Even the strongest of warriors, Cassandra suspects, would tremble at the thought of being sized up by Ambassador Montilyet, Sister Nightingale and Madame de Fer.
In the war room, to which Cassandra is summoned like a lamb to the slaughter, she is not so much asked as commandeered to place herself in the middle of yet another scheme to assassinate the Empress of Orlais. With the Inquisitor inconveniently away from Skyhold, someone else with the necessary skills is required — those necessary skills being, as far as Cassandra understands it, the ability to carry a very big sword and a willingness to stand in the line of sharp objects.
As is so often the case, the decision was made before Cassandra arrived in the war room, through some sort of majority vote between Vivienne (who brought the matter to the others' attention), Leliana (the resident expert on assassinations), and Josephine (the one who is actually in charge). Cullen apparently abstained from voting ("Is this really a good—" "Hush, Commander. Drink your tea, and don't forget Josie's biscuits.")
"Since our involvement at the Winter Palace," Vivienne says, "an affaire de coeur with another lady of the Court has become quite the fashion statement. No reason, I'm sure."
"That," Cassandra says, "seems somewhat offensive."
"It's Orlais, dear." Vivienne raises an elegant eyebrow and takes a sip of her tea. "If the ruling fashion does not insult a more or less significant amount of people, something is quite amiss."
Cassandra huffs in annoyance. Every time she manages to sever ties with Orlais, something happens to throw her back into the nest of vipers. "Tell me what needs doing so I can get this over with."
"Have a biscuit, Cassandra," Leliana says, smile suspiciously blithe. "You like chocolate, yes?"
As if planned ahead of time, Josephine waits until Cassandra takes a bite of the admittedly delicious biscuit to announce, "There's a ball. No men allowed, of course, which means the dining will be excellent. You'll need to attend, with a — companion, and make sure the Empress makes it through the night."
Leliana clasps her hands behind her back, the corners of her mouth twitching ever so slightly. "Dancing is not technically mandatory, but strongly encouraged."
"Ugh." Cassandra crosses her arms. "Surely there must be someone more suited for this than me?"
Giving her an encouraging smile, Josephine holds out the plate of biscuits for Cassandra to take another. "You are very good with a sword," she says. "And you may not be aware of this, but you have a certain — rustic charm."
Cassandra narrows her eyes. "What does that mean?"
"It means," Vivienne says, "that we're going to dress you up in silverite and samite, which will strike the perfect stern impression, and also bring out the color of your eyes."
"And which one of you will be accompanying me?"
"Apparently not me, which is the only blessing here," Cullen mutters and drinks his tea.
"Quite booked that day, unfortunately," Josephine says quickly.
"My connection to the Hero of Fereldan is rather public," Leliana says with a shrug.
Vivienne gives her a rather pointed glance, from her boots to the top of her head. "No, dear."
In his book, Varric described the Champion of Kirkwall as the sort of upstanding romantic hero who won the hearts of allies and enemies alike. Gentle, diplomatic even, and someone who did not let her temper dictate her choices, but rather solved any problem that arose with a cool head and a quiet calm.
The book left an impression on Cassandra — (perhaps some people who enjoy the company of ravens might call it an 'obsession') — but it was rather obvious from only moments in Hawke's company that Varric's description of her had very little to do with the real woman. Obviously her abysmal sense of humor could not — nor should it — be included in any kind of literature enjoyed in polite company.
"Well," Varric said once, when they returned from Adamant, "maybe I fuddled the facts a bit, but would you believe someone like her did all those things? She's told that same ‘knock-knock’ joke four times since yesterday."
"Also," Vivienne added, "she seems to be wearing most of her dinner."
"Nice arms, though," Sera piped in, an eyebrow raised in Hawke's direction. "Woof."
Cassandra could not deny any of those statements.
"Is that your sword," Hawke says when they convene at the ball, "or are you just happy to see me?"
Cassandra glances at the very obvious scabbard fastened to her hip. "It is my sword. I did not think that was in doubt."
Hawke squints at her, and makes a face that probably aims for stern but comes out closer to ridiculous. "If you think your obvious lack of humor is going to deter me," she says, "you've never met a Hawke. We're persistent."
"Why are weapons allowed so close to the Empress?" Cassandra wonders, choosing to ignore Hawke's insinuations regarding her perfectly functional sense of humor.
"Isn't it obvious? The Empress finds the sight of a good sword strapped to a handsome woman appealing. Don't you?"
Hawke's sword, unlike Cassandra's, is secured in a harness on her back. The size of it is rather exaggerated, but as has been pointed out to her (repeatedly), Hawke is in possession of some rather impressive arms, strong enough to wield a sword of that size without trouble.
Reaching for a nearby plate of miniature food, Hawke picks her hands full and promptly drops one of the stickier ones on the front of the silk shirt personally chosen by Josephine and Vivienne.
"Strategic vulnerabilities," Cassandra says with a frown, "are not appealing to me."
"Of course." Hawke shoots her a sideways glance. "Nothing more attractive than a perfectly impenetrable fortress."
"Is there something in your eye?"
"Apparently not." Hawke sighs, putting an impressive amount of bite-sized food items in her mouth at the same time. "You're lovely, did anyone ever tell you that?"
"They're all idiots."
Cassandra shifts, taken back by the sudden flattery. Leaning closer, she lowers her voice somewhat. "Do you not think that this — affair — is loathsome? Matters of the heart ought be private, not brandished as an accessory."
Hawke shrugs, shoulder brushing against Cassandra's. "People are jerks, whatchagonnado?"
It is clearly a hypothetical question, as Hawke answers it herself with her next breath: "Embrace it, that's what! The tiny food is great. Let's put on a real show for these well-dressed idiots. We must dance, of course. Oh, but should I lead, or you? So many choices!"
Cassandra straightens, giving Hawke a hard glare. "We will abstain from dancing."
"I'm only going to agree because I don't technically know how to dance. What can I say, I was raised in a barn. Have you ever heard of a delightful little stink mire called Lothering?"
"I was raised in a mausoleum," Cassandra says. "I would have preferred a barn, and a stink mire."
Crossings her arms loosely, Hawke leans her hip against a statue of Andraste, which wobbles precariously and would have toppled had Cassandra not quickly steadied it with a hand on Andraste's thigh.
"So," Hawke says, giving Cassandra's hand a rather pointed look, "what do you want me to call you?"
Cassandra blinks. "...by my name?"
"It's going to be a long night, sweet innocent love crumpet."
"Cuddle nug? Dream dumpling?"
"Do you take anything seriously?"
"Not if I can help it. I'm sorry, do you want me to stop?"
Hawke gives her a look that is painfully earnest, reminiscent of a hungry Mabari puppy left out in the rain. "We should keep our focus on the Empress," Cassandra says. Cringing, and most definitely against her better judgment, she adds in a quick mumble, "mon petit chou. Close your mouth."
"Did — did you just call me... cabbage?"
And then Cassandra is thankfully saved by the room erupting in chaos as the reason for their presence finally makes itself known.
She draws her sword at the same time as Hawke, and that's that. Perhaps the Champion that Varric described in his book was far from the real Hawke, but this aspect, he did get right. Unlike her lack of proficiency in regards to food and statues of Andraste, Hawke is a marvel with a sword.
Yet another plan to end Empress Celene foiled.
At this rate, Orlais ought to give the Inquisition a monthly stipend.
"There is only one bed," Cassandra notes when they enter the room at the inn where they are to spend the night.
"Maker no," Hawke says, with a smirk and a waggle of her eyebrows. "What does one do when such troublesome situations arise?"
"Yes, what?" Cassandra asks, crossing her arms.
Sitting down to bounce a few times on the bed, Hawke sighs. "I know, I know, you're going to offer to sleep on the floor like the big damn hero you are. And it's going to be chivalric and sweet, but let's be honest, neither of us is that young anymore and it's just going to give you a sore back."
"I am not prone to backaches," Cassandra says, "and sleeping on hard surfaces is good for your back, regardless."
"Of course it is. Are you literally made of stone?"
"Well, I promise this wasn't a clever plan to seduce you by getting us all up close and personal in our night clothes." She pauses, seemingly considering that. "I mean, it sounds exactly like something I'd do. I barely even believe myself, and to be completely honest I've always wanted to climb you like a tree. But I swear to the Maker I have no ulterior motives."
"Of course not," Cassandra says, and begins to unbuckle her clothes. "I was the one who arranged for the room."
"...right. Wait, what?"
(And that's that.)
"Wait," Cassandra says, interrupting Hawke's thorough investigation of her — shirt. "You should know, I might be chosen to be the next Divine."
"What?" Hawke looks up from Cassandra's chest, a bewildered look on her face. "Tonight?"
"In a few months. Possibly a year."
"Wow. That is so far into the future. I don't even know what I'm having for breakfast in the morning."
"If that happens, I will have to take a vow of chastity and devote my life to the Chantry."
"So what you're saying is that this might be the last time you get laid before turning to religion. Wow, it's like Sebastian all over again. I mean — nevermind. It wasn't my fault he decided to give up sex, I swear."
"Well. There might be some — wiggle room. Were I to be Divine."
Sitting up, Hawke removes her beautifully crafted, food-stained silk shirt, throwing it across the room. The room is suddenly filled with more naked breasts than Cassandra is generally accustomed to.
"You should know," Hawke says seriously, "I am exceedingly good at wiggling."
"Well done, Cassandra," Leliana says when she returns to Skyhold. "Though a little bird told me you did not dance. I'm certain you made sure to not enjoy yourself at all, as usual."
"Actually," Cassandra says, squinting towards the sun, "the dining was excellent."