On the second floor of the tavern, in the darkest corner only brushed by candlelight, the Inquisitor sat alone nursing a jug of ale with a carefully raised hood. She sat solemn but content, at ease amongst the cheerful chatter of the patrons. The music drifted sweetly from the floor below, slightly muffled, soothing. She sat still, lost in a foggy state of mind, absently listening to glorified tales of adventure and tragedy, and for a while, was able to forget they were about her.
Humming along to the tunes she’d grown used to, she loosely gazed at her hands, at the dirt and blood she hadn’t yet cleaned. Gods, she was tired. Her body had been pushed hard against increasingly stronger enemies. Red Templars in particular, she’d noticed. She wondered if they were singling her out because she was the Inquisitor, or because she was a mage. Either way, her long expedition in Emprise du Lion had left her more bloodied by battle than she was used to.
But it was her mind that carried the exhaustion. It created a cloud over everything she saw, muddying her thoughts and making her distant. So much so, that she snuck back into Skyhold without a word, heading straight to the tavern with downcast eyes and a dark expression, just to sit and drink and listen to music and not be the Inquisitor for just a little while. It was nice.
After not long, she let her head rest against the cool wall next to her, and let her eyes fall shut, focusing on the music and the noise. Tired though she was, she did not fall asleep. She stayed awake and listened to some of her favourite songs, occasionally smirking at new ones about her companions, and grimacing at ones that brought back some sad memories. It was peaceful.
She was brought back to the immediate world around her only by the soft sound of the chair legs opposite her pulling across stone. She took a moment before slowly opening her eyes, not having the energy to deal with questions or requests or anything befitting an Inquisitor. When she finally did lift her gaze to her intruder, she found herself relieved by the soft face examining her.
“Cullen,” she breathed sleepily, a soft smile tugging at the edges of her downturned lips.
He was dressed in plainer clothes and his hair sat more unkempt than usual, which alone seemed to be enough of a disguise in the crowded inn. He went relatively unnoticed. He looked to be torn between a frown and a sympathetic expression as he brought his eyes back up to meet hers.
“Did you just get back?” He asked in a gently strained voice, as he pursed the corner of his mouth.
“Yes. I’d have come to see you but…” she trailed off, unsure of how to explain her unusual state of mind. “I don’t really know, to be honest.”
“You look worse than usual,” he commented starkly.
“You normally see me after I’ve cleaned up,” she smirked back.
“No. I’ve seen you walk through the gates before. Never like this.”
Her smirk fell, and with a slight nod she gave in. She had no energy to pretend. She looked back down at her half-drunk ale, and half-heartedly raised it for another taste. She pulled a face as she forced down a mouthful of her now flat drink. As she sat the mug back down on the table, his hand reached across to take hers. It was gentle and warm, and made her feel at ease.
“You were gone for a long time. How did it go?” He spoke softly, his thumb slowly stroking the back of her hand.
She didn’t answer at first, watching their hands, still trying to process herself everything she had went through. “We got a lot done. Closed some rifts, saved a town, captured a keep. Killed some Red Templars… so many Red Templars,” she sighed. “And a particularly nasty demon.” She grimaced at the thought of their fight with Imshael. “But we got a new agent out of it.” She looked up then, slightly more optimistic, until she saw his sad expression.
“I heard it was tough out there.”
“How did you-“
“Cassandra came to see me. She told me all about it. About the Templars, the demons, the giants.” He listed each of them off with a stroke on her hand, then gave a harsh scoff as his grip tightened.
She waited, letting the silence speak for them. She didn’t know how to respond. It was true but it had to be done. And now that it was over she just wanted to stop. Just for a while.
They sat in a quiet glum for a little while, his thumb slowly stroking her hand again. Her attention drifted back to the music below them, as another of her favourites began to play. Staring at their hands again, she muttered, “I used to do this all the time you know.”
He looked up at her then, confused by the sudden confession. He didn’t say anything, but waited for her to continue.
A nostalgic smile softened her eyes as she took in the song. “Back in my clan, I used to sneak out at night, to the nearest human tavern. To listen to the music.” He tilted his head slightly, watching her mind drift back. “This one was my favourite.”
She closed her eyes again, drifting off with the music. He smiled as he watched her sway softly to the tune, wondering if she was aware of doing that. He wondered about the life she had before all this. Before she was thrown into a world she didn’t know, forced to play their games, save their lives, and become their holy protector. Was she just a girl? Roaming the Free Marches with her people? Sneaking away on quiet nights to listen to music? He wondered about those close to her before, those she had to give up for the Inquisition. Her friends, her family… Did they worry about her? Did she worry about them?
He would make it a point to ask, someday. But right now, he was more than content to hold her hand as she sat and listened to her favourite song. And later, he would be happy to clean her up, tend to her wounds, and guard her from all responsibilities while she could finally rest.