The cottage lies near the coast and closer still to a crop of trees that, a little further on, are overlooked by a great deal more. Not quite a forest, the locals say, but close enough. It is old and full of stories or magic or both.
The cottage, too, is old. It feels as though it has been excavated, a relic from centuries ago, the roof green with moss and inside is formed of only three rooms. The largest room is where he lives, with the old oven serving as heating in the cold early winter. Above this is a bedroom full of old furniture, including a bed, but Cullen sleeps on the long couch in the main room, close to the warmth, whatever he can get of it. The third room is an outhouse that is now an in house with just enough plumbing to pass as early modern.
It's not much, but it's his, and it is not his past.
He has only been to the village once, to buy a little food, as he can only afford a little. The money from the army went on the train, the ferry, and then the cottage. He had not been to see it; he’d only read an advert and decided to move as far away from everything he knew as he could. That it is only the other end of the country is of little importance - it is far enough.
So far, that he does not expect visitors and tenses in fear as there comes a knocking at the door.
“Who is it?” he asks, voice shaking as he stammers the words. He has barely spoken since leaving the life he once knew.
“A welcoming party,” a jovial voice returns.
Cullen lifts the latch and opens the door a little to see five smiling faces.
“Might we come in?”
Scratching the hairs on his chin, regretting the messy state of himself and of his home, he nods regardless and steps aside as they enter.
His visitors are: Sebastian Vael, the part time priest and owner of the largest house on this part of the island. His family goes back to ancient times and his eyes are bright and blue like the skies Cullen has not yet seen here. Next is Carver Hawke, apparently of an infamous family that had moved from the mainland some years ago. He has arms like tree trunks and is both grocer and deputy of the fire department. Aveline Vallen, a tall, intimidating woman, serves as the local law. Practically single handedly, they joke. Varric Tethras, a short, stocky man, speaks with an American accent and runs the best pub in the village. Then there is Isabela, whom he has met before. She is the ferry Captain and claims to be much more besides. A knowing looks passes between the small party and Carver lifts a basket to Cullen.
He finds, under the blanket draped over it, fruit, and vegetables, and tins, and bread, and cake. Aveline places warm clothes on the rickety table by the wall, besides which Varric places a crate of ale. Isabela gifts him a pack of cards and many candles with the assurance they will come in very handy up here. Lastly, Father Vael hands Cullen a red coat, thick and furlined and -
“Much more suitable than your raincoat.”
Cullen does not like charity - does not feel deserving - and somehow the group see through this, tell him it is often the way of welcoming somebody new to the island, somebody who was not expecting the ferocity of the wind and rain. A friendly gesture extended to all that he need not be ashamed of, they tell him with these stories. And so he accepts, makes his excuses for not having a place to invite them to sit, but they are already shivering - already eager to leave, he is certain.
And so they do, along with what little warmth their bodies had gathered in this stone house that seems only to keep within it a sense that it has existed forever, and will outlive all who enter.