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There was something about whispering Orlesians that made Cullen’s skin crawl. At any time of day, the people in court would be passing glances at him and then whispering.

While looking at him.

They weren’t very good at being subtle. And perhaps they didn’t want to be.

He could guess a few things about what they were saying: something about his ridiculous sense of fashion, something objectifying him, or something about wanting to set a relative up with him.

He realized soon that if he looked busy, none of them would really approach him. And yes, perhaps he could manage it. If he ignored them, they’re as good as non-existent.

But then, Imryll happened.

Despite being the Inquisitor’s cousin, she was plenty unpopular. He knew his troops did not think of her too fondly, but whatever they thought was ten times worse with the Orlesians.

They respect Tala because they had to, being friendly with the Inquisitor did wonders for their social status.

But the Inquisitor’s cousin? She was open game.

Imryll had not been the most savory person in the beginning, but her being an elf, a mage, and one from Seheron at that made her a glaring red target for Orlesians.

Cullen wished they’d return to talking about his arse rather than having to hear them talk about Imryll’s strange eyes and swarthy skin. It made him sick.

Oh if he could, he’d kiss Imryll sweetly in front of their judgmental eyes and watch them choke.

But he knew Imryll would never be comfortable with that.

Cullen often passed time in the garden. The air there felt clearer because of the trees and plants, plus if he could find a good corner, it’s away from the nosy Orlesians scattered around the garden. And of course Imryll frequents there.

Cassandra had forced him to take a break one afternoon. He found a quiet spot in the garden and began to read, when he heard soft footsteps to his side. It was Imryll, tending to the herb garden. She caught his eyes and smiled at him, waving.

Cullen felt his cheeks blush as Imryll giggled.

But it wasn’t long until the whispering began. It was the usual suspects, a pair of gossipers whose tongues never seemed to get tired from moving.

“Out of all the women here? He picks her.”

“Tell me about it. When there are fairer ladies in court. Not some dirty, slant-eyed rabbit.”

Cullen watched as Imryll’s face fell. She dropped her basket and walked back inside slowly.

He felt his blood boil.

Cullen calmly approached the pair and cleared his throat.

“Madam. Sir,” he attempted calmly, “Harsh words against the Inquisitor or anyone of her kin is unwelcome here. I shall have to report this to Sister Nightingale.”

The pair’s eyes widened, and before they could protest, Cullen took off, trying to find which direction Imryll had walked to.

He finally found her, somewhere in the outside corridors, sniffling.

“Imryll,” he called out.

“I’m fine,” she lied, biting at her nails.

Cullen walked towards her and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

“I told them to sod off,” he said. She chuckled lightly as a smile crept in her lips.

“You are the most beautiful,” he continued. She looked up at him, eyes wide as he stroke her cheek.

He looked around for a moment, making sure there wasn’t anyone to make Imryll feel uncomfortable.

Then he leaned in and kissed her. He felt her melt against him.

She was so soft.

“What they don’t see in you is their loss.”

They kissed again, hidden in the corner, but not a secret.