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The Ties That Bind Us

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When Maiara awoke from her Harrowing, she knew well why none spoke of its trials. For there were no explanations to be given. Nothing could be trusted in the Fade, that was the true test. She chastised her own kindness and willingness to aid others in her mind when she pulled her shawl further around her as she sat up in her bunk. She had been foolish and had nearly lost everything. But she had succeeded. Wynne wouldn’t want her to dwell… not now, not today, not ever. We mustn’t dwell on our mistakes. She jammed her fingers into her thick hair, combing the so-dark-brown-it-was-almost-black mane back from her face. It never ceased to amaze her, the things young women will covet… her hair being one of them. It reached her hips and was ever a source of annoyance for her but nary a day went by where she didn’t hear oh I wish I had your hair! If only they knew how unruly it could be.

 

“You’re finally awake…” Cullen murmured from his station at the door. The wee hours of the morning still saw the bulk of the tower’s residents asleep, still he did not dare enter. His honey colored eyes peered into the near darkness, barely making out her not-too-slender form as she sat on the edge of her bed. The wool shawl slipping from one of her shoulders to reveal a slash of tawny skin, dark even from here for the contrast of the white strap of her linen shift. He cut his eyes down to the floor instantly.

 

Maiara glanced up with a bit of a start, deep mahogany eyes going wide for the unexpected disturbance to the near silence around them. Cullen… the name whispered through her mind as if on a breeze… a breeze down from the mountain, as likely to bring relief as it was to bring the chill of death. She tucked her feet into her slippers, pulling the shawl back around her as she rose and silently made way to the door, but not too near… just near enough. “Yes.” Some of that aforementioned unruly hair slid back in place, flopping over upon her brow in an odd arc.

 

Cullen saw her feet before he knew she had risen, he straightened, his spine going rigid inside of his armor. He caught those dark eyes of hers as she came to stand not a foot from him… never more closer than that though he longed for it. A sin upon him, these thoughts of his. “I am pleased.” He whispered quieter still, his hand tightening on the hilt of his sword for no reason other than to stave off the urge to reach for her. “I.. I.. simply wished to ask after you.”

 

Maiara studied his features, as she always did. For two years now… always watching… she knew every inch of his face, could tell him by mere stance alone. His stutter always had her heart mimicking his halting words. “Thank you… Ser Cullen. That was… very kind of you.” Her own hold on the thick wool of her shawl tightened, forcing her hands to remain in her own space rather than reach for the fresh shaved look of his cheek, to satisfy the urge to test and see if it was as smooth as it appeared.

 

Cullen felt the blush starting to spread up the sides of his neck so he simply nodded in return yet his feet would not move… he just… stood there, staring at her. Her eyes stole him every time, they were so dark, they seemed to swallow him up as if he were diving down into them. In those eyes, nothing else mattered and everything disappeared. The way she looked at him, he wasn’t a Templar… he was not just Cullen Rutherford from a small town in Ferelden. He was somehow more.

 

Maiara felt as though she had been slipping under some sort of spell, the way he was looking at her. The world simply vanished, everything around them fell away. Thus was the way of things with this Templar, he could still her with a single look… the way he was looking at her in this moment. Her breathing would slow and her heart would speed up… she would hear the blood rushing in her ears. It was as if the world conspired against them to create these moments…

 

Jowan was keeping his path to the wall as he made his way towards Maiara’s dormitory, there was a pressing matter he had to speak with her about before the rest of the tower was fully awake. Especially since she was now a fully fledged Mage, recently harrowed. His steps started to slow as he saw the Templar standing there at the door… and Maiara there too. She was staring up into his eyes and oh, gross. Jowan felt like making an exaggerated gagging sound but truthfully, he had no room to judge. Thus was exactly why he just knew she would help him… not only was she his (only) true friend, but she would sympathize with his plight. He drew near enough so he could discretely clear his throat. “Ahem.

 

Cullen blinked rapidly, breaking the seemingly supernatural connection, realizing with a certain amount of horror that he had started leaning towards her, his head starting to dip downward. He snapped back upright and looked to the other mage, for once… grateful beyond measure that it was the suspected blood mage, Jowan. He looked back to Maiara and saw the shock and surprise there in her eyes as well, for she had begun to crane her neck upwards. He knew he shouldn’t be alone with her… he knew that a long time ago. And yet, he kept seeking her out… his greatest sin to date. He parted his lips as if to speak but could not find his voice, so he simply gave a curt nod and turned on his heel, stalking down the hall to return to his post… sure he had already been gone too long.

 

Maiara likewise felt the fog lift from her mind, panic replacing it at their sudden discovery. Though, they hadn’t been doing anything to be discovered other than speaking with one another. Yet, they weren’t speaking… and even that was a frowned upon offense. Jowan’s approach had her frown slightly. “What are you doing here?” She had to ask, for it was still quite early.

 

Jowan smirked slightly at the sudden panicked look on her face but quickly recovered. “I need to speak with you…”

 

Maiara listened to his concerns over his own Harrowing… deflected his questions over hers. Tried to dissuade his suspicions over him being made Tranquil. She vehemently denied that… surely they wouldn’t make him tranquil. True, Jowan wasn’t an overly talented mage, if anything… that made him less of a danger. Maiara went about her day after she seemed to ease Jowan’s concerns. Dressing and attending first meal before reporting to the First Enchanter’s office. She was surprised to find both Knight Commander Gregor and a strange man there with him, so she rapped lightly on the open door.

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Irving glanced to the door and hid his smile well though his pride still shone in his tired eyes. His star pupil, fresh from her Harrowing and looking radiant as ever. Her simple apprentice gown in earth tones blended almost completely with her skin, her cheekbones spoke of her ancient heritage and though she bore a Free Marcher nobleman’s surname, she was far from the bloodlines Kirkwall was once so proud of. The tattoos on her chin did nothing to distract from her natural beauty… it wasn’t the kind they fawned over in courts mind you, it was a more wholesome kind. The kind that spoke of ages past, of myths and legends. The tattoos, a gift from her father. The chasind man who came knocking on the eve of her seventeenth birthday. Brandishing a fierce look, a toolkit, and a demand that even Gregor could not deny. Irving remembered well how Maiara had taken in the warrior, this bulk of a man who had the same eyes as she. They’d spoken well into the night in Irving’s office, the man- Aqissiaq- explaining all of her heritage. She’d weathered the information gracefully and asked few questions. That night, Aqissiaq bestowed upon her the markings of her people. The trio of outlined marks that dove down her chin from the bottom of her lower lip, to be filled in on specific occasions; should she marry and then bare children. He’d left her with a pack of belongings, a few heirlooms- explaining each and their uses. Then… as if the bird he was, he left with the dawn and hadn’t returned since.

 

Gregor glanced as well, the mage however did not hold his favor as she did Irving’s. In truth, she made him nervous for the way she openly met his eye. The lack of fear he saw whenever she looked at him did not bode well, even if he saw no malice there in her gaze. She was also unlike any in the circle… she had this look about her; as if she were some wild creature that they dared to cage. More so than even the elves they had here. It was… unsettling.

 

Duncan’s attention snapped to the door, his reflexes far more honed than the two he was currently speaking with. He was not used to being a part of arguments that were so easily interrupted… the woman he saw standing at the door was more unexpected than the interruption. His lips parted in partial surprise and awe… she was… beautiful. Not since his days as a young man, exploring the Korcari Wilds had he seen one of her kind. A chasind? Here? His blue eyes must have played a trick upon him for when she glanced to him, he could plainly see that she was not wholly of her people, her skin wasn’t as dark and her features had been diluted. It took nothing away from her, however. She had that stillness about her that came from the legacy within her. For all the mysteries surrounding the people of the wilds, their mages were the largest of them all. Thought to have none, he knew otherwise. They were usually their most guarded… thought of as not just mages but as seers, connections to the Gods… prized above all others. That even one in half should be here in a Chantry governed tower? Rather odd, indeed. Duncan felt a certain amount of sorrow just seeing her there, in circle tower robes… as if her wings had been clipped. “Gentlemen.” He cleared his throat, as if they hadn’t already noticed her interruption.

 

Maiara glanced between the three older men, her eyes settling upon the stranger, for she did not know him. It was rare that she meet someone new and of course, her curiosity was peeked. He wore odd armor, his stature spoke of a warrior, yet there was gentleness in his features that was unexpected. The argument, what little she had heard, had been surrounding the King and something called darkspawn. The name triggered long forgotten information, something she’d read perhaps, long ago. She gave a formal bow, observing the Grand Enchanter and the Knight Commander’s stations, both of them. “Pardon the Interruption. First Enchanter, you wished to see me?”

 

Irving nodded in response to her before turning to Gregor and Duncan. “Gentlemen, perhaps we should continue this discussion another time.” He saw the argument poised there on Gregor’s lips and gave him a pleading look, hidden there in the wrinkles around his eyes. Duncan, however, was as proper as always, giving him a look to match his observant nature.

 

“Of course.” Gregor’s tone said much more than his words but he dutifully turned away from the First Enchanter and made for the door, secretly grateful that the Mage stepped aside for him so he didn’t have to give the impression in front of the Grey Warden that it was he who often moved for the Mages.

 

Duncan had yet to tear his eyes from the woman. “Irving, is this the apprentice you spoke of?” Suddenly, Duncan didn’t feel so proper.

 

Irving raised a brow at Duncan’s uncharacteristic break in his usual careful observance of social standings. “Yes. This is Maiara Amell.” He gestured for her to join them, which she did. The way she moved was no less mystical than her appearance, it was as if she nearly floated over the stone floor, but not out of frailty, he knew that first hand. She could be fierce if needed, just enough of her father’s blood within her ensured that much. “Come child, this is Duncan. He is a Grey Warden.” He said nothing more, not wishing to frighten her over the news of blight outside the tower.

 

Maiara bowed as Gregor passed, submissive to the bear of a man who she knew held no kindness towards her though she also knew that, he wanted to. He was kinder than most towards Mages and they were all lucky to have him as their Knight Commander. The man, who was introduced as Duncan not a moment later, his rough voice caught her attention and thus, she joined the men. When the First Enchanter introduced them, she grew uncomfortable under the Grey Warden’s open stare. She bowed to him instead, taking the moment to feel alone in her skin before returning her eyes to his. “Welcome to the Circle, Grey Warden.” Her accent-less words came forth in a nothing-special voice, at least not to her.

 

They went on to speak of the war, the King, and why Duncan was there. She accepted the First Enchanter’s praise over her passing the Harrowing as well as her mementos that marked her as officially a member of the Circle. She graciously agreed to escort the Warden to his loaned quarters (as well as agree to provide the entertainment for that evening’s dinner), they spoke little along the way and once she was finished with her task, she met with Jowan, as he had requested.

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Maiara blinked at the initiate as Jowan introduced her. Her blinking only got more rapid as he introduced her further. Her voice took a moment before she sputtered out. “Jowan, are you insane?! An initiate?! B.. but, that’s forbidden!

 

Jowan had been wearing a proud grin but it faltered at her reaction. “Me?!” He gawked at her as they drew closer together so they could whisper-shout at each other. “At least I’m not the one carrying on with a Templar!”

 

Maiara jerked her head back on her neck as he flung that at her. “I… I’m not!” She insisted, blushing brightly. “It’s… it’s not like that. We… I…” She flustered before kicking her chin up, her brows doing the same. “This isn’t about me!”

 

Jowan nearly threw his head back and laughed, but he didn’t. He wanted to… but he didn’t. “Oh please! Do not play innocent with me, it’s exactly like that. You think I haven’t noticed the way you were staring at him this morning? You were seconds away from throwing yourself at him.” He nearly sneered at her. “At least I’m not fraternizing with the enemy.”

 

Maiara’s eyes narrowed at him for that comment, and more. Meanwhile, Lily cringed… if Jowan wished this woman’s help, he was going about it the wrong way… and if she wasn’t mistaken, she detected a hint of jealousy in his voice. Maiara’s whispered tone rushed out of her with renewed vigor and true anger at the offense. “I was not. He has never touched me nor have I laid a hand upon him.” Magic flashed in her pupils threateningly with her words. “And he is not my enemy no more than this initiate to the Chantry is.” She gave him a scathing look. “You forget your place, Jowan. I’ll keep your secret but I will not help you befoul our home by spitting in the face of those who have watched over us all these years. If you want to find your own way out, I wish you all the luck in the world but do not call upon me again.”

 

Jowan’s surprise shone on his features at the words she threw at him. He thought… surely they had… by the way they had been looking at one another. But he heard no lie in her voice… yet another thing she had excelled at… where he had failed. He’d watched her look at that Templar for years now… and she’d resisted the temptation… and yet Lily had only been in the tower for a few months and he had already succumbed to her. He saw the magic there in Maiara’s eyes but that was of no concern to him, as was often the case whenever Mage’s tempers were lit. His own had been shining in his eyes for some time now during their conversation though nowhere near as brightly as hers… for he wasn’t as strong. She was better than him in almost every way… his jealousy was present for many reasons. Yet when she dismissed him and his request so easily, he felt the blow deep. “Maiara… wait…” He found himself interrupted by Lily.

 

Lily had enough of Jowan’s tactless attempt to gain aid. “Maiara please… will you at least think about it. Jowan’s heart is in the right place… you know him perhaps better than even I. You know he wishes only to be free, not to harm any nor to disrespect this place. Please… just think about it…” She clasped her hands before her robes as she issued her plea, her brows pitched outwards.

 

Lily’s words stilled Maiara for she had already started to turn away, content to ignore Jowan’s insistence. She looked back at the woman… her own heart wilting slightly. She could be you. She sighed heavily and gave her a subtle nod. “I will think on it… though I doubt my answer will change. When did you say you wanted to do this insane plan of yours again?”

 

Jowan looked down at the floor shamefully. “Tomorrow night… many of the Templars are leaving to escort another contingent of mages to Ostagar to aid the King in his war. It’s the only chance we’ll have.” He glanced up at her and saw the way her features tried to hold back her sympathy… thus was why he valued her friendship. She was uncommonly kind… and even still, he knew he was too brash with her more often than not.

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Maiara simply nodded and returned to her duties for the rest of the day. She had to move quarters and then meet with her new instructors and learn of her new roles within the tower now that she was a Mage and no longer an apprentice. By the time she was to report to the formal dinner that Irving had insisted upon throwing for Duncan, she was rushing down the hall. One hand held the leather bag that housed her rosewood flute, the other held up the skirt of her formal robes, her hair a blaze of darkness behind her. She was out of breath when she reached the door, taking a few moments to catch it before she knocked softly and entered. The private dining hall was dimly lit by the candles that sat lazily in their holders… the intimate setting was a stark contrast to the rest of the tower. But even still, it was odder to see the Knight Commander out of his armor and Irving with a worn but present smile. Duncan sat at the head of the table and there were a few other high ranking members of the order as well as a few Senior Enchanters at the table. They were already starting on their second course… she was late. She glanced just inside the door and blinked, surprised to find Cullen standing there. He was in armor though, standing guard as he always did. There was another Templar opposite him… even here, it was obvious they were still in the Tower.

 

Irving smiled up at her, dotting his mouth with a napkin and gesturing for her to enter. “Come in, Child. I’m afraid we started without you. I was just telling Duncan here of your skill with the flute, we have been eagerly awaiting your music.”

 

Duncan looked up and had to still himself. The candles dancing on her darker skin and in her dark eyes set the world apart from them all. The way she bowed quietly and immediately went to the prepared chair for her, pulling out the instrument and putting it together… not so much as apologizing for her tardiness. He glanced to Irving who had already returned to his meal and quiet conversation with one of the other Senior Enchanters… he looked then to Gregor who hadn’t even looked up from his own plate of food, nodding in a distracted manner to one of the other Knights. So… he simply returned his gaze back to Maiara as she lifted the flute to her pursed lips. The music that came forth was quiet at first… and slowly grew to a volume that just barely breached the level of conversation; there in the background… and damned if it wasn’t the most beautiful thing Duncan had ever heard. He looked around the room again to see if he was perhaps hallucinating… but no one else had even looked in her direction, that was of course, until he saw the Templar by the door. Now, that one… had his eyes fixed upon her with such intensity that it was plain to see, even to him, that it was more than just the music that had captured his attention. For nearly an hour she played… and Duncan hadn’t taken a bite the entire time… nor had he been able to tear his eyes from her entirely. He’d kept flicking them back to the Templar and noticed that he too kept shifting his eyes away from her though it was apparent that it was difficult for him to do so. She was lovely… her eyes closed and still as only the chasind could be. When she was finished, there was quiet clapping from those at the table, even Gregor… who secretly loved hearing her play.

 

Maiara simply packed up her flute and left without word… her eyes shifting up to meet Cullen’s as she passed him. That singular moment felt as though it were twenty for the way the world slowed around them… she took in a deep breath and shut the door behind her. She was nearly back to her quarters, having mistakenly gone to her old dormitory like a bumbling fool… thus it’d taken her more than an hour alone to get to her own room. She was still getting used to that… typically she would be sharing it with another female mage, but since many had already gone to aid the King, her room was currently empty aside from herself. It was alright though… she knew the mage she was rooming with, she was a nice woman. She was thinking about what Jowan had asked of her… of Jowan’s plight… and what he had accused her of earlier in the evening. Why must this world be so divided? When there were seemingly so many around her, including herself, who found themselves standing on the wrong side of the line? She was deep in thought when she entered her room, pushing the heavy door open.

 

Cullen watched as she came down the hall… his nerves dumping into him as always. She was late… where had she been? She shouldn’t have taken this long to return to her quarters. He’d been waiting by her door for nearly half an hour now. The dinner had ended shortly after she left the dining room… and he’d been dismissed from his special detail. He was supposed to be in his own quarters, the small one he shared with no one… only big enough to hold his slender bunk style bed. He wouldn’t be missed… this was his night off, many would think him down at the Spoiled Princess. Yet he wasn’t… he was here, standing by her door… like an addict hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Just one more glance before he retired for the night. The mage floor was much less guarded this time of night, and they were running short on Templars as it was. When she passed him without a glance, his brow furrowed… he cleared his throat quietly.

 

Maiara startled almost violently as her head snapped to the side, she breathed a sigh of relief. “Cullen… you startled me.” She set a hand to her chest and took another deep breath. “Forgive me… I did not see you there… I was…” She shook her head… she almost didn’t recognize him in his common clothes.

 

Cullen’s features softened at the way she nearly came off the floor, as if a cat that had been surprised. “Yes, you… you looked deep in thought.” He cleared his throat again, purposefully this time. He swallowed roughly before backing her into her room, shutting the door behind him, latching it with a shaking hand. “I… I wanted to wish you goodnight.” He felt sweat break out on his brow as he left his hand on the metal bar that secured her door. Horrible idea. He couldn’t believe he’d just shut himself up with her.

 

Maiara’s eyes widened when he all but forced her into her own room… she blinked up at him and his stuttering words, her heart once again doing that flip on her. She nodded and set her flute down on her desk with a slow breath. “I… I was… I didn’t think I would see you again tonight.” She smoothed down the front of her robes and chanced a look at him. His eyes catching the failing candle light. Fraternizing with the enemy. Jowan’s words rang through her mind.

 

Cullen nodded, though why he did, he had no idea. He steeled himself and stepped towards her… you idiot… you’re actually going to do it, aren’t you? He forced his mind to stop trying to undercut him. He felt that pull towards her as if a tether upon his body. “I… I had to see you.” He reached that one foot barrier that they had never crossed… and stepped closer to her. He felt as though the tunic over his chest had suddenly grown far too tight.

 

Maiara watched him approach her and felt her cheeks flush, knowing the blush was more than likely bright even in the dim light. When he was but a few inches from her, she felt as though she could hardly breath. “You… you shouldn’t be here…” She whispered between them, yet she reached her hand up… stalled… and continued… settling her hand to his cheek. She watched as his eyes flared yet felt him lean into her hand… it was no longer smooth but slightly rough, she felt the prickle of his whiskers, yet it was far warmer than she thought. She saw the red hue spread over his nose and into the very cheek she was touching as well as its opposite.

 

Cullen felt as though she were the Blessed Andraste herself touching him… and knew he was blasphemous for thinking such a thing. But he craved that touch… how he craved it. He leaned into her hand as his eyes flared and then fluttered shut. “No… I shouldn’t.” He whispered in return as he covered her hand with his own, feeling how much smaller it was than his. Maker’s Breath… she is but a woman. That was the part that he’d never been able to get over… she was just a woman. To him… she was not a mage, she was just a woman. He looked back down to her and reached his other hand for her face, tracing the line of her jaw as he took a slow breath before he threw everything away… and kissed her. One moment it was quiet… the air around them still, as if the world was taking in a sharp breath right along with them… then it went careening over the edge with them as well. The next moment, he sank into the kiss, his arms wrapping around her as hers went around him, she surrendered to him so quickly. Two agonizingly long years caged within him broke free as she sighed against him, he felt her tugging at his tunic. A moment later, it lay upon the floor as the candle burnt out. He broke the kiss, the air filled with the sound of their collective gasps. “Maiara…” He breathed her name like a prayer… yet it was a sin upon him, he knew that… even now, he knew that.

 

Maiara was lost to him, whatever resistance she’d been able to hang onto was gone the moment his lips touched hers. Her body virginal in his advances, she nearly whimpered from the sensations… yet she’d never tell him to stop. The way he uttered her name had her pulling the knots on her robes free… pushing the fabric from her shoulders and letting it fall to pool around her feet. The moonlight pouring in the too slender windows illuminating the space just enough for outlines to be seen… the way he seemed to swell as he stood there before her undid her all over again. “I am yours…” She whispered to him. A series of moments… that is all that life is. And in the next, she was in his arms as he carried her to her newly appointed bed.

 

The moon witnessed the event… Cullen lay between her legs, the sheet pooled around his waist and tented by her knees… his back bare to the world as he gripped the headboard above her while her blunt nails scored his back, her head thrown back as his eyes remained fixed upon her features. His muscles all worked as he moved, each roll of his hips brought them closer to heaven, the soft cries she gave him were far sweeter than the grandest victories… his own tenor coming forth in affirmations and dedications as his other hand held fast to her hip. The rhythm varied between passionately slow to almost painfully fevered, Cullen’s abilities flaring brightly on their own much like hers, both intrinsically tied to their emotions… her magic would arc around them and his disruption would flex, creating a cloud of mana and lyrium fusion flowing between them. Cullen’s pupils glowed a steady blue not unlike the moon overhead hidden by the haze of passing clouds while Maiara’s were a flashing brilliance of gold, like a gilded Chantry idol in his mind. By the time the moon was relinquishing its hold upon the night sky and the sun was once again reclaiming dominion over the horizon, Cullen lay in deep sleep with Maiara draped over him, her head resting upon his chest… lulled into peaceful slumber by the steady beat of his heart.

 

The distant echo of armored steps roused Cullen from the hardest sleep he’d ever had… at first he blinked in confusion over the disturbance before panic dumped into him like ice. His hand was tangled in Maiara’s thick hair and her bare form was laid over him, her leg thrown over his likewise bare waist. He removed himself from her hold, wincing when he heard the steps drawing nearer. He knew it was but the hall guards taking their posts but that made it all the worse. He dressed quickly and was about to turn for the door when he heard the slightest mews behind him. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Maiara blinking sleepily at him. “We fell asleep…” He whispered, rushing back to her side to kiss her brow. “I have to go.” He felt her sleepy hand brush down his cheek and had to smile softly at her. He slipped open the door and looked both ways… feeling sweat bead on his brow for an all together different reason than times before. Luckily there was no one to be seen… thus was the way with stone hallways. He shut the door behind him and made haste down the corridor until he ducked into the passageways the Templars used, knowing he’d be safe even if found there in common clothes. Once he returned to his own quarters, he leaned against the closed door breathlessly with a half terrified, half relieved grin. The Maker had smiled upon them… allowing him to be undiscovered on his return trip. He covered his heart with his hand and let his head rest against the worn wood behind him… “Maker’s breath…” The memory still fresh in his mind, he shook his head in disbelief. You’re in so much trouble… he whispered to himself between his ears… for he had stars in his eyes even now, just thinking of her… and he couldn’t wait to touch her again, to see her again.