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Burning Hearts

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Chapter 1

They say if you needed a favor done, all you had to do was petition the Inquisition. Ask and you shall receive. But they say a lot about the Inquisition, not all of it the truth. Was the Inquisitor the Herald of Andraste? Was he sent by the maker himself? None, save few, truly knew the answer. He was a mystery to be admired, respected, even feared. And it was that fear that borne the actions of those who struck against him. Only two things were certain of the Inquisitor. One being that he was of Dalish origin and the other that he was most formidable in battle with a sword as long as he was tall.

 

 

 

It was finally quiet. At least for the moment. 'Rhen leaned against the heavy oak door leading to his quarters and allowed himself a small sigh of relief. It had been far too long since he allowed himself such luxury. In fact, he hadn't given much thought to anything since he found himself in Haven's dungeons. He glanced at his hand.  It didn't glow but 'Rhen could still feel the faint pulse of magic, his connection to the fade. Even after all this time he was still not used to it. 'Rhen had been a warrior all his life, his trust was in his sword. This, though? This was something else entirely. Magic was for mages and circles and... Well, others. What were the chances that he would be the one to end up with this. Then again, considering his luck this wasn't exactly surprising.  He pushed open the door and climbed up the steps, thoughts turning to events at Halamshiral.

'Rhen was no politician, that was Josephine's forte, and the song and dance he had to perform for the Orlesian nobility (on top of preventing an all out war) was more than a little exhausting. He was amazed things turned out as well as they had. The government did not collapse, Celene was still alive, and Florianne awaited judgement in the coldest and darkest cell in Skyhold. And yet 'Rhen would pay all the gold in Thedas to never return to Orlais. Everything was a game to those people, damned be the consequences. He longed for the simple days of his clan life and could not return soon enough.  There was one bright spot in all the chaos, though. One perfect moment. It felt foolish, but he wanted to tell someone, to shout from the rooftops, to revel in this happiness despite being wholly undeserving of it. But he couldn't. He didn't dare risk it. 'Rhen shook his head to clear his mind. No sense in dwelling on it. Instead, he turned his thoughts to Evelline. The corners of his mouth tugged ever so slightly upward as he imagined how much his sister must have grown since they parted ways. When he left the clan she was but 6 years of age. So full of hope and life, both vibrantly reflected in the green of her eyes.   If there was anyone he was fighting for, it was her. 'Rhen hadn’t known her long, but in the few years they’ve lived together, Evelline had come to mean everything to him. She was his reason for living. He didn’t have much time to visit as most of his travels took him out west past Orlais, and bringing the clan to Skyhold was out of the question. Especially after what happened at Haven. The further away from him they were, the safer they’d be. But he could at least send his keeper an update and finally send Evelline that wooden halla Blackwall had carved for him. It had been sitting on his desk gathering dust.  

'Rhen was so preoccupied with his own thoughts that he almost didn’t notice he had a visitor as he entered his quarters.  Few people ever visited him. Fewer still chose to stick around while he was away.

“Dorian!” he exclaimed, startled to see the mage sitting on his bed.  “I wasn’t expecting…” His voice trailed off as Dorian looked up to meet his gaze. It was ridiculously unfair that the mage didn't even have to try.  A simple look from him was all it took to make 'Rhen weak in the knees. He steadied himself against the railing, forcing himself to focus as his mind veered off to thoughts it shouldn't be thinking about.

“I apologize, Inquisitor.  But, as yours is the only space in all of Skyhold no one dares to intrude upon, I figured it was the best place to hide. I do hope you don't mind.”  You are incredible , 'Rhen wanted to say.  But that would be foolish.

“Hide?  From-?” 'Rhen paused briefly, his senses returning and brows furrowing in concern.  “Is your father here?” He didn’t remember inviting Halward Pavus to Skyhold. In fact, after the whole business in Redcliffe he had hoped he would never have to see the man again, if only for Dorian's sake. He was glad to help them reconcile, but wanted nothing more to do with the magister.

Dorian frowned in response, regretting involving the Inquisitor in his family drama.  But instead of dwelling on it, he put down his book and looked squarely at 'Rhen. “Worse.” he replied.  “Do you remember the last interaction I had with Mother Giselle?” 'Rhen froze, his heart suddenly pounding and his face flushed. Of course he remembered.  How could he not?  

“Of course.” 'Rhen acknowledged hesitantly.  

“Believe me, her trying to be civil is far worse.  I much preferred her backhanded remarks.”

'Rhen let out a small sigh of relief, though it was tinged with a hint of disappointment.  They had never discussed what happened in that alcove but it had to have been an acknowledgement, right?  They weren't 'just friends', or just a rumor. It was like being stuck in limbo that he wasn't quite sure how to get out of.  Though he wasn't quite sure how he stumbled into it, either. Dorian had been on his mind long before that, he just didn't think anything would come of it.  And then Redcliffe happened and there was a small glimmer of hope. And then that glimmer became a full blown fire that was certain to destroy him. “I’m sure she means well.” he replied, pushing off the wall and walking over to his desk.  He needed to break away before he said something stupid as his body became more acutely aware of the mage's presence.

“Yes.  Well. She can go mean well with someone else.”  Dorian’s voice trailed off as he resumed his reading, leaving 'Rhen alone with his thoughts.  He looked out the window at the mountains, breathing in the cold air and trying to compartmentalize.  It was just a kiss, it meant nothing. He knew that. Yet every time he saw Dorian, his heart felt like it would beat straight out of his chest.  And being alone together... Well. His mind was a runaway aravel of all sorts of thoughts. But before he could sort out his feelings for the mage currently occupying his bed, there was the matter of writing to his family.  He picked up the small halla carving and ran his thumb over the fine wood grain. Blackwall did an exceptional job. The detail was stunning, with inlaid eyes of lazurite and horns carved out of dragon bone it looked almost real.  Evelline loved hallas. She firmly believed they brought good luck and would often spend her afternoons with the clan’s herders, mostly to their frustration as she often snuck halla out for walks around the woods. He missed her terribly.  Maybe once this mess was over he could hand the Inquisition over to someone more capable than he and return to his clan.  

“Should I leave?” Dorian’s voice interrupted his thoughts, startling 'Rhen.  He thought for a moment before turning to face Dorian again. Surrounded by thick blankets of fur and finely woven Fereldan cotton, he was the picture of perfection.  One would have to be absolutely blind not to see it. Though it wasn't Dorian's appearance that drew 'Rhen to him. Underneath all that bluster, there was boundless compassion and caring that no doubt was hidden for self preservation.  Orlais was bad, but Tevinter must have been so much worse. The truth was, Dorian was a much better man than anyone gave him credit for. Certainly better than 'Rhen could ever hope to be.

“If you don't mind the cold, I don’t mind the company.” he finally replied and walked over to the fireplace to throw another log in.  It really was cold. The Frostbacks are always covered in snow, but with their approach into fall season, it was getting more so.

They sat in silence as the light outside slowly faded, broken occasionally by a small chuckle from Dorian.  Periodically, one of them would get up to light another candle or put another log on the fire, but for the most part the evening passed without another exchange.  'Rhen finished his letter and began working his way through a stack of letters and requests to the Inquisition. It felt never ending and, at times, completely irrelevant.  But, he was asked to do this and so he did. Building favor, as Josephine called it. He thumbed at his ring absentmindedly as his eyes scanned over a sheet of parchment, resting his head in the palm of his hand.  It was a letter of gratitude from yet another person he helped with he'd forgotten what. It was starting to become difficult to keep track. The pledge of support, though, would no doubt be invaluable. He yawned and stretched, glancing at the darkened windows.  How long was he at this? The sun had set some time ago and his room was now bathed in the warm glow of candlelight, sending dancing shadows across the walls. It was also quiet. He snuck a glance over the letter he was reading to check on Dorian.  

The mage was asleep, the open book on his chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm of his breathing.  His hair was quite disheveled which made 'Rhen smile. Dorian was always a picture of perfection. To see him so relaxed was strange, yet endearing.  'Rhen had never considered domestic life. It's just something he never thought he'd have. He always pictured himself going out in some battle, or perhaps mauled by some bear.  But if this was it, he would gladly give up everything to have it. Maybe after everything was over... 'Rhen sighed and returned to the letter. He couldn't remember what it was about.  It was time to turn in. In his current state, there was nothing more productive he could do. His mind kept wandering off and his eyes were starting to glaze over. It had been a long day, as most days were, but he was getting used to it.  After almost a year of this, it was like being swept up by an ocean wave and eventually learning and mastering its currents, though more so out of necessity than want. He kicked off his boots and softly walked over to the bed. After a moment of hesitation, he carefully pulled off a blanket and a couple pillows and arranged them on the floor by the fireplace.  Too tired to notice the discomfort, he downed the contents of a small vial given to him by Adan and drifted off to sleep.

The next morning 'Rhen awoke to an empty room.  His body ached from sleeping on the floor, but there were additional covers thrown over him and the warmth they brought made 'Rhen hesitant to get up.  He pulled them tighter around himself and squeezed his eyes against the intruding daylight. It was still early, but he knew eventually someone would expect him.  Though it wasn't the expectation that finally pulled him out, but his unhappy stomach as it grumbled in discontent. He had forgotten to eat the night before and was paying the price for it. Keeping one of the blankets draped over him, 'Rhen stalked over to the water basin.  He broke the thin layer of ice and dipped his hands in. The frigid water sent shivers down his spine and after silently counting to three, he splashed it on his face. He swore loudly as the shock brought him to full wakefulness. The cold was one thing he probably would never be used to.  He shook the water from his face and ran his wet fingers through the mess of his hair, trying to put it into some semblance of order. With his boots finally on, 'Rhen was ready to head downstairs.

He was about to open the door when someone knocked.  He swung it open, half expecting the whole of Inquisition behind it, with Josephine’s worried face fronting it, but it was just one of Leliana’s messengers.  

“Message for you, Inquisitor.” she curtly stated, holding out a piece of paper.

“Ah.  Thank you.”

The messenger did not reply.  She simply put the note in 'Rhen’s hands, nodded in acknowledgement, and vanished back down the stairs.  It took a moment for 'Rhen to recover from the initial surprise. The interaction was so brief it caught him off guard.  He stepped back into the room by the window and flipped over the message. His name was written on the front in Leliana’s delicate handwriting.  Odd that she’d send a note rather than come up herself. Figuring that she was probably away at the moment, 'Rhen broke the seal and read the letter.

 

Inquisitor,

 

I was hoping we wouldn’t hear any more news out of Wycome.  However, such is not our luck. A raven came in last night bearing news from your Keeper.  I have to take care of some urgent business, but I have updated Cullen and Josephine on the matter.  Meet them in the war room so you can discuss options. This is something you should take care of soon.

 

-Leliana

 

'Rhen’s heart dropped to the floor.  Evelline.  

His clan was having issues with Wycome's Duke some time ago and he thought he'd dealt with it.  But if the Duke retailated... or worse...Corypheus. He should have known.  

No.  

Steadying himself, he took a deep breath.  If it was Corypheus, he would have known about it sooner and certainly not through a note.  But something happened in Wycome and 'Rhen had to know what it was. Hunger forgotten, he closed his fist around the note and made his way down to the war room.  When he opened the door, Cullen was the only advisor in. He was leaning over the table, his brows creased, looking solemn. 'Rhen had heard of his past, but by the way the shadow crossed over Cullen’s face when he talked about it, he knew there was more to it.  It seemed like everyone here was broken in one way or another.

“Inquisitor!” Cullen looked up in surprise as though startled out of deep thought.  “We weren’t … ah...oh! Josephine! Good, you’re here!” 'Rhen turned to see Josephine walk in behind him, looking more tired than usual.  The war was wearing everyone a little thin. She nodded politely at both of them and before joining Cullen on the other side of the table, she handed 'Rhen a worn piece of parchment.

“A letter from your keeper, Inquisitor.”

Unfolding the letter, 'Rhen read it out loud.

“Da’len, Thanks to the efforts of your Inquisition, Clan Lavellan is safe within the city of Wycome, and Duke Antoine’s mad efforts to destroy us have ended with his death.  For now, I lead both our clan and the elves of this city, while the human merchants have formed a group that deals with us fairly and honorably.” An audible sigh of relief escaped him.  They were okay. It was not as bad as he had feared. Relaxing a bit, he read on. “The other cities of the Free Marches listen to the false stories of the nobles who fled. I fear they will retaliate, but I am loathe to flee this city, as that would effectively leave the city elves to die for our actions.  If you have a path that leads to safety for our people, I welcome your advice. Dareth shiral. Keeper Istimaethoriel Lavellan.” 'Rhen felt his muscles stiffen and a look of concern crossed his face. This was something they should have expected. No human liked when an elf stepped on their toes. Any retaliation from the nobles would surely end in violence.  Josephine spoke first.

“I am certain we can negotiate peace between both parties.  I can send diplomats to the city.”

“Are you mad?” Cullen interjected.  “Those elves will be dead before any of your diplomats arrive.  We need to send reinforcements to fortify the city.”

“I’m sure that’s unnecessary, Cullen.” Josephine retorted.  “I know we can resolve this without further threats.”

"While I trust in your ability, I know their type."

The argument faded into the background as 'Rhen stared at the letter, trying to figure out what to do.  Wycome was far. It would take him days to get there and when he did, what would he do? His history with shemlen nobles wasn't exactly a shining example of good will.

“What are our options?” he asked, looking to his advisors.

“Cullen believes we need to send in soldiers-”

“Because it’s the only way!” Cullen interrupted, eliciting an angry sigh from Josephine.

“It is not, your worship!  I know people in that area!  I can have my diplomats resolve this without further violence!”

“Josephine, you know full well the marchers will kill everyone and apologize later.  We can’t take that risk!” Cullen argued back.

“Inquisitor?”  

Fenedhis!  Why did they have to settle so far?  Cullen presented a convincing argument, but 'Rhen thought the presence of soldiers would only be seen as a sign of aggression that would certainly escalate into chaos.  The last thing he wanted. Josephine, on the other hand, could talk her way out of any situation. If she trusted her diplomats, then perhaps that was the better option.  He looked to her in confirmation.

“Okay, Josephine.  Send in your people.”

Cullen shook his head in disapproval, but said nothing further.  The only option left to 'Rhen now was to wait and hope to gods everything worked out.  In the meantime, he needed to get back to work.