Chapter 1: Maker be with you
Cullen ducked himself under a demon’s claw reaching for him and turned his head to correct the man shouting his old title, but he never came to say it when he saw the dark shadows surrounding him. He let out a quiet curse and turned back to the demon in front of him and let his sword sink deep into the creature’s green flesh. It cried in pain, thick dark blood pouring out of the wound as it fell to its knees and then to the ground. Cullen grabbed his sword again and didn’t bother to wait another second but ran to the soldier who had cried for help. Before any of the black monsters could react, he had rammed his weapon into the first one’s back and hit the next one in one flowing movement. One quick look to the soldier he had come to rescue, and Cullen wanted to curse again. Blood was dripping from the man’s leg and he could barely stand while at the same time three new demons had turned around and slowly moved towards them.
Maker’s breath, was this the way he was supposed to go? If not now, maybe in a few days? Cullen knew his soldiers couldn’t withstand these demons much longer. Most of them were former templars like himself and both well trained as used to fight abominations, demons or whatever magical monsters the world threw at them, but a hole in the sky? That was too much. Even for them.
“Hold them away from you, reinforcements should be on their way”, Cullen told the soldier and raised one leg to kick one of the shadows back before swinging his sword and hitting another. “We just need to survive long enough.”
The other three monsters had reached them now and one especially large terror drew back its arm after Cullen. He ducked himself under the hit and tried to wound the creature where he guessed must have been his belly, but the monster took one step aside and swung his other arm and hit Cullen instead. He stumbled a few steps back and tried to catch his breath while the demon followed him. Another one stretched his arms for him and still panting Cullen swung his sword vaguely in the creature’s direction. The terror took another step forward and Cullen could already see the monster raise its arm again to hit him again, but then out of nowhere an ice bolt whirred through the air and hit the Terror in the chest. It cried out in pain and in the next moment, it had turned into green dust.
Cullen turned his head and saw Cassandra, Varric and Solas running over the battlefield, but the bolt must have come from a slim woman behind them. She had still lowered her staff from her movement for the spell and straightened her back just now. It took Cullen a moment to realize that this was the prisoner that had stumbled out of the Fade after the explosion. The mage with the mark – Who had just saved him. Cullen nodded into her direction and turned back to the demons around him which now fell back a little seemingly unsure what to do. He used that and beheaded the first one while one of Varric’s bolts killed the next and more ice bolts rained down on the demons. Cassandra hadn’t even reached Cullen and the soldier yet when the last demon died with a shrill cry.
“The Rift!”, the prisoner shouted at Cassandra who nodded and ran to her. The mage stood under the glowing light out of which Cullen had seen demons pouring out for days and raised her left arm. A green line of light appeared between her hand and the rift and within seconds the light at first seemed to flicker before disappearing as a hole with one last blast.
Cullen blinked a few times. Had she just ... closed it? The Rift? Could she maybe even seal the whole Breach? He threw a quick look at the soldier behind him to make sure the man was alright for the moment and then walked to his saviors.
“I owe you my thanks”, he told them and nodded at the prisoner again. “You came just in the right moment and I really hope you can end this. Our forces can’t bear this fight any longer and we lost many good people to get you here.”
A sad smile appeared on her face. “I’ll do what I can”, she replied. “That’s all I can offer you.”
“That’s all we can ask for.” Cullen sighed and looked at Cassandra. “Go now. With the Rift here closed, your way to the temple should be free.” He turned around to return to the soldier he had left behind. “Maker be with you.”
Chapter 2: Kind Words
I will see you at Haven.
Max’s words echoed in Evelyn’s mind as she bit her lip and stared into the fire before her. He had smiled when he said that and hugged her. It had been just a brief encounter back then in the ruins of what once had been the Circle of Ostwick, but Evelyn had believed him. Back then, she just had to believe him. Her home, everything she knew, had just burned down, her friends had killed each other and the woman who cared for her like a mother had been murdered by a man she once loved. Her brother had been the first friendly face in days and when he came and rescued her, Evelyn really wanted to believe that everything would be alright again.
She sighed and closed her eyes. That had been so long ago, and Max was probably dead by now. The last time she had heard of him, he had been on his way to Haven and the Conclave together with his Knight-Commander and the rest of the templars who were left from the Circle of Ansburg. She never saw any of them, but they must have died in the explosion. Or were overwhelmed by demons while Evelyn had been unconsciousness.
“Everything alright?” Evelyn opened her eyes and turned her head. Varric stood next to her and gave her a questioning look. “You look bad.”
Evelyn chuckled bitterly. “The world is falling apart. Of course, I don’t feel very good.”
“That’s not what I meant”, replied the Dwarf and took a seat on the bench next to her. “You look like you’re grieving.” He raised his brows. “Wanna talk about it?”
With a deep sigh, Evelyn fell silent again and stared into the flames. Her instincts told her to be careful who she trusted here. Leliana seemed like the person who would kill Evelyn within seconds if she thought it was necessary while Cassandra probably was the one who would injure her just because she said the wrong thing in the wrong moment and regret it afterwards. And then there was Cullen. Everything about him screamed at Evelyn to run away. He might not wear the armor but the way he moved and talked Evelyn had known from the first moment there was a templar standing in front of her. She wondered how long it would take him to chain her up somewhere or demand she might at least be locked away. One day? Two?
Evelyn’s eyes wandered back to Varric. Cullen was Cullen and a problem she had to take care of another day. When she was looking at the dwarf next to her on the other hand, Evelyn could only find genuine interest and worry in his face. He … really cared?
“I don’t even know if I lost someone”, she finally said and looked back at the fire. “At least not for sure. I just know that my brother was on his way to the Conclave before the explosion and I haven’t seen or heard from him since.”
“There have been people arriving here who never reached the Conclave all week”, Varric offered. “If you want to be certain, you can ask the Commander.”
Evelyn tensed and shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. He’s probably dead anyway.”
“Or ask Leliana or Cassandra. They both know quite well who’s with the Inquisition and who died in the blast, too.” Varric chuckled and shrugged when Evelyn looked at him in surprise. “I’ve known enough mages to know that you guys normally are a bit … nervous around templars. Though Curly’s not as bad as you might fear.”
“Maybe.” She sighed again and rubbed her temples. “It’s not important.”
Varric quietly scoffed but didn’t press the matter any further. Evelyn knew very well that she behaved silly and childish, she knew that, but at the same time she couldn’t help the fear. A life in the Circle left its marks, both good and bad. And most of the bad ones on Evelyn had always come from templars. She wouldn’t make the mistake to trust one of them too easily. And she neither was stupid enough not to remember that there was more than just an armor that made a templar.
She raised herself and rolled her shoulders before reaching for her left one with a curse and gently massaging the muscle there. That damned pride demon at the Breach had hit her with one of his bolts and though the wound was already healing quite well, her flesh still felt sore.
“Let Solas have a look at this”, Varric suggested but Evelyn shook her head and let go of her shoulder.
“It’s alright”, she replied. “It heals well already. I’m just not used to getting injured.”
“Mages.” He grinned. “You guys always think you’re untouchable.”
“Only sometimes.” Evelyn chuckled and let go of her shoulder. “But don’t worry, I’ll adjust.”
“Oh, I’m sure about that.” He titled his head. “The thing with the ice … That was nice work by the way. Never fought with a mage that well trained in this kind of stuff before.”
“You fought with mages before?”
“Ah, yes. Even wrote a book about it.” He smiled. “You’re the first person in a while who seems to not have read my ‘Tale of the Champion’.”
Evelyn grinned in response and raised her brows. “You mean the story about the apostate mage who was in the middle of the beginnings of the mage-templar-war? Well, this might surprise you but when Circles are dropping like flies, that’s not the kind of lecture templars like mages to have. And later I didn’t really have the time to read.”
“I’ll get you a copy one day.” He smirked. “Bottom line: I went through a lot of shit with a few great people and some of them were mages. Though none of them was as good with ice as you seem to be.”
“I like the ice”, Evelyn replied and shrugged. “The magic is more … straight than others. You need to make sense of the chaos and be precise rather than … you know, burning it all down. Does that make any sense to you?”
“More than you think. Hawke always was brilliant with fire and she said she loved it because ‘you have to blow shit up to use it’.”
Varric laughed and Evelyn joined him in the sound. “Blowing shit up was her thing then I guess?”
“Well, she was always trying to make things right, but in the end … Well, Kirkwall is the kind of place where shit always gets worse. No matter what you do.”
Evelyn fell silent for a moment and hesitated. “Do you miss it? Your home?”
“Oh, right away with asking the hard questions?” Varric smiled sadly and looked at the flames before he spoke again. “I’m not sure. I miss the people I knew there, though most of them are dead now or left the city. When all of this is over, I’d like to return and make that place better, but right now this is where I have to be.” He raised his brows. “What about you? Any other family you want to return to? Someone you love? A home?”
Evelyn shook her head. “Most people I knew are dead and my family and I … well, we aren’t exactly on good terms.” She grimaced. “You know, chantry-loyalists and a mage in the family … These things don’t go well. So, right now, my home is the place wherever I am.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“It’s alright.” Evelyn sighed. “Probably makes all of this easier. There aren’t really people left who would mourn me if all of this goes wrong for me.”
Varric didn’t reply to that but lowered his head again. Evelyn let him be and fell silent herself. This was probably awkward for him, but it still was the truth. If she was completely honest, she didn’t expect herself to survive this. A strange magic mark at her hand neither she nor Solas really understood? A hole in the sky that was somehow connected to said mark but – again – nobody really knew why? Sooner or later, this would end deadly for her. And if Max really was dead, this wasn’t even that bad. Maybe, when she died, she would see her brother again. That was better than at least some of the alternatives.
“I think, I’ll go for a walk around the village.” Evelyn cleared her shoulders and straightened her back before smiling at Varric. “It was nice to talk to you.”
“You too, Herald.”
He smiled back, and Evelyn waved at him when she turned around and started walking away from the fire to her left. As she took her steps away from him, she couldn’t help but to think about how kind he had been. Most of the time she had spent with Varric, Cassandra had been snarling at him which didn’t really seem to bother him and just made him make more dumb jokes, so Evelyn had just assumed that the dwarf was wit and words but not much more. This conversation on the other hand changed that impression. He had wanted to check on her not because there was a glowing mark on her hand that everyone needed, but because he had noticed that she felt bad. A sad smile appeared on Evelyn’s face. Maybe it really was a good idea that not only Cassandra but also Varric and Solas would accompany her to the Fereldan Hinterlands. It probably wouldn’t change much, but Evelyn would feel safer with him around. A friendly face and some kind words were exactly what she needed to make it through this mess. If she really made it through.
Evelyn stopped and looked at the sky and the green glowing Breach. She was no religious woman though she had been brought up Andrastian, but right now, she really was sure that if there was such a thing as the Maker, he must have had the fun of the century. A mage in the middle of a mage-templar war while the sky was torn open and who seemed to be the only person to fix at least the part with the hole in the sky? Oh, he must have been laughing. Really hard.
Chapter 3: Discussions
Leliana pokes around in Evelyn's past and Cullen doesn't approve.
Some Cullen again <3
“Any news from Ostwick?”
Josephine was flicking through a pile of reports in her hands and threw a questioning look at Leliana. The spymaster tilted her head and hesitated with her answer. Cullen frowned and moved his look from the paperwork in front of him to the two women.
“Inquiries about Trevelyan behind her back?”, he asked which made Leliana roll her eyes.
“If she would be more forthcoming about herself, there would be no need for my inquiries, Commander.”
Her voice was cool when she gave him this reply and Cullen fell silent. They already had fought about this and different from Leliana he still didn’t feel comfortable about poking around in Trevelyan’s past without her permission. Some of his men had been Templars in Ostwick when the Circle fell. If he believed them – as Cullen did – the end there had been only slightly better than Kirkwall. And that should have been an easy goal to beat. That was the kind of chaos in which even the heroes looked bad if you just spun the story right.
“We discussed this. Lady Trevelyan is too important for the Inquisition to let her take the time she needs. If there is anything that should concern us, we need to know it now.” Josephine sighed and turned her head to Leliana. “So, did you find anything out yet?”
“There seems not to be much about Evelyn Trevelyan’s life that I can reconstruct at the moment anyway.” Leliana glimpsed at her notes. “She is the youngest child of Bann Trevelyan of Ostwick, her family always had close ties to the Chantry and apart from Evelyn, her parents have two other children, two sons, one three, the other five years older than her. The oldest is her father’s heir and the younger one joined the Templars when he was thirteen, just a few months after the family discovered that Evelyn’s a Mage. After she was brought to the Circle of Ostwick, there isn’t much that I could find out. I heard some rumors about some sort of disobedience against the Circle rules when she was a teenager and as far as I’m concerned, she sided with her First Enchanter during the fall of her Circle. Stories vary from here but while the First Enchanter didn’t survive the chaos, Evelyn obviously did. Apparently partly because a troop of Templars helped her and some other Mages.”
“Templars? In the middle of a Mage uprising?” Cullen frowned. “Did they switch sides?”
“No, apparently they weren’t from Ostwick. I’m guessing that her brother came to her rescue, but I have no proof”, Leliana replied and shrugged. “After the fall of the Circle, she seems to have been on the run like most Mages and reappeared at the Conclave.”
“So, nothing of interest?” Josephine raised her brows. “That’s it?”
“Isn’t that enough?” Cullen grabbed the pile of papers in front of him and started sorting them in order of importance. “You already know far more than she told you by herself.”
“Oh, please, Cullen, stop it.”
“You know I’m right”, he replied cooly and ignored Leliana’s bored look. “All of us have a past. It’s not fair to poke around in hers without her permission.”
“Have you looked outside recently, Commander? The sky is torn open and we don’t have time for any more mistakes.”
Cullen growled but didn’t reply anything to that. Of course, she was right. After everything they had been through over the last few days and weeks, any mistake they did could be their last. And letting a mysterious Mage who could probably be their only hope running around without a clue about her past, could turn out to be a grave mistake. Still, this wasn’t the way he would have liked to handle this.
Silence grew between the three of them and with a deep sigh Cullen leaned with one hand onto the table in front of him while massaging his temple with the other one as he could feel the pain pounding behind his brows. The symptoms were worse today than usual. Probably due to the chaos of the last few days. He hadn’t slept enough, not to speak of the meals he had taken in haste while looking at reports or writing them himself. At night, he would pray the price for not looking after himself enough. More pain, more bad dreams of which he would awake screaming.
“Well, judging from Cassandra’s reports, the Herald is already adapting well”, Josephine finally interrupted both the silence and Cullen thoughts. “She talked with Mother Giselle and Master Dennet and even cleared out the rogue Templar’s camp. That’s more than we expected.”
“But also what we desperately need”, Cullen replied and straightened his back again, his hand resting on his sword. “Most of the people at the Crossroad near Redcliffe are refugees, but some joined us anyway. We’re gaining recruits. Healers, workers, a few soldiers. Some of them are even former Templars.”
“And the Mages?”
“Even less, but still, yes, also a few Mages joined us after they met the Herald. Though, I’m not sure if this is a good thing.” Leliana raised her brows and Cullen grimaced. Maker’s breath, he must have sounded like the ignorant ass he had been a few years back. “Not because I don’t want them here, but because it’s … difficult. The Circles may have fallen, but neither the former Templars nor the Mages have forgotten them.”
“We’re sitting on a bomb that might explode any moment if we’re not careful.” Leliana curled her lips while Cullen nodded. “And Chancellor Roderick isn’t helping. He’s been yelling about how we’re all heretics for following a Mage all day. Again.”
“Some of the Templars still listen to him and frankly, I can’t calm all of them”, he replied and sighed. “If we don’t at least shut down Roderick, there will be blood. Sooner or later.”
“I will talk to him.” Josephine made a note on one of the paper sheets in front of her. “He must see reason.”
“He won’t and you know it”, Cullen growled. “I know, he’s a Chantry cleric, but we should at least consider sending him away. Now, that we’re not surrounded by demons anymore.”
“If we ever want the Chantry to talk to us again, we can’t.” Josephine frowned and for the first time during their discussion, she really looked at least somehow angry. “If he isn’t leaving on his own, he has to stay.”
Cullen opened his mouth to reply but the sound of someone knocking on the door interrupted him. On Leliana’s call, a slim woman wearing an armor of the Inquisition’s scouts entered and bowed before the three of them.
“I’m sorry to interrupt”, she said with a thick Fereldan accent and turned to Leliana. “But there is an Orlesian Chantry Mother at the gates asking for shelter for herself and her healers. She says she is here on invitation of Lady Trevelyan.”
Chapter 4: Mages and Templars
The people of Haven nearly riot and Evelyn has to ask Cullen a question.
I know, this is developing slowly, but bear with me, there need to happen a few things before everyone reaches Skyhold and then the real plot can begin.
Evelyn could hear the shouting long before she saw its source. Voices screaming at each other accompanied by quieter expressions of support, both echoing through Haven long before Evelyn reached the Chantry. Instinctively, she tightened her grip around her staff and let out a curse.
“Sounds like trouble.” Varric frowned. “The bad kind.”
Evelyn nodded. They had just returned from the Hinterlands and new problems awaited again. Great. “I can feel it. The air here is literally thick with magic.”
The group walked past the gates and quickly moved near the Chantry. Now, they could also see the source of the noise raising their concerns. A group of Mages stood opposite to another one while the leaders of both groups yelled at each other.
“Your kind killed the Most Holy!”
“Lies! Your kind let her die!”
They hadn’t reached the groups yet, but Evelyn could see how a young Templar reached for his sword, glaring at the Mages in front of him. She already reached for her magic, ready to intervene when a broad silhouette moved between them. Arms stretched to make as much room as possible between both groups, Cullen had shifted between both men shouting and parted them.
“Knight-Captain!”, the Templar began, but Cullen cut him off.
“That is not my title”, he hissed and turned his back to the Mages as if to shield them. “We are not Templars any longer. We are all part of the Inquisition.”
Evelyn stopped her movement and blinked a few times in surprise. Again, she was unsure what to make out of this man. A Templar who stepped between one of his brothers and a Mage, not to help another Templar but to protect the Mage? He had turned his back to the Mages, not the soldiers. A strange gesture for someone like him. Especially since he stayed that way when Chancellor Roderick approached the scene and snarled his own comments about the Inquisition. Again. But Cullen stood calmly between them and stared anyone down who dared to come too close, while at the same time first handling Roderick and sending everyone away afterwards.
Evelyn frowned. She hadn’t expected that from a Templar. He really not only had stepped in to prevent another bloodbath but apparently also to scold his own men. Templars who probably served under him when they still had been in the order.
“Fools.” Cassandra clicked her tongue. “Fighting like children.”
Evelyn threw a skeptical glance at the Seeker but didn’t say anything. For a person who apparently had been in Kirkwall and witnessed the chaos of the aftermath of the Mage-rebellion there, Cassandra understood very little of the complex conflicts brooding there. Maybe it was because – as a seeker – she technically wasn’t part of the order but somehow the most obvious thing didn’t seem to occur to her: fear. Every Mage in Haven seemed to be afraid. Especially those who came from the Circles but also the few apostates around were … tense. Even Solas seemed weary and Evelyn could understand the feeling. They all were taking great risks joining an organization founded by the Chantry, not matter if the same Chantry condemned them now as heretics. It would take just one word from the wrong people and the Templars could try to lock all of them up again.
Chancellor Roderick still yelled at Cullen when Evelyn left her companions and came closer to them, but he grimaced and left when he saw her. She raised her brows and looked at Cullen in concern. “Should I worry about my safety, Commander?”
“You are safe, believe me”, he replied and let out a deep sigh and rubbed his temples. Evelyn hadn’t noticed before how tired he always seemed, today even more than usually. “No one will dare to touch you. Or anyone else here in Haven. I will make sure of it and you have more important matters.”
Evelyn bit her tongue. As if she could just ignore it when there was ongoing conflict between Mages and Templars right in front of her nose. “You know it’s not that easy.”
“No, it’s not, but it’s all I can give you right now, Herald.”
He threw an apologetic look at her and shrugged in an obviously helpless motion and much to her own surprise, Evelyn believed him. He seemed as unhappy as herself with that tension between the people in Haven and he already had shown that he was willing to protect anyone in the Inquisition who needed his protection. She shook her head and a small smile appeared on her lips which made Cullen frown.
“Nothing. Forgive me, but it’s just strange to hear an honest word from a Templar.”
He grimaced. “I’m no Templar anymore.”
“And I’m no Circle Mage anymore but I still am not used to wide spaces.” She smiled. “Some things don’t just disappear only because the Circles are gone.”
For a moment he seemed unsure what to reply to this and frowned while carefully watching Evelyn. Finally, he straightened his back a little and looked at her with a determination that surprised her a little. “I guess so. But believe me, you won’t get any trouble from me. I left the order and my loyalty lies with the Inquisition now.”
“I didn’t want to question that.”
“I know.” He relaxed again. “But I could understand it if you were weary.”
“Again, you surprise me, Commander. And thank you.”
She smiled at him, still unsure what this conversation would mean, and fell silent for a moment. She believed him when he said that he didn’t want to be a Templar anymore and he had shown that he would protect anyone within the Inquisition, but at the same time, Evelyn knew that it was naïve to think he could just stop being a Templar because he decided to. The Lyrium took the better part of any person joining the order and normally the worst thing was the increasing lack of empathy. Even if they didn’t want to, all Templars sooner or later forgot how much the Mages they were supposed to watch over suffered. They just didn’t see the pain anymore or didn’t care. The order and everything tied to it changed a person. Even Max had changed. He still had been her brother, but he also had been a Templar. Two parts that would never be fully in harmony. Cullen might have left the order, but he still was a Templar. Moved like one, spoke like one and probably thought like one. He couldn’t change that.
“I guess I’ll go and have a chat with Leliana about the refugees in the Hinterlands and prepare my departure for Val Royeaux.” She nodded at Cullen and turned to leave. “Don’t let anyone riot before I return.”
He chuckled. “These walls will be still standing when you return.”
With a small grin on her lips, Evelyn stepped forward away from him but then stopped in the movement again und turned around again.
“Cullen?”, she called again but when his eyes met hers, she hesitated again and bit her lip. Was it really a smart idea to reveal so much to him by asking him about her brother? On the other hand, if anyone in Haven knew what happened to Max, it must have been him. Or Leliana, but Evelyn already had a feeling that that woman knew far much more about her than what she liked.
“Yes?”, he asked when she didn’t say anything and raised his brows. “Do you need something else?”
“It’s … nothing. Just a question”, she replied slowly and ducked his questioning look. “Do you know what happened to Knight-Commander Luke’s troop from Ansburg? Especially his Knight-Captain? I know, they were on their way to the conclave, but I don’t know if they arrived before the explosion.”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry, I haven’t heard anything about them.” Evelyn’s heart felt heavy in her chest. That probably meant that Max was dead. Just like everyone else. “But if you have a full name for me, I can keep my eyes and ears open. Not all Templars who were on their way to the Conclave joined the Inquisition after the explosion.”
Evelyn raised her head again and nodded. She was grasping after literally nothing, but if there was a chance that Max was still alive, she had to believe it. “Maxwell. Maxwell Trevelyan. He’s my brother.”
His expression softened. “I haven’t heard anything about anyone by that name, but I’ll keep my eyes and ears open, Herald.”
“Thank you, Commander.” She sighed and turned away. “Truly.”
Then she walked away with fast steps and a heavy heart.
Chapter 5: Memories
Evelyn dreams of people long gone.
Evelyn had been nine when they had brought her to the Circle. To her, it had felt like a punishment because she accidentally had set her mother’s flowers on fire. She had wanted to play with her brothers and their friends, but the boys – all older than her – wouldn’t let her and she got angry. Before she even knew what was happening, the beautiful red roses behind the manor had burnt down and Templars were dragging her away. She had cried and begged her father for forgiveness while Max kept repeating that it wasn’t her fault but his and Adam’s but, of course, none of this helped. They had taken her away from her home and everything she knew and brought her behind the cold walls of the Circle of Ostwick. There, Evelyn had kept crying. Every night she fell asleep on a wet pillow while at day, she wrote childish letters to her family asking them for mercy. Looking back, she wasn’t even sure if any of those letters ever reached Bann Trevelyan, but from the fearful and even disgusted way both her father and her uncle had looked at her, she suspected it wouldn’t have made any difference if they had. What was left was a heartbroken, lonely child begging to be loved by her family and unable to understand why she had to be away from them. If it hadn’t been for the First Enchanter, she would possibly have cried and begged forever.
But Lydia looked at this little, unhappy girl with these big green eyes and the unbroken will to stay loyal to those who didn’t deserve her loyalty and decided to save her. She took her in as her student and taught Evelyn everything she knew. She had cared for her, listened to her fears and wishes same as she scolded her when she needed to. Lydia became like a mother to Evelyn and raised her as if she would have been her own daughter. It had been her who had protected Evelyn from the worst when her relationship with Leo had been exposed and it had been her who had fought with the Knight-Commander for hours and called out the Knight-Captain’s cruelty. Lydia had been the woman Evelyn always had trusted and admired.
All of this made it even more painful to see her again. Even if it was only the fade.
“Eve, child.” Lydia smiled while sitting on a rock below a large tree and waved at Evelyn. “Come to me.”
Evelyn hesitated. “You’re dead.”
“Yes, but you’re dreaming, dear.”
“That means you’re not really her.”
Lydia grinned, her brown eyes glowing with proud amusement. “That depends on the perspective.”
“Does it? You’re a demon taking her shape.”
“Demons aren’t the only creatures wandering the fade.” Evelyn frowned but Lydia laughed. “Believe me, debating what I am and what I am not would take longer than your lifespan.”
“Then why are you here if you are no demon?”
“You tell me. This is your dream. Fueled by your memories, fears and wishes.”
“Will you leave if I tell you to?”
The spirit shrugged. “Maybe. Depends on how strong your wish is. And if it’s stronger than your desire to speak to Lydia.”
Evelyn sighed. That meant it wouldn’t leave. Of course, she missed Lydia and of course she wanted to speak to her again. Probably more than anything else. She wanted to apologize, to ask her for forgiveness and hear from her that everything would be alright, that it hadn’t been …
“My, my, so much guilt in such a young person.” The spirit grinned and Evelyn cursed herself for not being more careful about her thoughts and feelings. “It’s been a while since I met someone who’s craving so much for mercy.”
“Stay out of my head”, Evelyn hissed but the demon laughed.
“Oh, should I?” Another voice came from behind. Evelyn whirled around and felt her heart break when she looked in another familiar face. “Really, Lynnie?”
“You’re not him”, she whispered more to remind herself than to the man in front of her. “Not really.”
Leo laughed and tilted his head. “No, I’m not. You killed me, Lynnie. Remember?”
“I had to.” She closed her eyes to fight back the tears. “You attacked me. You killed her. I had no choice.”
“Liar. You had any choice you wanted.” Suddenly, the voice was right next to her ear and made her start. “But you killed me anyway.”
She opened her eyes again and raised her chin. “You’re not him.”
“Oh, but I’m close enough.” He grinned, and a cruel expression appeared on his face. From one moment to another, blood stained his Circle robes. “See? This is your doing, Lynnie.”
In the next second, Evelyn sat up straight on her bed roll, eyes wide open, and breathed heavily into the darkness around her. Just a dream. Just a dream. Just a dream. That had been neither Lydia nor Leo, just a demon playing its games with her.
“Shit.” Evelyn buried her face in her hands. It had been months since the fall of her Circle and she kept dreaming of it. Leo was dead, what they had had long gone and the world completely different, but still her memories haunted her. She sighed. Was she doing the right thing? Talking with the rebel Mages? When the Circle of Ostwick fell, Evelyn had been one of the few who wanted to negotiate with the Templars instead of fighting them. She had trusted Lydia and hoped her mentor could end the Circle peacefully, but in the end, everything had turned out worse and worse. In the end, Lydia who had been like a mother to her had been dead and Evelyn had had to fight and kill the man she had thought to love once.
“Damn the fools who started this.”
The sound of Cassandra’s voice made her start in surprise and she turned her head. She was sitting next to the fire they had made, a book in her hands and a blanket around her shoulders, and threw a questioning look at Evelyn. The Mage sighed.
“Bad memories.” Cassandra raised her brows, but Evelyn shook her head and got up to come closer to the fire. “Maybe I’ll tell you the story on another day.”
She fell silent for a moment. “Do you think Cullen’s right about the rebel Mages? That I should rather be on my way to Theirinfall’s Redoubt than Redcliffe?”
“I do think that the Templars would be a valuable ally and I’m not sure if you dismissed them too easily because of your own … mistrust regarding the order.” Cassandra sighed and placed her book on the ground next to her. “But the Breach is a magic we don’t fully understand. The Mages will be useful and too powerful to just leave them to a magister. Besides, if this is your decision, I will support you. And for now, we’re only negotiating with them anyway. Who knows what will happen afterwards?”
“That’s … surprisingly helpful.” Evelyn couldn’t help but to chuckle. “Thank you.”
The seeker returned the smile. “I’m sorry for the way I treated you before. That was unworthy of me.”
“I can understand why you did it. I was a stranger and it was just common sense to be suspicious.”
“Still, it was unfair.”
“It was”, Evelyn agreed. “But you couldn’t know that.”
For a moment, both women fell silent before Cassandra finally spoke again. “You’re not what I expected.”
“I get to hear that a lot recently.” Now Evelyn raised her brows. “Would it have been better if I had been a crazy apostate practicing blood magic and running around stealing children?”
“That’s not what I meant to say. I …”
“I’m just teasing you, Cassandra.” Evelyn laughed softly. “I know what you meant to say. I just … I wished people would understand that it’s really no surprise that I am how and who I am. Mages are just people and we are and want the same like anybody else.”
“Is that why you wanted to go to Redcliffe so badly? To show the world that Mages are just like anyone else and will do good?”
“Maybe. But that’s also something to talk about on another day.” She grabbed behind her and took her blanket to wrap it around her shoulders. “Go and sleep if you like. I will take the rest of your watch.”
“Are you sure? You barely slept and after me, it would be Varric’s turn first.”
“It’s alright. I’ll wake Varric later.”
Cassandra smiled and nodded at her. “Alright. Good night, Herald.”
“Good night, Seeker.”
Chapter 6: Fate could have been kind
Evelyn has to deal with the reactions on her decisions in Redcliffe.
Happy new year! Finally some conflict before we're coming closer and closer to Haven's end. Stay tuned!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“What were you thinking?” Vivienne glared at Evelyn. “Freeing the rebel Mages? Are you mad?”
Evelyn sighed and didn’t reply anything. That was the third lecture she was getting in a row. First, it had been Cullen when she had reported back to him, Josephine and Leliana about the events at Redcliffe, then it had been Cassandra who finally exploded after she had been suspiciously silent all their way back and now it was Vivienne. Maybe the one whose reproaches were the ones costing her most of her strength because they came from a fellow Mage.
“How are we supposed to train new Templars now without making the Inquisition look like a tyrant?”
“Simple.” Evelyn forced a smile. “We won’t train any new Templars.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Cullen doesn’t have enough men to handle that number of Mages. And like it or not, we need them.” Vivienne tried to stare the other woman down, but Evelyn didn’t move while she slowly felt anger creeping up inside her. “There will be abominations!”
“Templars aren’t the solution.”
“Stop acting like a child, Herald! What will you do when Haven is run over by demons just because you chase some romantic dream of Mage freedom?”
“Don’t you dare to take me for some fool who doesn’t know what she’s talking about, Vivienne”, Evelyn hissed as her patience more and more started to decrease. “Do you really think I’m one of these idiots who just think freedom and optimism will save us? I’m not. I’ve been at Ostwick when the Circle fell. I saw the bloodshed firsthand and I didn’t want any of it. I know that magic is dangerous, and I know that we need to be careful if we want this to work out. I fucking know all of this! I lived in a Circle nearly all my life. When were you the last time in one before the rebellion, Madame de Fer? When did you witness the Templar’s abuse the last time? When was the last time you had to heal a friend’s wounds because some ass decided they broke the rules? I remember all of this very well. And no matter how dangerous magic can be and no matter how skeptical I am about this rebellion and the war it sparked, I won’t force anyone back into such a life. Never. So, live with my decision or leave!”
She took her staff, turned around and stormed off before Vivienne could say anything. The moment Evelyn had offered an alliance to Fiona, she had known that this was a decision that would be doubted. She knew this and did it anyway because she also knew this was the right thing to do. She might not agree with everything the rebels did, but she was sure that just restoring the Circles wouldn’t change a thing. Even if the Templars and the Chantry could be moved to change the system, sooner or later all of them would fall back into old patterns of mistrust and abuse. Evelyn had hated herself and her powers long enough within Circle walls to know that she would never force anyone in that life again. Not if she could prevent it.
She walked through the village and ignored the voices that tried to call after her. Instead, Evelyn nearly ran through the gates, past the training recruits towards the frozen lake. It was only when she was a few meters on the ice that she slowed down and eventually stopped. Finally, she felt like she could breathe again. She would need to apologize to Vivienne when she had calmed herself, she knew that. Madame de Fer was too valuable for the Inquisition and frankly, Evelyn didn’t want to shout at her like that just because they disagreed on the future of the Mages. Vivienne was a skilled Mage, politician and tactician. Her advice sure could be helpful – If she would give it just on another day.
Evelyn closed her eyes, took a deep breath and clenched her fists around her staff as she held the weapon straight in front of her body. With a quick twist, followed by a sidestep as she turned the weapon and pushed it forward like a lance, she gathered her magic and the next moment a block of ice literally grew out of the frozen lake before her. Another twist, another jump and it exploded into millions of little ice shards, shattered everywhere. She repeated both spells a few times until she was breathing heavily, and her anger slowly seemed to fade. She didn’t care that there had gathered a group of curious watchers at the shore, probably all quietly chatting about how the Herald of Andraste lost her shit and let off steam by making ice explode in the middle of the lake.
Should they watch.
Evelyn repeated the movements again and again little shards of ice flew everywhere around her. It was only when she saw a silhouette coming towards her from the corner of her eyes when she stopped and turned around. With obviously nervous steps Cullen was walking towards her and Evelyn sighed. Great. The next one who just came to criticize her.
“Listen, Cullen, I won’t discuss my decision with you. I took the Mages in as our allies and I’m keeping my promise. Like it or not, I won’t change anything about this.” She scoffed and turned around to twist her staff again. This time, a whole wall of ice appeared in a few meters of distance. “Cassandra and Vivienne already gave me their speeches about how I’m irresponsible and everything. I don’t need another one from you.”
He stopped in his movement and suddenly looked down at his feet. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to …” He nervously rubbed his neck before sighing deeply. “I’m not here to accuse you. I’m just … worried.”
“Do you really think I’m not?”, she snapped back. “I am a Mage. I lived in a Circle and I saw it fall. I’ve seen abominations. I know perfectly well what risk I took. And I’m very tired that I seem to need to explain this to everyone again and again.” She whirled around to glare at him and Cullen took a step back. “The point is: I also know their pain because it’s also mine. I suffered like they did. And I won’t jail them away again. I can’t do that.”
“I know that, but …”, he tried to reply but Evelyn interrupted him before he could finish the sentence.
“No, you don’t!”, she hissed. “I’ve known Templars like you. They mean well but never fully understand the issue. You know life in the Circle, but you have no idea how it is when your own family turns away from you in disgust because of something you don’t even understand yourself yet. When people act like you’re a monster. When you grow up learning that you should fear and hate yourself for who you are. And when the people who are supposed to protect you constantly abuse their power or stand by watching while others do.” Her voice trembled, and Evelyn shook her head. “I can’t, and I won’t do this to them. So, spare me from your ‘I understand, but’-talk. Believe me, you don’t.”
He fell silent for a moment and Evelyn covered her face with one hand before rubbing her temples. She hadn’t meant to snarl at him like that but after all the reproaches today she was just tired. She heard people talking about how she made a mistake by trusting the Mages all day and Evelyn couldn’t bear it anymore.
“I’m no Templar anymore”, Cullen finally said, and Evelyn turned her head in surprise to him her green eyes meeting his brown ones. “And this – the Inquisition – isn’t the Circle, I already told you that and I meant it. I may not fully understand your pain, but I can imagine a part of it and I respect your decision. I just want to be careful. Not only for our people’s sakes but also for the Mages. This will be difficult, and I want as few people get hurt as possible.”
Evelyn blinked a few times. That wasn’t the response she had expected. She had thought he would just walk away on her outburst. Maybe even start shouting at her. Or accuse her of something stupid. She hadn’t expected him to just … accept her decision.
“I don’t want anyone to be hurt either, believe me”, she replied much calmer than before. “Take your precautions if you must, but the Mages are our allies, not our prisoners. If I get the feeling that we’re treating them differently than that, anyone responsible will regret it.”
He let out a deep breath and nodded in obvious relief. “Thank you. I won’t abuse your trust.”
Evelyn smiled without joy. Did he use her own words about Templars on purpose or was that just a coincidence?
“I’m grateful for that, Cullen.” She turned around to make the wall she had conjured burst like the ice blocks before, but then stopped in the movement and looked over her shoulder back to Cullen. She couldn’t help but smirk a little at him. “Maybe you are right. You move like a Templar and you even train our forces like one, but you don’t seem to think like one anymore. Not fully. I think you try to learn. To understand.”
“I told you that I am now loyal to the Inquisition. And if we want to be successful, the past needs to be the past.”
“As if it were that easy.”
“No, it isn’t.” He sighed and rubbed his neck. “I was in Kirkwall when the rebellion started. I know that all of this is complicated. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make it work somehow.”
“I really hope this is true.”
She turned back to the wall she had summoned before and with another whirl of her staff the ice shattered another time, though she was careful enough to let the shards not fly around this time. With the sound of a thousand cracks the sad remains just fell to the ground.
“Uh … Herald?”
Cullen raised his voice again and Evelyn turned around with an irritated frown on her face. “Yes? Do you need something else?”
“Would you mind continuing these … practice of yours in a different way? Maybe by training with the recruits?” He scratched his neck and the way he ducked her look, it was clear that he really felt extremely awkward right now. “You’re scaring the people right now.”
Evelyn could feel how her whole face turned red and she let out a soft curse. Of course, what had she been thinking? The Herald of Andraste storming of to the middle of a frozen lake to summon and destroy blocks of ice, that wasn’t frightening at all.
“Maker, I must have seemed like a total lunatic.”
A smile cracked around the corners of Cullen’s mouth. “Only a little.”
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten anyone.” She sighed. “I’ll go somewhere else and train where I’ll be alone.”
“As you wish. But I really would be glad if you joined me with the recruits sometime.”
Evelyn frowned again and instinctively searched for any sign of lies in his face but couldn’t find it. He still smiled at her with such a calm expression in his eyes that Evelyn questioned if he really meant what he said there.
“You are serious about this?”
“But … why? You do realize that I’m a Mage? My weapons aren’t … well, physical ones.”
Soft laughter left his lips and for the first time today he really looked relaxed. “I realize that. But my men have nearly no experience regarding Mages. Most of them have neither fought against nor with a Mage in their entire life. With Tevinter involved and so many Mages here in Haven now, they need to learn how they can defend both themselves same as the Mages they fight together with. And I can’t teach them everything just in theory.”
Cullen smiled again, and Evelyn noticed that he probably way younger than she had thought. He normally looked so stern and tired that she just had assumed that he must be at least ten years older than her, but right now, she realized that this probably was wrong and if at all, it could be only a few years between them.
“Besides”, he continued, “in the long run, I’d like to train our forces and the Mages together. If you fight together, you get to know each other and learn to trust the people around you with your life.”
Evelyn hesitated and tilted her head. She had to admit, that was a very smart idea to keep the ongoing tension between the Mages within the Inquisition and everybody else – especially former Templars – at bay. Hadn’t she herself told Cassandra only days ago that she wished everyone would finally understand that Mages really were only people like everyone else? How was anyone supposed to understand this if they didn’t know them?
“Actually, I think that is a good idea you have there. It will be difficult, but if it works, this might reduce a lot of tension between everyone.” Evelyn smiled at him and nodded slowly. “We have to be careful, but I’ll join you. Let’s try this out.” She looked over her shoulder and saw that the crowd at the shore was still nervously watching them. “Just not today. It still will be a few days until the Mages will have settled in and we can move forward to our assault on the Breach. I’ll join you and your recruits tomorrow.” She grinned when she noticed the concerned glance he threw at the ice below him. “But first, I’ll accompany you back to the shore. I guess walking over a frozen lake is a lot more comfortable when you’re specialized in ice magic.”
He let out a relieved breath and she suppressed the urge to chuckle at his worry. “Thank you, Herald.”
“Evelyn”, she corrected him and smiled. “My name is Evelyn.”
“Thank you, Evelyn.” He returned the smile, but the next moment he hesitated again. “There is something else.”
“Yes?” She raised her brows.
“You asked me to keep my eyes open regarding you brother …” He paused, and Evelyn’s heart felt heavy again. “Well … I couldn’t find out much, but Knight-Commander Luke is dead. His Templars seem to have made it near Haven and the temple shortly before the explosion and were caught between demons. We found his body, but I don’t know who of his men survived.” Cullen sighed. “I’m sorry.”
Evelyn closed her eyes as she could feel tears starting to burn in their corners. She had known that this could happen. She had both feared and expected it because if Max would have been alive, he would have searched for her after the explosion. Of course, he would have. Just as she had searched for him. The moment she hadn’t heard anything from him, she had known that he probably was dead, but hearing it from Cullen right now …
“Thank you.” Her voice trembled while Evelyn still didn’t dare to open her eyes because she might burst out in tears which she didn’t want in front of Cullen right now. “For your inquiries and for telling me.”
“I wished I could have brought you better news”, he replied softly and from the sound of his voice she could tell that he had taken a few steps closer and was standing right next to her now. “I’ll try to track down another Templar from Ansburg just to be sure, but I fear it won’t change anything.”
“I know.” Evelyn nodded and opened her eyes again to blink away the tears. “I already suspected that he was dead. I … I just wanted to be sure.” She curled her lips to a bitter smile. “I mean, fate could have been kind to me for once, you know?”
“I …” Cullen fell silent as he seemed to think about what he should say before he finally just gently placed a hand on her shoulder. To Evelyn’s own surprise, she didn’t duck away. “I know, I already said this, but I’m sorry.”
“Me too.” She shook her head and cleared her throat. “Let’s get back. I guess you have many more important matters to attend than me and my grief.”
For a moment, it seemed as if he wanted to say something, but then Cullen just took his hand from her shoulder and nodded silently. And though Evelyn couldn’t say if it was because he understood that she wanted to be alone as soon as possible or because he felt awkward – Right now, she was incredibly grateful for his silence.
Sidenote: I must admit, I love how you can fight ingame with Vivienne about Mage issues and how the game offers a Mage with very different opinions about the Circles because she just has a different perspective and I tried to carry a bit of it into this chapter.
Chapter 7: Snowstorm
Evelyn starts to make friends.
“Is that everything you have?” Evelyn grinned and dodged one of Dorian’s fireballs. “You can do better.”
“Don’t be so smug, I’m only getting started.”
Dorian scoffed and threw another flame into her direction. Evelyn laughed and blocked the fire with an ice wall that divided the training ground into two halves and hid both her and Bull from Dorian’s view. When she had walked to the barracks right in front of Haven’s gates this morning to keep her promise to Cullen and train with him and his recruits, she hadn’t been sure if this really had been a good idea. After her performance on the lake the day before and spending most of the time afterwards on her bed crying over her brother, she must have looked … bad. She had forced herself to leave her bed the next morning anyway, but the cautious glances everyone seemed to throw at her made her regret that immediately. But when Cullen had greeted her, and they started to demonstrate the first few tricks to the recruits, the feeling soon had faded and had already been gone when more and more curious bystanders stopped and started to watch how the Herald of Andraste and the Commander of the Inquisition’s forces attacked and blocked each other again and again. At some point, Bull and Dorian had appeared among the watchers and Evelyn had asked them to join them so that they could build teams and demonstrate an even fight. Both Dorian and Evelyn would stay behind and show what they could do while Cullen and Bull would try to defend their own Mage same as reach the other.
“Oh, that’s ridiculous!”
From the other side Evelyn could hear Dorian curse and chuckled again while she silently nodded at Bull and conjured a couple of ice blocks that started building stairs to the top of the wall so that he would be able to cross it. The Qunari grinned and started running. With a few quick steps he had reached the top and jumped down. Evelyn let her ice burst and the next moment she could see how Bull stood in front of Dorian with a broad grin and waved at Cullen who had tried to run to the Mage but stopped now that it was obvious they had lost.
To Evelyn’s right, Cullen’s Captain, Rylen, burst into loud laughter and started to applaud which was quickly joined by the rest of the crowd. Dorian rolled his eyes and threw an annoyed glance at Evelyn who smirked and winked at him.
Dorian scoffed again and walked past Bull to Evelyn. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, you had the Qunari with an Apostate in his troop of mercenaries on your side.”
“No Mage, she’s an archer”, Bull interrupted, but Dorian ignored him.
“That was easy.” He glanced at Cullen. “No offense, Commander, but you, my friend, are useless.”
“Our Commander did fine, you’re just bad at losing, Dorian.” Evelyn laughed. “Besides, you can try to restore your honor anytime.”
“In your dreams”, Dorian muttered and turned around to leave while Bull kept laughing and even Cullen grinned.
Evelyn curled her lips to an amused smile, too, and leaned onto her staff as she watched her friend walk away. That man was the personification of dramatic and she had a vague feeling like he would mean a lot of trouble sooner or later, but after the events at Redcliffe, she felt like she could trust him with her life.
“Enough for today!” Cullen’s voice interrupted her thoughts as he turned to the soldiers around them. “Recruits, you are dismissed!”
“That was some nice work, Boss!” Bull walked back to her and grinned. “Like the idea with the stairs.”
He patted her shoulder and Evelyn had to try very hard not to stumble back at the might of the touch. She shrugged and smirked. “Ice magic has some advantages.”
“Yeah, and the recruits saw that, too. They’ll be much more cautious now talking shit about the Mages around.”
“I thought you don’t really like magic?” Evelyn raised a brow and Bull grimaced.
“The Mages are people, too”, he then replied reluctantly. “And part of the Inquisition. Your soldiers need to learn that. Besides, I can be skeptical and know that a powerful Mage on the battlefield can be a deadly force.” He suddenly laughed and patted her shoulder again. “Whatever, I’ll stop prattle now and check on the Chargers. Tell me when you need someone for this kind of training again, Boss.”
“I’ll do. If Cullen wants to repeat it.”
“Oh, he will. This will do good among his men and it also reminds the Mages that they’re part of something bigger now.”
He nodded to their left and Evelyn turned her head. A small group of people had gathered in a little distance to everyone else who had watched the training. Some of them lowered their heads when they noticed that she was looking at them while others just watched her with curious surprise. Evelyn didn’t know any of the Mages personally but recognized them as some of Fiona’s people. She smiled and waved at them and a little girl in the front happily waved back.
“I hope so. I just want the best for them and everyone else. Really.”
Bull sighed but didn’t reply anything. Evelyn knew he didn’t exactly approve of how she dealt with the Mages, but at the same time he probably also was well aware that this had been a choice she never could have gotten right. She would always make friends and enemies alike with a decision like that, no matter what she did exactly.
Cullen interrupted the silence that started to grow between Bull and Evelyn. Bull took the opportunity and left as she turned around to Cullen and smiled.
“I wanted to thank you for your efforts. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to repeat this sometime.”
“Even though Bull and I beat you?” She grinned, but Cullen only shrugged and returned the grin.
“I’d rather like to be beat in training a few times than losing soldiers because they lack experience.”
“An admirable perspective”, Evelyn replied without sarcasm. Templar or not, Cullen had proved he cared about the people under his command. That was something could and did respect. “And I don’t mind repeating this sometime. – As long as I find the time. That was more fun than I anticipated anyway.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” An honest smile cracked over his face and there was warmth in his eyes. Both faded a little when he hesitated as if to reflect if he really should say what he was planning to before speaking again. “Are you … alright?”
“Depends on the perspective. We’re not really living in times when anyone is ever alright.” Evelyn sighed, but smiled sadly. “I will cope as anyone else here.”
“I suppose, that is true.” He nervously shifted from one foot to the other and nodded. A crooked smile appeared on his lips. “If you need a distraction by beating someone in training, you are most welcome to join again.”
A quiet chuckle left Evelyn’s throat. “Thank you. I’m grateful for the offer.”
A children’s voice came from behind and both Evelyn and Cullen turned around to see the little Mage girl who had been among the curious watchers. Big brown eyes below a red mane of hair were looking up to Evelyn who crouched and smiled at the child.
“Yes? Do you want to talk to me?”
The girl nodded determined. “I want to be like you.”
“Is that so?” Evelyn threw an amused look at Cullen who remained silent but smiled too. “And what do you mean by that?”
“I want to wield ice like you. And fight like you!”
She said these words in such an earnest manner that it nearly broke Evelyn’s heart. This girl right in front of her was still a child, so young that she must have been nearly a baby when she was brought to the Circle. She knew nothing else than that and a rebellion she probably didn’t understand yet. And still, she wanted to be like her. Like a broken woman who just stumbled into a war that was far bigger than herself and who had to learn how to fight because not fighting would have meant death.
“If you practice, you might be better than me one day.” Evelyn smiled. “Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the greatest Knight Enchanter Thedas ever saw.”
That made the girl beam all over her face and she nodded fiercely again. “I will!”, she said and ran back to the other Mages again.
“That was very kind”, Cullen remarked when the child was out of reach. “I mean what you said to her.”
Evelyn chuckled and got back on her feet. “She’s just a girl and probably only knows a life in which she’s either locked up or on the run. She needs to believe that there is a future for her and people like her. She will learn soon enough that the world is more complicated than her dreams.” She shrugged. “Anyway, how are the preparations for our assault on the Breach going?”
“The Mages are settling in, but you should rather ask Josephine, Cassandra or Fiona herself if you’re concerned for their wellbeing. I kept the former Templars at a distance, including myself.” Evelyn nodded. That was probably for the best, at least for now. “But if everything works as planned, we should be ready tomorrow by midday.”
“Good.” She forced a smile but in fact the thought of finally facing the Breach frightened her. What were her chances of surviving this? The last time she had come in contact with a large rift, she had been unconsciousness for several days. Even with the help of Fiona’s Mages – All of this was madness. And she was right in the front line. “I’ll talk with Solas and check on Fiona.” She raised her brows. “Anything else?”
“Not at present. But you’ll be the first to know if that changes.”
“Alright. I’ll leave you to your duties then, Commander.”
“Of course. I’ll probably see you later.”
He nodded and smiled while Evelyn raised a hand as goodbye and turned around to go. She still wasn’t completely sure what to make of him, but she noticed very well how she was slowly starting to trust not only Cullen but also many of the others around her. She felt how she was getting used to Varric’s and Cassandra’s banter, Bull’s deep laughter at the fire, Solas’ wise advices. She could feel how all of them were growing closer to her – one way or another. She even started to value Vivienne’s constant criticism somehow as it kept her grounded. As strange as it felt, Evelyn had to admit that these people were giving their best and for some reason they really seemed to respect her. Even follow her. She wasn’t sure if she would call all of them her friends – not yet – but the thought of having people around her who cared if she lived or died … Evelyn hadn’t had this in a long while.
“Herald!” Evelyn raised her head as she walked through Haven’s gates when Varric called her name. He grinned when she saw him and waved with a small package in is hand as he came closer to her. “Got you something!”
“Really?”, she asked and frowned. “What is it? And why are you buying something for me?”
“Why not?” The grin grew broader. “And technically, I didn’t buy anything.” He handed her the in rough cloth wrapped package. “It’s one of my books. Told you I’d get you a copy of ‘The Tale of the Champion’, so I wrote a letter to my publisher and here we go.”
“That’s very sweet of you.” Evelyn happily clenched her fingers around the book in her hands and smiled. She wasn’t sure when somebody had gotten her a present the last time, but it felt like ages. Holding something in her hands that another person got her … well, just to make her happy … That felt nice. “Thank you, Varric.”
He laughed. “You’re welcome, Snowstorm. Have fun with it.”
The name made her startle. “Wait … Snowstorm?”
“Oh, you noticed it.” He chuckled. “I’m giving everyone names. And with the ice and the way you fight … well, ‘Snowstorm’ just felt right.”
“I guess I take this as a compliment?”
“It is a compliment.”
“In that case: Thank you.”
She smiled as a warm feeling started to grow in Evelyn’s chest. She had nearly forgotten how painful loneliness could be and how good it felt to receive little gestures like this. People – friends – who gave her nicknames and teased her. Maybe …
Maybe the Inquisition wasn’t such a bad place to be after all?
I have to admit, I love developing the relationships between Evelyn and everyone else. Varric giving her a nickname was an important step in this process <3
Haven was burning. Flames reached up for the dark night sky as muffled screaming filled the air, followed by the sound of weapons hitting. Evelyn dodged an arrow as she whirled around to send a storm of ice bolts towards the Red Templars near her. They stopped their movement for a moment, just long enough for Bull to jump forward and bury his axe deep into the first one’s head. Before one of the others could react, one of Varric’s arrows hit the next one and Evelyn could send the remaining two to the ground with another set of bolts.
“We need to get to the Chantry!”, she shouted as their enemies fell. “Now!”
“Easier said than done, Boss!”
Bull pointed with his axe towards a new troup of Red Templars blocking their way. Dorian let out a long and probably colorful curse Evelyn couldn’t understand. He jumped back as a bolt of Red Lyrium nearly hit him.
“I’m really starting to regret my recent life choices!”, he hissed and twisted his staff. Sparks flew and a red glowing fireball flashed over the battlefield and cut through the Templars. Those who couldn’t dodge the spell quickly enough burst into flames, burning bright like living torches. “Thank me later.”
Evelyn didn’t even take the time to roll her eyes and just started running. Two scouts passed her as she stopped to summon an ice wall behind Threnn who was fleeing from another group of enemies. Until the Templars had rounded the wall, Threnn had managed to sprint to the Chantry and Dorian slithered past her and grabbed her arm on the way to drag her forward. Evelyn nearly tripped over her feet while Bull and Varric caught up with the Mages. Together, they stumbled through the Chantry gates and into safety. The door slammed shut behind them and for the first time since Evelyn had sprinted through Haven’s gates to defend the village, she found a moment to just breathe.
“Andraste’s tits!”, she heard Varric curse as she leaned over, her hands placed on her bent knees to support herself.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
“How are we supposed to fight not only an army but also a fucking dragon? A real, living, breathing dragon!”
It was only when Evelyn heard her own voice that she realized she had said that out loud, but she meant it, nevertheless. The trebuchets had been supposed to buy them time. They could have bought them time. Until that beast appeared.
Still panting, Evelyn straightened her back when Cullen moved closer through the survivors and turned her head.
“Cullen. Please tell me you have a plan. An idea. Anything.”
She threw a panicking look at him and desperately prayed that he would have … something. Anything that would make them survive this catastrophe. The grim expression he gave her as response felt like a kick in the gut. When his eyes met hers, Evelyn could see the same desperation she felt right now.
“Haven is lost.”
“That is no real answer. At least none that I’ll take.”
“Evelyn.” He said her name far more gently than she would have expected, her own desperation mirroring in his eyes. “That dragon stole back any time you might or might not have got us. We’re being overrun with no way to escape. At this point, we only can make them work for it.”
“Green eyes, looking at me with such desperation. Still, she fights. We are doomed, but still, she fights. Maker, so this is how it ends.” Both Evelyn and Cullen turned her heads and saw Cole who had helped Roderick to settle on the ground just a few steps away from them and now slowly moved closer. Had the boy just … what? Read Cullen’s thoughts? Guessed them? Made them up? “He admires you. I do, too. Because you want to help. You want to save them. I can sense it.”
“Stay out of my head, boy!”, Cullen hissed, but Cole either ignored or didn’t notice him. Cullen growled and turned back to Evelyn. “We have to face it: We can’t fight the army that is coming for Haven right now to kill everybody in the village.”
“The Elder One doesn’t care about the village. He wants the Herald. You took his Mages. He wants to kill you. Only you matter. No one else, but he’ll crush them if they are in his way.”
The moment Cole said this, an idea sparked in Evelyn’s head. Just a vague thought, born out of desperation and fear, but enough to be put into words. Just enough to …
“Cullen.” She glanced at him again and tried not to look as afraid as she felt. “If I go and distract this Elder One, will you find a way to get our people out of here?”
His face fell in disbelief. “You want–?”
“Can you find a way?”, she interrupted him sharply, but Cullen shook his head.
“Even then”, he replied and lifted his hands hopelessly. “I see no tactics to make anything of this survivable for any of us.” He hesitated and his face turned hard. “The only thing that really slowed them down was the avalanche. If we turn the remaining trebuchets, we could cause one last slide, but …”
“… but that would bury Haven”, Evelyn quietly completed his sentence. “It wouldn’t save us, but maybe stop them.”
For a moment, she pressed her lips to a thin line. This was how it was supposed to end? A martyrdom that would cause not only her but also everyone else to die? Now, just when she at least had started to feel comfortable within the Inquisition?
“We’re dying, Evelyn”, Cullen finally said into the silence between them. “We only have the choice left of how we’re going. That’s more than most people would get in such a situation.”
“I know.” Her voice trembled. “I know, Cullen.”
Silence grew between them again while Evelyns thoughts started to race. Maybe, if she would use her magic to carve a tunnel through the snow, they could flee the slide? Or could she hold the snow masses back and build a cave together with Vivienne? She looked around her. Even if that idea worked, there would only be a few people here who would see tomorrow. But how was she supposed to decide who would get at least a slight chance to live and who would die?
“There is a path.” Much to Evelyn’s surprise, it was Chancellor Roderick’s voice cracked through the silence between her and Cullen and interrupted her thoughts. “You wouldn’t know it unless you made the summer pilgrimage like I have. Andraste must have shown it to me for this moment. The people can escape.”
It took a second for Evelyn to realize what he was saying. What it meant. He was offering a solution. A chance for the people of Haven to make it out of here. Hope.
“Commander, will this work?” Before she even knew it, she looked back at Cullen. “Will this save us?”
“Only if we manage to distract them long enough for our people to flee.”
Evelyn bit her lip and nodded. This meant that, if the others wanted to have a chance, she wouldn’t have it. Not really.
“Alright. Bring the people to safety, Cullen.” She grabbed her staff and turned her heads towards the Chantry’s gates. “I will buy you any time I can and bury Haven under snow afterwards.”
“And what about you?” The question made Evelyn start and she pressed her lips together. Cullen understood, and a grim expression appeared on his face as he nodded. “Maybe you’ll find a way.”
Evelyn gave him a sad smile and winked at Bull to tell him to come closer. The Qunari raised his brows and walked to her.
“Bull, I need to ask a favor from you”, she said quiet enough that only him would hear it. “When the trebuchet is ready, make sure Dorian and Varric start running. You only have a chance if you manage to follow the others before Haven is buried.”
He frowned and let out a quiet growl. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Someone needs to pull the trigger. And whoever this ‘Elder One’ is – What are the chances that they are not after me? If I can draw their attention to me, I will do this. But I need your help now so that everyone will be safe.” She sternly looked up to him. “So, will you help me? You’re the only one who should be strong enough to drag them to safety if needed.”
“What does Cullen say? He’s a capable commander and knows the area. He must have another idea.”
“There is none. And we don’t have any time for complicated plans. We have to go now.”
Bull hesitated for a second and grimaced, but finally nodded. “Alright, I don’t like it, Boss, but you can count on me.”
Evelyn patted his arm because she couldn’t reach his shoulder. “Thank you. Believe me, I don’t like this either, but right now, we don’t have much of a choice anymore.”
She turned around to the rest of her friends pacing through the Chantry and helping the wounded or just nervously watching her and Bull. She couldn’t blame them for the concern she saw in all their faces.
“Cassandra!”, she called. “You go and help Roderick lead the people out of here. Solas and Vivienne will accompany you and clear your way if needed. Blackwall, you, Sera and the Chargers walk behind them to make sure nobody follows you who shouldn’t. Dorian, Varric and Bull come with me. We will keep them busy until Cullen gives us the signal that you’re safe.”
“And then?” Cassandra frowned.
“Then, we will follow you and bury Haven under snow on the way.”
She forced a smile. Just a small lie for comfort. Or rather no real lie but a gap that she knew they would fill with a different thought than her actual plan. That way, none of them would panic or try to change her mind when she needed all of them work together to bring their people out of this mess.
Evelyn looked at Cullen and he nodded slightly as her eyes met his but didn’t say anything. They both knew what needed to be done and if her potential death meant that everyone else could survive, she would die. Cullen and Bull understood that, they both had fought enough hopeless battles of their own to understand her decision and hopefully not hold her death up against themselves afterwards.
She clinched her fingers closer around her staff and took a deep breath. There were probably worse reasons to die.
While the others tried to flee, Haven was flooded with Templars. They seemed to pour between the houses like water breaking through a dam and no end was near. Some looked nearly like the men and women Evelyn knew from her life in the Circle while others only vaguely reminded her of the human creatures, they … were? Had been? Evelyn wasn’t even sure what they were, but she also didn’t have the time to think about it. Somehow, they had managed to defend and nearly fully turn the last remaining trebuchet until now, but there was no way to deny that their situation was getting more and more tense. Just when Evelyn had thought that they might withstand for a while, a new wave of Templars had appeared and even bigger monsters than before started to flood the battlefield and she could feel with every spell she casted how she got closer to the edge of exhaustion.
“Dorian! Varric!”, Evelyn shouted as a new group started to come dangerously close to her friends and twisted her staff. Out of nowhere, a block of ice appeared in front of them. “Get up there! I'll send you out of their reach!” From the corner of her eyes, she saw how they climbed up and the moment they had found a safe position, she twisted her staff again before raising it and slamming it to the ground in the next second. The block grew within seconds and pushed both men in the air, high enough that they could shoot at their enemies but couldn't be reached by the Red Templars around them.
“Boss!” Evelyn turned her head and saw Bull standing on one of the wood constructions near the wall. A large, red behemoth had turned its back on him but still was just a little too far away for Bull to attack him with a jump. She understood and with another twirl of her staff an ice plate started building before him. Bull didn't hesitate and started running. With a deep war cry, he jumped from the edge, his axe raised above him, and the moment Evelyn let her ice below him burst into pieces, Bull buried his weapon deep into the monster's back. It let go of the Inquisition's soldiers and loudly cried out in pain. Lyrium shards shattered all over the battlefield as Bull slid down and parted the beast's back.
Evelyn used the Templar's irritation and ran to the trebuchet to turn the wheel until it was pointed to the mountains above them. Where was Cullen's signal? They wouldn't be able to hold the Red Templars back much longer. Not with that dragon flying around, its shadow flitting over them again and again and the beast being ready to end them any second. Evelyn glanced over her shoulder at the woods above the village as she heard the beat of large wings above her again. If the few lights she could see there were the Inquisition, that meant they would be in safety soon while her own time was running low. Evelyn let out a curse. She had no choice but to pray that everything would work out as she hoped. Maker – or whoever might have been listening – be with all of them.
“Bull!” Evelyn whirled around and shouted his name into his direction. “Now!”
The Qunari understood and started running towards Dorian and Varric. Evelyn summoned another ice block into his way, Bull jumped and the next moment he was on the same height as the two others. She twisted her staff again and an ice plate appeared that at first only connected the two blocks and then started growing towards the walls and leading over them like stairs.
“Run!” Evelyn threw an ice bolt into a Red Templar's face, right between the eyes. “Save yourselves as long as you can!”
She heard Dorian cry something she couldn’t understand and let the ice behind her friends burst, cutting off their way back to her and turned to the trebuchet behind her. The dragon landed behind her and a bright light flashed through the woods over Haven. Evelyn reached out for the wheel at the trebuchet. One life for many, one sacrifice for the rescue of everybody else. She smiled.
“There really are worse reasons to die.”
Cory sooner or later had to ruin the party I guess :D Hope you liked this chapter, we're finally getting closer to Skyhold <3
Evelyn stumbled. Panting. Aching. Blood poured from her side where a sharp rock must have hit her when she had fallen. Her shivering fingers were wet where she pressed them against the wound while she leaned onto her staff, desperately crawling through the storm before her. She lived. Against all odds, she lived. She wouldn’t give up now. She would clinch to this life with all her strength. She wouldn’t go now.
She took another step forward when her foot lost its hold and Evelyn could feel how she trembled. She started to slide and instinctively reached for her staff with both hands to pull herself up again but cried out in pain when the cold cut through her clothes and down to her bleeding wound. Panic crept over her as she placed one hand on her side again and tried to stumble on. She just had to move. Just follow what was left of the tracks she hoped belonged to the Inquisition’s people before the storm would wash them clean like water at a shore. She just had to … Her legs failed and Evelyn fell into the snow. Cold ice burned on her body like fire but at the same time it felt so good to finally stop walking. Her eyelids fluttered. Maybe, if she would just rest for a moment, maybe if she would just gather her strength again …
The next thing she could remember were muffled voices. A woman shouting her name, followed by a man. Something warm hastily placed around her shoulders as someone lifted her. The male voice mumbling something about how she had to stay strong. How she had to survive. Another man touching her face and gently sending warm flashes through her skin while hissing things that sounded like curses. The smell of wood and leather near her. More muffled voices. And darkness wrapping its gentle arms around her again.
“Place her here.” Mother Giselle hastily pulled a blanket aside and pointed at a bedroll before Cullen while already turning towards one of her healers. “Get fresh bandages. And tell that Tevinter Mage to boil some of the snow to hot water with his magic.”
Cullen gently laid Evelyn down and couldn’t help but feeling fear knotting inside his chest. She had been so cold when they had found her. So pale, especially with the blood-stained snow below her. At first, he had thought she was dead when he had caught up to Cassandra who discovered her first. It had been Dorian who had noticed that Evelyn still had been breathing. The whole way back to their camp Cullen had been afraid that she might die in his arms and that he was just carrying a corpse back to safety. They had done anything they could to keep her warm and prevent her wound from bleeding even more but none of them was a healer. And Cullen had seen enough people dying to recognize a person literally standing on death’s doorstep.
“I suggest you leave now, Commander.” Solas made his way into the tent and shoved Cullen aside while doing so. His face turned pale when he saw Evelyn and though he didn’t curse, Cullen could see how the elf pressed his lips to a thin line. “We will need the space here.”
“Yes … of course.”
He nodded though he couldn’t help but glance one last time at Evelyn’s shivering body on the bedroll. She looked so thin, so … weak. Even worse than after the explosion at the Conclave. Don’t die, he thought but didn’t say it out loud and just left instead. On his way outside he met Dorian who muttered words under his breath that Cullen couldn’t understand but just assumed that they were probably very creative curses. Outside, he nervously shifted from one foot to the other for a moment, unsure what to do now. He was freezing without the familiar warmth of his coat around his shoulders, but the fur was still laying around Evelyn’s cold body right now. If Cullen was completely honest, he had expected they would move out to find a corpse when they had decided to search for her. Well, it had been more that Cassandra had insisted to find her in the first place though most of the others had assumed, too, that Evelyn was dead. Finding her still breathing in the snow had been so much of a surprise that they didn’t even had a real blanket with them, and Cullen’s coat had been the only thing close to that.
“Will she make it?” Leliana’s slim silhouette slowly emerged from the crowd nervously observing the tent in which the Herald of Andraste, their hero, now fought with death itself. On the surface, the Left Hand of the Divine looked as calm as always as she came closer but her raised brows told Cullen anyway that she probably was as concerned as he was. “The Herald?”
Cullen sighed and rubbed his temples. “I don’t know”, he replied truthfully. “Maker, I hope she will, but frankly, I’ve seen people in a better condition than hers die.”
Leliana clicked her tongue. “Don’t say that. She needs to survive. Not only for herself but also for us.”
“Her survival is not about us.” Cullen glared at the spymaster. “She deserves better than being a martyr for a cause she couldn’t really chose.”
“Everyone has their place, Commander, no matter what we chose or don’t chose.” A soft, yet sad smile appeared on Leliana’s face and she threw one of her pitying looks at him she always seemed to have for Cullen when he criticized some of her more ruthless methods or thoughts. “And we both know that the Inquisition needs Trevelyan. We need Trevelyan. She united us and now she saved all of us. If she dies, the people will lose any hope they have left.”
Cullen opened his mouth to reply something but stopped himself and sighed instead. Of course, Leliana was right. At least somehow. The Inquisition just had been through hell, many of their people had lost their home only hours ago, even more were wounded or completely exhausted. Losing Trevelyan now could be too much for all of them. At the same time, Cullen couldn’t help but think of the determined look she had given him back in the Chantry. When he himself already had given up, she had been willing to fight for everyone around her. No matter how desperate she must have felt herself. She deserved better.
“You’re right. It’s not important why she should survive”, Cullen finally said. “I just hope she does survive.”
“Andraste preserve her Herald”, Leliana muttered and her words nearly sounded like a bitter joke in Cullen’s ears. He was smart enough not to press the issue, but he quietly wondered whether Sister Nightingale believed in what the people were saying about Evelyn or if she saw the same thing as he did – Just a woman who didn’t have a choice but becoming a symbol she didn’t ask for but had fulfilled, nevertheless. And who might pay for it with her life.
Dorian’s voice was the first thing Evelyn could hear as she slowly regained consciousness. He was mumbling something as he touched her cheek and sent a warm shiver of magic through her body. The next thing she could remember was how pain flashed through her side when she slowly tried to move herself. Evelyn growled. Her whole body felt sore, every muscle hurt, and every movement seemed to make it only worse.
“Evelyn?” Through her fluttering eyelids she could see Dorian’s face appear over her. Her view was still clearing as her eyes accustomed to the light, yet she could see how worry washed over his face and turned into relief. “Maker, you’re finally waking up.”
“How … how long?” Evelyn growled again in pain when she cautiously sat up one hand pressed to her side. Someone had freed her of her armor, covered the wound with a bandage and clothed her into a fresh shirt though this didn’t change anything about the fact that it still felt like her whole torso was burning with pain.
“Careful”, Dorian hissed and frowned while reaching out to support her and ease the pain. “You’ve slept nearly two days. We already feared the fever would never wake up.”
“That bad?” Evelyn tried to smile at him but failed as she could feel the pain flashing through her body again. Dorian shook his head.
“Worse. You were already nearly dead when we found you. You lost a lot of blood and you were cold as ice. And when we finally had warmed you up a little, that wound there wouldn’t stop bleeding and when it did, you were feverish. We really thought you were dying.”
“Oh, great.” Evelyn scoffed and tried to support herself with one arm. Much to her surprise, her fingers touched something soft beneath her. A fur? She frowned. “Wait … Is that Cullen’s coat?”
“Yes, he carried you into the camp when we found you.” Dorian chuckled though there still was worry in his eyes. “You probably owe him a new one. I’m not sure if he’ll ever get that much blood washed out of it.”
Evelyn blinked a few times in surprise. She vaguely remembered a man had been carrying her, mumbling that she had to stay strong and survive. That had been Cullen? He really had rescued her? She shook her head and tried to force a sarcastic laugh but immediately stopped when pain flashed through her body again.
Dorian clicked his tongue. “Easy, my dear. You just saved the day. Let yourself rest.”
“I’m fine.” Evelyn tried to smile at him, but she could tell from his expression that she wasn’t as convincing as she hoped. “I mean, I’ve just slept multiple days.”
“Don’t joke about it. You frightened all of us”, Dorian replied and the complete lack of humor in his voice immediately reminded Evelyn of her bad conscience for betraying her friends. “Cassandra yelled half of the night at Cullen and the Iron Bull after we found you because they knew of your plan and didn’t stop you.”
“I’m sorry.” With a deep sigh, she looked down and ran her fingers through her messy hair. “But it really was the only way.”
“Well, I would have appreciated to know of it before you made a Qunari drag me away from the battlefield.”
Evelyn turned her head to him again and smirked as he crossed his arms. “Would you have let me do it if you had known it?”
“Of course not.” He scoffed but Evelyn could see how a smile cracked around the corners of his lips. “It was an incredibly bad and stupid plan. I told you not to do plans like that without me!”
Evelyn grinned while slowly leaning back and laying down again. “Sorry. Won’t do it again.”
“Good.” He smiled and tucked the blanket back over her. “And now rest again. You still look terrible.”
Evelyn didn’t protest. If it had been up to her, she would have been back on her feet any minute. They just barely had escaped a Darkspawn Magister, his army and his dragon. No matter how safe they might be for the time being, they needed to move quickly. Especially if they hadn’t while Evelyn had been unconsciousness. At the same time, every part of her body was still aching, and the blanket above her was so wonderfully warm … Did Dorian use his magic again to keep her warm and make her even more drowsy? Evelyn’s eyelids fluttered and she smiled. Probably, she thought as she drifted off to sleep.
Skyhold's near! I'm so looking forward to write the chapters there. I have a few things in mind that could turn out very nicely <3
Chapter 10: Inquisitor
The Inquisition starts to settle in at Skyhold
So, this chapter was originally one scene longer but I decided to split it into two seperate chapters because it was growing to be a bit too much. Overall, there is a lot to happen now around the arrival at Skyhold, so bear with me as I scatter my breadcrumbs. Hopefully, it will be worth the story I'm trying to build here :D
“You know that this won’t make anything easer, my dear, right?” Evelyn turned her head and looked at Vivienne who had stepped next to her. Covered in her bright silk robes as always, Madame de Fer seemed a lot like stern statue emerging at Evelyn’s side. The glances she threw at Evelyn weren’t hostile but made her feel uncomfortable anyway. Sometimes she wondered if Vivienne knew how intimidating she could be at times. And how Evelyn always had the feeling the older Mage was judging her on any word she said. “This castle might be better to defend but any mistake like Haven will bring us down again. Even here.”
Evelyn crossed her arms sighed. They were standing high over Skyhold’s courtyard on the walkway watching the people below them bustling all over the place. It had been only a few days since they arrived here, but the Inquisition’s people were so eager and determined to make this place their new home that they were settling in with a speed that had surprised Evelyn. She probably had to thank Josephine for this. The woman was just brilliant at turning any sentiment among their people into eager motivation.
“I know”, Evelyn finally replied reluctantly as her eyes wandered over the men and women below them. “Though at least we’re not that much of an easy target here as we were in Haven. And if Corypheus dares to come for us again, we’ll be ready.”
Vivienne raised a brow. “You’re angry”, she remarked. “Good. Keep that anger. It might save all of us.”
Evelyn blew out air through her nose. “Anger is poison for any careful decision. I hadn’t expected you of all people to encourage it.”
Much to her surprise, Vivienne chuckled on that. “It might not please you, my dear, but you and me, we are alike. We like to think before we speak and keep our emotions covered before anyone can use them against us because we know that as Mages with power, we are constantly being watched far more carefully than anybody else. If we fail, we fail harder than others would. But at the same time, our anger can protect us. If you’re angry, you’ll fight even if you’re out for what might seem like a hopeless undertaking. You will need this determination.”
These words made Evelyn fall silent. Vivienne’s observations were not only very close but also very true. Now, after Haven, Evelyn could feel the pressure on her shoulders more than ever. Now, not only the Mages looked up to her but also those who regarded her with mistrust before. Within a few days, she had gone from some random Mage with a strange mark on her hand to really being perceived as Herald of Andraste. To being Inquisitor, a hero everyone seemed to desperately be wanting to look up to. Evelyn wasn’t dumb enough not to not acknowledge that this put her in a difficult position. Anything she would do now, could be regarded as the legacy not only of a woman who just stumbled into a religious organization, a heretic some called a Herald, but also of a Mage in a position to change the world. Probably even somebody far more exposed than Vivienne had ever been at the Orlesian Court. Maybe even more exposed than the Hero of Ferelden who always had been protected by the fact that she had been a Grey Warden and Mages had always been normal among their ranks. Evelyn on the other hand … Who was she anyway? An apostate and a heretic in the eyes of the Chantry, unpredictable, maybe even dangerous in the eyes of those who supported the Circles, a saint in the eyes of those who followed her. If she failed in any way, her admirers same as her enemies wouldn’t hesitate to hunt her like wolves. Even worse, she would not only be the heretic madwoman who reached far beyond what she could achieve but she would also be the mad Mage who would serve as an example why Mages can’t be trusted.
“I can’t fail the Inquisition”, Evelyn finally said and sighed. “If I fail, the Chantry will use this forever to condemn any call for Mage freedom. There might be somebody else who will find a way to fight Corypheus, but it can be only me who fights him and takes a stand for people like us.”
“Do you understand now why I didn’t want you to free the Mages?” A sad smile appeared on Vivienne’s lips. “If you would have gone the way of reforming the Circles, you would have chosen a smaller risk but still one that would have allowed Mages to be safe.”
“Safety isn’t freedom.” Evelyn’s voice was calm when she said this. Different from the day when she returned from Redcliffe, she wasn’t as tired or on edge as she had been back then and different from that day, she could understand Vivienne’s argument now – Even if she still didn’t agree. “I’m sorry that I yelled at you when we last spoke about this, but my opinion hasn’t changed. If the Templars who guarded my Circle would guard a new one, any reform would be irrelevant within a week. Without both the Chantry and the Templars reforming, the Circles stay a broken system that eventually hurts first and foremost Mages.”
“I never said it would be easy, my dear, still, the Circles are unavoidable.” Vivienne sighed. “But this discussion is fruitless. You made your decision and we’ll have to live with it. Now our priority should be securing our new base and finding a way to fight a Darkspawn creature and an Archdemon.”
“Sounds easy, right?” Evelyn raised her brows and smiled bitterly. “I mean, the Wardens seem to be mostly gone, Blackwall remains silent about how we’re supposed to kill an Archdemon and nobody even really knows what Corypheus is in the first place. Maybe the Inquisition doesn’t even need me for such an easy task!”
Vivienne frowned but a smirk cracked around her lips as she turned around and gently patted Evelyn’s shoulder. “The Inquisition needs you more than you can imagine, my dear. Believe me.”
“That’s exactly what I fear”, Evelyn mumbled but her voice was so quiet that Vivienne either didn’t hear the words anymore or chose to act like it. Instead, Madame de Fer slowly walked away and left the younger woman alone.
Evelyn sighed. No matter of her new title, she still wasn’t fully sure what her exact place in the Inquisition was, but Vivienne was right. Somehow, they needed her. Not only but also because of what happened at Haven. And that was what Evelyn frightened. People depending on her. Her, who barely knew what she was doing herself. Her decisions at Haven had been impulsive and that both herself and most of the Inquisition’s people had survived had been pure luck. How much of that luck would she have the next time?
Still in thought, Evelyn let her eyes wander again over the people on the courtyard. So many of them relied on her even if it just was as a symbol. How could she not disappoint them sooner or later? When she glanced over Cullen, he was just raising his head and – when he noticed her – slightly waved at her and smiled. The soldiers were still cleaning up the castle and hadn’t settled in yet, so he had built a provisional desk just opposite the main gates from where he was giving orders at the people around him. Evelyn wasn’t sure if she had seen him somewhere else all day. That man was absolutely working far too much. Before she really knew it, she started leaving her place and slowly walked down the stairs and towards him. They hadn’t had the chance to really talk since Haven which hadn’t been on purpose but still felt strange since Evelyn knew that he had played as much of a part in her rescue as Dorian or Cassandra with whom she both had spoken at length since then.
“I don’t care what Fiona demands”, he just growled at a scout when Evelyn came closer. “We’re all still settling in. The Mages will get appropriate quarters as soon as we have a part of the castle that can be safely used. Tell her that. And tell her also to talk with Josephine about these kinds of issues the next time. She’s taking care of these things and I have enough to do already.”
“Yes, Commander.” The scout nodded and turned around to quickly walk away.
“Problems with Fiona?” Evelyn raised her brows. “Can I help?”
“No, thank you, it’s really nothing.” Cullen shook his head. “She wants separate quarters for the Mages – which I can understand and support – but she will just have to wait for a few days until we find room for them. Until then, the Mages will have to put up with the situation as anyone else.”
“They still aren’t used to being treated like anyone else”, Evelyn remarked and smiled to which he nodded. “After being jailed up all their lives, they don’t know what it means to be allies.”
“They will have to learn it.” He sighed and straightened his back. “And they will. Sooner or later. – More importantly: How are you? I didn’t really have a chance to talk to you since …”
Evelyn tilted her head. “Since I nearly died?”
“Yes, since you nearly died”, he replied and nervously scratched his neck. “I … We already thought you were dead.”
“Frankly, I’m not completely sure how I managed to survive either.” Evelyn smiled though the expression probably didn’t fully reach her eyes as fear gripped around her heart at the memory. “I just know I did.” She hesitated for a moment. “Speaking of Haven … I still need to thank you.”
With the smile finally growing less forced, she stepped closer to his desk. Cullen frowned and gave her a questioning look. “Why? You're the one who just saved all of us.”
“But you made it possible”, Evelyn replied. “You had my back in Haven in every way. And I won't forget that.”
He lowered his head. “Haven was … bad. I didn't think we would make it out of there alive, but …” His voice trailed off as his cheeks turned red and Cullen had to clear his throat before he could continue. “Well, I trusted your judgement. I trusted you. And I would do so again.”
“Now you're just being kind.”
“No, I'm only honest”, he replied in such an earnest manner that surprised Evelyn a little. “Like it or not, your title as Inquisitor is well deserved. The people admire you and I … I respect you. I didn’t question whether I should trust you or not back then for a reason.” He blushed again and gave her that nervous smile that Evelyn already had noticed a few times. “Well … I just wanted to let you know that I’m glad …”
Evelyn chuckled. “I’m glad you didn’t die?”, she offered as he didn’t finish the sentence and Cullen grinned as he nodded.
“Something like that”, he replied and nervously scratched his neck again. “And I mean it. I’m not sure what the Inquisition … what we would do without you.”
Evelyn could feel herself blush though she wasn’t really sure why. He was just being nice and not wishing her to die was probably a very low bar to set for a compliment. Still, there was something in his voice that made her not only believe him but somehow touched her.
“Thank you”, she finally managed to say and smile. “Though I still fear you’re giving me far too much credit here.”
“That is a matter of perspective.”
He smiled back at her and for a moment, none of them said anything. Just when the silences started to grow awkward, Evelyn cleared her throat and tucked a lose strand of hair behind her ear. “Well … I still have to make my round and check if everyone is settling in just fine.”
He nodded hastily. “Of course, don’t let me hold you back.”
She waved an awkward goodbye which he answered with a small smile. “It was nice to talk to you, Cullen.”
Evelyn turned around and started walking towards the stairs leading up into the upper part of the courtyard and felt like she wanted to smack herself. Had she just waved at the Inquisition’s Commander like some child? Oh, Maker, could this get even more embarrassing?
“You’re making rounds, Snowstorm?”
It was Varric’s voice that made Evelyn look up again. He was standing at the upper end of the stairs with a stack of letters in his hands and grinned at her as she came closer.
“That’s the plan.” She returned the smile and forced herself to shove the feeling of embarrassment aside. “I want to make sure that everyone’s settling in.”
“Yeah, I saw that.” Varric curled his lips and chuckled which made Evelyn feel like there was more to his words than he said. She raised her brows, but he shook his head and made a dismissive gesture. He hesitated for a moment and finally continued: “Have you read my present for you yet?”
“Your ‘Tale of the Champion’?” Evelyn frowned. Where did that come from now? “No. It was pure luck that I still had it in my bag when Corypheus attacked Haven and I didn’t lose it in the attack. And after that, I didn’t have any time for it yet.”
Varric nodded and seemed … relieved? “Good. Maybe it’s better if you don’t read it anyway. Or, you know, if you read it …” He grimaced. “Maybe just don’t take everything you read too serious, alright? The book had to sell, so it’s more telling only one side of the coin than the whole picture.”
“What are you trying to tell me, Varric?”
He sighed. “Ah, don’t mind me. It’s just … If I’d write the thing today, I’d write a few people a bit more … fairly.”
Evelyn still was confused. Why should she care if some people in a story Varric had written about someone else weren’t completely accurately portrayed? She didn’t even know anyone from Kirkwall except for …
“Wait … Is this about Cullen?”, Evelyn asked still frowning and tilted her head. “I didn’t know that he’s part of your book.”
“He is and his depiction isn’t the friendliest”, Varric admitted. “But look, I know that you’re friends with Curly now and when I wrote my book I only had spoken to him a few times, alright? So … Better just remember that Kirkwall was a shitty place for everyone and that the book describes only one part of the story.” He sighed. “Andraste’s tits, I’m probably making more of a fuzz about this than it’s worth. Ignore me, I’m just glad Curly smiles from time to time theses days and … well, connects with people.”
Evelyn still wasn’t sure what she should make out of this strange behavior but chuckled and smiled at him. “You’ve got far too much of a big heart, you know that?”
“I’m just too easily attached and like to look out for everyone.” Varric laughed. “And you probably know by now that Curly’s not a bad guy but not that much of a people person. I don’t wanna ruin a friendship with one of my books.”
“I’m sure you won’t.” Evelyn grinned though she could feel fear reaching for her heart again. She had avoided these thoughts lately but probably Varric wasn’t warning her without reason. Cullen had been a Templar and Evelyn had heard the stories the Mages had told each other about the Circle of Kirkwall. If the rumors were true, the situation there had been even worse than in Ostwick. What were the chances that Cullen hadn’t been involved in the horrors there?
As if he had read her thoughts, Varric patted her arm. “He’s very different now than he was a few years ago, believe me, Snowstorm.”
Evelyn scoffed. “You know that you’re only making me want to read that book even more now? And I already really wanted to read it before just because of the whole thing with the beginning of the rebellion and not because I know some of the people involved.”
“Ah, the rebellion explanation is far better written anyway.” Varric smiled but somehow it looked sad to Evelyn. “Well … I’ll go and ask Leliana if she can send these letters for me. I’d like to tell a few people that I’m not dead.”
“Always a good idea.” Evelyn grinned. “Can’t recommend having most people in your life believing that you’re dead.”
“I imagine. By the way, it’s great that you survived.” He winked at her. “We would have missed you around here.” With a friendly wave of his hand, he started walking away but stopped then and turned back around to Evelyn. “You know that the tavern is opening tomorrow night, right? You should come. It’ll be fun.”
She smiled as she turned around to head towards the main hall. “If I find the time.”
Varric laughed and waved at her while he walked away. “You will. Otherwise Josephine will probably make Tiny drag you there. Could be fun to watch.”
Chapter 11: Just a Templar
Evelyn finally reads "The Tale of the Champion".
Welcome to the inevitable confrontation with "The tale of the champion"! :D And thanks to everyone who sticked around until now, I promise, the next chapter will have more dialogue again <3
Quick heads up for those who might need it: This chapter mentions differnt forms of abuse, including implied sexual abuse/rape. It's not graphic, really just mentioned in an implied way, but I want everyone stay safe while reading <3
Later that day, after taking care of a couple of smaller and bigger issues around Skyhold, Evelyn retreated to her quarters. After all these years with not much more than a bed and a chest both often shared with others, it felt strange not only having a room on her own but also having one that large. The thought that all of this was just hers, her own private space where she could be on her own and nobody would disturb her without reason – That made her still feel giddy. It also made her even more wish that Lydia could see her right now. It had been her mentor who had always encouraged Evelyn to set her own boundaries and defend them if needed – which could be difficult in the packed life in the Circle of Ostwick – and seeing her now in a place where she didn’t need to do this anymore probably would have made the older Mage happy.
Evelyn sighed and stepped close to the balustrade of her balcony high above the courtyard. These thoughts were useless. Lydia was dead and she would never see what had become of the frightened girl she once took under her wing. Evelyn leaned forward, her arms now on the balustrade and her eyes glancing over the courtyard below her in silence. The afternoon shift of recruits training had just begun, and Rylen and Cullen were barking orders at them she couldn’t understand. In a little distance, Bull and some of the Chargers were hitting each other with wooden weapons, accompanied by Cassandra while Sera was watching them from the tavern roof in front of her room. Below them, Giselle was tending the last few wounded for whom they hadn’t found a place in the castle yet. Evelyn smiled a little as she saw how Cole was flitting around, not seen by the Chantry Mother, but probably still helping somehow.
It still seemed so strange to her that these people were willing to follow her. Not because they had to, but because they chose to. Every single one of them. They followed her, a Mage, not for her family or because they projected their own religious beliefs in her, but for who she was. As much as this frightened her, it also made her proud. Whatever happened, she wouldn’t let them down. None of them.
Evelyn returned inside and walked to her desk where she had left the few of her belongings, she had somehow saved from being destroyed in Haven. She had planned to unpack her bag since she first had set foot into this room but hadn’t found the time yet. Now the bag reminded her not only of the herbs she had collected and still needed to sort but also of the book that was in there, still wrapped in the rough cloth covered in which Varric had given it to her.
Evelyn hesitated for a moment when Varric’s warning came back to her mind. Maybe he was right, and she shouldn’t read it and just put the book away. From her own experience and the rumors, she had heard about Kirkwall, she had a vague idea what ‘The Tale of the Champion’ might unveil about Cullen. It probably shouldn’t even surprise her. She knew that the Circle of Kirkwall had been a bad place for Mages and that its Knight-Commander had first kept up a brutal rule and then turned mad in the end. Cullen had been her Knight-Captain, that meant he must have been deeply tangled into the wrongs that happened there. The book would only uncover the details she already feared. What was the point? At best, it wouldn’t change a thing and at worst, it would damage her relationship to a man she just had learned to respect. Why should she do that to herself?
Evelyn brushed with her fingertips over the cloth still covering the book and sighed. Because she needed the truth. She owed it to herself and the scars she was bearing. To the Mages who might have suffered under him. Mages like her who desperately fought for freedom just because they didn’t want to suffer any longer.
With one quick, determined movement, Evelyn pushed the cloth aside, unwrapping a black book with the emblem of Kirkwall carved into the leather in a deep red. After one last moment of hesitation, she took it and walked to the bed where she let herself fall onto the soft sheets. Still unsure if she really wanted to do this, she opened the cover, flipped over a personal dedication by Varric and started to read.
Time flew by as Evelyn became absorbed in Hawke’s story. It took her only a few chapters to acknowledge that, as a writer, Varric really knew what he was doing. He had a compelling way of weaving single stories together and his understanding of Mage struggles was surprisingly well researched. While Hawke’s story seemed to be nearly opposite to her own, there were many things that resonated with Evelyn. Family members who openly or in secret hated her for being a Mage, constant fear of making new friends because they might reject her for her abilities, a nearly natural mistrust regarding Templars … Reading Hawke’s life through Varric’s eyes, painfully reminded Evelyn of her own story and her own suffering.
By the evening, Evelyn had finished the first few of Hawke’s adventures and sympathized once again when she read of her pain when her brother Carver had joined the Templars. When Evelyn’s own brother joined the order, he had done so to get a chance to look after her, but by the point he had convinced their parents, she herself had been long enough in the Circle to feel wounded by his decision. It had been an irrational fear, but back then, Evelyn had had the feeling that she now would have to hate him like the other Templars. That he would change and hate her. He never did, but the pain of losing a family member to the order was different when you were a Mage.
Evelyn took a quick break to sneak into the kitchen and get herself something to eat and then returned to the book, now fully absorbed by the story. Later, she would be grateful to have eaten before going on with her reading. While the tensions between Mages and Templars grew more and more dire, Varric kept hinting at the horrors in the Circle. He didn’t name most of them directly – as Evelyn guessed not to repel his readers – but Evelyn knew these codes. Mages who casually proclaimed to “belong” to a certain Templar, others who only spoke with their heads lowered and their hands visible, Templars who spoke derogatory about their charges, Mages who desperately tried to maintain their basic dignity as human beings. These were the sings of the tip of an iceberg rotten with abuse. Evelyn remembered every single one of these things too well not to recognize them. Kirkwall’s Knight-Commander Meredith seemed to have been a little more open about her hatred than Ostwick’s Knight-Commander Mallorick or his Knight-Captain Brycen but that didn’t change how Evelyn had to stop multiple times just to take a deep breath and bring some distance between her own memories and the story. These wrongs were over and gone and she would make sure they could never happen again. The hurt echoing through her heart was just that. An echo of past things that finally found their end. Now, everything would be alright, maybe not for the Mages in Varric’s book or for those Evelyn fought with and against in Ostwick, but for those who would come.
The evening went and night came while Evelyn grew more and more torn between the urge of going on reading and the pain of the memories Hawke’s story kept prompting. And then, Cullen entered the scene.
That night, Evelyn didn’t get much sleep. Even after she had finished Varric’s book long after midnight, she laid wide awake trying to process her own, racing thoughts. She remembered Brycen, standing over Leo, laughing as he beat him. Herself, screaming and crying that they needed to let go of him. Mallorick simply scoffing and rolling his eyes when Lydia demanded punishment of Templars who took advantage of their charges. Susanna crying herself to sleep every night around the time she and Evelyn had been sixteen but refusing to ever tell the details of what that Templar – what had been his name again? Antoine? – had done to her. The tired look in Lydia’s eyes, every time she lost another fight against the Knight-Commander over what should have been basic human dignity. Just when Evelyn had managed to shove her own haunting memories aside, Hawke’s story just sparked them again. Ironically, Cullen’s appearance just was one of many parts of a painful puzzle. Another Templar, not even one of the worst ones she could imagine, but still, a Templar. Even when she took Varric’s advice and assumed the best intentions – What she was reading there were the acts of a wholeheartedly Templar. A man who would rather believe in the structures within his order than believing the desperate calls from the Mages around them. A man who could ignore every cry for help because he would never have to bear the consequences if he didn’t want to. A man who could always just turn away and turn a blind eye on the suffering around him. Just like Cullen had done.
Evelyn closed her eyes and fought back the tears burning in her eyes. Why did this thought disappoint her so much? Even … hurt her? She already had suspected this kind of involvement before. She had known that Kirkwall had been enough of a nightmare for Mages to spark a rebellion. The chances had been high that Cullen at least had stood by as people like Evelyn suffered. Like everyone else. The man who had stepped between Mages and Templars in Haven without hesitation had closed his eyes for years while even outsiders like Hawke saw the abuse happening. Evelyn thought of what she had accused him the day she returned from Redcliffe. After all, he was just a Templar seeing the world through a Templar’s eyes and never understanding what Evelyn and Mages like her had gone through simply because he didn’t need to if he wanted to live a comfortable life. For people like him, siding with Mages just had been more trouble than it was worth at best, and an act of derogating himself at worst. Templars didn’t need to think about the suffering of Mages to do their job in peace. And if “The Tale of the Champion” proved one thing more than anything, it was that Cullen was exactly that: A Templar. Maybe not the worst, maybe even one who, at least in the end, started to see the pain he ignored so long, but still, a Templar.
And maybe, this was the thing that hurt so much. Every day Evelyn had spent with the Inquisition, she had started to believe a little more than things were different now. She had come to trust Cullen, knowing that he was a Templar. She had forgotten the one thing any Mage who ever lived in a Circle like Ostwick or Kirkwall learned within weeks upon their arrival: Templars couldn’t be trusted. Even when they meant well, they would never understand. And any help from them would be not only flawed but dangerous.
It already was early morning when Evelyn finally drifted off to sleep for a few hours. She was woken from the sound of the recruits gathering in the courtyard for their morning drill through the open balcony door. Evelyn could hear Rylen yell orders at him and groaned as she buried her face in the pillow again. When she finally got up to close the door, it had been already too late. Though she felt completely exhausted from that night of bad sleep and ongoing thoughts, she couldn’t get herself to sleep again. After a bit of tossing herself around in bed, she gave up, got dressed and decided to go down into the kitchen for a quick breakfast – And she obviously hadn’t been the only one with that idea.
“Good morning, Snowstorm.” Varric was sitting on the table in the middle of the room, bowed over a stack of paper and raised his head when she entered. When he saw her, he immediately frowned. “What did you do last night? You look like shit.”
Evelyn scoffed and grabbed a still warm loaf of bread from the oven behind him before taking a seat on the chair opposite to him. “Read your book.” She tore a piece from the loaf and chomped into it. “It’s really good.”
The wrinkles on his forehead only grew deeper. “Did you read it all night?”
“No.” Evelyn swallowed the first bite. “But I couldn’t sleep a while afterwards.” She sighed before hesitating and finally reluctantly continuing. “It’s really nothing. I just … I suppose, I should have known that it’s a bad idea not to stop the moment Mage struggles came up.”
Varric clicked his tongue. “So that’s the way the wind’s blowing.”
“It’s not what you think”, she replied as she kept eating the bread. “You did a great job with that story. It’s just … For every story you tell about Hawke and the suffering of Mages in Kirkwall, I remember at least two I witnessed in Ostwick.” She grimaced and tried to avoid his questioning look. “Doesn’t make the book bad, just hard to read when you’re a former Circle Mage.”
He fell quiet for a few moments while Evelyn ate her bread. If she had been less tired, she might have felt awkward for the silence, but today, she only cared about getting something in her stomach and actually, she welcomed some peace.
“You know … Maybe now is the right moment to confess something.” Evelyn only raised her brows and swallowed the last bite of her bread to tell him that he should keep talking. Varric sighed. “You remember the letters I sent out yesterday? One of them will probably get me into trouble with Cassandra.”
“More than usual?”
“More than usual.” He scratched his chin. “I wrote to Hawke and asked her to come here to help us with Corypheus. And the way I know her, she will come without hesitation.”
Evelyn let out a sharp whistle. “I thought you swore Cassandra that you had no idea where Hawke is?”
“I did”, Varric replied and grimaced. “That’s exactly the problem.” He hesitated as he seemingly searched for the right words. “Listen, I never wanted to undermine the Inquisition, but I had to protect my friend. Hawke already sacrificed enough and if she had been at the Conclave, she would be as dead as everyone else by now. If I had known that Corypheus was behind all of this, I …”
“I believe you, Varric.” Evelyn smiled as she softly interrupted him and reached out to place one hand on his arm. “I don’t question your loyalty and I know you only did what you thought was right. Don’t explain these things to me, but to Cassandra. And you better do it before Hawke just shows up.” She smirked a little and pulled her hand back. “Because I don’t know if anything could protect you from her wrath if she finds out on her own.”
“That might be true. And I probably really should talk to her in advance.” He chuckled relieved, but the sound soon turned into a groan. “She will kill me.”
“Definitely.” Evelyn grinned and rose from her seat. “But she will forgive you eventually. And if you want me to, I will remind her to do so.”
“I will think about it.” He gave her a crooked smile. “And while you’re at it, remind yourself of it, too.”
Already half turned to the door, Evelyn stopped and frowned. “I just told you that I’m not mad at you.”
“I wasn’t talking about me.” The crooked smile turned into a grin. “I know that these things are hard when you’re a Mage, but people change. At some point you’ll have to let go of the past or it will haunt you forever, Snowstorm.”
“You know, sometimes, I hate how good you are at reading people.” Evelyn threw a conciliatory glare at him and scoffed theatrically though didn’t even try to lie to him. As tired as she was, she couldn’t fool him anyway. “Anyway, I’ll be going. There are a lot of things to do for me today.” Without turning again, she waved over her shoulder. “It was nice talking to you, Varric.”
As she left, Evelyn could still hear his muffled laughter and though she still didn’t feel exactly well this morning, she had to smile a little. Odd, how good Varric was at sensing when her past kept haunting her. After reading his book, it made more sense because he just was far more used to it than the average person, but still … His instincts regarding this were surprising.
Evelyn was so deep in thought that Leliana’s voice made her start as she entered Skyhold’s main hall. Her spymaster was coming closer with quick steps, obviously in a hurry.
“You look suspiciously concerned, Sister Nightingale. Should that give me reason to worry?”
“I’m not sure.” Leliana knitted her brows and Evelyn really couldn’t tell whether the other woman was just alerted or nervous. “There is a man at the gates who claims he’s here as your guest.”
“And you don’t think he’s just a poor soul who believed the stories about Andraste’s Herald and now tries to see me?”
“I suspect he’s different”, the spymaster replied and there was something in her voice that made Evelyn frown. Irritation? “And I would advise you to handle the situation yourself before word spreads about a mysterious man visiting the Lady Inquisitor. The sooner we can decide whether he’s mad or not, the better we can react to the inevitable rumors.”
She was probably right, as always, but an annoyed sigh left Evelyn’s lips anyway. “Alright. Where is he now?”
“In the courtyard. I asked Cullen to have an eye on him because Rylen is still busy with the morning drill.” A smile twitched around Leliana’s lips. “He might be staring him to death right now.”
“Are you mocking our Commander?”
Evelyn grinned to which Leliana answered with a quick wink. “Maybe. But that’s something to discuss later. We should first take care of the stranger.”
The spymaster nodded towards the door to indicate Evelyn to follow her when she started to move, and Evelyn obeyed. This whole cult forming around her was ridiculous. Every day pilgrims were arriving at Skyhold and every day they wanted to see Evelyn, sometimes even asked for her blessing as if she was a Saint. For most of them, she was less Evelyn Trevelyan of Ostwick, a real person, but the Herald of Andraste, a divine figure to visit and admire. Evelyn tried to remove herself from that cult in a way that she didn’t encourage it and didn’t meet with anyone just because they wanted to see the Herald, but she knew very well that Leliana and Josephine were already using that to construct an even more powerful image of her as the overwhelmingly good and faithful hero people needed right now if they should join and stay with the Inquisition. Nothing that Evelyn would have encouraged, but she wasn’t naïve enough to believe she could withdraw herself from that if she wanted the Inquisition to grow and therefore have a chance to fight Corypheus. She was just exchanging one evil for a greater good.
With Leliana at her side, Evelyn took the stairs down to the upper courtyard to walk down into the lower one towards the gates. The two women started taking the first few steps and as Evelyn glanced over the people below them and suddenly froze.
There was a man just by the gates. Tall, broad shoulders, covered in a worn-out coat, short brown locks, deep green eyes and a smile on his lips, no matter how sternly Cullen next to him looked at him. When he turned his head and spotted Evelyn, the smile grew wider and he raised a hand to wave at her.
“Max?”, Evelyn mumbled more to herself than to Leliana who had stopped, too and gave her a questioning look. “Maker, this can’t be true.”
Leliana tilted her head, but Evelyn ignored her and started hurrying down the stairs, taking multiple steps every time, her feet touched the ground. This couldn’t be real, couldn’t it? This was too good to happen to her. Too much of luck. These weren’t the kind of things that happened to people like her. Never. For her, things would always just get worse, not better. And still, this was Max. Without any doubt, this was her Max. Smiling at her as she shoved people aside, ignoring their protests. The last few steps, Evelyn started running and practically flew into his arms. He immediately reacted and quietly pulled her close into a tight embrace.
“I thought you were dead!” It was only when she whispered these words and heard her own trembling voice that she realized that she was crying. “I … I mourned you!”
“I thought the same of you”, he mumbled while burying his face on her shoulder. “I was halfway back to Ostwick to break the news to the rest of the family when the news of you being the Inquisition’s Herald reached me. I couldn’t believe it either.”
She freed herself from his embrace and took a step back, still not entirely sure if this was really happening or if she was just dreaming.
“But how?” Evelyn took his hand again just to feel that this was real, and Max was really standing in front of her. “I mean … They found your Knight-Commander dead. Cullen said your troop must have been cornered when the Breach opened.”
Pain flashed over his face and he lowered his head. “We were separated, and I fled with what was left of my men. I never reached the Conclave or Haven and thought you died in the blast when I didn’t hear anything from you.” A smile cracked across his lips. “But obviously I underestimated your ability to survive against all odds.”
“I take you really know each other?”
It was Cullen’s voice that drew Evelyn’s attention back to her surroundings and her two advisors. While Leliana smiled knowingly as if she already did the Math who just appeared here out of nowhere, Cullen still frowned and threw confused glances between Evelyn and Max.
Evelyn chuckled. “You can say that. May I present to you? Maxwell Trevelyan of Ostwick, son of Bann Trevelyan of Ostwick, former Knight-Captain of the Circle of Ansburg and – most importantly – my brother.”
Chapter 12: The past isn't just the past
Skyhold's tavern opens and everyone tries to have some fun once in a while.
With Max at Skyhold, the tavern opening just came in the right moment. Evelyn had spent half of the day showing him around and introducing him to everyone around her, still giddy and overjoyed having him back. Really having her brother back. The tavern opening was just the right opportunity to celebrate his arrival and Evelyn did. She drank, she laughed, she danced, ever whirling over the dance floor until Dorian finally laughed and grabbed her hands to drag her aside right before she could trip over her own feet. Evelyn didn’t protest but joined his laughter as he pulled her onto the bench at one of the tables in the back where Varric and Josephine were just finishing another round Wicked Grace, accompanied by Max who already seemed to have lost this game and now only watched the other two.
“Oh, this will end badly for you, Ruffles. Really.” Varric grinned and wiggled his brows while placing his cards backside up on the table. “Are you sure you wanna risk it?”
Josephine leaned back in her seat and smirked at the dwarf. “Are you trying to bluff against an Antivan, Master Tethras?”
Varric chuckled. “Fair enough”, he replied and turned his cards. “But I’m not bluffing.”
“Me neither.” Slowly, Josephine turned her cards as well. “Who took a risk now?”
Evelyn quietly chuckled into her cup and took a sip from her drink to hide it while Varric let out a surprised whistle and the Lady Ambassador started collecting her newly won rewards. From the other side of the table, Max began laughing and clapped his hands.
“Remind me to never bet against out Ambassador.” Dorian, too, grinned. “First asking whether she’s betting too much, but then winning against literally everyone. Well, except for our Inquisitor who rather chose to dance but to join a game among friends.”
Evelyn groaned and rolled her eyes. “You really want to see me playing Wicked Grace, right?”
“Maybe.” He smirked at her, signaling that this was just playful banter. Evelyn knew he would stop any moment if she asked him to, but this was harmless and with a smile, she let him continue. “You’re from the Free Marches. I thought you’re supposed to be great at this game.”
“First of all, Max and Varric are both from the Free Marches and far better at Wicked Grace than I am and they both just lost to Josephine”, she replied dryly and tilted her head in amusement, “and second, you do remember that I’m a former Circle Mage, right? You know, the people who were locked away down here until recently? Watched by the Chantry and the Templars who didn’t really appreciate when their charges gambled?”
“Oh, stop using the Circle as an excuse.” Max chuckled. “You beat both Adam and me at Wicked Grace when you were eight, Eve.”
“Only because you let me win.” Evelyn rolled her eyes, but her brother shrugged and hid his grin in his glass.
“I did. Adam not so much.”
“That’s why I spoke of you and not of him”, she replied and grinned. “Adam always was an idiot and easy to beat even back then.”
“Who is Adam?” Dorian frowned as if he tried to remember a face to the name though he obviously couldn’t know.
“Our older brother”, Max explained. “In fact, the oldest one of us three and terribly aware of the fact that he’s our father’s heir.”
“That means you’re from the horse-breeding Trevelyans of Ostwick, right? Or were the merchants those with Adam as their lead name?” Both Evelyn and Max stared at Dorian in surprise and he laughed. “I remember vaguely having to memorize such things as a child.”
“Well, you are right, we are the horse-breeding Trevelyans. The current head of the branch of merchants would be our cousin Percival”, Evelyn finally replied, still confused. “But why did you have to memorize our family branches?”
“Oh, didn’t you know? House Pavus and House Trevelyan are distantly related.” He shrugged and grinned. “Well, very distantly, but close enough that my mother made me memorize at least the lead names of every one of the larger branches. An extremely dull activity, by the way, but bloodlines are very important in Tevinter.”
“Did you know that?” Evelyn turned her head to Max, but he only raised his hands in defense.
“I’m as uninterested in our family’s distant relations as you are. I had no idea that we even have any connection to Tevinter.”
“Question would be rather which noble family from the Free Marches doesn’t have distant relatives all over Thedas?” Varric grinned and started to collect the cards from the table to shuffle them again. “Whenever a branch of you dies out, you can count on some poor soul from the Fereldan countryside who suddenly gets dragged north to take care of the mess somebody made with whom they only share a great-great-grandfather.”
“I beg your pardon, but in this case it’s more like my great-great-great-grandfather married the sister to a Trevelyan who moved later to Ostwick”, Dorian corrected him and theatrically raised one finger as if to scold Varric. “There is a difference.”
“Oh, imagine how mad aunt Lucille would be if she could see how a stranger from Tevinter knows more about our family than we do.” Max laughed and took another sip of his drink.
“No, she would probably just adopt him right away and never shut up of how she’s related to House Pavus.” Evelyn grinned at Dorian. “Welcome to the family, you’ll instantly regret telling us about this the moment you might be unlucky enough to meet one of our other relatives.”
“Oh, I’m sure they aren’t that bad, Inquisitor”, Josephine replied and smiled. “I remember that my father always spoke highly of your family.”
“He isn’t wrong doing so”, Max agreed. “The Trevelyans are Ostwick’s seventh or eighth most powerful family and the horses our branch breeds are valued among nobles all over Thedas, even the late Emperor of Orlais had one for a while. But well, neither Eve nor I are really on good terms with them.”
“Oh.” Josephine threw glances between the siblings as Evelyn let out an agreeing scoff. “That’s sad. May I ask why?”
“Because I’m a Mage and our family has close ties to the Chantry.” Evelyn’s voice cut harder through the air between them as she had intended. “For my father and my uncle, it was and is a great shame to have someone like me in the family and they were outraged when Max dared to think differently, so … Let’s just say, the two of us are the black sheep of the family. Me more than him.”
“Eve”, Max said softly and clicked his tongue and his sister immediately sighed.
“I’m sorry, Josephine”, she hurried to apologize and rubbed her temples. “I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
“No offense taken, Inquisitor.” The Lady Ambassador smiled. “I can imagine, this is a painful topic for you. I am sorry to have brought it up.”
Evelyn returned the smile and opened her mouth for a reply when Sera stumbled out of nowhere and, with a loud, bored groan, crashed next to her on the bench.
“There you are!”, she slurred and grinned widely. “I think I like this Inquisition. You really know how to throw a party!”
The elf leaned onto Evelyn who laughed and helped her sit straight before moving a little aside closer to Dorian so that the three of them could sit on the bench.
“I agree on that.” Max laughed. “There are worse places to be tonight.”
“And it’s still early.” Varric grinned. “I haven’t even seen Curly yet.”
“You don’t even know if he will really come.”
Evelyn shook her head, carefully keeping silent about how she wasn’t that unhappy about Cullen’s absence. Due to Max’ surprising arrival, she had managed to mostly avoid him today and still wasn’t that eager to see him until she had decided on how to deal with the newly gained insights from Varric’s book.
“Oh, he will come.” Varric chuckled again. “I’m sure.”
“Why?” Max threw a questioning look at Varric. “Is there something else tonight?”
“He likes the warmth of friendly eyes. It heals him on the inside.” Startled, Evelyn and Dorian jumped aside on the bench which pushed Sera off it and made space for Cole who just appeared out of nowhere between the two of them. “He is scarred and broken. But he likes the smile on friendly lips and the honesty in her voice. It makes him feel warm.”
“Alright, Kid, that’s enough”, Varric gently interrupted the Ghost Boy before he could tell even more. “Leave our Commander some privacy.”
Cole blinked in surprise. “But it’s not hidden. He carries it on his sleeve.”
While Dorian scoffed and mumbled something into his drink that Evelyn couldn’t understand but made the others smirk, Varric patiently smiled at Cole. “Still, people don’t always say everything that’s on their face for a reason and sometimes we like to think that even the obvious things are private. Let him have that.”
Cole frowned and tilted his head for a moment, still confused and obviously unsure what to make of Varric’s words, but finally nodded and just disappeared again.
“Strange boy.” Max shook his head while Sera cursed loudly and climbed back on the bench.
“Ah, the Kid’s alright”, Varric replied. “He just has problems figuring out how the rest of us are different from him.”
“That’s one way to put it.”
Evelyn rolled her eyes at Dorian’s remark, suddenly grateful that Bull wasn’t here to join him in his comments. Most of the time, she felt like she had to constantly keep the two of them from fighting but when it came to Cole, they weirdly seemed to share opinions though for different reasons. While Bull was skeptical regarding anything magic in general, Dorian was just annoyed since Cole had snuck into his head in the wrong moment a few days ago, but that didn’t change how they suddenly agreed for once.
“Let him be”, Evelyn sighed. “Varric’s right. Cole only wants to help.”
Dorian was about to reply something Evelyn was sure would have been sassy again when the music changed and cut him off. The melody was now faster and more joyful, obviously made for dancing, and with it, heads in the tavern started to turn. Evelyn looked over to the musicians, too, and noticed how a few people in the crowd started clapping and cheering with the beat as the first dancers moved into their middle to turn and spin between them.
“Oh, this is an Antivan dance!” Josephine beamed all over her face. “I didn’t know they would play one of these!”
“I asked them to.” Behind them, Leliana came closer and grinned. “I knew you would love it, Josie.”
Without waiting further, she just grabbed Josephine’s hand and pulled her from her seat. Before the Lady Ambassador even could voice any protest, Leliana had already led her among the dancers and the two women started whirling with the other dancers. Evelyn watched them grinning quietly over Josephine’s joyful laughter. She turned her head to the others and wanted to make a jokingly comment about how this was the first time she saw Josephine that relaxed when two slim hands grabbed hers and started dragging her away, too. Sera had jumped up and now pulled Evelyn with a wide grin from the bench between the dancers. Evelyn called out in protest, but Sera just giggled something she couldn’t understand over the music and before she knew it, Evelyn found herself turning in circles between the dancers. Faces rushed by, hands grabbed hers and let them go again, whirling her around like a puppet. It was exactly the opposite of any situation Evelyn would normally feel comfortable in but with her friend’s faces around her, she soon felt more and more relaxed. She saw how Dorian came closer to watch them just to be shoved between the dancers by Bull while Sera now also grabbed Blackwall’s hands and dragged him, too, between the dancers. The music grew even faster, the circles of the dancers even wilder and even more people got pulled between them, every movement so fast that Evelyn couldn’t keep track of neither the dancers nor the people around her anymore.
When the music finally stopped and the dancers started to slow down again, Evelyn could feel a push against her back. She lost her balance, staggered and finally crashed against someone else. She let out a soft curse and looked over her shoulder quickly enough to see Dorian grinning very content, flanked by Sera who burst into loud laughter. Evelyn rolled her eyes and started mumbling an excuse to the person she had stumbled against as she pushed herself back on a stable position and finally looked up … and immediately understood why Sera had couldn’t stop laughing.
“Oh … Cullen.” She hastily took a step back and gave him a nervous smile. “I’m sorry … I guess I lost my balance.”
He looked at her in surprise, but then cleared his throat and smiled back. “Uhm … No problem. I hear Antivan dances often can have that effect.”
“I assume.” She tucked one strand of hair behind her ear and looked down while still forcing a smile. “Though … I’ve never danced one before today. Or any other real dance.”
Saying it out loud somehow embarrassed her though probably everyone would have known it anyway, especially Cullen. Circles were no place for dancing, even if you were from a remotely powerful family like Evelyn’s.
“Oh …” He awkwardly scratched his neck. “Well, I can’t say you would be the only one.”
“What, no balls for Templars either?” The confession broke the tension and made Evelyn broadly grin again though she immediately regretted it. She wasn’t supposed to be like that around him. Not now, not anymore.
“No, not really, I suppose.” He returned her smile. “Not that I would have missed it but …”
Cullen didn’t finish the sentence and just let his voice trail off as he shrugged. Evelyn could hear Sera groan and distantly yell something from behind. When she turned around, the elf was just walking off making gestures Evelyn assumed weren’t really polite while Dorian kept laughing.
“Is she alright? She seems … outraged?”
Evelyn smirked. “I think so. Dorian probably just said something that wasn’t really nice, and she will have her revenge by filling his bed with bees tomorrow.”
“She would really do that?” He frowned in concern, but a smile cracked over his face. “Perhaps I should double lock my room as a precaution.”
“Good luck with that. She’d probably just pick the lock.”
He nervously scratched his neck and an awkward silence started to grow between them. Evelyn crossed her arms and forced a smile, but when he still didn’t say anything, she took her chance and cleared her throat. “Uh … I think, I will go and see what my brother is doing.”
“Oh.” He nodded and for a moment, Evelyn thought she could see something like disappointment flash over his face. “Yes … of course.”
“Have a nice evening, Commander.”
He smiled at her and suddenly, Evelyn felt bad for slipping away like that. “You as well, Inquisitor.”
With another forced smile, Evelyn turned around and quickly moved through the crowd back towards the table where she assumed Max still was sitting, but then decided differently and took a turn up the stairs. Following a spontaneous urge to get some fresh air, Evelyn crossed the second floor and stepped into Sera’s room where she opened one of the windows leading to the roof and climbed outside. The cold air of the night pleasantly brushed over her skin while she carefully moved over the tiles until she had found a safe position to sit with her back leaned against the wall.
With a sigh, Evelyn let her head sink against the stone and closed her eyes. She felt like a coward for dodging that conversation with Cullen like that. On the other hand, interacting with him like nothing had changed would make things only even more complicated and delay the inevitable.
“Once a Templar, always a Templar”, she quietly mumbled to herself and sighed again.
Why did this suddenly felt so upsetting? She had been cautious around Templars since she had been nine, she had always known that they couldn’t be trusted. None of them. Well, except for Max, but that was different. He had always been first and foremost her brother, everything else came second. That had shaped him as much as the order and Evelyn remembered very well how he even had filed a complaint on her behalf against Mallorick and Brycen after the incident with Leo. Of course, it had led to nothing, it never did, but he had risked enough by even trying. Nearly had costed him his promotion and as far as Evelyn knew, it had been his Knight-Commander who had pulled the strings to shield him from these consequences.
“So, here’s where you’ve been hiding.”
The sudden sound of her brother’s voice made Evelyn start and she turned her head. Max was leaning through the open window and grinned.
“Dorian saw you walking upstairs”, he explained and climbed outside to sit next to her. “And you’re making that face again.”
She raised her brows. “What face?”
“That face you always make when there is something on your mind, but instead of talking about it, you’re just keeping quiet until it eats you alive.” He kept grinning and placed one arm around her to pull her closer. “So, tell me what’s wrong.”
“You’re a nightmare.”
Evelyn groaned and let her head sink against his shoulder. Max laughed. “I know. But that’s what siblings are for. At least the better kind.”
For a few moments, none of them said anything and they just sat there in silence, cuddled against each other while Evelyn thought about the right words to answer him. Finally, she sighed and spoke again.
“Did you ever read ‘The tale of the Champion’?”
“The book Varric wrote about the beginning of the Mage uprising? No.”
“Varric gave me a copy as a present and I read it last night. It’s … hard to bear if you come from a Circle like Ostwick.”
Max let out a curse. “Bad memories then?”
“No … I mean, yes, that, too, but it’s not everything.” Evelyn sighed. “Cullen was Knight-Captain in Kirkwall in the years before the rebellion started. And … I don’t know. I guess the book just reminded me how the past isn’t just the past, but also the present.”
“Because he abused Mages?”
“Seems like he just turned a blind eye on what his Knight-Commander and others were doing. But Varric also cites him with some … less nice things about Mages in general.” Freeing herself from his arm, Evelyn pulled her knees close and placed her chin on top. “I’m not even sure why this bothers me. I heard the stories about Kirkwall, I should have known this before.”
“So, what is it that you fear? That there is an abusive Ex-Templar among the people around you and you just didn’t notice?” Max raised his brows. “Or that there is a friend who turns out to have a past like anyone else?”
“You know that it’s not that easy.”
“It’s never that easy but at the same time, it is.” Without looking at him, Evelyn could hear how he sighed deeply and moved, probably to run his fingers through his hair. “Listen, Eve”, he then continued reluctantly. “There are a lot of things I’m not proud of either. I guess Ansburg was never Kirkwall or Ostwick, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t tell you about a bunch of situations in which, looking back now, I wished I had behaved differently. I’m regretting these choices and I’m trying to do better than that, but if anyone would dig out some old reports now, they wouldn’t look good either.” He paused for a moment. “I think, what I want to say is this: The Circle of Kirkwall fell over four years ago. That’s a long time to change a life’s direction. If your instincts tell you to trust the Cullen you met now, don’t back down just because of what you read in some book.” He playfully nudged her in the side. “Besides, you are literally surrounded by people who care for you and look out for each other. Don’t you think they would have kicked your Commander out by now if he wasn’t trustworthy?”
Evelyn grimaced and moved away from his reach. “They haven’t lived the life I lived.”
“Nobody’s asking you to forgive Mallorick or Brycen, Eve”, Max replied softly. “But if you clinch to that fear forever, it will eat you alive. You’re no longer in the Circle. You are free, you are Inquisitor, nobody can harm you anymore.”
His words made her chuckle though it sounded bitter even in her own ears. “Funny, Varric said something similar to me this morning.”
“That’s because it’s true.” He moved closer to her again and pulled her back into his arms. “I know you suffered, Eve”, he then whispered against her head. “But I can tell that you’re happy here and how you found yourself some great friends. Don’t let them ruin this for you.”
“I’m not sure how”, she replied, and Evelyn could hear how her voice trembled. “Or if I should. Like it or not, that life made me who I am. Good and bad. I can’t just … shake that off.” She closed her eyes. “I wished I could.”
“One day, you will figure it out.” He gently squeezed her shoulder. “I’m sure.”
Evelyn didn’t reply anything to that but fell silent. For Max, it was easy to believe that, one day, she would just get over it. What he didn’t understand was how the Circles might be gone, but while he had turned back into just a man and a soldier like anyone else, Evelyn still was a Mage. She had still felt the mistrusting looks burning on her skin when she had arrived in the Hinterlands, she still remembered how she had cried for weeks after Brycen had discovered her relationship with Leo and nearly beat him to death. Maker, every time she saw Dorian or Solas wield their magic, she couldn’t help but envy them for the carefree way they used their powers. Leaving the past behind meant for people like Max something completely different than for her.
Evelyn turned her head and looked at the dark shape of Skyhold’s Main Hall against the black night sky. Maybe, the key wasn’t to let go. Maybe, she just had to accept that she was who and what she was because of the past. And that her pain and mistrust just were a part of her – Even if that meant that her friendship with Cullen was doomed before it had really begun.
Told you that this is a slow burn ;) But we're slowly getting closer to the romance part :D
Chapter 13: Black sheep
Dorian grieves and Max has some advice for Cullen.
I had half of this chapter planned out for what feels like ages. So much fun to write mainly because I love writing banter and playful teasing among friends. Hope you like it and as always, thanks for sticking around! <3
Apparently, being Inquisitor increased the number of daily problems Evelyn had to face disproportionally and out of nowhere. A few Mages and former Templars kept having smaller and bigger fights, no matter that Cullen’s idea of training them together seemed to improve the tensions at Skyhold, supplies were still chronically short which got everyone even more on edge and on top, there nearly wasn’t a day without somebody complaining about one of her companions. One day, it was Mother Giselle being upset about Dorian’s sharp tongue, on another, it would be Cabot, the bartender at the Herald’s Rest, complaining about the loudly snoring Qunari and his mercenaries in the middle of his tavern, and the day after that Sera decided to spread itching powder over the new recruit’s bedrolls. Evelyn spent half of her days just calming people about little things that wouldn’t have bothered anyone under different circumstances. But the situation was different. The Inquisition still had no real goal, no plan how they wanted to defeat Corypheus and also not the slightest idea what to do. The people started to sense that, and it started to make the situation even more complicated and really tested all of Evelyn’s diplomatic skills. Having to separate Cassandra and Varric after he had told her that Hawke would arrive any day at the castle, didn’t make anything better. Or that she still was dodging Cullen even after they had picked up their training again.
Evelyn didn’t admit it, but when Hawke finally arrived and it became clear that she soon would be leaving for Crestwood to search for Hawke’s Warden friend, she was relieved. They finally had found purpose and she would finally get away from Skyhold, Cullen and her brother and his advices about how she should deal with her past.
It was the afternoon two days before they planned to leave Skyhold when Evelyn just crossed the Main Hall to meet with Josephine in her office about the arrival of a few noble guests after her return, when she noticed Solas sitting at Varric’s table, a book in his hands and a cup next to him. Evelyn frowned and stopped before tilting her head in confusion. Since when did he leave the rotunda to read a book? He who always complained about how Skyhold was far too loud to study properly except for the library and especially the room he had occupied on the first floor.
As if he had read her thoughts, Solas raised his head and threw an annoyed glance at her. “If you’re wondering why I fled here, you should rather look after Dorian, Inquisitor.” He grimaced. “He’s been quite indignant today.”
Evelyn raised her brows. “Why do I get the feeling that this is the biggest euphemism possible?”
“Because it is”, Solas replied dryly and looked back at his book. “And even though I do understand that we all have to deal with our emotions from time to time, I would appreciate if you could do something about it, Inquisitor. Soon.”
“I’ll go and look after him.” She sighed. “Could you just do me a favor and quickly tell Josephine that I’ll be late for meeting her?”
He closed his book and scoffed. “Of course, but I fear this might take longer. He has been … quite irritated all day.”
Evelyn didn’t comment on that but suppressed a curse and walked past Solas into the rotunda. Mildly put, Solas’ words made her fear the worst. Dorian could be dramatic, yes, but if he had managed to annoy Solas that much that he even had fled from the room below, this would mean trouble. When she entered Solas’ room, she also understood why. There were books lying all over the room and in the exact moment Evelyn entered, there was another one flying down from the second floor followed by the sound of Dorian’s voice as he cursed in Tevene. The book crashed right in front of Evelyn’s feet to the ground and instinctively, she took a step back, now actually cursing.
“Alright, Dorian, why are you throwing books through my castle?”, she shouted as she quickly moved through the room before another book could hit her and took the stairs to the second floor. “You even managed to chase away Solas.”
“Because your library is horrible”, he stated without looking at her and glanced over the books in front of him instead. “You have at least three shelves about minor Saints but no single book by Genitivi? That, my friend, is a sin.” He took one book, opened it, scoffed and threw it behind him over the gallery. Evelyn could hear it crash to the ground downstairs and raised her brows.
“You're being overly dramatic again.”
“I'm just honest.”
He flipped through the next book and attempted to throw it away again, but this time, Evelyn intervened and took it from his hands. “Alright, that’s enough. Tell me what's wrong.”
“Nothing's wrong. Well, except for this ridiculously bad collection of books.”
He sternly stared at the books before him. Evelyn sighed and gently placed one hand on his arm. “Dorian”, she said, this time with more emphasis. “I know you a little by now and I can tell when you’re upset.” She smiled and sat down into the ridiculously large armchair next to the shelves, her legs crossed. “Besides, I can see how you're grinding your teeth. So, spit it out.”
He threw a glare at her and groaned. “You’re terrible. Do you know that?”
He let himself fall next to Evelyn into the armchair, no matter that it actually was too small for two adults. She let out a protesting moan but then just moved aside and made enough space for him to take a seat in the chair and her sitting on the armrest. She bit back a comment when she saw how he suddenly slumped. This was the first time she ever saw him this sad. He always seemed to have a joke or witty remark on his lips, seeing him so different from that worried her.
“You don’t need to talk about it if you don’t want to”, she finally said softly after a few moments of silence. “But—”
His words cut through Evelyn's sentence like a knife and made her immediately fall silent. That explained his behavior. Evelyn had only briefly met Alexius’ son before he had left for Tevinter again, but she knew that Dorian and Felix had been close though she wasn't sure how close exactly.
Dorian sighed. “Yes, ‘Oh.’”
“I’m sorry.” Evelyn wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “I know you were close.”
He leaned onto her embrace. “You know, he spoke in front of the Magisterium before he passed away. About you.” Suddenly, he chuckled. “Apparently, you impressed him so much that he held quite a speech.”
Evelyn joined his soft laughter. “Let me guess: You absolutely love the thought of the Magisterium in turmoil because of a random Southern Mage?”
“They were quite displeased”, he replied and grinned as he sat straight again. “According to a friend of mine who was there, half of them looked like they just got bitten by a Mabari. Especially my father because Felix also told them that I was involved, too. That might have been a bonus in this story.” He sighed. “I knew he was sick and that his death was only a matter of time, but …”
“It’s different when it really happens”, Evelyn finished his sentence when his voice trailed off. “I know.” For a moment, they sat there in silence until Evelyn finally spoke again and voiced the question burning in her mind. “Will you … return to Tevinter? Attend the funeral or something like that?”
That provoked a short laugh from Dorian, but it sounded bitter to Evelyn. “Even if I could be there on time, that wouldn’t be a great idea. I doubt that any of his relatives would like to have me there after the role I played in Alexius’ fall. And at least half of the rest of Tevinter’s nobility would probably agree.”
A smile appeared on Evelyn’s face and turned into an amused smirk. It was silly, she knew that, but somehow it felt comforting to her that she wasn’t the only child of a noble family at Skyhold who wasn’t exactly welcome back home. Dorian noticed her smile and frowned.
“Oh, nothing. I just had to think about how it seems like we’re both black sheep to our families.”
He chuckled. “Two noble black sheep out for adventure and to save the world. This will make a great story – Well, as long as we survive long enough for anybody to tell it.”
“Ah, there’s your snarky pessimism again.” She grinned. “I already worried.”
“You’re worried about me?” He freed himself from her embrace as he seemed to regain his humor. “I feel flattered!”
She threw a playfully bored glare at him and rolled her eyes. “Of course, I am. You’re my friend, I hope you know that.” The glare turned back into an amused smirk. “I mean, we stranded in time together after all.”
“And you made sure that a Qunari would drag me off the battlefield when you decided to become a martyr”, he added while a grin started to curve his lips. “I suppose, that makes our friendship rank quite high among any relationship I normally maintain.” He fell silent for a moment before finally getting up from the chair and taking a few steps away from her just to stop again and turn back to Evelyn. “Thank you. For … being here. I’m not used to having friends who care around me anymore, but it feels nice that that changed.”
She smiled. “I’m also glad you’re here. The Inquisition wouldn’t be the same without you.”
Dorian didn’t reply anything to that, but Evelyn noticed the smile that flashed over his face for a second before he turned around and looked down into Solas’ room. He sighed. “I suppose, I should help Solas collect those books from the floor.”
“You probably should.” She grinned and swung her legs over the other side of the armchair. “And you might owe him an apology. You chased him outside into the Main Hall.” Dorian groaned and Evelyn laughed. “Relax, if he’d knew you just cleared the library of Chantry propaganda, he’d probably agree.”
“In my defense: You really should work on your selection of books.”
“True”, Evelyn agreed and lifted herself from the chair. “But for now, I’ll just have to put it on my list. Tell Josephine if you have any recommendations and we’ll try to avoid more incidents that involve you throwing books through Skyhold.” She passed him and gently placed a hand on his arm for a second. “And I meant what I said about you being my friend. If you need someone to talk again, I’m here.”
She gave him a warm smile as goodbye and turned away to leave. Dorian had more wit and a sharper tongue than good for him, but Evelyn knew how this kind of open proclamation of friendship was completely out of his comfort zone. If she stayed know, this would probably turn awkward and uncomfortable. He would need his time and he should have it – Evelyn had business with a very impatient and stressed Josephine anyway.
“Alright, you are dismissed!”, Cullen barked at the recruits in front of him and felt a little content when he glanced over the few Mages among them who had joined them today for their training. “Meet with Captain Rylen later for your evening drill.”
He waited for a moment, arms crossed and keeping the sternest posture possible while the recruits started chatting and walking away in small groups. When most of them had left, Cullen relaxed, too, and turned around to walk back into his office. There were at least one of Leliana’s reports waiting and he still was waiting for another on the information that Varric and Hawke had collected regarding Corypheus. Cullen had just stepped through the door and walked to his desk when a voice from the opposite side of the room interrupted his thoughts.
“Interesting idea, the thing with letting the soldiers train with the Mages.” He turned his head after the man standing in the doorframe to the bridge that lead to Skyholds main building. Maxwell Trevelyan had come closer and nodded respectfully into his direction. “Especially since there seem to be quite a lot of templars among them.”
Cullen shrugged and tried to hide how he instinctively asked himself what Max wanted from him. The two of them hadn’t really talked much since Evelyn’s brother had appeared out of nowhere at Skyhold and Cullen was unsure what had him made change his mind. “We needed a way to show them that fear, and hatred will get us nowhere and fighting side by side unites them. Besides, none of this would have worked if your sister hadn't helped me. The people admire her.”
“I noticed that.” Max chuckled and Cullen wasn’t sure if he really thought of the same thing as him, but he didn’t say anything. Instead, it was Max who broke the silence between them after a few moments. “It’s good to see her like that. I haven’t seen her this happy since we were children.”
“You saw her during her time in the Circle then?”
Cullen raised his brows and Max nodded. “As often as I could. I joined the order only months after we discovered that Evelyn’s a Mage and after my family made sure I stayed in the Free Marches, I volunteered as often as I could to help the templars in Ostwick or meet my family and step by at the Circle. Took a while, but before Ansburg and Ostwick fell, we saw each other every couple of months.” He crossed his arms and fell silent for a moment. “You know … She tries to hide it most times, but make no mistake, she suffered in the Circle. And … It’s nice to see that she finally somehow recovers.”
Cullen nodded. “I heard that Ostwick was … bad.”
“Kirkwall probably was worse”, Max replied and signaled with a smile that he probably meant no harm with the remark. “But, yes, Ostwick wasn’t good either.” He sighed. “A couple of years back, you know, I thought Evelyn was overreacting. Demanding what Mages always demanded and not thinking about the consequences. Took me a while to realize how her cries for help mirrored the ones from my own charges for a reason.”
His comment made Cullen tense. Just like these kinds of remarks always did because they made him remember of his own mistakes in that regard. They reminded him of how Orsino had come begging to him, but he had rather trusted Meredith than listening to the Mage in front of him. He would have had the chance to prevent a bloodshed and just didn’t realize it.
“I know that feeling”, Cullen finally replied with reluctance. “It’s easy just to believe what you’re told when you’re in the order.”
“It is. And they always have you on their leash because they are the ones with the Lyrium.” He grimaced. “How does the Inquisition handle this anyway? Did you really manage to strike a deal with Orzammar?”
“Our Ambassador did, but don’t ask me how.” Cullen shrugged. “I’m just glad that we have one less problem to worry about. If you need to refill your own supply, I can put you on the list for the healers.”
“I still have enough for a while but thank you. I will come back to you when it changes.” Max paused and Cullen could see how the other man had the next sentence already on his lips but hesitated to voice the thought for a moment. “I know, it’s none of my business, but ... I think you should tell Eve that you don’t take Lyrium anymore. It would be important to her, especially since the two of you seem to be friends and that’s rare enough between former Templars and Circle Mages.”
Cullen blinked a few times in surprise. “How …? I mean … Barely anyone knows.”
“I recognized the symptoms.” Max smiled in sympathy. “The headaches, the tenseness … and there are some rumors about your nightmares.” He gave Cullen an apologetic shrug. “Again, it’s none of my business and I won’t tell anyone, I just thought …” He paused as he searched for the right words. “Well, I thought I’d give you a friendly advice. Take it or not, but I think it’d be better if Evelyn knew.”
A scarcely suppressed smirk curved his lips as he turned around to leave. “Believe me.”
Chapter 14: Secret
Just when Evelyn decides to keep her distance, Cullenstarts whirling her thoughts around again.
“Oh, this will be fun.” Hawke grinned at Varric and gently patted her horse’s neck. “Just like old times.”
The dwarf laughed. “You might be the only person who recalls ‘good old times’ and means crawling through caves and fighting spiders.”
“Hey, we had a lot of fun.” She took the reins and led her animal a few steps closer to the gates so that they didn’t stand as packed as before. “You can’t deny that.”
“I’m not denying it, I’m just saying that our definition of ‘fun’ is messed up.”
Evelyn smiled and checked her saddlebag again while quietly listening to their banter. It was the morning of their panned departure for Crestwood and while Dorian still was nowhere to be found and Cassandra was still angry over Varric’s lie and kept silent, too, the other two seemed to be the only ones today who were in the mood for stupid jokes and friendly teasing. Evelyn didn’t mind, in fact, she enjoyed listening to them as they shared their stories. Having an idea how much blood was spilled in Hawke’s past, it was comforting to hear how both her and Varric still managed to find happy stories to tell.
“Have you forgotten how ‘messed up’ is basically the summary of my whole life? Everybody else’s ‘messed up’ is my normal.”
“Alright, alright, I give up!” Varric laughed again. “Arguing with you never leads anywhere.”
“That’s because I’m a force you don’t mess with”, Hawke replied while joining his laughter. “Your words!”
“To Curly! As an excuse! After you punched him!”
“He deserved it.”
Evelyn turned around and frowned. “What does that mean? You punched Cullen?”
“I did.” Hawke grinned widely, her blue eyes sparkling with pride, while Varric rolled his eyes. “During the Mage rebellion in Kirkwall, just after we defeated Meredith. That scar on his lip?” She pointed at her right upper lip just between the corner of her mouth and her nostrils. “He got that one from me.”
“It was quite a picture”, Varric agreed though his tone was far less approving. “We were in the middle of the ruins of what once was the Circle, just had fought the fight of our lives and the first thing she did after the Knight-Captain had switched sides to fight with us against his Knight-Commander was punching him in the face and not stopping yelling while his face wouldn’t stop bleeding.” He shook his head and scoffed. “It took both Carver and Fenris to drag her away. That was one of the reasons why my book ended with Meredith’s death. Writing that scene would have been … surreal.”
“I’m not, but I suggest we change the topic, or our Commander will have a say in this discussion. And I believe he would be on my side.”
Varric nodded towards the stairs to the upper courtyard and when Evelyn followed with her eyes, she saw Cullen slowly walking down to them. He seemed tense, as often since their arrival at Skyhold, and kept a stern expression on his face as he came closer. She suppressed a curse. And there she had been believing she wouldn’t have to talk to him before they left and just keep her distance, not matter how weird it felt.
“Inquisitor”, he greeted her respectfully when he finally stopped in front of her and ignored the others. Given what she just heard, Evelyn wondered whether this was just a coincidence or on purpose. “Do …” He stopped and nervously scratched his chin. “Do you have a moment?”
“Depends.” She shrugged and dodged the looks he gave her. “Can it wait? We’ll be leaving in an hour and …”
“Please.” The look he gave her had something begging and he took a step closer. “It won’t take long, but it’s just … important.”
Evelyn blinked a few times in surprise and tilted her head to look at him. She wasn’t sure if she had ever seen Cullen like this before. He was shifting from one foot to another, both hands clinched onto his sword as his look nervously wandered over Evelyn and her surroundings. This was more than strange, but it probably also meant that he was right, and this was urgent. She hesitated for a moment and bit her lip before finally sighing.
“Alright”, she said and took her horse’s reins to hand them over to Cassandra. “I suppose, in that case, I have a moment.”
“Thank you.” He visibly relaxed a little and gave her a small smile. “If you don’t mind, I’d rather speak about this matter in private.”
“Your office then?” She crossed her arms and nodded towards the tower right next to the gates where he had settled in. “Or should we get Leliana and Josephine, too, and meet at the War Table?”
“No, this doesn’t concern them”, he replied and stretched an arm to point towards the stairs that lead to the walkway and his tower. “After you, Inquisitor.”
Evelyn followed his request and silently went ahead. She still wondered what could be so important that he wanted to speak to her in private about now, when they were just about to leave, while it apparently at the same time he didn’t need to discuss it with Leliana or Josephine. When they entered his office, she took a few steps inside the room while Cullen closed the door and then turned around, her brows arched while tilting her head.
“So …? What’s so important?”
“I …” He hesitated for a moment, nervously scratching his chin and shifting from one foot to another before finally walking behind this desk. “I’m not sure how to say this …” He sighed and rubbed his neck. “I mean … You’re the leader of the Inquisition now … and I told you that I trust you, I really do, so … I think there is something you should know.”
Again, his obvious tenseness irritated Evelyn and she frowned. “Just tell me what’s on your mind”, she said, immediately upset about how unintentionally soft her voice sounded. “I’m listening.”
“Thank you”, he replied, but kept shifting from one foot to another. “As a former Circle Mage, you probably know that Templars take Lyrium.”
She nodded. “Yes. It grants you your abilities for dealing with magic.”
“It’s also highly addictive and therefore binds us to the order and the Chantry”, he added. “Which is why I chose not to take it anymore.”
Evelyn’s eyes widened. “This could kill you, Cullen.” The fear in her own voice even surprised herself for a moment. “What if …?”
“I know”, he replied and stared down to his desk. “But Lyrium is part of a life I no longer support. That I don’t want to have anymore.” He lifted his head again. “And I have everything under control.”
Evelyn clicked her tongue and stepped closer to him, ignoring her own plan of keeping both a physical and emotional distance to him for now. “I’m not doubting that. I’m just … concerned.”
“And I’m grateful for that”, he replied and gave her a nervous smile. “I asked Cassandra to have an eye on me in case I shouldn’t be suited for my duties within the Inquisition anymore, but …”
That made Evelyn roll her eyes. “The Inquisition will cope”, she interrupted him. “I value your work and everything you do, but … Just stay safe, alright?” She bit her lip. “We already lost enough people.”
He fell silent for a moment as their eyes locked. Surprise spread over his face though Evelyn could tell how he tried to suppress it. Probably as much as she fought down the urge to look away. Still, she didn’t. Not because she didn’t want to, but because what he just told her was too important. Evelyn tried to remember if she ever heard of a Templar who just had quit taking Lyrium by his own choice but couldn’t remember a single one. She knew of those who had turned mad or those who took less as they grew older and it curbed their memory, but quitting completely? No, this was special. Not only for Cullen, but also for others. If he managed to break his leash of Lyrium in the hands of whoever supplied it, maybe other would be able to follow. It could weaken what was left of the order and either destroy or change it in a way nobody had seen before. At least as long Cullen survived this.
“Thank you, Evelyn”, he finally replied and for the first time since she had received the title of Inquisitor, he called her by her first name again. “I will.”
She couldn’t help but smile a little. “Good.” He returned the smile and Evelyn bit her lip before adding reluctantly: “And … thank you for telling me.”
“You’re the Inquisitor. You needed to know.”
Evelyn scoffed softly. “That’s not true and you know it”, she replied. “You could have kept this to yourself and just have had Cassandra keep her eyes open. I wouldn’t have blamed you.”
“It wouldn’t have been fair that way.”
Evelyn smiled sadly again and lowered her head for a moment. Leo came to her mind. How he had screamed as Brycen beat him. How madness had mirrored in his eyes when he shouted at Lydia years later. How the same eyes turned dull as life left his body pierced with bolts of ice.
“Nothing’s ever fair”, she replied and sighed. “Especially not when it comes to cleaning up the mess the Chantry left in our lives.”
“But we can try.” Something like an optimistic smirk cracked around the corners of his lips. “That’s better than nothing.”
“You keep surprising me, Commander.” A soft chuckle left Evelyn’s throat. “I know, I already told you this, but you really aren’t what I expected when I met you. Keep that. It’s a good trait.”
“You aren’t what I expected either.”
The expression on his lips turned into a real lopsided grin which Evelyn had to admit really suited him. She gave air to a quick sound of laughter. “That’s because everyone sees the Mage first and is surprised to discover that I’m also a person”, she replied. “I surprise everybody, but nobody surprises me. At least normally.” When he saw the confused expression on his face, Evelyn grinned. “That’s a compliment, Cullen.”
Suddenly, he blushed which made Evelyn grin even more though she still felt torn between her instincts and her common sense. She wanted to trust him, now even more, but at the same time, she knew how foolish this desire was. It just was that Cullen with all his honesty made it so difficult to keep herself at a healthy distance.
“Well …” He cleared his throat. “Thank you.”
Evelyn smiled. “You’re welcome. Is there anything else? Because in that case, I fear I’ll have to go already. There still is a lot to do before we leave for Crestwood.”
“Of course, thank you for your time.” Cullen returned the smile and bowed a little in respect. “Safe travels.”
While Evelyn was still turning around to leave through the same door, she entered the room, her mind started racing. Lyrium was the one thing that made Templars unpredictable. The one thing that took their empathy and everything else that made them remotely human. Lyrium was the one thing that made their abuse so easy for them. Always had. And Cullen wanted to actively break free from it. He already did. What did this make of him? Maker, just when she had decided to remind herself how he was and stayed a Templar, no matter where he was now, he made it difficult for her to stick with it.
Her thoughts kept racing, even when she finally was riding through Skyhold’s gates, accompanied by Varric, Hawke, Cassandra and Dorian, while a group of curious bystanders watched them leave. When Evelyn turned around for the last time and threw an apologetic look to her brother who still looked less than pleased over how she had forced him to stay, she glanced over the battlement above him and saw Cullen watching the scenery from above. Just for a second, their eyes locked and he smiled at her, but Evelyn quickly turned away and acted as if she hadn’t noticed it.
Maker, why could nothing ever be easy in her life?
Stay tuned, next chapter will bring some familiar faces :D
Chapter 15: The Warden
Evelyn travels to Crestwood and sees an unexpected face.
“I hate the South. I really do.”
“We know that.” Evelyn rolled her eyes while Dorian pulled himself out of his soaked cloak and let it fall to the ground where it immediately started to cause a small puddle around the cloth. With a quick gesture, she made the water freeze before it could pour through their camp. “Everybody knows it by now.”
“Good.” He started conjuring magic to dry himself. “Because I swear this is the last time, I go on a trip that involves wading through mud and Undead.”
“This is the first time you do that”, Evelyn reminded him as she wiped off the water from her staff. “Besides, we’ve been here for less than half a day.”
She pulled off her own cloak and looked around for a place to put the wet cloth. Since their less than welcoming arrival in Crestwood had been filled with nothing but rain, Undead and a few Grey Wardens searching the area, the group had taken shelter in one of the many caves around the village. While Dorian kept complaining, Hawke, Varric and Cassandra already had freed themselves from their just as soaked coats and had placed them on free rocks around them. Evelyn followed their example and picked up Dorian’s coat from the ground, too, while he kept drying his clothes.
“Still too much.” He scoffed. “You should rather have asked Solas to come. All this walking through mud and wilderness attitude suits him far better than me.”
“And miss your Sunshine of a company?”, Evelyn teased him which earned her a grin from Hawke who now crouched before a small stack of wood and tried to dry it enough that it could be inflamed.
“Oh, look, who’s starting to become sassy!” Varric started to laugh while Dorian gave both him and Evelyn what probably was his best annoyed glare.
“Very funny”, Dorian replied wryly and made one, quick movement to set the wood in front of Hawke on fire. The other Mage hissed and jumped back when the flames flared up, but Dorian ignored her and just placed his bedroll before it and sat down. “I hope, we will find this Warden friend of yours quickly and leave afterwards.”
“There is not only the Warden who needs our attention.” Cassandra straightened her back again after rolling out her own bed. “That Rift in the lake is dangerous and we should take care of it as long as we’re here.”
“I agree.” Evelyn drained out the water out of her clothes with her magic. “We can’t just leave these people to their fate.”
“True but finding Alistair should be our priority”, Hawke objected while too taking a seat at the fire. “As far as I know, he’s well respected among the Grey Wardens. That they now search for him must mean that something must have gone terribly wrong.”
“So, what’s the plan? Searching for him and asking Curly to send some soldiers to take care of the Undead until we have time to deal with that Rift?”
Evelyn shrugged. “Maybe. Or we search for Alistair and take care of that Rift before returning to Skyhold.” With a deep sigh, she sat down next to Dorian. “I think that’s something to decide after we found him. As long as we don’t know why the Wardens are searching for him, we can’t decide anything. And for now, let’s just get some rest. You can sleep if you like, I will take the first night shift.”
After their long travel, that was an offer nobody protested. Dorian was the first to curl up on his bedroll und start to snore quietly while Cassandra still read a book for a while as Varric and Hawke chatted softly at the fire. Evelyn didn’t engage in their conversation. Instead, she pulled out a stack of papers from her bag and, after noticing in relief that the rain hadn’t ruined them, started writing the beginning of a report she would send back to Skyhold when they were at Crestwood village the next time. Somebody there hopefully had a bird she would be able to send to tell her advisors about the situation here and ask them for reinforcements. No matter what Evelyn and her friends would do personally, these people needed help. Either with the Undead or with securing the streets again if Evelyn managed to close that rift in the lake before her departure.
Writing a quick letter to Cullen recalling their travel and asking him for a few soldiers should have been easy but still, Evelyn struggled to find the right words. The last letter she had sent to him from her travels had been from Redcliffe, right before meeting with Alexius at the castle. Before Haven and before her doubts. Back then, writing a letter to him had been easy. She just needed to trust her guts to find the right tone. And now? Her instincts wanted to treat him as the friend he had become and accordingly write words that were meant for a friend. At the same time, she knew better than that. Getting to close would only make things even more complicated than they already were. No matter how she twisted it, she needed to keep her distance if she wanted the Inquisition to work out. Even if that meant writing reports would be a struggle of its own for a while.
“Fighting against words?” Evelyn lifted her head when a voice interrupted her thoughts and saw Hawke’s bright blue eyes carefully observing her. Both Varric and Cassandra seemed to have gone to sleep by now and now only the two of them seemed to be left awake. Hawke had moved closer to Evelyn and spoke quietly so that she didn’t wake the others, but her curiosity still was obvious. “I didn’t know you were a writer.”
Evelyn sighed and placed the paper next to herself on the ground. „I’m not. It’s just a report.”
„And you’re struggling with that?” Hawke arched a brow. „Why?”
„Doesn’t matter.” She waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. „I just seem not to get the right tone.”
“When writing a report?” The other Mage frowned for a moment, but then her face relaxed and a wide grin grew on her lips. “Oh, I know what this is all about. This report will be to Cullen. Varric hinted that the two of you are friends, but there have been … difficulties?” She scoffed. “Not that it surprises me. Your Knight-Captain there always been a pain in the ass.”
“That’s not his title”, Evelyn instinctively corrected her and immediately cursed herself for it. “He’s the Inquisition's Commander now.”
“Maybe.” Hawke shrugged. “I still do remember the Knight-Captain very well.”
Silence between the two women and for a few minutes, Evelyn was unsure what to reply to that. Hawke was right, different from her, Evelyn never had met the Knight-Captain Cullen had been under Meredith, she knew little about the things the other Mage had witnessed that Varric might have not written into his book.
“Do you hate him?”, she finally asked. “For what happened in Kirkwall?”
Hawke sighed. “There was a time when I did.” She Hawke leaned onto her knees and stared into the flames before her. “I saw how Kirkwall, how my home, was falling apart because of Knight-Commander Meredith. She was cruel to the Mages, abused her power and in the end, she simply turned mad. And it wasn’t just her. There were many Templars who did … horrible things. Cullen, and others, watched all of this for years. He wasn’t as bad as her but that’s an extremely low bar, believe me. I hated what the order was doing to my city and …” She grimaced. “I don’t know, I needed someone to yell at, he was there, and he deserved my fury. At least partly. After the Circle fell, he worked hard to help restoring order in Kirkwall. I may not be able to forgive him, but I respect his efforts to finally do something good. And Varric thinks highly of him now, so I guess … he’s changed.”
The last part sounded more like a question and Hawke grimaced again as she said it, but overall Evelyn felt like her words could have been far harsher than that. She had read Varric’s book and she had heard the stories from Kirkwall's Circle. Ostwick had been bad, but Kirkwall must have been worse. If Cullen really hadn’t been part of the abuse happening there, he must have at least turned a blind eye on it. And Hawke still found a positive word to say about him?
“Thank you for your honesty, Hawke. I appreciate it.”
Hawke laughed. A joyful, deep laugh. “Oh, Varric was right. You are … stiff.”
“Stiff?” Evelyn frowned. “Is that so?”
“Oh, I don’t mean to insult you. It’s just … Well, I’m not surprised that ice is your weapon of choice.”
With a small smirk, Evelyn raised her brows. “And I’m not surprised that you like fire.”
Hawke grinned back. “Nobody is ever surprised about that.”
The two women fell silent for a moment and both stared into the flames before them, both lost in thought.
“You like him, don’t you?”, Hawke asked after a while. “Cullen, I mean.”
Now it was Evelyn who sighed. “It’s … complicated. We were starting to become friends, but then I read Varric’s book about you, and … Let’s just say it brings up bad memories.”
“You were in the Circle, right?”, Hawke asked. “Which one?”
Hawke whistled. “No great place to be from what I heard.”
“No, it wasn’t.” Evelyn kept her eyes locked to the flames before her. “Kirkwall probably was worse, but well … You probably know best that that’s a low bar.”
“Pain is pain”, Hawke replied softly, and her voice cracked. “There is no use comparing what was better or worse.”
“No, but you get the idea why being friends with Cullen isn’t that easy for me even when my guts tell me that I should.” It was only when she said it that Evelyn realized that she now had admitted far more than she had planned to. Hawke really was the wrong person to talk about all of this, her struggles were far too close to all of this. Evelyn shook her head and ran her fingers through her hair. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to bother you with this. This isn’t your problem.”
“It’s alright.” To Evelyn’s confusion, Hawke chuckled. “Well, if I trust Varric – which I do because he’s great at reading people – the two of you already are friends.” She paused and a grin curled her lips. “And maybe even more.”
Now it was Evelyn who let out a short laugh. “I see, Varric’s imagination is running wild?”
“Oh, no, Varric has nothing to do with that”, Hawke replied still grinning. “A blind person could see that the two of you like each other. And that you’re fighting with yourself over it because this is about far more than just your friendship.” The grin turned into a mischievous smirk. “I have to admit, it confuses me because I still think he’s a boring pain in the ass, but then again, it’s not my life.” She shrugged. “I mean, my partner likes to hunt down slave traders in his spare time. Who am I to judge?”
“Oh, I think you’re overestimating my relationship with Cullen”, Evelyn replied, but laughed softly on the joke anyway and took the opportunity to change the topic. “So, I take, you and Fenris are still together?”
“Well, you said you read Varric’s book. You must know that I’m not ever letting the man go.” Hawke grinned. “Never thought I’d say something cheesy like that … but, well, after all the crap I went through, I’m finally happy.”
Happiness. Evelyn couldn’t help but envy the other woman right now. She had been craving for happiness and peace ever since she could remember. With the Inquisition, she had started to find this feeling in the middle of chaos and war, but still … When all of this was over and if she really survived … What would she do? Return to her family who were disgusted of her? All of her friends had lives to come back to, but Evelyn was building her life here. She had her brother, but sooner or later, Max would return either to their family or find his own way. She hoped he would even if that meant that she would be left alone again. This time even more lonely because now she was Inquisitor. As if being feared for being a Mage wasn't bad enough.
“It’s nice to hear that”, she replied after a pause and forced a smile. “I mean … Since Varric’s book didn’t exactly end on an optimistic note.”
“What, me stabbing Meredith with my staff blade after one of my friends blew up the Chantry, started a rebellion and threw my hometown into chaos wasn’t optimistic enough for you?”
She threw a playfully shocked glare at Evelyn who smirked. “Don’t forget the thing about Meredith turning mad. And into Red Lyrium.”
“Yeah, that was a bit too much for me, too.” Hawke blew a few strands of her short hair away that were hanging before her eyes. “But you know … If all that crap has taught me anything, it’s this: There is no use waiting until things are the way they should be because then, you’ll wait forever. Ask yourself what you really want and take the risk. There is nothing worse than never trying.” She didn’t wait for Evelyn’s answer and rose from her seat. “But whatever, I’ll get some sleep. Have a good night, Inquisitor.” With a wink, the other Mage smirked at Evelyn. “And believe me: Stop worrying and that report there will write itself.”
With these words, she turned to her bedroll and left Evelyn alone, her thoughts turning in circles and her mind occupied with one question: What if Hawke was right?
What if she was worrying too much? What if she really was making a mistake by keeping her distance? What if she in fact should trust Cullen? No matter of his past?
What if she really should take the risk?
When the group left the cave on the next morning, Evelyn still hadn’t found an answer but neither her nor Hawke picked up their conversation from the night before. The rain hadn’t stopped but it wasn’t pouring as it did the evening before. Hawke took the lead and the others followed her on a muddy path further into the hills. Their way became steeper and steeper which made Dorian complain even more while even Varric started cursing. Evelyn nearly lost hold twice and at one point, the group even stopped so that the Mages could bind their staffs to their backs to have their hands free for climbing further. Just when Evelyn thought they couldn’t get any higher, they reached a small plateau in front of another cave.
“That’s where it should be.” Hawke stopped to catch her breath. “At least according to Alistair’s description.”
“Do you see the murals there?” Varric pointed at the rock face next to the cave’s entrance. “Looks like smugglers tend to use these caves. We should be careful.”
Evelyn nodded and took her staff from her back. “He’s right. Maybe these signs are old, maybe they’re not. Be on your guard.”
With the others following her, Evelyn entered the cave. The first room lead through a door into a tunnel that reached deep into the mountain and with every step, their surroundings grew darker and darker until Dorian summoned a fireball to light a torch on the wall. After what felt like eternity, the tunnel lead to another door. Evelyn carefully opened it, ready to pass through and …
“Weapons down. Now.” A woman’s voice cut through the air and Evelyn could feel a blade at her throat.
“We don’t mean any harm. We don’t care about smugglers or anyone else.” She raised her hands in defense. “We’re just part of the Inquisition and searching for a Grey Warden.”
“You do?” A man emerged from the shadow and stepped into Evelyn’s view. He must have been in his early forties though that was difficult to tell in this dim light. He definitely was taller than her, with short brown hair, and wearing the blue armor of a Warden. “Well, you found two.”
His eyes wandered over the group in front of him until they finally found what they had searched for and a relieved smile grew over his face. “Hawke. You’re late.”
“You are the one hiding in a cave in the middle of nowhere surrounded by Undead.” Behind Evelyn, Hawke scoffed. “Good to see you, Alistair.”
“You are Hawke?” The woman whose blade was still on Evelyn’s throat sounded surprised, but she immediately lowered the weapon which made Evelyn instinctively take a step back to get out of her reach. The woman turned out to be a dark-haired elf probably about the same age as the man. Same as Alistair, she was also dressed in a Warden armor. Though, much to Evelyn’s surprise, her clothing and weapons were those of a battle Mage and what she had thought to be a knife turned out to be a staff blade. “And who are you?”
“As she said”, replied Hawke, “they are part of the Inquisition. Meet Inquisitor Evelyn Trevelyan and some of her friends.”
Evelyn stretched herself to take at least remotely an appropriate posture and forced a smile. “Pleased to meet you.” She glanced between the two Wardens trying to make sense of them. “So, you are Alistair? The Grey Warden Alistair?”
“I really need to change my name.” He sighed and rolled his eyes. “Yes, the Alistair. Blight, fighting with the ever-glorious Hero of Ferelden, killing an Archdemon, all of that. Nobody cares about these old stories.”
The woman chuckled softly but didn’t say anything and just stepped to his side where she leaned onto her staff. Evelyn frowned. Something about the elf seemed so familiar, no matter how sure she was that she never met her before. The older woman noticed her irritated look and smirked a little.
“And I am Neria.” She nodded into Alistair’s direction. “Said ever-glorious Hero of Ferelden and his wife.”
We arrived at our destination and found not only the friend we were searching for but also his wife safe and sound. When this letter reaches you, we will hopefully be already on our way to Skyhold after taking care of Crestwood’s Undead. We will need reinforcements soon, there might be a place for a new outpost for the Inquisition here as soon as we conquered the abandoned castle into which a band of bandits has settled in. They are harassing the merchants on the roads and make the situation even more dire and as soon as they and the Undead are gone, Crestwood will be able to recover. I will keep you informed on further developments.
Inquisitor Evelyn Trevelyan of Ostwick
Pain pounded behind Cullen’s forehead as he reread Evelyn’s report again trying to make sense of her words. As much as her sudden shift of tone in comparison to her last letter irritated him, the thing that was really surprising was something else.
Evelyn had found Alistair and his wife. And they were on their way to Skyhold. That meant Neria was on her way to Skyhold. The thought made Cullen’s mouth go dry. Images flashed through his mind. Memories of a life long gone. Long, dark hair. A kind smile when she passed him on her way to the library. Warm, dark eyes. Eyes that turned cold as the creature leaned over him, lips formed to an evil grin as they mocked him.
“Oh, you poor, little boy …”
Cullen clenched his fists and took a deep breath as panic started to creep over him.
No. Breathe. Just Breathe.
That had been over ten years ago. That demon was dead, and he was safe. Kinloch was history, the world had moved on. Everything was different now and the prospect of meeting Neria again didn’t change a thing about it. Today was just a bad day, the pain from the withdrawal was worse than on most days after another long night and hours of work. This had nothing to do with Neria herself. In fact, having her in Skyhold would be great news. Leliana would be glad to see a friend. And that the Hero of Ferelden sided with the Inquisition wouldn’t hurt either. Meeting her after all these years could be fine? Maybe? Hopefully. In any case, she would be a great help and the Inquisition needed it if they wanted to succeed. That was everything that mattered. He took another deep breath. He wouldn’t let these memories destroy him. Not again. Not when there were so many depending on him and his work. Even when there was only one face whose disappointment he feared and that was exactly the face that shouldn’t come to his mind when thinking about this.
“News from Trevelyan?” Lelianas head appeared in the doorframe of Cullen’s office and he quickly tightened up. “I heard there was a raven from Crestwood earlier.”
“Uh … yes.” Cullen cleared his throat as he relaxed his hands again and hastily straightened the wrinkled paper of Evelyn’s letter. “She found Alistair and they should be on their way to Skyhold soon. Together with his wife.”
Leliana’s eyes widened and her ever stern expression was washed away by a bright smile. “Neria is coming here?”
“Apparently.” Cullen took the paper and passed it on to her. “Trevelyan’s letter was quite vague on that matter, but it seems like very soon, we will welcome not only one, but two famous Wardens here.”
Leliana’s eyes wandered over the lines and she frowned. “Something’s off”, she said. “Evelyn probably avoided using any names that could give away Alistair’s and Neria’s identities on purpose. There must be more trouble in Crestwood than just Undead and some bandits.”
“I agree.” Cullen nodded. “But as long as you don’t have any idea what could be that troubling, we will have to wait for them to arrive and tell us themselves.”
“I haven’t had any contact with Neria directly for years, if it’s that what you’re implying.” She scoffed and handed the letter back to him. “Not since she left Ferelden for some secret cause she didn’t want to tell me about. I assume Alistair knew what she was doing but the last time I heard from him was even before the Conclave. And that letter was rather … tight-lipped.” She shrugged. “Back then, I thought he just wanted to protect her, but now …”
“You suspect that there was more to it”, Culled finished her sentence and Leliana nodded reluctantly.
“It’s at least possible”, she replied. “But there is no use speculating right now. As soon as Trevelyan returns, we will know the truth.” A smirk curved her lips and turned around to leave. “One more reason to impatiently wait for her return, I suppose.”
And while she left, Cullen couldn’t help but wonder what that knowing smirk was supposed to mean.
It's getting crowded with OCs ;)
Chapter 16: Taking Risks
Evelyn returns from Crestwood and finally chooses to talk to Cullen about their relationship.
Welcome to my favorite dorks being dorks and somehow still not messing everything up. :D
Evelyn felt like their journey back from Crestwood took forever. They only had needed a few days to take over the castle and close the Rift that caused the Undead, but by the time they left for Skyhold, she felt tense anyway. Her thoughts kept rotating around both Cullen’s confession and Hawke’s words same as what Max had said the night of the tavern opening.
“If you clinch to that fear forever, it will eat you alive.”
They both had a point there, Evelyn had to admit. The Circles were gone, and she now lived a life where they would only have as much power over her as she allowed them to. And still … The harm the Chantry had done with them was very real, no matter of anything else. The Circles were gone but not the people who had lived in a world where they had been normal. Nothing had changed just because Mages had started to flee their prisons. Templars still couldn’t be trusted.
But whenever Evelyn just had reminded herself of that fact, Cullen’s face appeared in her mind. She had to think about how he had stepped between the Mages and Templars in Haven, how he had tried to ease the tensions by making them cooperate and how he had smiled at her when she had assured him of her support regarding his Lyrium Withdrawal. No matter how much she wanted to deny it, her guts told her that he was trustworthy. Maker, she probably trusted him longer than she was ready to admit. Maybe … Hawke was right? She did trust him. And she did care for him. Her first impulse when he had told her about his withdrawal had been worry. As difficult as her past was, Evelyn still didn’t want him to get hurt. Or worse. And the reason wasn’t just his role in the Inquisition, but her very own sympathies and feelings. The real question was whether he saw something different in her or … just another Mage.
The closer Skyhold came, the more Evelyn’s restlessness grew until it became nearly unbearable. When they finally rode through Skyhold’s gates, despite all anxiety, she had made her decision.
She found Cullen in his tower, leaned over his desk and reading from what looked like another stack of reports. When Evelyn entered, he lifted his head, surprise spreading over his face.
“Inquisitor. We didn’t expect you return before tomorrow.” He straightened his back and started walking past his desk. “I’m sure Leliana and Josephine …”
“No”, Evelyn interrupted him hastily and shook her head before she could change her mind. “I need to talk to you. Only you.” She bit her lip. “Do you have a moment? Maybe for a walk on the battlements?”
Worry replaced the surprise on his face. “If this is about our conversation before your departure …”
“It isn’t.” Evelyn shook her head as she nervously intertwined her fingers. “Well, it is, but not the way you fear.”
Cullen kept frowning but nodded and followed her when Evelyn turned to the door to leave his office. For a few moments, they slowly walked in silence next to each other while Evelyn desperately tried to find the right words for the storm of nervous thoughts racing through her head. Where should she start? What had she even thought of herself rushing to him like that? Without any plan? Hawke’s “Take the risk” had sounded far better when she hadn’t really thought about what it really meant.
“Do you think we are friends?” It was only when she heard him taking in air to say something that Evelyn suddenly stopped and started talking herself. “I mean … We are, but …” She bit her lip again. “Could you … I mean … I am a Mage and you’re … not. You’re you. Could you ever … see something else than just a Mage in me?” Without waiting for his response, Evelyn buried her face in her hands before shaking her head. Oh, she sounded so stupid. Like a child who didn’t know what she was talking about at all. “Maker, this is embarrassing … Please, forget what I said. It was stupid and … I don’t know.”
She turned around to run away and just hide somewhere from his awkward conversation but was stopped when Cullen reached for her wrist.
“Wait!”, he called her back. “I … You’re … It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Mage, you’re … you. I’m so sorry my actions made you doubt that. Because I … I care for you.”
I care for you.
Suddenly, Evelyn’s heart was pounding so rapidly in her chest that she felt like it could explode any second. Both the hope and the fear mirrored in his eyes and were so similar to Evelyn’s own feelings that from one moment to another, all her anxiety vanished, and hopeful excitement took its place. He cared? Really cared? Slowly, she took a step back to him, now standing right in front of him as a smile spread over her face.
“I care for you, too”, she whispered and only realized what she just said when she heard her own voice. The fear on his face got washed away and a relieved smile appeared. Gently, she raised one hand to touch his face and pull his head down to hers while he moved closer to her. Their eyes locked and Evelyn could feel how the smile on her own face grew even wider as she felt like she could lose herself in the golden brown of his eyes. She leaned forward to bring their lips even closer together and …
Both of them jumped back when a loud voice interrupted them. Cullen whirled around and glared at the scout who was coming closer with a stack of papers in his hands.
“What?”, he barked at the man who blinked in surprise and stopped.
“I have Sister Leliana’s report. You said you wanted it at once …” His words trailed off when he finally noticed Evelyn who still was standing behind Cullen and awkwardly stared at her feet. “Or … I’ll put it on your desk?”
Cullen just gave him another glare and the scout hastily turned around and ran away. Evelyn sighed. The spell was broken, and reality kicked in. This had been a terrible idea. People would be talking even more than before and this time, she would drag Cullen with her into the mess that was now her life. He already had enough to deal with, he didn’t deserve getting even more problems from her.
“Listen, Cullen, I …”, she started but never came to finish the sentence. In one, quick movement, Cullen had stepped back in front of her, taken her face into his hands and pulled her into a kiss.
Their lips touched and Evelyn could feel her heart explode. Out of nowhere, everything seemed like too much of a sensation to bear. His lips, the touch of the fine stubbles on his chin, the feeling of his hands when he lowered them from her face and took her into his arms instead. Evelyn’s heart fluttered as she gently kissed him back, her own hands now brushing through the soft fur around his shoulders before wandering up to his scalp and running through his hair. He pulled her closer and Evelyn instinctively knotted her hands behind his neck as if to chain herself to him. Their tongues met and she heard herself moan a little, but the sound was immediately muffled from their kiss she suddenly hoped would never end.
When their lips finally parted, Evelyn smiled and for a few moments, she lacked words as she tried to catch her breath. Her thoughts were still racing, her mind still working out what just happened. With whom it had happened.
“I … I’m sorry, I shouldn’t … I didn’t mean to …” He attempted to move away from her and blushed but now it was Evelyn who pulled him back.
“That was what I wanted, Cullen”, she whispered, and a short, honest laugh left her lips. “I had no idea how much I wanted it, but I did.” She grinned and bit her lip. “And I want it again.”
“Good.” A smile cracked over his face and he leaned closer into her embrace. “Because I want it, too.”
Evelyn grinned and tilted her head a little to kiss him again, her heart still racing and her mind nearly bursting with the feeling of being overwhelmed by the whole situation. This was crazy. Utterly, unexpectedly and still wonderfully crazy. This morning, she still had fought with herself about whether her friendship with Cullen could bear their pasts and now she was standing here. Leaning into his arms and the warmth of his body, kissing him.
And it felt so good.
“I have to go now”, she whispered and smiled at him when they finally parted again. “I need to report back to everyone together with Hawke and the Wardens and make sure that Alistair and Neria get a proper room.”
Cullen nodded and reluctantly took a step back. “Of course.” His eyes searched for hers as he took her hand and gently squeezed it for a moment. “Will I see you later? I mean … Alone?”
The question made Evelyn’s smile grow even wider. “Definitely. I’ll come by at your office when I’m done for the day.” She gave him one last, quick kiss and then turned around to leave throwing one last glance over her shoulder and smiling at him. “See you later.”
Chapter 17: Figuring everything out
Gossip travels fast at Skyhold.
You didn't think there would be no teasing, did you? :D As always: Thanks for sticking with around and have fun with this chapter! :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Hello, Snowstorm! You’re looking good.”
Evelyn stopped on her way outside Skyhold’s Main Hall and frowned. Varric was sitting on his table next to the gates with a suspiciously wide grin on his lips and waved at her. Next to him, Dorian had taken a seat and smirked into the glass he was holding in his hand while mumbling something that made Leliana at the end of the table chuckle.
“Alright, what’s up with you three?” Evelyn tilted her head. “Why do you look as if you were plotting something that will cause nothing but trouble?”
“Oh, I am plotting nothing.” Leliana laughed and raised her hands in defense. “I was actually leaving. There is a lot of work waiting for me.”
“You’re missing out all the fun, Nightingale”, Varric warned her but Leliana grinned quietly and left anyway while the wrinkles on Evelyn’s forehead grew even deeper.
“Do I want to know what you’ve been doing?”, she asked half playfully, half honestly scolding. “Or do I just wait for the chaos to unfold and yell later?”
“We didn’t do anything”, Varric gave back and wiggled his brows. “Very differently from you.”
Now Evelyn understood and her expression went from irritation to annoyance. “How do you know this already? I barely have been anywhere outside of the war room since we arrived.”
“Well, except for the fact that you had enough time for smooching with our Commander on the battlements and drooling over each other during your meeting with Leliana and Josephine. I hear it took them all their self-control to keep a straight face while watching you”, Dorian replied still grinning. Varric next to him started laughing while Evelyn could feel her cheeks turn deep red. “So, somebody officially has a thing for strapping young Templars?”
The heat in her cheeks intensified even more and Evelyn made a face as if she just had tasted something bitter. “Maker, please never use that term again.”
The grin on his lips turned into open laughter when he saw the horror on Evelyn’s face. “What? I thought you would be the one who’d find our Commander most handsome.”
Evelyn squinted her eyes and frowned. “This conversation is utterly weird, and I’d be most pleased if we could end it. Right now.” She shivered. “How in all of Thedas did you come up with the expression ‘strapping young Templar’ to describe Cullen?”
“Hey, Curly’s still young, handsome and a former Templar.” Varric shrugged and tried to keep a straight face but failed. “I say it suits him.”
“Exactly”, Dorian agreed while also failing to keep up a somewhat serious expression. “And I also might have deliberately chosen these exact words to see this exact look on your face.”
“I am pleased my reaction amuses you”, Evelyn replied and scoffed. “And I see, news travel fast through these walls.”
“To our defense, you weren’t really hiding.” Varric winked at her. “And also, Hawke saw you.”
“Oh, did she?”, Evelyn asked and crossed her arms. “I suppose, it’s wonderful to know that she has settled in well and even joined Skyhold’s gossip.”
“Oh, no, no, no.” Suddenly, Dorian sat up straight to hold up one hand as if to scold her. “This is special. The two of you had all of us waiting for weeks for one of you to make a move. It really was Hawke’s duty to break that tension.” He leaned back and scoffed. “I already thought he just took some vows of chastity or whatever Templars do around here.”
“And I told you that he didn’t and that they just needed time.”
“Wait.” Evelyn lifted her hands to make her friends fall silent. “You have been speculating about me and Cullen all this time?” She glanced between Dorian and Varric. “How long has this been going on?” But when Varric took in air to reply, Evelyn shook her head. “No, don’t tell me. I’m sensing this will just lead to another weird ‘strapping young Templar’-conversation.”
“Ah, don’t be mad at us, Snowstorm.” Varric chuckled. “We’re just happy for the two of you.”
“You have the most odd way of showing that, but thank you”, Evelyn replied but smiled at them while shaking her head. “Anyway, have you seen Neria and Alistair?”
“Outside. Some of the recruits have been fuzzing around them until Alistair gave up and joined their afternoon drill muttering how he needed a new face and a new name.” A wide grin cracked over Varric’s face. “It was quite a picture.”
“I imagine.” Evelyn grinned and quickly waved at both Varric and Dorian. “I think I’ll go and look after them. I’ll see you later.”
She started walking towards the door still grinning quietly over her friends’ newly found sense for gossip. It felt strange that there really was something they could gossip about. In the circle, gossip always had been dangerous and when she had fallen for Leo, both of them had been utterly careful not to tell anyone so that nobody could betray them. Now, a kiss could be just a kiss and gossip was just gossip and not a threat to both her and the person she kissed.
Fresh air wrapped itself around her and Evelyn took in a deep breath as she stepped outside. Down in the courtyard, the recruits were in the middle of training, led by Cullen and Alistair. On the second glance, Evelyn even noticed her brother walking between the small groups of men and women practicing their movements with swords and shields. Sometimes, he stopped and talked to them for a moment seemingly giving them advices and showing them his own tricks. Somewhat aside, leaned against a desk with some bandages, Neria had taken her own place and watched the scenery with an absent smile on her lips and her arms crossed over her chest.
“Inquisitor.” The elf turned her head and nodded into Evelyn’s direction as she approached her. “You’re finally done with your duties?”
“Barely.” Evelyn gave her a tired smile and sighed as she stepped to Neria’s side. “But I’ll let it be for now. Tomorrow is another day.”
“Ah, the downside of saving the world.” Neria grinned. “It never ends.”
“I guess if somebody cans relate to that, it’s you.”
The elf chuckled. “You could say that. Though, my world saving days are long gone and I’m glad for it. Training recruits or tracking down old documents is easier than people assuming you’re the world’s last hope.”
“Oh, I can relate to that.” Evelyn sighed again and for a moment, both women fell silent as they watched the soldiers hitting each other with wooden swords and shields.
“That’s your brother over there, right?” After a while, Neria nodded at Max who was just demonstrating a blocking technique to one of the recruits. “You should really use him for training your soldiers. He’s got talent.”
“I know.” Evelyn faked a smile as her heart grew heavy. “That’s what worries me.”
The older woman shot a grin at her. “Trying to keep him out of trouble?”
“I already thought him dead once and I’d like not to repeat that. – Not that I would be able to stop him if he decided to work for the Inquisition.”
Neria raised her brows. “You’re Inquisitor.”
“You don’t have any siblings, do you?”, Evelyn replied and scoffed.
“Not that I’m aware of, no.” A sad smile appeared on Neria’s lips. “I lost my first family when I entered the Circle of Ferelden when I was a child and my second one when I joined the Wardens and the Circle fell. Alistair and my friends are all the family I have.”
“Well, Circles tend to produce these biographies.” Neria sighed and leaned onto the battlements as she shook her head. “I guess that’s why it feels so strange for me to see Cullen of all people again. Reminds me of a life that seems so far away now. – Did you know that he was stationed in my Circle during the Blight? I remember how I always thought that he was barely more than a child when he arrived.”
Evelyn blinked in surprise. “I wasn’t aware that you knew each other.”
“You’re from a Circle yourself, ‘knowing’ is relative when it comes to Mages and Templars, but yes. We occasionally exchanged a few words. He was a sweet boy back then. At least before I left.” She chuckled. “Maybe that’s the thing that’s strange to me. When I think of him, I have the boy back then in mind, not the man I see now.”
“I assume he’s changed a lot?”
“I guess so. I barely knew him back then and a decade is a long time.” A melancholic smile appeared on Neria’s face. “He just reminds me of another life. And of the fact how long these days have been gone by now.” A grin twitched around the corners of her mouth. “Funny how times change. Before I was recruited for the Wardens, I had lived in the Circle nearly all my life, longer than I’ve been gone, and now I feel like these years only had been a glimpse.” She straightened her back. “I assume you don’t understand it yet – I wouldn't have believed it either during my first few years in freedom – but it gets better. After a while, you break free of that life and start building your own. And then, the years there start feeling more and more like a bad dream.” The elf raised her brows and smiled. “But I suppose, you didn’t come by just to listen to me talking about old times or how I feel old nowadays.”
“No.” Evelyn chuckled. “Though, I actually just wanted to ask if everything’s alright. Skyhold’s people aren’t bothering you too much?”
“I’m used to it.” Neria made a dismissive gesture and shrugged. “People have been calling Alistair and me heroes and legends for a decade. We’ve both learnt to deal with it.”
“Must be strange. So many people always looking up to you.”
“You’re on your way to find that out yourself”, Neria replied. “When this is over, nobody will thank you for your sacrifices because nobody knows them, but everyone will tell a story about you. The only freedom you have is the choice of how you’re planning to deal with it.”
“I’m not sure if that’s a prospect I like.” Evelyn crossed her arms. “But I fear I have an idea what you mean.”
In front of the recruits, Cullen barked some last orders before dismissing them and the soldiers started moving away in different directions, all chattering while some still threw curious glances at Alistair and Neria. As they started walking, Max spotted Evelyn and came closer together with Alistair who started walking back to his wife. Her brother hadn’t even reached her yet, but Evelyn could tell from the broad grin on his lips that he already had heard the gossip and raised one hand, her index finger stretched into the air as if she was an adult scolding a child.
“If you dare to say one word, I swear on our grandmother’s grave that I will make Sera do her worst and settle a whole bee colony into your room, Maxwell.”
He stopped, dramatically placing one hand on his chest trying to look wounded while still being unable to suppress the grin on his lips. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, my dearest sister”, he replied in a theatrical tone. “I merely wanted to ask you whether the battlements are a comfortable place to … uh … lean on?” He burst out into laughter and Evelyn rolled her eyes while the two Wardens near them exchanged some confused glances. “Or, no, wait … I hear somebody got … entangled earlier this day?”
He started laughing again as Evelyn let out a heavy breath and rolled her eyes even more. “Very funny, Max”, she replied. “Are you done now?”
“What do you think?” He grinned. “I’m your brother, of course, I’m never done teasing you.”
“Lovely.” Evelyn shook her head. “You should team up with Dorian and Varric on that matter. They were all giddy already when I saw them inside.”
She didn’t wait for his answer but nodded at the two Wardens who still didn’t look as if they understood fully what was going on. “Have a nice evening. If you need anything, just ask. My brother here, for example, will surely help you with pleasure.” Evelyn threw a glare at Max who started laughing again but didn’t protest. “I will see you tomorrow at our meeting with my advisors.”
Before any of them could stop her, Evelyn quickly moved past the three of them and started walking towards the stairs that lead onto the battlements. While Max had felt the need to tease her, she had noticed that Cullen had left the courtyard and retreated into his tower and this was the first time since she had arrived back at Skyhold this morning that both of them would probably have at least some free time. She crossed the courtyard and took the stairs, smiling as she passed the spot where she and Cullen had kissed earlier this day, and headed to the door to his tower.
Evelyn smiled nervously and bit her lip as she entered Cullen’s office. He turned around from his desk where he just had been picking up some papers and a smile started spreading over his face.
The soft tone of his voice when he said her name made her heart flutter as she came closer and Evelyn could feel the nervousness in her smile fade. Cullen dropped the papers in his hands and walked around his desk. Before she knew it, he had pulled her close and bent down to kiss her while Evelyn instinctively leaned into his touch, silently enjoying his closeness.
“Sorry. I wanted to do that all day again.”
The apologetic smile on his lips made her chuckle. “Me, too.” Evelyn grinned. “Apparently, that also was so obvious to everyone else that Leliana and Josephine had troubles not to say anything at the War Table.”
“Maker’s breath, is there anybody in this castle who isn’t constantly talking about things that aren’t their concern?” He growled and took her hands into his as he stepped back a little from her.
“You don't like it?” Evelyn's heart suddenly felt heavy and she frowned, but Cullen sighed and pulled her closer again.
“Well, I can’t say I like it that my … our personal affairs are part of Skyhold’s gossip”, he admitted. “But I would regret it more if there wasn’t anything to talk about at all.”
“Careful, Commander, one might mistake you for a secret romantic”, Evelyn gently teased and grinned as leaned closer to him again.
Cullen chuckled. “I’m not sure whether that changes anything, but it surprises me myself.” He smiled at her for a moment before turning serious again. “Though … What is this exactly?”
“Frankly, I’m not entirely sure”, Evelyn replied and looked him into his eyes. “I trust you and I like you, Cullen. More than I was aware of. And kissing you ...” She smiled. “Kissing you feels great. Actually, it’s more than great. That’s all I know for sure right now. But I’m curious to figure everything else out. Together.” Looking up to him she squeezed his hand. “Is that an answer that’s alright with you?”
A smirk cracked around the corners of his mouth and for a moment, Evelyn noticed something like … What? Excitement? … flashing up in his eyes. He leaned closer again. “Figuring everything out sounds good.”
“Great.” She returned the smile and cupped his cheek with her free hand to pull his face to hers again. “And if you don’t mind, I’d like to start that process by kissing you again.”
I have to admit, I love Dorian's hilarious "strapping young templar"-line in the game :D
Chapter 18: Favors to ask
The Inqusition fights over their next steps and Fiona asks Evelyn for something.
Both this and the next chapter are a little bit longer and there is a lot of stuff that needs to happen. Also: I'm having more and more fun spreading my breadcrumbs for later plotpoints, so stay tuned.
And as always: Thanks for reading and enjoy <3
“The Wardens should be our priority.” Neria crossed her arms and glared at Josephine but the Lady Ambassador didn’t even wince for a second. “Orlais always has and always will handle itself.”
“If the Empress is assassinated, there won’t be anything to handle anymore”, Josephine replied through gritted teeth and deep wrinkles appeared on her forehead. “Orlais will be in turmoil and we would have to face Corypheus from two sides.”
“And if the Wardens fall, there might remain no side to defend at all.” Neria scoffed. “It might be difficult for you to understand, Lady Ambassador, but balls and nobles won’t save anyone when Darkspawn or demons start flooding the world.”
Josephine clicked her tongue as if to reply something, but before she could shoot something back at Neria she might have regretted later, Leliana stepped in and raised her voice. “Neria has got a point there.” She threw an amused yet worried look at her friend. “Though, I might have put these things a little more … tactfully.”
Cullen sighed. “I tend to agree.”
Behind him, leaned against the window ledge, Hawke snorted. “Never thought I’d agree with him on something, but yeah. The Wardens are our bigger mess right now.”
Josephine took in a sharp breath and hissed a reply to which Neria shot back another sharp answer that now made Alistair step in and place a calming hand on her arm and mumbling something to his wife while Leliana tried to ease the tensions in the room between everyone else. Again.
At the other end of the table, Evelyn sighed quietly and let herself lean back in her chair while the others kept fighting. This was leading nowhere. Josephine was right, the Inquisition couldn’t ignore the threat of somebody assassinating the Empress of Orlais, just as they couldn’t ignore noble politics in general, but they couldn’t ignore the threat of the Wardens being corrupted either. And as valuable Neria’s advice could be – She wasn’t exactly what Evelyn would have called neutral on this matter.
Evelyn closed her eyes and rubbed her temples for a moment while the others kept yelling at each other. When she opened her eyes again, they locked with Cullen’s who had fallen silent and frowned a little while attempting to give her what probably should have been a gentle smile. A sweet gesture but right now, it didn’t change anything. She tried to force a smile of her own but failed and sighed again before lifting from her chair and clapping her hands once to prompt everyone’s attention.
“Calm down. Fighting doesn’t help us in any way.”
“Well, that’s something we can agree on”, Neria snapped and crossed her arms.
Evelyn rolled her eyes but ignored the remark apart from that. “We need to take care of both the Wardens and Orlais. Both are too important to risk, no matter what our personal preferences are.” She turned her head at Leliana. “Right now, we don’t even know what the Wardens are up to exactly. I want you to change that and track them down.” Josephine took in a sharp breath, but Evelyn cut her off by turning to her instead. “In the meantime, we will increase our standing in Orlais and make sure the Inquisition gets a hold there, too. I’ll go and help the people somewhere nobles will notice our presence but won’t be intimidated by it. I assume, you surely have something in mind for that, Josephine?” The Ambassador nodded and Evelyn returned the gesture in content before looking through the room. “We will see what to do about the Wardens once I’m back. Is that something everybody can agree on for now?”
The others mumbled their approving responses, some more reluctant than others and Neria still glared at Josephine, but today, Evelyn was determined just to take what she would get. She had been in many complicated negotiations in her life, being Inquisitor only meant that now, everybody would listen to her words even when they didn’t fully agree on it, and she knew when a discussion needed a forced compromise to end. At least for now.
“Wonderful. Everybody back to work then.” She clapped her hands and turned to the door. “Because I still have a few other things to do today.”
Behind Evelyn, Hawke made one of her sassy remarks and rushed past her before anyone could comment on her words while Alistair and Neria started to talk to each other quietly. From what Evelyn picked up, he was mostly calming his wife soon joined by Leliana, which was probably best for everyone. Neria was powerful and smart and Evelyn had admired the famous Hero of Ferelden nearly all her life but right now, her determination didn’t help anybody.
“Inquisitor!” Just when Evelyn stepped out of the war room and walked into Josephine’s office, the Ambassador called after her and made her stop and turn around again. She was following Evelyn with quick steps as she waved with a piece of paper in her hands at her. “I didn’t have the chance to give this to you earlier, but there is a private letter for you that arrived this morning.”
“Really?” Evelyn frowned. “Who sent it?”
Evelyn didn’t even have to think about her answer. “Burn it.”
“I said: Burn it.”
“Are you sure?”, Josephine asked her eyes widened in surprise as a worried frown wrinkled her forehead. “I know you are on no good terms with your family, but this might as well concern the Inquisition.”
“Alright.” Evelyn forced a smile and crossed her arms. “Then read it, take care of what you must and burn it afterwards.” The smile vanished and turned into a hard glare. “But I tell you, if this concerns the Inquisition, then only because he wants to use our power for himself. And I won’t move a finger for that man.”
“Oh, there you are, Eve.” Josephine just had taken in a deep breath to reply something when Max came close to them and interrupted their conversation. “I’ve been looking for you all day. I’d like to talk to you for a moment.” He looked at Josephine and raised his brows. “If your Ambassador doesn’t mind?”
“Actually, you might just be the right person to solve this issue, Lord Trevelyan.” Josephine shot a polite smile in Max’ direction. “As I was just telling your sister, there has been a letter from your father to her, but she refuses to accept it.”
Max chuckled but Evelyn could hear very well that he had to force the sound at least partly. “I’m very sorry, Lady Montilyet, but I’m really the wrong person to convince her to read anything the old man writes to her. If I’d be her, I’d probably just burn the thing.”
“My exact words.” Evelyn grinned at her brother before turning to Josephine. “If you think it’s in the Inquisition’s best interest to know what he wants from me, read it yourself. You have my permission to do so. But I won’t read any letter he writes to me. And I won’t answer him.”
The other woman hesitated for a moment but then, she nodded with a sigh before smiling apologetically at Evelyn. “As you wish, Inquisitor.” She lowered her head a little to an indicated bow. “I’ll leave you then to your conversation and inform you should the letter reveal anything of interest for you.”
“Thank you, Josephine.”
Evelyn faked a smile until the Ambassador had left before sighing deeply and turning to her brother again. “I swear, if the old man rediscovers his parental duties just to use the Inquisition for himself, I will tell Leliana to crush him with all her power.”
“You’re being dramatic, Eve.” Max rolled his eyes. “Besides, did it never occur to you that mother might have convinced him to reach out to you? Now that our parents know where you are for the first time in years?”
Evelyn stiffened and pressed her lips to a thin line for a moment. As much as she hated her father, she couldn’t hate her mother. She never had. Her mother had been the one who, at first, had written letters to Lydia in secret and later had asked Max about Evelyn to know about her daughter’s wellbeing. Grace Trevelyan might be under her husband’s thumb but different from the Bann himself, she never had given Evelyn the feeling of being hated. That was – typical for Evelyn’s family – a low bar but still a bar her mother always beat. And still …
“Then she should write me herself”, Evelyn finally hissed through gritted teeth before taking a deep breath and regaining her composure. “Anyway … What did you want from me in the first place?”
Max arched a brow but didn’t press the matter any further. Instead, he just rolled his eyes and scoffed before speaking again. “Well, I actually wanted to ask you for something”, he began but stopped himself in the very same moment and grimaced.
When Evelyn turned her head to follow his eyes, she saw the source of his reaction. Fiona was walking into their direction with calm steps slowly coming closer and it didn’t need much guessing to know who she would probably want to talk to.
“Maker, why is it so difficult to have a word with you without anyone interrupting nowadays?”, Max muttered under his breath and sighed. “Never mind, I’ll see you later about it. I’m in no hurry and her issues are probably more important than mine.”
“Are you sure?” Evelyn arched a brow. “I can tell her to wait for me.”
“That’s a nice offer, but it really isn’t that urgent.” He pulled her in a quick embrace. “Are you still taking part in the training later?”
She nodded. “Yes. I promised Cullen to help him showing the recruits how to defend against some new spells.”
“Oh, that means he takes both the morning and the afternoon drill today?” Max wiggled his brows and grinned. “The two of you now make your appointments together to spend time with each other? How romantic.”
Evelyn rolled her eyes. “Leave already before I freeze you mouth shut with a spell.”
Instead of replying to the threat, Max laughed lively and turned around to leave. He somehow managed to give Fiona a polite nod when passing her but the elf’s irritated look told Evelyn that he probably didn’t did a very good job at restraining his amusement.
“Fiona”, Evelyn greeted her and closed what was left of the distance between them gesturing in front of them to indicate that she was planning on walking with the other Mage for a bit. “With what can I help you today? Is everything alright with the Mages?”
“The Inquisition has been most generous to all of us, thank you”, Fiona replied and smiled politely. “In fact, I wanted to push your generosity only a little more.”
Her choice of words made Evelyn chuckle and she tilted her head. “You know that I have a personal interest in making our alliance work, so as long as I can help, I will.”
“Thank you, Inquisitor.” The smile on Fiona’s lips grew a little warmer and more honest before vanishing again. “Do you know what day will be tomorrow?”
“I assume you don’t mean whether I know the date?”
“No.” Fiona’s tone was suddenly unusually sad. “It’s the anniversary of the beginning of the rebellion. Well, at least for some of us.”
Evelyn stopped and froze when she realized what Fiona meant. “It’s the anniversary of the fall of Kirkwall’s Circle.”
“Yes.” Fiona sighed. “I suppose, I don’t need to tell you that it’s an important day for many of us. Some use the day to honor those we lost, and others want to celebrate it as a reminder of what we gained since then.” She hesitated for a moment but then spoke again. “I know, it’s a lot to ask since the Inquisition shelters many who have a different … perspective on the rebellion, but I wanted to ask you if we might be allowed to hold a little gathering tomorrow night. Nothing big, just the Mages around a few fires in the courtyard. There would be probably a little music, food and drinks while we tell each other stories and value our freedom. Now more than ever.”
Evelyn lowered her head when she met Fiona’s pleading gaze. She could understand why the Mages wanted this. Maybe even needed this. Still, celebrating a rebellion within the walls of an organization who sheltered not only former Mages but also Templars maybe wasn’t the best idea.
“Will you allow others than Mages at this gathering?”
“Everybody who wants to join us is most welcome. We have our interpretation of the story but I’m well-aware that we’re not the only ones affected by the rebellion.” Fiona smiled. “In fact, I hoped you might want to join us together with some of your friends. We could use this to symbolize the Inquisition’s unity by making this a celebration not only for Mages but everyone. It could help us all to remind everyone of how Mages are people like everyone else.”
Now Evelyn could feel a grin crack around the corners of her mouth. “You make a smart diplomat. I think I begin to understand how you became the leader of the Mages”, she replied and eyed the other woman for a moment. “Alright, you can have your gathering. And I will see if I can join you. But I trust you to remind the Mages to be careful with voicing their more radical opinions. Everyone has lost someone in this war, and I don’t want revive old tensions with this just because some fool forgets that.”
“They will behave.” The determination in Fiona’s voice was so clear that Evelyn could have sworn that the other Mage surely had someone in mind to remind of this. “Thank you, Inquisitor.”
“Don’t mention it.” Evelyn sighed and forced a smile. “We need this to work. That means that everybody needs an outlet for remembering the past. Maybe this will even be good for the whole Inquisition.”
She tried to make the last sentence sound as casually as possible but in fact, Evelyn couldn’t really tell if she would be right with that. Celebrating the first fall of a Circle in the rebellion meant possibly tending same as opening old wounds. Maybe, the effect would be healing, maybe, it would only be painful. Evelyn surely didn’t want to celebrate the fall of the Circle of Ostwick but again, who was she to judge how others wanted to deal with their memories of the war? Who was she to judge how others grieved? Or if they chose to celebrate this end as a beginning of a new, brighter future?
Evelyn’s thoughts clang to Fiona’s words for a while that day and still hadn’t left her entirely when she later crossed the courtyard to meet with Cullen and the recruits for the evening drill. While she was a little early, Cullen was already at the training grounds and talked to Rylen when she came closer. His expression brightened which sent warm shivers through Evelyn’s chest and made her even ignore the broad grin on Rylen’s face as he probably tried hard to suppress a joke. Or rather didn’t judging from the annoyed look Cullen gave him right before Evelyn reached them.
“Problems?”, she asked innocently and glanced from one man to another to which Cullen shook his head and his Captain smirked.
“No, no problems”, Rylen replied. “It’s good to see you, Inquisitor. Excuse me, I need to … get a few things before the training begins. But the Commander is probably overjoyed by your presence anyway.”
He laughed and walked away while Cullen glared at him, but Evelyn just chuckled and stepped a little closer.
“Eventually, the teasing will pass.” She smiled and reached for Cullen’s hands, gently locking her fingers with his and tracing the back of his hands with her thumbs. “Rylen and the others just like to make their jokes now because they found something new to joke about.”
Cullen glanced down to their intertwined hands as if he wasn’t sure if he was just imagining her touch and sighed. She didn’t need to say it, but he looked tired. Again. The smile on his lips might have hidden it, but Evelyn noticed the dark circles under his eyes. “I know. And to Rylen’s credit, he isn’t wrong. I am happy to see you.”
He lifted his head to look in her eyes and a small smile spread over his face which made Evelyn’s own smile grow even wider. Carefully, Cullen pulled her closer giving her the chance to step away, but Evelyn didn’t. Instead, she let him slip his hands to the small of her back and taking her into his arms.
“That’s nice to hear”, she whispered and placed her hands on his chest. “Because I’m happy to see you, too.”
Cullen opened his mouth to reply something when a loud whistle interrupted him and made them both turn their heads. When Evelyn saw the source of the sound, she rolled her eyes. Max was walking into their direction with large steps grinning widely as if he just had discovered the funniest thing he could imagine. Evelyn sighed and leaned her forehead against Cullen’s chest for a second letting out a groan that only he could hear.
“Remember, the teasing will pass”, he echoed her words from before in a whispering tone and chuckled but didn’t end their embrace.
“Aren’t the two of you cute?” Max tilted his head when he stopped next to them and the mischief flickering in his eyes told Evelyn that she needed to prepare herself for a new round of brotherly teasing. “Oh, wait until Maryden comes up with a song about you. It will be glorious.”
Evelyn sighed. “Are you done?”
The glare she shot at her brother only made him laugh out loud. “Not even close, but I need you on my good side today, so I’ll let it be for now.” He winked at her. “Actually, it’s good that I get to talk to both of you. I have a favor to ask.”
Evelyn stiffened. “You do?”
Cullen noticed her tension and gently started brushing her back with his thumbs and while it didn’t ease her suspicion completely, Evelyn could feel herself relax a little. She had a vague idea what kind of favor Max would probably want from her. He was restless, she knew that, and it was growing worse each day without work to do. But giving him a task meant putting him in danger and that was exactly the opposite of what she wanted right now.
“Yes. I actually wanted to ask you this morning before Fiona showed up.” Max grimaced. “Anyway, let’s get this over with: I want to join the Inquisition.”
“I think that’s no favor you need to ask”, Evelyn replied, acting dumb. “You’re already here.”
Max rolled his eyes. “I want an active part in the Inquisition, Eve.” He glanced at Cullen. “Judging from how overworked you seem, I’m sure you could use another former Knight-Captain under your command very well.”
Cullen smiled politely, but distant. “I could, but I think that is not my decision to make.”
“True, but the fact that you just admitted that you need me will probably make my sister reconsider her disapproval.” Max threw an amused glance at her. “After all, she trusts your professional opinion.”
He was right and Evelyn knew that very well. Which made the triumphing grin on his face even worse and let Evelyn’s urge to slap her brother for this trick grow even more. She shot an angry glare at him, but Max stayed unimpressed and kept grinning.
“Think about it, Eve. Take your time. But you know that having me at your side will be useful.” He mockingly bowed to her. “Have fun with the recruits. Don’t mess them up too much.”
“I hate it when he’s like that”, Evelyn growled when Max had walked away far enough that he couldn’t hear her anymore.
Cullen tilted his head and frowned. “How? Too clever for his own good?”
“No, right.” She sighed and leaned into his embrace. “Having his help would be the smart thing to do and eventually, I will have to let him. Mostly because he will probably just go for it anyway.” With another deep breath, Evelyn shook her head shoving away the thought. “Anyway, I wanted to ask you something else.”
Surprise flashed over Cullen’s face and he raised his brows. “Oh?”
“Fiona talked to me this morning and asked me for permission for a little gathering of the Mages for tomorrow night.” Cullen stiffened and Evelyn grimaced apologetically. “I guess you know why.”
“It’s the anniversary of the riots in Kirkwall”, he replied reluctantly. “The anniversary of the beginning of the rebellion.”
“Yes.” Evelyn avoided his gaze for a moment and bit her lip. “The Mages want to celebrate their freedom and I can understand that. Besides, Fiona told me they want to open it for anyone at Skyhold who wants to join.” She looked him in the eyes again and let her hands wander behind his neck to wrap her arms around him. “And since I told I would try to come, I would enjoy it very much if you would accompany me. A free evening would be good for both of us for once in a while and it would also send the right signal to everyone else.”
“Because I’m a former Templar and you’re a Mage?” Cullen scoffed but Evelyn shook her head, smiling at him.
“No, because I’m Inquisitor and you’re the Inquisition’s Commander and I also happen to like you.” Her expression sobered. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to and of course, people will talk because we are who we are, but that’s really not the reason why I would like to have you there. This could be a nice evening and I want to spend it with you, Cullen.”
“Oh.” Evelyn couldn’t help but chuckle when she saw his eyes widen in surprise. “Then … I … well …” He cleared his throat as a soft smile curved his lips. “I would be glad to join you.”
A warm feeling filled Evelyn’s chest again and she returned his smile. “Wonderful.”
Just when she pulled him a little closer for a kiss, she heard voices coming closer from her right and instinctively stopped the movement, lowering her arms in disappointment. After Cullen’s reluctant reaction to half of Skyhold gossiping about them before, public signs of affection in front of his recruits probably weren’t really something he would like.
“I guess duty …”, she began and glanced to the soldiers approaching them who were already starting to whisper to each other, but before Evelyn could finish the sentence, Cullen lifted his hands to her face and pulled her close again. His lips felt warm as he lowered them onto hers and Evelyn felt herself immediately smile into the touch. Just a small, quick kiss before they pulled away from each other but enough to make some of the gathering recruits laugh as their whispers grew into less hidden chatting.
“I thought you don’t like it when people talk about your private affairs?” Evelyn grinned and tilted her head to which Cullen chuckled as he tucked a loose strand of her hair behind her ear.
“They already do it anyway.” He looked at her with such a warm expression that Evelyn’s heart fluttered a little. “And they will talk even more when they start to realize that you would need only one spell to take them down.”
Evelyn kept grinning. “Well, good that you’re there to teach them how to make it a little more difficult for me.”
Chapter 19: A Hero and a Lunatic
The Mages celebrate the anniversary of Kirkwall's rebellion and, of course, nothing's as easy as it could be.
Another longer chapter, including fluff, banter, and a few things that have been brooding for a while. Have fun and, as always, thanks for sticking around! <3
Varric shifted nervously from one foot to another as he gazed down from the bridge connecting Cullen’s tower and the rotunda.
“You’re sure this is a good idea, Snowstorm?” Below them, Fiona and her people were setting up a few tables and fireplaces as they prepared for the gathering Evelyn had promised. “I mean … Letting a bunch of Mages celebrate another Mage blowing up the Chantry and causing a rebellion that turned this world upside down? That could backfire. A lot.”
“I know.” Evelyn grimaced, her arms crossed in front of her chest, and sighed. “But by allowing this celebration to happen, we can control it to some degree. I’d rather have that and give us a chance to build bridges than being surprised by radicals.”
“What does Curly say?” Varric tried to make the question sound casual but Evelyn noticed the wary tone on his voice. She pulled her brows together to a frown and hesitated before answering.
“Not much”, she finally said while avoiding to directly look at her friend. “I think he’s not too excited about it, but he understands why this is important.”
“Is he coming?”
Varric snorted. “As if there was anything that could stop her from it.”
“Have you already told her not to start another rebellion or should I remember her?”
A smirk danced around Evelyn’s lips, but she knew that she probably couldn’t fool Varric and just cover her worry with it. Evelyn liked Hawke and her sharp tongue same as her humor and her sometimes a little too radically chaotic mind, but she also was perfectly aware of Hawke’s more reckless and more protective sides. It would have been foolish not to worry what the other Mage could do when somebody brought up the story of the friend who equally many people saw as a saint same as a fanatic. A worry Varric must have noticed in Evelyn’s eyes, but he did her the favor to act like he didn’t and release a soft chuckle anyway.
“Already done”, he replied. “Figured it would be better if her unique energy would be a little bit restrained today.”
The worry vanished and Evelyn turned her head to smile at her friend. “Thank you, Varric.”
“Always at your service, Snowstorm.”
Evelyn bit her lips and her brows furrowed as she gazed over the happily chatting Mages below them. “This will be our test whether this union with the Mages really works. And it will.”, she whispered half to herself. “It has to.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Varric patted her arm and smiled at her though it hadn’t the reassuring effect he might have intended. The fear of the tensions around the Mages breaking lose again over this gathering had crept into Evelyn’s thoughts too late to stop it and now it wouldn’t leave.
“Looks like they’re nearly done with their preparations.” Evelyn sighed and lowered her arms from her chest. “I’ll go and ask Bull if he and the Chargers can keep an eye open tonight.”
“Ah, leave that to me. You should better look after Curly.” A playful smile flashed over Varric’s face. “He seemed more tense than usual this morning. Might be a good idea to check on him before you drag him down there. At least if you don’t want him to be brooding all night.”
The smile turned into soft laughter, but Evelyn knew that at least a part of it was forced and she didn’t join the sound. Even if he didn’t admit it, they both knew that he had far too keen eyes not to notice that Cullen worked too much and that what Varric just had called ‘broodiness’ was getting worse, no matter how much Cullen tried to hide it. That was another of Evelyn’s many concerns, especially since she knew about Cullen’s Lyrium withdrawal.
“I worry about him, Varric”, she finally admitted after a pause and sighed again. “But I’m also not sure what to do about it.”
“I know.” Just for a heartbeat, he hesitated and grinned as if he wasn’t sure whether he should say the words on his lips before finally continuing. “And Cullen’s lucky that you worry because that means that there is finally somebody who looks out for him and from whom he can’t just hide by burying himself in work.” He winked at her and turned halfway to leave. “Go and talk to him. Eventually, you’ll crack him and then you’ll know what to do.”
Evelyn faked a soft smile and let him leave while she stayed on her spot for another moment. Some of the Mages had started carrying plates from the kitchen to some of the tables and behind them, Evelyn could see the Chargers and Max carry a few barrels from the tavern outside. When they placed them on the ground, a slim silhouette Evelyn identified as Maryden came slowly closer and started to talk to Max and Krem. Evelyn could hear her brother’s deep and lively laughter even from afar as he took the bard’s hand and spun her around just to push her into Krem’s arms followed by cheers and laughter from the Chargers.
A grin curved her lips as Evelyn watched the scenery below and for a moment, she forgot her worry regarding Cullen. Max was far more perceptive than he gave himself credit for or than he let anyone know. She was sure that this was partly to his guilt over his own role as Templar in his Circle where it took him years to notice the abuse happening right in front of him, but she also knew how, to some degree, this was just her brother. How he had always been. A sweet, gentle soul wanting to see everyone happy. His tendency to quietly observe his surroundings between all his jokes and friendly chatter only enforced that side of him.
And it made it only more obvious that she needed to find something to do for him. Soon. No matter how much it displeased herself, Max deserved his chance to put his abilities to good use. To help instead of just sitting at Skyhold which would him probably drive him insane sooner or later.
Evelyn sighed. Max wasn’t her priority right now. Tonight, she would have to look out for her own people not jumping at each other’s throats. And for Cullen and the dark circles under his eyes.
When Evelyn entered Cullen’s office, he sat in the chair behind his desk one arm resting on the table as he held a single sheet of paper that seemed to capture his whole attention. He didn’t even seem to notice when she stepped into the room even though Evelyn tried to close the door loud enough behind her to catch his attention.
“Another report?” The sound of her voice made Cullen startle and looked at her in surprise.
“What? Oh … this, no.” Shaking his head he lowered his arm with the paper still in his hand. “It’s a letter. From my sister.” He sighed. “I’ve been meaning to answer her days ago, but it seems as if I’m not sure what to write.”
“Oh.” Evelyn tilted her head and nodded towards the door unsure what to say. She remembered him mentioning that he had siblings, but she wasn’t sure how their relationship was or whether she was intruding something he had to make up his mind about. “I could return later if you’d like me to.”
“No, it can wait.” Cullen smiled and placed the letter on his desk as Evelyn slowly came closer. “Is everything alright?”
“That’s the question I actually wanted to ask you.”
She took his hand into hers and gently squeezed it just before she let herself sink onto his lap. Cullen immediately wrapped his arms around her to keep her in place and Evelyn couldn’t help but being amazed by how easily these things seemed to happen. Small, but lingering touches, holding each other close, casual kisses. It felt so easy, swinging her legs over the armrest and leaning her head against Cullen’s shoulder as he pulled her close. Good. Nearly natural.
“I’m fine”, he replied. “Just another long day.”
Evelyn lifted her head from his chest to look at Cullen’s face and frowned in worry. “You look tired. How are your headaches?”
“Nothing I can’t endure.”
The answer came quick and sharp, but at least it seemed honest. He had gone from trying to hide any symptom of his withdrawal to admitting them, even if he maybe played them down. Was that an improvement? Or rather a sign that it just got worse?
Evelyn gently raised one hand and placed her fingertips on his temple touching the warm skin there and feeling how he was slightly too warm. “If you want me to try to ease it a little, you just have to say it”, she said and looked him in the eyes, her hand still in place. “I’m no healer but I can feel that you’re at the edge of getting a fever.”
Cullen hesitated and Evelyn was sure that now probably his pride fought his own urge to feel better. Pride because he wanted to get through this on his own. It had taken her a little to realize that but his reaction to her worry when he had told her about his withdrawal actually had been message enough to understand that and Evelyn didn’t need to like it to respect that. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t offer her help anyway.
“What do you have in mind?”
“Nothing extraordinary.” She smiled. “Just a little flash of magic. A shiver, like some cool water on your face, but the energy will run deeper and try to help your body to deal with the pain.”
Evelyn could tell from the way Cullen’s eyes were wandering over her face that he was weighing up his long-learned suspicion against magic against his trust in her. She didn’t wince under his nervous gaze and tried to make her smile look as comforting as possible instead. What was a casual and normal use of magic to her was completely new to him and if the Templars in Kirkwall had been anything like the ones in Ostwick, it also was something he had always been taught to be wary about. Same as Evelyn kept tensing when she noticed another soldier that moved like a Templar because she had learnt to fear them, Cullen wouldn’t forget this trained suspicion of magic just like that. And Evelyn wouldn’t ask him to even when she offered her help.
“Alright”, he finally said and much to her surprise, she couldn’t detect any nervousness neither in his voice nor in his eyes.
“Just like that?” Evelyn raised her brows as one of the corners of her mouth twitched upwards into a lop-sided smile. “Are you sure? You don’t have to. It’s just an offer.”
“I know.” The soft smile on his lips seemed honest, but Evelyn also noticed the fine lines caused by the slightly furrowed brows on his forehead.
“You’re in pain right now, aren’t you?” It was only when she heard her own voice that she realized said the thought out loud without thinking. Below her, Cullen immediately tensed, and Evelyn regretted to have said anything.
“Nothing I can’t endure.” The same words as before and while Evelyn didn’t believe him this time either, she kept this thought to herself and silently nodded instead.
“Alright.” Without leaving her position on his lap and still wrapped into his arms, she lifted her other hand to his temples and gave him a reassuring smile. “Relax.”
The pressure from his arms around her lightened as he followed her request and Evelyn started to gather energy around her fingertips. It was more difficult to wield magic without a staff to focus its direction, but she didn’t need much for this anyway. Especially not when she was conjuring ice. She could feel how the raw energy turned into a cool prickle around her fingers and the next moment, Evelyn just released it against Cullen’s warm skin, carefully directing the magic through his body as long as she could to make sure it would ease his pain. Just for a second, she could feel him shiver under her fingers before she let her hands wander away from his temples to cup his jaw and pull him into a quick and gentle kiss.
An honest smile cracked over his face. “I’ve never seen a spell that required a kiss.”
“You can see that as special treatment.” She brushed his cheek with one thumb before sliding her hands down to rest them against his chest again. “Feeling better?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Cullen tilted his head a little and for a moment, he just leaned his forehead against hers with closed eyes. Evelyn held the touch and smiled silently as she watched his expression finally smooth and his tensed shoulders completely relax. He still looked tired, as he always did, but also more at ease than mere minutes ago.
“How are the Mages’ preparations going?”, he murmured. “Should I tell Rylen to keep some soldiers around?”
“No, it’s fine.” Evelyn sighed and allowed herself to close her own eyes for a few heartbeats. “Varric asked the Chargers for me to keep an eye open and Cassandra and a few of the others promised the same.”
When she lifted her lids again, Cullen’s golden-brown eyes met hers and the indication of a smile curved his lips as he began to reassuringly stroke her back. Was it so easy to sense her worry? Or was that just him because he was so close right now and could see and read every tiny movement in her expression?
Evelyn cleared her throat and a nervous laugh fell out of her mouth as she straightened her back in his arms and moved her head a little away from him. “If you look at me like that, I’ll forget that I have a place to be tonight and just curl up here all night.”
The grin on his lips was nothing else but mischievous, and in his eyes flickered something that only proved that. “I can’t say I would mind that.”
“Me neither, but that’s one of the downsides of being Inquisitor and the Inquisition’s Commander. We don’t always get to spend our time the way we would like to.” She chuckled and brushed a kiss against his forehead before lifting herself from his lap. “Come on. They should be ready by now and Fiona’s probably waiting for me to show my face already.”
Cullen groaned, but took Evelyn’s hand when she offered it to him and let her pull him out of his chair. She chuckled softly and tilted her head watching him as he reluctantly crossed the distance between them.
“You still don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to”, she reminded him as she let go of his hand and stepped through the door outside, but Cullen shook his head.
“No, you were right.” He sighed. “Mages or not, we’re all part of the Inquisition now and tonight could be a chance to demonstrate that.”
Evelyn nodded silently as they started to take the stairs down into the courtyard and her eyes once again wandered over the scenery below where more and more people started to gather. “We’ve come a long way since the Conclave. And now it’s time to stay on that path.”
“Inquisitor.” Fiona’s voice cut off any response Cullen might have wanted to give. She smiled at Evelyn as she came closer with even steps. Just for a split second, Fiona’s eyes widened in surprise when she spotted Cullen behind Evelyn, but the expression vanished as quickly as it had appeared. “Commander. I didn’t know that you both would be attending our little gathering tonight.”
“I hope you don’t mind?”
Evelyn let a light smile curve her lips and casually reached for Cullen’s hand as she carefully watched Fiona’s reaction, nevertheless. While Evelyn’ relationship with Cullen was no secret and Fiona must have at least suspected that they would show up together, she still wasn’t entirely sure how much outsider participation the Mages had hoped for. Or whether they really wanted that this participation included former Templars.
That had been one of the big problems of the rebels from the very beginning of the revolution. Evelyn had learned to fear Templars. She had learned to keep her distance. But she also knew that peace, the kind of peace that would last, could be only achieved if they included everyone in crafting it. The total exclusion some of the most radical branches of Fiona’s rebels preached wasn’t better than the Circles. They would just lead into another cage, this time built by their own hands instead of the Chantry. And Evelyn suspected that Fiona was well-aware of that.
“Of course not, Inquisitor.” The smile the older woman gave to both of them seemed honest. “I told you the truth when I said that I want everyone to be welcome here tonight.” Behind her, somebody called her name and with a glance over her shoulder, Fiona sighed. “If you excuse me, we’re in the middle of the final touches. Make yourselves comfortable, I’m sure we’ll see each other later.”
She rushed off and Evelyn slightly shook her hands before starting to move on through the crowd of relaxed people that slowly kept building around them streaming to the tables and fires. It reminded her a little of the tavern opening just with the difference that Evelyn didn’t recall seeing so many people in robes there and she couldn’t help but smile. Only few of them still dressed into traditional ones from the Circle, but many didn’t seem to have given up on robes in general either. Instead, they wore their own colors, bright and beautiful, decorated with different emblems and embroideries. They had made something Evelyn herself had always seen as a symbol of her oppression one of their own freedom.
“They really outdid themselves.” She glanced over her shoulder back at Cullen and smiled. “Come, let’s find a place at one of the fires.”
He nodded in silent agreement and followed her when she led him through the crowd. Her eyes wandered over the faces around her searching for the familiar ones of her friends. It took a moment, but then she spotted Varric sitting with Cassandra, Hawke and Dorian and moved into their direction.
“Oh, finally.” Cassandra sighed when Evelyn and Cullen took a seat on the last free bench around the fire. “Somebody reasonable.”
Evelyn chuckled as she made herself comfortable at Cullen’s side and raised her brows as her gaze wandered between the other three only to stick on Hawke and Varric. “Are these two annoying you already?”
“Ah, we were only telling some old stories.” Varric laughed as he grabbed two cups next to him from the bench and started to pour wine into them. “Just being the nostalgic fools we always are.”
From the other side of the fire, Dorian snorted. “He means they were telling us of some of their adventures that took a not so legal turn and Cassandra disapproves.”
“At least she’s not alone anymore”, Hawke replied, and amusement sparked in her blue eyes as she looked at Cullen. “I remember that our Commander here wasn’t to happy about it either.”
Cullen scoffed and took the cups Varric had started to pass to him from Cassandra’s hands. For a moment, his fingers brushed Evelyn’s when he gave one of them to her and she smiled. “I suppose that was a common sentiment in Kirkwall at the time.” Cullen threw an amused glance at both Varric and Hawke. “The way I recall it, there was more than one occasion when half of the guards were angrier about one of your adventures than I ever was.”
“Ah, yes. Good times.” Hawke grinned. “Aveline holds a certain kind grudge until this day because of some of them.”
“Isn’t that something you should not be proud of?”, Cassandra asked and furrowed her brows which only caused Hawke to turn her grin into real laughter.
“Well, I am supposed to be many things but in reality, I’m none of them and more, Seeker.”
Cassandra rolled her eyes and scoffed visibly annoyed, but when Evelyn already started thinking about how she could change the subject to something that wouldn’t make her friend murder Hawke sooner or later, another silhouette appeared behind Cassandra. With his usual broad smile on his lips and a cup in his hand, Max hopped over the bench from behind and let himself take a seat next to the Seeker.
“So, here is where all the fun is?”, he asked playfully and shot an amused glance into Evelyn’s direction. “Has anyone teased the two of you yet about how cute you look, Eve?”
Next to her, Cullen stiffened a little, but Evelyn rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on, Max. Aren’t you tired of that game yet?”
“Only a little.” He winked at her and it was only when he smirked in content that Evelyn realized that her brother just had ended the conversation between Hawke and Cassandra without anybody noticing. And he looked so smug about it that she was sure that his sudden arrival was no coincidence. No matter how much she doubted that anyone else would have noticed. “Alright, who’s up for a game of Wicked Grace? With our Lady Ambassador not here most of us might actually have a chance to win.”
Evelyn left the others to their game and playful chatter that came with it and leaned to Cullen’s side instead while the sun lowered itself below the horizon and darkness started to wrap around them. After a while, a group of Mage children appeared, wide-eyed and giddy, and asked Hawke to do some of her fire tricks to which she laughed and agreed. Soon after, Maryden picked up her lute, quickly joined by other musicians and when a fast and joyful melody started to fill the air, Max lifted himself from his seat to join the dancers trying to drag Cassandra and Dorian with him who both refused. Then, Bull appeared out of nowhere and just pulled Dorian with him which seemed to be enough for Max since he left with them and let Cassandra be.
“I didn’t know Bull could dance.” Evelyn chuckled amused as she watched the scenery unfolding between the dancers.
“We’re all full of secrets, Snowstorm”, Varric replied in similar amusement. “And at least this will make an excellent story later. The big, bad, one-eyed Qunari mercenary dances with a Mage from Tevinter on a gathering honoring Mage freedom while a former Templar watches and can’t stop laughing.”
Evelyn grinned as she spotted Max not far away from the other two. “Well, to their defense, they probably are just drunk.”
“Oh, yes, they are.” Varric laughed softly. “But we’re truly living in strange times anyway.”
“I think that is something we all can agree on.”
Cullen put his cup aside and Evelyn could see in the golden light of the fire before them how a relaxed smile twitched around his lips as he placed his arm around her shoulders to pull her closer. She gladly leaned into his embrace, silently enjoying the warmth of his body at her side as she nestled her head against his shoulder.
“There were times when I thought I would never see this”, Cassandra suddenly said into the silence that began spreading between them. Her gaze briefly stuck to Cullen and Evelyn before wandering over the people around them. “At some point, especially just after the Conclave, I thought there maybe would be never peace with the Mages.” Her eyes locked with Evelyn’s over the flames. “That is your achievement.”
Evelyn let out a deep breath. She still wasn’t comfortable with everyone seeing her as the hero she really wasn’t. Allying with the rebel Mages would have been impossible without Fiona leading them or without Dorian helping her against Alexius. Maker, Evelyn still wasn’t completely sure how he had reversed his old mentor’s time spell and without him, chances were good that she just would have been stuck in time. And both before and after that, there had been so many occasions when they could have failed. When the tensions and the mistrust had been at their worst and nearly only Cullen’s iron will to make this peace in their ranks work had stood between the Inquisition and a riot.
“I wouldn’t have achieved anything without all of you around me.” She smiled softly. “Even when some people nearly would have killed me when we first met.”
Different from the last time they talked about the rough start of their relationship, Cassandra noticed the gentle teasing in Evelyn’s voice and smiled back. “I tend to do that. A bad habit, I suppose.”
Varric burst out into loud laughter and Evelyn could feel a quieter one roll through Cullen’s chest below her head as she smiled herself. “You really have a talent for understatements, Seeker.”
They fell into their usual bickering and while they were speaking, the song ended and a new one began. This time, the music was slower, calmer and it felt as if a weight was placed on Evelyn’s heart as the song began to progress. A woman’s voice she didn’t recognize danced through the dark night, filling the air and suddenly quieting the muffled chatter around them for a moment. A man joined her, and Evelyn quickly identified the song as a lover’s duet. She closed her eyes and listened as the two of them sang how they knew each other since childhood and fell in love when they were not much more than children. The story took place in Kirkwall as the refrain told the listeners and with every word, they kept building a tale of love so sweet that the inevitable catastrophe just had to come. What started as a suspicion quickly became true as the lovers were separated because the man was a Mage, and when the Templars discovered him, he was brought into the Circle. The woman cried and wept about the cruelty of the system and condemned the Knight-Commander for taking her lover and Evelyn now only loosely payed attention to the singer’s words. She knew how these tales ended. The rebellion would mean freedom and freedom would mean that the lovers could be reunited. It was a story Mages had been telling again and again in one way or another over the last few years and there were enough real couples who had been the inspiration for that. The disruption of families the Circle had caused was far too real even in Evelyn’s own biography for her to need a love song to know this kind of story.
The melody and the singing went on and Evelyn kept her eyes closed, still leaning at Cullen’s side when she realized that something had changed. Cullen had changed. His relaxed posture had stiffened and when Evelyn opened her eyes and turned her head, she saw how he was grinding his teeth. Dark shadows danced over his face and for a moment and she wondered whether it was just the light that was fooling her but then, comprehension crept through her mind. She suppressed a curse as she listened closely to the words of the song again. Who it made a villain. And who it was praising.
Evelyn sighed and gently wrapped her arms around Cullen, leaning to his ear so that nobody would hear her words while the curious watchers around them probably would only see her pulling herself closer to him. “I'm sorry. I didn't know they would be singing something like that.”
Cullen didn't reply anything, but Evelyn could feel how he relaxed a little as he leaned into her touch and she couldn't help but smile and settled at his side. Her gaze wandered back to the flames as her thoughts drifted off again, the singers began a new verse. And this time, the tone shifted from the gentle melody and still rather light-hearted words to a more sinister style.
“Maker, don’t they have any self-reflection?”
The moment Evelyn heard Cullen mutter these words, he rose from his seat abruptly pulling away from her. When she blinked in surprise and turned her head, he already was walking away from the group causing a worried frown from Cassandra and a deep sigh from Varric. Evelyn cursed quietly herself and jumped from her place on the bench as he marched off into the night and away from the crowd.
“Cullen, wait!” He kept walking but when they were out of range for anyone else to hear, Evelyn grabbed his hand and made him stop. “It’s just a song.”
“It isn’t.” Cullen clenched his fists as he stared into the darkness around him. “It’s portraying a fanatic as hero and uses the sad tale of separated lovers to glorify him.”
Evelyn clicked her tongue. “It’s more complicated than that and you know it. Anders and Kirkwall are symbols for Mages. You know that better than most.”
“Of course, I know!”, he hissed, his tone now cold and sharp. “But people died that day, Evelyn. Not only Mages or Templars but ordinary, innocent people. There was nothing heroic about making the chantry explode and causing violence on the streets for days.”
“No, it isn’t heroic”, Evelyn agreed softly as she took his other and traced her thumbs over his skin in soothing patterns. “But nothing in this story ever was heroic. And no matter of everything else – Our liberation began with Anders. Yes, it’s a story of blood but still, it’s also the story of our freedom. The story of our suffering.” A slow and sad smile appeared on her lips. “I don’t have to like the bloodshed to know that I wouldn’t be here without it.”
They fell silent for a moment and Evelyn could feel Cullen’s eyes burning on her while she kept her gaze fixated on their hands.
“Do you regret it?”, he finally asked into the silence between them. “That you didn’t join the rebels before the Conclave?”
“No.” Evelyn didn’t even have to think about her answer though she could feel how sadness stretched its claws into an iron grip around her heart. “Maybe, if Ostwick had ended differently, I would have. When rumors about the rebellion reached us, I sympathized with the rebels and craved as much for freedom as everyone else, but when my own Circle fell … Let’s say the rebels and I always had philosophical differences and after the bloodshed in Ostwick, there was no way denying it. No matter how much I craved for freedom before.”
Cullen frowned. “Then why go for them when you had the choice? Why not siding with the Templars? I thought this had been about your loyalty to their cause.”
“It was and it is”, she replied as a soft smile played around her lips. “I believe that we deserve to be free and that the Circles cause nothing but pain, I truly do. More than anything – But I’ve also seen too much of the Circles to simply not acknowledge that the pain they caused makes some of us oblivious to compromise and how that will help nobody but those who already mean us harm. The Inquisition gave me the power to reach out to the Mages but still maintain enough control to both protect and force them to stop any more bloodshed that will only strengthen those who argue we should be locked away.” Evelyn tilted her head to look up into Cullen’s eyes. “Does that make any sense?”
He gently squeezed her hand and slowly pulled her into a close embrace. “It does.”
Evelyn closed her eyes and leaned into the touch, slipping her hands below the corner of his fur on his back to warm them as Cullen’s warm arms wrapped around her body. “I’m glad about it.”
She nestled her face against his shoulder and Cullen rested his chin on her head as they silently stood in the darkness for a moment. Evelyn listened to his deep breaths while he gently started stroking her back and she smiled as she suddenly had to think about how afraid she had been when she first met him. And now? Now, there wasn’t anything but this warm feeling of safety in her chest.
A sudden breeze flew through the courtyard which made Evelyn shiver and broke their calm moment.
“You should go back to the fire.” Cullen gently rubbed her arms and took a step back. “You’re freezing.”
“Only a little”, she admitted. “And I don’t want to return alone.”
With a deep sigh, Cullen scratched his neck. “I think it’s better if I just retreat. Nobody will notice and I don’t want to listen to more songs like the one before.”
“Do you want to be alone?” Evelyn bit her lower lip and furrowed her brows a little as she looked up to him. “Or do you just don’t want to get back to the fire?”
His expression softened and he gently pushed a loose strand of her hair aside. “You don’t have to miss anything out just because of me.”
“I’m sure I don’t.” Evelyn smiled at him and caught his hand in the air to squeeze it gently. “But I can just go back if you’d rather like me to.”
He chuckled. “As if I wanted you to go.”
“Good.” With a broad grin, Evelyn locked her fingers with his again and nodded towards the stables behind them. “Then let’s go. I told you I wanted to spend this evening with you and I know Dennet has some blankets in the stables and I doubt that anyone will disturb us there.”
Evelyn’s prediction turned out to be true and when they entered the stables, nobody was to be seen anywhere. Instead, only the soft sounds of the horses noticing the visitors and the muffled sound of the people in the courtyard filled the air. A deep, calm breath left Evelyn’s lips and she couldn’t help but smile into the dim light of the magic torches burning outside as she let go of Cullen’s hand and slowly moved to one of the mares in their boxes.
“I like horses”, she explained as she gently placed one hand on the soft nose of the animal in front of her, feeling its warm breath beneath her fingers. “They remind me of my childhood.” She grimaced. “Well, before I was taken to the Circle.”
Cullen stepped behind her. “Your family’s horses are famous I hear.”
“They are.” Evelyn smiled, but it felt bittersweet in her chest. “I remember how we seemed to host nobles from all over Thedas all the time when I was a child. One time, before the Blight, we even hosted the Fereldan Prince and his betrothed.” She gently raised her second hand and patted the horse’s neck. “I remember how much I admired Anora. She seemed so fierce and beautiful … No matter her youth, nobody dared to disrespect her and even my father had to bow before her.” A soft chuckle left Evelyn’s lips. “You have no idea how he raged once they were gone. Apparently, it was absolutely impudent how she held her head high and stood her ground against him. I was too young to understand what was happening, but I vaguely felt that I admired her even more for it.”
Cullen wrapped his arms around her middle and held her close. “It must have been strange to see her again in Redcliffe.”
“A little.” Evelyn pulled her hands away from the horse and placed them on Cullen’s arms instead. “But then again, everything is strange these days and meeting a Queen I admired as a child when she wasn’t a Queen yet is one of the less strange things happening to me since the Conclave.”
She unwillingly glanced down at her hand where the green light of the mark dimly glowed in the darkness around them.
“It doesn’t hurt, does it?”, he asked quietly and his warm breath slightly tickled Evelyn’s cheek.
“No”, she replied. “Not at the moment, at least. It only hurts sometimes, when I close an especially powerful Rift or when I overload the magic by closing too many Rifts too quickly after one another.”
Cullen took in a sharp breath. “Does anybody know that?”
There was undeniable worry in his voice and Evelyn smiled softly as she sighed and let her head fall back against his shoulders. “Now you do”, she replied. “And I think some of the others figured it, too. Dorian and Solas definitely know. And Cassandra and Varric probably noticed when we were in Crestwood.”
“But you didn’t tell anyone, did you?”
“I don’t want any of you to worry about me.” She sighed. “You have enough to take care of already and I can cope with a little pain from time to time. There are more important things right now.”
“You’re not invincible, Eve.” The use of her nickname sent a warm shiver down her spine. “Nor are you replaceable.”
Evelyn chuckled softly and freed herself from Cullen’s arms to turn around and look him directly in the eyes. “Says the man who is on the way of working himself to death if he doesn’t take better care of himself.” She lifted one hand to cup his cheek, her thumb gently brushing over his skin. “The truth is, nobody here is replaceable. Neither me nor you.”
A forced smile spread over his lips and Cullen took her hand from his face to kiss her palm. “I’m fine”, he said, but it sounded as forced as his smile looked. “We’re all just a little on edge right now.”
It was a lie and Evelyn knew it. Another careful attempt to prevent her from worrying and Cullen was probably also aware that she looked right through it.
“Promise me something”, she whispered. “Tell me if it gets worse. Nothing’s worth working yourself to death. Not even the Inquisition.”
Cullen’s expression turned genuinely soft as he leaned down to her. “I promise.”
His lips touched hers for a slow, careful kiss and a more and more familiar warm feeling spread through Evelyn’s chest again as his hands slipped to her back to pull her close. She wrapped her own arms around his neck, her fingers gently playing with the short strands just above his hairline. Cullen let out a content hum against her lips and Evelyn smiled into the kiss moving her mouth on last time against his before slowly pulling back.
“Be honest”, Evelyn whispered against his skin, her eyes still half closed and a grin spreading over her lips. “How long wanted you to kiss me before that kiss on the battlements?”
“Longer than I should admit.” He chuckled, a playful smile on his face, and quickly planted another small kiss on her lips. “And you?”
Now Evelyn laughed softly. “Longer than I realized.”
She took a step back and took his hand with a smile. “Come on. If we sit upstairs near the door, we should have a nice view on the sky. And it’s more comfortable than just standing around down here.”
They in fact found a nice spot just before the window as Evelyn had promised. After they took the stairs to the upper half of the building, grabbing a blanket Evelyn knew Dennet kept with his equipment on the way, she dragged a few hay bales towards the window while Cullen quickly slipped out of his breastplate before letting himself sink to the ground next to her.
“Much better”, Evelyn murmured as she nestled her head against his shoulder and let Cullen drape his arms around her shoulders. “I’m not sure whether I’ve ever seen you like that. I mean, in a shirt instead of your armor.”
A soft chuckle rolled through his chest. “Soldiers wear armors.”
Evelyn scoffed at his reply and playfully pinched his side. “There are plenty of soldiers at Skyhold and nobody loves their armors as much as you love yours.”
“I know.” Cullen paused and gazed at the armor pieces he had put aside not far from them before quietly speaking again. “It’s the first time in my life I chose an armor myself. And the first time in a long time that I really had control over who I wanted to serve.” He sighed. “It’s probably foolish, but … that armor reminds me of how I decided to do … to be better than I was.”
“It isn’t foolish.” Evelyn lifted her head for a moment and smiled at him. “That is actually very … sweet.”
“Oh, wonderful.” Nervous laughter crept over his lips, but Evelyn sat up straight to look at him directly.
“I’m serious, Cullen.” She tilted her head as she bit her lip and hesitated for a moment. “You know … The night before Max arrived at Skyhold, I read Varric’s book about Kirkwall.”
Cullen closed his eyes for a moment and winced. “That means I didn’t imagine that you were suddenly more distant before you left for Crestwood?”
“No”, she replied with a sad smile. “The thing is … When you come from a Circle like mine, reading a story like Hawke’s just hurts. You recognize every single of the small signs nobody else notices even when they aren’t highlighted because for every story Varric tells in his book, I know many more of my own. And reading about your role in it … I brought back doubts and fears I just had fought back.”
“I’m sorry, Eve.” He looked down obviously avoiding her gaze. “I …”
“Don’t”, she interrupted him, and her expression sobered completely. “Just answer me this: Did you know what was happening?”
Cullen closed his eyes. “Yes … no … I mean …” He sighed. “I knew that there were things going on that weren’t right, but I … I wanted to see the evil I thought was the reason and so I saw it. I turned away because I trusted my Knight-Commander and I thought that the end would justify the means. Both turned out to be mistakes and …” He raised his gaze again. “I mistrusted the Mages I was supposed to protect because I had seen the pain magic can cause and there is no excuse for that. I can only say that it was unworthy of me and that I am not that man anymore.”
His words lifted a heavy weight from Evelyn’s shoulders. It was only now that she realized how afraid she had been of this conversation and what it might unveil. How it might reveal truths she wasn’t prepared for, especially if Cullen had tried to lie to her. But he hadn’t. He hadn’t played down his past and he hadn’t played down the pain it had caused. Instead, he had been vulnerable. Honest.
“You already knew that.” He frowned and his golden-brown eyes locked with hers. “How?”
Evelyn smiled. “Because you told me about your withdrawal and reminded me how the man I read about doesn’t have to be the man I met.” The smile turned to a small grin. “Well, and because Max reminded me that four years are a long time for people to change.”
For some reason, that made Cullen laugh and he shook his head, his lips curved into an amused smile. “I think your brother played with both of us there”, he replied to Evelyn’s questioning look as one last soft chuckle left his throat. “He was the one who gave me the advice to tell you about my withdrawal.”
Now Evelyn had to grin, too. “I should have known. His teasing was too suspiciously cocky, even for his standards.” She leaned back against his chest and let him wrap his arms around her again. “How did he know about the withdrawal? Did you tell him?”
“No. He figured it out himself.” Another soft chuckle. “You probably know best that he sees far more than it seems.” Only for a heartbeat, Cullen paused, but Evelyn could already guess what thought it was that he bit back and sighed even before he voiced it. “We really should use that perception. Your brother could help the Inquisition a lot. And he wants to.”
“I know.” She closed her eyes and moved closer to him. “And eventually, I will talk with you, Leliana and Josephine about a position for him in the Inquisition. When I’ve fought back my fear of losing him.”
Cullen didn’t reply anything but just silently planted a small kiss on her scalp as he pulled the blanket over both of them and Evelyn was grateful for that. This was the kind of fear she would have to wrestle down on her own. Sitting here with him and being able to actually voice her fear helped, but still, finding the confidence to actually make the decision she tried to avoid was something she would need to do on her own and Evelyn didn’t feel like discussing it.
They sat there in silence as Evelyn quietly listened to Cullen’s calm breaths under her head, her hair loosely spilling over his chest and his warm arms wrapped around her. It was strange how safe it felt. Protected. Like she could let her guard down for once. As frightening as that thought rang in her head.
When she peaked up to Cullen, his eyes were shut, and his expression relaxed as his breaths grew deeper and steadier with every heartbeat. Evelyn smiled silently and turned her head again, closing her own eyes and letting that feeling of safety wrap around her like his arms as she drifted off into sleep.
Chapter 20: Worries
Evelyn leaves for Orlais and her advisors make plans on how to deal with Bann Trevelyan.
This is the last chapter that's kinda calm for a while, there will be a lot of stuff happening soon and I've got some drama planned. I hope I'll be posting the next few chapters with only short breaks between them to make the breaks between the cliffhangers not that bad.^^ As always: Thanks for sticking around and I hope you like it :) <3
When Cullen woke up again, the sun was rising and Dennet and the stable boys started to get back to work already but none of it seemed to have disrupted Evelyn’s sleep. She was still lying in his arms, her slim body heavily leaned against his and her expression so fully relaxed that he didn’t dare to move and wake her. Instead, he couldn’t help but stare at her in wonder. Since the moment they had met, she only had surprised him over and over again. Her stubborn bravery, her strategic mind, her fierce loyalty, and now also her careful self-reflection. For a brief moment the night before, Cullen had feared she would get angry because he couldn’t bring himself to see Anders as the hero some of the Mages wanted to portray him as. That she maybe would be hurt and think that meant Cullen didn’t support the Mages’ freedom, including her own, after all. But she hadn’t. Instead, she had proved once again that she understood far more than the Chantry gave her credit for. They were starting to fear the Inquisition for their troops and their spies, but they still didn’t realize that it maybe was that sharp mind behind those deep green eyes they should fear most.
Cullen smiled. And of all people in Thedas, the owner of that mind had curled up in his arms last night. Even if he still wasn’t entirely sure what he had done to be that lucky.
“Good Morning.” Evelyn yawned and slowly started to stretch a little in Cullen’s arms. “Did we oversleep?”
“It’s still early”, he replied and gently brushed a few loose strands of her dark hair aside. “I don’t think anybody but Dennet is up yet.”
“Oh, good.” She smiled sleepily and snuggled up against his chest again. “I don’t feel like getting up yet anyway.”
“Sooner or later you’ll have to.” Cullen wrapped his arms around her again and rested his chin on her head. “There’s still a lot to do before you’ll leave for Orlais tomorrow.”
“Don’t remind me.” She groaned. “Neria’s still angry at me because I decided to travel to the Emerald Graves and talk to Josephine’s contact there first before searching for the Wardens further west.”
“She’s worried. And knowing her, she’s probably not wrong.”
“I know, I know.” Cullen could hear how she sighed deeply. “But different from Neria and Alistair, the Inquisition has more problems than just the Wardens.” Evelyn yawned again. “But I really don’t want to talk about the Wardens right now. That’s a problem I worry enough about already.” She carefully untangled herself from his arms and turned to him with a broad smile. “Have I told you already that you’re really comfortable to sleep on?”
Cullen chuckled softly before smiling back at her. “I’m glad you slept well.”
There it was. That small frown she seemed to have reserved for those moments when concern surfaced inside of her even though she tried to cover it. “What about you? Are your headaches still bothering you?”
Cullen grimaced and tried to look indifferent. “It’s fine”, he replied, but avoided her gaze. “I have a light sleep anyway.”
“It’s fine”, he repeated, this time more firmly and pulled her close again. “Don’t worry.”
For a moment, it seemed like she wanted to argue but then, she leaned against him again.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to pry or bug you”, she mumbled softly against his shoulder and sighed. “I just want to make sure you’re alright.”
Evelyn probably could have never even guessed how Cullen could feel his heart break when she said this. Simple, trivial words but words that kept confusing him. It felt so strange that there really were people in his life now who truly cared whether he was fine or whether he just claimed to be. Apart from Mia, who had tracked him down over and over again, no matter where his path had taken him over the last decade, there hadn’t really been anybody who had cared about that distinction. Even less somebody who truly gave him the feeling that they cared for him as a person instead of somebody who was valuable for his skills as a soldier. The thought that she might really care was … frightening. Exiting and nice, but still frightening.
“What?” Evelyn tilted her head and looked at him. “Did I say something wrong?”
“No, nothing.” He leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss against her forehead. “It’s just nice to have you here in my arms.”
Evelyn grinned. “It’s also nice to have your arms around me”, she replied and groaned when her eyes caught something through the window on the courtyard. “I guess we’ll have to continue this another time, though. Rylen just crossed the courtyard at least twice. He’s probably searching you.” With another grimace, she carefully started to move away from him. “And I should be probably going, too. I need to check on Fiona and meet with Josephine later. And I’d like to grab something to eat before that.”
Cullen sighed deeply but nodded and started collecting the pieces of his armor from the ground. From the corners of his eyes, he could see how Evelyn quickly pulled her hair together to tie it into a loose braid before picking up the blanket and putting it aside. Cullen started to fasten the straps of his breast plates and cursed softly when he had trouble to reach one of the buckles. Behind him, he could hear Evelyn chuckle and suddenly, her warm fingers slipped over his and stopped his movements.
“Need help?”, she asked and planted a small kiss on his cheek before tightening the first strap without waiting for his response. Cullen smiled and raised his arms to give her better access to the buckles and let her fasten one after the other. Afterwards, she smiled and handed him his coat. “Done.”
He slipped the fur over his shoulders before briefly taking her hands to squeeze them. “Thank you.”
Evelyn grinned and Cullen raised his brows. “What?”
“Nothing. It only just occurred to me that I think I’ll really miss you when I’m in Orlais.”
He chuckled and slowly pulled her closer into a close embrace. “I’ll miss you, too.” For a brief moment, he hesitated and contemplated about whether he should voice the thought that had crept into his mind just now. “Be careful out there.”
Evelyn gently untied herself from him and laughed. “I’ll be travelling with some of the greatest heroes Ferelden’s ever seen. And with Hawke, even though her reputation as a hero might be debatable. Not to mention the gigantic Qunari mercenary, the brilliantly crazy Mage from Tevinter and the dwarf with a crossbow that probably only a few people even at Orzammar could even dream of ever crafting themselves.” She grinned and placed one hand on his cheek to brush his skin there with her thumb. “I’ll be safe.”
He smiled softly and brushed a kiss against her palm. “I know.”
“Good.” She took a step back. “I’ll see you later. But now we should really go before somebody misses us.”
When Cullen watched her walking away, Evelyn seemed as carefree as she could be, but no matter how much he reminded himself that even without her friends, she was a force to be reckoned with, he couldn’t help but feeling afraid. Back after Haven, he had been frightened she might not survive after he had carried her into their camp. Being afraid of the thought she could be hurt long before it could potentially every happen was … new. And that frightened Cullen even more.
“I’ve received news from Crestwood. The roads still aren’t exactly safe, but the situation is improving.”
Leliana leaned over the map on the war table, ignoring the dull pain behind his temples, and pointed at two red crosses marking threads in the mountains above Crestwood village. Evelyn had left a couple of days ago and of course, it could have been only a matter of time until a new problem would come up. Now that Crestwood was slowly stabilizing, the real work there began while, at the same time, the Inquisition still was desperately building the structures they needed to keep their promise of taking care of the region even after everyone else had abandoned them.
“There are bandits here and here we know of for sure.” Leliana’s hand wandered down on the map and closer to the coast. “And Charter also suspects someone else further South near the hunting grounds of that dragon.”
Cullen frowned casually massaging his head as if he was deep in thought when he really tried to ease his headache. “Who would be crazy enough to camp that close to a dragon?”
“Somebody who obviously doesn’t want company?” Leliana shrugged and straightened her back. “In any case, they aren’t our problem right now. The bandits and the Red Templars in the region are more dangerous to our people at the moment.”
Cullen nodded slowly and gazed over the map. “Most of our new recruits aren’t ready yet to be sent out into the field but I could send Valerie with a small group to Crestwood for support. She and Charter have worked together before, haven’t they?”
“They have. Gloriously.” Leliana curled her lips to one of her small, knowing smiles she rarely explained but Cullen knew that she knew more than she was telling right now. “If you send Valerie and a few good soldiers, they will probably clean out the bandits on their own.”
“Good. Though, we will have to see if they can stay in Crestwood after that.” He grimaced. “We’re still running thin on our trained troops while our problems only grow with every day.”
The spymaster took in air for a reply when the door opened. Both of them turned their heads to see Maxwell Trevelyan strolling into the room as if he was taking an afternoon walk around the courtyard. When he noticed the irritated looks on their faces, he grinned.
“I have no idea what I’m doing here but our gracious Lady Ambassador asked me to come, so I’m here.” He winked. “But I swear I didn’t do anything! Well, nothing that would me get into enough trouble to be called before all three of you.”
Cullen raised his brows and Leliana snorted but neither of them didn’t came to voice their thoughts because Josephine walked right behind Max into the room.
“Please excuse my delay”, she said with reddened cheeks and obviously stressed. “Today has been … rushed.”
She sighed and placed a stack of papers on the table before Leliana and Cullen. With a frown, she started spreading the wild collection of reports and letters until she found what she searched.
“Ah, there it is.” Josephine triumphantly lifted an envelope from the table and handed it to Leliana. “The newest letter Bann Trevelyan sent to Evelyn. I’ve been checking them since she keeps refusing to read anything he writes to her and it seems he’s growing impatient.”
Max groaned. “I don’t like where this is going.”
“None of us should”, Josephine agreed. “He might not have yet chosen to take action, but he surely will. Sooner or later. I advise we get on his good side before that happens.”
“I’m sure your advice would be a great one in any other case, but we’re talking about my father and my sister.” With a tired grimace, Max crossed his arms. “There are reasons why Evelyn doesn’t want him in her life.”
“And there are reasons why we can’t have the head of an influential noble house in Ostwick feel offended by our behavior”, Leliana reminded him. “Especially not if said head is our Inquisitor’s own father.”
“Leliana is right.” Josephine sighed deeply. “We don’t have too many noble allies in the Free Marches, but it will likely alienate all them if the rumor spreads that the Inquisitor won’t respect even her own family.”
“Ah, Free Marchers and our inferiority complex”, Max muttered and rolled his eyes. “Not that our father would deserve Evelyn’s respect anyway.”
“It doesn’t matter. This is about appearances.”
Max sighed again and not for the first time, Cullen noticed how much of his sister there could be in his expressions, no matter their different characters. “I know. And I’m sure he knows that, too. But we won’t get Eve to bow to him. Not after everything she went through.”
Cullen suppressed the urge to groan. Maker, how he hated these kinds of noble games. Strings that were pulled to force somebody else to do things they didn’t want to do just that the masks everybody seemed to wear could be maintained and at the end of the day, nobody really gained something but a higher opinion held by people who didn’t really matter anyway. Just so that this game could start once again.
“Then what can we do?”, he asked looking at the other three.
“Well, Evelyn made it clear that she doesn’t wish any contact with her father.” Josephine sighed. “Which means, as long as she doesn’t change her opinion, we can only try to play dumb and act as if she just doesn’t have the time to attend something as trivial as personal family matters. After all, she’s Inquisitor and a busy woman.”
Max scoffed. “No offense, Ambassador, but that’s basically the strategy Eve’s been trying out by ignoring him in the first place and you just told us that this isn’t working anymore.”
“I agree.” Leliana glanced at Max, her expression enigmatic as ever. “But I assume that’s why you are here.”
“Uh … You know that I’m only in slighter better graces with my family than Evelyn is?” He frowned in a mixture of confusion and worry. “I’m really not the one who can solve any of this.”
“No, she’s right.” Josephine smiled and nodded as a knowing look started to spread over her face. “If the Trevelyans were any other noble family trying to pull strings to force us to do anything we don’t want to, we would start by gathering information about them and find out how we could soothe the tensions.”
“Or what secrets they have and don’t want the world to know.” A ruthless grin curved Leliana’s lips and to Cullen’s surprise, Max chuckled when he noticed it.
“I like the way you think, Sister Nightingale. Truly”, he replied. “And I’ll help any way I can, but I haven’t been much more than a visitor in Ostwick for a long time and if you’re searching for secrets, you’re asking the wrong person.”
“But you can point us into the right directions”, Josephine interjected. “Your family’s horses are famous, aren’t they? Could we show our will to maintain a good relationship with your father by purchasing one for your sister?”
“I doubt that would satisfy him.” Max scoffed again and shook his head. “He surely would want to claim to be the only one breeding horses for the Inquisition and since his horses may be famous but rather delicate …”
“… that would be a bad deal for us because we need sturdy horses as well”, Cullen finished the sentence with a sigh as Max just let his voice trail of with a shrug.
“Exactly”, Max agreed. “But the idea is not bad. I have a cousin, Percival. He is technically part of another branch of the Trevelyans, but family relations in the Free Marches are complicated enough, so that doesn’t really matter. The point is, his mother died when he was very young and after that, he basically grew up with us.” Another annoyed grimace as he rolled his eyes again. “I guess he’s more of a child to my father and more of a sibling to my brother than Evelyn or me could ever be by now. Anyway, he took over his father’s business after his death a few years ago and now runs a successful trade network. It surely would be a nice gesture if you offer an exclusive contract to him.”
“Will that really be enough?” Cullen frowned. “I mean … could it be that easy?”
Leliana let out a soft chuckle and arched a brow in amusement at him. “Sometimes, nobility is just that simple-minded, Commander.” A smirk twitched around one corner of her mouth. “Besides, if we establish a regular trade with the Trevelyans, I can let a few of my spies handle the business and we will have everything we need to keep the Bann at bay in no time.”
“Great.” Max clapped his hands and took a step back half on his way to leave already. “So, I assume you don’t need me here anymore?”
“Do you have somewhere to be, Lord Trevelyan?” Leliana cocked her head as she slowly raised one brow obviously suspecting a secret. “You surely aren’t betting against Krem and the Chargers again, are you?”
“What, me?” Max laughed and winked at Leliana before turning around to leave. “I’m an offspring of one of Ostwick’s ten most important families. To gamble from time to time is literally in my blood.” He glanced over his shoulder and laughed. “Frown like that when you tell my sister of this, Rutherford, and maybe she’ll put me in an Inquisition armor right away.”
Cullen scoffed. “You overestimate my say in this, Trevelyan.”
“And you underestimate how much Eve listens to you.” Max grinned and pulled the door open. “I guess that’s one of the things she likes about you.”
Before Cullen could reply, Max slipped out of the room and let the door fall shut behind him. Cullen shook his head and when he looked up again, he met the silently amused expressions of Josephine and Leliana.
“He is quite blunt, but he is also right”, Leliana finally said and chuckled. “You do underestimate your influence.”
“Leliana!” Josephine clicked her tongue, but it was obvious that she had to work hard not to laugh herself. “It’s not our place to give these kinds of advices.”
Cullen groaned and rubbed his face. “Maker, could we please return to our real business instead of discussing my relationship?”
Leliana chuckled again but Josephine threw her a serious glance as she collected her papers from the table and the Spymaster kept silent.
“I will write to Bann Trevelyan soon and secure a deal with his foster son.” She stacked the papers together and smiled at the other two. “Any news about the Wardens?”
Leliana shrugged. “Nothing we didn’t hear from either Alistair and Neria or any of my other sources before. We’ll just have to wait until Evelyn sends word from the Western Approach.”
“I still don’t like the idea of sending her blindly there.” Cullen frowned. “We still have no real clue what is going on with the Wardens, we only suspect that Corypheus managed to manipulate the Calling.”
“Alistair, Neria and Hawke are accompanying her. I’m sure Evelyn will handle herself.” Leliana smiled but concern flickered beneath and Cullen suddenly had to think of how she had not only one but three persons on this mission she probably was worried for.
“I suppose she will.” Cullen sighed and decided not to press the matter anymore. “Anything else we should discuss today? Otherwise, I will return back to work now.”
Now it was Josephine who smiled gently. “She will be fine.”
“I know.” Cullen sighed and forced the most relaxed expression he could fake. “She will.”
Chapter 21: Rock Bottom
Evelyn returns from her latest travel only to be greeted by Cassandra who is worried about Cullen.
I had written large parts of the first half of the chapter for a while now, and I was dying to finally put it into a chapter. As always: Have fun and thanks for reading! <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Evelyn returned to Skyhold, there really was only one place she wanted to be. Her bed. Maybe a bathtub before that. And the kitchen to grab something to eat. But even that was more of an optional thought depending on whether she could be bothered to move anywhere else than her chambers after their arrival. After weeks of travel, including their encounter with the Wardens at the Western Approach and troubles with Red Templars at the Emerald Graves before that, sleep seemed like the only good idea on her mind right now.
But when Evelyn rode through Skyhold’s gates and saw Cassandra walking into her direction with large steps, she began to suspect that sleep would have to wait. The Seeker’s expression was even more stern than usually, the wrinkles from her furrowed brows looking even deeper than normal, and Evelyn hadn’t fully slipped from her horse yet when Cassandra addressed her.
“Inquisitor. It’s good you’re here.”
Evelyn sighed as she pulled the saddle bags from her horse’s back and handed the reins to one of Dennet’s stable boys. “Whatever it is, Cassandra, if it’s not really important, it will have to wait.”
“It’s about Cullen.”
The uncovered worry in Cassandra’s voice made Evelyn freeze and she turned her head. “What happened?”
“Did he tell you that he isn’t taking Lyrium anymore?”, Cassandra asked and lowered her voice as she carefully led Evelyn out of earshot of the others. “And how that … affects him?”
Evelyn nodded. “Before we left for Crestwood. He said you would have an eye on him.”
“I have.” Cassandra sighed. “And now he asked me to find a replacement for him. Which I refused.”
The tired feeling Evelyn had felt with every fiber of her being just a moment ago was washed away within seconds and replaced with cold worry. Cullen loved his work. He believed in the Inquisition. If he asked Cassandra for a successor, the symptoms must have been exceptionally bad in her absence. Which made her even more afraid of the answer to her next question.
“Is he alright?”
“You know him”, Cassandra replied and scoffed. “I think his symptoms are worse than he wants us to know but not as bad that I would believe replacing him is truly necessary. Or even good for him.”
Evelyn furrowed her brows and bit her lower lip. “Where is he now?”
“At his office. I was hoping you could talk to him and make him see reason.” A tired smile twitched around Cassandra’s lips. “He won’t listen to me when I tell him that he should have more confidence, but he might listen to you.” She stretched out her arms for the bag that was still in Evelyn’s hands. “I’ll take that and bring it to your chambers, and you can look after him.”
Evelyn returned the soft smile, grateful for her friend’s offer, and handed Cassandra the bag over. “Thank you, Cassandra. I owe you.”
What had been only the hint of a smile mere moments ago now turned into a real smile on the other woman’s face and she shook her head as she took the bag. “No. I’m only worried about a friend and wish to help him. Or, in this case, help you helping him because you’re better suited to do that than I am.”
Evelyn chuckled softly. “Just take my gratitude for once, Cassandra. I’m merely trying to thank you for being a good friend.” She gently squeezed Cassandra’s shoulder. “I’ll see you later.”
The Seeker nodded. “Until then, Inquisitor.”
With one last smile, Evelyn moved past her friend and headed for Cullen’s tower. She tried to suppress her racing thoughts and the worriedly fast beats of her heart as she climbed the stairs and walked to the door, but there was no use pretending she wasn’t afraid. Cullen’s withdrawal had been a risky idea from the moment he had made the decision not to take Lyrium anymore and this could be the moment they both had to face the truth: That it was too dangerous. Not for the Inquisition but for him – A thought that, surprisingly, frightened Evelyn more than the possibility that Cullen’s performance as Commander of the Inquisition’s troops could get worse.
When Evelyn reached the door to Cullen’s office, she hesitated for a moment and sighed. She knew that Cullen probably still believed in the Maker, different from herself who felt like any faith tied to the Chantry was impossible with a biography like hers, and as Evelyn placed her hand on the handle, she silently prayed that Cullen was right to still have his faith and her fears would be just that, fears. With another deep breath, she pushed the door open. The moment she entered the room, Evelyn barely noticed something wooden fly into her direction. With a surprised noise, she barely dodged the missile before it hit the doorframe and fell to the ground. When Evelyn looked down at the object, she saw the broken parts of what once had been a Templar’s Lyrium equipment and when she gazed up again into the direction from where the wooden box had flown, her eyes’ met Cullen’s. Wide open, staring at her in horror.
The pain and fear in his voice only confirmed her own anxiety but Evelyn forced herself to keep her most relaxed expression possible and raised her brows. “I actually wanted to ask you if you're alright, but you clearly look like you’re not.”
“I’m so sorry, I …”
“Don’t”, she interrupted his apology before he could even get really started and shook her head. “I’m fine and more worried about you.” She took some slow steps into his direction, carefully watching him to notice if she was intruding. “If you need to talk about something …”
Cullen sighed deeply and shook his head but when he tried to walk around his desk, Evelyn could see him stagger even if he tried to hide it by immediately leaning on his desk again. “Did Cassandra talk to you?”
“She told me you wanted to be replaced and she refused to search for someone.” Evelyn allowed herself to let her expression shift into the genuine worry that was nagging at her heart right now. “I’m here to ask you why.”
“Look at me.” The helpless glance Cullen gave her nearly broke Evelyn’s heart. “I’m not fitted to fulfill my duties. Not with the Inquisition growing as fast as it does. I never meant this to happen, but … I can’t advise you to keep me in my position. Not if it affects me like that.”
Evelyn frowned. “What is this really about, Cullen? Headaches can be treated, and duties can be delegated. Why do you really want to be replaced?”
For a long moment, Cullen remained silent and stared at the dark wood of the desk in front of him. Evelyn could tell from his shifting expression that he was fighting with himself, apparently unsure what to reveal and what to keep to himself, and when he finally spoke again, she could hear a light tremble in his voice.
“Do you know why I left Ferelden and went to Kirkwall?” He turned his head and his gaze locked with hers, his expression so troubled and full of pain that Evelyn could feel fear growing inside her chest. “During the Blight, the Circle of Ferelden was overrun by abominations and fell. My friends were slaughtered right before my eyes and I …” His voice broke for a second. “I was tortured and if it hadn’t been for Neria, I would have died right there.” He closed his eyes for a few heartbeats and if Evelyn wouldn’t have suspected that he needed his time to tell this story, she would have stepped closer and pulled him into a tight embrace right now. “I wasn’t the same after that. My memories haunted me and the Lyrium … the Lyrium helped even if it also amplified my crueler sides. And now … Now it all comes back. And even when I try so hard to leave the Order … to leave Kirkwall behind, to be better than I was … it hits me. Again and again. And as if that wasn’t bad enough already, it also interferes with my work for the Inquisition.”
Cullen shook his head and started pacing between his desk and the bookshelves on the wall. “And the most ironic part is that I really hoped … I believed this would give me some of the control over my life back I desperately needed. I trusted the Order and I trusted Meredith, and both betrayed me and made me into a man I don’t want to be. And now cutting my ties to that life is ruining the one thing that does give me the feeling I moved on.” There was something maniacally in his voice that made Evelyn’s chest grow tight and she finally took a step closer, but Cullen didn’t even notice. “I won’t give the Inquisition less than I gave the order. I can’t.” He buried his face in his hands before nervously running his fingers through his hair. “I just can’t–”
His voice broke again and that was the sign Evelyn had needed. She took one last step in front of him gently took his hands into hers, stopping his nervous movements. Slowly, she pulled him closer careful to give him any chance to move away as she looked him straight into the eyes and touched his cheek.
“You’re already giving so much, Cullen”, she whispered with a sad smile. “Can’t you see that?”
“What if it’s not enough? What if I should take Lyrium to serve the Inquisition? What if …?”
“There will be always unanswered questions”, she interrupted him. “Do you want to take Lyrium again?”
He hesitated, his eyes searching hers until his face finally turned soft. Evelyn could see how anger turned to doubt, turned to fear, turned to desperation and finally relief.
“No”, he said quietly.
“And there you have your answer.”
“But I also want to do what’s best for the Inquisition. There are so many people who need us. I can't disappoint them ... you.”
Evelyn took his face into her hands trying to ignore how the fear in those golden-brown eyes nearly broke her heart. “You’re doing everything you can and more, Cullen. You could never disappoint me. Not because you don’t want to take Lyrium anymore.”
She said this as calmly as possible and meant every word of it. The Circle and the Order had not only ruined her life but also his. She understood that now. The pain in Cullen's eyes was different and still same as her own and same as Evelyn refused to let Mages like herself suffer in the Circles again, she wouldn't let Cullen destroy himself by taking Lyrium against his will and solely because of a feeling of responsibility.
“And you don’t have to put up with this on your own. I’m at your side. Same as your friends. We will always have your back.” She smiled. “We can change our structures and delegate some of your work to Rylen or somebody else. I could even ask Max to take over some of the training of the recruits if that gives you more air to breathe. You aren’t alone and you can do this.”
“You don’t know that”, he replied quietly and placed his hands on her wrists but didn’t try to break her touch. “And you shouldn’t trust me blindly like that. You should question me.”
Before Evelyn could prevent it, a sad chuckle softly left her throat. “Oh, I questioned you enough, Cullen, believe me. But I came to the conclusion that you’re worth my trust and there’s nothing you can do about that.” Her expression sobered and she lowered her hands again. “I won’t force you to keep up with your withdrawal, even though I think you should, and I won’t force you to take Lyrium again either. And I also won’t replace you, no matter what you decide.”
For a long moment, Cullen stared at her, his brows furrowed as his expression switched between confusion, surprise and disbelief. It took Evelyn some of her self-control to remain relaxed while his eyes wandered over her, searching for a hint of a lie behind her words, but just like the day when he had told her about his withdrawal, she knew that this was too important to show him her own fear because he would interpret it in exactly the wrong way. Obviously insecure as he was right now, Cullen would only think her fear would mean she was doubting him, not that worry was the reason for her anxiety.
“I … thank you”, he replied softly and lowered his head as silence grew between them again.
“Will you be alright?”, Evelyn finally dared to ask. “Should I stay? Or send someone?”
“No.” He shook his head again. “You should get some rest after your travel.” A deep sigh left his lips and Cullen straightened up. “And I should, too. I believe I need to sort a few things out.”
Evelyn nodded and briefly took his hand to squeeze it. “I’ll be in my chambers if you need me.”
She turned around and headed for the door, but when she reached for the handle to pull it open and step outside, Cullen called her back.
She glanced back over her shoulder. “Yes?”
“Thank you. For your support and … everything.”
A slow smile stretched over Evelyn’s lips. “I mean it. Truly.”
“Good.” She pulled the door open. “I’ll see you tomorrow. When we’re both more rested.”
She made sure that her voice sounded as optimistic as possible but when the door fell shut behind her, worry swept over her like a wave against the shore on a stormy day. And a part of her feared she would drown.
Evelyn slept in the next day and surprisingly, everyone else let her sleep. She wasn’t sure who she had to thank for that, but she suspected that her advisors had something to do with it and she didn’t really bother to find out because it only meant that the work waiting for her anyway was delayed but not forgotten. She managed to grab a bite from the kitchen before meeting with Josephine, Leliana and Cullen to fill them in on what they had found out about the Wardens same as handing them over the letters from Samson they had taken from the smugglers at the Emerald Graves. Evelyn tried not to be too obvious about it, but she was carefully watching Cullen all the time. He seemed to be much better today, although he suspiciously rubbed his temples a few times during their meeting, and something inside Evelyn relaxed a little. She wasn’t sure what exactly she had feared but this seemed like her anxiety had been for nothing. After the meeting, she managed to catch him for a second on his way out and back to his office before Mother Giselle interrupted them, but the brief conversation supported Evelyn’s relief. The nervous glimmer in his eyes was gone and the man in front of her, seemed much more like the Cullen she knew again than the day before. That was progress. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the afternoon that she found time to step by his office and then, of course, she nearly bumped into Rylen on his way out.
“Oh, good day, Inquisitor.” He laughed and moved surprisingly smoothly past Evelyn. “You picked just the right moment. I just tried to convince him to take a break anyway.”
He waved at her as he walked away, and Evelyn shook her head with a smile. “Where did you only find that man? I think I don’t know any former Templar who gives less about hierarchies for the sake of titles than him.”
From his seat behind his desk, Cullen chuckled and sorted a few papers while Evelyn entered the room and closed the door. “Where you find most disillusioned Templars – Kirkwall. Though, he technically found me.” He lazily rubbed his neck to relax some tensed muscles. “After Anders blew up the Chantry, Starkhaven sent Rylen with some Templars from there for support. We worked together well, so I offered him a position in the Inquisition when I had the chance. We needed people who would solve problems instead of causing them and you know Rylen … If everything’s on fire, he won’t debate who is faithful enough to deserve to be saved but just go and save as many people as he can.” An annoyed expression flickered over his face. “Tells you a lot about how bad thing were that that was a quality we needed most.”
“Never underestimate the value of people who just get things done.”
She smiled and Cullen nodded with an approving scoff. “That is true.”
He fell silent after that and while that silence grew between them, Evelyn took a moment to let her eyes wander over him. She could tell that he must have slept more last night than the night or even the nights before which relieved her a little. It hadn’t been hard to notice that the symptoms of his withdrawal were getting worse when he didn’t take the time to eat and sleep from time to time and seeing that she hadn’t been the only one who had used the last night to rest was a good sign. But it still didn’t ease her growing worry when she saw how he stared at the desk before him, unmoved and avoiding her gaze.
“How are you?”, Evelyn finally asked into the silence and stepped in front of the table. “Better than yesterday?”
“Yes, thank you”, he replied a little too quickly and the nervous tone in his voice made her tense again. “In fact … I wanted to talk to you about it.” Cullen cleared his throat and looked up from his desk, his eyes locking with hers for the first time since she entered the room. “Yesterday made me think … About this. Us.” Another sigh. “You should probably run from me as long as you still can. This … I … It won’t change, Evelyn. My … problems … They won’t just go away anytime soon. Maybe never.” He shook his head and scratched his neck. “It doesn’t work like that.”
“Is that everything?” Evelyn smiled back at him and tilted her head. “Because I know that. And I don’t expect any of this to magically disappear. Maybe these things will get better one day, maybe they won’t. I don’t know that. But that’s not the reason I’m here.”
A pained grimace washed over Cullen’s face. “You shouldn’t be so reckless with yourself. We both know this isn’t only about me who could get hurt in the process of my withdrawal but also you.”
Now suspicion rose inside of Evelyn and she frowned. “What is this really about, Cullen? Is there something you’re trying to tell me?”
Cullen groaned and rubbed his face with one hand. “I’m trying to tell you that it might be better for you if we end this.”
His words hit Evelyn like a whip and for a moment, she was just standing there staring at him as she tried to process what he had just said. “Are you trying to break up with me?”
“Don’t think it isn’t painful for me, too, but …” He sighed and looked down again. “It’s probably better. You deserve more than having to put up with my problems.”
“Are you serious?” She kept staring at him. She had expected many things when she had stepped through that door but this … This was ridiculous. “And I don’t get a say in this?”
“Please, Evelyn, I’m trying to do the right thing.” He sighed. “You deserve better.”
Deep inside her, something flipped and what had started as surprised disbelief now turned into raging fury that slowly grew higher and higher. “And that’s it? Just like that?”
“No.” Evelyn pressed her lips to a hard line and shook her head. “Forget it. If you want me to go, I’ll go.” She whirled around and headed for the door as tears suddenly burned in the corners of her eyes. When her hand reached for the handle, she stopped and spoke once again, this time without turning back to him. “You know, I really care for you. I never expected it, but I wanted to be with you. Not for who you could or who I imagine you to be but for who you are right now. I wanted to take the risk.” With one, harsh movement, she pulled the door open. “I guess I was a fool to even try when you were just waiting for the first opportunity to push me away.”
With that, she stepped outside and slammed the door shut behind her with such force that half of the people outside in the courtyard could hear it and turned their heads. The very same people who would now witness how their Inquisitor rushed down the stairs and past the training grounds just to nearly run over the courtyard, her fists clenched and an expression on her face that made everybody in her way jump aside. And while Evelyn still headed away from Cullen’s tower and towards the main hall, Skyhold started radiating with gossip. Nobody had an idea what really happened, but one thing was clear: There was trouble in paradise.
Told you there was drama ahead. :D
Chapter 22: Knife in the back
Both Evelyn and Cullen try to return to their daily business.
The drama continues! As always, thanks for reading and hopefully, have fun! :)
The ice bolt shattered against Skyhold’s walls and in a rattling sound, its shards fell to the ground.
“Huh. That was close.” Behind Evelyn, Max whistled in surprise. “Maybe we should get Cassandra a helmet. Just in case.”
Cassandra, who had just dodged Evelyn’s missile and nearly lost her hold, caught herself before falling and scoffed. “Not necessary”, she replied to Max, but looked at Evelyn with a grim expression on her face. “That was nothing.”
A cold smirk spread over Evelyn’s lips and arching a brow, she threw a questioning glance at her friend. “Then show me what you got.”
Cassandra answered with a challenging look and smiled back as she slowly started to circle Evelyn again. Evelyn echoed the movement, carefully setting one foot before the other as she wrapped her fingers tightly around her staff and tried to ignore the curious watchers stopping at the battlements to witness how the Inquisitor and the Right Hand of the Divine fought each other in training. It was just around midday, the perfect time for many people in the Inquisition to take a quick break and it was as annoying as predictable that her training would catch the attention of many of them. Especially since Evelyn knew very well that half of Skyhold was nearly vibrating with gossip about her. Now, that they were guessing why she was fighting with Cullen, more than ever.
“I can’t believe that I’m the person to say this, but do you really think that is a good idea, Seeker? I know that look in her eyes, my sister’s out for blood today.”
Next to Max, Dorian laughed and from the corners of her eyes, Evelyn saw how he crossed his arms. “I’m sure as long as Cassandra doesn’t spontaneously turn into a certain somebody, she will be safe, Maxwell.”
Evelyn shot him a glare over her shoulder but earned nothing but an amused smile and a wink from her friend. Meanwhile, Max visibly had problems to suppress a laugh although he had the decency to at least try to hide it, probably because he feared that anything else would only be a knife in an already open wound. Evelyn had talked to none of them, not even her brother, about what really had happened the day before. They only knew that she was hurt and angry but not why exactly. Only that it was about Cullen. For more, Evelyn hadn’t found the strength. Not yet.
“Dammit.” Max’s expression sobered and he let out an annoyed sigh. “Speaking of the devil.”
Evelyn followed his eyes and when she saw Cullen walk over the courtyard into their direction, any playful mood she might have been in vanished and she immediately stepped aside. “Great. And that is my clue.” She gave Cassandra an apologetic smile. “Another time, alright?”
The Seeker raised her brows but nodded silently while Evelyn rushed past her friend already. She felt like a coward, at least a little, for running away like that, but she couldn’t bear the thought of meeting Cullen right now. Of looking him in the eyes and acting as if nothing had happened and they could just go back to being friends the way they had been back at Haven. Before that day on the battlements or before she had been stupid enough to open up just to let him push her away like it was nothing.
Evelyn grinded her teeth as she took the stairs up Skyhold’s walls and turned to the right towards the last of the towers they hadn’t renovated yet. Yes, she was angry. Angry at Cullen and his stupid sense of honor, angry at the Order that had messed him up so much that he honestly didn’t believe he deserved something good in his life anymore, but most of all, she was angry at herself. Angry that she didn’t see this coming, angry that he had managed to surprise her like that and, which was the worst part, that she had been stupid enough to let her guard down. She had let get Cullen close and now she payed the price. She had trusted him. Deep down, when she was honest with herself, she couldn’t bring herself to regret that part, but still, it hurt. She had fought so hard with her own demons just to take that step into his direction that had led to that kiss on the battlements and the memory of how their lips had touched back then still filled her chest with a now bittersweet feeling. She had been so careful to weigh up the risks but had taken them anyway. Because she had been foolish enough to think that maybe now her life could for once turn out alright, she had spread out her soul before him and he had run away.
The thought woke her raging fury again and with a quick, abrupt movement, Evelyn smashed a bolt against the tower before her. Damned be that man and damned be her own, stupid heart for caring so much about him.
“You're being overly dramatic again.”
She whirled around to see Dorian approaching her. He smirked a little, probably very proud of himself to have the chance to echo her own words to him after Felix’ death, but she could also see the weary concern in his eyes.
“I have enough reason to be.” With a deep sigh, she leaned on the walls to her left and let her gaze wander over the snowy landscape before her. “Why are you here? You didn’t need to come.”
“No, I didn’t”, he agreed and casually walked next to her, his arms crossed and his eyes carefully watching her. “But I am told this friendship thing works into both directions, so I decided to be a friend and gently pressure you into telling me what happened before you think about murdering someone.”
Evelyn chuckled humorlessly and shook her head. He wrapped it into his usual wit and jokes, but she knew that beneath that, Dorian was genuinely concerned for her. Otherwise, he would neither have went after her nor would he be trying to make her tell him what happened between her and Cullen instead of just waiting until she would tell him herself.
“Do I seem that scary at the moment?”, she asked half-jokingly and tilted her head. “Oh, that’s great.”
He shrugged. “Only a little. I assume most other people just find you even more intimidating than usually.”
“And you don’t?”
“No.” His voice turned soft. “I can tell that you’re just hurting.”
“Is it that obvious, huh?” Another deep sigh left Evelyn’s lips and she tilted her head back, staring at the sky above them for a few moments in silence. “Cullen broke up with me. Because he thinks I ‘deserve better’.” Even in her own ears, the emphasis on the last two words sounded bitter as she clenched her fists again. “Apparently, that’s a decision he now makes for me.”
Small icy cold flames danced around her fingers, but Dorian ignored them and raised his brows instead. “Why? I thought everything was … well, awfully sparkly and happy between the two of you.”
“Well, me, too.” Evelyn raised one hand and stared at the ball of ice forming there from raw energy before smashing it against a tree below just outside the castle. “But, obviously, I was willing to put much more effort into this relationship than he was.”
She twisted her arm for another ball, but now Dorian stepped into her way and took her wrists to make her stop. “Come on, Evelyn, don’t be like that. There is more to it. That man is ridiculously smitten by you. What did really happen?”
Evelyn looked at him as he frowned, his genuinely worried expression suddenly melting down her defenses, and sighed. “He hasn’t made it public as far as I know, so this has to stay between the two of us, but … Cullen stopped taking Lyrium a while ago and his withdrawal can be … difficult for him. Apparently, it got especially bad while we were gone and now, he is convinced that he needs to protect me by breaking up.” He shook her head and curled her lips into an angry grimace, baring her teeth. “Or at least that’s what he claims.”
“Maker, that man really is a fool, isn’t he?” Dorian let out a soft curse and scoffed as he wrapped one arm around Evelyn’s shoulders. “I’m sure he will realize how stupid he was very soon.”
“I hope so”, Evelyn muttered and stepped a little away from him, grinding her teeth. “But right now, I’m furious at him anyway.” She took a step forward just to turn back to her friend. “You know, I fought with myself so hard whether or not I should let him get close to me. I had so many doubts about Cullen and whether I could trust someone who was not only a Templar but Meredith’s Knight-Captain at the time of Kirkwall’s rebellion. And I decided to leave them behind and focus on the person I see now instead of the person he once was. And what for? Just to have him run away when the first problem comes up.”
Dorian tried to suppress a smirk but failed as he tilted his head. “Not to point out the obvious, but shouldn’t you tell him that instead of me?”
“Very funny, Pavus.” Evelyn glared at him, mostly because she very well knew that he was right. “But I don’t want to see him right now anyway. That’s why I literally ran away from him earlier.”
“I know.” Dorian chuckled and walked next to her, linking his arm with hers. “But while I’m sure he’s just the same fool and as socially incompetent as ever – Does he know how much you thought this through? Or did you just assume he would understand from the hints you gave him? Because again, Cullen might be a good man, but …” He smirked. “Well, to quote Varric: people skills aren’t really his strength.”
Evelyn groaned and leaned against his shoulder. “I tried to tell him”, she mumbled and tried to fight back the tears burning in the corners of her eyes. “But he didn’t believe me.”
With a click of his tongue, Dorian placed his arms around her shoulders again. “Well, I think now is the right time to repeat again that he’s a fool?”
Now Evelyn had to laugh even though the sound was horse and a single tear dropped from her cheek. “Thank you. Not only for that but also for going after me. I guess I needed that.”
A grin spread over his lips. “Ah, don’t get all sentimental now. We all have only more problems when you’re mad and heartbroken, so I’m practically here for completely selfish reasons.”
“Liar”, Evelyn replied playfully accusing and chuckled. The corners of Dorian’s lips twitched upwards at the remark, no matter how he tried to keep a straight face.
“Maybe.” He winked at her. “Care for a game of chess in the gardens?”
“Sure. As long as I can keep avoiding Cullen there …”
With an honest laugh, Dorian squeezed her arm. “Of course. If that’s everything.”
Evelyn leaned her head against his shoulder again and tried to force a small smile. This wouldn’t work forever, she knew that, but for now, hiding from Cullen seemed exactly like the right thing to do. Maybe, if she could keep her distance just for a while, seeing him would hurt less. Just enough to at least hide the rest. Just enough that she could act like it was alright.
And not like she just wanted to scream.
“I talked to Maxwell.” Rylen stretched his back and circled his shoulders to relax some of his tensed muscles. “He will take the evening drill tomorrow. The soldiers like him and he knows what he’s doing which means he could be very useful for training them.”
Cullen nodded and made a quick note on one of the papers before him, mostly to have a reason not to look at his Captain when he asked the next question. “Does his sister know?”
Rylen scoffed amused, clearly not fooled by Cullen’s attempt to sound as casually as possible when mentioning Evelyn. “Yeah. Talked to her earlier and she’s not thrilled but approves.”
“Good.” With a sigh, Cullen straightened up. “Anything else we need to discuss? Otherwise, we’ll call it a day now.”
“Fine with me.” Rylen shrugged and grinned. “But only if you’re joining us in the tavern. I’ll be playing a few rounds of Wicked Grace with Varric. It’ll be fun.”
Before he could prevent it, Cullen grimaced and shook his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“The Inquisitor won’t be there.” Rylen rolled his eyes. “She’s been in the library all day and apparently plans on staying there all night as well. You don’t have any excuse to hide here. Again.”
Now Cullen felt caught. He quickly turned his gaze back to the papers on his desk and started shuffling them around as if to sort them. “That’s not the reason, I … uh … have work to do.”
“You just said you don’t”, Rylen replied in a slightly annoyed tone. “Again: You have no excuse.”
Cullen lifted his head and looked at the other man. He had crossed his arms and watched Cullen with the kind of determination he knew too well by now. It had been that determination that had made Rylen so useful in the beginning when they had needed people who wouldn’t be intimidated by random clerics trying to pull strings in the Inquisition, but Cullen hadn’t expected that he would have to face the very same expression turned against himself. He sighed. “Will you drop it if I come with you for one game and leave then?”
The smile that now appeared on Rylen’s face looked a little mocking, but he nodded anyway. “Sure.” He turned to the door and pulled it open. “Let’s go then.”
Cullen suppressed a soft curse and dropped the papers in his hands. Just telling Rylen to meet him and Varric later and never showing up probably would have been too easy. On the other hand: Rylen was probably right, Cullen couldn’t just hide in his office forever, no matter how much he feared the curious eyes on him or the inevitable conflict with at least some of Evelyn’s companions. At least Dorian would want to have his head, maybe also Max and only the Maker could know what Sera would do, once she had decided to take revenge for Evelyn.
And Cullen couldn’t even hold it up against them. It had been several days since they last spoke but the thought of the look in her eyes before she had left the room broke his heart just as in the moment, he had seen it. Confused. Angry. Hurt.
While she probably would be grateful one day not to have wasted her time with a broken man like him, knowing that he caused her pain nearly drove Cullen crazy. And the fact that he couldn’t help but constantly thinking about how he wanted nothing more than being selfish and wrapping her into his arms, feeling her slim body against his as he buried his face in her hair made everything only worse.
“Are you coming?” Rylen’s voice interrupted Cullen’s thoughts.
“Hm? Oh, yes … Of course.”
He sighed and rubbed the tiredness from his face before following Rylen through the door outside. Cool evening air wrapped around both men as they walked down the battlements before taking the stairs next to the tavern down into the courtyard. Neither of them said anything but Cullen could feel Rylen’s questioning look burn on him. He assumed that half of Skyhold’s gossip didn’t know anything else but how the Inquisition’s Commander could have been foolish enough to break up with the Inquisitor herself, although neither Cullen nor Evelyn had shared any details. That made the speculations maybe only worse, but at least it kept their privacy and Cullen was grateful that he obviously wasn’t the only one wanting to keep it that way.
The tavern wasn’t too filled yet when they entered and Cullen recognized more than one familiar face belonging to one of the soldiers, but not really anybody else. A few Mages, most of the Chargers and even some of Leliana’s and Josephine’s people. Rylen headed for one of the tables in the back and Cullen followed him. I regretted this decision very soon when Rylen stepped aside to take a seat at the table he had aimed for and Cullen realized that it wasn’t just Varric awaiting them, but that Cassandra, Dorian and Hawke were sitting there as well.
“If that isn’t the fool of the week finally leaving his tower.” Dorian threw an amused glance at Cullen, but Varric opposite of him rolled his eyes.
“Leave him alone, Sparkler. Not our place to shame him.”
At the end of the table, Hawke snorted into her drink, but kept quiet for which Cullen was incredibly grateful. Silently, he took a seat on the last remaining chair next to Dorian and tried to seem as relaxed as possible. A goal that turned out to be even more difficult than anticipated since Cassandra was shooting her most disapproving glances in his direction.
“You, too, Seeker.” Varric chuckled and rolled his eyes again. “Andraste’s tits, all of you behave like the worst protective parents that have ever been. We all know gossip’s been wild the last few days but it’s none of our business and I would rather like to play some cards than watching Curly being stared down by you two heroes in shining armor.”
“I’m only stating the obvious, nothing more”, muttered Dorian into his cup but his tone was light-hearted enough for Cullen to relax knowing that his friend was only gently teasing now. “There is no greater fool around. And I have to admit, Commander, that is quite an achievement given the people living in this castle right now.”
Rylen snorted and Varric’s lips twitched up as well. “He’s got a point there.”
“Ah, we’re all fools around here.” Varric grinned and reached for the deck of cards in the middle of the table to shuffle them. “Our Inquisitor likes to surround herself with fools. That’s one of her greatest qualities.” He looked around. “But enough of that. Who’s in for a game?”
They started to play a few rounds and the moment the conversation turned away from him and Evelyn, Cullen even managed to feel comfortable enough to join the usual friendly banter between them. Contrary to the icy greeting, everyone seemed to be in a good mood and it didn’t take long until Hawke and Varric started to tell some of their funnier stories even though Cullen had to actively ignore some of the more illegal parts that had happened directly under his nose.
Cassandra was the first one to retreat, followed by Rylen who had to get up early the next day for the morning drill. When Cullen wanted to leave too, Varric convinced him to play one last round of Wicked Grace before that. Sometime over the course of the evening, Hawke had fallen asleep in her seat, leaving Cullen only with Varric and Dorian at first and soon with the dwarf alone when Dorian excused himself and left them.
Varric threw an amused glance over his shoulder and chuckled as he watched how the other man slipped through the crowd and outside the door. “He really thinks he’s subtle.”
“What do you mean?” Cullen raised his brows in confusion. “He’s only going to bed.”
“I’m sure he is.” Varric grinned and shook his head. “But that’s none of my business.” He hesitated for a moment before putting the cards in his hands on the table aside. “Listen, Curly, I won’t meddle in matters you and Snowstorm need to figure out on your own, but …” He sighed. “I’m a sentimental old fool and I’m concerned for both of you. You don’t have to be very perceptive to see that neither of you has been themselves over the last few days and maybe that is something you should consider before it’s too late.”
For a long moment, Cullen kept silent and stared down at the cards in his hands. He had suspected that something like this would happen, sooner or later. He just had thought it would be Dorian who would try to influence him. Probably out of worry for Evelyn, not knowing that he was doing more harm than good. Finally, Cullen placed his cards on the table as well.
“How do you want to know that it is me who needs to consider something? Wouldn’t it be only logical when Evelyn was the one to end it?”
Varric blew out a deep breath through his nose. “Sure, that’s why she’s obviously hurting as if somebody had buried a knife in her back and you’re hiding in your tower like you’re the one who twisted it around in the wound and now feels bad for it.” He sighed and shook his head another time. “Again, it’s none of my business, but somebody has to say it and before Dorian just blurts it out in front of everyone because he worries about her … Well, I just thought a little reminder that it’s no secret that the two of you care a lot for each other would be nice. And I might be wrong, but right now, it doesn’t look as if being separated is good for any of you.”
Cullen sighed and looked down at his hands. “Maybe. But it’s more complicated than that.”
“It always is.” Varric chuckled humorlessly. “But on the other hand: We’re living in complicated times and you and Evelyn are probably two of the most skilled problem-solver all of Southern Thedas has right now. So, don’t hide from something good just because the word is crazy.” He winked at Cullen and rose from his chair. “But it’s getting late. Help me getting Hawke out of here and call it a night?”
With a slow nod, Cullen left his seat. He later couldn’t say whether Varric had known it, but from the moment Cullen got up from the chair, his mind started to race, spinning around one question over and over again: Had he done a terrible mistake?
Chapter 23: The things we deserve
Evelyn has to face Cullen again and she is not thrilled about it.
A drama in three acts and we're at act three now. This was far more fun to write than I though, so have fun and thanks for reading!
Evelyn stared at the door handle. She couldn’t just put this off forever. At some point, she just had to stretch her arm and push the door right open. So why was she torturing herself by waiting? What was she expecting to happen? It was a calm day; nobody would come and rescue her with some random and very urgent matter that needed her attention. In fact, Evelyn suspected that her brother had something to do with that. Max and Varric had been suspiciously determined to convince her that there wasn’t anything more important right now than meeting with Cullen and talking with him about the letters they had found at the Emerald Graves. And the prospect of tracking down Samson and the Red Templars was too important to just let go of because she didn’t want to see Cullen.
Evelyn sighed and reached for the door handle but paused right before her fingertips touched the metal. She had been through worse, right? She had survived the Circle, the rebellion, the Conclave and Haven. Compared to that, meeting with Cullen was easy. She just had to suppress the urge to snarl at him and they could slowly start working on turning their relationship into something … less awkward than what it was now.
With all determination she could gather, Evelyn squared her shoulders and finally put her hand on the handle while raising the other one against the rough wood to knock.
She pushed the door open and entered letting it fall shut behind her. Inside, Cullen stood at his desk and was just leaning over something placed atop of it. When Evelyn stepped into the room, he lifted his head.
“Evelyn!” His eyes widened. “Oh … I mean … Inquisitor. What can I do for you?”
The quick switch to her title made Evelyn scoff quietly. Tilting her head, she raised both brows to a silent question, but decided not to comment on it. “I just wanted to know whether you found out something useful from the letters I brought to you. Anything about Samson? Or the Red Templars?”
Confused, he blinked a few times, but then he seemed to catch himself again and slowly shook his head. “I’m afraid not. The letters are carefully written, and I assume we would need more to put the parts together.”
“So, it’s a dead end.”
“At least at the moment.” Cullen shrugged apologetically and Evelyn sighed.
“Alright, I’ll leave then again.” She turned on her heel and reached for the door again. “I’ll see you.”
“Please, wait.” The sound of his voice made her stop even though she didn’t turn around. “Can we … talk?”
Evelyn threw a cool glance over her shoulder. “I don’t know what we could have left to talk about. You made sure of that.”
“Don’t. Call. Me. That.” She whirled around and glared at him, partly because she hoped her anger would wrestle down the urge to cry. “That’s a name reserved for people who truly care about me instead of pushing me away.”
He immediately lowered his gaze. “Of course, I’m sorry, Inquisitor. That was inappropriate.”
“Oh, stop it.” Something inside Evelyn flipped and the fury she had carefully fought back over the last few days now finally fully washed over her. “Don’t you dare to treat me like I’m just anybody and that I’m angry is just a matter politeness and titles.”
The glare she shot at him made him wince but a glimpse later, Cullen had caught himself already and sighed. “Of course, it’s not. But …” He didn’t finish the sentence at first and it was only when Evelyn impatiently raised her brows that he sighed again and continued. “We need to find a way to work together again. It can’t go on like this forever.”
“No, it can’t”, Evelyn replied quietly and shook her head. “But I can’t change it right now either.”
He frowned a little, slight confusion spreading over his face causing Evelyn to grimace and bare her teeth in the process. “Oh, come on, do I really need to spell it out for you?” She tried to sound indifferent, but her voice betrayed her and trembled as tears were burning in her eyes again. “That I was … am in the middle of falling for you? I thought you had figured that out by yourself by now. Because yes, I like you. I care for you. Just a few days ago I was looking forward to be with you again so much and now …” Her voice broke for a heartbeat. “Now, it only seeing you just … hurts.”
Tears started pouring down her cheeks and she buried her face in her hands to hide them even when there was no use. Cullen had already seen them and the soft sobs that now crept over her lips didn’t leave any doubt that she was crying. A part of her hated herself for it because even after he hurt her already, she still was showing him how vulnerable she was. Even when he didn’t deserve to know anything of her pain. Not anymore.
She didn’t hear Cullen’s steps as he came closer, but she felt his hands gently on her shoulders as he reached out for her and slowly pulled her into his arms, careful to give her the chance to move away. But Evelyn didn’t. Instead, she buried her face in the soft fur around his neck and let him hold her tight as she sobbed. It felt so good having his arms around her again, breathing in the familiar scent of leather and fur and although she knew that this gesture didn’t really solve anything, it still helped her to calm down. And as her sobs started to fade, Evelyn couldn’t help but laugh humorlessly.
“You broke up with me, stamped on my heart, but when you hold me, I still feel so safe like nowhere else. Maker, my life has become strange.” Shaking her head, she pulled away from him suddenly realizing how being so close probably caused more harm than anything else. “I really should go.”
Evelyn took a step aside, but instead of leaving, she only walked away from the door to his desk, bringing more space between them again. She turned around and leaned against the table, her eyes wandering over Cullen from a safe distance. Praying for some kind of sign that would tell her that there was no use hoping that this thing between them could be saved. Just a sign that she had to drop it and move on. Anything. But instead, she saw the same pain on his face she could feel deep inside her own chest, proving what she had known all along. Cullen wanted this as much as she did, but he still had broken up with her. Was that making it better or worse? Probably worse. It proved that he still was keeping his distance when Evelyn had been ready to jump right into the risk of opening up to him.
“I’m sorry, Eve. For … everything, but most of all for how I hurt you. I never meant to cause you pain”, Cullen finally whispered and shook his head. “I thought … I thought I could still give you free and be the only one really hurting.”
As strange as it was, Evelyn believed him. She really did. That was just the kind of stupid, honorable thing to do that was so very … him. It made sense. In a crooked and weird way, but it still made sense.
“Well, looks like you have been wrong. Obviously.” Evelyn closed her eyes for a second and took in a deep breath. “And ironically, I’m not even angry about that. People get hurt when they break up. The reason I’m mad is that you chose the easy path and pushed me away instead of dealing with the truth.” She sighed and moved a little further back to sit on the edge of the desk. “The moment it got difficult and therefore even a little scary, you decided to be a coward and run away. And you even had the audacity to claim you were doing it for me.”
Before he could say anything, she cut him off. “No, let me finish. I can understand it if you’re not ready or if you need time to focus yourself. Or even if you just don’t want to be with me. It hurts, but I can live with that. But you decided to be dishonest with me. Leaving me had nothing to do what is good for me because that’s a decision I can and will make for myself. You are afraid of what it means when you let somebody else close enough to let them support you and have your back.”
For a long moment, Cullen didn’t reply and just stared down at his feet. “You deserve better than me”, he finally insisted softly. “Believe me.”
Now, the anger inside Evelyn was back, this time burning even brighter than before. “Andraste’s blasted ass, Cullen! I don’t give a damn about what I’m supposed to deserve or not deserve. I care about you. The stupid, earnest, protective you I met after the Conclave, not who you were four years ago. And I decide myself what I deserve or who I am willing to trust.”
That made him lift his gaze back to her face again and his eyes met hers in shocked confusion. Slowly, he took a few steps closer to her. “You can’t be serious about that. You saw how I am at my worst days.”
“Yes, and I don’t care”, she shot back. “Because I’ve been through enough. I’m so tired of being unhappy, I deserve happiness. And what we had … No, what we have … it makes me happy. No matter if it’s hard or difficult or whatever. I’m not the person with whom anything is ever easy either. But against all odds, I’ve grown to care for you, and I don’t want to give that up. I want you, Cullen.”
For a moment, he just stared at her. Confusion, surprise, joy … All seemed to flash over his face within the blink of an eye. Finally, he stepped right in front of Evelyn, their faces so close that she could feel his breath on her skin.
“I’m just …”, he began quietly, but paused to search for the right words. “I’m trying to protect you. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
A sad smile curved her lips. “It’s a little too late for that, don’t you think?”, she asked teasingly, but this time, she wasn’t accusing him. She knew that what he said was true. Or at least he believed it was true. And as much as it hurt … That was exactly the kind of honorable and selfless behavior she normally valued so much about him. It was stupid and naïve and many other things, but it also was what made him himself.
“I have been hurt many times in my life, Cullen”, she continued softly and cupped his cheek. “I know when it’s worth the risk. And I decided that you are worth it.”
There was so much insecurity in his eyes that Evelyn could feel a part of her heart crack from it. So much doubt and yet … hope. Hope that immediately covered the crack with a comforting warmth.
“You can’t be serious”, he whispered. “After everything you know …”
“I am”, she interrupted him and moved her face even closer to his, their lips now nearly touching. “After everything I know, I’m still here and right now, I don’t want anything more than to kiss you.”
That was the last sentence that seemed to make Cullen’s resistance fully tremble. Before Evelyn could even think about what was happening, his lips crushed against hers and lingered there for a long, deep kiss. It started gently, nearly careful, but Evelyn was past the point of being careful. If the last few days had taught her one thing then that there was no use denying that she was craving for that man. For the small smile of fascination, he gave her when he thought she wasn’t looking, for the soft expression in his eyes when he told her of a fond memory, how the very same expression could harden so fast when somebody attacked those he had decided to protect in any way, for having him close, for her fingers in his hair and his kiss on her lips, for his hands on her hips when he pulled her even closer. She was past denying any of this and more and as Evelyn returned the kiss, she let every drop of that hunger flow into her movements.
Still sitting on the desk, she opened her legs to draw him as closely to her as possible, leaving barely any space between them. Her hands slipped behind his neck where she wrapped one around her wrist while the fingers of the other played with the short strands on his hairline. Cullen moaned into the touch and suddenly jerking his arms forward, he placed his hands on her hips and dragged her closer to the edge of the desk and his own body, now leaving no space at all between them.
Then, he pulled away, only for a second and just to start planting hungry kisses from her lips over her jaw and neck down to her collarbone in the next. Evelyn sighed in content and leaned back, supported by Cullen’s hands, to bare as much of the sensitive skin of her neck as possible to him. Her hands wandered to the straps of his armor desperately trying to loosen them to get access to some skin below all that metal. When he noticed her efforts, Cullen stopped his kisses just for a heartbeat and straightened up to open the buckles on one side himself while Evelyn quickly took care of those on the other side. He slipped out of the armor, leaving him only in a plain shirt before her. Evelyn smiled at the view and let her hands slip deliberately slowly below the thin fabric, tracing every inch of his chest with her fingertips.
“Bed?”, she asked biting her lower lip as she looked into his face.
“Upstairs”, Cullen replied his eyes now dark with lust as he leaned forward to kiss her once again. “Go. I’ll lock the doors and follow in a second.”
She smiled and gently took his lip between her teeth for a second. “Good, because I'm certainly not drinking Adan’s contraceptive tea once a day just for fun. So, don’t let me wait.”
Cullen laughed softly and stole another quick kiss from her lips. “As if I could.”
He turned away, but Evelyn held him back for another moment. “Wait. If we do this, I want you to promise me something.” He raised his brows and with a small, nervous smile, Evelyn continued. “Never play with …” My heart. “… me again.” Because I don’t think I could bear it.
For a moment, Cullen looked pained but then, his expression softened, and he slowly leaned over her for another gentle kiss. “Never”, he whispered and rested his forehead against hers. “I promise.”
Chapter 24: Dawn
Cullen and Evelyn spend a quiet morning
Welcome back and thanks to everyone for their comments, it really made my day that the last few chapters had the effect I wanted them to have! :D Now prepare for some fluff before we start moving back to the plot. Have fun and as always, thanks for reading!
The next morning, Evelyn woke to the bubbling sounds of Skyhold’s people beginning their day. Chatter on the courtyard, distant clashing of swords as somebody – probably Cassandra and Max – started their training even before the morning drill, occasional laughter. A morning like any other and still a morning so different from the one the day before. Evelyn blinked a few times as sleep left her, and she slowly started realizing that she not only wasn’t in her own chambers but that she also wasn’t alone in the bed she way lying in but that there was another body next to her. With a warm smile spreading over her face, she turned her head and looked at Cullen, still sleeping next to her, and the memories of the night before started flashing through her mind. His warm breath on her skin as he whispered her name, over and over again as his lips wandered over her body, his hands on her hips gently exploring every part of her skin … Evelyn could feel the smile on her lips grow even wider at the memory.
As strange as the thought sounded even in her own head: She couldn't remember when sleeping with someone had felt this … intimate. Trusting. With Leo, sex had been something quick and secret. Time stolen in the middle of the night and afterwards they both quickly had returned to their chambers before somebody could discover them. With Cullen on the other hand, their whole relationship felt and was completely different. Not just because they just had come back together after days of fighting, but also because, against all odds, it felt simple. There was nobody waiting to discover and punish them for their relationship. No walls separating them, no rules tearing them apart, no fear what might happen if they didn’t hide well enough. For the first time in her life, Evelyn had been able to just snuggle up against the side of the man she just had slept with, falling asleep with her head resting on his chest as he absently ran down his fingers along her back. For the first time in her life, she had been able to feel completely safe. Protected and cared for in a way she never had expected to experience. Loved.
Evelyn bit her lip and stared at the ceiling above her. It was so scary to even think these things and yet she felt like her heart might burst with excitement over it. It had been true what she had told Cullen the day before. She was falling for him headfirst and there was no way stopping it and also not even one reason why Evelyn would have wanted to.
Next to her, Cullen suddenly mumbled something that sounded like a weak beg for mercy, and Evelyn could feel him flinch beneath the sheets. His head flipped from side to side, and Evelyn’s heart broke a little when she saw the pained expression on his face and realized what was happening. He was having a nightmare, probably one of those connected to his withdrawal. She knew that he was having them and there had been rumors in the Inquisition about that since Haven, but Evelyn never had actually witnessed him having one until now. She hesitated for a moment, unsure what to do, but then, Evelyn sat up. Hovering over him, she reached out with one hand to push some loose strands of his blonde hair out of his face.
“Shhh, it’s fine”, she whispered as she leaned down and began planting small kisses on his face. “You’re safe, Cullen. Wake up, it’s alright. You’re at Skyhold, with me. With Evelyn.”
Cullen’s eyelids began to flutter and after a moment, his ragged breaths slowly calmed as he drifted into a waking state. He blinked a few times in confusion while Evelyn ran her fingers through his hair as she kept leaning over him, one arm next to his hip while she sat on the other side of his body.
“Bad dreams?”, she asked softly and smiled when his gaze cleared, and recognition flashed over his face.
“I’m sorry”, he began and sighed. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“You didn’t and even if you would have, there is nothing to apologize for”, Evelyn replied and let her hand wander from his scalp to his face to cup his cheek and brush over his skin with her thumb. “It’s not your fault.”
Another deep sigh left Cullen’s lips. “Still, you …”
Now a small smile cracked over Evelyn’s face and she leaned down to give him another quick, gentle kiss. “Let me worry for you”, she whispered and smiled. “And you won’t see me running just because you have nightmares.” She kissed him again. “Good morning, by the way.”
“Good morning”, he replied and before Evelyn knew it, she could feel him wrap his arms around her middle causing her to nearly lose her hold above him. Surprised laughter bubbled inside her throat, but she didn’t protest when he pulled her down to his side and curled up next to him instead.
“I could get used to this”, she mumbled and grinned when she could hear a deep sound of content vibrating through Cullen’s chest below her ear.
“You’re not alone with that.”
Somehow, Evelyn couldn’t help but laugh softly. “Isn’t it strange? If you would have told me five years ago that I would end up here, with you, I would have never believed you.” A smirk curved her lips. “But it’s a little funny how we still had to break up and fight for days first.”
Cullen chuckled and planted a kiss on her scalp. “Don’t forget how you yelled at me.”
“And you deserved it.”
“I know.” His voice became a sad tone. “And I’m sorry.”
Evelyn sat up again to give him a long, gentle kiss. “Already forgiven”, she whispered against his lips. “Just promise me something.”
“Don’t do something like that again. Don’t lie to me or run away with nothing but a bad excuse.” She ran her fingers through his hair and smiled sadly. “I fought hard with my own demons to make myself open up to you and I don’t want to ruin this with dishonesty. From any of us.”
She let herself sink against his side again while Cullen hesitated with his answer.
“I’ll give my best”, he finally replied, gently squeezing her arm. “Is that enough for you?”
Evelyn smiled. “That’s everything I’m asking for. It’s just …” She hesitated and bit her lower lip, searching for the right words as her heart started beating faster than before. “I’m scared, too, Cullen. Now more than ever. I wouldn’t have thought it, but … Believe it or not, you have the power to hurt me. Actually, you’ve had it for a while now, and … This is new for both of us. And none of this will work if we keep hiding.”
“I know.” Cullen’s tone was gentle, and he pressed a soft kiss against her scalp. “But give us time. We’ll both have to learn how to let or defenses down.”
Evelyn didn’t reply anything to that but remained silent. Cullen was right, she knew that. They both were carrying so much old baggage from their pasts they couldn’t just drop overnight. Maker, until now, she hadn’t even told him about half of her own scars while he had bared a whole bunch of his to her. This would need time. A lot of it. But as long as they agreed on that, they would surely manage. At least somehow.
Lost in thought, Evelyn had wrapped her free arm around his torso. Now, her hand was gently running up and down his side before she let her fingertips wander to his chest. She traced the scars on his body, gently brushing the rough skin there while quietly asking herself how much pain he must have endured before he left the Order. Those were the marks of a life full of violence, full of fights not only against Mages but also against people with sharp weapons or creatures with big claws. Evelyn stopped when she saw the one very long one on his abdomen she already had briefly noticed the night before and couldn't help but feeling fear cutting through her heart for a second. This must have been the kind of wound that probably would have killed most people. It was a miracle that Cullen had survived this.
“I was lucky.” As if he had read her thoughts, Cullen smiled at her, though Evelyn noticed the pain in his eyes. “After the Circle of Kirkwall fell, there was pure chaos in the streets. I tried to help the guards with what was left of the Order, but we were cornered, and I was wounded. I’m not sure what would happened if Hawke wouldn’t have saved me.” He chuckled. “A few days earlier she punched me so hard that my face wouldn’t stop bleeding and literally had to be dragged away from me, but then, she saved me. I don’t remember much, but according to Varric, it was quite a picture because she yelled at me the whole time while summoning the spell.”
A wide grin curved Cullen’s lips and Evelyn couldn’t help but laugh softly. “That sounds a lot like Hawke.” She leaned over him and gave him a long kiss. “But I guess I'll need to thank her for that. The healing, not the yelling. If you had died back then, I would have never met you.”
He sighed. “You wouldn’t want to have met the man I was in Kirkwall.”
“Maybe. But I wouldn’t want to miss the man you are right now either.”
A genuine smile began to spread all over his face, and he pulled her down to another kiss. When their lips parted again, Evelyn curled up at his side and placed her head on his chest. Cullen wrapped one arm around her and held her close.
“How did this happen?” He gently touched the star-shaped scar on her shoulder. Different from the other marks on her body that she mostly got after the Conclave this one was already fading, though Evelyn felt like she could feel the burn of the wound as if it was still sore.
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to”, Cullen said when he noticed her hesitation, but Evelyn sighed and smiled.
“No, it’s alright”, she finally replied. “Just bad memories. When the Circle of Ostwick fell, things got … messy. In the end, Mages fought each other same as Templars. When I tried to defend my First Enchanter, Lydia, a fireball hit me.” She grimaced. “Actually, the worst part was that it was casted by someone who once meant a lot to me, somebody I once thought I loved.”
“I’m sorry, Eve”, Cullen whispered against her hair and planted a soft kiss on her head.
“Not your fault. That’s what happens when Circles fall … Friends turn to enemies and people die.” She let out a deep breath. “I just wished Lydia would have made it out of this chaos alive. She was like a mother to me and seeing her die … It changed me. Before that, I sympathized with the rebel Mages. I maybe even would have joined them. But when her own students turned against her and even killed her just because she suggested that we should try to negotiate with the Templars … That was something I simply couldn’t just forget. Or forgive. I don’t think that the rebellion itself could have been prevented, not when the system was as broken as the Circles, but I wouldn’t have wanted to fight side by side with people who turned against their own just because they didn’t like what somebody else thought and said. Not after what I saw in Ostwick.”
Cullen hesitated for a few heartbeats before speaking again and the way he gently traced the borders of her scar in silence sent shivers down Evelyn’s spine. “It’s strange”, he finally said as he absently stared at the scar on her shoulder. “I remember people thinking the rebellion would start and end in Kirkwall. And now, years later, it has changed everyone and everything.”
Evelyn closed her eyes and sighed. “Let’s talk about something nicer than the rebellion, something that doesn’t make both of us sad”, she replied and changed the topic. “Tell me something sweet like …” She paused for a moment thinking about a fitting example. “Like who you had a crush on when you were young.”
A soft laugh vibrated through his chest below her ear and he let go of her shoulder to gently rub her arm instead. “Alright … But I’m afraid, there isn’t much to tell. You know that I joined the Templars when I was a child and the Order likes to keep their recruits busy, especially when they are teenagers or young adults.”
She snorted. “Don’t tell me that would have stopped anyone.”
“Alright, no, it didn’t stop anyone”, he admitted, and Evelyn could hear the smile in his voice. “So … Yes, there was someone. When I was serving at the Circle of Ferelden.” Cullen chuckled. “Though it was quite one-sided. She was a few years older than me and, of course, she seemed like the smartest, most beautiful person I could imagine.”
“What happened to her?”, Evelyn asked and turned her head a little to look at him. “I mean … when the Circle fell.”
“She saved me.” A wide grin spread over Cullen’s face. “She had left Kinloch Hold a while before that and returned in the middle of the fight to rescue what was left of the Circle.”
From one moment to another, Evelyn sat straight in bed next to him. “Wait … Are you talking about Neria? You had a crush on the Hero of Ferelden? Are you serious?”
Much to her surprise, he laughed. “That was over a decade ago, but yes.” He pulled her back to his side. “It seems like I always had a soft spot for fierce women who will change the world.”
Evelyn smiled and pressed a quick kiss to his chest. “Flatterer.”
“What about you?” He stopped himself when he remembered that she just had told him how somebody she once had loved had attacked her during Ostwick’s end. “No, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to …”
“It’s alright, Cullen”, she replied softly and ignored the numb ache in her heart. It had been her who had demanded of him to open up to her and be vulnerable for once and even when it hurt, she was planning on doing the same for him. “You know how these things are in the Circle, at least for Mages and especially if a Knight-Commander reigns their Circle as brutally as Mallorick did in Ostwick. Secret letters, a few shared kisses, stolen moments in in quiet nights. You constantly fear somebody could find out.” She paused for a moment while her fingers traced his chest in thought. “There was this boy … Leo. We grew up in the Circle and went through our Harrowings together. Somewhere on the way we … just fell in love. Or at least I think we did. Looking back, it wasn’t half as serious as it could have been, but well … we knew nothing else.” She sighed. “One day, the Knight-Captain found out and nearly beat him to death for breaking the rules while I had to watch.” Evelyn could feel how Cullen tensed below her and closed her eyes. He mumbled her name, but she went on with her story and ignored the painful echo of these memories. “After that, we stayed apart and well … the feelings faded. It got better. At least in my eyes. I became Lydia’s right hand and helped her to negotiate with the Templars and simply moved on. Leo on the other hand … He changed after that and became angry and hateful. When the Circle fell, he accused Lydia of betraying her own kind and killed her before I could do anything. In the end, when he attacked me too, I even had to kill him.” She opened her eyes again. “I know, it’s foolish, but sometimes it feels as if it’s my fault. If I would have fought harder for him, maybe…”
“No.” Cullen’s voice wasn’t harsh but firm. “Don’t say that. It’s not your fault. You can’t save people who give in to anger and hatred.”
Evelyn fell silent for a moment and hesitated. She knew from his tone that Leo’s story reminded him too much of his own. And she saw the parallels herself. Still, she also remembered the expression on Leo’s face right before he had attacked her. The hatred. That fury burning deep inside the man she thought she had known. She saw nothing of that in Cullen’s eyes.
“You’re not like him”, she finally said, and Cullen let out a deep breath.
“I was like him. For a long time”, he replied quietly. “You couldn’t have saved me either a few years ago. You can’t save a person who doesn’t want to be saved.”
Evelyn sat up and turned around to look at him in worry. “Do you want to know why I started to trust you? Why I started to feel safe around you though …”
“Though I was a Templar?” He raised his brows and smiled. Evelyn chuckled humorlessly and shrugged.
“Yes. You weren’t wearing the armor but the way you talked and moved … I lived long enough under Templar eyes to recognize one when I see them. And I’ve suffered enough from Templars I knew to … be careful.” She bit her lip. “I thought I could never trust you, but the moment I did was right after I returned from Redcliffe.”
He grimaced. “I’m still sorry for the way I held up against you that you freed the Mages.”
“Well, at least you weren’t alone. It felt like everyone had an opinion on my actions that day and actually, you commenting, too, was just the last bit too much. But after I yelled at you, you reacted differently from the way a Templar like the ones I knew would have reacted. You listened. You showed empathy. It took me a while to understand what it meant but from that moment, I started to really trust you. I had doubts if my mistrust was justified when you stepped between the Mages and Templars when I returned from Val Royeaux, but I trusted you ever since the rebel Mages joined us. And when Haven was burning, and we had to make an impossible decision you proved once again that it doesn’t matter that I’m a Mage. Not in the way I feared in the beginning.” She gave him a crooked smile. “Even when it took me a little longer than that to really realize it.”
Cullen returned the smile and slowly reached for her hand. “It never mattered. Not really”, he replied softly as they both watched how their fingers intertwined. “Not regarding who you are and how I began admiring you the moment I saw you running over that battlefield back at the temple.”
“Careful, Commander, one might mistake you for a secret romantic”, whispered Evelyn echoing her own words from the day they had become a couple and just like back then, Cullen chuckled softly in reply.
“Only around you.”
Evelyn grinned and leaned closer for a soft kiss. “Smooth talker.”
His lips twitched upwards and only for a moment, there was a warm spark in his eyes that made Evelyn’s heart nearly melt. So full of honesty, admiration, trust. Everything a part of her had doubted so much over the last few days while she had desperately hoped that that part of her was wrong. And here they were. With all the proof she needed right in his brown eyes lingering on her.
She opened her mouth but closed it right before something could slip over her lips that wasn’t supposed to slip. Not yet.
Cullen raised his brows. “What?”
With a soft smile, Evelyn shook her head. “Nothing”, she replied. “I’m just very happy right now.”
He pulled her back to his side and Evelyn nestled her head against his shoulder. And as she listened to his calm breaths and the sound of his heartbeat below her head, she realized that there was no place anywhere she would rather be than here, in Cullen’s arms. It was scary and overwhelming, but for the first time in years, maybe even in her whole life, she just didn’t care.
Chapter 25: One Catastrophe After Another
The Inquisition has to decide over their next step
Long time no see! The last few weeks have been wild but now I'm back with Eve and Cullen and we're finally jumping back into action. Enjoy and thanks for reading!
Later that morning, Evelyn slipped through the door to the bridge connecting Cullen’s tower and Skyhold’s main building and even managed to sneak through the rotunda and the main hall into her own chambers. She found her bathtub filled with water there which meant that some of the servants must at least have noticed that she hadn’t been here when they had filled it the day before. She didn’t think they necessarily had to suspect something because of that because – as filled as her days as Inquisitor were – she rarely was here when they filled the tub. She even had told them not to heat the water up since she could do that herself with her magic whenever she would be ready to take her bath. But they would notice when they came later to empty the tub and notice not only that her bed was untouched but also that the water wasn’t used. After giving it a little bit of thought, Evelyn decided against the bath just grabbed the bowl from the table next to her bed to fill it with some water instead. She quickly washed herself with the water from the bowl and a soft cloth before dressing into fresh clothes, ruffled the sheets on her bed a little to make them look used and then returned downstairs to grab some breakfast.
When she returned from the kitchen, a loaf of bread still in her hands, Skyhold was wide awake. A few new merchants had arrived the day before and Evelyn could hear their muffled shouting even from inside Skyhold’s main hall as she was strolling towards the door outside. When she passed the table where Varric normally used to write, she saw Hawke sitting there instead, her feet on the table, a letter in her hands and a wide grin on her face.
“Good news?”, Evelyn asked and stopped at the table. The other woman lifted her head before folding the paper and putting it aside.
“News from home”, she replied and winked at Evelyn. “Or rather an annoyed letter by my brother asking me if I’ll get myself killed this time. Apparently, he believes he would be responsible for my daughter in that case and that makes him panic.”
Evelyn frowned. “Oh. I didn’t know that you have a daughter.”
“Really? Interesting.” Hawke chuckled, but Evelyn could see the sadness lingering in her eyes. “I admit, I tried to keep it a secret ever since she was born but I assumed your Spymaster would have found out and told you by now.” She sighed. “But yeah, I have a daughter, Beth. She’s turning three in a few months and she’s a total joy. Keeps everyone on their toes, sometimes even me, and I love it, so being here is … hard. It’s the right thing, but it’s hard anyway.”
“I’m sorry”, Evelyn replied unsure what to say to that revelation and tried to give Hawke a sympathetic smile. “You must miss your family a lot.”
“I do”, she agreed and nodded. “But writing letters to them helps. Apparently, Beth has set my brother’s coat on fire when he visited her and Fenris and Carver’s not thrilled about it.”
She grinned proudly and Evelyn couldn’t help but laugh. “That really sounds like she’s truly your daughter.”
“She is and Carver’s not the only one panicking because of that.” Hawke joined Evelyn’s laughter and pulled her feet from the table. “One day, she will set the world on fire and I will be the proudest mother possible.”
The wide grin on Hawke’s face left no doubt that she was serious, and Evelyn had to chuckle once again. “You know that that’s an incredibly strange and upsetting thing to say?”
“Ah, you know, Inquisitor, that’s just the way I am.” Her shoulders briefly lifted for a shrug. “Stumbling into revolutions, setting the world on fire and then accidentally rescuing it again. It’s a gift.”
“I say that with love, but you’re a very own and very unique catastrophe, Hawke”, Evelyn replied and shook her head with a smile. “I’m very glad you’re on our side. I don’t think we’d survive it if it’d be otherwise.”
“Told you, it’s a gift.” Hawke laughed. “But anyway, enough of me.” She shifted in her seat once again. “We’re having a meeting later at your war table, right? Have you finally decided what to do next? I’m pretty sure Neria will murder your Ambassador if we don’t take care of that Warden problem soon.”
Evelyn grimaced. “You’re exaggerating. Neria’s just used to saving the world on her own and the fact that not everybody here shares her priorities drives her up the walls.”
“Sure, but we’re talking about the Hero of Ferelden. That isn’t really somebody anybody should ever drive up any wall.” She smirked. “Not even me and you know that I do these kinds of things in my spare time.”
“Your concern is noted, but this will have to wait until later”, Evelyn replied with a sigh and tried to ignore that, of course, Hawke was right. They needed to make a decision. Soon. Evelyn just feared what price each of their options could demand. “I want to hear what everybody has found out by now first anyway.”
“Your decision. But don’t wait too long.” Hawke shrugged, a playful smirk on her lips. “No pressure, but in case you forgot: The fate of the world might depend on it.”
“Thanks, Champion”, Evelyn returned and shook her head with a snort. “Helpful as ever.”
“It’s a gift, Inquisitor.” Spreading her arms, Hawke laughed once again, an earnest, open laugh, but just a moment later, the laughter faded, and she tilted her head instead. “Speaking of the devil.”
Throwing a questioning look at the other woman, Evelyn turned her head and followed Hawke’s gaze behind her to see Neria approaching them. The older woman’s expression was just as unreadable as ever, but Evelyn’s instincts told her that it couldn’t mean any good when the Hero of Ferelden was walking that early and that fast into her direction.
“You need to call in a meeting with your advisors. Now”, the elf announced without greeting any of the other woman first and crossed her arms. “We have a problem.”
The word “problem” turned out to be an understatement. When they finally assembled around the war table, Neria presented Evelyn a letter from a friend she still had among the Orlesian Wardens. The letter had been sent straight from Adamant and its contents were troubling at best.
“So, it’s true.” Leliana frowned and passed the paper on to Cullen next to her. “Erimond has reached Adamant and the Wardens are preparing to summon a demon army.”
Neria nodded. “Yes, and judging from this, we don’t have too much time left.”
“Which means we need to march on Adamant as soon as possible.” Rubbing her temples, Evelyn sighed before lifting her head again to look at Cullen. “How long will it take to get our forces ready to move and besiege the fortress?”
He took a moment to weigh the options, but finally, Cullen grimaced before giving his answer. “Two weeks? Ten days if we’re lucky. But that doesn’t include any siege weapons. We would need to build those once we arrive and that could pose a problem, given the fact that Adamant’s in the middle of the desert.”
“Not to mention that we would need to get approval from the local nobles to march with an army like that through half of Orlais”, Josephine interjected, her brows furrowed.
Leliana scoffed. “That’s the least of our problems. With the Civil War still going on, only few will care about us anyway. At least as long as we don’t seem like we want to take sides.”
“Nobility can be unpredictable”, Evelyn replied and shook her head. “I don’t want to take any risks. We will send somebody ahead and make sure we won’t experience any bad surprises.”
“I agree. Any trouble we might encounter on the way will slow us down and cost us resources we don’t have.” Cullen placed the letter on the table. “We need to be efficient.”
“Alright.” Leliana nodded. “I suggest a small group. Three, maybe four people. Enough so that they can’t be just taken hostage that easily and can defend themselves, but not too many that anybody could take them as a threat.”
“And it needs to be somebody with social status and leverage”, Josephine added and hesitated for a moment as she thought about her next words. “I’d suggest your brother, maybe together with Cassandra. They are both noble, both experienced warriors if the worst should happen and it would send a good signal if you’re sending a close relative as your messenger.”
Evelyn bit her lip and nodded slowly. Josephine was right, Max was just perfect for the task. A good talker, a decent warrior, a former Templar, son to a Bann and, last, but not least, her brother. Sending him would put him in danger, but it also would be the smart thing to do. The right thing. Her gaze wandered through the room for a moment but stopped when she looked at the Wardens to her left and an idea started to grow in Evelyn’s head.
“Alistair”, she began. “Technically, you’re a Fereldan prince, right?”
His face darkened and he grimaced as he crossed his arms. “Technically. But it doesn’t mean anything.”
Evelyn threw a pitying look at him. “We both know that it does mean something. At least to them.” She smiled. “But it also means you’d be perfect to accompany Max and Cassandra. And like it or not, but your glory will be enough to prevent anybody from even thinking about harming any of you.”
His grim expression faded and with a deep sigh, he nodded. “I can’t argue against that. Alright, I’m in.”
“Which means, I’m also coming with them.” Neria squared her shoulders and crossed her arms. “I’m not leaving his side.”
“Alright, then we have our four messengers.” Evelyn shrugged and looked at the others in the room. “Anything else?”, she asked but was greeted with silence. “Good. Because we have work to do.”
A smirk danced around Leliana’s lips. “One catastrophe after another. Just like we always do.”
Evelyn shook her head and scoffed softly. “Let’s just hope it won’t be our last.”
Chapter 26: Promise
The Inquisition prepares for the assault on Adamant and Neria has to face an unpleasant decision.
And here we are with another chapter! Enjoy and thanks for reading! :)
The next ten days went by in a rush. Everybody was trying their best to get the Inquisition to march as quickly as possible and even Evelyn herself wasn’t entirely sure how they managed to get as much done as they did. Half of their recruits hadn’t been even halfway ready to go to war for them, but neither Cullen nor any of the others reminded them of that. Instead, Evelyn watched how not only Bull and the Chargers but also Cassandra, Max and Blackwall stepped forward and tried to get everyone as ready as they could be. In the meantime, Josephine and Leliana somehow made a deal with a couple of nobles on the way to Adamant to get the wood they would desperately need for their siege weapons but couldn’t just cut when they arrived since the fortress was in the middle of the desert. That was probably on purpose and a smart move from the Wardens who had built it, Evelyn had to admit, but it wouldn’t help the Wardens of today anymore. The Inquisition would come and stop what they were doing.
Overall, things were tense, but Evelyn more and more got the feeling they could and would make it. Everything was going according to plan. At least until a few days before their departure.
“Neria, please.” Evelyn was walking across the courtyard after another day of exhausting preparations but stopped when she heard Alistair’s voice to her right. “That’s the best trace we’ve had in years.”
Evelyn could hear Neria scoff and spotted both Wardens standing not too far away from her close to the castle walls. Neria had leaned against the stone behind her and crossed her arms as she shook her head obviously avoiding to look Alistair in the eyes as he stepped closer and tried to take her hand.
“I’m not leaving you”, she replied through gritted teeth. “Not with everything that’s going on.”
“Somebody has to look into this, you know that.” He sighed. “I don’t like the thought of us being separated either, but we have no choice.”
“I’m not leaving you”, she repeated more softly than before and let her crossed arms sink beneath her body. “The last time I did that, the Wardens expelled you and started to hunt you down.” She paused for a second and bit her lip. “If I leave and something happens to you …”
“I know.” The expression on his face turned soft. “But it won’t.”
“You don’t know that.”
“We survived Ostagar, the Blight, an Archdemon and Morrigan.” He grinned, but she didn’t return the expression. “For each other, we will survive anything. Remember?”
“I …” The elf interrupted herself as she spotted Evelyn and sighed. “This isn’t over yet.”
Alistair turned his head following her eyes but didn’t seem to be really bothered by Evelyn standing there because he just took Neria’s hands and pulled her close for a moment. “No, but we don’t have a choice. You know that.”
Neria closed her eyes and nodded slightly. “I know.”
“Good.” A light smile washed over Alistair’s face as he untangled himself from her and took a few steps back. “I’ll go and see Cullen now. We’ll talk later again.”
Evelyn waited until he was walking away before stepping closer to the elf and frowned. “You’re leaving?”
Neria sighed. “Probably. Before all of this happened, I was on a mission trying to find a cure for the Calling, but I returned home when I got news that Alistair was in trouble. But now …” She hesitated. “I have a new lead and if I don’t move quickly, it’ll be gone.”
“Isn’t that a good thing for you?” Evelyn raised her brows and Neria grimaced.
“The timing is bad”, she replied. “It forces Alistair an me to split up and honestly, that’s nothing I want to do right now.” She sighed. “The last time we did this, he got into trouble with the Wardens and would have been killed if I wouldn’t have come back in time.”
Now Evelyn understood. “You’re afraid of what waits for us at Adamant.”
It was a statement, no question. She didn’t need to ask because she could relate to Neria’s fear. Even the Hero of Ferelden just desperately tried to protect those few she had left to care about. Those she loved.
“I’d be a bigger fool than I am already if I wasn’t”, Neria agreed and nodded. “From what we know, this will be bad. And I know Alistair. Given the chance, he will do something incredibly heroic and incredibly stupid.” She chuckled. “To his defense, if our positions would be switched, he would say the same about me, but that doesn’t make it any better.”
“Will you leave anyway?”
Neria shrugged but her the expression on her face was pained. “I don’t like it, but I think I’ll have to. You probably heard it yourself, Alistair is right. Somebody has to hunt down any clue we might get on ending the Calling and somebody has to stay with you and take care of the Wardens.” She took in air to continue but hesitated and bit her lip for a heartbeat. “If I ask you for a favor, will you promise me something, Inquisitor?”
Evelyn arched a brow. “If I can.”
“Protect him.” Neria looked Evelyn straight into the eyes and it gave the younger Mage chills. “I don’t care at what cost or how, just make sure that Alistair makes it out of anything you drag him into. I lost enough. I can’t lose him.”
Evelyn took in a deep breath and sighed. “I can’t promise something I can’t predict, but I’ll do my best.”
For a few moments, Neria seemed to think about that reply but then, she nodded. “That’s enough for me.” She squared her shoulders and cleared her throat. “Well … I guess I won’t hold you back any longer. I should probably go and plan my next steps.”
Evelyn smiled politely and nodded. “Of course. I’ll see you later.”
The other woman started to leave but when she only had walked a few steps, she stopped again and glanced over her shoulder again. “I know, you didn’t ask me, but I think you’re doing a more decent job than I would have expected. You’re a good Inquisitor. Remember that when the world starts tumbling down around you. Because, believe me, sooner or later, it will.”
“How do you want to know that?”
A sad smile curved Neria’s lips. “Let’s call it experience.”
She walked away and left Evelyn in the courtyard, frowning and unsure what to make of this conversation. Neria Surana, the Neria she had met and dealt with since that day in Crestwood, didn’t ask for anything. She was a woman who took what she wanted. A stubborn woman and a proud one. Somebody only a fool would cross because she might be a hero, but she also was obviously tired of people underestimating and disrespecting her just because of who she was. An elf and a Mage. Evelyn could relate to that and she also suspected that part of Neria’s fierce demeanor was an act, a protection from people who looked at her and only saw her ears and her robes, not the person standing right in front of them. But this shield could only work if she didn’t let it down and the fact that she just had shown Evelyn a weakness and asked her to protect Alistair was exactly the opposite. And if even the famous Neria Surana was afraid of Adamant, things were far worse than Evelyn had feared.
At least until now.
Neria left the next day and Evelyn could tell that she wasn’t the only one who was concerned about that. Leliana looked even more sternly and hugged her friend a little longer than necessary and Cullen, too, frowned even more than usual. Ironically, it seemed to be Alistair who was the one most relaxed. He kissed his wife and grinned as he made a joke about how he wouldn’t cause any troubles and follow her as soon as possible, but Evelyn suspected that there was more to it beneath the surface, especially since Neria made her promise once again to look out for him. It was strange, but with her departure, it was clearer than ever that the famous Hero of Ferelden was afraid. The woman who had faced an archdemon and ended a Blight, really feared for what could happen at Adamant and how it could affect the man she loved. And Evelyn kept having a vague feeling that the elf wasn’t wrong for acting like that.
The thought stuck, even when Evelyn and the Inquisition already had left Skyhold and were on their own way west, and she couldn’t help but to worry. What if they had overlooked something? Forgot something? What if they would be too late? Or the castle would be sturdier than expected?
“I can literally see you overthinking.”
Startled, Evelyn looked up from the fire in front of her her gaze met Dorian’s who grinned and let himself sink on the seat next to her. “Can you blame me? Cullen says we will arrive at Adamant in a few days and if anything goes wrong, it’s on me. I’m the one leading everyone into this siege.”
“You have this talent to claim every mistake but no glory, you know that?” He arched a brow and tilted his head, but Evelyn rolled her eyes.
“Spit it out. I don’t have the energy to guess what you want to tell me beneath your wit today.”
“I’m trying to tell you that you’re worrying too much and that it’s unhealthy.” He shrugged. “Anything that happens now is beyond your control.”
“Great”, she muttered. “That means I should just lean back and watch, no matter the consequences?”
With a scoff, Dorian shook his head. “Who of us is the overly dramatic one again?”
“I know, but you need to relax if you don’t want to explode or start making mistakes just because you’re overly tensed.” His voice turned soft and he placed a hand on her shoulder. “It’s late. Go to bed. And while you’re at it, drag Cullen with you. He’s the other one overworking and overthinking around here and I’m not the only one who’s starting to get worried.”
Evelyn sighed. “We’re all on edge right now.”
“No, everybody else is tense, you two are only days away from driving yourselves mad because you expect too much from yourselves.” Dorian squeezed her arm. “Get some rest. Unwind a little.” A smirk curved his lips and his wit broke through the worry on his face again. “But remember that tents have no walls and your neighbors hear everything, so I’d recommend being quiet tonight if you don’t want Cullen to drop dead tomorrow morning because Sera mercilessly teases him.”
Evelyn raised her brows and threw an amused look at her friend. “You do realize that my tent was close to Bull’s on our last stop, right?”
The mischief in his expression faded and he tried to look as indifferent as possible. “And?”
“Did I ever tell you that you can be really bad at lying sometimes?” Evelyn chuckled and shook her head as she rose from her seat. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to but I’m certainly not the only one who has a few ideas about who this mysterious person could be Bull has taken an interest in.” She took a step over the bench and briefly placed her hand on his shoulder. “Good night, Dorian. Thanks for looking out for me.”
He muttered something but Evelyn didn’t understand his words anymore and stepped away from the fire. It was late and most people were long asleep which enabled her to just slowly walk between the rows of tents to her own without anybody interrupting. The wind was gently blowing and although it wasn’t really cold, Evelyn shivered. They were getting closer to the desert now and while the days only got hotter and hotter, the nights felt even colder. Maybe that was the reason for her own tension. The feeling that they were getting closer to their destination. It made her nervous. As if she hadn’t had enough to worry about before.
She found Cullen in her tent, the largest one in the camp. Evelyn had tried to protest against the luxury of not only sleeping alone but also having a real bed while everyone else was sleeping on bedrolls, but her advisors had insisted in it. Josephine because it was supposed to reflect Evelyn’s status within the Inquisition, Cullen because he found it only logical to hold their councils in Evelyn’s tent which justified its size and accommodations and Leliana because she considered the solution smart for both reasons. Evelyn had grumbled a little about the decision but now, when she entered the room, she was glad once more even though her reason was an entirely different and more selfish one. And that reason was standing right in front of a travel chest, his back turned to her while Evelyn crossed the distance between them.
“Come on.” Cullen cursed quietly as he reached for the buckles of his armor at his side to open them but couldn’t loosen the first one as quickly as he wanted. “I really need to replace those.”
“Let me”, Evelyn said softly and placed her fingers above his to take the first strap from him. The touch made him throw a surprised glance of his shoulder but at the same time, he pulled back his hands and let her help him.
“Thank you”, he said and sighed. “It’s been a long day and I don’t have the patience anymore.”
“You don’t say.” Evelyn couldn’t help but smile as she unstrapped the next buckles and Cullen chuckled himself.
“Is it that obvious?”
Evelyn switched to the tip of her toes to brush a quick kiss against his cheek and grinned. “The cursing gave me a hint. Turn around, I’m done with this side.”
He obeyed and let her quickly loosen the last few straps before finally freeing himself from the breastplates with a sigh. Evelyn smiled and took the opportunity to wrap her arms around his neck and pull him close. “Much better.”
“I tend to agree.” He returned her smile and placed his hands on the small of her back to hold her as he glanced over her with a worried look. “Are you alright?”
“You know that I could ask you the same?”
“True, but I asked first.” He leaned down to rest his forehead against hers and Evelyn chuckled.
“Well, according to Dorian, we’re both the source of everybody else’s worry”, she replied and dodged the question aware of the fact that Cullen knew the answer anyway.
“Everybody’s on edge at the moment.” He sighed but immediately frowned when a short laugh slipped over Evelyn’s lips. “What?”
“I said the same”, she explained. “And Dorian finds that the two of us are worse than everybody else.” She took a step back to run one hand through her hair. “You know him, he wrapped it in his jokes as he always does but I think we’re scaring a few people.”
“They’ll have to survive it.” Cullen rubbed his temples. “We’re both just giving our bests to get to Adamant and prevent the worst that could happen. Sooner or later, they’ll be grateful.”
Evelyn fell silent but suddenly, Neria’s words came to her mind.
When this is over, nobody will thank you for your sacrifices.
Had she been right? Would she one day wake up – if she even survived any of this in the first place – and ask herself whether she had given too much without taking enough care of herself and those dear to her? Would she one day wake up and regret her sacrifices because nobody would be left to understand what she sacrificed?
Chapter 27: Nightmares
Adamant demands its sacrifices.
Say hello to Adamant and the inevitable heartbreak that comes with it! :D As always, thanks for reading and enjoy! <3
Voices screaming, hands clawing at her, digging into her clothes and flesh, whispers in her head.
It’s your fault, your fault, your fault.
Evelyn teared herself away, frantically beating against the arms reaching for her as she started running. There had to be a way out of here. An escape. Something.
You killed him. You killed her. You bring nothing but death to everyone.
“Shut up!” She threw her head back and screamed at the dark sky above her. “Let me go, nightmare!”
A deep, cruel chuckle filled the air around her like thunder. I do nothing. It’s all you. Dark smoke started rising around her. You only see what you already believe.
A silhouette stepped out of the smoke and Evelyn immediately stumbled backwards. “No”, she whispered. “Maker, no.”
“Not happy to see me?” Leo smiled – a strange contrast to his bloodstained robes – and tilted his head. “How funny, considering that you killed me.”
Evelyn trembled, her knees suddenly growing weak. “You attacked me. I had to kill you. You left me no choice.”
“Is that what you tell yourself to sleep at night?” He chuckled and stepped closer. Evelyn tried to back away when he reached out for her, but he still managed to grip her chin and force her to look at him. “We both know that’s not how it happened. When you realized that your precious Lydia was dead, you lost control. You killed me because you wanted to kill me, not because you had to.”
“That’s not true.” Her voice broke as tears started to work their way out of her eyes and over her cheeks. “You were mad with hate.”
“Oh, yes, I was.” He laughed. “But you were mad with rage.”
Behind him, one more silhouette stepped out of the smoke. And another, and another. Lydia, looking down at her former student, her expression cold and indifferent. Mallorick and Brycen, both smiling in content. Other Mages she once had known, other Templars she once had feared.
“I became what I became because of you, Lynnie.” He tightened his grip around her jaw until it hurt. “I suffered for you. Because I loved you. And you dropped me when I needed you most.”
“No, I …”
“You left me because you were afraid.” Leo’s voice had grown cold as ice. It was the same tone he had had the day Ostwick fell, the same tone on his lips as in the very same moment he had finally turned against her. “You left me alone, broken and suffering because she told you to. And when she turned against me in the end, you finished what you had begun and killed me.”
“That’s not true”, Evelyn sobbed softly and closed her eyes. “It’s not true. I wanted to protect you, I …”
“You killed me. And one day, you will kill him, too.”
His voice changed and from one moment to another, all of Evelyn’s pain was gone. Instead, panic took its place. Raw, naked panic. Creeping over her and clinging around her heart like claws ready to tear her apart. Her eyes flipped open and she looked up to him, but now, she looked in a different face.
“You bring only death to everyone.”
“Cullen, no, not you, too.” Tears blurred her sight, but she still could see how he stepped back from her, his face indifferent as she had never seen it before.
“How long until you kill me, too? When will you drop me? Just like you dropped him?”
Something whirled through the air and he stumbled back. Blood dripped from his forehead, pouring over his face and tinting it red from the point where the missile hit him. One single bolt had sunken into his skull, one single bolt, made out of crystal-clear ice. Cullen fell and Evelyn’s head flipped aside to look into the direction from where the bolt had been shot.
And there, on a hill, high above her, stood nobody but herself.
Evelyn twisted her staff to send a salve of ice bolts over her friends’ heads against the demons approaching. Hawke stumbled and nearly would have been hit by one, but Alistair managed to get a hold of her armor and just drag her down with him. From the corner of her eyes, Evelyn noticed a purple glow as Dorian renewed his barrier around them. Simultaneously, Cassandra charged forward, sword drawn and took out the closest two creatures but instead of moving further, she let herself fall back until she stood side by side with Alistair and Hawke again.
“We can’t fight them all! There are too many of them!”, she shouted without looking back at Evelyn, Dorian and Varric in the second row. “We need to get out of here – Now!”
“Congratulations, Seeker, all of us figured as much.” One of Varric’s bolt cleanly hit another demon in the head. The creature sunk to the ground but was immediately replaced by another one behind it. “But in case you don’t remember: The nightmare’s blocking our way out. We’re trapped.”
Hawke jumped back to whirl her staff like a lance and send a fire ball against the next wave but suddenly froze when she heard Varric’s words. “Not necessarily”, she replied and tilted her head looking at the gigantic spider in front of them. She threw a glance over her shoulder and gave Evelyn a small smile, but the sadness in her eyes revealed the lie. “We just need to turn its attention to something else.”
Both Evelyn and Alistair were the first to understand what she meant. Both tried to take a step towards the Mage and hold her back and both missed her the same moment they reached for her. “Sorry, you two, being recklessly heroic is my brand.” Hawke jumped forward, a forced grin on her lips as she turned her head one last time to Varric and just for a second, her expression softened into something … vulnerable. Something pained.
“Tell Fenris and Beth that I love them … And that I’m sorry.”
Evelyn slipped … fell. The Rift rushed past her in front of her eyes as she pulled her arms and her staff up to regain her hold. She crashed through the portal and somehow, she managed to get her staff before her body. Instead of crashing against the hard stone before her, Evelyn leaned into her weapon and only stumbled a few steps forward until she sank on her knees and came to a stop. Blood was dripping from her hand and she was pretty sure that it was her own though she couldn't tell where the wound was it must have come from.
Cursing through gritted teeth, Evelyn wrapped her fingers as tightly around her staff as possible and glanced over her shoulder to the portal behind her. Without even thinking, she raised her hand with the mark. The veil immediately started to scar, the Rift faded and then … realization started seeping through her mind.
From one moment to another, her stomach turned upside down.
No. No. No.
“Evelyn. Evelyn, do you hear me?” Somebody let themselves sink on their knees right in front of her as hands gently reached for her arms to support her. It took her a moment to realize that both the voice and the silhouette belonged to Dorian who eyed her in worry. "Evelyn, please. Say something."
“I’m … fine”, she whispered knowing that nobody would believe the lie.
“Eve?” Another voice filled the air, loud enough to be heard over the mumbling and distant fighting sounds around them and without caring about the people around him, Cullen broke through the crowd gathering around them. He hesitated only for a second as if to check if it was really her and the relief on his face made Evelyn’s own heart only break even more. Here they were, both soaked in sweat and blood, surrounded by more people than they could count who just waited for Evelyn to say something but when she saw him there, she couldn’t gather the strength to do it. Instead, she jumped to her feet, dropped her staff and just rushed into his arms. Cullen had to take a step back to bounce off the impact of her body crashing against his, but Evelyn couldn’t care less about it. She wrapped her arms around him and clang to him as if she was drowning and he was the only rock keeping her from being dragged under water because that was exactly how she felt. Hawke was dead. Because Evelyn had failed her. Because she had been too weak when everybody had counted on her. If the nightmare hadn’t knocked her out, if they had moved faster and maybe would have gotten to the portal before the demon had found them …
“I wasn’t sure if …” Cullen’s voice broke as he returned the embrace and Evelyn could her his sword fall to the ground next to them as she buried her face in the soft fur of his coat. “I feared …”
“It was close”, Evelyn replied quietly enough for only him to hear as she tried to bite back the tears burning in her eyes. “Too close.” There was no helping. A soft sob made its way out of her throat. “Hawke, she … we …”
She didn’t manage to finish the sentence, but she probably didn’t have to anyway for Cullen to understand. He pulled her even closer, his arms in an iron grip around her body that gave Evelyn more than just an impression what he must had feared had happened to her.
“It’s alright, Eve. You’re safe now.” He ran one hand soothingly down her back. “It’s fine.”
“No, it’s not.” Evelyn tried to shake her head but didn’t dare to move her head too much and risk somebody seeing the pain on her face. “I killed her, Cullen. It’s my fault.”
I bring only death. And one day, I will bring death to you.
It was long dark when Cullen finally dared to leave the tent with Evelyn sleeping inside. Fires had been set up but the exhaustion after their battle seemed to demand its tribute. The recruits had fought well, especially given the fact that most of the Wardens had had much more experience, but Cullen wasn’t too much surprised to see only few of them outside and celebrating. Most of them would have to mourn more than just one friend after today and watching their Inquisitor stumble out of a Rift surely hadn’t lift their spirits, no matter their victory.
Letting out a deep sigh, Cullen headed to the closest fire. He needed to get something to eat and, even more importantly, some answers. Answers the exact small group of people could give him who had gathered around the flames. Cullen spotted Bull’s large silhouette lying on one of the benches first and recognized Dorian and Cassandra sitting on opposite seats next to the sleeping Qunari, both with cups in their hands, while Max was pacing up and down before them ignoring the concerned looks of the others.
“Please, Max, sit down.” Cassandra sounded tired. “Running around won’t help.”
He glared at her and shook his head. “It helps me.”
“Come one, you have to …”
“How is she?” Dorian was the first one to notice Cullen approaching the group and interrupted their bickering. Max stopped and his head flipped around to Cullen, same as Cassandra’s until all three of them were looking at him. On their faces, Cullen could see an expression of worry that mirrored his own, no matter how much he had tried to hide it over the last few hours.
“Calm”, he replied to the question and sighed. “Finally.” He crossed the last few steps of distance between them and let himself sink on one of the benches. “Or at least she’s sleeping now. But getting her there was … brutal.” He glanced from Dorian to Cassandra and back again. “What exactly happened when you were in the Fade? I know Hawke’s death was much to take for her and all of us but this … I know there is more”, Dorian replied reluctantly after a while. “When we fell through that first Rift, we entered the Fade and the nightmare tried to exploit our fears, but …” He hesitated and shook his head. “I don’t know but somehow it managed to crawl under Evelyn’s skin more than under ours.”
“She collapsed, Cullen.” Cassandra’s voice came quietly from the other side of the fire and Cullen could feel that knot that had been growing in his chest ever since Evelyn had started sobbing in his arms tighten once again. “Just … fell to the ground. Screaming and horrified … I already feared a demon had possessed her.”
“I suspect the nightmare got into her mind and showed her some more … brutal visions”, Dorian added, his voice similarly quiet to Cassandra’s. “She said your name, you know, amongst others … Before we managed to wake her and break the connection. Maker, she was afraid. I’ve seen her face hordes of demons like it was nothing but whatever the nightmare showed her truly terrified her.”
“What other names did she say?” Max took in a sharp breath and both his tone and his expression were unusually hard. “Do you remember any?”
Dorian scratched his chin. “I’m not sure … There was one of a woman … I think it started with an L? Lysette? Lara?”
“No, Lydia”, Cassandra corrected him. “And there was another name I could pick up … Leo?”
Cullen sighed and Max cursed loud enough for the others to hear. “I have to see her”, he announced and tried to rush away, but Cullen stretched his arms to reach out for him and hold him back.
“No”, he said, his voice calm but firm. “It took me hours to calm her enough for her to sleep. You won’t wake her now.”
“Have you any idea what it means if the nightmare exploited her past?”, Max hissed and tore himself free from Cullen’s grip. “Have you any idea what these names mean? What memories they can wake?”
“You’re not the only one worried for her, Maxwell.” Cullen felt how his patience slowly started to crumble and he threw a warning glare into the other man’s direction. “I know who Lydia was and I know who Leo was. I know the story. And that’s why I’m telling you to let her sleep and rest.”
Just for a few heartbeats, Max hesitated and held Cullen’s hard gaze. Just when Cullen started to fear he would need to hold him back by force, he finally sighed and nodded as he followed Cassandra’s request from before and took a seat next to her. “I guess you’re right”, he let his head sink down and rubbed his face. “Sorry for lashing out. I should’ve known better.”
“Well, it’s been a hard day for all of us.” Cullen grabbed a glass and the bottle of wine from the bench at Dorian’s side as Cassandra scoffed.
“You can say that.” She shook her head. “I still can’t believe what happened. That we went into the Fade … Justinia … and Hawke.”
A deep sigh left the Seeker’s lungs and Cullen poured himself a glass of wine. “How’s Varric holding up?”, he asked and looked up to meet Cassandra’s gaze. “I wouldn’t assume he’s fine, but …”
He didn’t finish his sentence, but she understood him anyway. “He’s mourning his friend.” She shrugged. “He will make it through, eventually, but Hawke’s death probably hit him harder than most of us.” Her voice grew distant and she sighed again. “When I followed her tracks in Kirkwall, I found out about so many stories about her I barely could believe. And now, another one costed her life.”
A sad smile twitched around Cullen’s lips. “At some point, we all just believed Hawke invincible.”
“Well, but she wasn’t. Obviously”, Dorian mumbled into his cup and on the other side Max let out a deep, tired breath and rubbed his face.
“Everybody bought into her legend until the legend consumed her”, he said quietly, and, suddenly, his expression hardened. “We can’t let that happen to Evelyn, too.”
“Have you ever met your sister, Max?” Dorian tilted his head and threw an amused glance at the other man. “If she decides to be the hero everyone thinks her to be, nobody can hold her back.” He shrugged. “I know you weren’t at Haven but that was the last time when she had the choice of doing something incredibly reckless but heroic or trying to save her own life first and you know how that ended. We didn’t even know what she was up to.”
“Except that’s not true.” Cassandra eyed Cullen. “She told you.”
“She didn’t tell me, I guessed her plan.” He grimaced. “And back then, she had to make an impossible choice. Supporting her meant saving more lives than arguing and risking time we didn’t have.”
“Maker, sometimes both you and Evelyn can really drive me mad.” Max growled. “She nearly died because of that decision. And she might have gotten alive out of the Fade today, but we have no idea what it made with her.” He glared at Cullen. “And I’m not sure if you’re making this better or worse.”
“I didn’t want her to sacrifice herself at Haven and I don’t want her to suffer now”, Cullen hissed. “But I won’t make her stop doing the things she truly believes in.”
“Oh, come on, she doesn’t even believe in the Maker. She doesn’t believe in any of this or even that she’s Andraste’s Herald.”
“No, but she believes in the Inquisition. She likes the good she does through it.” Cullen rose from his seat. “And I definitely won’t convince her that that’s a bad thing.”
He didn’t wait until Max could protest but walked away and as he did, he realized how true his own words had been. He admired Evelyn for her bravery, for the strength she often couldn’t even see herself, for her sharp mind always making plans to get everyone to safety. Being Inquisitor had the potential to break her as much as it could break anyone but that only meant that it would be more important than ever that those around her would have her back instead of telling her she was wrong for doing what she considered right. Right now, she might have been thrown off track but when those who mattered stayed by her side, she would get back on her feet. And, right now, Evelyn’s side was exactly the place where Cullen would be.
Chapter 28: Sorrow
Evelyn deals with her guilt as Varric mourns Hawke.
Welcome back! Not to be too spoilery but we're finally moving into the next bigger plot point, started by everything that happened in the fade. Thanks for reading and enjoy!
The bed below her shook lightly and the soft sound of Cullen yawning reached Evelyn’s ears. She blinked, slowly drifting into a state of being half-awake. It must have been early and only dim light filled the tent around her. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked, and people talked with lowered voices, probably trying not to wake anybody. Evelyn was lying on the side, curled up into the sheets where she had cried herself to sleep the night before. Her eyes felt dry and she didn’t want to know how red and swollen her face must have been looking but at least she felt slightly better than the day before. After her fall from the Fade, she barely had managed to talk through a few words to the Inquisition’s people and the Wardens around them but when she had finally been able to flee into the privacy of her own tent, there hadn’t been any helping.
The moment Cullen had wrapped her into his arms again, Evelyn had started to cry and couldn’t find an end. She cried for Hawke and the crippling guilt over her death, for Lydia who had saved her all those years ago but who she hadn’t saved when her mentor had needed her, for Leo who she had left behind when he had needed her most, and for herself who had wanted nothing but to live a normal life with normal problems but who would never have it because of what she was. It all crashed upon her like an avalanche and neither Cullen’s hand gently running over her back nor her own will could stop it.
“Good Morning.” Cullen who had sat up next to her leaned over Evelyn and planted a small kiss on her forehead. “How are you?”
A sad smile danced around Evelyn’s lips and she let out a sigh. “Better than yesterday.”
“At least that’s progress.” Surprisingly, the warm expression on his face when he said that seemed honest and when he noticed her furrowed brows, he smiled and pushed a loose strand of hair out of her face. “I’m just glad you’re here. I mean … When you vanished into that Rift and we didn’t know whether you were dead or alive …”
“I know”, she replied and sat up. “I figured as much when you rushed through the crowd the moment we came back.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry for … everything. You shouldn’t have had to put up with me the way you did yesterday.”
Cullen sighed deeply. “What happened yesterday would have thrown anybody off track.”
“I don’t have the luxury of being like anybody else.” Evelyn shook her head. “There are so many people depending on me. I can’t fail them like that. Not again.”
Cullen fell silent and Evelyn could hear how he took in air multiple times just to stop himself before finally shaking his head and sighing. “I know nothing I can say will make anything better, but … You never failed them. You’re giving everything.”
Evelyn fell silent for a moment. “I failed Hawke”, she said, her voice barely more than a whisper. “If not everybody else, I failed her. I promised Neria to protect Alistair if I can, but I failed to protect Hawke. If the nightmare hadn’t got under my skin, I might have stopped and saved her. Her death is my fault.” She lowered her head and stared on her hands against the sheets of the bed below her. “I bring nothing but death. I always did.”
“You know that that’s not true.” Cullen wrapped his arms around her and drew her close. “Even if you can’t see it now.”
Evelyn eagerly leaned into the touch and closed her eyes for a moment, just enjoying the warmth of his skin against hers and the comforting feeling of his arms around her shoulders. “Thank you”, she mumbled quietly. “For … everything. For being here. Most people would have run from me after yesterday.”
He pulled her even closer and gave her a gentle kiss against her hair. “You know that neither of us is like most people.”
A soft chuckle left her throat, but Cullen probably could hear the bitterness in her voice. “No, we aren’t. But that doesn’t make it less extraordinary that you’re still here.”
“We both have our demons and you didn’t run from me either.”
“That’s something different.” Evelyn groaned and slightly shook her head.
“How? Why do you say that?”
Cullen frowned and, in his arms, Evelyn hesitated with her answer. “Because it’s not your fault that you have to wrestle down your demons from time to time, but for my demons, I’m the only one to blame.” She sighed. “Whatever I do, I just cause more suffering. And not because I don’t have any choice but because I do. Any decision I make causes only more pain, not less.” Her voice trembled. “I’m just so tired, Cullen. I didn’t realize it until now, but I think I don’t have the strength to just pull through this. Smile and make everyone believe everything’s alright because they believe I’m some sort of divine being. I’m not divine. I’m human and I … I don’t know how I’m supposed to cope with … everything."
For a moment, Cullen fell silent, probably as he weighed his words. “You’re not alone”, he finally whispered as he ran one hand down her back. “You’ve got your brother, your friends … me. People who stand beside you, who will have your back no matter what.”
“I know.” Her voice trembled once again. “But … In the end, it’s me who has to make the hard decisions. And me who makes the worst mistakes.”
“Hawke’s death isn’t your fault.”
A sad smile spread over Evelyn’s lips. “But still it lies on my conscience.”
Evelyn found Varric inside the fort, close to one of the fires the Inquisition and the Wardens had set up together. It felt strange walking through these gates and feel the eyes of those she had been victorious over burning on her, but she acted like she didn’t notice the barely hidden glances nor the hushed whispers. Something she was growing better at after all. If it had been up to her, she would have hidden in her own tent – preferably with Cullen at her side – all day but once again, nothing was up to her. And while she felt guilty, her friend was grieving.
Varric was sitting at a table, leaned over a stack of papers, but while this sight actually was a familiar one to Evelyn and no extraordinary behavior for her friend, this time, his expression seemed pained. As she approached, Evelyn watched him cursing in frustration and throw the sheet of paper he had been writing on away to the ground where at least three more thrown away drafts of whatever he was writing waited for it.
“Struggling to find the right words?” Evelyn tilted her head and forced a smile but maybe for the first time since she met him, Varric just looked up and didn’t return the expression.
“You could say that.” He sighed. “How do you tell an old friend that his wife is dead? How do you write the same to her brother?”
The moment he ended the question, Evelyn regretted having said anything. She could have guessed that. Of course, somebody had to inform Hawke’s family. Her friends. Those who loved her. Of course, Varric would want to write these messages himself. And of course, he would struggle with it.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to …”, she began but Varric shook his head.
“I know, Snowstorm.” He sighed. “I know. She died the way she lived: Recklessly doing something stupid to save everybody else. Probably exactly the way all of us always feared she would go.”
Evelyn fell silent for a moment, unsure what to say. Suddenly, she felt so stupid for her own reaction to Hawke’s death and the things that happened in the Fade. She had no right to any of this pain. She wasn’t the one grieving, the one mourning a friend. She just had been crying over pain that she had known for a long time.
“I’m sorry”, she whispered finally but Varric frowned.
In a helpless gesture, Evelyn shrugged. “For not protecting her better. For dragging her into this.” Her voice grew quiet. “For failing you.”
Varric grimaced and shook his head. “It’s honorable from you to take responsibility but you didn’t know Hawke if you really think anybody could have stopped her in that moment.” He sighed. “You know, she always had this tendency to step in front of those she loved, no matter what. And knowing her, her sacrifice probably had nothing to do with any of us and much more with herself.”
Evelyn furrowed her brows in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“It may not have looked like it, but deep down, Hawke trusted few people but herself”, Varric explained and lowered his head a little. “I can’t blame her, really. She lost too many lives over the years because she trusted that others were willing to give as much as she did. And like it or not, you’re our only chance to defeat Corypheus and clean up this mess. You needed to get out of the Fade alive. My guess is she wanted to make sure that we really could escape.” He let out another deep breath and Evelyn could hear the pain in his voice even clearer than before when he spoke again. “The only reason she came to Skyhold was to protect those she loved most and she died doing exactly that.”
“Varric …” Evelyn took a step forward and placed a hand on his shoulder. He turned around to face her and now seeing the pain she had heard in his voice in his expression nearly broke her heart. Following a spontaneous urge, she reached out for him and pulled her friend in a gentle hug. “I’m sorry everything ended like this.”
“Me too, Snowstorm, me too.”
Chapter 29: Moving on
The Inquisition returns to Skyhold and Evelyn gets news of somebody she tried to forget.
More Circle drama incoming! :D As always, thanks for reading and enjoy!
“You’re exaggerating”, said a woman on the other side of the walkway that surrounded Skyhold’s garden. “What happened at Adamant didn’t change a thing.”
Evelyn couldn’t see the woman to whom the voice belonged, but she must have been working on one of the patches right below the window next to which Evelyn herself had taken a seat. They had returned to Skyhold a few days ago and while they were still wrapping up the last few issues with the Wardens, Evelyn actually had the luxury of a few quiet days before she would have to leave for her next mission. Today, she had decided to read for a while on one of the stone benches in the garden but of course, hoping for some time alone had been too much.
“You weren’t there, Clarisse”, said another woman now and Evelyn suddenly was very glad for her place hidden from their eyes behind the walkway. “I saw the Inquisitor at Adamant. She was trembling. Truly trembling. I’ve never seen her like that.”
Evelyn bit back a bitter laugh. So, it would be Adamant of all her mistakes and moments of weakness that had revealed to her followers that she was human after all? When she had pulled all her strength together to keep her posture even after everything she just had gone through? They had no idea how she would have looked like if she really would have trembled in public back then. In fact, there were only a hand full of people who even had an idea. And Evelyn could count those who really knew on her fingers of one hand.
On the other side of the wall, Clarisse scoffed. “I told you she isn’t Andraste’s chosen one.”
“Clarisse!” The other woman took in a sharp breath. “How can you say that? You’re following her. Why should you even be here if it’s not the Maker’s will?”
“The Inquisitor’s doing good for this world but she’s really nobody. I’m from the Exalted Plains, Lily. I’ve seen where we are without somebody taking care of everything. But I would have followed almost anybody doing that. Trevelyan was just the first one to get something done.”
A tired smile twitched around Evelyn’s lips. Clarisse probably had no idea how close to the truth she was with that. Far closer than most other people. Many would have followed the Inquisition no matter who would have ended up at its top. They had needed hope. Somebody to drive out bandits and demons from their farms, to protect their homes and feed their children. With Orlais occupied with its civil war, Anora wrestling with the Fereldan nobility, the Free Marches fighting about banalities as usual, the Circles in ruins and the Chantry divided, there hadn’t been many people left to step into this position. Even fewer outside the Inquisition. Evelyn was sure most people would have followed Cassandra or Leliana just as much as her. Maybe even Roderick if he had been a little smarter. Definetly Hawke or Neria when Leliana would have found them eventually. Just as it had been just a coincidence that she had picked up that orb at the Conclave, it had been nothing but a coincidence that people like Lily now were following her and not somebody else. Evelyn had tried to do her best, but still, it was nothing but coincidence.
“So, here is where you’re hiding.” Startled, Evelyn turned her head to see Dorian standing next to her. He was smiling but it barely covered the worry in his eyes. “Cullen didn’t know where you are, but he is far too honorable to invade your personal space when you clearly don’t want to talk.”
Evelyn snorted and raised her brows. “And you aren’t?”
“We all have different relationships for different reasons. I think Cullen loves you and he will move heaven and earth if you ask him to, but you are friends with me for an entirely different reason.” With a broad grin, he slipped past Evelyn and took a seat on the bench mirroring her pose so that they both were leaning against the wall and facing each other. “I’m one of those who are here to poke you until you’re annoyed enough to let somebody help you.”
“You’re claiming ‘annoying friend’ as your signature now?” Evelyn shook her head but smiled lightly. “You realize that most people have friends to feel good, not bad?”
Dorian scoffed. “You and me, we are more alike than we like to admit, Eve. Not only because we’re the one Mage child of our family everyone frowns upon at cousin whatever’s grand wedding, but because we’re guarded. We understand each other. And that’s why I know you need to talk to somebody.” He arched a brow. “Or can you really claim otherwise?”
Evelyn grimaced. “It’s far better when you’re on the side poking instead of being poked”, she muttered and put her book aside.
“I know.” Dorian laughed. “I admit, that’s why a part of me actually enjoys this.”
A small grin danced around the corners of Evelyn’s mouth and she leaned back against the cold stone behind her as she fell silent for a moment. When she finally spoke again, her voice was quiet, and the tired tone surprised herself a little.
“Everything’s falling apart, Dorian.” She sighed deeply. “I can feel it. I’m slowly failing everybody and there is nothing I can do about it.”
“Nonsense.” Dorian scoffed. “I know what happened at Adamant hit you hard but …”
“No ‘but’”, she interrupted him. “It’s my fault that Hawke died.” He wanted to say something, but she cut him off. “Don’t. Anything you could say, Cullen told me already and even Varric tried to convince me otherwise, but … I can’t help it, Dorian. I feel guilty for her death. Because at the end of the day, it is, in fact, painfully simple: If I would have been more careful or better prepared, Hawke’s daughter still would have her mother. And I can’t forgive myself that.”
“You’re too hard on yourself, I hope you know that.” Concern flashed over Dorian’s face. “You couldn’t have known …”
“But I should have”, she replied. “I mean … I know that I’m asking too much of myself but … How couldn’t I? The Inquisition counts on me. Everybody counts on me. Mistakes are a luxury I can’t afford.”
Dorian hesitated with his answer as he carefully eyed her. “Even if you think you made a mistake that caused Hawke’s death – and I would disagree on that matter – there always will be mistakes. In the end, nobody will thank you for saving the world because heroes are meant to disappear once their job is done, so beating yourself up over things you can’t change will only break you.” He reached out for her hand to gently squeeze it. “And believe it or not, you really don’t deserve that.”
He smiled at her and Evelyn couldn’t help but return the expression. “Thank you.” She squeezed his hand back before breaking the touch. “And don’t worry. I’ll get through it … Eventually. I just have to get behind … everything that this mess at Adamant brought up again.” She sighed. “I’ll be fine.”
Surprisingly, Dorian grinned on that notion. “I know you don’t believe it when you say that but it’s true.”
“I wish I had your optimism”, Evelyn replied and forced a smile as she leaned back once again, but Dorian smiled openly at her.
“Sometimes, the things that are most obvious for others are those that are most difficult to believe for oneself”, he said. “And you can be completely oblivious to your own strength at times.”
“It’s funny how sweet you can be if you want to.” She smiled at him and Dorian winked.
“What can I say? I’m just utterly perfect.”
Evelyn couldn’t help but laugh. “Of course you are.”
He grinned, but after a short pause, the expression faded, and he tilted his head. “So … The Exalted Plains are our next destination?”
Evelyn nodded. “Yes. You’ll like it. We’ll go and hunt some Venatori.”
“Ah, back to normal. Traveling through the South and killing cultists.” The grin on his lips returned. “Great.”
“Don’t be too smug about it. Bull will be coming with us. Together with Cassandra.” His smile fell and now it was Evelyn who grinned. “Why so serious all of the sudden?”
“You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you?”
“What?” Evelyn smirked and tilted her head. “Venatori can be dangerous and having a Qunari with us won’t hurt.” She rose from her seat. “That I’m telling you it right now was on purpose, though.”
“Great.” He made a sour face and glared at her. “So that’s how you’re thanking me that I was a caring friend and looked after you?”
“You were the one who said our friendship includes poking each other until the other one finally admits what everyone else knows already.” With a smile on her face, Evelyn picked up her book. “I’m just gently poking you until you realize what you really want.”
Dorian scoffed. “It’s really better when you’re on the side poking instead of being poked”, he muttered and now it was Evelyn who laughed as she waved at him and turned around to leave.
She still smiled as she walked away and crossed the main hall to enter the courtyard. Dorian probably was one of the very few people who actually realized how glad she was to have him and her other friends around. As much as she hated herself for what happened at Adamant – Knowing that there were people who knew the truth and still didn’t hate her … It helped. And it basically made her heart burst with love and admiration for each of them.
“My Lady Inquisitor!” A voice called after Evelyn just as she wanted to head to Cullen’s tower, and she froze. There was no doubt, she knew that voice. Maker, this couldn’t be true. Well, of course, it could be, but she had hoped this wouldn’t. “My Lady! A word!”
Slowly, Evelyn turned around and looked at a man a little younger than her, dressed into the armor of an Inquisition soldier. “I know you”, she finally said reluctantly, the wariness in her voice probably obvious not only to herself. “You were a Templar at Ostwick.”
“Yes, my Lady.” He nervously shifted from one foot to the other. “We met each other a few times in the Circle when you accompanied the First Enchanter to her meetings with the Knight-Commander. My name is Eddin. I joined the Inquisition after Haven.”
“Well, then, hello, Eddin. How can I help you?”
He hesitated. “I’m in contact with a few Templars who survived Ostwick and … There have been rumors.”
Evelyn sighed. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m a busy woman and I’d appreciate it if you could speed this up. So: What rumors?”
“Yes, of course”, he replied. “I’m sorry. Apparently, Knight-Captain Brycen survived and looted the ruins of the Circle before he left for Orlais.” Eddin threw a nervous glance at Evelyn. “A friend heard him brag about having stolen the Circle’s remaining phylacteries.”
That information struck Evelyn like a punch in the stomach. Brycen was alive. Against all her hopes that some fool had managed to kill him in the catastrophe that had been Ostwick’s end, he was alive. Not only alive, he was still interfering with her life. Still taking power over Mages and still trying to make their lives miserable.
“Let me guess: He has also bragged about having my phylactery?”
Evelyn suppressed the urge to grimace while Eddin slowly nodded. “Yes. That’s why I thought it would be more appropriate to tell you personally instead of your advisors.”
“Thank you.” She sighed. “You were right to do so, and I will take care of this. Please go and tell Sister Leliana about this and hand her all letters or other information you might have on Brycen’s whereabouts.” In one quick movement, she turned around to continue her way to Cullen’s tower, but then stopped and threw one last look over her shoulder. “And keep quiet about the issue. This is nothing that can leave the Inquisition. Understand me?”
The soldier nodded before quickly walking away towards the main building and Evelyn kept heading toward her own destination, her heart pounding in her chest with more anger and fear than she had felt in ages. Hoping that for once, things would get better and not worse, probably had been too much to ask anyway.
Chapter 30: Old Wounds
Evelyn's past is back at her doorstep.
Long time no see or rather no chapter, but here we are again. The last few weeks have been crazy again but I finally managed to finish another chapter. New drama incoming! As always, thanks for reading and enjoy!
“I want him dead.” The firmness in Evelyn’s voice sent shivers down Cullen’s spine. A feeling that was only enforced by the determination in her eyes as she leaned over the war table, eyeing each of her advisors. “I’m serious.”
“Believe me, ‘I want him dead’ gave us the hint.” Next to Cullen, Max threw a wary look at his sister, but didn’t seem like he planned on adding something to this remark.
“The point rather is that we don’t know where Brycen is.” Leliana’s calm voice disrupted the uncomfortable silence as she watched Evelyn with a careful look in her eyes. “Orlais is large. And just because Eddin’s friend saw him at Val Royeaux, we don’t know if he really stayed there.”
“He has my phylactery, Leliana!”
“We don’t know that for sure, Inquisitor. Not yet.” Josephine smiled as she tried to ease the tension. “Let us look into this first and gather more information.”
“That man tortured Mages for years!” Evelyn’s voice cut through the air like a scalpel. “You don’t understand the threat he poses! How much evil he could do if he really has my phylactery. What he could do if …”
“Eve.” Cullen reached over the table and placed a hand on hers. Just for a second but long enough to catch her attention which made her directly look at him. “We know. But if you run into this blindly, you won’t find him in the best and get yourself killed in the worst case.”
“He’s right”, Max agreed. “You know that. Andraste’s ass, it’s Brycen we’re talking about. That little shit probably bragged about having your phylactery just to provoke exactly this situation and lure you into a trap.”
Leliana’s eyes lit up in interest. “You know him?”
“Met him during my visits at the Circle of Ostwick and worked with him a couple of times. I was trying to get transferred to the Free Marches, so I helped out in Ostwick and elsewhere as often as I could and make some friends to get me home.” Max crossed his arms and made a face that was for him untypically sour. “Brycen always has been smart, but also brutal and dangerous and under a better Knight-Commander, he would have never become Knight-Captain.”
“One more reason to be careful”, Josephine mumbled and sighed deeply.
“One more reason to be quick, nevertheless.” Evelyn crossed her arms and for once, she and Max looked irritatingly similar, no matter how different they could be from time to time. “I want this to be a priority. I don’t care if the Empress of Orlais herself asks us for help, this is serious. If my phylactery wasn’t destroyed during Ostwick’s fall as we thought before and if Brycen managed to get a hold of it, we don’t just have a problem but a real weakness.”
Her expression was angry, but Cullen could see the fear that flickered beneath. It wasn’t surprising that she was afraid of what her former Knight-Captain, a man from whom she only had known cruelty, could do with her phylactery but noticing her fear woke Cullen’s own worry even more than before. One of Evelyn’s greatest strengths was her strategic mind and it didn’t take a genius to realize that if she threw that tactic thinking aside because of fear, things could end badly.
“Of course.” Leliana nodded. “I’ll track him down while you’re at the Exalted Plains. I’m sure we’ll have him when you return.”
“We need to have him by then.” Evelyn’s expression darkened once again. “I’m not exaggerating about him.”
“Nobody claimed otherwise”, Max reminded her in a gentle tone, but she just threw him a glare and pressed her lips to a thin line. Instead, she turned back to Leliana again.
“Let Max and Eddin help you. They know Brycen and the Templars he served with.”
“Not going to happen”, her brother interjected, crossing his arms. “I’m accompanying you to the Exalted Plains, like it or not.”
“I’m not discussing this, Max.” Evelyn threw a deadly glare at him. “I need your help with Brycen.”
“You don’t and you know that.” Max scoffed. “I don’t know more about Brycen than either Eddin or his friend. I’ll go with you.”
The siblings stared each other down and for a moment, it seemed as if they were only seconds away from bursting into a real fight. But then, Evelyn growled, followed by a deep sigh. “Alright”, she agreed, though the angry glare hadn’t fully vanished from her eyes. “Do whatever you want. The rest of the plan still stays the same: Leliana, get Eddin to help you and find Brycen. And I want a report the moment you know where he’s hiding.”
For a moment, it seemed as if the Spymaster wanted to reply something but then, Leliana apparently decided against it, sighed and nodded in silent agreement. Cullen couldn’t blame her. Trying to reason with Evelyn here, in front of everyone when she was in a mood like that, would be fruitless anyway. He didn’t want to admit it, but reasoning with her in general had been more difficult lately. She tried hard to make everyone believe that she had overcome Adamant, but Cullen knew better. She didn’t talk about it, but he could tell she wasn’t as fine as she acted. He could tell by the way she curled up at his side to fall asleep at night, the way she had started either hiding behind her books or sparring with Cassandra or the Chargers over the day … Evelyn was doubting herself. And she probably wasn’t ready to confront any of these doubts which made Cullen’s concern grow even faster.
“Any questions?” Evelyn glanced over the people around her but when nobody spoke up, she nodded in content. “Good. I’ll see you later.”
She turned around and headed for the door and as she left, Cullen could hear more than one deep sigh, accompanied by something Max muttered under his breath that sounded like a curse. Leliana was the first who started leaving as well, followed by Josephine but when Cullen wanted to follow their example, a hand grabbed his arm.
He stopped his movement and turned his head to look at Max who had stepped forward and held him back. “A word, Commander?”
“Of course.” Cullen frowned and waited until Leliana and Josephine had left. “What’s on your mind?”
“What do you think? Evelyn.” Max scoffed as he shook his head and crossed his arms. “She’s not herself right now and that should be reason enough for all of us to worry.”
“I know.” Cullen sighed. “The timing couldn’t be worse.”
“Glad we agree on this.” Max crossed his arms. “I hope we’ll agree on something else as well.”
“And that would be?”, Cullen asked, frowning, but Max just shrugged casually.
“What do you expect? To keep an eye on her. And to make sure that she won’t try to hunt Brycen down on her own just because she’s still hurting from what happened at Adamant.”
Cullen scoffed. “I would have done that anyway and you know that. What are you really proposing?”
“You still don’t understand”, Max replied and shook his head. “She rarely bares these wounds, but what the Circle did to Eve … It never healed. Not fully. Especially not when it comes to Brycen.” He hesitated. “It’s a good sign that she told you about Leo, but never believe that trust she showed you might not break the moment her fear of Brycen turns her life upside down again.”
For a moment, Cullen fell silent, unsure what to say. He was perceptive enough to know that Max might be right about the marks the Circle had left on Evelyn but at the same time, he wasn’t sure whether Max was underestimating his sister out of his own worry. “The last few months with the Inquisition changed her, you know that probably even better than me”, he finally replied. “I’m worried for her, too, but she has been through a lot recently. Give her time to catch her breath while she’s at the Exalted Plains. She’s taking Dorian, Bull and Cassandra with her, they’ll look after her.”
But Max shook his head. “You know … During all these years with the Order, I really risked my career there only once.” He let go of Cullen’s arm and sighed deeply. “My family always had close ties to the Chantry which means that as long as you’re a Trevelyan and not a total failure you can expect to make it at least to a Knight-Captain, probably even a Knight-Commander. I risked all of that anyway the moment I realized what Brycen was doing to Evelyn and other Mages like her. I filed a complaint that nearly costed me my career and led nowhere, and I knew that before I filed it but the moment I visited Evelyn and found her completely changed I just had to do it. Especially after the incident with Leo, she never was the same again and until she ended up with the Inquisition, she never dropped that guard she had built around herself.” He shook his head. “Brycen nearly broke her, Cullen. And I genuinely don’t know what it might do to her if she faces him alone.”
When Evelyn returned to her chambers that night, she found Cullen waiting for her. He had taken a seat on the cushioned bench Josephine hat got her together with a few shelves, a book in one hand as he flipped through the pages while die other one rested on top of the back. His coat and armor were laying on a chair not far away and Evelyn couldn’t help but stop for a moment when she saw him sitting there, all casual and comfortable. Over the last few weeks, it had become normal for both of them to share rooms and beds but there was a part of her who still couldn’t get enough of sights like this. Cullen, for once without an armor and for once not at work or in the role of the Inquisition’s Commander but relaxed and laid back.
“Found something interesting to read?”, she finally asked and slowly came closer.
“Depends.” Cullen smiled and lifted his head as he placed the book aside. “It’s one of Varric’s novels. Apparently, it’s a literary sin to never have read any of his books.”
Evelyn chuckled. “Let me guess: According to Cassandra?”
“Yes.” The smile on his lips turned into a real grin and he reached out for her hands to close the distance between them and pull her towards him. “But to be fair, I guess I should at least read the book I play a role in.”
Smiling, Evelyn let herself sink next to him on the bench and draped her legs over his lap while Cullen wrapped his arms around her. For a long moment, neither of them said anything and she just leaned her head against his shoulder, eyes closed as she finally found something close to peace. The warmth of his body, the feeling of his arms around her, the sound of his breath … It calmed her. And she needed that calm, today more than on most days.
“Are we going to talk about it?”, Cullen asked into the silence between them after a while and Evelyn opened her eyes again.
“Brycen. Or rather your reaction.”
Evelyn exhaled deeply. She had known this conversation would come and she had dreaded it from the start. “What’s to talk about it? I won’t claim I’m not afraid of what his reappearance could mean because I am. And everyone else should be, too.”
“Letting your fear make your decisions will get you killed, Eve.”
His voice was soft, his tone gentle and the worry behind these words was obvious, but she still couldn’t help but tense at the sound of it. “My fear of him was the thing that kept me alive for a long time”, she replied, an unspoken warning in her voice.
“Maybe.” He sighed. “Even though I think you’re giving yourself not enough credit here. But that was in the Circle. Now you’re free. He doesn’t have any power over you anymore.”
“Well, except he does.” Bitterness crept over her. “My Circle is gone, I’m free and live a completely different life and still he has power over me.” She closed her eyes for a second and scoffed. “Like a ghost haunting me.” Opening her eyes again, a joyless smile spread over her face. “Just like all the bloodshed and pain of the rebellion didn’t matter.”
“No.” Cullen’s tone shifted from careful to firm. “You’re not alone in this, not anymore. There are people around you who care for you. Just … let us help. That’s all I’m asking.”
“Max talked to you, didn’t he?” Suddenly, Cullen hesitated with his answer but even the silence was enough to tell Evelyn the truth.
“He did”, he finally admitted, “but only because he cares. Same as all of us.”
Evelyn leaned back against Cullen’s warm body and sighed. “I know. And I’m sorry that I can’t react the way you deserve right now, but this … It’s important.” She turned her head to face him and reached out to place one hand against his cheek. “When Brycen’s dead and my phylactery back in my hands … Maybe, I’ll have my peace then.”
Cullen pressed a gentle kiss against her palm. “I hope so.”
Just a small, casual touch but it still was enough to make Evelyn genuinely smile again. It was funny how he could have that effect on her, making her smile because of nothing. Making her feel safe and calm just by being close to her. Making her feel accepted, loved.
Chuckling, Evelyn shook her head and Cullen raised his brows. “What?”
“Nothing, it’s just …” She shook her head again and shifted her position until she straddled him against the bench. “You have no idea how glad I am that you’re here.”
Now, Cullen chuckled as well and pulled her down into a quick kiss. “I’d claim I have a fair idea”, he whispered against her lips before closing the distance between them once again.
When they finally broke their kiss, Evelyn smiled and stood up, taking his hand as she took a step back. “Come on, let’s go to bed. I’ve worried enough about Inquisition business for one day.”
She pulled him to his feet and Cullen immediately held her close again for another kiss. “Agreed.”
Chapter 31: Hunter and Prey
Evelyn goes after Brycen.
Sooo, this is a rather long chapter but there is a lot to happen and even more in store. As always: Thanks for reading and I hope you'll like it! <3
Evelyn left for the Exalted Plains and returned in what felt like a glimpse. She rushed her friends through the wilderness and back to Skyhold, ignoring her brother’s concerns same as those of everyone else, driven by nothing but her own fear. She tried to hide it, but just the thought of Brycen having her phylactery made Evelyn sick. The thought that the man who had had so much power over her life once might have stolen that power once again, but this time, he could do even more damage with it. This time, she had so much more to lose.
When they finally rode back through Skyhold’s gates again, that fear held Evelyn’s heart in a tight grip, unwilling to let go of her, but it still skipped a beat when she saw both Cullen and Leliana waiting for her in the courtyard. Her gaze flicked to Cullen first, just to meet the worry in his brown eyes as he watched her come closer and for a moment, Evelyn felt even worse than before. She hated how everybody seemed to be worried for her these days, especially Cullen. They all had enough problems of their own and she pushed her own on top of them once again.
“Inquisitor.” Leliana was the first to raise her voice and step forward while Evelyn climbed from her horse’s back. “I hope you had a safe travel?”
“We fulfilled our goal”, Evelyn replied. “No more Venatori at the Exalted Plains. For now. But we saw at least one dragon that could cause us trouble sooner or later. You should warn your scouts if you plan on sending anyone there soon.” She took the reins and turned to Leliana. “But let’s talk about the important things first: Have you found Brycen?”
The spymaster hesitated. “Yes.”
“And does he …” Evelyn interrupted herself and took in a deep breath. “I mean … Does he have my phylactery?”
Leliana gave her a cautious look but nodded. “It appears so, yes.”
Evelyn closed her eyes as she felt panic rising inside her. So, all her fears had become true. Brycen was alive and he had gotten her phylactery into his greedy claws.
“Eve?” Cullen’s voice came to her ears and she opened her eyes again. He had stepped at her side and carefully reached for her hands to take the reins from her and hand them to a stable boy. “Are you alright?”
Evelyn hesitated and for a moment she thought about lying, but when she saw the worry on his face again, she couldn’t bring herself to it and sighed instead. “No”, she admitted. “But right now, that’s not important.” She shook her head and looked at Leliana while slowly pulling her hands away from Cullen again. “Where is he?”
“Ferelden. He was on his way to Denerim and stopped by at the tavern in Redcliffe. I called in a favor with the Arl and got him arrested there.” Leliana threw another wary glance at Evelyn. “He’s under Fereldan jurisdiction, so Teagen won’t send him to Skyhold, but if you want to interrogate Brycen yourself, the Arl will welcome you.”
Evelyn hesitated, unsure how to react. Brycen was within her reach. Finally, after over two years she had her chance to make peace with everything he symbolized. Truly make peace. She finally had a chance to kill the man who had brought nothing but pain to her life. Who had beaten Leo until he had given in into his anger and hatred. Until he had turned against Lydia, his own mentor. Against Evelyn.
“Good”, she repeated her own reply and ran one hand through her hair. “I’m sure you have a plan how to proceed already?”
“Yes.” Evelyn turned her head and met Cullen’s gaze. “Everything is prepared for you to leave tomorrow at dawn. If you want to.”
If it had been anybody else but Cullen, Evelyn might have laughed. Of course, she wanted to go after Brycen. That had been everything she had thought about since she had heard that he was alive and might have her phylactery. But Cullen also saw beneath that. He saw her fear. And he offered her a way out because of that.
“No, I need to get him myself.” She shook her head. “I’ll go and ask some of the others to pack their things.”
“Very well.” Leliana nodded, visibly relaxed. “My report on Brycen is on your desk in your chambers if you want to know the details.”
“Thank you.” Evelyn forced herself to smile even though she meant the words she said.
“Always at your service, Inquisitor.” The hint of a smile flicked over her spymaster’s face and she turned away to leave. “Better get some rest. I believe you’ll need it.”
Heading towards the main building, she left Evelyn and Cullen alone and suddenly Evelyn felt the urge to leave as well. Cullen sensed her fear already and she wasn’t sure if she was prepared to deal with that right now.
“Wait.” He grabbed her arm and held her back before she could leave. “We need to talk. I’ll come with you tomorrow.”
“Cullen, listen, I …”
“No, listen.” He loosened the grip around her arm but still didn’t let go of her. “Just … Let me help you.” With his free hand, he reached for hers, gently brushing over her skin with his thumb. “No bad excuses anymore, remember?”
Evelyn couldn’t help but chuckle when he echoed the promise she had made him give her after they had found back together. Did he know how similar this situation was or was he just grasping for straws? She was far from ready to openly admit it but her instinct to push him away was deeply rooted in her urge to protect him. To keep him away from the pain that Brycen had caused and the monster it created. To keep him away from herself until she would have her own feelings back under control.
“Do I even stand a chance convincing you that you should stay here?”, she asked with a small, yet forced smile and frowned a little.
“Of course, you do.” Cullen smiled back at her, warmth in his eyes. “But you were the one who told me I should accept help. And I know contradicting yourself by not doing the same would go against your principles.”
Evelyn sighed. “I doubt you will be needed. What harm will he do when he’s sitting in Arl Teagen’s prison already?”, she tried to reason with him, but she knew from the look on his face that this wouldn’t change his mind.
“This isn’t about us being Inquisitor and the Inquisition’s Commander, Eve”, he replied softly but firm. “You know that.”
Evelyn briefly closed her eyes. Of course, she knew. Cullen was worried and she wasn’t making it any better by trying to keep him at a safe distance. What he couldn’t know was that this was for the best. He had so much to worry about already, burdening him with her irrational fears of a captured man she hadn’t seen in years wasn’t fair. And the moment Cullen realized how deep these scars ran that the Circle left on her, he certainly would stop looking at her like he did now, so full of admiration and warmth. He probably wouldn’t run but change and Evelyn wasn’t ready for that.
“I know, Cullen”, she finally said, a genuinely sad smile on her lips. “I just tried to dodge the argument.” Sighing again, she ran one hand through her hair. “Alright. We’ll leave together at dawn.”
Maybe, if she hadn’t avoided his gaze, he would have noticed the lie in her eyes. But Evelyn knew him by now and she knew if she’d let him, he’d truly come with her. Same as her brother and her friends. Even if it would put him in danger.
And that was something she couldn’t let happen.
Later that day, long after the sun had set behind the horizon and darkness covered Skyhold’s thick walls, Cullen was leaning over yet another map in his office, trying to figure out a new supply route for their soldiers in Orlais that wouldn’t anger nobles but also wouldn’t put the suppliers at risk. Bigger risks meant they would need more soldiers to escort them and bigger escort groups meant they needed more supplies which they really couldn’t spare. They had come far since their arrival at the castle and Cullen, Josephine and Leliana had worked hard to establish a steady flow of goods to keep the Inquisition afloat, but that didn’t mean they could waste anything.
Cullen sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He probably should just let it be for today, that was no problem he would solve tonight anyway. Still …
Somebody opened the door and interrupted Cullen’s thoughts. He lifted his head to see Max peak into his office, a frown on his face as his eyes searched the room before flicking to the ladder leading up to the bedroom above them. “Is Eve with you?”
Cullen furrowed his brows. “No, I thought she’d be in her quarters”, he replied slowly. “Why?”
Max let out a soft curse and fully opened the door. “Shit.” He turned around to head back outside. “That means we have a problem.”
Cullen could feel the wrinkles on his forehead deepen as suspicion grew in his chest and he followed Max outside. “What happened?”
“My sister happened”, Max replied over his shoulder, not stopping as he hurried down the stairs into the courtyard. “She’s gone. Alone. And when we don’t reach her before she reaches Brycen, she’ll probably so something stupid.”
Evelyn rode the whole night. The path through the mountains did cost her more time than expected but she knew the way well enough by now to know where her horse could step to bring her safely down into the valley. Everything after that was easy. Ferelden was relatively safe these days, so Evelyn dared to stay on the roads which in return got her a decent lead over her friends. After her arrival at Skyhold, she had hinted at Cullen that she wanted to be alone, knowing that he had a far too good heart to ignore that wish. If she was lucky, nobody would notice her absence until the morning and then it’d be too late to catch her before she could reach and kill Brycen, no matter the political cost.
It wasn’t fair because her friends would worry, her brother would worry and – even worse – Cullen would worry and none of them deserved that, but she had thought this through. She wouldn’t risk another Adamant. She wouldn’t risk the lives of anyone over her past again. They would understand, sooner or later. Hopefully. And then they would see that she just had to do this on her own. Because the thought of any of them being hurt because of her past would kill her. Because the Circles were gone but not history.
“I’ll go and ask at the tavern if somebody saw her.” Max let himself slip from his horse’s back. “You go and look if we can make a deal with the stable master and change the horses.”
Cullen nodded slowly and ran one hand through his hair. “We are close to Redcliffe now”, he mumbled, half to himself, half to the others. “Eve shouldn’t be far.”
“Yes, but so should be Brycen”, Cassandra replied while climbing from her horse. “And from what we know, there will be blood if she reaches him alone.”
“Seeker.” Varric clicked his tongue and Cullen could imagine the stern look the dwarf was probably giving her behind Cullen’s back right now. “Stop assuming the worst. We’re all worried enough already.”
Cullen ignored them and just climbed from his horse to stretch his aching muscles. Varric meant well, but there was nothing Cassandra could say that could make his own fear for Evelyn worse than it was already. She was on the heels of a man she had feared most of her life and who was described as “dangerous” even by Max. Alone. Probably because she was convinced, she needed to do this on her own before she’d risk anybody else’s life. Again.
“We’ll find her before she reaches Redcliffe.” As if he had read Cullen’s thoughts, Dorian stepped next to him. “Tomorrow, we’ll have her back and yell at her for being reckless.”
The Mage smiled but Cullen couldn’t bring himself to return the expression and sighed deeply. “I hope you’re right.”
“I am.” Dorian briefly placed a hand on Cullen’s shoulder. “It takes more to kill her than that. She survived Haven, remember?”
“Yes, I remember”, Cullen replied and fell silent. Of course, he remembered how Evelyn had survived the avalanche. But he also remembered how they had set out to find a corpse. And how long it had taken him to wash her blood out of his coat.
Cullen closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Maker protect her.”
“We didn’t expect you to come alone.” The guard’s captain shifted from one foot to another and threw a nervous glance at Evelyn. “The Arl said that—”
“Well, the Arl was wrong”, she interrupted the man and cursed herself for not being able to cover the impatience in her voice. “I wanted to get here as fast and as discrete as possible, so I’m here alone.”
“Yes … of course.” He fumbled with the keys and quickly unlocked the door before them, obviously trying to avoid looking at her directly. “Take the time you need, Inquisitor.”
Evelyn forced a smile as the guard opened the door in front of them and stepped aside to let her through. It had been easier than she had feared to get to Brycen on her own. The guard’s captain was a well-meaning but not especially critically thinking soul. It wasn’t as if it was difficult to verify whether Evelyn was the person she claimed to be – the green glowing mark on her hand was proof enough – but it had been far too easy to get here all on her own. Everybody knew that she never travelled alone on Inquisition business and the captain seemed to have no clue that Brycen was rather a personal than a professional matter, but he still hadn’t grown really suspicious, merely curious. If Teagen was smart, he would do something about that. Sooner or later.
Evelyn shivered a little when she stepped through the door and into the cold cell behind it. There probably were worse dungeons than the one at Redcliffe castle but that didn’t change that it was a dungeon. Cold, damp stone walls, scarcely covered with straw on the ground, and nothing but an old mattress in one corner. Something in her guts tightened when Evelyn saw the man sitting there and she recognized him the very second her gaze found him. She would have recognized him everywhere.
“I figured you would come.” He slowly lifted his head, a cruel smile on his lips and Evelyn’s heart skipped a beat before taking up a speed she barely had ever experienced before. He looked older than she remembered him but that probably also came from the scars parting the skin on his face and the way his once short hair now fell from his head in long rat’s tails. But neither changed the fact how his eyes watched her. Calculating. Cold. Like a hunter watched his prey, ready to kill at his first chance. Just as if nothing had changed. “We still have a score to settle, don’t we?”
Evelyn let out a shaky breath, trying to calm herself and regain control over the storm building up inside her. He had no power over her. Not anymore. He couldn’t harm her. She was the one on power. She just had to believe it.
“We have nothing”, she finally replied but didn’t step closer. “You have what is mine and I want it back.”
“Yours?” There it was again, that cruel smile. “The phylactery doesn’t belong to you but to the Chantry. To someone who will restore order.” His expression grew harder. “You might have tricked everyone else into believing you’re something else, but I know you, Inquisitor. I know what you are. And what you deserve.”
Restore order. I know what you deserve.
Brycen didn’t seem to be aware of it, but that were the exact words to snap Evelyn out of her fear. Something inside her flipped and instead, anger took its place. She wasn’t surprised that he still believed she was supposed to be locked up, that he still considered her and every other Mage worthless, but different from the woman she had been when Ostwick had fallen, the woman she was now wasn’t willing to take any of this anymore.
She had believed for so long that she truly had to be ashamed of who and what she was. That her family and the Templars had been right, at least in some twisted way. That she was a burden not only to herself but to the world, no matter how much Max had tried to remind her that it wasn’t true.
But she wasn’t the woman she had been four years ago.
“You’re a fanatic, Brycen.” Just a quick twist of her wrist and a tight ring of ice formed around his throat, growing tighter with each word she said. “A cruel, heartless man and in a better world, the Templars would have never allowed a monster like you within their ranks.” He reached up to remove the magic around his neck but couldn’t to anything but to choke under Evelyn’s grip. “I have no trouble killing you on the spot. In fact, I’m only waiting for you to give me a reason to do so. The only reason you’re still breathing is that you have my phylactery.” She stepped closer and leaned down to level her face with his, a hard expression dancing around the corners of her mouth. “Tell me where it is.”
“You owe me a very good explanation.” With furrowed brows, Teagen crossed his arms and glared at the newcomers who had just entered the courtyard of Redcliffe castle. Well, in fact, he was glaring at Cullen and it also was Cullen who he addressed with his next words. “The Inquisition has my gratitude, Commander, but I am first and foremost loyal to Ferelden and my Queen and neither appreciates when their jurisdiction is undermined by outsiders.”
Under different circumstances, Cullen would have acknowledged that an angry Arl of Redcliffe was a problem he probably should have solved but right now, he just didn’t care about that. What he did care about was Evelyn and the fear nagging inside him.
“Where is she?”, he asked Teagen as it took a lot of his self-control not to jump from his horse’s back to the ground. “Has she been to the dungeon yet?”
The Arl scoffed. “I sent her to the battlements with a few of my soldiers after she attacked one of my prisoners and my captain.”
That had been everything Cullen needed to know. Leaving his horse behind, he ignored that Teagen tried to keep talking to him and just headed into the direction the other men had pointed. Behind him, he heard how Cassandra stepped in and took over the conversation but even if she hadn’t, Cullen wouldn’t have behaved differently. This was exactly the situation they had wanted to avoid: Evelyn who faced Brycen alone and caused the anger of an ally like Teagen on the way because this was far too personal for everything else.
He rushed up the stairs to the battlements and couldn’t help but release a relieved breath. Evelyn was lying on a stone bench her eyes turned to the sky above her as she lazily drew patterns in the air above her and summoned miniature ice storms just to make them disappear the second, they had manifested. When she noticed him, she stopped the movements, turned her head and a tired smile started to wash over her face. It was forced, Cullen could tell, but he tried to remind him that the fact that she bothered to force a smile was something good.
Cullen sighed and quickly closed the distance between them. One of the Arl’s soldiers tried to step into his way but Cullen ignored them. Behind him, Max chuckled softly.
“I wouldn’t try that if I were you”, he warned the soldiers and Cullen could tell from his tone that Evelyn’s brother probably threw one of his winning smiles at them. “He isn’t really the type to be held back. And me neither.”
Cullen didn’t bother listen to the rest of the conversation as he reached Evelyn who had sat up and sank next to her on the bench.
“Are you alright?”, he asked and took her hands in his, his heart still pounding in his chest. “Has he hurt you? Teagen said you attacked him.”
She shook her head and reassuringly squeezed his hand. “No, I’m fine.”
Cullen searched her face for a hint of truth in her words, but he could only see a deep feeling of tiredness in her expression. Exactly the kind of exhaustion he had seen on her after Adamant and also exactly the kind of exhaustion that seemed to have never left her since. She didn’t cry this time, but somehow, that frightened him even more.
“Are you sure?”
“No”, she admitted. “But since when do I have a choice?”
She moved closer and Cullen found him immediately reacting by wrapping her into his arms and pulling her against him. Evelyn buried her face in the fur around his neck, close to his ear, her shoulders lifting heavily as she breathed in his scent. Again, she still didn’t cry but she didn’t need to for Cullen to feel his heart crack a little. One encounter with Brycen and her shields had completely fallen. She didn’t bother anymore that they were in public, at a Fereldan Arl’s castle, watched by his soldiers who were all here to witness how the famous Inquisitor curled up in her Commander’s arms.
“What about Brycen?”, he asked quietly. “Did you kill him?”
“No”, she replied and shook her head slightly. “They stopped me before I could.”
“And your phylactery?”
“I got it back.”
There probably was more to this than these tight-lipped answers but for now, that was everything he needed to know.
Sighing, Cullen looked at Max who watched them as well, worry planted all over his face that mirrored his own, and that was the moment when he made a decision. The world needed the Inquisition and its Inquisitor but right now, the world had to wait.
“Come one, Eve, let’s get you out of here.”
She nodded silently and Cullen slowly removed his arms around her. “Just wait a moment while I’ll go and talk to Max. Then we can leave right away.”
Another nod from her and Cullen rose from his seat next to her. Max immediately reacted and came closer, not letting go of the worried expression on his face.
“And?”, he asked and crossed his arms to which Cullen sighed.
“She says she’s fine but I’m leaving with her right now anyway.”
Max furrowed his brows. “Why do I get the feeling that doesn’t mean you’re returning to Skyhold?”
“Because I don’t want to take her back to Skyhold. I want to take her to the countryside.” Cullen ran one hand through his hair. “I mean look at her. She’s trembling once again, and she has been for a while now. She needs a break, maybe just for a few days, but she needs to get away for a while.”
Max’s gaze flicked to Evelyn and it took him only a heartbeat before nodding slowly. “We’ll take care of Teagen and return to Skyhold. Send a bird if you need to stay away longer than a week.”
“I will.” Cullen let out a deep breath, glad not having to fight with Max about this. “Evelyn said Brycen’s still alive and she got her phylactery from him, but that’s all I know.”
Max smiled softly. “Go”, he said. “Bring my sister somewhere safe where she can get back on her feet again. We’ll handle everything else.”
Cullen hesitated once again but then nodded. “I’m sure we’ll follow you in a couple of days.”
“I don’t care about that. Just … take care of my sister, alright?” Max sighed. “We both know she won’t do it herself.”