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Vanguard

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Skyhold was a dead man’s town, with nearly every soldier and almost all the men and women who supported them down in the Arbor Wilds. Mercy was certain she’d climb out of her own skin if she had to wait for news.

But the horses were gone and the birds were gone and the letter she’d scribbled so frantically, while standing up at Josephine’s empty desk, was smeared from her fingers and rolled into a tube with no courier. Mercy dropped the leather tube and sat down on a crate in the rookery with controlled sniffle. Perhaps if she slit the veil like a letter and slipped in, sealed it behind her, she could get back to the others before they departed, take stock of their losses. Be where she was needed and where she needed to be.

“I could take the message for you,” Morrigan said, standing at the top of the spiral stair. “For t'would seem I am in your debt.”

Mercy could not speak, and so she nodded. She turned away for the roiling transformation, and strapped the tube and harness onto the Witch’s feathered back, and watched her wing up in a spiral from an open door. She did not think about what other consequences she might face because of the Well.

And then, she waited.

For three days and two nights, ‘til Morrigan returned with an accounting of Inquisition and allied troops, of material losses, of intelligence gathered and supplies taken and friendships solidified. A note from Empress Celene, congratulating the Inquisition on the resounding victory, thanking them for not putting her men at undue risk. Josephine’s initials and a couple of nearly printed lines on a slip of paper, between a manifest of gathered resources and another of recovered arms.

All is well, my lady. We march today. There is no time to say more, but oh! I wish that you were with us.

All is well, and so she sat with The Iron Bull and Dorian at the Chargers’ empty table in the tavern, and rolled bandages in the infirmary, and trained in the yard with the handful of men who’d been too weak or injured to go with the rest of their fellows at the time. She sat with Sera on the roof, and listened to her plotting elaborate practical jokes that didn’t go anywhere, with the targets of them all a world away. Mercy leaned against the wall by Cole’s corner for hours over the course of a couple of days, just in case he wasn’t quite too human to sneak back ahead of the rest. She kept an ear open for screeching ravens, her eyes peeled for forward scouts, and she answered letters. She saw guests, she tended blood lotus and spindleweed in the garden, and she prayed, exactly once, before the statue of Andraste in their small chapel.

“Thank you,” she murmured, “If you have any power at all, if you had any hand in keeping her safe, thank you.”

For a moment, just after Morrigan handed left her with the packed-full tube of messages, she thought she might have believed again. Might have deserved living in a world where the Maker was real and kind and smiled upon her.

The echo of horn and drums down in the valley announced the victorious return of the Inquisition forces, two and a half weeks after Mercy and her people fell through the mirrored gate between places. And, Oh, please, please let her be at the vanguard!

Josie had traveled to the Arbor Wilds with her troupe of scriveners, twelve young men women of clever tongue and neat hand and they’d been solidly in the middle of the caravan, then.

Someone else raised the alarm, and someone else alerted the kitchen, and someone else brought their thin, scraggly home front guard out to line the bridge in welcome. Mercy didn’t even bother with her sword and shield and armor; she barely tugged her boots on, before she raced out and called to the line upon line of soldiers and spies and support, pitching her voice like she had the day she took up the Inquisitor’s mantle.

“Hale and well met!”

Her hands were shaking.

Mercy bounced on the balls of her feet while the vanguard made its way up, Cullen waving from atop his charger and Cassandra maintaining a respectable pace behind him. She looked for faces she knew, picked out the friends who had not been with her in the Temple of Mythal, one by one. And there—there—Josephine rode behind Cassandra.

She slipped from the saddle and took a couple of half-skipping steps while she found her legs, and then Mercy couldn’t be apart from her anymore. She ran, her lungs stinging with the cold, dry air. And then Josephine was in her arms again, safe and whole and here, and—

Mercy began to speak and Josephine kissed her before she’d said a single word. She tangled her fingers in Josephine’s hair, mussing the braids and trying, trying, trying to hold her close enough they melded from two people into one. She broke away with swollen lips and short breath, tipped her had downward 'til their foreheads touched.

All is well? My lady,” she said, and kissed her, and pulled back again. “My lady, you have a thousand-thousand words for every possible occasion and the best you could do was, ’All is well’?”

“Lady Morrigan was leaving—and I was so glad you were alive I—there wasn’t much time to—”

“If I didn’t think you’d never forgive me for it, I’d throw you over my shoulder and carry you up to my quarters right now.”

“I am holding you to the—promise—you made. After I’ve had a proper bath—”

“—I’ll have one drawn—”

“—And caught up on—”

“—Your correspondence will keep. So will our visitors, and friends, and every buffleheaded nobleman you met on campaign—”

Josephine stepped aside, grinning. Mercy ducked back in to place one last kiss at he corner of her mouth, wrapped one arm around her shoulders and led the way back into Skyhold.

The Inquisition could wait, just this once. She had had enough of waiting to hold her over for a lifetime.