Cole worries him.
There are the obvious reasons, of course. Boy’s a demon, or something like it, and Blackwall’s seen enough of mages to understand when they know what they’re about. Lady Vivienne wants the boy gone. Blackwall’s inclined to agree, despite what Solas says.
It’s just – that pale, drawn face has a horrid habit of appearing over one’s shoulder. More than once Blackwall’s nearly slipped and cut himself with a chisel or his own blade upon seeing Cole’s wide, staring eyes suddenly coming into view. And as if the lurking weren’t enough, there’s the things he says….
Blackwall makes busy at camp in the dusklight, trying to forget Cole as he currycombs his standoffish horse. Oh, she’s all right, in her way – handles demons and such admirably – but she has a distaste for him that’s clear. Being around the undead unsettles her for all she keeps from startling. He suspects she blames him for their presence, or at least for riding her towards them.
The bay mare flicks an ear back in annoyance, and Blackwall sighs, patting his pockets for mint to placate her. He comes up empty. The mare snorts, looking altogether unsurprised. He wonders if Master Dennet kept her well supplied with mint and apples back in Ferelden. Probably didn’t make her ride into fields of undead, either.
Blackwall keeps brushing the horse resolutely, despite her irritation. He casts a surreptitious glance at the boy Cole, currently scuttled up near the campfire like a malevolent pale crab. He’s got too many elbows and knees, it seems, and it only adds to the oddness.
The boy’s words from earlier skitter in his head.
Shame like a shudder that never stops. Armor shining in the sun, silverite, shallow. It only covers skin deep.
He’d responded with a gruff chuckle and a quick commiseration with Sera about the boy, but he’d stared at Hazrine’s back the entire time, willing her not to turn around.
This thing they had between them, all hesitant feelings and forceful kisses, was new and fragile. It was far more than he deserved. If she knew – if she learned what he’d done –
His hand trembles on the comb.
Then Cole’s there beside him, the smell of mint green and fresh in the air. He holds it out to the mare, and she peacefully eats from his hand, ears relaxing.
“Mint for memory and mildness,” Cole says. “Wilbur loved it so. Kept it in my pockets for him always.”
“He was the neighbor’s horse,” says Blackwall before he can stop himself, the memory clear. “Big majestic fellow. Towed carts around town, but sometimes old Guillaume would let me ride him up the street. He had hooves like dinner plates.” He snorts, remembering a scrawny boy plucking wild mint from cracks in the cobblestones.
Then his mood sobers. “You shouldn’t be able to know things like that. Whatever you are, you can’t go round plucking memories out of people’s heads and badgering them with them.”
“Worried, wondering, waiting for the fall,” says Cole. “But I’m not a demon. I’m only me.”
“So you say. But wouldn’t a demon say something like that?”
“I don’t know,” says Cole. The mare nuzzles his bone-white hand, then snorts, lifting a hoof not nearly the size of a dinner plate. “But I asked Cassandra. She’ll kill me if I hurt.” He seems almost content with the idea. It’s disconcerting as anything. “I don’t want to hurt anyone. I want to help.”
“Right.” Blackwall cautiously scratches the mare beneath her chin, and she tosses her head, pushing against his hand in a clear entreaty to keep scratching. “Be that as it may, what you see in my head – don’t look in there. There’s nothing for you.”
“Sword red with their blood in the sunlight, red like the wax seal on the orders. You could have walked away.”
“Don’t you dare –” he growls.
“Hollow, hurting, hoping when she sees you. Her, her, Hazrine. Hollow dims with the way she holds your hand.” Cole sighs, tilting his head, his wide eyes glinting in the fading light. “Not a demon. But it’s all right if you’re afraid.”
The boy looks more human than ever, lean and underfed. Does he eat? Blackwall isn’t sure. He wonders if he ought to make sure the boy gets his share of rations. A ridiculous thought.
“Everyone’s afraid in parts,” says Cole. “It’s why they hold together.” He reaches out a pale, long-fingered hand, more mint unfurling in his palm.
Slowly Blackwall takes the mint. It’s been years since he fed it to a horse. He remembers Wilbur and the clatter of massive hooves on cobblestone, remembers the freedom of stolen summer rides, remembers a time before the name of Blackwall.
Cole has vanished again. The memory of him is simple, small, already at risk of fading. But there’s the mint in Blackwall’s hand, and the mare nosing him, her large eyes newly gentle.
“You were quite fierce against those creatures earlier,” Blackwall murmurs to the horse. “Scared you, did they? But you kept on. You deserve this.” A warm whuff of breath against his hands, the velvet-soft touch of horse lips. The mint vanishes. “There’s a good girl.”
Hazrine’s voice is warm and rich, coming out of the new darkness that has fallen while he tended his horse. “You two are getting on, then?”
“We’ve had an understanding, yes,” he says as she steps forward, standing near him. “Seems she responds well to bribery.”
“Can you blame her?” Hazrine asks. In the darkness he can just make out a smile on her face, slightly sharp teeth bright beneath the moonlight.
“She was only obstinate because she was afraid,” he says. Words slide round in his head, oddly familiar though he’s certain no one has spoken them to him before. “Everyone’s afraid in parts.”
“How true that is,” says Hazrine, voice quiet and soft. She reaches down to take his mint-stained hand in her own. “Even Inquisition horses.”
Blackwall winds his fingers between hers. The emptiness he normally carries in his chest feels different now: he feels solid, almost real. Her hand in his is a comforting weight, more familiar every day, and he holds onto it dearly.
“Yes,” he says. “Even them.”