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Red Hair

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After the incidents he had seen in his life at the Circle Tower in Kinloch Hold and in Kirkwall, there were very few things of which Cullen Rutherford was certain. He knew red lyrium was devastating, the entire circle system and chantry were completely bungled and in need of guidance, and that the appearance of a redhead in his life was almost always bad luck—though he was loathe to tell his current colleague Leliana about that fact.

The first time he met Leliana, in fact, was when she was with an even more dangerous redhead. It was when the Circle of Magi Cullen was assigned to was besieged by blood mages. Uldred, their leader, had tortured and imprisoned him for so long he had forgotten what time was until a serious face with kind eyes and flaming hair appeared before him. She did not give into his pleas to slay all of the remaining mages and instead focused on salvaging who she could, saving First Enchanter Irving. Cullen fought bitterly with her and pleaded with Knight-Commander Greagoir to execute the remaining mages, but it was to no avail. As Cullen aged, however, he looked back fondly at the redheaded Warden. She had made the right choice. And she had saved Ferelden—before making an excellent queen to balance out King Alistair. Nevertheless, she had signaled one of the most intense nights of his life, and Cullen had to take a sabbatical to recover from the scars he had been dealt. They had not been healed yet.

The second terrifying redhead came tumbling into his life making quick use of a bow and even quicker use of her mouth. Though “Champion of Kirkwall” was her official title, Hawke was enough. That walking collection of trouble saved the city, helped him in his job, hurt him in his job, and one of her best friends blew up the chantry before she took his head off herself—and then assisted him as his superior tried to destroy the city and the mages. He appreciated what Hawke had ultimately done in saving Kirkwall, even had had a few pints with the Champion and her best friend Varric Tethras, but he did not view her arrival onto any scene as a good omen.

Cullen assumed his only redheaded fire starter would be Leliana when he joined the inquisition and to Leliana’s credit, she was the epitome of self-sufficient and discrete, if a bit paranoid. Besides, being the Left Hand of the Divine did mean she at least had some honor for systems. Cassandra Pentaghast, the Right Hand of the divine, was thankfully brunette and no-nonsense. Josephine Montilyet was also blessed with dark hair and quiet ways.

Then a green hole in the sky appeared. The Chantry had been blown up, templars and mages slaughtered en masse, and the Divine whisked away into the Veil, only to have one survivor tumble out of it, replacing her. Cassandra and Leliana had placed her in a prison cell before anything could be done while an apostate elf tended to her wounds. For days, demons and spirits had fallen to earth while fresh green tears appeared everywhere. Cullen and his men were tired and overwhelmed. The received word that Cassandra and the prisoner were headed to the forward camps to rectify the situation, though Cullen was not sure of what use she would be. As he watched yet another soldier be wounded, Cullen stood in front and plunged his sword into a terror demon, wondering just how many times that day he had repeated this same action with an enemy that seemingly regenerated and multiplied. As he raised a glove to his head to mop the sweat from his brow, a flash of blinding green light flooded the skies. Suddenly, the tear was no longer expanding. The spirits around him and his soldiers suddenly were being pulled back into the ether and dissolving before their eyes. After quickly scanning the area, he motioned for his troops to head back with him towards Haven, keeping an eye out for stragglers.

A couple of hours later, he saw Cassandra descending the mountain with Varric walking next to her. They were both frowning and glancing worriedly behind them. Someone was walking behind them carrying something. As they came closer, Cullen recognized that the person behind them was the apostate elf. Cullen narrowed his eyes. The elf was taller than most of their kind. And broader too. Had he not been barefoot with pointed ears, he could have been taken for a human man. Cradled to his chest was a person—Cullen assumed the prisoner. Her head was in shadow for a moment, and then lolled back, revealing a snow white throat bared to the elf. Something in the elf’s gaze down at her made him uneasy. It was almost feral and predatory. And then they moved out of the shadow and into light.

Cullen started. The sun hit her hair just right illuminating long, coppery tresses against the snowy backdrop. He knit his brows together. Blast it.

Chapter Text

She moved about Haven like some sort of phantom for the first few days, mostly staring wide-eyed at the breach and conversing with Varric as she healed. Cullen had his hands full with keeping the peace between the mages and former templars as he tried to assemble their forces into some sort of a functioning unit. Lucky him. He was able to avoid getting to close to, what he assumed based on previous experiences, would be a holy terror.

One morning, he overheard a story from giggling Chantry sisters. Apparently when that redheaded woman had first awoken and found Chancellor Roderick demanding Cassandra have her arrested, the Herald of Andraste, as some had now taken to calling her, politely offered to find the chancellor a chair since someone of such “wise” years should not be wasting energy standing on her behalf and then asked how his joints were faring in the cold weather. Cullen later questioned Cassandra about the incident.

With a strangled noise at the back of her throat that sounded like a mixture of laughter and contempt, Cassandra confirmed it, rubbing her temple, though the corner of her mouth twitched. Cullen himself had to chuckle. As he was leaving their makeshift war room, Cassandra stopped him.

“Valentina,” she said. “Her name is Valentina Trevelyan.”

“Oh, alright,” Cullen said awkwardly, not sure why this information was being given to him now.

“Now you know,” Cassandra continued, “so you can stop calling her ‘that redheaded woman’. Leliana is bound to take offense, you know.”

Cullen flushed. He hadn’t realized he had been vocalizing his nickname for the Herald. Who knew how many other people had heard him say it.

“Ah, right, yes. Of course,” he nodded, trying to exit the situation as quickly as possible. Every time that blasted redheaded wo—Valentina—came up, Cullen found himself saying and doing awkward things. And he had not even been introduced to her yet.

He knew he would probably embarrass himself in front of the bloody Herald of Andraste. Which, by the by, was such a grandiose and possibly absurd title—and yet one he was fearful to challenge. When he was a much younger man, back when he was assigned to his first circle, he would have openly scoffed at the idea. Now, looking at the pulsing breach overhead, some part of him wondered if she had been sent by Andraste herself. It unsettled him.

This particular chilly morning, Cullen supposed it unsettled him the most because introductions would be in order today, and they would have to be made under the gazes of both Cassandra and Leliana. If he seemed at all unnerved in front of them, who knew what they might say later.

The old wooden door in the chantry swung open, Cassandra striding in with the Herald in tow. For the first time, Cullen could truly take her in. She had her hair bound behind her with intricate braiding holding it back, but small red wisps still refused to stay put, fanning about her head like small flames. Perhaps a halo, he mused, still stuck on the title of “Herald of Andraste.” Her skin, though still as snowy as the day he first saw her, seemed more alive with the flush of blood in her cheeks. Speaking of flushing, Cullen himself was afraid his own face was becoming warm as his eyes briefly scanned her body before trying to lock onto absolutely any point in the room but her rather voluptuous figure. Her leather trousers and frock coat were really doing nothing to hide her plush curves, and Cullen really was starting to wonder if he should suggest plate armor to her.

“Lady Trevelyan.” Cassandra’s clipped voice returned Cullen to the present. “May I present Commander Cullen, leader of the Inquisition forces.”

“Such as they are,” he said ruefully.

Cassandra went on to introduce Josephine and Leliana to the Herald, and while she smiled beatifically at each, her eyes would occasionally flick back to his face.

“Well then,” she finally said, “It’s so wonderful to meet all of you. You sound quite impressive. I’m Valentina, if you please. Just, Valentina. No ‘Lady What’s It.’ I’m afraid I’m rather unimportant in the scheme of things.”

Cassandra raised an eyebrow as Josephine protested, “I am afraid, my Lady Herald, we will have to keep up appearances with some.”

“Well, since you asked so nicely, Ambassador Montilyet,” Valentina acquiesced with a charming smile. “But please, Valentina if there aren’t any important lords lurking.” She winked. Josephine nervously laughed.

“Speaking of names,” Cullen said clearing his throat. He felt compelled to save Josephine, easily flustered by the most minor of flirtations. “How do you feel about the title that many have seen fit to give you—Herald of Andraste?”

“Well, to be quite honest, I find the whole thing entirely unnerving. It’s number three on my list of things that unnerve me right now, right after the breach and having a glowing green hand.” She grinned at him.

He couldn’t help but chuckle. She was quite earthy in her manner—no pretenses to her. She definitely would trip up the Orlesians for sure. “I imagine that’s one thing the Chantry would agree with you on, then.”

“Well then, look at me, already helping to bring people together.” Something in her tone was playful, yet suggestive. Or so he thought. He wasn’t quite sure how to understand her intent. Was he just reading into things? He realized he had dropped the conversation and everyone was staring at him.

“Well,” Leliana said suppressing a giggle, “let us begin discussing what should be done, shall we?”

“Lead the way,” Valentina answered, her doe eyes determinedly fixed on Cullen.

Cullen knew redheads were bad omens.

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Chapter 3

Valentina Trevelyan just wanted one moment of silence. She climbed on top of some mossy boulders at the Upper Lake camp after bathing in the falls. The grit and mud and blood were vastly overrated. Her clothes next to her, she was only clad in her smallclothes and breast binding while her hair fanned out behind her. It had been two weeks since Mother Giselle had agreed to help them and two weeks since she gave her advice about venturing to Val Royeaux. Two weeks of slogging through the hinterlands between warring mages and templars, getting Maker knows who caught up in their mess. Valentina scowled. It was incredibly selfish.

Combined with the general unease of the region, Valentina’s shoulders and stomach attested to her stress and anxiety. Herald of Andraste. She snorted. Preposterous. She was religious—to a point. Rarely seen in a chantry, but she did enjoy the teachings. However, her being Andraste’s anything was so far-fetched. Maybe Andraste’s Footstool. That would be more accurate. 

She rubbed her hands over her face and groaned. Quips and jokes and flirting. Her last line of defense between her and a bunch of virtual strangers finding out she wanted to piss her pants daily out of sheer fear of the responsibility. All she did was survive, and now suddenly humanity is depending on her to get shit together while all of them actively fell apart and made things worse. How did she get so far from Ostwick? She missed the sea. She missed those stupid parties she was always skulking about, never really engaging. Now everything rested on her, and Valentina had no idea how she was going to make it. She needed a good, long cry. 

She heard some splashing below and realized someone else in her party had chosen to bathe as well. She quietly rolled over to gaze down at the naked form of Solas, strong and muscled, his skin flawless. He was so much larger and broader than the elves she had seen. His well-muscled buttocks caused her gaze to linger for a moment. She rolled back over and sighed as heat flooded the juncture between her legs. Or maybe I just need a wank—that always deals with stress. Not that Solas himself was who interested her the most. Her hands dipped down and played with the waistband of her smallclothes. As interesting as the quietly arrogant apostate was, her thoughts wandered back to Haven. She wasn’t quite sure if the blond Templar—or, former Templar, rather—found her tiresome or not. Valentina had attempted to learn about him and their forces before she left. He gave her a rather impassioned speech that she didn’t pay complete attention to because she was admiring the scar that crossed his lips. When he had apologized for going off on a tangent, she assured him that she enjoyed his passion, and for a moment, just a moment, he gave her a soft smile that made her melt in her boots. She found herself thinking about him daily. He was so awkward with her at times, and yet absolutely dominating when he was about his business. It made her shiver. She really hoped he hadn’t begun to find her annoying. The rogue knew damn well that her best defense mechanism could also offend others. 

Valentina sighed, cupping her sex. Worrying while trying to relieve her stress. Typical. And she was now drier than the Hissing Wastes. A soft cough startled her out of her thoughts as she propped up on her elbows and looked up. Having a well-guarded camp had made her completely forget to be alert, and the consequence of that was to have a smirking elf clad only in breeches gazing down at her body. Something about it being him of all people made her more nervous. Observing him around human women made her realize he was one of those. Those elves that found the human body too large, too fleshy, too repulsive. She had met some of them in Ostwick, but mostly she found them when she came across the Dalish clans when she rode across the plains near her city.

If human women were too much, Valentina was even more. She had been teased by family and friends for her large breasts that threatened to spill out of any corset, vest, or dress. Her thick thighs, wide hips, and large backside made getting breeches a time for tears for Valentina. And even with her vigorous exercises of horseback riding and dueling, she had never fully lost the softness in her stomach. There was always just the tiniest bit of puppy fat around her navel, taunting her, and now the smug Solas was looking down at her in all of her insecure glory. She waited for him to vocalize his distaste. 

He looked down at her, eyes glinting and a smirk forming. “Am I interrupting anything?”

“Uh, no, not at all, just trying to dry out,” she gestured to her hair. It wasn’t a total lie. She swallowed nervously.

“Right,” he said slowly, rubbing his tongue over one of his rather sharp incisors. Then suddenly his mood seemed to shift and his face seemed innocent. “Would you mind if I joined you? Cassandra and Varric are bickering again, and I would prefer to avoid them.”

“You’re more than welcome,” she said, heart pounding in her  chest as he sat down next to her, his muscled arm touching hers, searing it with heat. She felt totally exposed, and she nearly was, but she refused to back down or act like this was an issue. For all she knew, this was normal for whatever elf community he came from. She turned her head to look at him and caught his eyes resting on her large, bound breasts. Shame crept up her neck in the shade of scarlet, but she bravely waited until he looked her in the face. It seemed like an eternity, but the reality was that a mere second had passed. “Tell me more about the fade, if that’s alright with you,” Valentina asked earnestly. 

Solas’s expression was calm and tender, like one would look at a novice tentatively trying to understand the new subject their master brought. “Do you know of the Emerald Graves?” he asked gently. All traces of his former behavior had vanished and in its place was a stoic, gentle man. Valentina wondered if she had made it all up, her insecurities projecting themselves onto him.

“I do, though I have never had the pleasure of visiting.”

“Well, once when I was younger,” he began.

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When Valentina finally trudged into Haven after a well, disastrous encounter at Val Royeaux, a very Orlesian party with a certain Madame de Fer, and a mysterious rendezvous with an elf even cheekier than herself, it was cold, it was late, and the moon hung high in the sky. Varric, Cassandra, and Solas dispersed and went to bed or to drink or something sensible. Valentina just sat on the steps in front of the gate under a lit torch, exhausted. Was she a heretic, a pretender, a blasphemer—just for being the person in the wrong place at the wrong time? She had never wanted to be entangled with religion this much. She rested her face in her hands, wanting to cry but being to tired to even do that, when a soft little squeak at her feet made her look up. A small nug was nuzzling about her feet. Valentina smiled and slowly held her hand out for the nug to sniff. It cocked its head before gingerly sniffing her hand. It drew back and sneezed before sniffing again. She giggled.

“Ah, now there’s a lovely sound. I was worried you had decided to stay out here all night and freeze rather than deal with the Chantry again,” a gentle voice said.

She started for a moment before looking up into a pair of deep honey-colored eyes. The nug squeaked in annoyance. “Cullen, I’m so sorry, I didn’t notice you.” She moved to stand up, but he motioned to her to remain seated. Instead, he sank down next to her, his fur-covered cape bumping against her shoulder, feeling nicely warm. She wanted to turn her face into it and sleep. 

“I didn’t mean to startle you. Leliana’s scouts told us of what happened in Val Royeaux. I’m sorry it didn’t go better.”

Valentina gently stroked the nug’s head, and it leaned into the gesture appreciatively. “It was less than ideal. Unfortunately, cloistered brothers and sisters do not find me charming and the Lord Seeker even less so.”

“Their loss,” he smiled.

Valentina felt her face and shoulders relax. “Oh thank goodness, I was so worried you were beginning to find me annoying,” she blurted. Her eyes widened as she started at the toe of her boot, realizing what she had done. 

“What, what? Me? Blast, did I say anything, is this about the hair?” He stumbled over his words.

“No, no, no, no,” she turned grabbing his arm suddenly and looking up into his face. Hair? she wondered. “It’s just, you were a templar, and you had such an important job, and after all I imagine you’ve seen, and you’re so connected to the chantry and you’re a commander, and here I am, just a bumbling idiot who could screw everything up, and I don’t remember a thing…” Her exhaustion and anxieties came pouring out, and there was nothing she could do to stop them.

“Lady Trevelyan, Lady Trevelyan, Lady—“ Cullen finally grabbed both of her hands and held them, quieting her. “You are doing a fine job. You most certainly are not an idiot, not from what I’ve seen or heard. The Hinterlands are beginning to stabilize because of your efforts. That’s certainly something.” His gaze softened as did his voice. “And I most certainly don’t find you annoying. Perhaps even more so because I was a Templar.” 

“How’s that?” She was genuinely befuddled as well as embarrassed. Losing her bloody tongue at a time like this. With Cullen.  

“Well, you know, when it wasn’t an utterly chaotic experience full of death, it was incredibly boring. Everyone was a bit stiff. Especially me. A sense of humor now and again is appreciated.” He smiled ruefully at her before realizing he was still holding her hands. He hastily dropped them. “I’m sorry, my Lady, I forgot myself in the moment.”

Was that a flush in his cheeks or was she just imagining what she wanted to see in the firelight? A thought struck her. “Cullen, did you have to take vows as a Templar?” Perhaps, even if it was a flush, it wasn’t what she was hoping at all.

“What? Of course, yes. To the Chantry, to protect mages, guarding against abominations and all that…” he trailed off.

“But what about you know, celibacy?”

“Um, I suppose there are the sorts who, I mean, some Templars choose to take those—those sorts of vows about that, yes.”

“And you?”

His eyes widened, and finally there was no mistaking the blush that crept over his face. “I, uh, no. I haven’t taken such vows.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Maker’s breath, can we talk about something else?”

Valentina grinned devilishly at him, suddenly feeling like she was on better footing with this entire interaction. At least she wasn’t the only one embarrassed. “Alright, Lord Commander,” she said and bit her lip. She noted his eyes had momentarily fixated on her mouth. Something told her he wasn’t even aware of his actions. She turned back to the nug at her feet. “I do hope no one hunts and eats my little friend here,” as she scratched its chin.

“Um, what, oh, right, that,” Cullen was startled out of his trance. “Well, I couldn’t recommend getting attached to a nug. You know what will happen.”

Valentina sighed, “Yes, but here we are. Nugs and the little fennecs around here do provide me with so much comfort when I’m at Haven. At home, I was often surrounded by animals.”

“You lived in Ostwick…” he began, mentioning the walled city.

“Yes,” she chuckled, “and I kept many pets. Two darling cats and one rather large dog, and, oh, I had a beautiful horse back home… I do hope my brother is caring for them,” she frowned.

“You have siblings?”

“I am the youngest of six, and the only girl in the Trevelyan clan,” she smiled. “So, pending on how you look at it, I was either spoiled or terrorized.”

He laughed. “Something tells me you held your own, Lady Trevelyan.”

She winked at him, saying, “I haven’t a clue of what you’re speaking of, dear Lord Commander.” She slowly stood up and brushed the snow off of her backside. “Do forgive me, but I am afraid portions of me are beginning to feel rather numb in this cold,  and Val Royeaux has leeched much of my energy.”

Cullen quickly rose to his feet, red-faced and trying not to look at the numb portions of Valentina. “Of course, my Lady. I apologize for keeping you out here for so long.”

“Don’t. I had a very enjoyable evening. We must do it again soon.” She had to resist looking over her shoulder to see if he was watching her leave. She hoped he was, but she had her doubts. Still, she swung her hips a little more than usual as she walked away. 

The next morning, she heard the locals and troops grumbling. Apparently the Lord Commander had instructed them to not hunt any nugs or fennecs, saying if they needed food or leather to hunt something else or talk to him instead. She smiled to herself, and the Herald of Andraste was noted to have had a bounce in her step for the rest of the day.

Chapter Text

When Solas had first arrived at Haven, he was not expecting to find himself tending the sole survivor of a massive explosion. Finding his plans taking a turn, he spent days and nights keeping a human alive. Even he found humor in the irony. Though the stern black-haired woman and the inscrutable redhead kept an eye on him, he still found himself alone with his patient for hours on end. 

Her hair was such a warm shade, and he often found himself twisting it around his long fingers. Her pale skin contrasted starkly, and he often wondered if she truly was human herself. Much to his dismay, her body and face only confirmed her humanity. She was not, as he sometimes mused, a goddess from the Fade, brought back to him. She was not even elvhen.

Instead, his patient was distinctly earthy, with wide hips and thick thighs and large, round breasts. They wouldn’t even fit in his hands, though as soon as the thought came to him, he chased it away. As if he would find pleasure in a human, an inferior race. And yet, he worked tirelessly to keep her alive. It wasn’t just about the mark on her. He wanted her to live. This plump creature who could capture his attention with one sleepy sigh. She wasn’t an elvhen goddess, but perhaps she was a human one, long-forgotten in favor of the male Maker. 

When later he saw her scrabbling up the snowy mountain, eyes huge and full of concern, slicing at demons left and right, it was immediate instinct to grab her hand and pull her to him, before extending it towards the fade. As it began to close, he glanced at her profile, so vibrant and different now that she was awake. Her full lips parted as the rift closed, and then he let her hand go. He realized how warm it was only as soon he was without it. 

At the temple of sacred ashes, her hair had tumbled out of whatever loose bun it has been tied in and floated around her in the electricity created by the pride demon. His patient danced about the demon, flinging herself at it, twirling and stabbing, before dodging away, setting her hand towards the fade rift to try to close it when she could. 

The demon’s long whip of electricity caught her on the cheek and sent her flying back into Solas. She apologized over her shoulder as she jumped up, desperation and determination on her face. Much to his own surprise, he wove enough healing magic so that she wouldn’t scar. Later, much later, he would chastise himself for being so concerned with the beauty of a human. 

Finally she flung herself at the demon, one foot landing on the beast’s thigh so she could push up into its chest. One dagger stabbed deep into the demon’s chest, and she pulled herself up with surprising strength to Solas—her body was soft, not hard and muscled like Cassandra’s. With a ferocious yell, she stabbed the demon in the eye with the other dagger and twisted. As the beast began to topple backwards, she leapt off and reached her hand towards the rift, a pained cry coming for her as the mark tried to expand. The cry became a yell of frustration as she force her arm up, supporting it with her other arm. Finally, the rift closed in a blinding array of green and white. When Solas could see again, the girl was on the ground. He and Cassandra raced towards her, but he won, pulling her to his chest. He hastily flipped her hand over and realized the mark had stabilized. She was still breathing. He sighed in relief. She was exhausted. And why shouldn’t she be? She wasn’t even a mage and still wielded her power expertly after dueling with a pride demon. 

Solas wouldn’t let anyone else carry her, citing things about medicine and healing magic, but the truth was, he felt only he was worthy enough to carry the human goddess down the mountain. She was less than an elf—but more than the others of her kind. When her head lolled back and her white throat was bared to him, he felt ancient stirrings. He wanted to conquer the human goddess. That was the way of things.

When she awoke, she ran to visit him as soon as she had a free moment after the frenzy surrounding the new Inquisition let her escape. She grabbed his hands in that sincere, warm way of hers that he was going to have to get used to, declaring that she herself wouldn’t let anything happen to him if he just stayed. He kept his face neutral, but he wanted to laugh at her begging. It was so earnest. He found it cute. Had he ever found anything cute before?

She asked him questions about the Fade and his experiences, like no human—no, like no person in this time would. She didn’t even flinch about his conversations with spirits or opinions on blood magic. As much as he wanted to resist the human, he still couldn’t help but think of her as this new, fresh human goddess, waiting to be shaped by him. 

He even complimented her on her skill with a blade one day when she came to visit, the scent of elfroot coming from her after she had been traipsing in the woods for Haven’s herbalist. 

“You train to flick a dagger to its target. The grace with which you move and your indomitable focus are pleasing side benefits.”

“So you’re suggesting I’m graceful?” Her voice was a little disbelieving, a little playful. He wanted to play.

“No,” he said furrowing his brow and looking at her intensely. Her eyebrow quirked in confusion for a moment. “I am declaring it. It is not a subject up for debate.”

She laughed, pleased, before pausing again. “And indomitable focus?”

“Presumably. I have yet to see it dominated.” He paused, remembering her vulnerable little throat as he held her in his arms. “I imagine that the sight would be…Fascinating.”

She bit her lip and looked at the ground, the playful rogue at a loss for words for once. She looked up at him with eyes sparkling and a tell-tale blush on her face.

Since then, he had greatly enjoyed catching her off guard. The day he realized she was spying on him as he bathed in the Hinterlands, he felt unusually pleased. When he caught her, he could tell she wanted to hide. She wanted to hide her body from him, and yet she didn’t. He was curious about that. No doubt she had realized that human women didn’t interest him—and yet, the earthiest of them all entranced him. She was the opposite of the willowy nymphs he had taken up with before. But there he sat, spinning stories of ancient ruins and wars for her, glancing at her nearly naked body, and wondering if he would see more. 

And now he found himself in the Fallow Mire, attempting to read The Tales of the Champion in his bedroll so he could attempt to learn of the events in Kirkwall, even though Varric was known to embellish. The dwarf was in the next tent over with their new Qunari companion and Ben-Hassrath spy Iron Bull, both of them snoring loud enough to wake the dead that lurked in the marshes of the Fallow Mire. Valentina, his constant patient, was outside, talking to Scout Harding and studying maps, in the rain, no less, but there it was. 

His mind turned to the Avvar they had met earlier who talked of “the Lady of the Skies.” Perhaps the Chasind would have the answer to his goddess question, though Lady of the Skies didn’t seem right for the rogue. He rubbed his face, wondering why he was so enamored with the idea of her being a goddess reborn or why he even entertained the human at all. He was only here for one reason. Being side-tracked by her was a bad idea.

The tent flap opened, and Valentina Trevelyan stood before him, ready to side-track. Her red hair was plastered to her face, dripping, and coming loose from her braid. Her clothes were entirely soaked through, and she was shivering. She began to remove her boots.

“I stayed out a little too long, I think,” she said sheepishly.

“You think so?” He smiled at her. She definitely would have gotten caught up in learning what she could for a rescue rather than thinking about herself. She removed her coat and vest, and began unwinding the scarf from her neck. Her tunic was plastered to her body, wet. And she was shivering. “Valentina, I will not spend the next few days worrying about your health because you caught a cold,” he said admonishing her, taking off his own tunic. “Take off those wet clothes and wear this tonight while yours dry.”

Valentina caught the tunic he tossed at her in midair, her eyes raking over his chest before nodding. “Alright. Close your eyes or something,” she smirked.

He did as he was told, listening to the rustling of clothing for a few minutes. He himself felt a chill, deciding that the cold and the damp were the worst of both worlds. 

“Um, you can open them I suppose,” she said, her voice a little nervous.

When he opened them, he realized that her body still was slightly wet, causing the tunic to be transparent in places. Her hair was fully down and wet, dripping even more down her body and across the fabric. That his tunic was long in front and in back meant she was somewhat covered, and yet the high cut on the sides revealed her creamy thighs. And when she turned sightly, he could see the crease where her backside met the backs of her thighs. Her nipples had peaked in the cold, and the tunic was damp and transparent over one breast. He felt his trousers tighten. 

Then he noticed she still shivered. He got up, not caring whether or not she noticed the bulge in his pants—she seemed too nervous to look up from the ground as it was. He took the blankets from her bedroll and put them on top of his blankets and grabbed her hand. Before she could protest he pulled her to him, her curves pressed against him.

“Tonight, you’ll stay with me in my bedroll,” he said as he rubbed her arms up and down. “You’re freezing and the night won’t be any better. You can’t afford to be sick. Your men can’t afford it,” he added slyly, knowing exactly how to manipulate her. “I won’t tell the others, okay?”

She nodded, shyly looking at him and biting her lower lip. He wanted to catch that lip between his own teeth and run his tongue over it. Instead, he guided her to the bedroll, and laid down behind her, covering them both with the blankets and wrapping his arms around her, pulling her back against his chest. His arms rested just below her breasts, their round softness tempting him with every breath she took.

“Solas,” she said huskily. He could feel how fast her heart was beating. Her uneven breaths were delicious.

“Yes, Valentina?” He purred in her ear.

“Thank you. I—it was so cold. I’m sorry I took your tunic and put you out like this.”

“Don’t apologize.” He meant it. Part of him loathed himself for it, but he really meant it. He needed to get his flesh under control, his fascination with this human, but tonight would not be that night. He smoothed her hair away from her face before putting his arm back around her.

“You’re always so kind to me,” she said drowsily. “What would I do without you? You always save me,” she whispered, drifting off to sleep.

Yes, saving her. Only for his larger purpose, he told himself. She was merely a tool for him. She had to be. And yet, he couldn’t help but start thinking again about which goddess she was, and when he thought about that, he couldn’t help but think of her as his little goddess, human and for him alone to conquer. 

The next night, when she leapt onto the shoulders of the Avvar leader and wrapped her legs around his head, the moon caught her fearsome expression, and Solas felt a sense of pride watching her plunge her knives into her prisoner’s eyes. As she rushed away from his corpse to check on her scouts, eyes flashing warning of what would happen should they be harmed, Solas took note of the Sky Watcher who had followed her there.

“Tell me of your gods,” he commanded.

The Sky Watcher chuckled. “What would you want to know, Tureann?”

Chapter Text

It was dark out, and Cullen was standing by the practice dummies, half-heartedly swinging his sword at them, looking over his shoulder every few minutes to see if he could spy the Herald’s party. Leliana’s scouts’ had reported that she should be back tonight, and the way Leliana’s voice had teemed with amusement when she strode past Cullen and the recruits and loudly announced that the Herald of Andraste would be arriving made him blush to the tips of his ears before he began barking orders, trying to distract everyone from his discomfort. Even Cassandra hid her mouth behind her glove before turning around, her shoulders shaking. 

And now she was walking towards him, smirking. “Have you even left this area at all since this morning, Cullen?”

“I beg your pardon. I don’t know what you mean. This is where I do most of my work. Why wouldn’t I be here?” Flustered, he shoved his sword into the snow and attempted to lean on it , feigning a sort of casualness. Of course, this backfired, and he lost his balance temporarily. 

Cassandra smacked her forehead with her palm. “Honestly, Cullen, you are hardly subtle. Even your newest recruits probably have noticed your infatuation. Only Lady Trevelyan seems to be in the dark.” Cassandra made a disgusted noise. “Though I don’t see how she’s so perceptive in every area of her life but when it comes to you.”

“Or maybe you’re just imagining things that aren’t there,” Cullen countered. A moment later, his shoulders dropped, and he ran a hand through his thick, blond hair. “Maker’s breath, is it that obvious?”

“Is the Breach obvious?” Cassandra snorted.

Before he could respond, the booming voice of the Iron Bull and the raucous laughter of Varric could be heard. Cullen nearly fell over himself trying to see them. Solas, that apostate elf, was stoically walking beside them, occasionally allowing himself to smile. And on Bull’s shoulders, resting her head on top of his massive one, was Valentina Trevelyan, seemingly asleep.

“Hey, Curly,” Varric called out. “What are you and the Seeker doing out this late?”

“Um, I was practicing. On this,” Cullen gestured at the dummy. “And Cassandra was—“

“Cassandra was here to point out how terrible his technique is when he is distracted,” she said pointedly. Cullen blushed while Varric and the Iron Bull exchanged glances before laughing. Solas, however, simply levied a steady gaze at the former Templar. “Tell me, why on earth is our Herald sleeping up there, Iron Bull?” 

“Well, what happened was,” began Varric, ignoring the fact that Cassandra directed the question towards Bull, “Lucky here decided that she needed to stay out late in the rain one night, talking to the scouts she said and planning out exactly how to find the missing soldiers. Then the next day, slogging in mud and rain, you know how it is,” he flourished his hands and drama colored his voice, “we came across the great Avvar kidnapper. She fought tooth and nail, practically felling the man herself, launching herself on top of him, illuminated by a flash of lighting.” Cassandra made a strangled noise at the back of her throat and rolled her eyes, just wanting a clear story for once. “And then Lucky spent a great deal of time looking after the recovered troops, and they gazed upon her miraculous arrival like she was Andraste herself.”

“Well, that’s sort of what happened,” Solas scowled.

“Oh, you know she’ll hate that re-telling, Varric,” Bull said, looking upwards, gesturing at his sleeping charge.

“You called her ‘Lucky’?” Cullen looked askance at Varric. “That makes her sound like somebody’s bloody mabari.”

Varric held his hands out in front of him. “And doesn’t Andraste favor your war hounds?”

“Well it’s hardly appropriate to call the Herald of Andraste a mabari.”

“Would someone please tell me how and why she is still sleeping through all of this?” Cassandra was impatient. 

“She was beginning to come down with some sort of sickness from the strain and the weather conditions,” Solas said. “I did what I could with the supplies I had, but for the way home, I gave her a sleeping draught in hopes that she might not do any further damage to her weakened state.”

“And I got to be her majesty’s royal steed,” Iron Bull chuckled. “No need to look so worried, Cullen. She’ll be fine.”

“I, um, I’m not worried, per say, I just—well we can’t lose our only key to sealing the rifts. She’s going to have to be more careful, and so will all of you.” He attempted to be stern, but a sleepy voice undermined him.

“Cullen,” Valentina mumbled, still sleeping, her arms draped over Iron Bull’s horns and head. Cullen’s eyes widened.

Bull lifted his one eye up once more before looking at Cullen with a raised eyebrow and a sly smile. “Listen, Cullen, I can’t carry her back to her quarters without my horns breaking these tiny wooden houses you humans have.” He lowered himself slightly. “Do me a favor and take her instead. I don’t want her getting a splinter in the destruction of it all.”

“I will go see if Adan is available and fetch some more herbs for her.” The elf inclined his head towards Cullen and studied him for a moment before heading off.

The Lord Commander gently lifted Valentina off of a crouched Bull and held her in his arms. She turned her face into his furred cape and snuggled against it, sighing. As he walked off with a reddened face to put her in her own bed, he heard the others behind him.

“Oh, this is too perfect. Definitely going into the story I write about this whenever it’s all over,” Varric chuckled.

Varric,” Cassandra hissed.

Iron Bull just laughed deeply as they all stood behind the flustered commander, carrying their still sleeping Herald of Andraste. 

When he got to her small house in Haven, he set her on the bed, realizing that Cassandra needed to be there. He couldn’t undress Valentina, but he couldn’t leave her in her armor. He groaned, before lifting a booted leg into his lap. He gently removed each boot, her tailcoat, gloves, and vest. Then he held her to him as he unwound the scarf from her neck, leaving her in her soft tunic and leather trousers. That was as good as it would get. She leaned forward and rested her head on his shoulder as he folded her scarf neatly and placed it to the side. When he turned back to her, he found her red hair close to his face, smelling of rain. He inhaled her scent for a moment before remembering himself. He sought to remove himself from her and to tuck her into her bed before her arms lifted and wound themselves around him. Maker’s breath. She was so soft, so vulnerable, so—Cullen quickly pulled away from her. He needed to get out of there. He tucked her into her bed, made sure all of her things were placed where she could find them, and hurried out.

As he left, he passed Solas. The two men eyed each other in passing before Solas slipped into Valentina’s house. Cullen felt a pang of—what was it? Concern? Distrust? Jealousy? All he knew was he didn’t like it. An apostate mage having too much influence over the Herald was sure to bring bad news. And yet, there was more to it than that. Stripping everything else away, Solas was a man, and Valentina was a beautiful woman—Cullen clenched his fists and set his jaw. Perhaps he would get in a decent practice session on the dummies tonight after all.

_________________________________________________________

The next afternoon, Cullen’s shoulders were sore, and he was feeling the lack of sleep, yawning more than once in the middle of orders he had tried to issue to his recruits. However, no one noticed him in the meeting in the war room due attentions being placed on the sneezing and wheezing Herald of Andraste, her face flushed pink and hair messily piled on top of her head, the usual half up, half down hairstyle bound with intricate braids having been abandoned for the day. She had a chair pulled up to the table and rested her head on her hand with the other hand clutching a handkerchief to her chest. 

“So what’s the latest news, Josie?” Valentina’s voice crackled, barely more than a whisper.

“Lady Trevelyan, do you not think that you might need rest?” Josephine was distraught over this development. She had nervously chattered to Cullen earlier about someone of Valentina’s stature being seen in such a state and how guilty she felt over the noble’s accommodations. Cullen was inclined to agree that Valentina needed rest instead of being in a meeting, but he failed to be surprised that she had drug herself up to the chantry to consult with the advisors. He also doubted she cared too much about being a noble. 

“No, no,” Valentina waved a hand before sneezing into a handkerchief. “I’m sure I look a fright, but things won’t stop for me. I can rest once this is done.” Cassandra looked fondly at the Herald. Cassandra was hard on absolutely everyone, but she did seem to building some sort of friendly relationship with her former prisoner.  “What’s the first order of business?”

The meeting continued on for a few hours, several disagreements breaking out amongst the advisors. Valentina just stared at them blankly, too tired to mediate their discussions. Normally she would make a witty remark, gently admonishing them to get back on track, but today she was dazed. Occasionally, she would rest her head on the table, which would at least snap Josephine out of the discussion. Only her sense of propriety was keeping her from fussing over Lady Trevelyan like a nervous hen. 

“We have also received correspondence and offers of assistance from Prince Sebastian Vael, of Starkhaven,” Josephine said towards the end of the meeting. “He says that—“

Valentina had straightened completely up and narrowed her eyes, her hoarse voice creating a gravely growl when she asked, “What on the Maker’s godforsaken earth does that bloody bastard want?”

All four of the advisors in the room turned to look at her, sensing that they had just wandered into Free Marcher politics. Suddenly, Varric being in on these meetings seemed like a good idea.

“Just that he felt the Divine’s loss keenly and was hoping we might collaborate,” Josephine said slowly.

“Pious git,” Valentina muttered. She sighed and rubbed her face. “Do what you must. Starkhaven is perhaps the most formidable Free Marcher city. Turning him away would be foolish.”

“He, um, he also asks after you, Herald,” Josephine tentatively added.

“Tell him whatever you think would be tactful. However, in the future, I would like to state that I would like to avoid dealing with him myself, and I especially do not want to see him.” 

“Noted.”

“Does that conclude the business for the day?” Leliana asked. She suddenly seemed very keen on getting back to work, no doubt to look for information about the Vaels and Trevelyans. Cullen knew Valentina would hate that.

“Yes, I believe it does unless…?” Josephine looked around.

“I have nothing more to add.” Cullen was eager to see that Valentina went back to rest as soon as possible.

Cassandra shook her head.

“Then meeting adjourned,” Valentina said before sneezing. 

“Lady Trevelyan, I do insist that you let me walk you back to your quarters,” Cullen said, already concerned that they had gone on too long.

“Normally I would say some nonsense about being fine, but as you can see that is not the case.” She gave a lopsided smile. “It would be appreciated, Commander.”

He tucked her hand under his arm after she stood, and he felt her tentatively lean on him. A few paces outside of the chantry and her forehead was already glistening with sweat. She was still feverish. He frowned, wishing she had stayed asleep, but it was a moot point now. He cleared his throat.

“About the Prince of Starkhaven,” he began, “has he wronged you in some way? I’m a bit apprehensive towards working with someone who has.”

She breathed a laugh. They were at the house she was staying at, and she motioned for him to follow her inside. Gesturing at the chair, she sunk down onto her bed and looked at him.

“Sebastian,” she began, and Cullen felt apprehensive at her using his first name so casually, “let me down in incredible ways when we were younger and hurt my reputation. You see, he and I were betrothed.”

The blood in Cullen’s veins froze. “If this is too personal,” he offered awkwardly, not sure if he wanted to know more. Surprisingly, she laughed.

“I hate that bastard, but it’s not as grave as you might think.” Valentina sighed and laid back against the bed’s headboard. Cullen couldn’t help but imagine being there with her, just close to her, touching her. “Well, I don’t know if Leliana or Josephine filled you in, but the Trevelyan clan is quite a religious clan, always involved in whatever layer of the Chantry they can possibly stick their nose into. In fact, that’s why I was at the conclave. I had family in all parties…” Her voice trailed off, getting thick with emotion for a moment before continuing in the next beat, not allowing Cullen a chance to respond. However, the realization over just how many family members she had probably lost struck him. She seemed to have bundled that grief away, focusing instead on the mission at hand. He understood that. “Well, anyways, the Trevelyans have a history of shoving off their youngest children to the Chantry or to be a templar or Maker forbid, a Circle, should one of us be so cursed,” she said derisively. “I have a cousin in Ostwick Circle that they only speak of in whispers, like she’s some sort of scandal.  

“Well, anyways, my being the youngest meant they were deciding my fate was in the Chantry’s hands. More specifically, my parents had given me some of the best instructors in the Free Marches (one of them being Antivan), because I was due to become a templar.” Valentina sighed and looked ruefully at Cullen before giving him a small smile. “I had been putting off and stalling for so long, and my parents were at their collective wits’ end with me—and then everything in Kirkwall happened. So, I had some time bought.”

Cullen had a sudden realization and furrowed his brows as he asked, “Wait, if your family was so tied to the Chantry and you yourself were going to become a templar… Those questions you asked me a while ago about the templars… You knew the answers to all of them?”

“All but one,” she responded cheekily. Cullen felt heat rush to his face as he rubbed his neck. She chuckled before continuing. “As a girl, I knew what my intended fate was, but I never wanted it. I just wanted to be some sort of lady. I wanted to have adventures, eventually marry, have a family, maybe a dog or two. Alas, no matter how much I begged and pleaded with my family, they were against setting up an arrangement. As for me, as a young lady, seeking it out? They couldn’t bear the scandal. However, to buy themselves some peace and quiet, they relented and said that if a man of a worthy family sought my hand, then I might accept. And this is where that auburn-haired and baby blue-eyed demon comes into play,” she sneered. 

“We were at one of my Aunt Lucille’s rather grand parties, and I was a rather shy and awkward 16 year old girl. I had been unable to avoid attending, so I fled to the library. I was wearing the rather corseted gown that made me uncomfortable and self-conscious, so at least this way, I could feel anxious in peace you see.” Cullen found himself getting lost in the brilliant smile she flashed. She was always at some of her most dazzling while being self-deprecating, and it always caught Cullen off-guard. Like a well-constructed magical snare that he didn’t have the tools to deal with. 

“I wandered the vast library, looking through books, trying to find something appealing. Aunt Lucille was more… free-thinking than some of our relatives so I had high hopes of finding some decent romantic literature. I was convinced that was the closest I would get to a man, but it was better than nothing. I had reached a far corner of the library when I felt someone watching me. I turned swiftly to find a fireplace with a chair next to it. In that chair was a man dressed in pristine white as the flames from the fireplace danced in his hair. His blue eyes seemed to laugh at me over the top of the book he held in front of his face.

“Seeing how startled I was, he lowered his book and stood. He was perhaps four to five years older than me and had a handsome face. I was utterly stricken with fear. I had not been around men my age who weren’t servants or my brothers in quite some time. Nevertheless he took my hand and kissed it, introducing himself as Sebastian Vael, youngest Prince of Starkhaven. When he heard my name, both of us immediately felt a sort of kinship. 

“You see, the Vaels also have a rich tradition of sending their youngest children off to the Chantry, and Sebastian was of no mind to go. He pulled up a chair next to his by the fireplace, and we talked for hours. Finally, he told me I was pretty. I was very naive and sheltered, so you can imagine what this praise from this handsome prince must of done to me.”

Cullen felt a labyrinth of emotions twisting inside of his chest. She could have been a templar? She could have been safe at Ostwick, but there was a high and terrible chance she would have been sent to Kirkwall. He couldn’t bear to think of her there. And then this Sebastian fellow… he felt a strange combination of jealousy and hostility. He wanted to protect past Valentina from whatever was coming. Men like that, men who are too smooth and too charming, men who aren’t gentle with innocent girls—Cullen had to shake his head, fearful for what would come next. 

“So, when this handsome prince who seemed to know all of my troubles and all of my desires took my hand and said that he had an idea, I was prepared to follow him into the depths of the Fade. He proposed a marriage, saying that the link between our cities and houses would be beneficial enough to the families that they would have to agree. And weeks later, when he wrote to my father, it seemed like he was right. I was so excited and thrilled. This dashing red-haired man was going to sweep me off my feet, and we would have a plethora of red-haired babies—why I thought the world needed more of us is beyond me. We tend to be involved in catastrophes, you know.” She paused, coughing before continuing.

“In the beginning, he wrote me letters, sweet letters, chaste letters, the most innocent love letters. I thought I was in a dream, and I never wanted to wake. But then, the rumors began. They started small at first, small enough that I could ignore. Sebastian Vael was a flirt, Sebastian Vael broke many hearts. Then they got worse. He was a womanizer. He had had many affairs. He was responsible for the dissolution of a marriage. He frequented brothels. My young heart couldn’t bear it. I was so miserable and heartbroken. I ceased to eat. I was listless, tormented by his actions yet fearful my parents would take away my only lifeline to freedom. Yet he still wrote letters. And with every letter, I would cling to them with hope.

“As the years rolled on, we would see each other frequently. Frequent enough for him to convince me and my parents that he was the victim of a vicious plot to ruin him and his reputation. Being blinded by infatuation, I readily believed him. I even let him kiss me. Two years into the arrangement, I began to let him secret me away to dark and quiet corners of our estates. He never took my virtue but…” Valentina’s eyes met Cullen’s. Her face was red, but not in the way he found so adorable when they talked. It was shame. She looked so sad and vulnerable. Before he thought about it, he was across the room and had taken her hand to console her. She smiled and squeezed it, seeming to get strength from him. “But then, something strange and terrible began to happen. It was my reputation being smeared. And no, it had nothing to do with the things I had done with Sebastian in the dark. Instead, the rumors were the Sebastian traded me to friends for their wives and lovers. Or that I participated with him in various activities in brothels. But the one that hurt the most, the rumor based in truth, was that I, Valentina Trevelyan, was so woefully inadequate that Prince Sebastian Vael preferred absolutely any whore to me.” 

Based in what truth? Cullen’s mind screamed. It was he who was inadequate. I should have imprisoned him when I had him in Kirkwall, friend of Hawke or no. However, he kept his mouth shut, allowing the Herald to continue. 

“These rumors about me,” Valentina continued with a sigh, her voice raspy and tired from speaking so long, “ensured that absolutely no man besides Sebastian would take me for a wife. So now, I truly was trapped with Sebastian as my hopes for freedom. However, his family broke, unable to choke down the lies I so readily swallowed. They banished him to the Chantry. And I was left, a ruined woman, destined for the Templars. 

“As time went on, his lovely family was assassinated, and Sebastian took control, but he kept his vows. His new sense of piety seemed to ground him. Everywhere I was, I heard about his adventures with the Champion and about how wonderful he was and how devout he was. He even sent out letters across the Free Marches, urging us to turn back to the Chant of Light. And yet, during all of those letters he sent, he could not manage one to me. I only wanted two words. I’m sorry. But they never came. And now he finds me, the Herald of his Precious Andraste, and he doesn’t acknowledge what happened? 

“I do not love him. I don’t think I ever did. It was youthful infatuation combined with my desperation to avoid the Chantry—incredibly ironic now, don’t you think?—that kept me with Sebastian Vael. However, what he did to me, to my reputation, and even to my family… I just think Andraste would prefer it if he apologized. And I am her Herald now, you know.” She smiled slyly at Cullen and squeezed his hand. “Thank you. I had no idea I was holding onto quite so much. And you’re a marvelous listener.”

“Oh, well, you know,” Cullen stammered. “I—I hope this was all alright. I didn’t mean to—And you’re sick—“

“Cullen,” she said firmly, leaning forward. Her nose and cheeks were still pink and her eyes were glassy. Yet Cullen felt that she might have been the prettiest thing he had seen. “You were a wonderful help. And you allowed me to unburden myself. It is appreciated.”

“Ah, well then. You’re welcome, Herald. But now, I suppose I should let you rest.” He stood up and gave an awkward bow. She smiled and waved as he left, clearly suppressing a giggle. Maker’s breath. When would he stop making a fool of himself in front of her?

One thing he did know, though. If he ever saw Sebastian Vael ever again, he was going to kick his ass. And he was absolutely positive Varric would want to come along. To watch at least.