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Flowers for the Victor

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They'd followed the trail of blackened bodies up the hill to find Sera keeping a narrowed eye on Inquisitor Lavellan's prone body. Cassandra's breath caught in her throat—I was not fast enough, again—but Sera was not panicking, and the Inquisitor's chest rose and fell steadily where she lay, her head propped up on Sera's quiver.

"Piss," Sera said, philosophically, and pulled an arrow out of a corpse. "She put that last barrier down and fell right over. If she starts shitting demons, you two are on your own."

"It's good to know our bonds of comradeship are so strong, Sera," Blackwall said. Where Cassandra had come through the fight mostly unscathed, Blackwall had come out limping and favoring his left shoulder. Upon seeing this, Sera immediately forgot about the Inquisitor, and her arrows, and she rushed up to him to punch him directly in his wound. Cassandra used their distraction to pick the Inquisitor up in her arms.

Lavellan always found it in herself to cast one last barrier, freeze one more enemy, but her power was not unlimited. A month of fade rifts and undead and bandits in Crestwood, and no time to rest, had whittled her down to almost nothing. Blackwall took her bladed staff, and they set out down the hill, Sera plucking arrows from dead enemies as they went.

"All I know is," Sera was saying, "I just need to outrun the two of you. It can't be hard, what with you two weighed down with all that armor. So I figure, beardy, I give you a stern kick in the bollocks, so you're easy pickings—keep the demon busy, yeah? And then I chuck my quiver and bow while Cassandra gives it a fight, and by the time she puts it to bed, or it puts her to bed, I'm long gone—"

The Inquisitor stirred, and her eyes fluttered open. "I hate to disappoint, but I'm not very interesting to demons right now," she said, her voice weak and faint. "I couldn't light a fire, let alone become an abomination."

"That's just what a demon would say," Sera said.

"Perhaps if you let Cassandra give you some Seeker training, you'd know for sure," Blackwall said, mussing Sera'shair, as though it could be more mussed than it already was.

"Shit on the Seekers!" Sera said. She swatted his hand away. "Shit on Cassandra's training, and shit on magic."

"I'm right here," Cassandra said.

"Yeah, well," Sera said, "shit directly on you."

Blackwall and Sera walked ahead, and the two of them fell into the same, circular argument they always had about magic. Blackwall was the only one mulish enough to keep having it. Cassandra had heard every possible permutation of it, and ignored it in favor finally meeting the Inquisitor's questioning gaze.

"You collapsed," Cassandra said, "Sera kept you safe until Warden Blackwall and I could finish them off."

"Ah," said the Inquisitor. She touched her cheek, which was now smeared with blood from Cassandra's breastplate. "Ma serannas, Seeker. Am I too heavy?"

"I'm certain I have lifted shields heavier than you in training, Inquisitor," she said.

"We'll have a good dinner at camp tonight, and spend tomorrow recovering. Once I can cast more than two spells in a row, we press on to Caer Bronach." The absolute assurance in her voice made Cassandra believe, for a moment, that four people could assault a keep full of mabari and bandits and claim it for their cause. They had overcome worse odds, at her side.

The Inquisitor took a deep breath, and a sudden breeze shook a flowering bush next to them. Her small hand darted out and caught one of the falling blossoms, and she tucked it behind Cassandra's ear. "Laurels for the victor," the Inquisitor said, in a faint, dreamy voice.

"That was a waste of energy," Cassandra said. She felt her cheeks burn—it was too charming a gesture, too dear, for one spattered in the blood of dead men.

But there was a faraway look in the Inquisitor's wide brown eyes, and a frown tugged at the corners of her mouth. Cassandra knew the expression. She saw it in her own mirror, very late at night. "You did all that you could," Cassandra said. "Your last barrier was all that stood between a blade and Warden Blackwall's innards. I could tell myself that if I had been faster, you would not have needed to overextend yourself in our defense, but it would be of no use."

"As you say, Seeker," the Inquisitor said.

She was not listening. Cassandra frowned. "You are a battlemage without peer, but there is only so much you can do."

"'Without peer,'" she said, reaching up to make some minute adjustment to Cassandra's flower. Surely, camp would be in sight soon, and they could end this interview. "You're very kind."

"I would not lie," Cassandra said. "I do not flatter you. Vivienne has only rarely had a chance to test her skills in the field. Dorian is a pampered scholar. Solas is not at all interested in battle, and it shows. You, however, are used to backing up small groups of fighters. You do not waste your energy on flashy walls of ice. You do not expend a drop of your mana without a sound tactical reason." At some point, her voice had risen, and something of her tone had carried, so that Blackwall and Sera paused in their argument glanced over their shoulders. Abashed, she stared grimly past them, and not at all at the Inquisitor, who could only be mortified by such a recitation of her virtues. "You only made a mistake. Everyone makes them. Even I make them."

"I see," the Inquisitor said. Then she twined her strong, slender arms around Cassandra's neck and pressed a gentle kiss to her cheek.

Cassandra, for her part, made a creditable show of not breaking her stride, or dropping the Herald of Andraste, the Maker's own chosen, the hope of all Thedas, into the mud. She did not even stammer when she said, "Rest, Inquisitor. I will tell you when we reach camp."

*

In the Skyhold practice ring, the Inquisitor's staff swept Cullen's feet from beneath him, then, just as quickly, before he had time to hit the ground, caught him in the center of the chest. He hit the ground with a wheeze and a pained groan, and his soldiers cheered. The onlooking mages held their collective breaths. They knew—Cassandra thought, watching the bout from the back of the crowd—what happened when one raised a hand to a templar. When no immediate retribution came, the tension dissipated somewhat. Perhaps they did not even know they were uncomfortable, so deeply ingrained was their habit of fear.

The Inquisitor did not speak until all were quiet. "Templars will be sloppy," she said, very softly, so that the crowd had to lean in to hear her. "They are used to nothing but fear and cringing from your kind." Cullen began to struggle to his feet, and the Inquisitor spun her staff, almost offhandedly, and put its bladed end to his bare throat. Cullen went back down. "They can suppress your magic, but they will not do so right away, and they're not expecting you to hit them."

She removed her staff from Cullen's neck, and did not offer him a hand when she allowed him to stand. "Maker's breath," Cullen said, grimacing. Then he gave the troops and the mages a rueful little grin: Ah, well, that's our Herald, what did I expect?

The Inquisitor modeled the moves again, put Cullen flat on his back three more times, and then wandered off the field when he began barking orders at soldiers to pair up with mages. Unerringly, she found Cassandra in the crowd. "Walk with me, Seeker," she said, offering her arm. If her smile was brittle, and her grip was tight with nerves, it was not for Cassandra to question—not in front of so many people. It was not until they were on the battlements, well away from patrolling soldiers and nosy messengers, that the Inquisitor let her go. Cassandra could not read what was in her eyes.

"You have fought many templars, then," Cassandra said. "You knew how Cullen would move before he knew how he would move."

"He underestimates me," the Inquisitor said. "He expects me to use magic, and it throws him off balance when I won't."

"That was not my question."

"You didn't ask a question," she said, with a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "Keeper Deshanna spent two years in the Ostwick Circle, when she was First. She kept records of everything she saw."

"She was captured?"

"She was sent to spy."

"As you were sent to the Conclave."

The Inquisitor nodded. "Only, the Keeper lost an eye in her escape, and I ended up with...." She removed her glove, finger by finger, and examined the mark on her palm. "This. And that." She gestured at the valley below Skyhold with her Fade-touched hand. At the armies of the Inquisition camped there, ready to march on her orders. Pilgrims, waiting to see the Herald of Andraste. Refugees, seeking succor. Merchants, come to make a profit off the faithful.

Divine Justinia had been young for a Grand Cleric, and obscenely young, to be Most Holy. The Inquisitor was of an age with Ambassador Montilyet, at least—perhaps older, perhaps younger. It was impossible to tell, with elves. Too young, certainly, to have such a burden to fall on her slender shoulders. Her dark hair had gone grey at the temples, after her escape at Haven. "Inquisitor, I think you—"

"Lethallan," she said, replacing her glove. "You've disemboweled men for me. I think you can call me 'Ellana.'"

Unthinkable. Lavellan, perhaps. Sister Leliana had not maintained her distance from Divine Justinia, and Justinia's death had ravaged her. Cassandra would not make her mistakes. "It is an honor to be your shield."

"You're much more than that," Lavellan said. More. Oh, Maker. But Lavellan went on, "Vir Tanadhal teaches: the hunter is not her bow. The Keeper is not her staff. Whatever you were to your Divine, you are a woman first to me."

She spoke as one of the Dalish, as a keeper of the ways; she could not know what her words sounded like to a human. It would take far more tact than Cassandra possessed to explain this to her. And why should you want to? she thought. Flowers, sweet words, chaste kisses, long walks at dusk: everything Cassandra wanted, given unknowingly. If only Lavellan would make some strike Cassandra could parry, say something unambiguously flirtatious, so that Cassandra did not have to wonder. She could put a full stop to it, before she began to hope for more.

Whatever Ellana Lavellan did, she did with the might of the Inquisition at her back. It was not as a woman that she made these gestures, but as a role. A symbol. Remember this, Cassandra thought, steeling her heart. She had lost the Divine at the Conclave, and she had lost Regalyen, and she would not lose a third time.

"Let's go," Lavellan said.

"Pardon?"

"Down. To the camps. I haven't left Skyhold since we came back from Crestwood." Lavellan held out a courtly hand, and Cassandra took it without thought or hesitation. So much for her steely heart, then. "If you would accompany me, Seeker? You would, wouldn't you."

There would be spies, fanatics, madmen, assassins. If she did not accompany the Inquisitor, it would be Bull, Sera, Leliana—none of whom were half so experienced at guarding a single target as Cassandra. And yet, she was being ridiculous. Iron Bull had explicitly signed on to protect the Inquisitor's person, in battle and out of it; Cassandra had seen the contracts. Leliana was the greatest bard in all of Thedas. Sera was as deadly at close quarters as she was at range, and unnaturally good at finding threats in crowds, besides.

"It will be long past nightfall by the time we return," she said, as sternly as she could manage, with the full force of Lavellan's wide, hopeful gaze brought to bear on her. "You have an early meeting with the Grand Enchanter. We will need to make good time, if you're to be rested."

The Inquisitor held her hand through Skyhold, out the front gates, the entire way down the mountain. She paused on the path before they came to the camps proper, turning to Cassandra in the shadows outside the fires, her pupils reduced to pinpricks. Mana drain, again. Her performance before the mages had taken something out of her, then, and whatever she'd done, Cassandra had not been able to sense it. Stop thinking of her as an apostate you'll have to cut down one day, she admonished herself. She is your Herald. "We can go back to Skyhold, if you wish," Cassandra said, taking Lavellan's one hand in both of hers. "They'll keep."

"No," Lavellan said. "You're very gallant. But no."

"It is not gallant to wish you wouldn't exhaust yourself, especially in a mere practice bout," Cassandra said, perhaps more sharply than she ought to have. Lavellan frowned, but did not seem otherwise offended by her presumption. "I would hate to carry you up another mountain."

"Aha," Lavellan said. "That was you. I knew you were too used to carrying me."

"You'd just crawled out of an avalanche. Cullen needed his arms free to—direct the soldiers. That is all." She was still holding Lavellan's hand, she realized, and she frowned and released it. Rather than bring it back down to her side, Lavellan curled it into a loose fist and touched it to the center of her chest. Cassandra pressed on: "If you refuse to bring another mage with you, and take on the burden of both our offense and our defense, you need to let your mana recover. If you don't use your time at Skyhold to let your mana recover, you will be worthless when next you go out into the field."

Cassandra braced herself for a gentle rebuke, but Lavellan said,"'You're not immortal, only very lucky.' Is that what what you mean?"

"Yes," Cassandra said.

"'I will not always be there to protect you'?"

"Yes." The thought was unbearable.

"I'm not your Divine," she said. "You didn't fail her, and you haven't once failed me." She put her hand, that hand, on Cassandra's battered leather breastplate, above her solar plexus—no. Above her heart. "Be frank with me. Be honest. I trust you more than anyone."

On impulse, Cassandra took the Inquisitor's hand and kissed the center of her palm, where her mark was. It was the kiss of faith. Cassandra would have given it to any Grand Cleric she met. The Dalish did not take lovers, as a rule; the Inquisitor's vocabulary of touch was entirely different from a human's. Cassandra reminded herself of this, when Lavellan pulled her hand gently away and turned to face the campfire.

"We'll see the troops tonight," Lavellan said. "A visit from the Inquisitor herself is just what they need after hearing of their commander's defeat, don't you think?"

It was a pronouncement, not a question. Cassandra was grateful for it, and the shadows that hid her face.

*

No right-minded person would go drinking with Sera and Blackwall of their own volition, but Sera had shown up in Cassandra's room and dragged her to the Herald's Rest—most likely because Dorian was away from Skyhold with Lady Josephine. Sera was a persuasive girl: what Cassandra imagined Leliana might have been like, long ago. It was easier to say yes, and enjoy the warmth of their company, and their stories of Orlesian tavern wenches. Then the Iron Bull arrived, and the evening improved, marginally.

"Let's hear about Crestwood," he'd said, setting a round of drinks down on the table. Wine for Cassandra, ale for Blackwall and Sera, something sweet and steaming for himself. Cassandra would not put it past him to have the entire Inquisition's drink orders memorized. "No demon shit. I want the blood and guts."

Blackwall took the lead, at great length: "So then I feel the barrier come down, and all of the sudden, the bandit stops, drops his sword, and puts his hands on his chest, and this spar of ice bursts from his chest—"

"Shut it!" Sera said, slamming her tankard down on the table. Blackwall sighed and took a sip of his drink. "I hate the explodey bits."

"You were there," Cassandra said.

"I was on top of a hill picking the baddies off, like a normal person," Sera said. "I didn't have to see it."

"I didn't see it," Bull said, pulling Sera into a gentle headlock. "I wasn't there. Keep going."

Blackwall stared deep into his ale, and his voice dropped ominously when he went on: "Only, it wasn't ice. The Herald froze his heart right in his chest, and the bloke looks down, like he has no idea what's going on, and falls over. All the rest of the bandits damn near shit themselves, and me and Seeker Cassandra rout the blighters."

Cassandra snorted. "You exaggerate, Ser Blackwall."

"No fun if he doesn't," Sera said. She had given up wriggling out of Bull's grasp, and rested very comfortably in the crook of his arm. "Look at Bull, he's about to tarsiddy-whatever all over himself. Aim it at the next table, will you?" Bull did not deny her accusation, whatever it was, but only looked blissfully happy. "Anyway, Inky hadn't had a rest for a few days, and she passes right out, which she never does, and I get at least twelve of them right in the eyes keeping them from storming our hill. See? No fun if you don't exaggerate."

"I have a story," Cassandra said. It was the wine, going to her head. She had never told this one, but it was intolerable, to have the only story of the evening be about the Inquisitor falling over. "We were in the Hinterlands, her and I, and Solas, and Varric—this was before we knew any of you. There were rogue templars on the loose, raiding villages for supplies, putting anyone they suspected of harboring apostates to the sword; and late at night, the two of us found four of them around their campfire." She paused to take a fortifying sip of her drink, and Bull let Sera go.

"You got the drop on them, right?" Bull said. "Tell me you got the drop on them."

"We could have, but the odds were not ideal, and even if the Inquisitor had remained at a distance, if one of them got within silencing range, it would have been her and her staff against large men in heavy armor. I was prepared to withdraw and follow their trail in the morning, but the Inquisitor had other ideas."

Sera pulled a face. "Did she explode their hearts? Tell me she didn't explode their hearts."

"Shut it, fuzzhead," Blackwall said. "Let the Lady Seeker tell her story. You too, Bull."

"Yes, mum," Sera said.

"I'm afraid it was far worse," Cassandra said. "Before I could make my suggestion, their campfire burned white, and the flames engulfed the four of them. Three were immediately burnt beyond recognition, and the fourth, his armor was fused at the joints from the neck down. He was screaming in pain; no doubt the melted metal had gotten to his skin, but he was not dead yet. Then the Inquisitor turned around and left. When we found the rest of their band two days later, they were demoralized and easy to defeat."

Iron Bull made a noise deep in his throat. In his vast vocabulary of grunts, this one meant: I am burgeoningly aroused by your capacity for violence, and would be honored to join you in your tent at your earliest convenience. Cassandra herself had been on the receiving end of it, and had been immensely flattered. "Never wastes a move," he said, raising his mug toward the heavens. "Why rain fire down on them when you've got a perfectly good fire right there? Why make ice when you can freeze their blood. Shit, that takes a creative mind. Imagine what the boss is like—" Bull stopped abruptly and cleared his throat. "I mean no disrespect to our leader, of course."

"It's not really creativity," Lavellan said, sidling in between Cassandra and Iron Bull. Sera jumped halfway out of her chair in shock.

"Maker's balls, Inquisitor," Blackwall said, loud enough for the whole tavern to hear, "we were just talking about you. Drinks for our Herald! I've got the next round."

"It's like she knows," Sera said.

"When humans chase us away from their towns, there is no authority we can appeal to if they kill some of us," Lavellan said. "Unlike humans, we don't have unlimited numbers. We have no reinforcements to call on. If it comes to open combat, we must strike fast, strike hard, and strike so much fear into their hearts that they don't think to give chase." Then she looked bashful, as she always did, after she gave one of her speeches. Iron Bull made that noise again, and, once Cassandra drained the rest of her glass, she was inclined to agree with the sentiment.

Every member of Clan Lavellan could take up arms, if needed—and they had, at Wycome, and survived. The Inquisitor had been born and raised to command the respect of a unit of fighters. It was no wonder Bull looked at her as though she was the moon and the stars. As if you're one to talk, she thought, meeting Bull's eye. His grin stretched ear to ear. Their thunderstruck expressions must have matched. How embarrassing. "What brings you to the tavern, Inquisitor?" she asked.

"I've come to collect you," Lavellan said, hopping up on the table. "Sister Nightingale requires your presence immediately."

"Did someone die?" Sera said, and perked up considerably.

"She could have sent a messenger," Cassandra said, rolling her eyes. Lady Josephine claimed that Leliana was never dramatic without cause, but Lady Josephine had not worked with with Leliana half as long as Cassandra had.

"Sera, no one died. Cassandra, you'll yell at a messenger to tell Leliana that it can wait until morning."

"And I cannot resist you."

"I should hope not," Lavellan said. Cassandra was not so drunk that she couldn't recognize another one of her feints. Bull and Blackwall were both suddenly very interested in their drinks; Sera only looked back and forth between herself and Lavellan, as though performing some complicated maths in her head. Lavellan seemed sublimely oblivious to all of this. "Come along, Seeker, we've work to do, and it's a long climb to the rookery."

There was nothing to do but follow her to the library. Lavellan spent most of her evenings at Skyhold there, in conversation with the Inquisition's mages. If the wine flowed freely, there were no librarians or archivists to stop them getting raucous. She spent her days in the herb gardens, and the infirmary, and among the refugees. Cassandra knew all of this, because it was her job to know.

The lamps were on in Solas's rotunda. The rest was dark, save for a few candles left burning by scholars slumped over their tables and desks. "Let's sober you up before you see the Nightingale," Lavellan said, drawing Cassandra aside, into one of the library's myriad sheltered, book-lined nooks. "May I?"

Through the window, Cassandra could see a sliver of moon, the flickering fires in the valley, and nothing more. The alcohol left her in a loose-limbed good mood, but if this was of any import—"Do it," she said.

She had to bend over for the Inquisitor to reach her head. A warmth spread throughout her body, and then there was a sudden, horrible clarity to her thoughts. No headache, no queasiness, only a sharp awareness of every limb and joint in her body. "I will never get used to that," she said. Lavellan massaged Cassandra's temples, and she did not even have the excuse of a full bottle of wine, and whatever swill Sera had pressed on her, for putting her hands on the narrow span of Lavellan's waist.

The lighting was perfect. The library was quiet.The Herald of Andraste cared for her, as more than a sword-arm and a scowl. Cassandra had no compelling reason not to lean down and kiss her. "Leliana is waiting," Cassandra said, instead.

Lavellan made a displeased humming sound, but made no move to extract herself from Cassandra's grip, just as Cassandra made no move to release her. "She is."

"Directly above us. The ravens are watching, I'm sure. We should go."

"We should."

Andraste preserve her. Andraste preserve them all. The Inquisitor put her hands on Cassandra's shoulders and backed her against the bookshelf. She could not have done it had Cassandra not allowed it. It would have been a simple matter, to pick her up, so that their faces were at the same level, but Lavellan was the one who had wooed her from the start. Her eyes were dark in the moonlight, the grey at her temples standing out in stark relief from her black hair, and she did not make any move. Lavellan was, Cassandra realized, waiting for her to relax. Cassandra sighed, and let the tension drain from her shoulders. The spines of the books pressed into her back. Now the kiss, now the passionate embrace, and then they would have to face Leliana, who would immediately know what they'd been up to. The thought made her giddy.

But Lavellan only stood on her toes, and pressed her lips to Cassandra's cheek, the same cheek she always kissed. "It really is urgent," Lavellan said, letting her go and taking a step back.

"Yes," Cassandra said, her face hot. "Yes, of course."

*

"I say, tell them to go piss up a rope," Sera suggested, firing an arrow into Cassandra's favorite practice dummy, then another. Leliana's message had been advance warning of a pair of Nevarran Grand Clerics who would arrive, with all their retinue of loyal templars and Revered Mothers, before Josephine's return. Cullen would be dismissed out of hand, and so the Right and Left Hands of the Divine had to present a unified front.

The business of the Inquisition went on, regardless of one's personal difficulties.

Cassandra put it from her mind. It was relaxing, to be around Sera when she trained. Everything in her went calm and still when she had a bow in her hand. "Are they coming to check Inky for nits? See if she's cleaning behind her pointy ears? She's headed up to the Storm Coast tomorrow, anyway. Better to make Mother May-I and Mother Wipe-My-Arse wait, Leliana says."

"The Storm Coast," Cassandra said. "Are you going with her?"

Sera shrugged. "Varric, Vivi, Bull. Fine by me. Dorian's two days out from Skyhold, and he's coming back from Lady Josie's stupid party with a whole case of wine. Do you think I could go to the next one with her? If Josie and Dorian can talk nobles out of their stuff, I can, too."

"I think that would be a wonderful idea, and you should bring it up to Lady Josephine as soon as she returns," said Cassandra. "Be as persistent as possible. Do not take no for an answer." Then she turned on her heel and went up to the battlements, where Lavellan would surely be training at this time of day.

"More control, da'len," Lavellan was saying to an apprentice, a tall, weedy Rivaini girl, while another two apprentices looked on. She put her hand on the girl's shoulder. "Fire burns everything in its path, but it is not angry. Perhaps you draw more power through the Veil when you're emotional, but you must be able to cast with the same strength in any mood, and your fury will only draw the attention of spirits. Find your balance."

Cassandra sat back in the shade of the parapet and watched the lesson. These were young survivors of Dairsmuid, smuggled out before the annulment. It was only natural that they were angry, and frightened, and skittish with their own magic. Lavellan had taken them on personally as a gesture of goodwill to the Grand Enchanter. She was making an absolute hash of it, so far as Cassandra could tell. Only when the apprentices shuffled down the steps, single file, heads bowed, did she step forward.

"Mythal's mercy," Lavellan said. She pinched the bridge of her nose. "I'm a better killer than I am a teacher, don't you think?"

"You won't reach them like that," Cassandra said firmly. "They do not need balance."

"They need balance more than ever. There is nothing more dangerous than a frightened mage."

"What they need," she said, "is a cause. Something to aim themselves at. The Circle laid out their life's path before them, and now their Circle is ashes. The Harrowing, which they have been dreading their entire lives, has been abolished by your authority as Herald of Andraste. They are training with you to become front-line fighters, are they not? Invite them to join in the sword-and-shield drills with the rawest recruits, to better understand how the warriors they will be backing up think. None need to know they are mages. Physical discipline does wonders for the young mind."

"You speak from experience," Lavellan said. She leaned on her staff. Her mana had recovered days ago: days in which Cassandra had been avoiding her, after the library. It was easier to fall into the rhythm of making preparations with Leliana, whose work habits and idiosyncrasies were as familiar to Cassandra as the pommel of her sword, and who was kind enough to give every appearance of not having overheard anything. "Very well," she said, "I'll speak to Cullen and Fiona. I'm sure they'll see reason."

They would fold before her will. She was implacable. And beautiful, with her hair slowly slipping out of its high bun and her cheeks flushed from staff-work. "You are going to the Storm Coast without me," Cassandra blurted out, before she could turn tail and run back to the rookery.

"Iron Bull needs to stretch his legs," Lavellan said placidly. "There was an incident in the armory, with some shields—with every shield, in fact. Vivienne brings out the best in him as a fighter." A solid argument, and she'd heeded Cassandra's words about bringing along a second mage, to boot. It was not a comfort. "Sera will only come if Dorian or Blackwall comes along, but they'll all be hungover for days once Dorian gets back to Skyhold, and therefore worthless."

"You're being deliberately obtuse."

"Seeker," she said, "lethallan, you deserve a rest."

"My place is at your side," Cassandra said. "If this is because of the other night, perhaps you...." She gnawed at the inside of her cheek and counted to five before she went on. Lavellan watched her, wide-eyed. "Perhaps things are different, among the Dalish. Perhaps you did not realize what your attentions meant, until I—importuned you. In the library."

Lavellan leaned her staff against the wall. She advanced on Cassandra, stood toe-to-toe with her, and slid her arms around Cassandra's waist. They stood that way for a long while, until Cassandra found herself breathing in Lavellan's rhythm, stroking the back of her neck, resting her chin on the top of her head.

Finally, Lavellan spoke, her voice muffled by Cassandra's shoulder. "If we were Dalish, our Keepers would have arranged a match. I would have performed some feat to prove my usefulness to your clan and my reverence to the Creators." There was no humor in her tone. "First, I delivered the mages as full and willing allies. Then I sealed the Breach. Then I brought a mountain down on my head and lived to tell the tale. All of this, with you at my side! I thought I'd made my intentions clear."

"Ah," Cassandra said. "It was then that you sought help, as I maintained a distance that befitted our stations, and did not swoon into your arms."

"Leliana explained human romance to me. Flowers, she said. Compliments. Wringing your favorite books out of your favorite dwarves. It... appealed. Cassandra Allegra Portia Calogera—"

"Enough," she snapped, out of habit, and Lavellan only pulled away and smiled—her nose wrinkled when she smiled—and spread her hands wide on Cassandra's back.

"—Filomena Adela Melania Concetta Fabiana Pentaghast, I've been importuning you for months."

So Leliana had told Lavellan the rest of Cassandra's middle names, as well. Cassandra's best scowl had no effect on her. The battlements were deserted for the moment, but some scout or messenger could burst through the door at a run and see them embracing. Lavellan drew Cassandra down and kissed the corner of her mouth, and she found that she would not have cared if the entire Pentaghast clan was filing past them. "Please don't swoon," Lavellan murmured, brushing her nose over Cassandra's. "I'm afraid won't be able to catch you. You'll crack your head on the stone, and then we'll never make it to the Storm Coast."

"I will make every attempt, Inquisitor," Cassandra said, too dizzy with pleasure to sound solemn, even in jest. "Perhaps you should be more concerned for the well-being of the armory, if you leave Bull behind."

"Bull will keep," Lavellan said, "the armory will keep. Call me Ellana."

"Ellana," said Cassandra. "Ellana."