "I'll meet you at the stables."

Maretus hums an acquiescence as she steps off toward the kitchens, and he changes course to the stables. It’s strange and yet comfortable, for perhaps the first time in his years away from his homeland, that someone should know him as well as Vanora has come to. A few years and towns ago he would have felt the unsettling of paranoia take root in his gut, that perhaps he’d stayed longer than he should in one place, but here, perched atop the Frostbacks, he doesn’t feel any such thing.

He reaches the stables and it breaks up his thoughts. “Messere Maretus.” The horsemaster’s voice rang out from the dim of the back of the stables. “Your mare and Messere Vanora’s Titus?”

Someone else other than Vanora knowing him so well, however, irks him for some reason. Maretus tamps the annoyance down and nods instead. “Taking advantage of the pleasant day for once.”

“Good, good,” the horsemaster said, vanishing to draw out Maretus’ favored chestnut from her stall. “Everyone needs a break when the weather behaves.”

The two work in tandem in saddling the horses, though Maretus is not quite as deft as the horsemaster, and once the tack is all in place he nods a farewell and leads the two mounts to the edge of the stables, taking the extra time while he waits for Vanora to speak softly to the mare and run his hand along her neck.

It is a lucky thing that the woman was working in the kitchens when Vanora entered, servants circumventing her as they went about their business. The woman smiles brightly when Vanora approaches, thanking her yet again for all she had done. Assuring her that it was her job and she needed no thanks, Vanora asks if there is any food laying about that she might take along on a picnic. What she ends up is more than she had bargained for.

Instead of leaving with some simple things--bread, cheese and meat, maybe even some dried fruit if she was lucky--she heads out to the courtyard with two packs for her horse filled with goods. Sure enough there was bread, cheese and dried meats, but the cook had provided her with fresh fruit, something she hadn't had in a long while, some sandwiches, a bit of chocolate wrapped up, and made sure that the bread she gave Vanora was nearly right out of the oven. On her way out, Vanora made sure to grab something for the horses as well.

Arms full, she is pleased to see that Maretus is ready with both the horses, petting the mare he always rode while Titus gazed around. He nickers the moment he sees her, bringing a smile to her face, "Hello my beautiful boy."

He immediately starts nosing at the packs in her hands and she has to elbow him to get his muzzle away, "Tsk, not for you. Your treats are for later."

"The cook was...quite happy to provide lunch. I think it may be more than both of us can eat. We may need to skip dinner with so much."

He turns when he hears Vanora's voice again, a smile still on his face from tending his mare, and eyes her bag as Titus noses it. "Fresh fruits?" he guesses, the amber of his eyes brightening at her confirming smirk. It'd been a while since he had fresh fruit, and the prospect of it made this idea all the more appealing to him.

"Well, perhaps we can spread it out over two meals, then. Have some lunch in a spot, and the rest when we return? Perhaps the tavern will have emptied out a bit and we can snag a drink at the same time." He goes over to take the laden packs from her and affixes them with ease to both Titus' saddle and his own mare's, dividing the food between the two of them.

Once he's satisfied the packs are secure, he goes back and hauls himself into the saddle, looking over at her as she does the same. "Do you have a spot in mind? I'm happy to follow your lead.”

"I think that it's certainly worth a shot. If nothing else there's always the main hall. Though I would much prefer our usual table."

Our table. It doesn't phase her until she's said it already, realizing that it sounds a little ridiculous...and also a little nice. It was their table, for all intents and purposes. They'd certainly been sitting there long enough that it was always empty when they went for dinner. Pressing a kiss to Titus' muzzle, she rubs her hand down his neck, combing her fingers absently through his long black mane.

When the packs are set in place she swings herself up on to the massive horse, patting his shoulders as she glances over to her companion. There were a few spots that weren't too far from Skyhold that would do, but with the sun high in the sky the clearing in the small wooded area nearby that seems best. The clearing is wide enough for the horses to graze and for the two of them to eat, the ground flat enough to hold their food without tipping over.

"I have just the place for our picnic," she says. Shooting Maretus one final look, a smirk tugging at the side of her mouth, she clicks at Titus, "Do try and keep up."

Titus, who has been cooped up too long for his liking, takes off the moment she finishes speaking. Her laugh is drowned out by Titus, galloping down the road that would lead down to the wooded area.

His face softens a bit at her mention of their usual dining spot, but she doesn't give him time to linger before she's shooting him a look that makes his pulse quicken and spurring her horse into an immediate gallop through the courtyard to a smaller side exit out of the fortress, leaving him behind to muster his mare into action. Maretus lets out a sharp, laughing shout as his mare lurches beneath him, following Titus' dark flank out to the road.

They ride the horses swiftly, the road more than wide enough for them not to have to worry about footing, and so let their mounts have their heads to go as fast as they wanted. Of course, even if he pushed his mare harder, he knew Vanora would win on Titus--not only does she know where she's leading them, but he's of a much better breed than the mare. Still, in the pleasant warmth of the day and with the green of the forest now around them, it's good to let both horses stretch their legs and let loose.

It'll be good for them to let loose a bit, too--the last time he was outside Skyhold with Vanora it was to travel down the mountain for herbs, which nearly got them both killed.

He shook his head a bit to clear those thoughts. He'd seen red when he came back to the old man's herb hut to find her being manhandled by bandits, and he's been intentionally neglecting to unpack exactly what that means to him. Now is not the time to start, with her laughter reaching him from ahead.

The horses are both panting and tossing their heads when they reach the spot Vanora lead them to and slow to a stop. Maretus sends her a grin, the delight in having fun with no obligations or weights hanging around them slipping in through his chest and warming his demeanor along with the heat of the sun.

"You win," he says, albeit unnecessarily, as it's glaringly obvious by his several-seconds-behind arrival after her.

It's been months since Vanora has been able to ride so freely, giving Titus little to no instruction and letting him run as fast as he wants. The trip down the mountain had been much too precarious to allow him such freedom. She enjoys it, the adrenaline rush as he bolts forward, air rushing against her face as she bows her head to lean forward, keeping her face close to his neck, her hands loose on the slack reigns.

Maretus' mare's hooves thunder along, not too far behind, and clearly doing her best to keep up. It's good for both of them, and good for the humans as well. They've both been cooped up, stuck with work and kept inside with the cold weather. As Titus picks up even more speed, his hooves and the air rushing by drowning out all other noise, Vanora dispenses with the reigns entirely, knotting her hands in his mane and laughing, feeling more carefree than she has in years.

They make quick time with the horses galloping so quickly, burning off all their pent up energy, but Vanora arrives a few seconds before Maretus does. Turning Titus around so she can see him, she smiles, "Yes, I believe I do. It's alright. Titus does have a bit of an advantage," she reminds him, patting her horse's shoulder affectionately.

Her cheeks are flushed from the run, more hair than usual escaping from her braid to get in her eyes, and she brushes them away to clear her vision. Dismounting at her chosen spot, she tosses the reigns over Titus and pats his flanks. Reaching into one of the packs she pulls out two apples, immediately garnering Titus' attention. This time she doesn't stop him, holding out the fruit for him to eat.

"Maretus, catch," she says, tossing the apple over to him so his mare could have a treat as well. When the pack with food is removed she lets Titus wander off to graze.

"I brought a blanket for the ground as well, just in case it was a little damp."

Maretus catches the apple she tosses to him, his mare's ears flicking back with interest. Dismounting as well, he tugs at her reigns and leads her over to join Vanora and Titus. Once they were all in a group, he lets the mare lip the apple out of his hand to eat. HIs eyes crinkle at the corners a bit with fondness at his horse, thumping her barrel chest. When he turns back to Vanora, talking about the blanket she brought for them, his heart feels like it's snagged on a patch of brambles the way it tightens in his chest at the sight of her. She's usually so methodical in her work that he's not sure he's ever seen her truly flush--perhaps when they were fleeing the wildcats, but that was dark and he was far too concerned with other things to notice. But now, in their free time--

"A bonafide picnic, then," he hears himself saying over the thudding of his heart in his ears. It's not like he's never seen such a thing before, why should it affect him so? Perhaps it's merely the warm air getting to him after being cooped up for so long, or perhaps it really has been too long since he took a full day off.

To busy himself and distract his mind (which he doesn't really succeed at), he turns his attention back to the saddle bags Vanora brought from the kitchen and unstrapped them from his mare first, slinging it over one shoulder, before doing the same with the one on Titus and taking them over to her, taking the time to steady his breath as he did so.

"Did your cook friend happen to pack a bottle of wine as well?" he asks, setting the packs down on the ground nearby where she is setting up the blanket. He crouches next to them, pausing before opening one to rake his hair back from his face, the curls of it disheveled from their impromptu race.

Shaking out the heavy wool blanket, Vanora leans down to smooth it out. It is indeed a bonafide picnic, and she wonders if she's actually ever been on a bonafide picnic. Maybe when she was very young and they were at the beach, but never a picnic like this. She likes the spontaneity of it and the well deserved time to simply sit and enjoy life. Who better to enjoy it with than Maretus?

She begins to unpack the saddle bag nearest to her when Maretus brings them over. When Maretus asks about wine she looks up, making eye contact with him for the first time since they'd left Skyhold. His hair has fallen into his face and she catches him just in time to watch him smooth it back--the curls evident until they're combed away from his face again. It brings a smile unconsciously to her face, the entire picture somehow rather boyishly charming when combined with the casual clothing. Rummaging through her bag, she shakes her head.

"Not in this one, I think the bottle is in yours."

As he checks for the wine Vanora unpacks the food from the bag in front of her, laying out the sandwiches. She finds the package of sweets--pieces of loose chocolate and a few sweet breads intermixed with dried fruits.

When all is set out she shifts to sit on the blanket next to Maretus, smoothing her dress out absently as she leans back, propping herself up with her arms and looks up to the sky.

"It really is a lovely day. Some time away from work, fresh air, good food, and excellent company."

Glancing off to the side at Maretus, she smiles faintly, "And don't bother denying the compliment."

"Hmph," he says gruffly, in a tone obviously put on. "I was about to say the same of my company."

It really is picturesque--the sunlight dapples down through the trees in the clearing Vanora's chosen for their picnic, keeping them warm enough beneath the pools of light. He fishes out a bottle of wine from the pack that his mare had carried, running fingers over the label--it was a sweetened red wine, something that sat in the middle between dry and overly sugary to suit them both. Privately, he wonders how well the cook knows Vanora, but shrugs off the thought almost as soon as he has it.

Maretus passes it over to her as she unpacks part of the food that was prepared for them--and she was right, it really is an array--and then gets to his feet again to hobble the horses. They're both trained well, he knows, and so doesn't particularly do more than a half-hearted job, just enough to let them feel the weight of a tether and discourage any inclination of running off they might have, and even then it's more for the chestnut than Vanora's Titus.

When he returns he sees she's laid out some sandwiches and a wrapped bag of sweet things--the cook does seem to know her well, he decides--and after he sits, legs stretched out before him and resting back on his hands, she settles next to him, the skirt of her dress half-fanned out around her legs. Casting her a glance as she peers up at the sky poking through the canopy above them, his eyes linger on the lines of her neck and collarbone a breath longer than he intends, and he forces them back up to her face again.

"Almost feels like something should come bursting through the trees to drag one of us back to the tower or training," he jokes, shoulders shifting a bit and moving the broad lapels of his overtunic.

Vanora feels as though she could take a nap after this little picnic lunch of theirs. Perhaps Maretus would indulge her, he could likely use the rest. But his little joke suggests that he might not be so amenable. Technically he's right. They've never had much luck with travel outside of Skyhold, and one never knew what was lurking around. But it seems so pleasant that, just for now, she's content to pretend that there's no immediate risk to them.

"Don't jinx it, Maretus," she chides, straightening up to move the sandwiches towards him after she picks one up, "Let's just enjoy the weather and try not to talk about work, hm?"

She takes a bite of the sandwich, rather impressed at how quickly the cook had packed the quality lunch.  Glancing over to the empty pack beside her she frowns, "I think she forgot to pack any sort of mug. Straight from the bottle then, very classy."

Maretus gives her a shy smile at her admonishing. "You're right," he agrees. "It was a poor joke; I'm afraid that's the best I can do."

He takes the sandwich from her and bites into it, appreciating the freshly sliced meat and sharp cheese within. "Your cook friend must like you," he says after another bite, "to pack such a feast on short notice."

Another few bites finishes off his sandwich quickly--he must have been hungrier than he realized--and was suddenly all the more appreicative of the larger lunch packed. Reaching for the wine as she notes the lack of glasses, he shrugs and takes out a knife to wedge out the cork. "We're all about class here. Can't you tell by the fancy settings?" Amusement brightens his eyes as the cork pops out of the bottle neck, as if punctuating his declaration. The horses snort softly off to the side at the sudden noise, but neither truly startle.

Offering the bottle back to her, one of his eyebrows arches lazily higher than the other. "Honor of the first sip goes to you."

"Well, I did save her life I suppose. Not the way I prefer to make friends," she says, shooting him a pointed look, "but she must like me enough for it. At least enough to provide so much on such short notice."

The comment catches Vanora off guard, and immediately she laughs. Humor from Maretus, as rare as it is, never ceases to surprise her. It always seems to come from nowhere, and disappear as fast as it appeared. His eyes sparkle in the sunlight, the amber in them standing out more than ever. She likes this, the easiness of it all, the happy look on his face and the gleam in his eyes.

"The class of this meal would put an Orlesian banquet to shame, certainly."

Reaching over she takes the bottle he offers with a nod, holding it up to mimic a cheer, "To an unusual burst of spontaneity and all its benefits."

When she's taken a sip, pleased to find that the wine is sweeter than what is usually offered with meals, she hands it back to Maretus so that she can finish her sandwich. She's so used to working that it is easy to forget to eat and then not realize how hungry she is until food is before her, and by the speed with which Maretus has eaten his sandwich, it appears that she is not the only one.

"Not the most ideal of situations, I suppose," he concedes, taking her pointed look with casual aplomb, "but everyone gets to reap the benefits of it in the end. We keep on living, and you get special access to picnic goods." Though the words themselves were neutral, one who knows Maretus well can tell that he's teasing her still. Her laughter ensures the smile remains on his face, trickling warmth down into his chest.

It's a pleasant day, and he has pleasant company with no one else to interrupt and bother them for once, and so he feels comfortable with allowing his good mood come through perhaps more than he would were anyone else around. It's days like these that makes him miss Tevinter, with its vast plains in the southeast were his Legion was and the warm weather there and of his birthplace near Marothius. With her penchant for frozen fingers and dislike of the cold, Maretus wonders idly if Vanora isn't from further north, as well--perhaps the Free Marches, though she lacks any of the accent from there that he's familiar with. If he's being honest with himself, he's perfectly all right not knowing--he enjoys her company regardless of whatever the answer may be.

Taking the wine from her and feeling pleased in her delighted look though he played no hand in the picking out or procuring of the wine at all, Maretus raises it a bit in honor of her toast. "To spontaneity," he adds, thinking suddenly how amusing Otho would find that particular toast coming from him, but then shakes off the memory of his old friend and takes a healthy swig of the wine himself. It's sweet, but not overly sugary like he found most southern wines, and he gives a bit of an appreciative hum, even if it is somewhat toneless.

"Not bad," he approves of it, wedging the cork back in enough to stopper it and nestling it mostly upright against a pack within reach of both of them. Still hungry, he leans in her direction a bit, eyeing the food she has spread out. "Any more of those sandwiches, or shall I move on to the next course?"

The smile on Maretus' face doesn't fade, lingering on his lips longer than she's ever seen. He really ought to smile more, it lights up his whole face and makes him look altogether more approachable. Not that it matters much to her--he's as approachable as anyone else. Moreso now that they know one another better.

It's a powerful thing to have someone's life in your hands, to hold sway over whether they live or die. Were she at home it would be an angle she would lever, but here there's absolutely no reason to. They were just innocent, simple people, and she was just an average healer there to help them along. This was the only 'favor' she's ever called in, it isn't much of a favor.

Maretus leans over, eyeing the food, and Vanora stifles a laugh at his curious gaze. He looks a bit like a little boy as he asks about the sandwiches. Vanora leans over, pushing some bread out of the way to reveal the rest of the sandwiches, neatly stacked together.

"Help yourself. As you said, there's enough here for two whole meals. I'll be sure to let the cook know how wonderful the picnic food is."

Taking another bite of her sandwich, she chews and swallows before speaking up again, "I don't remember the last time I sat down in the sun just to enjoy it. A sure sign of a workaholic, right?"

He plucks another sandwich from the stack. “Perhaps the cook thought we’d have more people, or be spending more time away,” he suggested, even though he didn’t sound as if he really believed that. Even so, he tucks into the second sandwich, leaning back once more as he does so and looks up at the sky through the trees as she had done earlier.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever done that in my life,” he agrees, head leaning back to his shoulders and enjoying the warmth of the sun. “Been out in it plenty, but there always was something to be done.”

He gives her a rolling sort of look, amusement still lingering—it seemed to just not go away today, as if he were some sort of creature that came to life when put under the hot sunlight to bask. “Definitely a sure sign of a workaholic,” he echoes her. “I would know.”

Vanora highly doubts that anyone expected her to have more than one person as company. Particularly after the soldier had immediately directed her, unprompted, to the Herald's Rest to find Maretus. Apparently is was quite clear to all of Skyhold that the only person she spent her free time with was Maretus. It might have bothered her at home to have someone know that much about her personal time, but it didn't matter here. So they had dinner every night together, plenty of other people did that she reasons.

Laughing quietly she nods in agreement, "Yes, the both of us do have a tendency to get absorbed in our work. A bit singular minded in it."

That could be another reason they got along so well, a mutual understanding that work comes first. Vanora finishes off her own sandwich, glancing over at the spread of food. Practicality says that she ought to have another sandwich or some of the meats, but she feels as though this is the perfect opportunity to be indulgent and so reaches instead for one of the small pieces of chocolate. Popping it into her mouth she hums with contentment, it might not be the finest Orlesian chocolate, but it was chocolate. Period. It's been ages since she had some last.

"Does your sweet tooth stop at fruits, Maretus? Maybe something with honey on it?"

With a shrug, he takes the last bite of his second sandwich and finishes it off. “Not a bad thing, if you ask me—though, as just stated, I might not be the best point of reference for the answer of ‘is there such a thing as working too hard’.”

He watches her sift through the little satchel she laid out with the rest of the food and lift up a chocolate out of it. “Mm. Honey is all right, provided whatever it’s on isn’t drowning in it. Why? What other surprises did this cook pack for you?”

He gives her a bit of a sly look, one eyebrow lifting at her. “I’m beginning to think this friend likes you a bit more than strictly usual,” he teases, though keeps his tone serious enough that it could be thought he meant it.

He's right, of course. Neither of them is the poster child for a healthy work/life balance.  But they're trying to now. Rather unheard of for either of them to take the day off just to enjoy the weather. Letting the chocolate melt in her mouth, she cannot help but imagine how the scene might be different were they in Tevinter. He would have access to all the spices his heart desired, any food he wanted, and free reign over the lush gardens or the beaches of the seaside estate. It makes her chest ache, knowing that such possibilities were out of reach. If he knew who she was, what she was, she doubts he would be so inclined to spend any more time around her.

Even in Tevinter the Magisters were hated by the common folk, the altus begrudged by all. And who could blame them? The world was unfair, but it seems even more so back home. Vanora shakes herself out of the woesome trail of thought as Maretus replies to her query. It seems fitting, somehow, that he has more interest in simplistic sweets, nothing too over the top. She can't imagine him delighting in the array of chocolates and pastries in an Orlesian shop, though it might be rather amusing to see.

"Careful, Maretus. You almost sound jealous," she chimes, shooting him a sidelong glance as her lips draw up into a smirk. He isn't serious, of course, she can tell by the tone of voice, though to anyone else it might seem serious. Vanora highly doubts that Maretus has any sort of thoughts that might make him jealous of anyone interested in her. The thought makes her feel odd, not quite sad, but something akin to it, and she quickly pushes it away. Now is the time for enjoying good company, food and weather, not getting lost in her own thoughts.

Just as she knows he’s teasing, so he knows she is as well, but the word still plucks a chord in him that he hadn’t anticipated. But no—he’s not jealous, not really. For a moment, he allows his thoughts to wander down a short path where Vanora spent her time laughing and smirking at someone else, sharing her delight in chocolates with them, having them warm her hands when they got cold. It twists in his stomach—no, not jealousy, that couldn’t be it. He’s experienced jealousy before—back in the Legion there were plenty of things that others had that he wanted, that he eventually got his own of as he made his way up in the ranks before he left.

But Vanora, she’s not a thing to be jealous over, to want only for himself and no one else. But he is content spending his free time with her and likes that she seems to share the sentiment. Still, he knows she’s not beholden to share anything with him, and he tries not to expect it, but he cannot deny when they miss a dinner or lunch together it affects him. It’s strange to think about, enjoying her company as he does, even wanting to share any free time he might have in her presence, but that someone might also wish to do that with her. Maretus cannot say how he would react or feel if he offered some time to her and she turned it down, but it cinches oddly within his gut to even consider.

He mentally shakes himself free of such contemplating for the moment, reminding himself they were here to enjoy the warmth and the sun and the good food packed for Vanora. “Well, seeing as how you’re sharing the bounty with me, I can hardly be jealous of that.”

"A lucky thing I found you so quickly, else we might be enjoying the weather alone and very much without a picnic. You can thank one of your soldiers for that. Apparently, when I wander near the barracks people assume I'm looking for you. I didn't even ask, he just pointed me in the right direction and went about his life. Quite amusing."

Amusing, and somewhat unsettling. She has to remind herself that there's no real danger in the obvious relationship, whatever that happens to be. Nobody knows who she is, and it isn't as though they've made any effort to conceal their time together. What was worth hiding? Dinner together every night was nothing new, plenty of people did it.

"You see that little wrapped package?" she questions, pointing to it, "it's a dessert that you might find acceptable. For when you're ready. Flaky pastry, nuts, honey. Simple and sweet, not not too sweet. You're sweet enough on your own." She smirks, teasing him once more. Vanora doesn't think anyone would accuse Maretus of being sweet.

His eyebrows go up. "One of my soldiers...?" It feels like it's been a lifetime since someone referred to a group as his soldiers; it seems no matter how far he runs from his past, he always ends up training people, commanding people in some capacity. It's a thought to ponder, but he's not quite sure what exactly it says about him. Nor what it says that any who'd been training under him would so readily assume Vanora was looking for him if she happened to be near the barracks and direct her to his location. Maretus... isn't quite sure how he feels about that, feeling a swift rise of conflicting emotions within himself about it.

That she found it amusing helps him quell whatever questioning might have arisen in his mind about it, and her change of subject was immediately a welcome one.

"Oh?" He tilts his head a bit to look down at the package she pointed at. "Sounds almost familiar--I think I've had something like that before, and enjoyed it. I seem to recall liking it with figs." Casting a glance back at her finishing comment, he raises an eyebrow, the corner of his mouth tugging upward. "You must be in the minority if you think that," he tells her. "I'd bet you that if you'd go back and ask that soldier who told you where I was if he thought that he'd look at you as if you'd grown another head."

With the addition of such a dessert as one she thought he'd enjoy--and by the sounds of it, he would--he finds himself wondering if she hadn't played some hand in preparing the meal. Her cook friend surely couldn't have known; even if Vanora said she was picnicking with him, he'd never requested or indulged in desserts since coming to Skyhold, and as such his tastes wouldn't be known to any of the cooks. The idea that she'd picked out something to suit him on this impromptu outing and meal is... sweet. Just as she teased him about being, she went and did something as such herself. He doesn't tease her back with that, though, instead tucking it away in a private corner of his mind.

Vanora smiles, imagining the shock on the soldier's face if she did go back and ask him. Though she happens to know Maretus is softer than he looks, she doubts that anyone working under him would accuse him of being sweet. The soldier might even laugh at the idea. Still, Vanora does like knowing that he's not entirely as he appears. It feels a bit like a secret that only she knows.

"That may be, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I might know you a little better than he does."

Popping another piece of chocolate in her mouth, Vanora leans back on her forearms, tipping her face up towards the sun and closing her eyes. The sun feels good on her skin, but it's a far cry from the heat of Tevinter. A sudden longing for home hits her, images of her home flashing through her head--the gardens, the library, the coast at the beach estate.

"I wish it was like this more often."

She doesn't elaborate on what 'this' means. The weather, the relaxation, Maretus, all of it. After everything that's happened and everything left to do in the near future, it's good to have a day to sit and enjoy eachother's company without work looming overhead. A rare thing indeed to find both of them with nothing to do. A veritable mental health day for the people who worked nonstop.

She does know him better than, well... most everyone, he realizes, and wonders just when that had happened. Was that something that came hand in hand with eating dinner together regularly, or was it merely that she is more astute than everyone else? Maretus casts her a surreptitious glance, watching her face tilt back in the sunlight as she enjoyed another chocolate piece. The sunlight makes her hair look like sleek wood, braided around itself, and lightens her features beneath its warmth.

His mouth goes dry at the sight, and all at once he can feel his heart beat just below his jaw. It's a moment of vulnerability that she's sharing with him, showing him, and it's humbling. That she trusts him enough to be so relaxed spreads a warmth through him, and it makes him relax as well. They sit in the quiet for a while, enjoying the faint sounds of the woods around them and the warmth of sunlight and one another's company. The soft murmur of her voice breaks it after a few minutes.

"It's surprising the day's warm as it is," he adds. "It's... rather nice. The heat is something I miss." He takes a page from Vanora's book and leans back as well, resting on his hands and tilting his face back in the sunlight. He doesn't have to say more about where he once was that was hotter--there can be no denying where he came from, not with his darker skin and amber eyes.