“May we speak in private?” Cassandra asks. She has her hands behind her back, leaning forward slightly and is bouncing on her feet in a way Ellana only sees when she is nervous. And that is not often.
“Are we not now?” Ellana says looking around them. They are definitely alone, the Inquisitor doesn’t even spy any of Leliana’s scouts lurking in the shadows. Cassandra ignores her and heads out onto the furthermost battlements, waiting for the other woman to catch up with her.
“What’s going on Cassandra?” she asks.
“I need to tell you something, and it is not easy for me to say.”
Ellana waits, waits for her friend to find her words. They will come, they always do eventually, and she has learnt to give her the time she needs to speak.
“I have come to realise, that is, I have to tell you,” she sighs, groans and runs a hand over her face. Ellana reaches out and removes her hand, squeezing it gently.
“Just tell me, Cassandra.”
“I like you,” she blurts out. “As more than just a friend. I find I am attracted to you and I want...I do not know what I want.”
She feels it, deep in her gut, feels something strong and powerful when Cassandra speaks. Thinks about how beautiful the other woman is, how strong, how much she cares about her.
“I do..do not feel that way about women,” Ellana manages to say.
Cassandra physically jolts, her entire body shuddering to a stop and she almost stumbles backwards. Ellana reaches out to grab her but the Seeker recoils, hitting the wall behind her.
“Cassandra,” she starts.
“I understand,” Cassandra interrupts.
“I hope we can be friends,” Ellana continues but Cassandra’s already backing up the way they came, back away from the Inquisitor. She doesn’t say anything else, just leaves, and Ellana feels a little bereft if she’s honest with herself for a change. Alone on the battlements, the winds whips around her but she gives Cassandra time to flee before she leaves herself.
She goes up to her room, locking both doors behind her. It’s still early in the day, but she’s done playing Inquisitor for now, today has been taxing enough with Cassandra’s confession and Ellana’s rejection and just being physically exhausted as well as emotionally.
She lies down, staring at the canopy over her grand bed. It had been Leliana’s idea, the canopy over the bed, to make her feel more at home. As a Dalish she was used to the tents and aravels, the canopy gave the illusion of a tent roof and when she’s tired it helps.
She’s grateful to the spymaster for the idea, right not the ruffle of the material in the slight breeze from the ajar balcony door is soothing. She watches it move for a long time before she falls to sleep.
The only wakes when she hears banging on the door at the bottom of the stairs. She grunts and rolls out of bed, forgetting in her sleepy state that she’s even in a bed. She hits the floor with a thud and pulls herself to herself, rolling her shoulders and stretching her legs as she heads down the stairs.
Her advisors are standing there, Leliana holding her lock picks, Cullen holding his sword. Josephine is holding onto her necklace.
“Morning?” she tries, not entirely sure what time it is or what day it is.
“Good guess,” Cullen says, finally sheathing his sword. Leliana tucks away her lockpicks beneath her chainmail, Josephine keeps hold of her necklace though.
“We were worried Inquisitor,” Leliana says, “no one had seen you nor Cassandra since yesterday afternoon.”
“I’m fine, where’s Cassandra?”
The three advisors look at one another, Josephine clutching her necklace harder, knuckles paling from the strain. Leliana reaches out to pull her hand away, keeping a firm hold of it as she speaks.
“We had hoped she was with you, Inquisitor.”
“No, I haven’t seen her since-” she stops. “Has anyone seen her?”
“No,” Cullen says, “Sera saw the two of you head out onto to North battlements but no one saw either of you leave.”
“Lady Vivienne saw you head to your quarters so we knew you were up here,” Josephine says, “are you sure you’re quite well.”
“I was asleep.”
“For sixteen hours??” Cullen exclaims.
Ellana shrugs. She was exhausted, three dragons in a week, the biting cold of Emprise Du Lion, more red templars than she could count. She was surprised she managed to make it back to Skyhold at all.
“Maybe she’s just asleep too, our last mission was particularly rough. I’ve not seen Bull since we got back.”
“He and Dorian are holed up in his room,” Leliana says.
She blushes bright red, feels the heat on her cheek. She’s still getting used to the relationship between her two friends.
“Cassandra is missing Inquisitor,” Cullen says.
That she understands. That gets her attention and wakes her up and she starts, finally standing up straight. The blood rushes from her face too quickly and she sways. All three advisors reach out to her but she brushes them off.
“Still a little sleepy,” she mutters. “Have the fortress searched, every inch of it,” she orders. “Everyone needs to be looking for the seeker. Everyone.”
“There’s no need to panic,” Leliana says, even as Josephine starts to jot down some details. “Cassandra will return.”
Ellana isn’t so sure and doesn’t know how to tell them just yet that she’s likely broken the Seeker’s heart and sent her running to the hills never to return. It sounds dramatic but she knows Cassandra’s passions run deep.
“No, start searching now,” she repeats the order a little more forcefully now. “I’ll be in the war room in ten minutes, I want to know everything.”
“There really isn’t much more-” Josephine starts but Ellana ignores her, heading back up the stairs to her room. She hears her advisors grumbling as they head down the stairs, and she blocks them out by sticking her head into her closet for fresh clothes.
A quick wash and change of clothes later and she’s striding into the war room. Her advisors are there waiting for her, tense and anxious. Josephine’s knuckles are paling again as she grips her clipboard.
“What do we know?”
“Leliana’s scouts and my men are sweeping the fortress as we speak inquisitor,” Cullen says, “nothing as yet.”
“When was she last seen, tell me again?” Ellana snaps.
“Leaving your conversation on the battlements,” Leliana says, her hood is low but her eyes are piercing.
“If we could ascertain what was said between you both,” Josephine says, “as her last conversation with anyone it may give us a clue as to where Cassandra has gone.”
“It’s not relevant,” Ellana says, not looking at Leliana.
“I beg to differ, Inquisitor,” the spy says, “I believe it is very relevant.”
Ellana swallows hard, trying to look away from Leliana, but they are all staring at her, waiting for her to answer, even as she stares down at the war table. The map offers no answers, no solace, no escape.
“It may be relevant,” Ellana admits, “but I would rather not discuss it.”
She finally looks up.
They already know. She can tell by the pity on Cullen’s face, and the sadness on Josephine's and the anger, the deep anger hidden behind Leliana’s stoic expression.
“Yes, fine, it’s my fault okay?”
They didn’t answer at first and Ellana sighs.
“You broke her-” Leliana starts.
“I do not think we need to discuss this right now Leliana,” Josephine steps in. “Knowing is enough.”
Leliana’s facade breaks for a moment before she refocuses.
“She will have left the fortress,” she says, “and she will have taken her armour and sword.”
“Did she take anything else?”
“Cassandra has very few personal effects that she really cares about,” she continues, “they remain in her room above the smithy. I am confident she will return for them but not confident that she will stay.”
“She will stay,” Cullen says, “she is the Inquisition as much as anyone, and more dedicated than any of us.”
Ellana takes a deep breath, feels a little of the tension release. Cassandra will come back and stay and she can fix this.
She doesn’t know how to fix this.
She knows where she is though.
Ellana turns on her heal, getting to the door before she realises that she really should explain herself. For once at least and she turns back to the expectant and angry faces of her advisors.
“I know where she is,” she says quietly, “we spoke of it before, once or twice, I think she’s gone there.”
“Where?” Cullen asks. “I’ll send some soldiers.”
“I really should go myself,” she tells them.
“I agree,” Leliana says. “We will see you soon. I will send a raven to follow.”
She leaves then, hears Josephine and Cullen questioning Leliana for more information, their voices silenced by the closing of the heavy wooden door.
Ellana has never been to the grove but she knows where it is. She and Cassandra have spoken of it a few times, the Seeker found it by accident and spoke often of its beauty, it’s peace and quiet. There was always a hushed awe on the edge of her brash tone when she spoke of it. She had shown her on a map of the area where it was. Ellana knew where she was going. She just didn’t know what she was going to say or do when she got there.
The grove is exactly as Cassandra described it. Down the trees, the soft moss covering the clearing and little creek that runs around, the trickle of it reaching Ellana’s sharp hearing. Cassandra has a brazier set up, her sword, shield and pack sitting close by to her as she sits on a blanket and reads one of Varrics many novels.
She’s stunning in the sunlight, stripped of her armour, down to just her leathers. Ellana takes a deep breath.
“Are you planning to stay here long?” she finally says.
Cassandra does not react for a moment and does not look up from her book when she replies.
“No,” she says, “I will be home in a little while.”
It’s dismissive, Ellana knows it, but she doesn’t take the bait. She comes closer and Cassandra finally looks up. She isn’t sure what she expected, but her pale face and empty eyes were
not it. She expected anger, her usual fire and passion even in rejection, but there was nothing.
“Everyone is looking for you.”
“I wanted some time alone, is that not allowed?”
She looks away from Ellana again, down at her book, then at the brazier.
“No, of course, just people were worried. I was worried.”
She comes closer again, a few more steps into the clearing and the warmth of the brazier.
“I am fine.”
Ellana wants to laugh, harsh and ugly but instead keeps quiet. She doesn’t really know what to say and she comes and sits next Cassandra. The Seeker shifts away slightly but not far, and Ellana feels it, that movement is a physical hit and she has to take a deep breath to stop from crying out.
“Cassandra,” she starts but she doesn’t know what to say. “I didn’t mean to-”
To what, she thinks in a pause. Break your heart, turn you down, send you running to the hills.
“Shit, Cassandra I’m sorry.”
“There is nothing to apologise for Inquisitor,” she says. “I understand.”
They sit in silence for a little bit, Cassandra continues to read and Ellana watches her. She’s beautiful like this, quiet and concentrating, clearly enjoying her book even as she’s hurting like she is. Hurting because Ellana hurt her.
She looks away from Cassandra, who looks up from her book finally to look at her.
“You...panicked?” she says. “I do not understand.”
“My clan doesn’t really encourage relationships between two women or two men,” she manages to get out, still not looking directly at Cassandra while she speaks. “We need to produce children to continue our lineage, our clan, it’s much more important than love. I’d never even considered such a thing was possible until I came to Skyhold.”
She looks up then, meets Cassandra’s eyes and manages not to run.
“What are you saying Ellana?” she says.
“I’m not sure,” she replies, being honest for the first time in a long time she thinks. She lies back on the blanket and looks up at the sky.
“And what would you like me to say.”
“I appreciate your honesty,” Cassandra says, finally putting her book down. “But I do not think you realise how difficult my confession was yesterday. How difficult it was to tell you those things to tell that I, I have feelings for you.”
Ellana waits, waits for Cassandra to finish, to explain. She’s not sure she’s going to continue at first, but Cassandra shifts a little closer, moving around to face Ellana. She’s tempted to sit up but doesn’t want to disturb or interrupt Cassandra and her thought process.
“I have never,” she pauses, “had never been interested in another woman before I met you.”
Cassandra lies down next to her, on her back and the both turn their heads to look at one another.
“It took some time to realise what I was feeling. Longer to admit it to myself. And then you.”
Probably the entire time they’d known each other Ellana realises.
“I need some time too,” she says. “To figure this out.”
“I will not be your experiment,” Cassandra snaps out, looking back up at the sky.
“I would not do that to you,” Ellana says, “Whatever my...other feelings are I care about you. That will not change.”
“I appreciate that.”
They’re silent for a little while longer, looking up at the sky together. Ellana reaches out and takes Cassandra’s hand. She gives it a little squeeze, heartened when the Seeker returns the gesture and doesn’t let go after she does so.
“What now?” Cassandra asks.
“We go back home,” Ellana says, feeling the Seeker tense slightly. “But not just yet, we can lie here for a little while longer.”
“I’d like that.”