Actions

Work Header

See Fire And Go Toward Light

Chapter Text

The last time Cullen crossed the Waking Sea, he was abandoning the Templars. Before that, he was running from his torture. This time he wasn't leaving bad memories behind, he was moving forward with his life. At least he hoped so.

“Cullen?” Ebrisa walked up beside him, holding a cloak tightly around her frame to keep out the night's cold.

He turned away from the the waves to face the mage, surprised to see her. “What are you doing out here so late?”

“I was having a fitful sleep and went to your cabin, but Emery said you haven't been in there at all.” Ebrisa frowned in concern. “You barely stayed below decks for supper earlier. Is something wrong?”

The commander turned back to the railing and tapped his fingers against the wood. “It's difficult to breath down there. I... I don't do so well in confined spaces,” he admitted reluctantly. Despite the strides he'd made in overcoming the lingering effects of Kinloch Hold's fall, Cullen still found it difficult to remain in small, closed off spaces for long periods of time. It both infuriated and embarrassed him, especially in front of Ebrisa. How was she supposed to rely on him if something so foolish held him back?

“Will you come inside to sleep?” She asked quietly.

He sighed and shook his head. “I've made do out here on previous journies, though I didn't get much actual rest.”

“I see...” Ebrisa looked down and was silent for a while before turning away and going back inside. Cullen was certain of her disappointment and stared at the dark water, annoyed at himself for seeming so weak. “Here we go.” The mage draped a blanket around his shoulders, startling him out of his brooding, before slipping under his right arm and pulling the edge of the woven warmth around her own body. “Much better. I can't let you get sick right before meeting Father.”

“That explains the blanket, but not you.” Cullen pulled her closer, encasing the both of them in the fabric and rested his head on hers. “Not that I'm complaining.”

She giggled lightly. “I thought I might trick you into falling asleep. I can't let you meet Father tired either.”

“Oh really?” He smirked. “And what else can't you let me do? Is there a list somewhere I should be aware of?”

Ebrisa twisted around in his arms and looked up at him in surprise. “You mean Emery didn't show you?”

The commander paled slightly. “What? No, I've seen nothing! What do I need to do?” The mage smiled slowly and Cullen barely caught the mischievous glint in her eyes. “That's not funny.”

“Perhaps not, but your panic was cute.” She giggled as Cullen blushed and looked away.

“I don't appreciate that,” he grumbled.

“I'm sorry. I know you're doing a lot of tedious things for this engagement and I really do appreciate all of your efforts.” The mage raised herself up on her toes and kissed him on the cheek. “Forgive me?”

The commander smirked lightly. “Not with an apology like that.” He placed one hand on her hip and the other in her hair and they kissed until she had fully been forgiven.
~~~~~~~~~

Will hated the early shift. The decks were always a mess first thing in the morning and had to be scrubbed and straightened before the captain woke up, which wasn't always at the same time. He sighed heavily and set down his bucket, surveying the damage in the pale light before getting started. There was a bit of cloth poking out from behind a mast and he groaned, fearing a sail had gotten loose, and went to go fix it. The deckhand paused and tilted his head curiously at the two passengers wrapped in a damp blanket, resting on one another as they slept. He looked around, unsure of what to do.

“Um, Ser?” Will shook Cullen on the shoulder, rousing him from slumber. “Its really none of my business if you don't want to use the space you paid for, but it can't be good for the lady to sleep out here.” The deckhand shrugged before beginning his duties.

Cullen rubbed a hand over his face, wiping off the gathered spray as he tried to get up, but found himself weighed down. At some point during the night, Ebrisa talked him into sitting down and some time after that he had pulled her into his lap to keep her warmer. She really had tricked him into falling asleep, and rather easily now that he thought back on it. He sighed and patted her cheek. “Alright, you won. Now its time to get up.” Ebrisa moaned in protest and hide her face against his neck, her hot breath prickling his skin and sending a small shudder through him. Cullen quickly moved the mage off his lap and cleared his throat loudly as he put a halt to any urges.

The hasty dismount jostled the woman awake and she groggily rubbed at her eyes. “Its morning already?”

“Barely,” Cullen groaned as he rose to his feet and stretched. That was definitely more rest than he could have hoped to get and knew he owed it to blonde woman beside him, but he wasn't about to let it happen again. He could see her shiver slightly as she gathered up the damp fabric and knew another night getting pelted with cold wind and chilly sea spray would make her sick.

Ebrisa stood and shook out the blanket, looking at the horizon and still seeing nothing but water. “She'll be at the estate, you know.”

“Who will?” Cullen took in the troubled expression on her face and smoothed out the windswept wisps of curls that had slipped from her braided bun overnight.

“Mother.” The woman turned to him, eyes filled with worry. “I don't know how she will react when she sees us, or if she even will see us. I know she has no say over the marriage as she was not the one to petition and that everything rests on Father at this point... but does she still hate me?” She looked down and folded the blanket, forcing herself to speak out loud. “Should I tell her about Renata? Would that make things better or worse?”

Cullen placed his hands on the mage's arms and rubbed them up and down to remove some of the lingering chill. “I'll admit that I don't like her and believe that you should just hang what she thinks. She lost the right to have a say a long time ago.” He sighed. “That being said, it may do some good to tell her what became of her sister. Maybe knowing what impact her actions had will cause her to reflect on what she's done.”

Ebrisa hummed quietly and stepped forward, resting her forehead on Cullen's chest. “Despite everything... I still want her to accept me. She's lied, said terrible things, and attacked me, but... she's still my mother. You don't have to like her, but please be civil, even if she tries to start something. Promise?”

“I'll try my best, but depending on what the woman does, I may not be able to hold back.” He wrapped his arms around her protectively. “She will not harm you while I'm around, and that includes making you cry.”

“Cullen, you don't have to-”

“I very much do.” The commander pressed a small kiss to her temple. “That's my promise.”

~~~~~~~~

The rest of the journey continued uneventfully, the only change being Ebrisa spending most of the day above deck keeping Cullen company and being sternly sent to bed by him when night fell. The crew quickly became used to finding the commander staring at the ocean at all hours or catching the mage tucking a blanket around him when he dozed off. They found the couple both amusing and sweet and when Emery explained to some of them that Cullen and Ebrisa were on their way to get approval for marriage, it made all the more sense. The captain offered to wed them himself, but the templar quickly remarked that would cause all sorts of problems.

Anxiety and excitement twisted around eagerly in the pit of Ebrisa's stomach. Her brother had fetched her from the mess hall when Ostwick's double walls first came into view on the horizon and since then the mage switched between pacing the deck and clinging to the rail. For so long she had given up on seeing her childhood home again and to be so close now made her want to cry out in joy. At the same time, she had no idea what to expect from her family or the locals. Her mother had told everyone that she went to a cloister, not a circle, and she wasn't sure if perpetuating the lie was the right thing to do. The Trevelyans had surely suffered enough scandal on her account already.

“You could have gone back inside for a few moments to pack your things,” Emery sighed as he set down the group's luggage. “I've missed home too, you know.”

“I'm fairly certain she can't hear you,” Cullen chuckled to the templar.

Ebrisa stared up at the high, outer wall as the ship crossed into the harbor, feeling small and insignificant. She leaned over the railing to get a better view of the docks and nearly slipped over the side as she caught a glimpse of her family standard. “Someone's come to meet us?”

“Well of course they have.” Emery pulled his sister back from the edge before turning to the other man. “Sure you still want her? Last chance to back out, Commander.”

Cullen looked the redhead squarely in the eyes. “I've never been more certain of anything in my life,” he said firmly. Ebrisa blushed as she stared at him, her heart racing from his determined response.

Emery lifted his hands in surrender as he chuckled. “I was only joking. You needn't be so serious.”

“I rather think I do,” Cullen frowned slightly as the ship came to a halt at the dock. He picked up his and Ebrisa's things and began to get nervous. He was able to distract himself on the voyage, but now that they were in Ostwick, there were no more large steps in the way of meeting Bann Trevelyan. Emery grabbed his own bag and walked down the wooden ramp first, waiting for the couple to follow before approaching the small group sent for them.

Ebrisa slipped her hand into Cullen's empty one, drawing his attention. “Are you ready?”

He laughed awkwardly. “I could do with some rehearsal, but I'll manage.” He lifted their entwined fingers and kissed her hand. “For you, I'll manage.”

They moved off the ship and followed Emery up the dock to the family retainers. “Welcome home, my lord and lady.” A man with salt and pepper hair bowed deeply as they approached, the others behind him following suit. “I trust your journey went well?”

“Ah, yes, quiet uneventful.” Emery replied slowly, trying to recall the man's name. “Negan?”

The man awkwardly cleared his throat. He wasn't about to tell the templar he was wrong.

“Master Nygell.” Ebrisa dipped her head slightly, correcting her brother and making the older man smile. “It is good to see the years have been kind to you.”

“If you forgive me, my lady, the years have been far kinder to you.” Nygell shook his head. “If we had not been told to expect all three of you on the same ship, I would not have recognized you at all. You have grown into quite the woman, my lady.”

Ebrisa blushed and looked down, chewing slightly on her lower lip.

“Ah. There is the Lady Ebrisa I knew,” the retainer held back a laugh. “We have been instructed to take you to an inn so you may freshen up before returning to the estate. His Lordship insists on meeting with you as soon as possible.”

He directed the group to a carriage and Ebrisa stared out the window as they passed through the second massive wall and crossed into the city proper. The area reminded Cullen of Kirkwall's Low Town, not that he left the Gallows much, and wasn't at all surprised to find more walls dividing the city. The walls were small and not meant for fortification as much as for separating the districts, but that didn't necessarily mean dividing the classes. There were run down businesses next to lavish ones and taverns next to homes. It was almost as if each district was a community of its own with its own hierarchy and personality.

They stopped at one of the more impressive inns and washed the salt from their hair and skin. When he returned from the hasty bath, Cullen was surprised to find his armor already polished and laid out for him. He wasn't entirely certain about wearing it, but if the retainers had dug through his things – which he wasn't thrilled about – and decided it was the best option, then he supposed he ought to. After all, they knew Bann Trevelyan and Cullen hoped they wouldn't do anything to sabotage his engagement.

Ebrisa was relaxed and warm, smelling like wildflowers as she returned to the carriage in a new dress. She sat beside Cullen with a contented sigh and he chuckled, forgetting some of his own anxiety at the sight of her pleasant smile. He placed his hand on top of hers and gently rubbed his thumb over the soft skin, causing her to lean her head on his shoulder and close her eyes.

Emery rolled his eyes with a smile and looked out the window as the carriage continued moving. Nygell studied the couple quietly, knowing it wasn't his place to comment, but felt his heart swell with warmth at seeing the former child he used to watch so happy. There should truly be no cause for Bann Trevelyan to reject the marriage between these two, but again, it wasn't Nygell's place to comment.

The mage did eventually open her eyes and return her attention to the window, watching the city slip away and green fields take over. She sat up straight as the iron fencing came into view and pressed a hand to the window frame as they passed under the family crest. Tears slipped down her cheek at the sight of the large, stone estate. “It looks exactly the same...” she whispered. Cullen squeezed her hand and she gasped slightly, hastily wiping at her eyes and face. She had to be composed. She had to present Cullen properly to her father.

“Here at last,” Emery sighed as the carriage stopped. A footman opened the door and the templar stepped out first, walking up to the gathered crowd of servants and family members. “Father, Federyc, Ysmay. It is good to see you all.” He bowed to his father and brother, giving a nod of his head to the pregnant woman at their side. “I trust not much has changed from your letters? You are still well?”

“Emery, my son, a templar knight.” Bann Randyll Trevelyan moved down the front steps and clasped the soldier's hand before pulling him in to slap his back a few times. “You make the family proud, even if the Templar Order stands rather precariously at the moment.”

“The Lady Inquisitor has promised to help restore what once was, but it will ultimately depend upon the next Divine.” Emery shook his head. “As I understand it, Val Royeaux has not yet made any nominations.”

“Very troubling, very troubling.” Randyll sighed as he stepped back, the light catching his graying hair and making the once vibrant red flare up momentarially. He looked away from his younger son and froze as his eyes fell on Ebrisa standing patiently several yards away. Bann Trevelyan moved over to her, looking the blonde over curiously as she curtsied smoothly and lowered her head. “Emery, you said you were bringing your sister home, but who is this beauty? This can not be my little girl.”

Ebrisa raised her bright green eyes to meet the man's dull ones, a nervous smile tugging on her lips. “Father. Thank you for agreeing to meet us.” She stood up straight and corrected her posture before turning to the man behind her and motioning him forward. “Father, this is Commander Cullen Stanton Rutherford, leader of the Inquisition's military and...” she trailed off as her father didn't appear to be listening. “Father?”

Randyll took her chin in his hand and turned her face around, studying it intently with a serious expression on his face. “This can not be my little girl...” he repeated, more awestruck than before. “My little girl was so tiny, so timid. Is this a trick?”

The mage dropped her gaze and felt a lump form in her throat as sadness threatened to overtake her. Did he really not believe her? This wasn't even something she had thought about – both her mother and Emery had recognized her easily. Perhaps Lady Trevelyan relayed false information to him about her appearance? Why wasn't Emery coming to her defense?

Bann Trevelyan removed his hand and the Herald readied for an angry accusation. “My child is a child no longer. If only I could have witnessed you blossom into such a stunning woman.”

Ebrisa struggled to keep her tears at bay as she saw the affection in the older man's eyes, something she could only now recognize because of Cullen. “Fa-father...” she chocked out, a single tear breaking free and slipping down her cheek. He released her and stepped back, looking the man she brought over with a much more scrutinizing eye.

Seeing that Ebrisa was overwhelmed, the commander gave her back a few soothing strokes before introducing himself. “Commander Cullen Rutherford, my lord.” He hesitated slightly before bowing, wondering if a salute would have been better. “Thank you for recognizing my petition and intentions towards your daughter.”

Randyll hummed quietly, still looking the man over. “Yes, well, you have certainly proven yourself on the field, from what I've heard. There are other stories that I would like to be clarified.” He looked away and returned his attention to Ebrisa. “For now, let us reunite the Trevelyans. Aurelia remains in Starkhaven, but there are many here eager to meet you.”

The group moved inside, but Emery lingered to speak with the trailing Cullen. “He didn't reject you outright. That's a good sign.”

The commander let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. “I can't tell if that went well or not. Is he usually so hard to read?”

“Oh yes. Unless he's angry.” The redhead winced. “If you see him angry, you run.”

“Not without Ebrisa, I won't,” Cullen grumbled as they went inside.

 

Chapter Text

The rest of the day was spent getting acquainted with Federyc's family, Ebrisa finding her elder brother to be the same serious person she remembered. He was not without compassion however, and supported his pregnant wife as they walked. Each time they stopped, he'd quickly guide her to something she could sit on and made sure she was settled before leaving her. This new side of him made Ebrisa smile. Ysmay had been an arranged marriage and the two never met before the wedding day, but they had come to care for each other over the years. The mage thought back on her mother's words of anger and could see the truth of them now in her brother's union, but she knew things would not have worked out so well if she had simply given up and gone along with her own arranged marriage. She met Cullen's eyes across the room and he smiled at her. This was definitely better.

Theoderyc was extremely impressed by the mighty warrior his aunt brought and completely ignored her as soon as introductions were finished to ask the man all sorts of questions about swords and battles. Cullen saw a bit of his young self in the lad and answered everything he could out of earshot of the mother. Emery had warned him ahead of time about her disapproval of swordplay.

The little girl, Catilynn, insisted Ebrisa sit still as she chatted with her family and repeatedly held a pastel at arms length from her sketch book and squinted an eye at the blonde woman. She tore out the page and scooted off her chair to rush over and hand her aunt the newly completed portrait. “My goodness, Catilynn, I've never had someone draw me before.” Ebrisa looked over the scribbled drawing and smiled warmly. “I'll treasure it.” She reached out and tapped the little girl's nose, making the child laugh and squirm away, shaking the brown pigtails on her head before running back to her supplies and starting a new piece of art.

Ebrisa was in the middle of relaying the events of the Winter Palace – minus a few uncomfortable parts – when a maid came to fetch them for supper. The group moved into the dinning hall to find Bann Trevelyan already sitting at the head of the table, Lady Trevelyan sitting at his left. Ebrisa froze in the doorway as Federyc's family moved past and to their normal seats. Emery seemed a bit hesitant, but did take his place beside his mother without a word. Though she knew her mother would be in the estate and that she would most likely see her, the mage was filled with a rush of fear at the sight of the woman. She slipped a trembling hand to her neck and her fingers brushed against the silverite chain hanging there.

Cullen placed a hand on the small of her back and nodded respectfully at the older woman. “Lady Trevelyan. It is good to see my men were truthful in their report and that you did make it safely home.”

“Commander.” Lady Trevelyan smirked as she returned the nod. “When first we met I thought you incapable of manners, yet here we are.” She raised her glass to her lips and took a sip soundlessly. “Well done.”

Cullen nudged Ebrisa forward and they walked to the table. She stopped at the chair beside Emery and curtsied quickly. “Mother.”

“Herald,” Galatea replied curtly before taking another sip.

Federyc watched the exchange curiously and looked to his father as Ebrisa sat down. Bann Trevelyan shook his head once and his heir dropped the matter without a word. They ate the meal in relative silence with awkward small talk sprinkled throughout in an attempt to ease the tension.

“I can't believe I hadn't asked this already, Ebrisa,” Emery turned to her, blocking their mother from view. “But I saw that harp in Skyhold's main hall. Do you still play?”

“Yes, and I've learned some new pieces at the Inquisition's insistence. They like it very much, especially Master Dorian.” Ebrisa glanced down at her barely touched plate. “Mother sent it shortly after her first visit.”

Galatea drained the remainder of her drink and held out her glass for a servant to refill the wine. “So you do know how to be grateful.”

Bann Trevelyan held up a hand and the servant backed away. “Dear, you seem tired. I think it best if you retire for the evening.”

Lady Trevelyan set down her empty glass and rose from the table. “You know me so well, husband. Good night.” She turned and left without another word.

“Why don't you play us something?” Randyll asked once his wife was gone. “It will be like your performances with Aurelia, but without the singing.”

“Ebrisa can sing,” Cullen added as he set down his fork. “She could be heard quiet well in Haven most nights and I believe Varric had some sort of arrangement with her in Skyhold.” She turned to him sharply, face red with embarrassment.

“And the soldiers did make several requests for songs on the march to the Arbor Wilds,” Emery mused. “She does a rather stirring rendition of The Dawn Will Come.”

“Just because I can sing doesn't mean I'm any good,” Ebrisa meekly defended. “They only asked because I'm the Herald.”

Cullen smirked at her. “Why don't you let your family decide if that's true? The children surely won't hold back if its terrible.”

“Its decided then,” Randyll stood up, the rest of the table following suit. “To the music room.”

Ebrisa glanced between the two men beside her. “This isn't funny. I don't know what you are expecting to happen.”

“I expect music.” Emery grinned before following the others out.

“And I expect you to do better than you think.” Cullen stroked her cheek gently, the first display of affection he'd been able to sneak in since arriving at the estate. Bann Trevelyan had laid down several rules for the couple to follow during their stay, chief among them being restrictions on touching. “Just relax and try to not be timid.”

By the time the pair entered the music room, the others had already pulled the harp forward and the children sat on the floor in front of it expectantly. Ebrisa sighed and took position behind the instrument, adjusting the stool slightly. “What should I play?”

“You mentioned learning new songs,” Federyc began. “How about one of those. Oh, but nothing too foreign.”

She thought for a moment, running her fingers over the strings in slow trills. “There is a bard in Skyhold, Mistress Maryden, and she's composed many songs on the lute. I've adjusted a few without her permission.” She looked up at Cullen. “Please don't tell her. I fear she may become angry.”

Ebrisa sighed and began plucking, the commander recognizing it and noting that instead of singing where she was supposed to, the mage looped back through the introduction several times. He coughed quietly, hinting to her he noticed and when the verse came up again she took a deep breath and raised her voice. She continued through the piece, hitting the high notes of the chorus easily for the first time and marveled at what a difference a little bit of confidence made. The song ended with a low chord reverberating through the room and she dared not look up from the harp, waiting for her family's reaction.

“It's over?” Catilynn pouted.

“Yes. The song is over.” Ebrisa sighed.

“Do another,” Theoderyc demanded, folding his arms.

“Theo,” Federyc warned.

The boy looked down, then up at the blonde. “Please play another song, Aunt Ebrisa.”

She stared at the children in surprise. “You... you didn't think it was bad? Hasn't Aunt Aurelia sung for you?”

“Sadly, Aurelia gave up her lessons some time ago.” Randyll sighed. “She became upset with her limited range and moved on to the flute, which she does play quiet well.”

“Enough about our big sister, let's have that second song.” Emery grinned widely.

Ebrisa glanced around the room at the pleased audience before resting her eyes on Cullen leaning against the wall and smirking. She would have to listen to him more often. “Alright then, how about another of Mistress Maryden's?”
~~~~~~~~~

“You're letting Catilynn ride? But she's only four.” Ebrisa watched the girl sitting atop the full sized horse with more than a little worry as the stable hand lead the mount in a small circle in the chill morning air.

“We all started at four,” Federyc frowned. “And this barely counts as riding.”

“Then why was I never taught?” The mage looked curiously at her elder brother as she brushed out an unfamiliar steed.

He hummed, trying to recall the reason. “By all accounts, you should have started on the basics, but now that you mention it, I do remember you staying in the stables during our lessons. That is strange.”

Theoderyc trotted around his sister smugly. “Boys are better riders.”

“No they aren't. You're just bigger,” Catilynn sneered back.

“Lord Theoderyc, could you perhaps not ride so close?” The stable hand tried to move the now nervous mount further away.

“They are too! Father rides better than Mother and Grandfather is faster than Grandmother.” The boy reared back his horse, showing off an advanced move and accidentally knocking the stable hand to the ground, spooking his sister's mount into a gallop.

Ebrisa and Federyc looked up at the sound of Catilynn's scream to see her clinging to the horse's neck as it sped off across the large yard. The mage dropped the brush and pulled herself onto the unsaddled mount before her, urging it forward without a second thought and racing after the other horse. Federyc cursed and quickly rushed over to his son, pulling the boy from the saddle. “We will be having a conversation when I get back.” Theoderyc gulped and hung his head as his father took off as well.

It didn't take long for Ebrisa to catch up to the screaming girl and tried to get her own mount to match the frantic horse's pace, but it proved difficult with only her hands to control the animal. She reached out for the reigns of the other horse, but couldn't get close enough without spooking the animal further. Catilynn was crying loudly, pleading for the horse to stop, and slowly slipping out of the saddle. Ebrisa sucked in a breath and made another grab for the reigns, but changed targets as her niece slipped further off the side, holding on with fistfuls of mane alone. The mage removed both hands from her mount and tried her best to balance with her legs as she stretched out and took the child in her arms.

“Catilynn, let go! I have you!” Ebrisa shouted over the sound of hooves, but the child would not release her grip. The girl's mount pulled to the side suddenly and Ebrisa had no time to correct her direction. “Cat!” She refused to let go and slipped from the horse just as the girl lost hold of the mane. Ebrisa wrapped her arms around the child protectively as they fell to the ground, hitting it in a roll with a flash behind her eyes and the air knocked from her lungs. She coughed as she cradled her niece to her and lay in the thick grass, struggling to focus her vision.

“Cat! Ebrisa!” Federyc brought his mount to a stop and jumped down, rushing over to the two on the ground. He pulled his daughter from the woman's now weak grip and checked her for any injuries. Catilynn was crying, still terrified, but otherwise alright, and he sighed heavily in relief. “Thank the Maker. For now on I will teach you riding myself.” He hugged the girl tightly and rubbed her back soothingly. “Perhaps you were right about her being too young, Ebrisa.”

The mage sat up slowly, holding her throbbing head. “So long as she learns... when she's still a child...” She slurred her words as things began to get dark.

“Ebrisa?” Federyc watched her curiously as she wobbled.

She removed her hand and let out a tired laugh. “Cullen will be upset...” Ebrisa fell back to the ground, her blood stained hand flopping to the side.
~~~~~~~~~

Cullen was upset.
Not because she had rushed off to save a child or that she hit her head once again, but that he was refused entry to Ebrisa's room. He paced the hall outside her door, arms folded as he stewed in his anger and anxiousness. It wasn't like he was trying to sneak in to do anything inappropriate, she was hurt and he wanted to be sure she was going to be okay. Not being able to see her or hold her hand was torturous and he had half a mind to kick the damn door down just so he could sit at her side.

Said damn door opened quietly and Ysmay stepped out with a sigh. “Commander Cullen, do you think you could, perhaps, not be so loud out here?”

“So I am not even permitted to worry outside her door?” He held back his fury, not wanting to yell at a pregnant woman.

“You may worry, but the stomping needs to cease.” She rested a hand on her back as she looked the man over. “The healer said she will be fine after some rest.”

Cullen went back to pacing and rubbed at his eyes. “She does this all the time - rushing into danger to save others. I know she won't stop doing it, but I've always been there for her to make sure she was okay.”

Ysmay tilted her head. “You aren't going to stop pacing until you see her, are you?”

“Its entirely possible I won't stop until she wakes up,” he grumbled.

The woman shook her head, chestnut hair swaying with the action, before looking up and down the hall. “Two minuets.”

He stilled and turned sharply to the woman. “What?”

“I'm giving you two minuets in the room while I keep watch.” She pushed the door open and motioned him in with her head. “Times ticking.”

Cullen quickly moved inside and straight to Ebrisa's bed, looking over her sleeping form and the wrappings on her head. He caressed her cheek gently and sighed heavily. “What did I tell you about hitting your head? This will be number three. Let's stop at three.” He knelt down on the floor and took hold of her hand in both of his, holding it to his forehead. He closed his eyes and listened to her even breathing, noting that she hadn't injured any ribs and feeling a little better. “At least you aren't trapped in the Fade this time and can simply wake up on your own. I'd appreciate it if you did that soon.” Cullen felt a presence beside him and sighed. Had it been two minuets already?

“I thought it was made clear that you weren't permitted in my daughter's room.” Randyll expected the man to jump to his feet and make an excuse, but instead Cullen slowly opened his eyes and gently placed Ebrisa's hand back on the bed before standing and facing him.

“It was, my lord, but I needed to see for myself that she wasn't as injured as I feared her to be. I can hold back on many things, but not my concern for Ebrisa.”

“Apparently not,” Bann Trevelyan motioned to the door and followed Cullen out of the room. They passed Ysmay and she winced, feeling responsible for him getting caught. “I said before that there were other stories I wanted clarified. Lets do that now.” He lead the commander to a study and had him take a seat across from him. “Firstly, that duel in Val Royeaux.”

“The man touched Ebrisa inappropriately at the Winter Palace. I didn't find out until he also began spreading lies about the two of them. I couldn't let that stand.” Cullen gripped the arm of the chair tightly to displace his lingering anger over the whole thing.

“So you dueled him on your own,” Randyll continued. “It was your first duel?”

“It was.” Cullen nodded. “There is an experienced duelist under my command and she instructed me in the process. Briony insisted on dueling the man, but I just had to do it myself.”

“And why is that?”

The commander frowned. “It wasn't an insult to the Inquisition or the Herald of Andraste, Averitt had wronged Ebrisa. At the time, it seemed like I was the only one who saw the person under the title, and I was going to defend that person.”

“Where you together at this point?” Randyll raised a brow.

“No. We didn't start our relationship until after your wife left Skyhold the second time.”

Bann Trevelyan hummed curiously. “So then you still were not together when you fought with Lord Pentaghast?”

“We... we weren't.” Cullen hesitated slightly, but decided to be completely honest. “We had kissed twice by then and expressed our feelings, but Lord Pentaghast was already there at that point. It was ill timed, but I couldn't keep quiet while watching him fawn over her.”

“So jealousy spurred you forward?”

“I would say more my fear of losing her and regret of not acting sooner.” Cullen explained awkwardly. “It took me time to think myself worthy of her, something I'm still not entirely certain of, but I wasn't going to let that hold me back any more.”

The room was quiet as Randyll mulled over everything he'd heard so far. “And what do you think of my wife? She has made her opinion of you exceedingly clear.”

“I don't like her,” the commander replied flatly. “After everything she put Ebrisa through, all the lies, how she treated her in front of everyone, all the hurt she caused AND trying to kill Ebrisa, I may very well hate the Lady Trevelyan. What she's done is inexcusable and unforgivable, so far as I'm concerned.” He sighed heavily. “But Ebrisa still yearns for the woman's approval and asked me to be civil, so I will. To an extent.”

 

Chapter Text

Ebrisa awoke slowly with a groan, trying to focus on the hazy figure at the foot of her bed. “Cullen?”

“Don't be ridiculous. You know very well your intended can not enter your room.” Galatea moved to her daughter's side. “Or have you been breaking that rule this whole time?”

The mage sighed wearily and sat up slowly, taking hold of her amulet for strength. “Mother, we haven't done anything. Here or elsewhere.”

“As if I could believe any man would put himself through all this for you without some enthusiastic... coaxing.” Lady Trevelyan laughed lightly. “You know your father will never agree to a low-born match, don't you? It gets the family nothing in exchange.”

Ebrisa held the coin tighter in her hand and tried to ignore her mother's cutting words. She was only saying them to hurt her. “You were right.”

“Finally,” Galatea tossed her hands in the air. “What point are you relenting? You're wickedness, selfishness, or promiscuous nature?”

“I met Aunt Renata.”

The older woman smirked. “I suppose she was at the Conclave? Or perhaps with the mage rebels in Redcliffe?”

“No, I met her in the Fade.” Ebrisa looked up at her mother, eyes heavy with sadness. “I didn't know it was her until the very end, but she had been watching over me as a spirit since I was small.”

“As a... a spirit?” Galatea's smirk faltered. “This is some mage trick? Projecting herself into the Fade?”

The blonde shook her head. “When you wrote to her about me, she escaped the Circle but was killed by templars. Aunt Renata just wanted to see me, but her spirit stayed to watch over me when she saw how you were dealing with my magic. When I was ra-” Ebrisa closed her eyes and took a breath, unable to finish the word. “When I was attacked in the Circle, her anger let her break through and she incinerated the templars. She began protecting me when I unable to, but she also spoke with me in my dreams. She was kind to me, and comforted me, and loved me...”

Lady Trevelyan tried to understand. “The fire. You're saying you didn't fightback in Skyhold? That it was Renata who made me drop you?”

Ebrisa nodded.

“She is... with you still?”

The mage lowered her eyes. “After Emery's unit cut me off from the Fade so thoroughly, I became trapped in my dream. Aunt Renata used all of her being to stop one of the demons feeding off my emotions... “

“So you're saying...?” Galatea began slowly.

“She... she's gone.”

Lady Trevelyan slapped Ebrisa across the face, nearly causing the mage to fall out of bed. “It's your fault. Everything that happened to her is because of you!” She wrapped her fingers around her daughter's neck and leaned down with all her strength, fighting back tears. “You killed her! You killed my sister!” Ebrisa struggled for breath and desperately pulled at her mother's hands. “All of that happened because you were a mage! Why did you have to be this way?”

“Lady Trevelyan, stop this!” Ysmay pulled at the older woman's arm, but Galatea released her grip only long enough to shove the pregnant woman away. Ysmay collided with a chair before hitting the floor, crying out for help as loudly as she could.

Federyc ran into the room and straight to his wife's side. She held her stomach in pain, but motioned to the bed urgently. He froze at the sight of his mother strangling his weakly resisting sister and he couldn't wrap his mind around what he was seeing. They were awkward around one another since the first engagement fell through, but there was no cause for such violence. It didn't make sense.

Cullen rushed past Federyc and ripped Galatea's hands away, shoving her to the floor. She made to climb back to her feet, but Cullen leveled a dark glare at the woman. “Back,” he growled, and Galatea crawled further away in fear. He turned his full attention to Ebrisa and let out a shaky sigh of relief to find her still breathing and heart pounding, albeit rather erratic. Cullen closed his eyes and touched his forehead to hers. “And I promised to not let her hurt you. If I'd just been allowed in here in the first place, this wouldn't have happened...”

Galatea stood up and straightened her dress before pointing an accusing finger at the mage. “She threatened me with magic. I was only defending myself.”

“That's a lie,” Ysmay cut in from her position on the floor, supported by her husband. “I heard everything. She was only telling you about what became of your mage sister.”

“Mage sister?” Randyll folded his arms from the doorway and his wife froze. “The Lanmours swore up and down to have not produced a mage for two ages, yet you had a sister. Our marriage is founded on lies.”

“No, my lord – my love!” Galatea frantically tried to smooth out the situation. “Ysmay must have misheard. My sister died when she was small, like I told you. We couldn't possibly have known even if she would be a mage.”

“She was dark-haired and had green eyes. She looked a lot like you, only younger,” Cullen said quietly from the bed, sitting up but still caressing Ebrisa's cheek. “She said your father sent her to a distant Circle of Magi and she heard nothing until Ebrisa began displaying her magic. You wrote to your sister to blame her, but it only spurred her into seeing her niece. It was your actions that made her act out.”

“That's ridiculous,” Galatea huffed. “How could you possibly know this?”

“When myself and two companions went into Ebrisa's dream to free her, we met your sister in her true form. We had seen her before, but never like that. She cared for Ebrisa so deeply, calling her dear one and sweetling and tapping her nose...” Cullen glanced back at the spiteful woman. “Renata saw and heard all the hateful things you did to your own daughter and tried her best to make up for the affection you never showed. She happily sacrificed herself to save her niece, because she knew Ebrisa wouldn't be alone anymore.” He turned back to the unconscious woman and smiled gently. “She knew Ebrisa was loved.”

“You can not believe this story, my lord,” Lady Trevelyan began in a tight voice. “The pair have obviously constructed a tale to lessen me in your eyes.”

“I wish that were true, Mother,” Emery sighed as he moved past his father and into the room. “Do you know which distant Circle Renata Lanmour was sent to? You must, since you did write her at least once. Do you also know where I was stationed until recently?”

Galatea's eyes widened. “Hasmal...”

“After I was told everything and Ebrisa described the Circle to me, I asked my Knight-Commander if he recalled Renata at all.” Emery looked down, then up to his mother. “Turns out he did. He was one of the templars that hunted her down eighteen years ago.”

“But you... you serve the Inquisition now. You would be bound to follow orders given by your commander – like perpetuating this lie.” Galatea folded her arms and looked away, trying desperately to reclaim some measure of control.

“My wife,” Randyll began sternly. “Which is more likely, one person lying or a room full of conspirators?”

The woman faltered and looked down. “I did not wish to be sent away from your side, my lord.”

“And for all your efforts, that may yet happen.” He shook his head and moved away from the door.

“But my lord...” Galatea felt her heart slowly chip away.

“Father,” Ebrisa coughed quietly. “You can't.”

Randyll came to his daughter's side, Cullen moving out of the way but staying close. “Hush, child. Rest.”

“Mother was only scared. You can't send her away.” The mage took a deep breath, her voice raspy. “Hasn't she been good to her other children and their children? Hasn't she been dutiful to you all these years? If she can not bring herself to love me because of what I am... I will learn to accept that... eventually. But can't you see how much she loves you?”

“You're really defending her? Again?” Cullen sighed heavily.

“Of course.” Ebrisa looked up timidly to the stunned woman across the room. “She's my mother. I love her.”

Galatea dropped her arms and felt something she hadn't in a long time. Guilt. “I... I shall return to my room.” She glanced at her husband remorsefully. “I await your decision.” Then she left, refusing to look at anyone else.

Ysmay sucked in a tight breath and gripped Federyc's arm as he moved her to a chair. She held a hand to her stomach and winced, fearing for the child within. Ebrisa jumped out of bed and slipped past the startled men to kneel before her sister-in-law. “Lady Ysmay, are you alright?”

The seated woman tried to laugh as the blonde ignored her own pains, but grimaced instead at the strain.

“If I may?” The mage lifted her palms and Ysmay nodded, closing her eyes to prepare for the magic. Ebrisa coated her hands with the green, soothing energy and drew them carefully over the swell of Ysmay's stomach. “I'm not feeling any tearing... and the little one seems unharmed.” She focused intently on the left side and dealt with the painful bruising there before smiling up at the woman. “Is that better?”

Ysmay opened her eyes and adjusted in the chair, trying to gauge the fading pain. “Its... yes, thank you. But if you know healing magic, shouldn't you have taken care of yourself first?”

Cullen held back a laugh. “She never thinks of herself first. That's why she has me worrying so much.”

Ebrisa turned to level a stern look at the man, blushing faintly in embarrassment. “She is pregnant, Cullen. That takes priority.”

“Priority over being nearly choked to death?” He raised a brow and she blushed further. “Come on now, back in bed.”

“But I don't think I need-” she began to protest.

Bed.” Cullen repeated firmly and she sheepishly crawled back under the covers, pulling them up to her chin. “Now stay here until supper, alright?”

Ebrisa sighed, but closed her eyes, feeling tired despite her arguing. “I will.”

“Good.” He bent down and nudged her forehead with his before kissing it gently. Ysmay's quiet giggling reminded him where he was and Cullen panicked slightly, fearing he must have broken any number of protocols.

“Why don't we all leave Ebrisa to rest, hmm?” Randyll looked sternly at Cullen and waited until everyone left the room before approaching his nearly asleep daughter. “That one really cares about you, doesn't he?”

She opened her eyes and smiled wearily. “He does. He's never given up on me, even when everyone else has. Even when I have.” Ebrisa's eyes fluttered closed again. “He means everything to me.”

Bann Trevelyan patted his daughter's head and left her side, letting her get back to sleep.
~~~~~~~~
When Ebrisa walked into the dinning hall, the children pushed away from the table without asking permission and rushed over to her. Catilynn wrapped her arms around as much of the woman's legs as the skirts would allow and began to cry. “I was so scared that you wouldn't wake up! I didn't want my aunt to get hurt because of me! I'm sorry!”

Ebrisa carefully detached the girl's arms and knelt down on the floor. “Catilynn, you didn't do anything wrong. Horses can be unpredictable at times, that's all.” She twirled the end of one of Catilynn's ponytails. “What about you, hmm? Are you alright?”

The girl nodded, wiping at her eyes with the back of her hands. “You're really really okay?”

“I really, really, really am.” The mage hugged her niece and smiled warmly. “Thank you for your concern, Catilynn.” The girl grinned widely and hurried back to her seat, passing her brother as he stood awkwardly before the woman.

“Aunt Ebrisa? I'm sorry, too.” Theoderyc scratched the side of his head, unable to make eye contact. “It's my fault Cat's horse ran off. I was being prideful and...” He turned back to the table, receiving a stern look from his father before facing the woman again. “And foolish. Big brothers are supposed to be a good example, so I need to be more mature. I'm sorry that my boastful and inappropriate behavior got you hurt.”

Ebrisa nodded, understanding that the boy was being punished and not wanting to undermine her brother's authority, so she resisted the urge to pat his head. “Thank you, Theoderyc. I'm certain that by the time your newest sibling arrives, you will have this big brother thing all sorted out.” The boy straightened, as if encouraged by her vote of confidence, and returned to his seat as well.

She tried to stand back up, but found the action difficult with her slightly impaired balance and nothing to hold onto. Emery held out a hand and helped his sister back to her feet slowly to ensure she wouldn't get a head rush and fall back down. “Thank you, Emery.”

He chuckled quietly and whispered as they moved to the table. “Commander's orders. He got quite a reprimand earlier for all the rules he broke and with Father watching him so intently now, he couldn't very well do this himself.”

“Oh.” Ebrisa blushed slightly and glanced at Cullen before looking back at her brother. “So does that mean you wouldn't have assisted me on your own?”

Emery gave her a wry smile. “Are you kidding? I was fully prepared to laugh as you wobbled while kneeling on your own dress. Might have taken bets on how long it would take you to get up, but I doubt anyone else at the table would be game.”

 

Chapter Text

It had been two days since the truth about Renata Lanmour came out and Lady Trevelyan remained in her room, not even attending Chantry services with the rest of the family. Her absence was of course noticed by the clergy, but overshadowed by the return of the younger Trevelyans.

“Another fine templar added to your family line, Bann Trevelyan.” A priest nodded her head in a private conversation after the sermon concluded.

“Thank you, Mother Ella.” Randyll returned the nod.

“The Lady Ebrisa is part of the Inquisition, I hear?” Mother Ella turned to Ebrisa curiously. “We could see that tear in the sky, even from across the sea, but felt little of the effects. You helped take care of that, correct?”

“I... yes.” Ebrisa smiled timidly. “I helped.”

“Very noble of you, my dear. And this man is with the Inquisition as well?”

“Their military commander,” Randyll answered for them.

“A distinguished guest in our midst.” The priest nodded at Cullen respectfully and he returned the gesture. “What brings you to Ostwick?”

“Ah, well, the Lady Ebrisa and I...” Cullen began slowly, unsure if he should be saying anything. Ebrisa cried out in surprise, holding her sparking hand tightly to her chest and looking at him in shock. “Where?”

“North.” She squeezed her hand open and closed to alleviate the thrumming ache of the mark. “A rift has opened to the North.”

Cullen lead her quickly from the Chantry building. “Ser Emery! Assistance, if you'd please.”

“Oh, right, demons.” Emery snapped to attention and hurried after the pair. “Coming, Commander!”

Mother Ella stared after the Inquisition group. “Bann Trevelyan, I had heard rumors, but gave them little credence. Your daughter is not just part of the Inquisition, is she?”

“She is not...They call her the Herald of Andraste.” Randyll was unsure what to do. Stories had reached the Free Marches of the terrible rifts in the Veil and the demons that they spewed out, but Ostwick had yet to experience such a thing - they had even thought the Breach had been an issue confined to the more southern region. If those stories were true and his daughter really did face that danger... “Federyc, they'll need help.”

Federyc left his wife and children in the safety of the Chantry and went to convince the city guard to follow his siblings. If he had not been such a high-ranking noble, they soldiers would not have even entertained the idea. But he was important and known for being serious, so the men followed them through the city until they reached the heavy, broken gate that once closed off the Circle of Magi at the edge of the wall.

Ebrisa hesitated only slightly as she caught her breath before moving over the rubble of the long, broken bridge, the only way of crossing the deep chasm surrounding the Circle tower. The dreary, overgrown courtyard was overrun with wrath demons and wraiths as the rift glowed high in air, the green light adding to the eerie surroundings. “It's here. Of course it would be here.”

Cullen moved her behind him and withdrew his sword. “You don't have your staff or armor. Be careful.”

“And you don't have a shield.” Ebrisa knew it would effect his fighting style and looked around desperately. She kissed Cullen quickly on the cheek before dropping barriers over him and Emery. “I'll be right back!” She called out as she ran back across the bridge to the stunned soldiers gathered there. “If you aren't going to help, then I need to borrow these.” Ebrisa chided as she tore away two shields from the guardsmen and hurried back to the fight.

Federyc shook his head to remove the shock. “What are you waiting for? Get over there!” He shouted at the soldiers.

“We know nothing of fighting demons,” one man relented, more than a little terrified at the distant sight of the creatures.

“You are the city guard, sworn to protect Ostwick!” Federyc called out loudly to the group. “Our city is under threat of demons and we have no templars to stop them. It must fall to you!”

“But my lord-” another began.

“Those are my little brother and sister out there, you louts!” He grabbed a sword from a still hesitant soldier and rushed across the bridge, spurring the others to follow.

Ebrisa kept trying to connect to the rift, but the numbers were too great for Cullen and Emery to handle and she repeatedly had to stop to place more ice glyphs around them for protection. They couldn't do this on their own.

The city guard stumbled into the fight, awkwardly attacking the demons and finally giving the Inquisition the relief it needed to make progress. Ebrisa erected a wall of ice around herself to protect against the fire attacks and connected to the rift high above, holding it until it over loaded and knocked the demons over. It felt strange to use the mark, the dull throbbing that used to accompany the action was magnified to a near burning sensation in Ebrisa's hand. She suspected it had something to do with the destruction of the Foci, but hadn't the time to think on it at the moment.

“They're weakened now! Press them!” Cullen ordered as he slayed another wraith. The gathered forces managed to defeat the demons and some men started cheering. “There will be more, ready yourselves!”

Ebrisa took a deep breath and wove a spell from inside her ice cage in the moment of quiet. The city guard was scared and unprepared for this fight. They would make mistakes and some could die, but she would keep that number as low as possible. The mage dropped barriers over as much of the courtyard as she could, several of the fighters crying out in surprise at the odd tingling but were given little time to think on it as more demons emerged. Cullen tried to call out instructions to the guard, relaying tips and warnings as he fought.

A large wrath demon swatted at the melting wall of ice and knocked the mage out of it, sending her tumbling across the yard. She got up quickly and Fade-stepped through the creature, freezing it a bit and screeching to a halt before slamming into a tree herself. It was certainly a lot harder to navigate without a staff or guide. Ebrisa looked around the courtyard, concerned for the too inexperienced fighters, and wondered if the demons were weak enough now to be ended by a disruption. She noted the greater wrath demon already engaged and connected to the rift again from where she stood, getting used to the new sensation that racked her arm. It pulsed out and wiped out several wraiths, leaving a much more manageable number of creatures to deal with, but she didn't break concentration and held on for a second pulse.

The massive creature of flame turned to her sharply, sensing her intentions, and blew fire at the mage. She braced against the attack and prepared to Fade-step away, but stilled as she noticed the fire pass harmlessly around her body. It made no sense. Her aunt was gone, she wasn't wearing any enchantments, and this was true fire. She heard someone calling her name and focused back on her task, sending energy into the rift until it exploded in a disruption. The demon attacking her faded away with a growl and the remaining creatures were soon dealt with as well. The mage stepped forward in the burnt scraps of her dress and reached up once more to seal the rift with a resounding bang.

The soldiers stared at Ebrisa and the space in the air in disbelief as Cullen rushed over and stood in front of her, facing away. “Thank you for your assistance. Let us hope this is the only activity Ostwick will see.” The city guard continued to stare, trying to see around the commander. “Dismissed!” He ordered with such authority that the men complied, despite owing the Fereldan no allegiance. “Ser Emery, could you find... something for her?”

“Of course,” Emery snickered. “I'll be right back.” He moved inside the Circle building and began searching.

“Cullen?” Ebrisa tried to move out from behind him, but he kept her in place.

“Your... your small clothes are showing,” he mumbled, blushing slightly.

“Oh...” She hid behind him more and looked around.

“It happened again.”

“What?”

“The fire,” Cullen continued. “It didn't harm you.”

Ebrisa let out a breath and tried to make sense of it. “Before with Corypheus and his dragon, there were so many things that could have been a factor, but I've been hurt by plenty of attacks while connected to rifts before, so that can't be it this time. I don't... I don't know why this is happening.”

The commander hummed curiously as he thought. “Well if you're going to keep running into fights unarmored, perhaps we should invest in a fire-resistant slip of some sort for you to just... always wear under your clothes.”

“Always?”

“Dragon webbing is fairly strong.”

“Webbing?”

“I hear its rather soft as well. There should be a decent amount in Skyhold,” Cullen mused.

Federyc cleared his throat loudly and the pair looked to him, forgetting he had been there. “If you two are quite finished, may I ask something?”

The mage poked her head out from behind Cullen's arm and blushed. “Yes?”

“Do you do that often? Seal rifts?” Federyc regarded his sister carefully while leaning on the stolen sword. The fight had been considerably harder than he anticipated and he'd taken a fair amount of blows, but Ebrisa seemed completely unphased - despite her lack of modesty coverage.

“I do, or did, rather.” She glanced up at the empty space in the air the rift once inhabited. “Since I sealed the Breach, there have been few new ones turning up. I suppose that when Corypheus opened the Breach the second time, it set off a new string of rifts...”

“There were two?” Federyc looked at her incredulously. “You sealed two giant holes in the sky?”

“By the Maker's grace, I did.” Ebrisa met her brother's eyes before ducking back to hide.

The man chuckled lightly. “The family motto rings very true with you, sister. Modest in temper, bold in deed.”
~~~~~~~~~~~

Word spread quickly through Ostwick that the Trevelyan girl was indeed the Herald of Andraste and had sealed a rift inside the city's very walls. Whatever rumors had been circulated about her before were quickly forgotten and replaced with tales of the Inquisition's exploits. The city-state had ignored the problems across the Waking Sea for far too long and now felt a deep connection to the Inquisition and began sending pledges of support to Skyhold. Cullen resisted rolling his eyes at the sudden devotion – it was really too little too late.

But that was really the least of his concerns at the moment.

They were due to leave soon and had already packed for the journey, but Bann Trevelyan had yet to give approval. He'd yet to give refusal either, as Emery was quick to point out. “Don't worry, Commander,” the redhead said with a smirk. “If he says no and tries to keep Ebrisa here, I'll help you break her out.” Cullen groaned at the idea, but was grateful for the hypothetical assistance.

After the couple spent the entire morning waiting nervously on opposite sides of the estate, Bann Trevelyan finally summoned Ebrisa and Cullen to his study. They met outside his door and tried to reassure each other that it would be fine. “I want you to know that even if he denies us, I won't give up on you.” Cullen brushed his hand gently down her cheek.

“You never do.” She smiled softly and took hold of the encased coin around her neck. “Shall we?” They knocked and entered the room after hearing the muffled reply, standing side by side in front of Randyll Trevelyan.

“I've learned much about the both of you during your visit that letters could not convey.” Randyll turned to Cullen first. “Commander. I've heard you were a fierce and aggressive man. Serious in all accounts and lacking in subtlety.” He looked at his daughter. “And you, child, a quiet and fragile thing. Scared and lacking confidence.” Randyll shook his head and sighed. “By all accounts, the match should have been denied on paper alone.”

Ebrisa lowered her eyes and tightened her grip on the amulet.

“But I wanted to see my little girl again, so I allowed the process to move forward to this stage,” Randyll continued, watching his daughter fidget worriedly and the commander go rigid, as if receiving unfavorable orders from a superior. “Yet you quickly proved these descriptions to be half true. I don't know if you brought the change in each other – making up for what the other lacked until they lacked no longer – or if you simply keep these other sides of yourself from the public eye. I can certainly understand a military man needing to appear as strong and frightening as possible and the Herald of Andraste being a humble servant of the Maker. But how each of you are separately is only part of the issue, isn't it?”

The older man folded his arms. “You've done well following the rules, for the most part. Don't think I don't know about those touches you've slipped in, Commander.” Cullen blushed, but didn't look away. “I wasn't entirely sure what to make of the two of you until Ebrisa was hurt. That day you ignored just about every rule I set, placing your concern for my daughter well above the proper decorum and in that moment I could see you for what you truly are.” Randyll looked the younger man straight in the eye and held his gaze for a long while. “There is not a father in the world who does not want to give his daughter everything.” He broke away from Cullen and turned his attention to the mage, his eyes softening. “So I've decided to let her have her everything.”

Ebrisa's eyes widened and she released the amulet, letting it drop against her chest as she stared at her father. He smiled lightly at her and nodded his head. Bann Trevelyan stumbled back as she threw her arms around him is an enthusiastic hug and the man awkwardly returned the gesture.

She pulled away, giddy, and turned to Cullen. “That means you. That means he approves.”

The commander let out a deep breath and finally relaxed. He moved to hold her, but lowered his arms and looked to her father. “Bann Trevelyan, my lord, um, may I?”

Randyll sighed. “No kissing, but you may touch her.”

“I'll take what I can get.” Cullen scooped his official fiance into his arms and spun her around, making her laugh before setting her back down and holding her cheeks. They closed their eyes and touched foreheads, overwhelmed with happiness and Ebrisa giggling randomly as she tried to form actual words.

Despite the lack of financial, social, or political gain, her father approved of the union. Ebrisa's fears and anxieties slipped away as she stood in Cullen's embrace, feeling his warmth radiate into her. There were no sounds beyond their hearts pounding in synchronicity and their breath mixing together. She wanted to kiss him more than anything in that moment of pure joy, but she somehow managed to remember her father was standing nearby and held herself back.

 

Chapter Text

Cullen and Ebrisa stood on the deck as the ship slowly made its way out of the harbor. Emery refused to be their luggage boy and only took his own belongings to the cabin to get settled in for the return journey. The mage watched the family crest shrink from view and smiled widely. The next time she came to Ostwick, that would no longer be her heraldry. As soon as the ship passed the outer wall of the harbor and made it to open waters, Cullen grabbed their things and lead Ebrisa to her cabin. She had wanted to watch Ostwick fade from sight, but Cullen seemed eager to get her things put away, so she followed him below deck.

He set down their luggage and closed the door behind them. “Cullen?” Ebrisa looked at him curiously. “I thought you didn't do well in confined spaces.”

“I don't, but we are now officially out of Ostwick.” He looked at her intensely and she shivered. “Your father's rules stopped at the city limits, and I need you more than air.” Cullen pulled her to him and captured her mouth in a hungry kiss, pouring all his pent up wanting past her lips and into her very being. She moaned and pressed herself closer to him, yearning for his warmth, causing him to growl in response. The sound sent a shudder through her like nothing she'd felt before as all thoughts seemed to leave her. Cullen pressed her against the wall and lifted one of her legs as he broke from the kiss to nip lightly at her neck. She held on to him tightly and moaned, feeling his hand slide down the outside of her thigh, under her skirt. Ebrisa gasped loudly as he grabbed her rear and pulled her firmly against him and off the floor.

“Cu-Cullen?” She panted out in confusion.

“A week of being near you and not allowed to touch you is more than I can stand,” he growled huskily into her ear before nibbling the lobe and eliciting another moan from her. Cullen pushed the bunched up fabric of her skirts out of the way and began to move against her, groaning into her neck.

“Cullen.” Ebrisa loosened her hold and tried to move away. “Cullen, stop.”

“I can't,” he growled, pressing her harder to the wall. “I need you. I can't.”

She squirmed in his grip, trying to break away and pushing at him with her arms. “Cullen, please! You said you would wait for me to be ready!”

He stopped suddenly as though she'd slapped him and lowered her to the floor. He backed away to the other side of the small room and felt the sudden crushing weight of the tiny space. Cullen closed his eyes and struggled to take deep breaths, clenching and unclenching his hands. “Ebrisa, I... I didn't mean it to go that far.” He looked at her briefly noting her disheveled appearance and the red marks over her neck, but didn't make a move towards her. “You should, um, you should take care of those.” He motioned to his own neck, but wouldn't look at her again. “I didn't mean- this wasn't my intention- I- ” He shook his head and fumbled with the door knob. “I- I can't breathe.”

Cullen quickly exited the room and went straight outside, pacing the deck frantically as he tried to come to grips with what he'd done. His self control had snapped all at once, pushed too far and unable to hold on after being given the tiniest freedom. He had needed her so badly. He'd become dependent on her touch and her kisses and not being allowed either while in Ostwick sent him into withdrawal.

Cullen stopped pacing and wiped a hand over his face. That was it. He'd replaced his lyrium addiction with one for Ebrisa. He could perhaps escape the Chantry's leash, but not the pattern of behavior it instilled in him. “Maker's Breath...” he sighed heavily and leaned on the railing, hanging his head in shame and disgust.

“Cullen?”

He straightened instantly, but wouldn't turn around. “Ebrisa, I'm so sorry. I was just so... well, there's no real excuse.”

“Cullen,” she tried again.

“No, don't.” He held up a hand, still refusing to look at her. “I've already betrayed your trust once today, I won't do it again. Just... don't forgive me so easily. Just this once.” He moved away further down the deck, listening for her footsteps in case she followed. She didn't.

Cullen felt sick. They had only been betrothed for a few hours and he already messed things up. He needed to get his urges under control again. He needed to think clearly again. His head pounded and he laughed bitterly at the pain. Fitting.
~~~~~~~~~~

Emery had waited two days before saying anything, but he couldn't stand it any longer and marched across the deck to the drowsy man leaning on the railing. “Okay, Commander, what happened?”

Cullen straightened a bit and rubbed a hand over his face. “Ser Emery...?”

“No offense, ser, but you look terrible.” The redhead studied the tired man. “Have you slept at all?”

“Its difficult to do so on deck. I get a few winks here and there,” he mumbled.

“On the way out you seemed fine.” Emery frowned, then remembered how his sister would sit with the other man during the day and put blankets on him. “But you and Ebrisa weren't fighting then.”

“We aren't fighting,” Cullen groaned. “I did something wrong and asked her to not forgive me.”

“What? Ever?”

“Hopefully not.” The commander stretched his back.

“And what did she do wrong?” Emery leaned against the railing.

Cullen turned to him in confusion. “Nothing.”

“Hmm.” The templar folded his arms. “Well she hasn't come out of her cabin since we left Ostwick. I figured she was stewing for something she'd done. I recall her knocking over a vase when our parents were out of town and she sent herself to her room until they came home. She was four, so I had hoped she would have out grown that by now.”

“But she didn't do anything wrong...” Cullen stared down at the planks. “It was me. She didn't do anything...”

“I'm guessing she has adopted some of the blame herself,” Emery sighed. “Why don't you just go talk to her?” Cullen opened his mouth to protest, but Emery cut him off. “As her big brother and your future brother-in-law, I insist.”
~~~~~~~~~

'“The Sword of Hessarian.” Wagner leaned forward, studying him closely. “The very blade that pierced Andraste's heart.”'
Ebrisa placed the open book on her face and sighed. She should have brought something other than Hard in Hightown to read, the crime serial just wasn't very captivating at the moment. There was a knock on her door and she sighed again. “No thank you, Emery.”

“Ebrisa?” Cullen called hesitantly.

She shot up, the book dropping to the bed, and quickly tried to fix her appearance. “Ah- um – I -!” She could hear him sigh heavily through the door and begin to move away. “Cullen, please come in!”

The knob turned and the man awkwardly entered, closing the door behind him, but staying by it. “Ser Emery says you haven't left at all. Have you been eating?”

Ebrisa lowered her eyes. “Not really...” She looked back at his exhausted form. “Have you been sleeping?”

“Not really...” Cullen mimicked her answer and let the silence hang in the air for a bit. “Why have you stayed in here?”

“Well, I...” She picked up the discarded book and fiddled with the binding. “When we were in here and you were touching me, even though I stopped you... I liked it.” She blushed heavily and refused to look up. “I had missed you so much at the estate, even though you were so close. I was going crazy. Then we came in here and it was like everything came out in a rush. It was just so fast and you were so intense that I got scared. You were so torn up about it that I realized I had been wrong to want it too...”

Cullen stared at her. Maybe he should have let her talk that first day. “Ebrisa, no. You weren't wrong for wanting it. That actually... that takes a lot off my mind.” He stepped away from the door and sat down beside her on the small bed. “I know I need to take it slow with you, but its just like you said. Everything rushed out at once and the control I thought I had was gone in an instant. The idea that I... that I almost took you against your will makes me so sick. I couldn't let you wave it off like it wasn't a big deal.”

“So you aren't angry with me for pushing you away?”

He laughed tiredly. “I'm not angry with you. Will you come out of your room now?”

She thought for a bit and set down the book on the floor. “Only if you get some sleep.”

Cullen made to stand up and turned to Ebrisa, pausing as she scooted to the head of the bed and set a pillow in her lap. “I... I can't in here.”

“Will you at least try?” Ebrisa patted the pillow. “You've said my presence is soothing and that I keep the demons away. Maybe I can help you relax in small spaces too?” He hesitated and looked back to the door. “I'm offering to massage your head until you fall asleep or run out. Either way you will get at least a few relaxing moments.” Well, when she put it that way...

 

Emery finished the meal with a sigh, noticing Ebrisa was still absent. He must have passed Cullen at some point, the man most likely disappointed at having failed and avoiding him as well. The templar went to his sister's room and knocked softly, getting no reply, and walked inside. Cullen lay asleep on Ebrisa's bed, head in her lap. The woman leaned back against the wall awkwardly, her head drooping painfully to the side and hands still limply in Cullen's hair. Emery smirked as he looked over the pair. They didn't appear to be fighting anymore, but that position was going to kill his sister's neck.

He grabbed her around the waist and slipped her off the bed, Cullen grumbling as his head dropped to the mattress. Emery frowned at the tiny bed, not really finding any room to lay his sister down on and draped her on the commander's side, part of her hanging off the edge. Cullen pulled a face in his sleep and turned to his side to investigate the new weight. He seemed to recognize it and the air around her, so the mostly asleep man wrapped his arms around Ebrisa and slid back to the wall. Having pulled her to a more stable spot on the mattress, Cullen nuzzled his new prize affectionately and ceased movement. Emery raised a brow and held back a laugh, not wanting to disturb the couple, despite not being entirely convinced Cullen was, in fact, asleep.
~~~~~~~

The rest of the journey was spent much like the one out with Ebrisa and Cullen spending most of the time on deck, but instead of the mage being sent to bed at night, the couple returned to her cabin together. Ebrisa massaged his head until he became drowsy, then slipped in beside him and they held each other for the rest of the night. She didn't recall doing it that first time he slept in her room, but she must have managed somehow. Whoever got up first would coax the other awake with gentle kisses and they found that they weren't exactly looking forward to returning to Skyhold and their normal sleeping arrangement.

“Maybe we don't have to.” Ebrisa drew a circle on the railing with her finger as she blushed. “I mean, practically everyone in Skyhold thinks we've been intimate already, so it won't start any rumors...”

Cullen nearly choked at her suggestion. “Remember that self control of mine? Sleeping beside you in a full sized bed back home would really be putting it to the test.”

“But we've done it before and nothing happened.” She looked up at him sheepishly.

“One night. After you were attacked.” He cleared his throat and blushed himself. “And even then my mind was racing with thoughts. If you hadn't fallen asleep so quickly, I might have tried something.”

“But I like waking up beside you...” She was nearly pouting at this point.

“And I sleep better when you are in my arms, but if you are in my arms every night I won't be able to keep them in appropriate places,” Cullen whispered in her ear and she shivered.

“Packed your own things this time?” Emery said suddenly from behind them, setting his own luggage next to theirs. The couple jumped and blushed furiously. “Did I interrupt something?”

“No-not at all,” Ebrisa squeaked.

“That's a yes if ever I've heard one.” The templar smirked and moved away. “I'm going to say farewell to the crew then.”

Cullen rubbed at his neck as he watched the port draw closer. “Once a week should be okay...” Ebrisa latched onto his arm and beamed at him, causing him to blush further. How was she able to convince him to follow through with bad ideas?

 

Chapter Text

When they arrived in Skyhold, Hawke and Josephine were waiting for them by the gate. The Antivan barely waited for the returning party's feet to touch the ground before she pounced. “So? How did it go?” Ebrisa smiled brightly and nodded. The ambassador squealed loudly and squeezed the mage in a tight hug, shaking her side to side excitedly. “This is wonderful! I had every confidence of success, of course. I'll make the preparations immediately and should have practically everything arranged by the time you return.”

“Lady Montilyet, I have returned.” Ebrisa looked at her curiously, then to the Inquisitor.

Hawke twisted the ends of her hair and laughed awkwardly. “See, here's the thing. There's been a lot of activity in the Frostback Basin and some Avvar have been harassing a research team we have in the area. There's another group of Avvar – non-hostile – that we can maybe persuade to help. I've given them the location of that burial site we found a while back and sent Skywatcher for a visit... but they are a pretty stubborn group and it'll take a bit more coaxing.”

“When you say activity, I get the feeling you aren't just talking about the Avvar,” Cullen grumbled.

“Rifts. A lot of rifts,” Hawke relented. “I'm going to need to steal your new fiance. Congrats, by the way.”

The commander sighed heavily. “When do you have to leave?”

“Two days ago?”

“You, of course, can have the remainder of the day to rest, my lady.” Josephine added. “It would be unreasonable to make you turn around when you've only just returned. You will head out tomorrow.” She looked at Cullen. “And from the onslaught of letters I've received over the past week, I've gathered that there was a rift in Ostwick.”

“There was, but we closed it quickly.”

“We'll have to arrange for some of our forces to patrol the Free Marches,” Hawke sighed. “Demons are really the last thing Kirkwall needs right now. Since it took so long for a rift to show up in the Free Marches at all, we shouldn't need too much of a presence in the area, but I'm sure you can figure it out.”

Cullen stiffened. “So I need to stay here and get that set up.”

“Yes...” The Inquisitor said slowly, preparing for an angry outburst.

He sighed and looked their leader in the eye. “Do we have any more dragon webbing?”

“What?” Hawke blinked. “Uh, yeah. Lots.”

“At least there's that.” He turned to Ebrisa and grabbed her hand. “Come on then.”

“Wait, you were serious about that?” The mage said with more than a little disbelief.

“Of course I was serious, especially if I'm not going to be there!” Cullen pulled her up the stairs. “You're going to be surrounded by barbarians and I'll be damned if one of them sees your underthings... or worse.”

“Ser Emery, what exactly are they talking about?” Josephine turned to the templar with a raised brow.

He chuckled behind his hand. “For some reason, fire doesn't harm Ebrisa, but her clothes are another matter entirely. When we closed that rift back home, the city guard got a pretty good peak at her small clothes and the commander wasn't too thrilled.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After being near each other so much over the past two weeks, especially after the closeness they shared on the return to Skyhold, leaving one another proved very difficult for Cullen and Ebrisa. Knowing that duty called did little to soften the blow and they spent the night prior in each others arms, the mage laying her head on his chest, tracing her fingers over his scars, while Cullen softly stroking her hair. When it came time to part, they held hands and touched foreheads, whispering vows of affection before sharing a single, gentle kiss. Blackwall and Dorian averted their eyes from the sweet display and Hawke felt genuinely guilty for having to tear them apart, but tear them apart she did.

The Herald was quiet for most of the trek out. She'd reply softly when prompted but couldn't bring herself to smile or laugh and the group knew she was sulking. When she pouted it was cute and funny, but when she sulked it was like rainclouds followed her and dampened the mood of everyone else around.

Iron Bull finally had enough and let out a loud groan. “For tits sake, little lady. If you're this mopey when you leave him now, I don't even want to know how depressed you'll get once you two start banging.”

Ebrisa turned to him sharply, eyes wide and face burning. Did he really just...?

“You haven't?” Hawke twisted in her saddle to stare incredulously at the other woman. “I thought for sure... you even spent last night together!”

“Not that its anyone's business, but we didn't do anything. We- we haven't....” Ebrisa mumbled, embarrassed.

“Had sex?” Dorian offered with a smirk.

“Yes. That.” She lowered her eyes.

The Tevinter laughed loudly. “You can't even say the word, can you? Oh you poor, innocent thing. How has the commander not thrown you against a wall and ravaged you by now?”

Ebrisa dipped her head and looked away to hide her blush. She wasn't going to let on that he very nearly did.

 

While the rifts did appear new, Ebrisa couldn't help but wonder if they would have heard about them at all if they didn't have a research team in the area looking for the first Inquisitor. The Avvar didn't seem terribly worried about demons, even ones as strong as these. It was almost as if something was drawing the creatures to the area. Hawke insisted on dealing with as many rifts as they could with out engaging the hostile Avvar before going to Stone-bear Hold and they moved up and down the river and over large roots to take out all the clear ones Scout Harding had noted on the map.

Professor Kenric from the University of Orlais told them of a small island near the possible-ally Hold that he was sure held some clues to Inquisitor Ameridan's resting place. As Hawke tried to negotiate for a boat with one of the Avvar fishermen, Ebrisa stared out over the water and felt a pull on her hand. It wasn't exactly like a rift, but something very similar. And it felt... almost sad.

“The big lug over there won't lend us a boat without permission from his thane,” Hawke grumbled as she returned to the group.

“Well that's a bit annoying,” Dorian huffed.

“There's a path to the hold over here. I'll be right back.” She sighed and walked along the cliff, leaving the others behind.

“Is it wise for her to go alone?” Ebrisa looked at the men worriedly.

Blackwall seemed to share her concern and cleared his throat before jogging after the Inquisitor.

“Heard them going at it again the other night.” Iron Bull grinned at Varric. “So she's called Hawke because she's a screamer?”

The dwarf started laughing. “Its her last name and she hates her first one, but if you say so.”

“Isn't it confusing to call one sibling by the last name?” Dorian asked. “What if Bethany wanted to go by Hawke in the Wardens? Do you think that would cause an issue?”

“Only if she's a screamer, too.” Bull elbowed the Tevinter and the men laughed again.

“You know, for such a sultry vixen, I'm surprised we didn't hear anything from Bethany when she was in Skyhold.” Dorian mused.

“She had her eyes set on Curly, and that guy can be pretty dense,” Varric explained. “Of course, it's entirely possible that he did realize and-” The dwarf stopped suddenly and turned around to the Herald, having forgotten she was there. “And, uh, ignored it entirely.”

Ebrisa's face was burning as she stood rigidly at the shore and stared forward, pretending she hadn't heard a single word of the men's conversation. Is this what happens when there's no more Corypheus to be concerned with? The Inquisition becomes obsessed with the intimate affairs of its members? Had they nothing else to talk about now? The men continued their conversation at a quieter level and the mage could only catch parts when they laughed and was thankful for the exclusion.

“Thane Svarah Sun-Hair has granted us guest-welcome to Stone-Bear Hold,” Hawke called out as she walked up to the fisherman again. “May I please borrow your boat now?”

The Avvar man held up his hands. “I just wanted no trouble with the lowlanders if something happened to their Inquisitor. You may take it, but be weary. The spirits warn us away from The Lady's Rest for a reason.”

“Dually noted,” Hawke sighed and moved to the docks. “Okay, all set. It shouldn't take long to look around for more buckles or whatever Kenric studies.” She ordered everyone into the boat, making Bull sit in the center to prevent capsizing, and they rowed steadily to the small island.

There was a startling number of spirits roaming the tiny land mass and the feeling of sadness hit

Ebrisa so strongly that tears began sliding down her cheek. She wiped at them and tried to keep the others from noticing. “Okay, fan out for, I don't know, anything, I guess?” Hawke scratched her head and the men began searching the beach, noting the weathered tents and degraded crates.

Ebrisa walked away from the busy group, following the pull on her hand and the echoing ache in her heart. A feeling so sad, filled with such longing... what was it? She walked up a rotted ramp and stepped into a decrepit shell of a home, finding the the rift, yet not a rift, that was calling to her. The mage held out her sparking hand and gently touched shimmering green dome, causing it to erupt with a bang and knock her off her feet.

Varric looked up at the sound, then around the beach. “Hey, don't want to alarm anyone, but when's the last time someone saw Sunshine?”

“She was over...” Iron Bull turned back to the dock before letting out a long groan.

“You aren't doing such a bang-up job as a body guard these days,” Dorian snickered.

“No, she's just become more curious,” Bull shot back.

Blackwall began to move towards the loud noise. “We can all blame each other after we find her. Pretty sure its this way.”

They moved further inland and began to hear voices - the Herald was talking with someone. “I thought this place was forbidden,” Varric muttered as they approached the broken shack.

“Well we're here, aren't we?” Hawke smirked. She paused at the sight of Ebrisa sitting on the ground and looking up at a spirit, tears rolling down her face.

“Then Telana returned here alone to wait for him. Forever waiting. Dreaming... then dead...” The spirit relayed mournfully.

“We'll find Inquisitor Ameridan,” Ebrisa promised. “You don't have to wait here anymore...”

“Thank you. It was hard,” the spirit said slowly, tiredly. “I... she... went a long time ago. I stayed because she asked. Her things are there... she wanted them found.” The vague figure bowed its head and took Ebrisa's left hand before bursting into light. The mage cried out in sudden pain and doubled over, holding her wrist as the mark flared up in a way she'd never felt.

“My lady!” Blackwall knelt at her side and placed a hand on her back. “Take deep breaths, come on now.” She did as she was told and slowly eased the sparks away. “Now what was all that about?”

“Inquisitor Ameridan was following orders from Emperor Drakon. A dragon...” The Herald wiped away the tears. “A dragon followed by Avvar was headed for Orlais. With the Blight, the nation was already so scared. The mission had to be secret. Telana waited for him, hoping for him to return, but he didn't. She... she waited for her love... but he didn't return.”

Hawke bent down and picked up the long-dead monarch's signed orders, protected from time by the spirits. “This sure beats buckles, but it doesn't tell us anything about where Ameridan is besides definitely not here.”

“The spirit said something about... metal spires up the river.” Ebrisa cleared her throat and wiped at her eyes again. “It had been so long and she could only hold on to so much of Telana.”

“Well its a better clue than what we started with,” Dorian sighed. “I do enjoy a good scavenger hunt.”

“Are you.. okay, Sunshine?” Varric gazed at her still shaking hand. “I don't know if you should walk all the way back to the research camp like that.”

“She can stay at the Avvar hold,” Blackwall suggested. “We do have guest-welcome and need to get them to like us if they're ever going to help against the Jaws of Hakkon group.”

“Lets all head over there for now before we decide anything.” The Inquisitor sighed and looked one last time around the shack. History had just gotten a lot more complicated.

 

Chapter Text

“Yeah, that's right, bow before the Inquisitor!” Hawke laughed loudly as the final Avvar opponent surrendered.

Ebrisa covered her face in her hands from her seat in the viewing stands, too embarrassed to look at their leader any longer. After walking around for a little, Hawke heard about the Trials of Hakkon fighting pit and decided it was a great way to not only gain favor with the hold, but show off at the same time. Of all the tasks that they could have done to help, the Inquisitor chose the least productive. The crowd in the stands cheered loudly and started chanting Hawke, making the warrior in the pit to pump her greatsword in the air and the mage to sigh in defeat.

“There will be no living with her now,” Dorian leaned over and muttered as the audience began to leave. “As though she needed an ego boost.”

“I honestly didn't think openly boasting would be a good idea, but it seems that the Avvar admire confidence,” Ebrisa sighed. “That really shows how little I understand the culture, I suppose.”

Hawke could be heard talking loudly with Trainer Arrken, the two of them going over moves from both sides of the fight excitedly. “And then that one maneuver with the – bah, you saw, it was coming right at your head.” Arrken tried to wind down the conversation.

“Its a good thing I saw it too, or I wouldn't have my head,” Hawke chuckled and the Avvar gave a deep belly laugh.

“We'll thank the gods for that one, lowlander. They seem to favor you quite a bit.”

“Speaking of favor, you know of anyone needing help around here?” She cleared her throat. “Run some errands, slay some giants? I'm completely open for suggestions.”

“Afraid I've got no more requests for you.” Arrken sat down and retrieved his whetstone. “Master of the Hunt is always complaining about something, so I'd try him.”

Hawke nodded and waved the rest of the Inquisition group to follow as she headed down the path. “So we'll check in with the Huntsmaster and then head back to the research camp and tell Kenric what we found on that island.”

The Master of the Hunt had no task for them, but did suggest that the missing hold beast may be hunting in a western valley. It was a decent lead and Hawke promised to look into it on the way back. She turned to her group and rubbed her hands together. “You ready to head out?”

“Lead the way, Boss.” Iron Bull nodded and the other men agreed similarly.

“Alright then.” She let out a breath and switched her gaze to Ebrisa. “Why don't you ask around some more and see if there's something you can help with here. We'll likely run into hostiles and with your mark going all... sparky like it did, I don't want you in too many fights for a while.”

“But the pain has mostly subsided now and-” Ebrisa tried to persuade the Inquisitor.

“Cullen would murder me if something happened to you because of my neglect.” Hawke cut her off quickly. “I'm not taking any chances, if I can help it.”

The Herald took a deep breath and sighed, lowering her eyes. “I understand.” Despite the strides she felt she made with combat and being equipped with her halla leather armor and metal staff, the mage felt she was still a burden in their eyes. Hadn't she done well against Corypheus? Did that count for nothing?

After they left her alone with the Avvar, the mage stepped into the apothecary's hut nearby. She'd always been able to assist with that sort of work, but the Avvar man turned her away, not trusting a lowlander with such precise recipes.

“Damn it...” a frustrated voice groaned behind her.

Ebrisa turned to find a man hunched over on a cot against the wall, clutching his leg. “How many times do we have to tell you to stop trying to walk on that, Finn?” The apothecary sighed as he walked away from the workbench with a bowl of fowl smelling paste.

“I have to keep trying. I won't see Father's soul severed from the earth, if its meant to return.” Finn grimaced against the pain.

“It is a sad fate for Caldan, but if you were meant to bring the offering, the gods would have seen your leg mended properly.” The older man shook his head and left the hut, saying no more.

“Excuse me?” Ebrisa knelt beside the injured man. “I don't mean to pry, but are you alright?”

He looked at her curiously, noticing the woman for the first time. “You are one of the lowlanders. Part of the Inquisition? My name is Finn Cald... Finn Caldansen, at least for a little while longer. I would show you proper greeting, but...”

“Do not concern yourself with manners, Ser Finn.” Ebrisa waved off the matter. “You are injured?”

Finn sighed heavily. “There was a terrible storm a few months back and I was helping secure the fishing boats. Einar nearly fell in, but I caught him and fell into the choppy water myself. My leg got crushed against the rocks and hasn't set properly...”

“Have you no mages in the hold? I thought I saw some...” She frowned slightly. “Do none of them know healing magic?”

“You lowlanders use magic to heal?” He chuckled and shook his head. “No. Our mages are shamans or warriors themselves. We leave healing to the powers of the earth, should we be wise enough to use them correctly.”

“Could I – um, may I see your leg?” Ebrisa hesitated slightly, not wanting to offend.

“I suppose,” Finn mumbled and began to unfasten his pants.

The mage covered her eyes instantly. “Wha-what are you doing?!”

“You wished to inspect my leg. How can you do that through the hide?” He raised a brow at the woman as she shook her head furiously.

“No, you don't need to – I didn't mean – please, just stay dressed!” She suddenly felt very awkward, alone with a strange man, and refused to be a part of something that could be misinterpreted as unfaithful to Cullen. “Lay back down. I can inspect your injury just fine with your pants on.”

Ebrisa waited until she heard the cot creak before peeking out between her fingers. Finding that the man had done as she asked and remained clothed, she moved closer to his legs and gathered the healing energies into her hands. The mage drifted her palms slowly over the broken limb and hummed thoughtfully at the strange angle of the bones, already partly mended together. “To fix it correctly, the bone would have to break again. The pain of that...”

“Will mean nothing if I am able to fulfill my duties as a son.” Fin squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his hands. “Do what you must, lowland mage.”

She took a deep breath and placed a hand on either side of the break. “Alright. I'm beginning.” Ebrisa tapped into the power of the Fade and forced the bone apart with a sickening snap. Finn held in his scream and pounded a fist against the wall, slicing the flesh on an exposed nail. “I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!” The mage stammered repeatedly as she shifted her hands and brought back the soothing glow from before. The process of aligning the bones was like focusing on a fallen walkway and putting it back in place, but on a much smaller and precise scale. Finn stayed as still as he could as he clenched his jaw against the pain.

After several agonizing minuets, the lined up break began to mend and the man relaxed as warm pulses made their way up his body. Finn opened his eyes and watched as the lowlander focused intently on her task, beads of sweat slipping down her face as she took slow, controlled breaths. The bright glow from her hands almost made the mage look like a spirit herself, but definitely drew attention to her beauty. He gasped lightly as the fresh cut on his hand faded away and realized that the woman was casting her magic over all of him. Finn felt better than he had in months, no throbbing aches or searing pain, but the woman wasn't stopping. Why wasn't she stopping? “Lowlander?”

Ebrisa snapped to attention suddenly with a gasp, dropping the spell and looking more than a little dazed. There was an odd tingling running up her arms from the prolonged casting and she wobbled as she stood. “I'm sorry. That seemed more painful than I thought it would be.” The mage teetered backwards and Finn quickly shot up and caught her before she fell over.

“Easy, lowlander,” he said as gently as he could.

She looked up at him slowly, eyes wide. “You... you're standing.”

Finn looked down at his feet on the ground and let out an awkward laugh. “So I am.” He released the mage and began to gather his long unused weapons.

“Wait, what are you doing?” Ebrisa furrowed her brow. “You should still rest.”

“My Father's burial will be soon. Whether it is the one he deserves so his spirit may return or a sky burial depends on if I can bring a proper offering in time.” The man took a few practice swings with his axe before heading for the door.

“Now? You're going now?” The woman followed him out of the hut and past the confused apothecary.

“Enough time has been wasted already,” Finn continued, moving briskly down the pathway. Though he had been unable to venture out while injured, he was able to keep up to date on the location of suitable offerings. One should still be near Swamp Kuldsdotten...

Finn was already well beyond the the hold's borders when he noticed he wasn't alone. He sighed in annoyance. “I'll not return to Stone-Bear Hold empty handed, lowlander. This is something I must do on my own.”

“I wasn't trying to make you go back, Ser Finn.” Ebrisa increased her pace to walk beside the Avvar. “It's clear that I can't stop you and if you must do this alone, then I won't interfere. I'm coming with to ensure you make it home after you collect your offering.”

He smirked and gave the woman a sideways glance. “So eager to spend time alone with me?”

Ebrisa bristled and frowned disapprovingly. “So if someone shows just a little bit of concern for another person, then they must desire them, is that it? It would simply be irresponsible of me to allow a man bedridden for months to wander off by himself moments after being healed.” She folded her arms and turned her head away. “I'll have you know that I am happily engaged and have no intentions of betraying my beloved's trust.”

Finn laughed quietly as they approached the swamp. “I was only joking, lowlander.”

“Well, I'm not,” she huffed.

The man held up a hand, indicating the mage to still as he listened intently around them. He motioned her forward and crept through the fog, stepping around roots and withdrawing his axe. Ebrisa heard a familiar screech and turned sharply to the sound as a large creature charged at them through the mist. “So you come to me? It seems the gods seek to speed my mission.” Finn rolled out of the way and climbed to his feet with a shout as he swung down with his axe. A gurgut. The offering was a gurgut?

Ebrisa withdrew her weapon on impulse, ready to strike at the beast, but Finn called out for her to stay out of it. She stared at him incredulously. He was going to defeat the massive lizard on his own? The mage lowered the staff slightly, not wanting to disrespect their customs, but she couldn't do nothing either...

Finn felt a tingling coat his body as he landed another strike and looked at the mage quickly. “I said not to interfere!”

“I'm not attacking your target, I'm shielding you!” Ebrisa shot back. “The kill shall be yours entirely, I'm just making it harder for the kill to be you.”

He shook his head with a small smile. “You're beloved has his hands full with you, doesn't he?”

“Yes, he does.” The mage held her staff to the side, watching the fight and standing ready to support as needed. With all the ruckus they were making, a pair of lurkers wandered in to investigate and growled at the Herald, causing her to spin around and face them. Finn cursed under his breath and made to assist, but she held out a hand. “Focus on the offering!”

“But you can't fight creatures with healing and wards. You can't do it by yourself.” He barely dodged the gurgut's snapping teeth.

“You sound like the Inquisitor,” Ebrisa huffed, spinning her staff as the flared head began to seep flame. “And who said I didn't know other magic?” She moved the metal staff around herself, chain casting blasts of fire at the lurkers, pushing them back. Finn halted in his tracks and made a quiet noise of approval before turning his attention back to the gurgut. They focused on their prey, Ebrisa being careful to not allow any stay attacks hit the larger beast and occasionally dropping a new barrier on the Avvar. She killed both the lurkers in time to watch Finn deal the final blow to the gurgut.

Now that the beast wasn't attacking, the mage noticed there was something strange about the animal. Its aura had a familiarity about it, almost like... “Its been touched by the Fade?”

“Only an offering from Korth's realm would have sufficed,” Finn explained as he slipped out his hunting knife. He said a small prayer over the creature while he carved out nearly the entire flank and secured the piece with rope. Finn slung the offering on his back and stood up, taking a moment to soak in what had happened. “Thank you, lowlander. I loved my father very much and to finally be able to perform my duty... I can never begin to repay you for this.”

Ebrisa smiled lightly, feeling happy for the first time since leaving Skyhold. “And you don't have to.”

Finn turned to her, taking a moment to appreciate the way her battle-messy hair clung to her glowing face, and began to lead the way out of the swamp. “You are certain you have no intentions of betraying-?”

“I am certain!” The mage cut him off, glaring slightly at the Avvar as she blushed. He laughed and took a wrong turn, leading them further into the swamp by mistake. Ebrisa looked around at the large roots and strange wards set up around the wide, fog free area. “We didn't come this way before...”

“My sense of direction must have dulled while I lay in that hut,” Finn grumbled.

The mage inspected one of the wards and felt an uneasiness. “These are bones. Someone etched symbols into them... it feels... wrong. Dark.”

“The augur may know what they're about. We can ask him to come look once we return.” Finn motioned for her to follow him again, but she hesitated.

“I can't... I can't leave these here. Whatever ward this is, I can't let it continue.” Ebrisa opened her satchel and slipped the bones inside, moving from ward to ward until the feeling of uneasiness left the area.

“If you're done, can we go back to Stone-Bear Hold now?” The Avvar folded his arms, getting impatient.

The mage sighed and secured the bag. “Yes. Please lead the...” She trailed off and turned curiously to a stone structure. “Should there be anyone here?”

“Swamp Kuldsdotten isn't even good for game hunting. That's some old lowlander building.” He explained with a roll of his eyes. “Come on.”

“Then why are the lanterns lit...?” Ebrisa moved through the entrance to investigate.

“I'm heading back without you,” Finn called after her and waited a moment before groaning and following her inside. “Just because I said I can never repay you, doesn't mean I'll follow you each time you decide to delay.”

“I thought I heard something,” she whispered as they drew closer to the end of the hall. A glowing arrow whizzed by her head and the mage quickly dropped a barrier over herself and Finn before another could find its mark. They pressed forward into the open room, weapons drawn, and found two members of the Jaws of Hakkon guarding a large cell. Finn engaged with the maul-wielding warrior instantly, leaving the archer to the mage. Ebrisa wove flame around the other woman, preventing any of the strange arrows from firing. She slowly tightened the ring of fire until the archer caught a blaze herself and dropped her weapon to try and pat out the flames. Ebrisa reared back and slammed her staff forward, summoning a boulder from the Fade to come crashing down on the enemy, knocking her out. Solas had only been able to teach her a little about this sort of Fade manipulation, but he left behind several books and notes on his desk before departing.

The mage turned her attention to the warriors, finding Finn struggling with the larger man. The longer they stayed there, the greater the chance more Hakkonites would show up. Ebrisa didn't like to use the mark for fighting, but she didn't have much of a choice. She opened a small tear in the Veil above the enemy and watched with a grimace as he fell to his knees and fought against the pain before falling over. Fin stared at her in bewilderment, but she avoided his eyes and turned to the previously guarded cell. Ebrisa shook the ache from her hand as she approached the wall and pulled down on the stiff lever to raise the gate.

A bear growled angrily at her from inside the dank cell, holding a paw off the cobbled floor. Ebrisa knelt down at the edge of the enclosure and held her hand low. “Storvacker?” It growled again, moving closer, but stepping lightly on one paw. She frowned slightly at the limp and noted remnants of blood in the animal's fur. “Let me see.” The bear hesitantly moved closer and the mage reached out with glowing hands, taking hold of the paw and mending the mild injury. “Is that how they got you? With a steel trap?”

“We need to get out of here, lowlander,” Finn urged from behind her. “If they captured our hold beast, they won't leave her so poorly defended.” The mage nodded and quickly climbed to her feet, following the man down the hall with the bear close behind.

As they approached the outside, a fair sized force awaited them. Finn and Ebrisa were outnumbered and already worn out from the earlier fights. The man tried to seem confident, but the Herald knew they couldn't manage on their own. She withdrew her staff and held it out in front of Storvacker. “You aren't going back in that cell so easily.” The bear roared loudly and pushed past her, leading Finn in a charge. Ebrisa took a deep breath before sprinting outside to join the fight. As she feared, there were too many. The mage kept barriers on her companions and sent out multiple waves of fire into the Hakkonites, but that was really all she could manage. It was becoming harder to breath as she pushed out the fire, the wall getting smaller and smaller as she grew weaker.

If she had been thinking, Ebrisa would have taken some lyrium after healing Finn or fighting the lurkers or freeing Storvacker, but she didn't even have any with her. Dorian was the one carrying it and since she was supposed to stay put, she hadn't thought to ask for a vial. She wasn't even sure if the Avvar used lyrium. She fell to her knees and panted, throwing another barrier on Storvacker as more voices began shouting and the noise of battle grew louder, then everything was quiet and things went dark.

 

Chapter Text

Ebrisa woke up to a strange, thick wetness on her cheek. She wiped at it with her hand as she sat up, trying to recall what happened. There was a bear inches from her face and she nearly screamed until it licked her again. “Oh. Right. Storvacker,” she mumbled, staring at the hold beast.

“We really need to know your name,” the thane sighed as she stood up from her throne. “We can't keep calling you lowlander. It'll become too confusing when the rest of them come back.”

The mage dipped her head politely. “Thane Svarah Sun-Hair. I apologize for not greeting you sooner. My name is Ebrisa Trevelyan.”

“Well met then.” Svarah nodded as well, moving across the large cave to stand before the pile of furs Ebrisa was sitting on. “My hunters did not know what to make of you when they brought you back with Storvacker. Finn Caldansen had some interesting tales of his own.” She raised a brow. “You healed his leg so he might prepare burial rights for his father, though it did not concern you. Why?”

Ebrisa lowered her eyes and wiped her cheek again. “Because he was in pain and family is important.”

“That's it?”

“Is that not reason enough to help?” The mage looked at the Thane with confusion.

“For a member of the hold, it is more than enough. For a lowland stranger?” Svarah shook her head. “We have learned to expect little from outsiders. It is shameful for us to allow a guest to do so much.”

“If I overstepped my bounds as a guest of the hold, I apolo- oof!” Ebrisa was cut off by the bear sitting on her and pushing her back to the furs.

“Storvacker, enough!” The thane scolded the bear and the animal begrudgingly got up and left the cave. “You freed her from a terrible fate and she has become fond of you, but do not spoil her, Ebrisa.”

The mage smiled awkwardly, finding it strange to hear her name from someone she barely knew. “I'm not sure I know how to spoil a bear.” Horses, harts, and halla she could figure out, but this was her first time dealing with a bear that didn't want to tear her to shreds.

“The augur looked at the bones you found and tells me what the Jaws of Hakkon were planning.” Svarah narrowed her eyes and tightened her lips, still filled with anger at the other hold. “They seek to bind Hakkon himself in mortal form, to harness the god's power and bring war, as the old Jaws of Hakkon. It was foolish then, and it is foolish now.”

“It has been done before?” Ebrisa asked quietly. Surely something like that would have been recorded, but she could recall nothing from her history lessons.

“Yes, and the action made Hakkon lost to all Avvar...” The thane let out a final, angry sigh. “I will inform your Inquisitor when she returns, but for now the augur wishes to speak with you.”

“Oh.” Ebrisa pushed back the covers of the makeshift bed and awkwardly rose to her feet. “Yes, I will go at once...” She picked up her belongings and adjusted her twisted armor. “Thank you for your time, Thane Sun-Hair.” She lowered her head again and walked outside, asking for directions a few times before finding the right hut. The woman knocked timidly on the door and waited a bit before pushing it open and moving inside.

The air was thick with a slightly spicy smelling smoke billowing from a large fire pit in the center of the hut filled with bones and herbs. Veil fire burned in a brazier on the wall, coloring the smoke and creating an other worldly atmosphere. Figures moved through the haze, almost looking like spirits as- wait. They were spirits...

“So she arrives,” the only other person in the room called out from across the fire pit. “Don't throng!” He chided to the eager, wispy forms. “Behold, worthy ones. The woman who blazes like fire, and mends the air.”

Ebrisa moved slowly towards the Avvar man, feeling slightly uneased by the number of spirits watching her. “Oh... well met, Master Augur and... worthy ones.”

The man nodded. “I greet you, as do our gods and the gods of our ancestors.” He held out his arms, motioning to the spirits and stood still for a moment until the forms slipped out of view. “There! It is done. Now come, be welcome! You've been busy, for a guest.”

“I... yes.” The Herald continued to look around the hut, feeling the lingering presences. “Are guests of the hold normally introduced to the local spirits? The Inquisitor didn't mention...”

“The gods do not appear before many, especially outsiders, but they clamored to see you. I obeyed, for I am their voice and their augur,” the man explained. “You should feel honored.”

“I do, I am.” Ebrisa quickly replied, facing the augur. “It's just that... why would they want to see me and not Lady Hawke? And that thing you said about me blazing like a fire, what did you mean by that?”

“They watched your Inquisitor in Hakkon's Trials and were impressed by her skill, but little else. We've heard tales of her feats already, all the way back to her time of the three towns when the red sprang forth madness,” he explained. “But you are a curious thing. To those beyond the Veil, your hand burns like the watchman's bonfire and your form flickers in flame. They tell me you have been touched by a god and that makes you burn.”

“The Anchor was directed to my hand by the Maker so I might mend the Veil.” The woman lifted her left hand.

“They speak not of your lowland god, but a god of the Fade, with you a long time. A piece of that god burns within you and sparks you to fire.” The augur explained. “I did not think lowlanders bound spirit teachers to their mages.”

“They don't. If a spirit and a mage combine, they become an abomination. We do not have such a peaceful relationship with spirits as your people do.” Ebrisa answered quietly, taking in what she just heard. “I wasn't bound to a spirit, but there was someone...” She approached the fire pit and slipped off her glove, slowly moving her fingers through the flame. “It doesn't burn. I couldn't figure out why fire didn't harm me after my aunt faded away. You're saying that... that some of her is still with me?”

“It is not with you, it is a part of you. You have been forever changed by the god.”

Changed? Did that make her an abomination? She did not feel monstrous or dangerous, had noticed nothing off after Renata's passing besides her bouts of loneliness and empty dreams. Shouldn't she be feeling the opposite of that if she were possessed? There was so much the Circle taught about the dangers of demons – slotting all creatures of the Fade as such – and tried to protect their mages through fear mongering alone. For all she thought she knew of abominations, she could not think herself to be one. Whatever her aunt did in those fleeting moments as she faded away, it had not twisted Ebrisa into a monster.

“She wasn't a god, she was a person who died and lingered behind. She was a spirit, my guardian, my...” The Herald shook her head furiously.

He let out a small sigh. “The spirits watched us even before we came from the North. They protect the hold - help drive off spirits who've gone bad with rage or gloom. They shaped themselves into our gods and we grew to love them. Their secret is this, touched one: they reflect us as water does the sky. They show us what we wish to be. That image gives us strength. For that, we thank the gods.”

Ebrisa removed her hand and turned back to the man, barely registering the tears brimming her eyes. “I loved her, too.”

“That does explain why you appear so accepting, despite being a herald for the lowland god.” He smiled lightly.

“I wouldn't always have been,” the woman relented. “There was a time all of this would have frightened me greatly, but Mas-” She paused and cleared her throat. “My friend taught me much that I never would have understood about spirits and the Fade. He is no longer with us, but I know he would have liked it here.”
~~~~~~~~~

Skyward, one last trek she made,

To her lover, dream-delivered,

Raven-feathered, reunited,

Hearts both whole, now neither aching.

Skald Fullna finished the final stanza of the tale and Ebrisa lifted her hands to clap, but stilled as she noticed the others dipping their heads respectfully. After a moment of silence, the hall filled with noise once again as the meal resumed.

“Tyrdda Bright-Axe is a very important figure to all Avvar,” Svarah explained from the mage's side. “Before we had only parts of the tale, but your Inquisition found the rest and saw fit to share them with us. The Inquisitor even shared the location of Tyrdda's burial site. We found some relics left unplundered, but her weapon was not among them.” She tore a piece of bread off the loaf and used it to sop up some of the stew's broth.

Ebrisa furrowed her brow as she tried to recall something that was nagging at her. It had something to do with Tyrdda... She gasped suddenly and scrambled to her feet, making the thane raise a brow before going back to eating.

“Thane Sun-Hair, I apologize for not realizing earlier what this truly was and how important it is to your people.” Ebrisa held out her metal staff with the golden crystal set in the head, offering it. “When Lady Hawke gave this to me before I sealed the Breach, all she said was that it wasn't axe-y enough for her, but should be fine for me. It was right after the excavation results came in from the Hinterlands... this is Tyrdda Bright-Axe's weapon.”

The hall was silent as they stared at the lowlander. The thane took hold of the staff with great reverence and rose to her feet. She drew her fingers lightly over the twisted metal, feeling the etching done by craftsman and opponent. “These patterns are of Avvar make and the stone seems to burn even now...”

“It never occurred to me to ask where the staff had come from, and I am deeply sorry for the disrespect we of the Inquisition have shown Tyrdda Bright-Axe.” Ebrisa bowed at the waist, nearly completely parallel with the floor. “The staff belongs with her people, not an outsider from across the Waking Sea.” Ebrisa straightened and smiled awkwardly. “She did refuse Thelm Gold-Handed's offer to cross those waters, after all.”

Svarah lifted her eyes to study the mage. “You were listening to our skald?”

“Of course.” The Herald turned from the thane to Fullna. “I've read the saga myself, but hearing you recite the words with that rhythm and diction gave them a flow and feeling that didn't come across on parchment. It was moving.” Fullna looked down, blushing slightly at the compliment.

“You say you have used this staff since you mended the wound in the sky?” Svarah asked quietly. “It has served you long and through many difficult trials.”

“It has.” Ebrisa nodded.

The thane knelt beside the augur, quietly asking him questions and glancing back at Ebrisa. He closed his eyes for several minuets, the hall still as he communed with the gods. The augur smirked suddenly and turned to the thane. “A guest no longer. Brightness for the Flame-Touched.”

“The gods have spoken then.” Svarah rose to her feet, standing taller than before, and holding the staff out to Ebrisa with a firm nod. “Some say that the Lady of the Sky first took mortal form in Tyrdda – they say many things about Tyrdda and the Lady – so it is only fitting that the Bright-Axe serves the one who mends the wounds in Our Lady's skin.” She paused, her piercing eyes looking straight into the mage's swirling green orbs. “One who is part of this hold.”

The Herald had to force herself to stop staring by lowering her eyes. “But you know so little of me. You can not truly mean that...”

Svarah frowned heavily. “You doubt the words of your thane? A member for only a moment and already you show such disrespect.”

Ebrisa looked up quickly, eyes wide. “No, Thane Sun-Hair, I meant no disrespect. I simple can not understand your reasoning.” She took a quiet breath. “These honors you wish to bestow are far too great. I have not earned them.”

The thane's frown increased. She turned sharply from the mage to address the hall, holding the staff high above her head. “She mends Our Lady's flesh, rescued our hold beast, healed our wounded, aided in ancient rites, respects our deepest traditions. She is touched by a god of Korth's realm! Are these the acts of a guest?” The hall was silent. “Are these the acts of a member of this hold?” A rhythmic pounding sounded through the mead hall, fists slamming on tables and feet stomping in the dirt as the Avvar roared out in approval. Again, Svarah turned to the mage and offered her the staff.

“If you are certain, then I humbly accept.” Ebrisa took the weapon into her hands, cheeks stained pink as the hall somehow cheered louder. “I shall do my best to honor the memory of Tyrdda Bright-Axe and perform my duty as a member of Stone-Bear Hold.”

“You are doing a fine job so far,” Svarah chuckled.
~~~~~~~~~~

The Hakkonites had given them more trouble than they anticipated and Hawke's group was forced to wait the night out at a smaller camp. “Do you think she'll be bored out of her mind?” Dorian asked as they made their way up the path to Stone-Bear Hold in the early morning. “We did leave her here for an awfully long time.”

“I'm sure she found something to do,” Hawke sighed. “The Herald doesn't mind helping in kitchens and the like.” She hummed curiously. “I wonder if she knows how to clean game...”

“Somehow, I highly doubt it.” Varric chuckled. “The way Sunshine treats the mounts, I don't know if she could bring herself to cut up some venison.”

“Well whatever she did, you guys go find her while I update the thane.” Hawke split off from the group as they entered the already bustling hold.

“Yes, because we would know exactly where to start looking,” Dorian grumbled. The men asked around about the Herald, but many of the Avvar didn't seem to know who they were talking about. It was more than a little concerning that the person left in their care wasn't ringing any bells. Finally, they came across the Master of the Hunt readying his men for the first excursion of the day.

“Huntsmaster,” Blackwall called out, drawing the Avvar man's attention. “You recall the blonde woman with us yesterday? Might you know where she is?”

“Lady Flame-Touched?”
“Sorry, who?” Dorian leaned in, thinking they may have misheard him.

The Master of the Hunt rolled his eyes. “The woman is still sleeping in the hut at the top of the path.” He motioned with his head before focusing on the hunters again.

“Guess that means she was bored,” Varric said with a shrug as they moved towards the small building. They knocked on the door and heard a low rumbling noise. “Does Sunshine snore?” The dwarf turned the knob and stepped inside, then quickly back out as a bear charged forward, growling and showing its teeth threateningly.

Blackwall withdrew his sword, ready to strike if the animal tried to attack. Had they been sent here intentionally? Was this an Avvar prank on outsiders?

“Storvacker, what is it?” Ebrisa yawned and stood up from the bedroll and furs in her dragon webbing slip. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes before looking at the door and took a few more moments to wake up. “Oh. Oh!” The woman rushed forward and grabbed the bear's scruff. “No, no! These are friends, Storvacker. Its alright.” The animal gave Varric one more huff before moving past the dwarf and outside to hunt it's breakfast.

“That, uh, that was the hold beast?” The rouge choked out awkwardly. “I thought it was missing. Came back on its own?”

Ebrisa chewed her lip and looked away. “No, she had some help...”

“You didn't stay put, did you?” Iron Bull sighed heavily.

“Well I tried, but Ser Finn needed to slay that gurgut so his father could be put to rest properly...” She folded her arms defensively and shifted her weight to the side, effectively parting the high slit of her short slip and exposing much of her thigh.

Dorian smirked slightly. “My dear, aren't you cold?”

The woman glanced at the other mage, seemingly realizing something. “I'm sorry, it must be chilly outside. You all can come in, its rather warm in here.”

Blackwall blushed and averted his eyes. “My lady, um, I don't think anyone besides the commander should see you like this.”

She looked at him curiously, then at the other, snickering men, and dropped her arms. “I'm not properly dressed...” Ebrisa blindly reached for the door and slammed it shut, face burning in embarrassment as their laughter easily cut through the planking. How could she not have noticed? At least it wasn't one of the Avvar who saw, she didn't need to be lowered in their eyes after so much praise the night before. After a few minuets, she stepped outside fully dressed in her armor and equipped with all her gear, cheeks still tinged pink. “When you inevitably tell Cullen about this, please emphasize that I just woke up.”

“I guess we can do that,” Varric chuckled.

 

Chapter Text

“Oh, Josephine, darling.” Vivienne turned from the stream of servants moving her things to the wagon and smiled. “Please give my fondest regards to the Herald when she returns. With the chaos finally mended, Montsimmard demands my full attention once again. They've been ever so lost without me and I simple must depart at once.”

“Of course, Madame Vivienne.” Josephine dipped her head. “I'm sure the Lady Herald will understand.”

“I hope you don't mind, but as I was making my own arrangements yesterday, I took the liberty of replying to that letter you've been ignoring on your desk.” The enchanter faced the workers once again. “Do be careful with that settee, its an antique.”

“What letter are you referring to?” Josephine hadn't thought she left anything unanswered except for...

“Why the Herald's nomination from the Grand Clerics, of course.”

The Antivan paled and brought a hand to her mouth. “You... you rejected it, yes?”

Vivienne laughed. “Don't be absurd, I told them she agreed. Its only natural that the Herald of Andraste should take over as Divine. Why would she refuse?”

“Because she is getting married!” Josephine cried out desperately.

“After she becomes Divine, the Herald can overturn that silly ban for the clergy and then be wed.” The enchanter answered easily, as though it was so obvious.

“You did not even ask her!”

“My dear, a faithful servant of the light such as our Herald would gladly set aside selfish wants to follow the Maker's will. You think too little of her devotion to the Chantry,” Vivienne sighed and waved a hand in the air.

“And you too little of her love for the commander.” The ambassador moved away quickly, her initial shock replaced with fury as she climbed the stairs to the rookery. The gall of that pompous, self-righteous, self-serving...

“Josie? What's got you so riled up?” Leliana set a raven back inside its cage.

“I need you to intercept a letter Vivienne sent out yesterday. Can you do that?” Josephine sounded more desperate than she looked.

“Only yesterday? Give me something difficult.” The spymaster smirked. “Where is the letter headed?”

“The Grand Cathedral in Val Royeaux.” The Antivan sighed and paced in front of her friend's desk. “She told them yes! Can you believe that? Vivienne knows full well that we are preparing for the Lady Herald's wedding and she just assumed it would be put on hold for months or canceled altogether. She just assumed the Herald would want to become Divine! It is so typical of- ugh!” She stopped pacing and tried to collect herself. “Just destroy that letter and I shall compose a new one today explaining that the Herald says no instead.”

Leliana quickly wrote out instructions for one of her agents in the field and shook her head.

“You disagree?” Josephine was taken slightly aback.

“No, Josie, I think you are correct in your assumption on the Herald's reply, but shouldn't she be the one to send it?” The redhead looked up as she folded the slip of parchment. “Aren't you doing the same thing as Vivienne?”

“I...” Josephine hesitated. “I see your point. Very well, just stop the first letter and I shall let the Lady Herald answer for herself when she returns.”
~~~~~~~~~

The spires the spirit at the Lady's Rest spoke of led to an old Tevinter shrine deep in the woods. From the way the Hakkonites defended the area, Hawke knew they were on the right path. There was an early Andrastian shrine inside and clear signs of Ameridan and his elven lady love. It took a little time to decipher the clues carved by the previous Inquisitor – Ebrisa and Kenric instantly able to recite the Chant of Light verses noted in the stone - and they were able to activate the old Tevinter magic and send the energy from trail marker to trail marker across the basin until reaching the Jaws of Hakkon base. It was a Tevinter ritual site, a fortress with high walls and shielded by a thick sheet of ice. At least it was until Hawke forced down the final marker's lever and melted the frozen defense away.

Scout Harding and Professor Kenric went in with Hawke to form their plan of attack with Thane Sun-Hair to overtake the fortress and stop the Hakkonites from unleashing their god – the same dragon Ameridan was sent to slay ages ago. Most of the Inquisition's forces were already busy defending the shrine, so a siege was in no way possible, but not the only option. Stone-Bear Hold's fastest climbers would scale the fortress wall and open the gate from within and it's warriors keep the bulk of the inside force occupied so the Inquisitor's group could stop the ritual. They would wait for night to strike.

“We will have to kill Hakkon in order to stop the ritual, won't we?” Ebrisa turned to the augur, uneasy about the implications. “If we do, what will that mean to your people?”

“Gods dieing and being reborn is nothing new,” he chuckled.

The woman stared at him intently. “Spirits can return after dieing?”

“Aye. They come back to us after a time, changed, but not unfamiliar. Not the same, but not unlike as they were,” the man explained. “Hakkon has been gone too long and in need of a good rebirthing.”

“And if... if it were a spirit that had gone bad, would they still be tainted by that? She wasn't always filled with rage...”

“You speak of the one who touched you,” he began knowingly. “Your concern speaks well for the nature of the spirit. I believe the wrath will not return, only the compassion and love.”

Ebrisa smiled softly. “That does put my mind at ease. Thank you.”

 

As night fell, the hold readied for the raid, sharpening blades and doing light sparing to warm up. The Jaws of Hakkon had been an annoyance for too long and proved themselves unworthy and dishonorable. There would be no tears shed for killing them that night. Few members of the hold were staying behind as most fisherman, shop keeps, and craftsman doubled as warriors and were eager to swing their weapons in battle.

Hawke nodded at the size of the force approvingly. “Thane Sun-Hair, your people are most impressive.”

“And battle hungry,” Svarah added. “Let us take care of the traitorous Hakkonites outside the temple. Perhaps some will earn a legend-mark this night.”

“You're coming with us?” Hawke was more than a little surprised.

“I have not gone so soft after taking up the mantle of thane to sit idly by while my people honor the hold.” Svarah grinned widely. “I remain as fierce as the day I became Sun-Hair.”

“In that case, glad to have you.” The Inquisitor smirked before turning to the mage conversing with Blackwall. “Now the not-so-fun part.” She moved across the wide yard and cleared her throat, drawing Ebrisa's attention. “You know what I'm going to say, don't you?”

The Herald lowered her eyes. “I am to remain here.”

“You are.” Hawke scratched her head. “Its a night raid in a frozen Tevinter ritual site, filled with hostile Avvar trying to resurrect a dragon-god-monster – or something like that – and there's really just too many unknown risks to-”

“You don't have to console me, I'm not a child.” Ebrisa cut her off quietly and turned around. “I will speak with the augur and see what I may do to assist here.” She walked away with a sigh, feeling like the same fumbling mage from the Hinterlands in Hawke's eyes. Would she ever be able to convince her otherwise?

~~~~~~~
Most of the hold had left with the leaders, even Storvacker had gone to assist with the raid, and those remaining gathered in the main hall. Fullna sang the songs of their people, retelling the tales of the legend-marks to fill the room with pride and confidence in the hold's mission that night. Ebrisa fidgeted, unable to remain still while knowing so many were fighting.

“Is there a critter in your clothing, Lady Flame-Touched?” The augur chuckled at her side. “Calm yourself.”

“But right now the others are risking their lives, striking at the enemy while I sit here and do nothing.” She slipped her fingers up and down her amulet chain. “It's not right.”

“You feel slighted for being left behind?”

“I...” Ebrisa lowered her eyes. “Perhaps.”

“There must always be someone to stay,” he began. “An empty hold is an invitation to others. If none were here to protect our home, it very well may not be ours any longer.”

The Herald closed her eyes and sighed. “Of course. I didn't mean to imply guarding Stone-Bear Hold wasn't a noble task.”

The augur smiled and shook his head. “There are reasons for everything, including your Inquisitor leaving you with us. Had she not done so that first day, Finn Caldansen would have no father, Caldan would not have had a proper burial, and we would have no hold-beast. Maybe your Inquisitor is sensitive to the gods' will.”

“I'm fairly certain Lady Hawke heads no will but her own.” Ebrisa smirked lightly. “It is unfortunate the legend-mark mule-head is already taken.”

He laughed and slapped his knee. “You are close enough with your Inquisitor to jest, yet have little faith in her decisions?”

“I know she is trying to keep me safe, but the fact that she believes I need protecting all the time is... it makes me feel like I'm not good enough.”

“But is she protecting you from outside forces or yourself?” The man raised a brow. “The hunters told me what they saw at that prison; you protecting the others until you passed out. I feel this is a normal trait of yours.”

“So you're saying that the Inquisitor is concerned I may do myself harm in trying to prevent others from it?” She mulled over the idea and found she couldn't argue it. Cullen had lamented several times about her bad habit of putting her own concerns well below everyone else. Could Hawke feel the same?

A loud clanging cut through the noise of the hall and the augur jumped to his feet. “Lady Flame-Touched, it seems the reason for your stay has arrived. We are under attack.” He rushed out of the hall, several others following with Ebrisa close behind.

Finn, who had been patrolling and the one who sounded the alarm, met with the group in the center yard. “Hakkonites approach from the South. A small force, but larger than what numbers we have here. My guess is they realized the Inquisition was a distraction and broke away.”

“If they came to us instead of joining their brothers, then we must have overtaken the temple.” the augur reasoned. “That means this is an assault of revenge and they will not hold back.”

“This is our home,” Finn growled. “We won't hold back either.”

There were only two ways to enter the hold, and knowing the Hakkonites were approaching from the South meant they would be using the cliff path. The remaining men quickly began moving large rocks into place, narrowing the path to force the enemy to funnel in slowly in a much more manageable rate. While they did that, Ebrisa set several fire mines on the incline, hoping to decrease the enemy's numbers early on. They pulled back behind the barrier just as the first glimpse of glowing ice weapons became visible down the path.

The Hakkonites rushed forward, bursting into flame as they triggered the glyphs and crying out in pain. They ignored their burning fellows and pressed on to the narrow opening, locking blades with Stone-Bear Hold's defenders. The opening successfully condensed the fighting, but made it impossible for Ebrisa to aide without harming all the Avvar. She straightened at the clamoring behind her and spun around to see more Hakkonites emerging from the other entrance. The other defenders were too busy to break away, so she took a deep breath and Fade-stepped to the intruders.

Ebrisa unleashed a wall of fire as soon as she broke from her step, pushing the Hakkonites back into the stone walled entrance. Before the spell had a chance to evaporate, the mage spun her staff and began another incantation. A spiral of fire sprang up around her and she stepped forward, filling the space of the entrance and blocking it off. The enemy Avvar hacked at the flame with their ice weapons, a few breaking through the flickering wall and charging at the woman. Ebrisa hesitated only a moment before chain casting and sending two of the fighters back through the twisting barrier.

The one remaining fighter glared and pulled a flask from his belt. “The Jaws of Hakkon fear no lowlander!” He threw the glass at Ebrisa, hitting her in the chest and coating her in pitch. The fighter ripped off his sleeve, caught it on fire and swiped at the mage, setting the pitch alight and grinned as he waited for her to scream at her own magic. Instead, the woman spun her staff and unleashed blast after blast as the flames consumed her form. The fighter fell down in a burning heap as the spiral spell faded, exposing the calm, blazing woman to the rest of the enemy. They backed away in fear as she slammed her staff down, sending another wall of flame across the entrance and taking out several more of them.

“Stone-Bear Hold will not yield. Hakkon Wintersbreath will not do your bidding. The lowlands will not be conquered.” Ebrisa cast another tornado of fire, trapping the remaining enemy within its walls. “You will not succeed.” She slowly brought the spiral in closer and closer, forcing the Hakkonites to either burn in the walls behind them or the fire consuming her in the center. They took their chances and fled, coating themselves in flame and falling down only a few yards outside the spell. Not wanting to leave the entrance unguarded, Ebrisa set a simple wall of fire across the entrance and knelt down behind it, closing her eyes and concentrating on keeping the barrier up.

~~~~~~~~
Hawke cursed lightly as they hurried back to the Stone-Bear Hold. “So if the previous Inquisitor, a famed dragon hunter, wasn't strong enough to defeat this one, we should take it as a bad sign for us, right?”

“Where has all your confidence gone?” Iron Bull called out from the back. “Thought you liked slaying dragons.”

“Oh it is definitely the best rush out there, don't get me wrong, but this one happens to be possessed by an Avvar god.” She tilted her head and cracked her neck. “That's got to be some kind of power boost.”

“Maybe we should have let the Hakkonites finish their ritual,” Varric chimed in. “Then it would simply be a crazy guy possessed by an Avvar god.”

“I agree, much more manageable.” Dorian nodded.

“What's done is done,” Blackwall grumbled. “Just forget about the god-bit and focus on the dragon part.”

“Right. Shouldn't be any tougher than Corypheus' pet.” Hawke nodded.

“Except we technically didn't kill that one,” Varric sighed.

“Well the Herald is definitely not coming with us this time. He's got ice breath and that's the opposite of her special immunity.”

They came to a halt at the entrance of the hold, nearly slamming into the thane and her group as they stared at the scorched stone walls and burning bodies. “We're under attack. No good, chicken-shits!” Svarah moved through the walkway and stopped at the fire barrier. “This is Svarah Sun-Hair, thane of Stone-Bear Hold. Cease this assault and surrender!”

“My thane!” Finn called back from the other side. “We can't get the Flame-Touched to stop her fire.”

Svarah turned to the Inquisitor. “Has she done this before?”
“How would I know?” Hawke pulled a face. “Isn't she one of yours?”

“Aye, but she was your lowland mage first.”

“This is from the Herald?” Hawke looked around the barrier and narrowed her eyes in thought.

“Hawke, you better not be thinking that I think you are,” Blackwall began in a low voice.

She pretended she couldn't hear and took a deep breath, shaking out her arms.

Hawke,” he said again, firmer.

The Inquisitor jumped through the barrier and rolled to a stop on the other side, patting away the lingering wisps of flame. “I'm fine, Thom!” She could plainly make out him grumbling beyond the blaze and held back a smirk as she joined the augur and other man by the Herald. Ebrisa knelt on the ground in a short, white slip, gripping her glowing staff in one hand with her head slumped forward, hair a mess and covering her face. In that moment, she looked more like the Avvar's Flame-Touched than the Inquisition's Herald. “Has she been like this long?”

“We can't say,” the augur admitted. “We were fighting at the other entrance and didn't realize this side was under attack as well.” He stood up and shook his head. “She must have slipped into a trance to use the magic of the Fade instead of her own to keep the barrier up longer. I will commune with the gods to see if they can bring her back.”

Hawke watched him go and sighed. “How long ago did the fighting stop? When did you notice?”

“Not that long ago, uh, Inquisitor?” Finn said slowly, unsure if this was the correct lowlander. “Ten, fifteen minuets, maybe.”

“Perfect...” she grumbled. Hawke slapped the mage in hopes or rousing her, but did little more than swipe the hair from her face. “Lets see... a trance, huh?” She thought back to mission reports and debriefings, trying to come up with something. “Last time she was in one, Cullen was able to bring her out of it. What we need is some kind of shock... like saying or doing something that would be so unexpected she would have to snap out of it.”

Finn leaned in quickly and kissed the mage on the lips, holding her head in place as he forced her onto her back. He slipped his tongue past her parted lips and climbed on top of her.

“Whoa!” Hawke reeled back in surprise as the man just... went for it.

Ebrisa's eyes shot open and the barrier dropped, letting the others in. She kicked and shoved at Finn, trying to get away, but once he started he found it difficult to stop kissing her. His tongue explored her mouth and she squirmed further, pounding on his shoulder, but he wouldn't stop. She felt his hand slid over her breast and she bit down on his tongue out of desperation, finally causing him to pull away from her mouth with a wince.

Iron Bull grabbed the man and yanked him high into the air, letting the blonde mage scramble to her feet and cough, expelling the Avvar's blood from her mouth. She turned around sharply and stormed over to Finn, slapping him soundly across the face. “I told you. I told you, and you still-!” Her face was red with anger as she slapped him again. “After everything I did to help, you still...” Her eyes shimmered with tears, the utter betrayal taking over. “I... I hate you!” Ebrisa grabbed her staff and ran off, rubbing at her mouth and feeling like a tainted woman. What would she tell Cullen? What would he think of her now? She ran into the empty hut she'd slept in and slammed the door, slipping to the floor and crying.

Finn spit out the blood from his mouth before trying to break free of the qunari's hold. “The Inquisitor said she needed a shock. I gave her a shock.”

Bull growled and tightened his grip. “You're lucky we still got a dragon to kill. You better hope slaying that god puts us in a better mood.” He dropped the man suddenly, letting the Avvar fall to the ground.

“Sunshine doesn't hate easily,” Varric grumbled as he passed the man. “I didn't even think her capable of it.”

“Don't be surprised if you receive a formal battle challenge from her betrothed in a few weeks,” Blackwall added as he walked by.

“Indeed. The commander takes offenses to the Lady Herald very seriously.” Dorian sighed. “If I were you, I'd move.”

Hawke groaned heavily and looked to Svarah. “Thane Sun-Hair, I would appreciate it if you kept this man away form the Herald. At least until we return.” She turned to Finn and shook her head. “I meant like dump water on her head or something. That wasn't an open invitation to do anything you wanted. Andraste's blazing tits...” She mumbled and jogged after the others.

Finn sat on the ground and rubbed at his stinging cheek. He knew he was attracted to the odd lowlander, finding both her fair beauty and determined spirit enticing, but he didn't expect himself to get so into it. He rather enjoyed the kiss and the way her warm body squirmed under him so fiercely, but could have done without the bite. It was only a kiss, nothing to get so worked up about.

“Finn Caldansen, what was it that the Lady Flame-Touched told you?”

He turned to his thane, nearly having forgotten she was there. “That she was engaged and had... no desire to betray her intended.”

Svarah groaned and held her head. “So you were aware she was a claimed woman. If you were not forcefully removed, would you have tried to claim her for yourself?”

Finn cleared his throat and raised his eyes to meet the thane. He was well aware of the laws of the Avvar, and that if the mage were an outsider, the laws might not apply, but Ebrisa was now considered a member of the hold. It was not the mage or her intended who stopped him, however, so perhaps he could still escape unpunished. “I believe so...”

The thane groaned again and moved past him to look around the hold for signs of battle, pushing the other matter away to focus on the bigger issue. “Did we take many losses?”

“Meinar and Yarm, my thane. They took many with them.” Finn answered slowly.

“I see. Be sure to take down the barricade and stack the enemy bodies outside the hold's boundaries. I want no trouble with bad spirits this night.” Svarah left the man alone and went to receive council from the augur. It had been a strange, strange night.

 

Chapter Text

While a talking dragon had put them off originally, Hawke and the others had managed to pull themselves together and slay the beast, freeing Hakkon's spirit to return to the Avvar. For her feats against the Jaws of Hakkon and the dragon himself, Thane Sun-Hair also made Hawke a member of the hold and bestowed upon her a legend-mark, making her Inquisitor First-Thaw. The thane assured Hawke that it was a very good name and the Inquisitor took her word for it, adding it to her list of titles.

If the ride to the Frostback Basin was awkward from Ebrisa's sulking, the return trip was a hundred times worse from her silent despair. The men tried to convince her she had done nothing wrong and shouldn't worry, but she merely sunk deeper into the Avvar coat. Thane Sun-Hair had left Finn's punishment up to the Herald, but she honestly didn't know what to do and left without making a decision. She didn't care what became of the man one way or another, she just never wanted to see him again.

 ~~~~~~~

Cullen had been taking reports in the lower yard all morning, pacing slightly in front of the gate and constantly walking the ramparts facing the road. It was obvious to anyone who saw him that the man was anxious and few dared approach without reason. When the call went out that the Inquisitor's party was sighted, Cullen moved briskly back to the gate.

He had missed Ebrisa – Maker, how he missed her – and Josephine's constant interruptions about the wedding only made him long for his fiance to return all the more. It wasn't just the holding and touching he craved, but the sound of her voice and laughter, how she looked in the wind or sunlight or near darkness, the way she smelled of any array of wonderful things but somehow always uniquely like her. Cullen didn't care what the Inquisitor ordered or what conflicting duties he might have, the next time Ebrisa needed to leave Skyhold for so long, he was going with her. His heart pounded as the returning group began to filter into the yard and dismount, but he grew concerned as he realized Ebrisa was in the back of the pack and dressed in baggy, hide clothing.

The blonde mage dismounted silently and stood beside the hart, holding the reigns and wondering what to do. She had tried to think of what to say, how to explain what happened, but came up with nothing the entire journey. Now she was back and Cullen was right there and she just... what should she do?

Hawke motioned her commander over quickly before he approached anyone else and took him aside. “Now I was there, so I can tell you that it wasn't her fault. No matter what she says, she did nothing wrong.”

He frowned slightly. “Inquisitor, you're making me nervous. What happened?”

She seemed uneasy, unsure if she should be the one to say anything. “Why don't you take her somewhere quiet and talk about it. Just remember that if you get angry, be careful where you place that anger.” Hawke patted him on the shoulder and walked away, leaving Cullen more confused than when he started.

This wasn't how he imagined their reunion would be. In his mind there was laughing and holding, not this cryptic gloom. Cullen walked over to Ebrisa and took the other side of Rufous' reigns, drawing her attention. “Let's take him in and then go talk, okay?” She nodded quietly, not meeting his eyes. They walked in silence to the stables, dread building in Cullen's gut at what could have possibly happened. She seemed to have lost her own clothing at some point, he suspected fire again, but knew she had taken that slip to retain at least some modesty in that kind of situation. Harrit took the mount off their hands, looking at the couple curiously as Cullen nodded in thanks and Ebrisa stared at her feet. The commander lead her up the steps and after a moment of hesitation took her to her quarters. They were less likely to be interrupted in there.

As soon as the door closed, Ebrisa turned to him, eyes heavy with remorse and brimming with tears. “I'm so sorry, Cullen. I didn't mean for it to happen. I... I tried so hard.... but I...” She let out a deep, shuddering breath. “I betrayed you. I kissed another man.”

Cullen breathed in sharply as he felt a twisting pain in his chest, but remembered what Hawke had said to him. “Tell me what happened.” He said it as calmly and as evenly as he could, trying to not let the initial hurt blind him. There was more to this. There had to be.

“There was an injured man in Stone-Bear Hold and I healed him so he could perform some rite for his father's burial,” Ebrisa began quietly. “He thought that I liked him, but I told him no. I told him I was engaged and that I wasn't going to betray you. I told him. I told him!” She shook her head furiously, shaking tears free from her eyes. “I fell into a trance while defending the hold and... and he kissed me to snap me out of it. When I awoke, he didn't stop... I-I hit him. I tried to push him off and struggled but he was in my mouth and- I told him! I told him, Cullen!” The mage turned away, crying fully now and covering her face in her hands. “I'm so sorry...” She had tried her best – tried so hard to be faithful. She didn't want to kiss Finn. She didn't want to betray Cullen, to hurt him.

The commander turned her around sharply and pulled her into a kiss, the mage let out a muffled cry of surprise, but quickly melted against him. Her mind blanked and everything slipped away, no longer important. Cullen had been on her mind the entire mission. How was he doing? Was he working too hard? Was it as difficult for him to sleep as it was for her? Then it had turned to worry... What would he think of her? Could she ever meet his eyes again? Was she still deserving of his devotion? Ebrisa draped her arms around his neck as the tears continued to fall.

Cullen slipped his tongue inside, possessively sliding it against her own and claiming the rest of her mouth before slowly pulling away, leaving her panting softly. He wanted to do it again, but he had to know. “Tell me honestly, was it like that? When he kissed you, did you feel the way you do now?”

“No,” she gasped out. “It was strange and violating. I didn't want it, I didn't enjoy it.” Ebrisa looked to the side. “I don't want anyone but you to hold me like this, to kiss me, to feel whats inside me.”

Cullen blushed slightly at the implications of that last remark before kissing the tears away. “Then it sounds like you were kissed by another man, not that you kissed another man. There is a very big difference between the two.” He let out a soft sigh, thankful to have her back.

“There is?” The mage mumbled as she dropped her arms.

“Yes, there is.” He undid the fastenings of her oversized coat. “You told him you didn't want to, he did it while you were unable to stop him, and you fought him off as soon as you could.”

“I had to bite his tongue to get him to remove it,” she added quietly as Cullen pushed the coat off her shoulders and exposed the top of her slip. “Ser Iron Bull pulled him off me and I slapped him. Hard. Twice.”

“Only twice?” He began to gently kiss her neck and shoulders, making her shiver.

“A-and I said I hated him,” Ebrisa somehow managed to say.

“For anyone who knows you, that is far worse than a slap in the face.” Cullen backed her slowly to her bed. “I'm surprised the others didn't do anything.”

“Well,” she gasped as she fell against the mattress. “There was a dragon to deal with.”

“Hmm, yes, dragon.” The commander captured her mouth again as he climbed on top of her. For another man to touch her, he must not have left a strong enough claim – he was going to fix that. Cullen broke from her lips and kissed down her bare arm, stopping at her hand and entwining their fingers before doing the same down the other side. “I don't suspect you to remember, but you said something that night you were drunk that I intend to fully enforce.” He closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to hers. “You said you were mine only.”

Ebrisa took in a deep, shaking breath, squeezing his hands. “I am...”

“I might have to start marking you in obvious spots when duty pulls you away from me, then.” Cullen whispered in her ear and smirked at the way she squirmed away from his hot breath. “For now, I'll leave an inconspicuous one.” He kissed along her collar bone and stopped where it met her shoulder, sucking on the spot until the bright red mark formed.

The mage moaned softly as she fidgeted under him, trying to move her hands so she could hold her love. “Yo-you're going to mark me all the time now?”

“Most likely,” Cullen mumbled against her skin.

She blushed and looked up at the canopy of her bed. “Th-then its a good thing that I- I enjoy the process.”

The commander chuckled softly and nuzzled her cheek. “A very good thing.”

 

Josephine walked into Cullen's empty office and huffed in annoyance. The man was really useless when it came to wedding planning and she had to rely on Emery to get the Trevelyan family requirements and preferences, but at the very least Cullen could consider getting a new dress jacket for the ceremony. It seemed the only clothing he owned was his armor and the uniform from the Winter Palace. Josephine was going to add one more item to his limited wardrobe if it killed her.

She stepped out through a side door and paused at the sight of Sera, Dorian, and Hawke pressing their ears to the Herald's door. The mage looked up at her and motioned her over, indicating for her to be quiet. They made room for the Antivan and she leaned against the door curiously, only to blush furiously at the moans coming from inside and pull away.

“Shame on you all! Can you give them no privacy?!” Josephine nearly shrieked.

“Hush it, Ambassador,” Sera warned. “There's been no banging headboards, so I don't think they got very far yet.”

“Just because they are not... being intimate at present, doesn't mean this isn't an intimate situation!” The Antivan felt very flustered as she tried to wave the group away.

“Well look at little miss hypocrite,” Dorian huffed. “You've spied on them before.”

“Tha-that was under completely different circumstances!” Josephine stuttered. “For one, it was in my own office and for two, they had yet to begin a relationship.”

Hawke hummed skeptically. “And that was the only time you spied on our commander and Herald?”

The ambassador opened her mouth, then paused and coughed, looking away. “I... I can neither confirm nor deny that claim.”

“Will you all shut it? I can't hear what's going on!” Sera concentrated for a moment, then widened her eyes. “Oh frig.”

The door swung open and the elf crashed into the room, swearing loudly as she hit the floor. The rest of the group looked up at the flushed, yet furious and fully armored commander. “Can I help you?” He growled in anger, slightly out of breath, yet still incredibly intimidating.

“I was just... here to tell you that we were ready for the mission debriefing.” Hawke turned sharply to Josephine. “Right, Ambassador?”

“What? Oh! Yes, exactly that.” Josephine tittered awkwardly. “Mission debriefing. Why else would we be here.”

Cullen was obviously not buying it. “And the other two?”

“Well Sera, uh, Sera heard that the Herald was fireproof and wanted to see for herself.” Dorian laughed as he blindly grabbed for the elf. “I was interested in the magical implications and came along to, uh, observe and develop a theory on the matter.”

“I don't want any part of magicy things like-” Sera began, but stopped talking as soon as the Tevinter yanked her from the room by her belt.

“So we will just.... all be going now.” Hawke motioned everyone back without looking and the group slowly moved away to the stairs before bolting down the steps and across the yard.

The commander let out a heavy sigh as he closed the door once again. “At least they stopped at the door. They would have just walked right in if we were in my office.” He turned around and stilled. Ebrisa was in the process of removing her borrowed trousers, bending forward to step out of the hide clothing. She'd thought that facing away from Cullen was the better option as it would keep her breasts out of sight through the slip's wide neckline, but in reality all it did was provide him a rather tantalizing view of her rear. The fabric was just a bit too short for the position she was in – or a bit too long, depending on the viewer – and failed to cover the entirety of her behind, leaving the lower rounded edge exposed and just the tiniest glimpse of her small clothes. She stood up and opened the wardrobe to find something to wear, popping her knee as she sifted through the dresses, the slit falling on either side of her thigh.

Cullen somehow managed to find his voice. “I... I thought the slip was longer,” he mumbled as he moved over to her.

“It certainly seemed that way when I held it against me after it was done, but, um, I guess my... curves shortened it.” Ebrisa glanced over at the approaching man. “And you were right. It is soft.”

Cullen placed his bare hands on her hips, feeling the fabric a little before sliding one hand along her exposed thigh. “Very soft,” he said in a low voice from behind her, the words rumbling in his chest. The mage shuddered as he gently stroked her skin and leaned against him. It occurred to him that if her clothes burned away in battle, then others had seen her like this before he did. The idea made him jealous and he pulled her tighter to him, sliding his hand further up her inner thigh. Ebrisa was his love, his betrothed. She was to be his wife and-

Cullen stopped suddenly and removed his hands. Marriage. Wait until marriage. He let out a deep breath and stepped away. “I'm sorry. Its becoming increasingly difficult to restrain myself. You may need to slap me if I try to go too far.”

The mage held on to the wardrobe with one hand as she turned to him, face flushed and eyes hazy. “You're assuming I would be able to think while you touch me like that.”

 

Chapter Text

Ebrisa sat quietly in the garden, turning the carved top over in her hands. While she was away in Ostwick, Morrigan and Kieran had left Skyhold. She was too preoccupied with her looming departure to the Frostback Basin to notice their absence at the time, but now that she was back the Herald felt a crushing sadness. She had gotten so used to her playmate always being in the garden and ready to share a game that it felt empty now without the boy there. Kieran had left her a note with the top, thanking her for being his friend and promising that he wouldn't be lonely, but said nothing about where they were going. The eluvian was also gone, much to Cullen's relief, and it was as if Morrigan and her son had never been in Skyhold at all. No one else seemed to even register the difference, but Ebrisa knew everything was beginning to change.

Vivienne had returned to her Circle and Varric was talking more and more about how much help Kirkwall needed. Cassandra was working hard to track down the remaining Seekers of Truth and bring them in, hopeful to reform the dwindling order to what it was meant to be. How long would it be before everyone left? The big threat had been dealt with, yes, but the Inquisition was still needed to help rebuild the devastated world. She supposed that's what her comrades were doing – just in their own way and on a smaller scale. By themselves.

“My lady?” Josephine approached the mage quietly, holding a letter and writing board. “Something arrived for you while you were gone. It is... rather important.”

Ebrisa turned to other woman and set the top on the bench before accepting the letter. She read it carefully and went rigid. “Oh. They were serious about my being a candidate. I thought perhaps they only added my name to appear more devoted to the Inquisition.”

“I wanted to reply for you, but I was reminded that this is your decision.” Josephine sat down beside the mage.

“And the reply you wanted to send, was it a yes?” Ebrisa looked up at the Antivan, conflicted. “Having the Divine on the side of the Inquisition would certainly be beneficial politically.”

“That is would, but no.” Josephine shook her head. “I was going to write a very stirring and firm refusal.” She smiled sadly at the mage before continuing. “You have had so little happiness in your life, sacrificed so much for others. I want you to answer the Grand Clerics with the reply that will make you the most happy. Think not of what is expected or right or the Maker's will. Think only of what you want for your life. It is, after all, your life.”

“Lady Montilyet...”

“I will leave this with you.” Josephine set the writing board on the bench as she stood. “If you wish to discuss the matter with the commander, I can send for him.” Ebrisa nodded meekly. “Very well then.” The Antivan dipped her head respectfully and left.
~~~~~~~~~

Cullen stepped into the garden cautiously. Josephine had been so serious when she approached him, not a hint of amusement or excitement that usually accompanied her mood when discussing the wedding preparations. Whatever it was that Ebrisa needed to speak with him about, it wasn't anything good. The mage was pacing the cobbled paths in the small yard, holding a writing board close to her chest. She looked up at his approach, then lowered her eyes. Definitely not good.

“What is it? What's happened?” The commander reached out for her cheek, but she turned her head away.

“The Grand Clerics came to a decision. They named me.” Ebrisa continued to pace. “Honestly, I thought more people would be opposed to a mage Divine, that more people would share my mother's view on the situation. I didn't think it would go this far.”

“I see...” Cullen felt sick. Was this really happening? Perhaps after the wake of the mage rebellion, the Chantry thought the best way to mend the rift was to place a mage in charge. It almost made sense, but could also cause a larger fracture between those who believed and those who feared. “How much time do you have to answer?”

“Not much... the letter arrived some time ago.” The woman sighed and sat down heavily on a bench. “You've always been honest with me, haven't you?”

“Minus the foolish excuses I've made in recent weeks, yes.”

“So then... what you said when I was first named as a candidate? You meant that?” She looked up at him, hopeful.

A pit formed in Cullen's stomach. She was going to say yes. She was going to become Divine and lead the faithful and be lost to him. After everything he'd hoped to have with her, after the glimpses of a life together, it was all going to disappear. Her unwavering faith and habit of putting others before herself were some of the first things he noticed about her. He couldn't expect that to change now. With a heavy sigh, Cullen answered honestly. “Yes. I think you would make a good Divine.”

“O-oh...” Ebrisa lowered her eyes. “That's... that's not the part I was talking about.”

The commander thought for a moment, trying to recall the full conversation. He had consoled her after her mother called her wicked, told her she was a good person, and that... Cullen knelt down before the mage and took hold of her hands. “I don't want you to be Divine. I don't want you to leave me.” He smiled lightly. “I am still terribly selfish.”

“Good.” She leaned forward and pressed her forehead to his. “So am I.” Cullen pulled her into a gentle kiss, relieved that she would remain his and not the people's. When they broke apart, she turned to her unfinished letter with a small frown. “My concern is this: it took them so long to decide on me, so how much time will it take to name another? Will they still allow us to use the cathedral in Val Royeaux for our wedding? Who will conduct the ceremony if the Grand Clerics are still debating?”

“We're to be wed in Orlais?” The commander moved to sit beside her and read over her first draft.

“Of course. It was one of Father's stipulations that it be in a proper cathedral and Lady Montilyet said you agreed to the location while I was away.” Ebrisa frowned slightly. “Were you not paying attention? She said she talked with you many times about this.”

“Neither of us is Orlesian, why Orlais?”

“Well I don't think we could get everyone to go to Ostwick and Denerim's is a little... shabby?” She winced at the word, not wanting to offend. “Its also the closest, so there will be less anticipation on the road and, um...” The mage blushed and fiddled with her amulet. “If we were in Ostwick, we would have to stay at the estate. There are more options of inns in Val Royeaux than Denerim, so we can stay at a different location from everyone else. That way, we don't need to worry about being spied on or interrupted while we... um... our first time... together...”

Cullen stared at her, watching her fidget and began to blush himself. “I see your point...” He rubbed his neck and looked around to ensure they were alone. “Our comrades are certainly a nosy bunch and with all the sounds I plan on eliciting from you they would surely come to investigate.”

Ebrisa blushed furiously, squeaking as he placed an arm around her and pulled her close. “I- I should finish this letter.”

The commander picked up the quill and wrote 'NO' in large letters across the entire page. “There. Done.”

“Cullen,” she laughed lightly. “They deserve a bit more of an explanation than that.” He smirked deviously and scooped the mage into his arms, taking her back inside. “Wait, where are we going? Cullen?”

The man didn't answer and carried her to Josephine's office before setting her down in front of the desk. He took the writing board from her hand and dropped it in front of the ambassador. “You may need to revise that a bit before sending it out, but I want to hear no more of this.”

Josephine tilted her head to read the slanted rejection and chuckled lightly. “Of course, Commander.” She looked up at the still blushing mage and smiled. “I am glad you chose your own happiness for once.”
~~~~~~~~~

Rejecting the nomination did impact the wedding planning slightly, but Josephine was able to smooth the issues over by reminding the Grand Clerics that Empress Celene would be attending the ceremony and it simply would not do to have to move the wedding to Fereldan. After all, rumors of the engagement had been circulating in Orlais long before the nomination went out, so they could not have truly expected the Herald to agree.

With the location, date, and clergy secured, the invitations began to pour out of Skyhold and return almost as quickly. Among the first to respond were the Rutherfords, Mia spending much of the reply gushing excitedly and thanking Josephine for offering to bring them out and cover the cost of their stay. The elder sister swore up and down that the entire family would be in attendance, since Cullen had still neglected to visit South Reach to see his brother. “He seems to have been busy, but at least he didn't forget us this time.”

Ebrisa was looking forward to seeing Cullen's sisters again and also eager to meet his brother - she was curious how similar they would look, since they were so close in age. Playing with Jayden would of course take priority and she dearly hoped his mother wouldn't mind if she stole him for a bit. Only a bit...

When she wasn't going over details with Josephine, the mage worked tirelessly on gifts for her nephew, niece, and soon-to-be nephew. She was unsure if Ysmay would be attending, seeing as the woman was rather far along in her pregnancy. It was unlikely Ebrisa would be able to visit Ostwick again any time soon, so she embroidered the Trevelyan crest on two small blankets – one pink and one blue – for someone to give to Ysmay for the babe when it arrived. She had nearly finished Theoderyc's gift when Josephine pulled her away to her office once again.

~~~~~~~
The Free Marches had remained relatively stable since the Inquisition set up their small presence. It was beginning to look like the rift in Ostwick may have been a fluke, but the runner delivering reports admitted to the commander he may have delivered the Ansburg update to the ambassador by mistake. Seeing as that city-state was mainly agricultural, there were plenty of places for rifts to go undetected and needed to be watched closer than others. The runner was already bogged down with more deadlines to meet and Cullen waved him off, saying he'd go fetch it himself.

There was a guard standing at Josephine's door and Cullen regarded him curiously. “Gabell, what are you doing?”

The soldier straightened and saluted. “Commander. I've been instructed to not allow you inside.”

Cullen raised a brow. “You... have?”

“Yes, Commander.”

“I'll just be a moment. Stand aside.”

Gabell fidgeted, losing his nerve. “But my orders...”

“Stand. Aside.” Cullen repeated while leveling an eye at the soldier.

“Yes, Commander!” Gabell moved out of the way and stood awkwardly to the side.

The commander sighed and pushed through the outer door easily, but hit resistance on the second one, only able to open it a few inches before it slammed shut in his face. “Who is it?” Josephine called through the wood.

“Cullen.” He deadpanned. “I'm told you have a report of mine. Ansburg's status?”

“Oh, yes, just a moment.”

After hearing her step away from the door, he tried again and swung it open fully. Ebrisa stood on a low stool with her back to the door in a white gown covered in pins and lines of blue chalk. There was a woman Cullen hadn't seen before holding swatches of lace against the skirt and trying to decide between the two.

“No no no!” Josephine nearly tackled him back through the door, covering his eyes with a small stack of papers. “You can not see! Do you know nothing?!”

“I don't understand what you're talking about,” Cullen grumbled as he pulled the report from his face.

“Good.” The ambassador closed the door behind herself and sighed. “Just forget what you saw, alright? Its nowhere near completed anyways.”

“What isn't?”

“Exactly.” She opened the door a crack and slipped through, closing it once again.

Cullen wasn't a fan of being kept out of the loop, something Josephine had promised not to do any more. “It's bad luck to see the bride in her wedding dress before the ceremony, Curly,” Varric sighed, now standing where the dismissed guard once was. “I guess Fereldan doesn't have the superstition, but some regions of the Free Marches hold on to it and Antiva is just chock full of them. If you've ever seen Ruffles around black cats or ladders, you know what I mean.”

“So that was...?”

“Looked like the bare bones of the dress, so I think you're safe.” Varric grinned. “I mean, you got all your bad luck out of the way early in your career anyways, right?”

“I'd like to believe that was true.” He moved away from the office and began to read over the report. “There's been no activity to speak of across the Waking Sea so far. There's a bit of luck.”

“Hey, I'll take everything I can get. Kirkwall still has a long, long way to go to recover from the rebellion and it's not so easy trying to arrange things from over here.” Varric sighed. “Thinking I should head back sooner, rather than later.”

Cullen looked down at the dwarf. “You're leaving?”

“Try to not sound so broken up about it,” Varric chuckled awkwardly. “I haven't really told anyone yet, though I'm sure the Nightingale knows. It'll be after your nuptials, of course - I'm not about to do anything to darken Sunshine's big day.” He turned to the stack of letters and arrangements on the table and smiled sadly. “I'll sail out from Val Royeaux. Not sure when I'll tell Hawke, but I know she'll understand. She may be from Fereldan, but she's part Marcher too.”

“So why are you telling me now?” The commander knew he wasn't the closest to Varric and the whole thing seemed to come out of nowhere.

“Because I don't know how to tell Sunshine.” Varric folded his arms and sighed. “I mean, its not like I'm falling off the edge of Thedas, but I know its gonna make her sad. I don't... I don't like making her sad. You can relate.” He let out a single strained laugh. “You can also make her feel better.”

“That is my new job.” Cullen gave the dwarf a half smile.

“Well you've done pretty well in the interview, so I see no problems going forward.” Varric slapped the man on the back and grinned. “This means, of course, that the next time I ask to play Wicked Grace you have to agree. Could be the last game we get in with everyone.”

 

Chapter Text

“I feel so under-dressed...” Rosalie mumbled as they walked through the Summer Bizarre. The transportation Josephine arranged for them dropped them off at the inn, but since they had two days in Val Royeaux before the wedding, the Rutherfords decided to take in the sights of the gilded city. They could feel the eyes of the locals on them, disapproving of their less-than-chec appearance.

“Maybe we should just go back to our room,” Branson suggested tiredly. They'd been walking through the market for what felt like hours.

“What, and stay there the whole time?” Mia scoffed. “Don't be ridiculous.”

“Mia? Is that you?” The family looked up to face the voice and found Ebrisa leaning over the balcony of the upper level. “Ju-just a minuet.” She disappeared from sight only to exit the covered stairwell beside them. “I didn't know you were here already. I wish someone had told me, I would have come meet you.”

“Is Cullen here or are you out by yourself?” Rosalie asked, a little concerned.

“Cullen had some urgent business to attend to, so he won't be in until tomorrow, but Ser Cole is here.” The mage looked around and hummed. “He'll show up if I need him, don't worry.”

“Auntie Briza!”Jayden leaned out of his mother's arms and stretched towards the blonde woman.

“Hello there, Jayden!” She set down her bag and took hold of the child, squeezing him tightly and kissing the top of his head. “Have you been good? Mia said you let some of the other children play on your griffon. Ser Blackwall will be very proud to hear that.” The boy grinned widely and nodded his head. Ebrisa giggled before looking at the two unfamiliar adults. “Are these your parents?”

“Yes.” Jayden held out a finger to the auburn-haired woman. “Mama.” He moved the hand to the curly-haired blonde man. “Papa!”

The mage curtsied straight down, still holding the child, and bowed her head. “Well met, Cinnie and Branson. I am Ebrisa Trevelyan.” She stood back up and blushed. “Well, for a few more days at least.”

“Oh, um, yes.” Cinnie tried her best to mimic the gesture. “Jayden has told me much about the fluffy Auntie Briza. We're honored to meet you.” She nudged her husband. “Aren't we?”

Branson rubbed his neck. “Uh, yes. Honored.”

Ebrisa covered her mouth and turned away. The man was like a smaller framed version of Cullen with unkempt curls, brown eyes and a beard. It was so strange to see, yet somehow very familiar, and she couldn't stop her laughter. Jayden joined her, finding her giggles reason enough to laugh, and Branson felt more than a little annoyed.

“So,” the man cleared his throat. “What brings the Herald of Andraste out here practically by herself?”

The mage faced the group again and reigned in her mirth, wiping at her eyes. “I needed to pick up a few things before everyone arrived, but since you are already here...” She set the boy on the ground and bent down to dig in her bag. “Give me a moment, Jayden. No peeking, alright?” The child nodded and covered his eyes, the other Rutherfords watching her curiously as she moved her hands around crafting supplies and knelt on the dirty flagstones. Ebrisa turned back around and held a soft object in front of the boy. “Okay, you can look now.”

Jayden removed his hands and let out and exaggerated gasp. “Lion!”

“Roar!” Ebrisa moved the plush animal up and down. The boy took hold of the lion and turned around to his mother, bouncing it on her legs and making roars and growls of his own. The mage stood back up and dusted off her skirt. “I used all the wool yarn I had on the mane and left none for the tail. I was also short on ribbon for Catilynn's doll and decided Theoderyc's cloak could do with a different clasp. Then what if Ysmay has twins and-” She paused as she noticed the others staring at her. “And this is all rather boring, isn't it?”

“You... you made gifts for other people for your wedding?” Rosalie raised a brow.

“Not just anyone, my brother's children. I only found out about them recently and need to make up for the birthdays I've missed.” She leaned down and tapped Jayden's nose. “And how could I see this adorable little guy and not make him something?”

Jayden turned around and kissed his hand, patting it to Ebrisa's cheek. “Tank'u, Auntie Briza.”

“You are very welcome.” The mage smiled as she stood up and faced the others. “Would you like me to join you? I've the time.”

“Yes, please,” Mia sighed. Maybe then these people would stop staring at them with such distain.

Ebrisa lead them through the market, pointing out different shops and stopping at a bakery for some mini cakes, remembering to leave a few for Josephine. “This boutique has some really beautiful dresses and accessories.” The mage stepped into the shop and was instantly greeted by the owner.

“Ah, Lady Herald, welcome back. I trust you found your last purchase satisfactory?”

“Yes, very much so.” She dipped her head politely. “I was hoping my future in-laws might find something they like here.”

“Future...?” The owner looked the Rutherfords over as they entered the shop. Had they wandered in alone, he likely would have kicked them out. “That's right. I do recall hearing about your upcoming marriage. To the Inquisition Commander, yes?” He chuckled slightly. “I still get patrons gossiping about him. He made quite the impression on them at the Winter Palace, though I suppose he made quite the impression on you as well.” Ebrisa blushed and laughed lightly, unable to look the Orlesian in the eyes.

Mia could tell instantly that there was nothing in the shop they could afford and hesitated to become invested in a closer look. Rosalie elbowed her with a sly grin. “Whats the harm in trying things on? Chances are we won't be in a place like this again, so might as well enjoy it.”

The elder sister sighed, but agreed and moved past the mannequins until something caught her eye. Mia drew her calloused fingers over the embroidered hem of the blue sleeve and took in the detailing of the entire dress.

“Do you want to try it on?” Ebrisa smiled from behind her.

“Oh. No, that's... well...” Mia felt so unusually awkward and lacking in confidence.

The mage waved over an attendant and before Mia knew what was happening, a stranger was helping her out of her Fereldan dress and into the Orlesian one behind a curtain. The attendant brushed out her shoulder length hair and swept it up in a bun, securing it with a detailed comb. She patted her shoulders and opened the curtain. Mia blinked in surprise to find Cinnie and Rosalie also trying on dresses, Ebrisa pointing out parts that really seemed to suit them as Branson and Jayden stood off to the side watching the bags and playing with the lion.

The mage turned around and gasped, grabbing Mia's hand and dragging her to a mirror. Mia tilted her head curiously at the reflection, then turned around to make sure there was no one behind her. “This isn't me. What sort of trick is this?”

Ebrisa smiled gently and fluffed out the back of the skirt. “No, Mia. This is you. You look beautiful.”

It was honestly a simple dress, as far as Orlais was concerned. The sleeves and center panel were one shade of blue with the rest of the dress a darker hue, creating the illusion that she was more shapely then she actually was. It was in the scroll work detailing that made the dress standout and had caught Mia's attention in the first place. Seeing it on the mannequin was one thing, but watching the fabric move around her in the mirror was almost overwhelming. She wanted to smack her sister in the head for saying there was no harm in trying things on. Now that she was in the damn dress, it saddened her that she would have to take it off and walk away. It was so hard being the responsible one all the time.

Reluctantly, Mia went back to the curtained room and let the attendant change her back into the drab clothing she started with. The worker gently folded the dress over her arm and walked out, receiving a nod from the owner before moving to the front and placing it in a box.

“Branson, where did you say you were staying?” Ebrisa turned away from the owner as the other two dresses were set in boxes as well.

The White Crescent Inn?” The man replied curiously.

She nodded in thanks and turned to the owner once again. “So if you could please deliver them to the front desk by tomorrow under the name Rutherford? I'll be taking the pins and combs with me today.”

“Of course, Lady Herald.” The Orlesian dipped his head and handed her a bag. “An honor to do business with you once again.”

Mia crossed the shop quickly and pulled the mage outside. “What just happened? Did... did you buy those?”

“Well you all looked so beautiful in the dresses and I needed to pick up something for myself anyways...” Ebrisa answered quietly. “Are you upset with me?”

“Look, it was nice of you, really. But we can't accept gifts that we can't afford ourselves.” Mia shook her head. “Its not right.”

“But you looked so happy, Mia. I could see how much you wanted it.” The mage reached into the small bag on her arm and pulled out a flowered comb. “Won't you let me do this for you just this once?” She lifted a section of the other woman's hair and twisted it, slipping the comb into place. “Think of it as my dowry, okay?”

Mia hesitated, then frowned and pinched the Herald's cheek, causing her to wince and pull away. “How are you real? How did my stupid brother trick you into liking him back?”

Ebrisa rubbed at her cheek and blushed. “Actually, it was the other way around. I pined for quiet a while.”

“And how long is a while?” Mia raised a brow.

The mage blushed further and focused on the bag in her hands, playing with the creased edge. “Haven...” she mumbled quietly.

“Say again?”

“So-some point in Haven,” Ebrisa said a little louder, still refusing to look up.

“I'm not sure I believe you.” Cullen said suddenly from behind her.

Ebrisa jumped and crushed the bag to her chest, blushing furiously. “You-you're early! I thought – um – that is...” She turned around slowly, looking up at him sheepishly. “How much of that did you hear?”

“Enough to feel as though I deserved more than a peck before you ran off to face Corypheus that first time.” He smirked lightly. “And on the cheek no less.”

“Well I knew you didn't feel the same way about me and I wasn't about to force something like that on you when I didn't think I was coming back!” The mage huffed before continuing in a mumble.“Be-besides, if I kissed you like I wanted, I wouldn't have been able to make it to the trebuchet.”

The commander lifted her chin and leaned in. “That sounds like it needs a demonstration.”

Rosalie cleared her throat loudly, drawing her brother's attention. She made a swooping motion with her hand towards Jayden in Cinnie's arms. “Have you no modesty? There is a child present.”

Cullen was about to argue that he rushed through quite a bit of work just so he could see his fiance sooner, but then noticed the others standing beside his little sister. Ebrisa gave his arm an encouraging squeeze and stepped out of the way. He walked up to the other man, sizing him up curiously. “Branson?”

“You act as though you've never seen me before,” the younger brother smiled and held out his hand.

“Not with a beard,” Cullen chuckled, grabbing the hand and clapping his brother on the back. “Its rather impressive.”

“I'd stay shaven if I were you,” Branson sighed as they let go. “Your intended laughed.”

“I try to.” The commander rubbed a hand over his stubble. “Beards don't work for me.” He turned to the awestruck woman holding his nephew. “Its Cinnie, right?”

“I... yes.” She cleared her throat and lowered her eyes. “Nice to, um...”

Branson placed a hand over his heart. “Ouch. Come on now, Cinnie. Don't betray me with my brother right in front of me and his fiance.”

The auburn-haired woman blushed and turned sharply to her husband. “It's not my fault he's impressive to look at.”

“Ouch, again.”

Cinnie smacked his arm. “Oh, stop it, you big baby.” She faced Cullen again and dipped her head. “Its long over due, but it is nice to finally meet you. You've found yourself a very lovely woman who doesn't seem to mind this lot. Do try to take good care of her.”

 

Chapter Text

People often spoke of Val Royeaux as though it was the most fabulous place in Southern Thedas, but Aurelia found the sparkling walls and ornate detailing to be more gaudy than glamorous. What sort of butcher shop need a gilded relief anyways? Perhaps the city was once the most majestic, but to the black-haired noblewoman it paled in comparison to Starkhaven. She would not have come to Orlais at all if not for her younger sister's wedding.

Lord Bainard Taygett was too involved with a recent business negotiation to make the time for the journey, but he bid his wife to go and represent the both of them. Aurelia dutifully did as she was told and traveled with an attendant and estate guard to the sorry sight of Kirkwall where they boarded a ship for Val Royeaux. According to her father's correspondence, they should be arriving around the same time the day before the ceremony. He had taken the liberty of reserving a room for her at the inn they were staying at, but did express that she was not required to stay there should she find fault with the location. The Rose Chateau seemed... adequate.

She had the elven attendant draw her a bath immediately upon entering the small suite. Aurelia never enjoyed traveling – especially this far – and felt positively covered in dirt and salt. It was perhaps possible that her inner disgust for her appearance tainted her perception of the Orlesian city and she would see herself corrected before meeting with anyone. If there was one thing that could clear her mind and make her truly feel like herself, it was a nice bath. She wanted to stay in the tub all day, but the attendant reminded her that Bann Trevelyan would be expecting her soon.

Aurelia made ready with practiced precision, dressing quickly and allowing the elf to style her straight hair in twisted loops while she applied her own makeup. The noble tilted her head several times, checking her reflection and studying every detail. She smirked at the glass. Perfect.

She met with her father, elder brother, niece and nephew in the lobby of the inn and curtsied to them in greeting, leaving the attendant behind and bringing the guard, whom she would in turn leave outside the gathering site. “Father, it feels like months since I've seen you.”

“I believe it has been months, Aurelia.” Randyll took his daughter's hands and gave them a light squeeze. “I know it is difficult to begin a new life in a new place, but you do the Trevelyans proud with your efforts.”

“Thank you, Father. I strive only to follow in Mother's footsteps.” She looked around the room slowly. “Is she still making ready?”

Federyc stiffened slightly. “Mother remains in Ostwick.”

“Ah, to look after Ysmay once again, yes?” The woman smiled slowly. “You should really consider how your expanding family impacts the social lives of others. Mother missed the Summer Ball to watch your wife just before Catilynn was born.”

“Aunt Aurelia, look! It's me!” Catilynn held up a pigtailed cloth doll in a ruffly dress covered in tiny bows.

The woman hummed in agreement. “The resemblance is striking.”

“Cat,” Federyc began firmly. “I told you to leave your doll in the room. We can't take it to the dinner.”

“But Theo is bringing his gift,” the girl pouted.

“That's because his is clothing, not a toy,” her father continued, holding out his hand. “Come on.”

Catilynn shot her brother a jealous look before taking Federyc's hand and returning to their room. Theoderyc held back a smirk as he adjusted the clasp of his new cloak. “Aunt Ebrisa knows I'm not a child.”

“A man would not gloat over his sister's displeasure, Theoderyc.” Randyll chided evenly.

The boy slouched his shoulders. “Yes, Grandfather.”

Aurelia frowned slightly in confusion. “You say Ebrisa gave you a gift?”

Theoderyc turned to his aunt excitedly and patted the front of the cloak. “She left them at the desk for us. It has our crest on it, see?”

She leaned down slightly to get a better look. “Indeed it does. Where did she commission it from?”

The boy shrugged. “There were no tags or notes inside, only our names.”

Her frown deepened. It was inappropriate to not give proper credit to paid craftsmen, something her sister could easily have forgotten. Then again, how was Ebrisa able to describe Catilynn to a doll maker and receive it back after only meeting the child a month ago. She couldn't have possibly made the gifts herself, could she?

The door to the inn opened and Emery stepped through. “Ah, the right one at last,” he sighed and approached his family. “There are far too many inns with Chateau in the name.”

Aurelia turned to her brother and curtsied slightly. “Emery. Or do you prefer I call you Ser Emery now?”

The templar chuckled. “Only if you want me to call you Lady Taygett.”

“For one so familiar? Don't be silly, Emery.”
~~~~~~~~~

Although many guests were already in Val Royeaux, tradition dictated that only the two families were to attend the dinner that night. The Inquisition members were annoyed by the exclusion, but Cullen promised to play cards or something with them later and that seemed to satisfy the group. In fact, they looked almost too pleased, but the commander was too on edge with the looming meeting of the families to be concerned with whatever Dorian and Varric had been snickering about.

A small, but well spoken of, restaurant had been reserved for the evening and the couple stood beside each other just inside the open doors, waiting for their guests to arrive. Cullen wasn't embarrassed of his family or his simple heritage, but there was a nagging voice in the back of his mind whispering anxieties to him. He shifted again and cleared his throat.

“There's nothing to be nervous about, you've met my family before.” Ebrisa nudged him lightly with her shoulder. “Father said five of them were coming, well six when you add Emery, so I guess that means Ysmay did join them after all.” She smiled lightly. “And I'm sure Theoderyc is eager to hear more of your stories.”

“Your family isn't my concern,” Cullen slowly explained. “Its just that... well, my siblings haven't had dealings with nobility before and I don't know...”

“He thinks we're going to embarrass him,” Mia sighed as they walked into the light of the restaurant.

“I'm offended.” Rosalie turned to Branson. “Are you offended?”

“Definitely,” he answered, setting Jayden down.

“We're offended.” Rosalie huffed, turning her face away.

“That's not what I meant,” Cullen groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose.

Cinnie shook her head and gave the Herald a brief hug. “You see this? This is what you're getting yourself into.”

Ebrisa laughed. “I'm looking forward to it.” They chatted lightly as they waited, Jayden bouncing the lion toy from person to person and growling. Ebrisa slipped a hand out and ruffled his hair as he passed by, causing the boy to spin around and stretch the toy towards her face, letting out his fiercest roar. She gasped in mock fear and turned her face away, cowering against Cullen. “Don't eat me, I'm too fluffy!”

Jayden thought for a moment, then pulled the toy back and nodded. “Auntie Briza fluffy. No eat.”

The mage faced the child and let out an exaggerated sigh of relief. “Thank goodness.”

“Your intended is under attack by a wild beast and you do nothing to assist?” Emery shook his head and tsked. “For shame, Commander.”

Ebrisa blushed as her brother and father entered the building, embarrassed for being caught playing. “Oh, you're here. I hadn't realized...” She rubbed her forehead briefly before moving away from the Rutherfords and curtsying. “Thank you for coming all the way out here, Father. It means a great deal that you will be at the wedding.”

Randyll smiled and took hold of her hand, patting it lightly. “Of course, child.”

“Father, the little boy brought a doll!” Catilynn pointed at Jayden and frowned.

Jayden hugged the plush figure to his chest. “Lion,” he corrected.

Federyc held back an exasperated sigh. “He's a toddler. He's allowed.” His daughter folded her arms and pouted, feeling very much wronged.

The commander cleared his throat and gave his siblings a look, causing them to spread out and face the nobles. “Bann Trevelyan, allow me to introduce my family.” Cullen went down the line, each Rutherford bowing their head respectfully as he spoke of them. “And this is my brother's son, Jayden.”

“Ello!” The boy stuck his hand straight in the air. “I Jayden. This Lion.” He patted the doll in his hand. “Unkie Cul.” He pointed up at Cullen, then to the mage. “Auntie Briza.” The boy paused for a moment, then pointed at Catilynn. “Lil' Fluffy?”

The girl frowned and unfolded her arms, stomping her foot to emphasize her displeasure. “That's not my name!”

“Thank you, Jayden.” Ebrisa ruffled his hair. “Let me introduce my family now, okay?” She started with her father, then her brothers, moving on to the children. “This little girl is Federyc's daughter, Catilynn. Not Lil' Fluffy, okay?” She paused to look at the boy and waited for him to nod in understanding. Ebrisa smiled and turned to the woman at the end. “And this is... is...” Her eyes widened as she slowly lowered her hand. She had been so preoccupied with the others that she didn't even realize the female accompanying them wasn't Ysmay.

Aurelia had heard stories – so many stories – about the Herald of Andraste. She radiated with the Maker's love, glowed with holiness, was a pillar of faith. The Herald was a beauty of purity, calm and kind. The Herald was perfection.

A smirk slowly crept onto Aurelia's face.

Her sister was none of those things.

“I feel so slighted for only now being noticed. Have you spent too much time in the sun?” Aurelia tittered softly.

Ebrisa crossed the short distance between them nearly in a run, embracing the older woman and laughing to keep from crying. “I – I wasn't expecting... Lady Montilyet didn't say you were coming!”

The raven-haired woman stiffened before pushing the mage away with thinly veiled disgust. “Has time dulled your sense of decorum as well as memory?”

The Herald lowered her eyes instantly. “Apologies, sister. I was too surprised and simply overcome.” She dipped into a proper curtsey, but could no longer meet her gaze. “The years have treated you favorably, Aurelia.”

“And you have...” older woman raised a perfectly arched brow as she looked the mage over more closely. There had been a sort of... glow about the woman as she stood beside her intended and smiled, a light in her eyes that Aurelia could help but wonder if it had always been there. If so, they should have realized she was a mage a long time ago. Neither of those features seemed to be present in the defeated looking woman now. “Grown taller.”

“Not by much,” Emery chuckled. “She shall forever remain the runt of the family.”

Runt is a bit harsh,” Federyc cut in.

“More than a bit,” Bann Trevelyan corrected, giving his younger son a disapproving look. “Do you forget we are not alone? You make an unfavorable impression on the Rutherford family.” He faced the Fereldans and dipped his head. “Please forgive my children's behavior. They sometimes forget they do not remain children.”

Rosalie laughed behind her hand. “What are siblings for if not teasing?”

Mia elbowed her sharply. “Think nothing of it, my lord. I believe the staff is ready for us to begin eating.”

The elder nodded and motioned towards the tables. Cullen moved to Ebrisa's side as the others began to sit and placed a comforting arm around her shoulder. “Are you alright? Your sister seemed a bit cruel.”

She leaned into his embrace and sighed softly. “No, she was right to correct me. Emery was enthusiastic when we met, but the circumstances were very different. I should have greeted her as I did everyone else in Ostwick, but I wasn't prepared.”

“Well, don't think on it too much or let it spoil your mood.” He kissed her temple lightly before letting go. “Remember why we're here and what tomorrow brings.”

Ebrisa smiled up at him warmly. “How could I possibly forget?” She pushed aside her trepidation and joined the others at the table with Cullen at her side. Each family sat on one side of a long table, facing one another, with a smaller table connecting them on one end in a U-shape. The small table was, of course, meant for the betrothed. It was a bit awkward at first, but the two families managed to find some common ground and before long were chatting easily and laughing softly over their meal as the wait staff moved in the open space between them, filling glasses and moving empty dishes. The only one who remained relatively silent was Aurelia.

The dark-haired woman was having difficulty figuring out several things. Though barely influenced by the Inquisition, Starkhaven had been full of gossip concerning the organization. Its leader was the Champion of Kirkwall and the Left and Right Hands of Divine Justinia V served in its ranks. That would have been plenty to get the city-state behind them, but the nature of the Herald of Andraste made them uneasy. Since the destruction of Starkhaven's Circle of Magi some years ago, mages were viewed with disdain and skepticism. The revelation that the Herald claimed Trevelyan lineage nearly cost Aurelia her engagement to Lord Bainard, but having the mage named as her sister unleashed a terrible scandal shortly after her wedding. It was only her genuine shock and disbelief that kept Aurelia at her husband's side and the man saw to it that all gossip and slander was quickly put to rest. Surely the reaction in Ostwick had been far worse, yet the Trevelyans seemed at ease around the blonde woman. How where they so accepting?

The Inquisition's military leader was once a Templar Knight-Commander, having served the Order for years before leaving. Word had it he fought alongside the Champion to rid Kirkwall of its roaming abominations and tainted mages, yet here he was sitting beside one. Smiling at one. Preparing to marry one. It made no sense. How could a servant of the Order treat a mage so... kindly?

He was also lowborn, with no title or holdings that the Trevelyans might use to further their own standings. In fact, since he abandoned his templar career, the man was practically no one in the eyes of society. With Ebrisa as the group's Herald of Andraste, the family already had a strong tie to and influence with the Inquisition. For what reason could Bann Trevelyan have possibly agreed to this union?

No one cared she was a mage, no one cared he was nothing. It didn't make sense... unless they were bewitched?

The thought struck Aurelia so suddenly that she dropped her glass, sending shards and wine across the table. The staff quickly began cleaning up the mess as the woman averted her eyes in mortification. Catilynn began crying at her side, holding a hand to her face as a trickle of blood slipped down her round cheek. “Cat? Let me see.” Federyc gently pulled the child's hand away and grimaced as he removed the thin piece of glass from below her eye. “Look at me. Can you see alright?”

The girl blinked open her eyes slowly, tears stinging her wound as she nodded. She would have a scar right below her best feature and Aurelia was horrified at what she had done, unable to look at anyone. She had ruined her niece forever.

“Federyc, can I...?” Ebrisa moved quickly to her brother's side and lifted a palm, waiting for permission. He nodded and gave her the space she needed to kneel in front of the child. “I'm going to fix it, okay Cat? Can you sit still and close your eyes?” The mage brought forth a green glow to her fingers and brushed them slowly over the wound, smearing the blood slightly. She grabbed a napkin from the table and dabbed it in water before gently wiping the child's face clean. Ebrisa smiled softly and planted a small peck where the cut once was. “There we are. Just as precious as before.”

Catilynn sniffled as she rubbed her cheek, feeling no trace of the injury, but still recovering from the memory of the pain. The lion doll popped up suddenly, Jayden caught slightly in the tablecloth. “Play Lion?” He offered quietly, pushing the fabric from his head. “No cry.”

The little girl took the plush doll into her arms and squeezed it tightly. She looked at the younger boy and felt bad for yelling at him earlier. “Thank you...” He grinned widely and went back underneath the table towards his parents.

Federyc nodded gratefully at Branson, the Fereldan rubbing his neck and shrugging. “I'd take credit if I could, but the little one did it without asking.” He glanced to the woman at his side. “Takes after his mother in that respect.” Cinnie smacked his arm playfully as the room chuckled.

“Ah, pardon for the interruption,” an Inquisition soldier called awkwardly from the doorway, holding a report. “I was instructed to bring this to the commander...”

Cullen held back a sigh as he stood up. “Excuse me. This should only take a moment.” He went outside with the soldier, reading the report over carefully.

“I've been wondering something,” Emery began once his superior was out of earshot. “There are a hundred different theories floating around Skyhold and since I came in so late I didn't get to witness anything myself, but...” He double checked that Cullen was gone before turning to his little sister on her way back to her seat. “How did you fall for the commander?”

“I am also eager to hear this.” Rosalie leaned on the table and looked at the mage expectantly, the freckles on her nose wrinkling as she smirked.

“Well...” Ebrisa blushed slightly. “I don't think anyone wants to hear that. It's rather boring...”

“We are here for your wedding.” Federyc shook his head slightly. “I think we rather would like to hear it. Boring or no.”

The mage took a steadying breath and stood behind her chair. “It was back in Haven. I was still so terrified of templars and despite leaving the Order, Cullen was still very much a templar in my eyes... he scared me, maybe more than the others.” She shook her head and stared at the table vacantly. “There was so much fighting in camp between the mages and templars and I tried to set an example by ignoring my fear and getting to know him. It was hard, at first. The way he held himself, certain turn of phrases, constantly resting his hands on his sword hilt – it all screamed templar and my mind told me to stay away.”

Ebrisa drew her hand across the chair back absentmindedly. “But... Cullen was the first one to treat me as more than the Herald. He showed an interest in my training, helped me at my most vulnerable, took my concerns into consideration when it would have been so easy to just brush them aside.” She laughed quietly. “I don't know when I grew to love him, because I was so unfamiliar with the feeling. Just one day, it started to hurt when he called me by title and I couldn't understand why. Nothing had changed, but suddenly I would get so upset by it. It didn't make sense. Nothing made sense...”

The mage tightened her grip on the carved wood and tried to keep her voice even. “But then Haven was overrun with Venatori and Corypheus' dragon made victory impossible for us. All we could hope to do was bring the mountain down upon us, but we needed to distract the enemy so everyone could escape. And Corypheus wanted me.” She trembled slightly, feeling as though she was back in that moment. “I was so scared and knew I couldn't survive, but when I realized that... that Cullen was going to die if I didn't sacrifice myself? That's when everything clicked. I forgot about my fears and it was only about saving Cullen. Me or him...? I would make the same decision a thousand times over. I would suffer any pain, any mutilation, any death if it meant he would be alright.” Her voice cracked as tears began to fall. “Anything for him...”

She turned away and covered her face in her hands, trying to gain control over her emotions. It was behind her – a memory, and nothing else – but the attack on Haven and what it revealed to her still struck such a strong cord with the mage that she couldn't stop her shuddering tears.

Cullen pulled her hands away and cupped her face, drawing her into a desperate kiss as though she was about to subject herself to torture for him right then. He broke from her trembling lips and pressed his forehead to hers, caressing his thumbs over her cheeks. “Don't you dare,” he whispered firmly. “Never again, do you understand me? I won't let you sacrifice yourself for me or anyone.” Cullen embraced her protectively, resting his head on hers. “I won't.”

Rosalie cleared her throat awkwardly as she blushed. “Anyone else feel like we ought to leave?”

“Think they'll notice if we all suddenly took off?” Emery chuckled. “At least I don't owe Baret three royals.”

Aurelia couldn't help but stare at her sister as she relayed what it was like in Haven for her and the commander. She studied the emotions on the mage's face as she spoke and trembled and cried, saw the depth of her feelings on full display. When Cullen had walked back into the room, he was awkward and unsure, but soon overcame it as his fiance drew near the end of her answer. Aurelia was almost taken aback by the intensity of the man's effort to comfort and secure her sister, him not holding anything back either. The dark-haired woman looked around the room as the others watched the couple embrace. The Rutherfords blushed or grinned at one another and Emery rolled his eyes as he drank, as though he had already seen this sort of display a hundred times. Federyc covered his children's eyes and averted his own, but Randyll simply smiled softly.

It almost made sense now. No one had been bewitched, they simply understood the full measure of the love between Ebrisa and Cullen. She was going to marry for love and nothing else. For love...

Aurelia lowered her eyes and felt both slightly ashamed and very jealous. She had been prepared for an arranged marriage her entire life, understanding that the family's needs superseded her own wants. As such, she had never entertained the notion of becoming attached to anyone until after marrying them, never thought of love as a factor in the decision. Like her mother taught her through words and actions, the union between man and wife itself would blossom into affection and satisfaction. Aurelia was eager to feel that with her own husband and fulfilled her wifely duties with a humble grace and dignity, trying to make the man glad for her presence. It had only been a few months since the wedding, but already she found herself yearning for a glimmer of affection. Of lust, Lord Bainard showed plenty. Of appreciation, he noted from time to time. But of love... that had yet to present itself.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
“Why couldn't you be getting married in the Free Marches or Fereldan?” Varric grumbled as he tossed away a drake and drew a new card.

“I told you, Dwarfy, there's plenty of whores in Val Royeaux if you know where to look.” Sera rolled her eyes.

“True, but its harder to trick the commander into a house of ill repute when the practice isn't legal in Orlais.” Dorian snickered. “I'm sure you know some perfectly lovely ladies of the evening, Sera.”

“Course I do.” The elf took a swig of her drink. “Wait. What'd you mean by that?”

“You completely ruined our plans!” Varric huffed bitterly.

“Well excuse me for making it difficult for you to drag me to a brothel on the eve of my wedding,” Cullen sighed. “How terribly unthoughtful.”

“Damn straight it is.” Hawke drew a card and glared. “Brothels usually make great ale. The Blooming Rose had a real nice house brew and I couldn't find the like anywhere else in Kirkwall.”

“You frequented a brothel for the ale?” Blackwall chuckled.

The Inquisitor hid behind her cards, already several mugs in. “Not, um, not just for the ale...”

“Oh yeah, that's right,” Varric mused. “I'd nearly forgotten about that Orlesian girl.”

Sera leaned over the table with a grin. “Didn't know Quizy played for the other team too. Got tired of boys for a bit?”

“Kirkwall was the time for... a lot of new things and I liked to keep my options open.” Hawke glanced to the man at her side. “They are closed, at present.”

“Glad to hear it,” Blackwall chuckled back.

“If we can't get scantily clad women to cling on you, you should at least drink more,” Dorian sighed. “Don't you know anything about bachelor parties, Commander?”

“I've been with the Templars since I was thirteen, Dorian.” Cullen raised a brow as he drew a card. “And I wasn't exactly the chummiest person in Kirkwall.”

“I'll say,” Hawke muttered. She straightened and cleared her throat. “Mages can not be treated like people,” the Inquisitor said in a low voice. “They are not like you and me.

Varric burst into laughter and slapped the table as Cullen paled slightly. “That's good! I got one.” The dwarf leveled a suspicious eye across the group. “At any time, any mage could become a monster. From the lowest apprentice to the most seasoned enchanters.” He and Hawke continued to laugh as the commander became irritated.

“Would you stop that?” Cullen focused on his cards.

“Wait, wait.” Hawke raised a finger as she reigned in the giggles. “I got one more impression of you.” She set down her cards and leaned over the table, grabbing Dorian's collar. “We have dominance over mages by divine right,” she said as sultry as she could, biting her lip lightly to punctuate the sentence. Blackwall nearly choked on his drink.

“Saucy.” Iron Bull grinned before laughing.

Cullen blushed. “I-I didn't say it like that! It wasn't meant that way!”

“Wait, you really said those things?” Sera snorted.

“I- I was a different person in Kirkwall. Tensions were high and-” Cullen groaned and shook his head. “Things were just different.”

“You do realize that the Herald is a mage, right?” Dorian smoothed his collar back out.

“And he plans on dominating her.” Hawke smirked. “By divine right.” The table erupted in hoots and whistles as the commander turned red, though it was hard to tell if it was from anger or embarrassment.

“Speaking of,” Bull began. “You come up with watch words yet?”

“I what?” Cullen was beginning to wish he had been drinking.

“That means no,” Dorian sighed. “You're a rather intense man, Commander. You need to take your lady's limits into consideration. Don't want to break your wife on the first night, do you?”

Cullen stared at them. “Oh? Oh!” He cleared his throat and looked away, finally realizing what they were getting at. “I hadn't considered- that is, uh... I suppose I see your point.” He was already aware he would need to take things slow, but it was possible that once he was given permission to go further with Ebrisa, he might not be able to hold back. His pent up desire might very well overshadow his intentions.

“And, uh, where are you guys staying tomorrow again?” Varric asked as slyly as he could. “There are just so many lovely places to choose from.”

The commander leveled an eye and almost smirked. “And now you know why we're in Orlais.”

 

Chapter Text

The invited guests began slowly filing into the cathedral, practically everyone being vetted by Josephine and Leliana at the door. Numerous people had already tried to sneak inside only to be stopped and turned away. It was not just a matter of keeping the ceremony under control, but the Inquisition was also responsible for the safety of their distinguished guests. Empress Celene had brought several of her own guard with her, leaving two at the door and instructing the others to fan out amongst the Inquisition soldiers standing along the interior walls. She sat in a place of honor beside the bride's family, the Trevelyans not at all prepared for her arrival.

There was a similar place set aside by the Rutherfords and Mia looked at it curiously until a man plopped himself down in it. He let out a low whistle as he looked around the cathedral. “I must admit, the one in Denerim does look shabby in comparison.” He turned to the well dressed, yet uncomfortable looking family and raised a hand in greeting. “Oh, hello. Alistair Theirin.”

Rosalie leaned forward to get a better look around her sister. “Alistair Theirin? King Alistair Theirin?!”

“Yo-your majesty,” Mia quickly bowed her head. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, is this not the right spot?” He twisted around and looked to the doorway. “Could have sworn Leliana said the front row by the groom's family. You're them, right?”

“No, no, it is – we are - um, your majesty.” Cinnie cleared her throat. “We just weren't expecting the king of Fereldan to be in attendance. We're honored, of course!”

Alistair sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “I must admit, the idea of going into Orlais didn't thrill me initially, but my uncle was quick to point out that not only did I owe the Inquisition my life, but Empress Celene would be here and I needed to appear more...” He paused for a moment to think. “Diplomatically inclined, I believe was the phrase he used.” The king grinned as he adjusted in his seat. “Besides, Leliana promised me something about the after party.”

Branson and Cullen stood off to the side of the room, waiting for the grand cleric to arrive. Josephine had managed to get the commander to a tailor and set him up with a properly fitting white dress jacket and black pants. He felt awkward in it, more so at seeing his brother relatively simply dressed, which was strange considering that the woman of the family all had new dresses for the ceremony. “Your Ebrisa took them shopping,” Branson explained. “Mia had a bit of a fit about it, but can you honestly say she isn't thrilled to be so dressed up?”

Cullen hummed in understanding, getting a bit antsy. What was taking the revered mother so long?

Hawke walked over to them briskly in her Winter Palace garb, like most members of the Inquisition, looking a bit stressed. “Herald asked me to bring you this. She said Josephine forbade her to wear it today because it clashed.” She dropped the silver amulet into Cullen's hand and sighed. “That one is starting to drive me crazy with her pacing. Can we get this started already?”

“I would appreciate that as well,” the commander muttered, looking around for the cleric once again.

Branson grabbed the amulet and studied it curiously. “Is this what I think it is? Its not, right?”

Cullen chuckled awkwardly. “No, it is. That's the coin you gave me for luck before my training. I gave it to Ebrisa and she had it encased.”

“You... that is so...” Branson was having trouble finding the words. “You really kept this? Did it work?”

“I don't think so.” Hawke folded her arms and shook her head. “He hasn't been very fortunate.”

“Well, its kept me alive during the Blight, the fall of two Circles, the mage rebellion, the Conclave explosion, Haven, Adamant Fortress...” Cullen trailed off and took the amulet back from his brother, slipping it on and inside his jacket. “It... it brought me Ebrisa, as well.”

The Inquisitor smiled slowly and rolled her eyes. “Okay, fine, it worked. Speaking of, I better get back before she wears a hole in the floor.” She punched Cullen lightly in the arm and walked away, passing Cassandra and Mother Hevara in an alcove as she went.

The elderly woman waved her hands emphatically, pleading with the Nevarran until Cassandra finally relented. The grand cleric dipped her head respectfully and stepped out into the main hall, making her way to the alter. Cullen noticed immediately and moved into position himself without a word, leaving his brother to awkwardly take his seat beside Cinnie.

Mother Hevara prepared at the front of the hall as the doors closed and Josephine went to fetch Ebrisa with Randyll. The room slowly quietened, the guests ceasing their chatter and focusing forward as they waited. Cullen suddenly realized how many people were in attendance and how few of them he actually knew. The price of politics, he supposed. Having two monarchs sitting in the front row did little to help his anxiousness as he tried to stand still before the room. They would start any minuet, this was the last bit of waiting, the final moments of his life as he knew it.

Soft music began to play, announcing the bride's entrance, and Josephine scurried quickly along the outside of the room to sit behind the Trevelyans as Hawke slid in behind Alistair. She winked at Cullen with a wide grin, the last thing he saw before looking down the long aisle. Bann Trevelyan held out his elbow to his daughter, the veiled woman taking hold with both hands and letting him lead her forward. Ebrisa's dress was white with form-fitting, full length sleeves and gold detailing on the bodice and wide neckline. The gown flared out at her hips, covered in several layers of lace and shimmering fabrics that flowed around her as she moved.

Cullen had to repeatedly tell himself to not stare as she approached, but couldn't help being mesmerized. It was like it wasn't real, but a slow moving dream that he both urged to quicken and dreaded ending. Randyll stopped before him and turned to his daughter, taking hold of her hands and smiling softly at her through the thin fabric before turning to Cullen expectantly, shaking him from his daze. The commander held out his left hand and Randyll placed Ebrisa's right on top of it, patting his daughter's hand before stepping back and taking his seat beside his family. The couple moved up the short steps to the alter, facing each other once they reached the grand cleric.

Cullen lifted the veil and stilled, forgetting to breathe as he took in the sight of the woman before him. Ebrisa's eyes shone brightly as she gazed up at him lovingly, her cheeks flushed and lips glistening with tinted gloss. She took hold of both his hands as the Revered Mother began her sermon, the mage taking deep breaths to keep calm. Ebrisa was practically glowing, near bursting with happiness as she smiled at him beside the alter. The thought was enough to shake Cullen from his stupor and he smiled gently back at her. This is what he wanted. This is what he pleaded with her for in the Fade. This was the start.

Mother Hevara cleared her throat and brought the pair back to reality. “As much as I'm sure you are enjoying this moment, I believe your guests do have other things planned for the day. Perhaps you could continue your gazing after you say your vows?” There was a quiet chuckling throughout the hall.

“Oh, right...” Cullen glanced quickly at the grand cleric apologetically. He cleared his throat and withdrew a gold band from his front pocket. He took hold of Ebrisa's left hand, running his thumb over the back of it as he looked deep into her eyes once again. “I swear unto the Maker and the Holy Andraste to love this woman the rest of my days. To guard her, protect her, and shelter her from all harm and ills until the Maker takes me.” Cullen slid the ring into place on her third finger, letting out a quiet breath.

The Revered Mother nodded in approval and prepared to continue, but paused at the pleading look Ebrisa gave her. The older woman smiled softly in understanding. “The Lady Herald wishes to make a promise as well.” The room murmured quietly at the strange request. The bride rarely made vows.

Ebrisa took a deep breath to rid herself of the doubt and returned her gaze to Cullen. “I swear unto the Maker and the Holy Andraste to love this man the rest of my days. To support him, heed him, and care for him. To follow where he leads me, unquestioningly. To be his light when hope leaves him, as he has been mine. I swear to do these things until the Maker takes me.” Despite how it felt, Ebrisa knew they were not alone in the room and that she had made her declaration not only before their families but the Inquisition and political allies as well. But this is what she wanted – for everyone to know how much she loved the man before her and to what lengths she would go to for him. Let there be no room for doubt when people spoke of their union.

Mother Hevara held out her right hand, moving it back and forth between the couple with a bowed head. “Then by the authority of the Maker and the grace of the Holy Andraste, I proclaim this man and this woman bound in marriage as husband and wife.” She turned to the commander and nodded. “You may kiss the bride.”

Cullen placed a hand gently on the mage's cheek and kissed her softly, holding back so as to not embarrass her. He cared little for what the others may think, but she-

Ebrisa wrapped her arms around his neck and deepened the kiss, ignoring the clapping and hooting from the guests. They didn't matter. Only Cullen mattered. Eventually, air mattered and she pulled away, releasing the commander and stepping back slightly. Cullen took a moment to recover, face flushed, before smiling and taking hold of her left hand.

The grand cleric cleared her throat, thankful to not have to watch the enthusiastic kiss any longer. “I present to you Commander Cullen Stanton Rutherford and the Lady Herald Ebrisa Amelisse Trevelyan Rutherford. May the Maker rain blessings upon their union.”
~~~~~~~
If Leliana had not told him, Alistair never would have placed the commander as the caged templar they found in Fereldan's Circle all those years ago. That man was grieving, filled with hatred, and entirely untrusting of mages. The lone templar had pleaded with them to not let a single mage escape the tower, for fear they had all been corrupted. If he hadn't been so firm in his belief, then maybe they could have saved some mages, maybe there would have been another way to free Connor.

The man standing on the other side of the room had changed. Whether it was from the years, the mess in Kirkwall, or the very woman standing at his side, it was hard to say. All Alistair knew was that the tormented soul they came across in that fallen Circle was no longer controlled by what he saw there. Seeing the former templar lovingly stroke his bride's arm and smile so widely made the king recall his own wedding day, but he quickly shook the thought from his mind.

Alistair turned around and stood before the reception's buffet table, trying to hide his grin and appear kingly as he nodded at the array of cheeses. “It was good of you to come,” Leliana began quietly as she handed him a plate.

The former warden looked around a little before filling the dish. “It was good of you to invite me.”

Leliana chuckled. “Josephine doubted you would show up, but I knew that I could entice you with one of your great loves.” She smiled softly and watched her old comrade. “And your other great love? Cassandra and I were going to ask her to the Conclave, but she...”

The king stilled and sighed mournfully. “She was trying to find a way to remove the taint from us. So many rumors, so much searching, but she did it all from the castle. Then one day, she just... there was a note. A lead she had to follow.” He closed his eyes and shook his head. “She was so mad with me when I ran off to look for my father years ago. So upset that I left her behind.” Alistair nearly snorted. “Hypocrite.”

“So you've heard nothing?” The Orlesian seemed more than a little concerned.

“She writes every month, letting me know she's alright and if she's found anything, but I don't know where she is.” Alistair looked up at Leliana. “I had heard the former Grand Enchanter was once a warden, which is why I agreed to harbor the rebel mages so quickly. I thought if Fiona could tell me something about how the curse was drawn from her that I could get Kaedence back... but, well, you know how things went down in Redcliffe.”

Leliana thought for a long while before speaking softly. “Do you still have them? The letters?” She folded her arms and narrowed her eyes. “I might be able to find some clues in her words or on the letters themselves as to her location.”

“Yes! Of course, please!” He smiled widely. “And to think Kae wanted to leave you in Lothering because she thought you were crazy.”

“She what?”

“Well, I mean, you did tell us the Maker spoke to you.” Alistair shrugged slightly. “Lucky for me I was able to convince her otherwise.”

The Orlesian grinned. “Lucky indeed.”

 

“He's a giant,” Catilynn breathed in awe as she stared at Iron Bull from across the reception hall.

“He's a qunari,” Theoderyc corrected as he too stared at the large figure.

Sera bent down behind the children, a pastry in her hand and icing on her cheek. “Qunari are scary brutes,” she began in a warning tone. “They eat little children.”

The little girl turned around and covered her mouth in horror. “They do?!”

“Don't be stupid,” her brother quickly cut in. “The elf is just trying to distract us so she can steal more sweets.”

“Oy. It's not stealing. I'm a guest, you snobby little twit.” She stuck out her tongue before popping the entire treat in her mouth at once.

“Bull!” Jayden called out suddenly and ran between the group, straight for the mercenary.

“No, don't!” Catilynn chased after the toddler.

“Cat, he'll eat you!” Theoderyc called out before following the others. Sera snickered around the food in her mouth and turned to find an unamused auburn-haired woman.

“Cullen's told me about you. I didn't realize your pranks extended to children as well.” Cinnie shook her head.

The elf gulped down the pastry. “You're one of the mums. You got that mad mum look.”

To the small Trevelyans' surprise, after Iron Bull scooped up the little boy, he didn't eat him. Instead, he tossed the child into the air and caught him with an impressive precision. “Jayden! You found me!” He laughed before setting the boy on his shoulder.

“Bull easy find,” Jayden said proudly.

“And who are these twerps chasing you, hmm?” The qunari raised a brow at the small nobles.

“Theo,” Jayden pointed to the boy. “Kitty.” He pointed to the girl.

Theoderyc bowed awkwardly. “Theoderyc Trevelyan, son of Lord Federyc Trevelyan of Ostwick.” He reached out and nudged his still stunned sister.

“Oh!” She fumbled to grab her dress and performed a wobbly curtsey. “Catilynn Trevelyan, the same. But not the son part. I'm not a boy.”

Bull chuckled lightly. “I can see that, small lady.”

Cinnie approached the group, dragging Sera behind her by the ear. “Jayden, I said you could play with Mister Bull if you stayed away from the horns.”

“Bah, he's perfectly safe,” Bull turned to face the child, nearly smacking him with the side of the supposedly safe protrusion.

“Down. Now.” Cinnie leveled an eye at the large qunari and he gulped.

He quickly set Jayden on the floor. “Yes, ma'am. Sorry, ma'am.”

The woman let out a sigh and pulled Sera forward. “I'll switch you. Come along children.”

Sera rubbed her ear as Cinnie and the little ones walked away. “Fereldan mums are scarier than I remember...”

 

“Reeve Asa? Are you quite serious?” Federyc stared at the dwarf incredulously as he lowered his glass.

“Three consecutive grand tourney victories?” Varric urged. “I mean, who does that?”

“I told you before, Reeve Asa can't stand against Lady Honorine Chastain.” Blackwall grinned widely. “Perfect record. Four hundred bouts, never unseated.”

“Bah.” Varric waved a dismissive hand. “Perfection is boring. I like 'em scrappy.” He turned to the noble, trying to persuade him to his side. “The kind of fight they gotta work at, coming out on top against all odds, underdog versus a sure-thing. That's what makes the victory all the sweeter, right?”

Federyc shook his head. “You're both wrong.”

“What? No one's ever come close to Honorine Chastain's record.” Blackwall argued. “She's clearly the best jouster.”

“I believe the question was the best in history, in which case the honor must go to Winnifred Odwil.” The noble sipped his brandy calmly.

“Who?” Varric chuckled.

“You don't know of Odd Fred?” Federyc raised a brow. “Does your love of the sport only follow recent years?”

“I think I've heard of that knight,” Blackwall mumbled in thought. “Stayed in armor the entire time, no squire, never spoke... but his record wasn't any more impressive than Chastain's or even Asa's.”

The noble set down his glass and smiled slowly. “The thing that made Odd Fred so great wasn't the number of victories claimed, but how it was done. You need to remember that despite Orlais' martyr Aveline, women were not always allowed to participate in the Free Marches' grand tourneys. Ser Winnifred Odwil broke that rule and knocked down man after man, gaining fame and followers as she hid in her armor. By the time she was unseated and her identity revealed, the knight had made such a name for herself that no one could see a reason to forbid women any longer. She had proven herself and made it possible for your Honorine Chastain and others to compete.” He looked at the dwarf and nearly smirked. “If you want to talk about underdogs, well there you go.”

 

Cassandra approached the newly weds awkwardly. “My lady Herald, might I have a word with you alone?”

Ebrisa turned from the group of nobles to face the seeker, seeing the determination in her eyes. “I... yes, of course.” She bowed apologetically at the nobles. “If you'll excuse me for a moment.”

Cullen grabbed her hand and leaned in to whisper in her ear. “Don't you dare leave me alone with them.”

Ebrisa giggled lightly before kissing his cheek. “I'll only be a moment. Stay strong.”

“Are you telling that to me or my patience?”

“Both.” The mage and seeker stepped away to a secluded area by one of the walls and the Nevarran became antsy.

“I know we have not been the closest, and I take blame for that,” Cassandra began slowly. “There was simply some advice I wanted to impart on you. You may ignore it, if you wish, but I still want to say it.”

Ebrisa tilted her head slightly. “Advice? As in marriage advice?”

“In a way,” Cassandra muttered.

“I was unaware you had been married before, but I will hear anything you have to offer.” The mage smiled lightly and waited.

“Oh, no, I have not been wed. I have no... personal experience with these matters.” The seeker blushed slightly as she fumbled. She took a breath and centered herself. “Being the Herald has brought you much hardship, but also many good things. Take what happiness you can from those and do not let them go. That is all I meant to say. Advice from a... from a concerned party, for the days to come.”

The mage looked over the uneasy warrior. “That was kind of you to say, Seeker Pentaghast. But I get the feeling there is something else weighing on your mind.”

“Ah. I did not think myself so easy to read,” Cassandra mumbled quietly. “I understand that the Grand Clerics nominated you for Divine and you turned it down. The reason for your refusal is obvious.” She smirked, making the mage blush slightly. “Earlier today, I accepted the position under the condition that I could still work to restore the Seekers of Truth. I will become the new Divine... and I will not be returning to Skyhold.”

“Oh...” Ebrisa looked down, feeling both guilty and saddened. “If I had accepted, you wouldn't need to divide your attention like that.”

“You speak as though being Divine is a punishment, Herald.” Cassandra shook her head. “It is an honor, and one I plan on fulfilling properly.”

“There will be no one to discuss romance novels with. I'm sorry to see you go...” The mage brought a hand to her eye and wiped at the single tear threatening to fall. “But I do believe you will bring the Chantry back to what it should be. A place of hope and strength for the faithful, and a place of love and comfort for the lost.” She smiled past her sadness and pulled the Nevarran into a brief hug. “Just a bit of encouragement from a... from a friend.”

 

Chapter Text

Cullen had taken great care to ensure they had not been followed and closed the door of their rented suite, locking it securely. The fact that so many of their comrades were shameless snoops unsettled him greatly and he could only hope it would lessen now that they were married.

Married.

He turned away from the door slowly to look at his new wife standing awkwardly in the middle of the room. Ebrisa chewed on her lower lip as she blushed faintly, unsure if she should change right away or stay in her gown longer. The only people she knew who had been in her position were Cinnie and Aurelia, but the Fereldan was constantly around the children and all her sister had told her was to follow the man's lead and do as he said. Since the man was just looking at her from across the room, the mage really had no idea how to interpret what he wanted her to do. Should she say something? What should she say? She was too inexperienced to even attempt to be sultry. Would that be seen as inappropriate? Was it possible to be inappropriate with your husband? The word calmed her and she relaxed, smiling softly as she raised her eyes.

“So,” Cullen began quietly. “Here we are.”

She took a deep breath. “Yes.”

“Married.” He crossed the room to stand in front of her.

“We are.”

“Alone.” Cullen placed his hand gently on her cheek.

“At last,” she whispered, leaning into his touch and closing her eyes.

He placed a hand on her waist and kissed her softly, brushing his fingers down her face and up into the twisted sections of her hair. Cullen removed the detailed combs and pins, dropping them to the floor one by one until the mage's golden curls slipped freely down her back. He pulled away from the kiss and rested his forehead against hers, a sly smile on his lips. “As lovely as you are in that dress, I don't suppose I could coax you out of it? You're rather covered up.”

“I... I am, aren't I?” Ebrisa stepped back and turned around, sweeping her hair out of the way. “I'm afraid that with these sleeves, I can't reach the lacing. Could you...?”

Cullen untied the smooth cording holding her gown together and planted soft kisses on her exposed neck, eliciting quiet gasps from his bride. Once he had removed the lacing, he began to push the dress off, but Ebrisa turned around again and stopped him.

“I-I'll be right back,” she nearly whispered as she backed away. The woman grabbed one of the smaller bags of luggage and slipped into the small side room where the bath lay.

The commander took off his jacket and set it on the back of a chair, knowing Josephine would have a fit if he didn't take care of the garment, and hung the amulet carefully over it. He sat down and removed his boots, contemplating how to proceed with the evening. So far he had been successful in going slow and resisted the urge to just rip off her dress entirely, but what if she was still scared? Cullen slipped off his shirt and sighed quietly. He didn't want to force Ebrisa into anything she wasn't ready for, but how much longer could he really hold back before he went insane?

The door opened silently and Ebrisa stepped back into the room wearing a thin dressing gown, holding it closed with her hands. She moved over to her new husband, the man seemingly deep in thought as he leaned forward in a chair. “Cullen?” He snapped upright quickly, having failed to notice her approach. “Sorry to stop you,” she began quietly. “There were just so many layers and I didn't want you to get frustrated...”

“Oh, no, that's... that's alright.” Cullen moved to stand, but she motioned for him to stay seated.

Ebrisa took a deep breath and unclenched her fingers, smoothly sliding the fabric off her body and letting it fall to the floor in an airy pile. She watched as the man slowly drew his eyes over her nude form, feeling like she wanted to hide from the intensity of his gaze and barely resisted the urge to squirm.

Cullen stayed still with increasing difficulty as he took in the sight of her, being able to appreciate the curves and shapes of her body for the first time. He'd seen her partially undressed before and caught glimpses of her in the bath, but those were always awkward and unintentional. This was... this was Ebrisa giving herself to him, even as she trembled. She was still nervous or scared or unsure, but he wanted to touch her so badly.

Cautiously, he trailed his hands up her thighs to her hips, pulling her closer. Ebrisa took in a shuddering breath as he kissed her stomach and moved up from there while he slowly rose from the chair. He planted kisses between her breasts and along her neck until he was fully upright and pressed a final, affectionate peck to her temple. The commander slipped his hands up her bare back and held her close to him, feeling the heat from her flushed body directly on his own. It was maddening, but he held back.

“Ebrisa, I love you and I don't want to force you,” he whispered into her hair. “You're shaking. If you aren't ready, its okay. Don't feel like you have to just because we're wed.”

She pulled out of his embrace and lowered her eyes. “Cullen, that's not... I-I mean...” The mage chewed her lip and looked to the bed, then back at him. “I'm not scared, I'm... um... eager...” Ebrisa lowered her eyes, uncertain if she should have said that. She was supposed to let the man take the lead, that's what her sister had said, after all.

“That's good.” Cullen smirked as he scooped her up, causing her to squeak. “Eager is very good.” He set her down gently on the soft mattress and let out a shaking breath as he took in the sight, barely remembering to say his piece. “I've been reminded that I might be too... eager myself. If I get too forceful, or something hurts, or you want me to stop for whatever reason, you need to let me know.” He rubbed his neck and cleared his throat. “We – uh – we know from our return from Ostwick that stop won't work, so you should think of something else. A word you wouldn't normally use. That way, when I hear it, I know its serious.”

Ebrisa looked up at him, a little confused. “You really think you might hurt me?”

“Maker, not intentionally!” Cullen quickly explained. “But, I mean, it's your first time and I've been waiting quite a while... Not that I'm complaining! Its just that, well, I don't know if I can trust myself to be as careful with you as I need to be.”

She hummed softly and adjusted on the sheets as she thought. Something she wouldn't normally say? She didn't swear or use dirty words, but that might actually sound encouraging in an intimate situation. What would she never say? “Um... phylactery?”

Cullen chuckled lightly and climbed on top of her. “That seems a bit of a mouth full, but I can remember that.” He brushed his fingers down her cheek. “Now, you're certain that-”

Ebrisa pulled him down into a passionate kiss, silencing all doubt and giving him the encouragement he needed. It was like a switch was flipped inside him and Cullen quickly took control, dominating her mouth as he ran a hand over her skin. He felt goosebumps rise up in the wake of his touch as he caressed her body. She was so soft, so smooth, so warm - so entirely everything he imagined her to be.

Cullen broke from the kiss and moved to her ear. “I want to hear you.” He nibbled on her lobe and she released a muffled whimper. “Don't be afraid of being loud,” he said with a rumble in his chest as he began work on her neck, knowing that would make her deliver some of those delicious noises he was looking for.

Sure enough, Ebrisa squirmed underneath him and panted out airy moans and mewls - the sounds sending shivers down his spine, making him growl hungrily in response. As he continued exploring his bride with his hands and mouth, devouring her sounds of pleasure, Cullen repeatedly reminded himself to listen out for her watch word.

But, Maker, don't let her say phylactery. He had so much planned for her that night.

~~~~~~~
It was well past morning by the time Ebrisa opened her eyes and rolled onto her back. She felt so sore with dull throbbing sensations in places that never ached before. The memory of last night hit her all at once and she blushed furiously, pulling the covers over her face to hide from the empty room. Wait, empty?

The mage sat up in bed slowly, wrapping a sheet around herself as she looked for Cullen. Though she would have liked to have seen her new husband first thing upon waking, he no doubt had something important to attend to. Even with the war over, there was still much work to be done with the Inquisition, making it impossible for the couple to really have a honeymoon. They would need to return to Skyhold the day after tomorrow. Ebrisa chided herself for wasting so much of the day sleeping, but she really did need it. How had Cullen managed to recover so quickly?

She stood up and wobbled, falling back down to the mattress. Ebrisa let out a timid laugh as she tried again and made her way to the bath, hoping the hot water would soothe away the aches in her body. She wasn't very well about to complain about them, in fact she rather felt as though she earned the soreness. As the mage sneakily heated the water with magic instead of awkwardly calling and waiting for the inn staff to stoke a fire beneath the floor, she wondered if Cullen felt any of the aftereffects as well.

~~~~~~~~~~

With his family safely on their way back to Fereldan, Cullen returned to his room. Mia, of course, asked after Ebrisa and gave an infuriatingly knowing grin when he explained she was still resting. Luckily, with Jayden there, his siblings didn't press for any details about what would have made the mage so very tired. Most of the Inquisition had left already, but a few soldiers stayed behind to accompany the newlyweds back later. Cullen had ensured that those men were both more than capable fighters and less prone to gossip. It was bad enough he had so little time alone with his wife.

Cullen grinned widely at the word as he entered their suite, but frowned at the empty bed. He didn't believe she would wander off, but perhaps she went looking for him or became hungry.

“Cullen? Is that you?” Ebrisa called out.

He shook his head as he moved towards the bath. He really should have realized she would be in there. “Yes, its me. I'm sorry to have left, but Mia and the others were heading out.” The commander stood in the doorway of the side room, looking at his bride as she moved to the edge of the ornate tub. “I thought it best if you slept a bit longer.”

“I certainly appreciate that.” She looked down at the water and ran her hand across the surface, creating small wakes that broke against her skin. “Did... did you need a lot of rest as well?”

“I'm used to getting up early,” he sighed. “I don't think I could sleep in very late if I tried.”

Ebrisa slipped lower into the tub, hiding partially behind the porcelain. “Oh. I see.”

The commander looked at her curiously. She sounded... disappointed. “Is something the matter?”

“For me, no.” She began slowly, unable to meet his eyes. “Its just that... you spent so much time focused on me last night. I don't know if – that is – I'm concerned that maybe I.... maybe I didn't do my part.” Ebrisa ran a wet finger across the edge of the tub, making a quiet squeaking sound. “Were you... were you fully satisfied? You waited so long for us to even try. Was... was it worth it? Was I – I mean – are you disappointed with me?”

Cullen stared for a bit before frowning and kneeling down in front of the tub. He reached out and poked her in the forehead. “No.”

She pulled back and rubbed the spot. “To which part?”

“The part where you doubt I enjoyed myself with you.” He sighed heavily. “Ebrisa, you were there. Didn't you hear what I was saying or feel how my body reacted to yours? Did you think I could pretend something like that?”

“Well, no... I suppose not.” The mage looked at him sheepishly. “But I was so exhausted and so sore and you were up and walking around, so I... I don't know...”

Cullen raised a brow and smirked. “Did you enjoy yourself?”

Ebrisa blushed, but didn't look away. “I did. Ve-very much so...”

“I'm glad to hear it.” Cullen leveled an intense gaze on the mage as he continued. “I wanted you to experience as much pleasure as possible because I knew that once I was inside you, I wasn't going to stop until I exhausted everything I had.”

She stared at him as her body grew hotter. “O-oh.”

Cullen held her cheek and kissed her softly. “So no more thinking like this, alright?”

“Okay...”

He smiled and stood up, heading for the door.

“Cullen?” She called out timidly, causing him to face her again. “Would you...” Ebrisa moved back in the large tub, trailing a hand lightly across her collarbone as she blushed. “Would you like to join me?”

Cullen blinked in surprise, then smirked slowly and closed the door.

 

Chapter Text

The trip back to Skyhold was relatively uneventful. It was a bit strange to be making so much of the trek in a carriage instead of on horseback, but Cullen appreciated being able to spend the time working. Ebrisa slept a good portion of the way, resting her head on the commander's shoulder and loosely embracing his left arm – another thing he appreciated about not riding a mount. She had tried reading at first, but complained quietly that there was too much jostling and the effort was making her queasy. With Cullen preoccupied with his reports, there was really little else she could do for the journey. How she managed to embroider on the way up was beyond her.

They arrived in Skyhold to find nearly the entire fortress crammed into the lower yard, welcoming them home for the first time as husband and wife. Those who hadn't been able to attend the nuptials were especially enthusiastic with their cheering, the soldiers most of all. Perhaps now that the commander had a better half, he wouldn't be so hard on them. It was unlikely, but the army could dream, right?

“Kiss!” Dagna shouted loudly and the crowd grew quiet. “Oh.” The dwarf looked around at the others. “They did it for the ceremony, right? I didn't get to see. It's unfair!” The people quickly agreed and joined together in a chant, demanding to witness the show of affection.

Being put on the spot like that, Ebrisa stretched up and planted a quick peck on Cullen's cheek, the onlookers booing the poor display.

“I don't think they'll leave until you show 'em something good, Herald.” Hawke grinned from the sidelines. “I mean, I guess we could stand here all day and not get any work done.”

“What happened to that enthusiasm you showed in the cathedral?” Dorian huffed. He raised a brow slowly as a thought occurred to him. “Or is your enthusiasm still in recovery from later that night?”

Ebrisa blushed furiously, nearly feeling as though she would pass out. “Di-did you have to ask that so loudly?” The Tevinter only laughed in response.

“And here I was hoping their meddling would cease, or at least lessen,” Cullen mumbled, blushing slightly himself. He hated to admit it, but it really did seem like no one was going to give up anytime soon. Well, if they wanted to see something to tease him with later, he might as well enjoy it. The commander wrapped an arm around Ebrisa's waist and pulled her close, causing the mage to squeak in surprise. He slipped his other hand into her hair and kissed her deeply, trying his best to ignore those around them and focus only on his wife. Ebrisa became limp in his embrace, wrapping her arms around his neck to hold herself up until he slowly pulled away, a quiet moan of disappointment escaping her lips as he did so. Cullen held back a smirk and resisted kissing her again in a rather impressive display of self control. He turned an eye to the hooting crowd and frowned. “Back to your duties then!” He ordered loudly and firmly, the soldiers scrambling away as the rest chuckled and smiled before leaving as well.

Speaking of duties, Cullen knew he had his own to catch up on. He released the mage reluctantly and guided her towards the far stairs. He noted Ebrisa was rather susceptible to suggestions at the moment and wondered if he always had this power over her. It surely would have saved on a lot of arguing. Perhaps he'll test out the theory the next time she tries to needlessly put herself in danger. They passed the servants who brought the luggage to Ebrisa's room and Cullen nodded in thanks before moving up the steps. He hesitated at the top, knowing that he had much work to do and not wanting to just leave his wife – Maker, he loved that word - alone. If he took her into his office, she would most likely distract him from paperwork. If he took her into her room, well, he wasn't sure how long he'd be in there. Either way, working was going to be difficult.

Ebrisa made the decision for him and took his hand, pulling him to her quarters. Well, they used to be her quarters. The room had been rearranged in their absence ever so slightly to make room for Cullen's few personal possessions and the bed replaced with a larger, less feminine one. “Well I suppose I don't have to worry about you catching cold anymore.”

“Even if there was a hole in this ceiling too, you'd surely keep me warm enough to prevent that.” He said it calmly, not trying to sound seductive, but a shiver still ran down Ebrisa's spine.

She wasn't sure if it was because they had been intimate, but so many things that Cullen said or did now – no matter how seemingly innocent – sent her body into a quiet frenzy. Ebrisa tried her best to mask her reactions and it took much effort to not press herself firmly to him when he kissed her in the lower yard. Perhaps they had just spent too much time exceedingly close to one another and her senses were overwhelmed with him. Surely that was it. It had to be. If her life now was to be filled with impure thoughts at every waking second, she didn't know how she could ever focus on anything ever again. Aurelia hadn't warned her about this.

“I-I think I'll go ahead and unpack,” Ebrisa announced suddenly and awkwardly, moving to the pile of luggage. “You must have a lot to catch up on. I'll be fine here. You can go ahead.”

Cullen looked at her curiously, noting her strange behavior. “True.” He crossed the short distance to her and planted a small kiss to her temple before leaving the room. “I'll be next door if you need me, or if I need you.”

Ebrisa took a slow, deep breath to control herself as the door closed. How she yearned for some of his templar discipline at that moment. She yearned for some of his other things too.... The mage shook her head in frustration, mentally berating herself. She dropped the open luggage back down and moved swiftly to the small Andrastian shrine still located in the corner of the room. Ebrisa hastily lit a candle and held it in her outstretched and shaking hands, staring into the flame.

There was no word

For heaven or earth, for sea or sky.

Oh Maker, please let this work.
~~~~~~

A few days after their return, Hawke excitedly told Cullen that her recruit from the Frostback Basin was due to arrive soon. She said only that it was a mighty warrior from Stone-Bear Hold who had fought fiercely during the raid against the Hakkonites, and that was really enough for Cullen. So when a small band of Avvar made their way up the pass with a cart, he thought nothing of it and told the sentries to allow them through. A few gathered in the lower yard with the commander to watch the new arrivals, eying them wearily.

A burly man stepped forward and looked around at those who came to greet them, locking eyes with Ebrisa momentarily. “Inquisition,” he began loudly as he took hold of the rough-spun cloth over the cart. “You have slain Hakkon Wintersbreath! We, of the basin, remember!” He pulled the tarp away in one swift motion and a bear jumped from the cart, roaring loudly. The Inquisition soldiers scrambled with their swords to fight back the attack of retribution, but the beast easily plowed through them and right past Cullen to tackle the blonde mage behind him.

Ebrisa shrieked in surprise as she hit the ground and Cullen whipped around, fully prepared to wrestle the beast away, but came to an abrupt halt as his wife's shriek turned to laughter. That fearsome, massive creature had the mage pinned to the dirt with a gentle paw as it licked her face as affectionately as any dog. “St- Storvacker!” Ebrisa giggled as she raised her hands to push the furry face away. “Enough, enough!” The bear backed away to allow the mage to sit up and wipe at her cheeks. She had forgotten how thick the bear's saliva was.

“Are you alright?” Cullen knelt beside her, trying to find a handkerchief or something to offer the woman. Storvacker sniffed him a few times, then gave the commander a slobbery lick as well. Cullen reeled back in surprise and mortification, his reaction making Ebrisa laugh again as she tugged on the bear's scruff.

The soldiers knew better than to join her, but the Avvar held no such fears of retaliation from the commander. “With that fur round your neck, Storvacker must think you a cub with mange!” The burly man laughed loudly, his fellows following suite.

“That's enough, Ser Ivar.” Ebrisa had stopped laughing, but there was still a hint of amusement in her tone.

The Avvar dipped his head respectfully. “Aye, Lady Flame-Touched.”

She looked at the obviously disgusted Cullen and smiled meekly with a faint blush. “Besides, I think she only did it because she smelled me on you...”

“Well we can't help that, now can we?” The commander responded quietly with a smirk, blushing a bit himself.

Ebrisa cleared her throat and rose to her feet, pulling the animal further away. “Storvacker.” The bear looked up at her instantly. “Cullen is no cub, no bear, and – most importantly – not available.” She wagged a finger at the hold beast. “Understand?” Storvacker looked at the commander, then back to the Herald and dipped its head. “Good.”

The Avvar chuckled quietly at the reprimand, the Inquisition being able to join their mirth on that count, at least, but one of the hold had yet to make a sound. “Lady Flame-Touched.”

Ebrisa stiffened at the voice, then briskly headed for her room.

“Lady Flame-Touched,” the man tried again.

She spun around, her face contorted in uncharacteristic anger as she addressed Ivar and not the man trying to speak with her. “What is he doing here?” The way she spat out the word told Cullen instantly who the Avvar was.

“Finn Caldansen has not yet been punished for his actions, touched-one. Thane Sun-Hair instructed us to bring him as prisoner so you may pass judgment.” The large man nodded grimly. “The law he broke was grave.”

Ebrisa turned back around. “I don't want to see him.”

The yard was quiet, stunned by the behavior of their Herald and how quickly she had switched from laughing to seething. Many did not even think her capable of anger, so for her to be so utterly enraged the Avvar prisoner must have done something horrific.

“We have cells he can wait in,” Cullen explained to Ivar in as even a voice as he could. “Devin will show you.” A soldier came forward and lead the Avvar away, the others slowly departing themselves until only Storvacker and the couple was left. “Ebrisa...” Cullen placed a hand on her shoulder and felt her relax under his touch. “Just say the word, and I'll beat him into a pulp.”

She let out a tiny puff that almost sounded like laughter. “No duel this time?”

“You're already my wife. Decorum can't keep me back anymore.”

That's right. She was his wife. Despite Finn betraying her and making her feel as though she betrayed Cullen, the man beside her had still married her. And it was only a kiss done to wake her up, there was no other motivation behind it. “Maybe I have been overreacting.”

“I missed it?” Hawke whined loudly as she came down the stairs, looking right at Storvacker. “What's the point of recruiting a bear if you can't see the rest of the force's reaction to their new ally?”

“The bear is the recruit?” Cullen looked at her skeptically.

“Sure is.” Hawke nodded as she jumped off the final step.

“You recruited a bear.”

“Yup.”

“A bear?!”

“Hey, Storvacker is plenty strong and real clever. You didn't see her in action.” Hawke grinned. “Tell him, Herald.”

“Inquisitor,” Ebrisa began quietly, lingering anger lacing her words. “They brought him.”

“Him?” Hawke looked to the bear. “Thought you were a girl.”

“Caldansen,” Cullen added. “They said she is to decide his punishment.”

The Inquisitor sighed and twisted the ends of her hair. “Yeah, that was supposed to happen before we left. Their thane... our thane?” She glanced at Ebrisa, slightly confused, before shaking her head. “Thane Sun-Hair explained to me that the normal punishment is death.”

The mage dropped her mouth in surprise. “Death. For a... a kiss?”

Hawke pulled back. “Wha... no. You were so upset, I thought you knew.”

“Knew what?”

The Inquisitor folded her arms, glancing between the couple. “Finn was going to try and claim you as his own bride. Steal you. Not the cute little knot-tying thing they do, but, like, claim you. By... by force.”

A dark look passed over Cullen's face. “Death seems too easy a punishment.” He took a step towards the cells, but Ebrisa grabbed his arm.

“I-I'm sure its a misunderstanding,” she began in a shaky voice. “He was being aggressive and touching me, yes, but I don't think he would have-”

“He confessed,” Hawke cut her off. “It wasn't the best idea to try that out in the open surrounded by so many armed friends of yours, but he told the thane he would have claimed you for himself if Bull hadn't yanked him away.” She raised her eyes slowly, wincing at the mage's evident fear. “I know that isn't easy to hear, especially since what happened to you in the Circle, but you needed to know everything before making a decision.”

Ebrisa tightened her grip on Cullen's arm. “You... you know about the Circle?”

Hawke lowered her eyes again and nodded. “Vivienne had these letters from your First Enchanter about the assault, and though they didn't name you, it was easy enough to piece together from what Derrick told Leliana and us.”

The mage struggled to swallow her fear. “So... does everyone know about my... my...”

“No! Maker, are you kidding?” Hawke pushed past Cullen and grabbed hold of both Ebrisa's shoulders, squeezing them gently. “The only ones who know are the ones who were there, myself, Vivienne, and Leliana. I made them all swear to never breathe a word of it. It did not happen to us, it happened to you, and you decide who knows and when.”

Ebrisa took a calming breath and nodded. “Thank you, Inquisitor.”

“Now, about this punishment?”

“I- I can't do that.” The mage broke from the other woman and took a few steps back. “I can't be responsible for something like that.”

“I know its a bit intimidating, but I do it all the time.”

“Then do it this time!” Ebrisa shouted desperately. “Lady Flame-Touched defers to Inquisitor First-Thaw on this matter of Stone-Bear Hold. There. It's officially up to you now.”

Hawke folded her arms and looked the mage squarely in the eye. “Cullen? As one of my advisors, how do you think I should punish the man?”

“The Avvar tradition seems a good start,” he growled.

She hummed, still watching the Herald. “I agree with that. The question is, can the wounded party really leave this decision to me, knowing where I stand?”

Ebrisa struggled to find her voice, her mind unable to grasp the right words for a reply. She had been so furious with Finn, so filled with hatred, but she didn't want to be the reason he died. Should one vile idea – an idea he didn't even execute - be cause enough for death? If he was a wicked or lecherous man, if this was not his first attempt, if he had gone further... then maybe. No. Not even then. She could not be responsible for having him killed, even if it was not her personally wielding the headman's blade.

Though she had made light of it, even Hawke had shown mercy to some of those brought before her, saving executions for only the truly deserving. Was Finn on the same level as Erimond or Florianne, or even Mayor Dedrick? It seemed unrealistic to Ebrisa to think stealing her honor was on par with killing innocents.

“May I...have some time to think on it?” Ebrisa asked quietly, Hawke nodding her approval. “Alone?” She glanced at Cullen and almost regretted doing so. The man was standing rigid beside Hawke, hands fiercely gripping his crossed arms in an attempt to keep his fury at bay. He wanted Finn to be punished severely, possibly wanted to kill the man himself, but Ebrisa couldn't allow that. She wouldn't let Cullen stain his hands for her.

“If... that's what you need.” He said the words in such a tight voice that she almost couldn't make it out. “You know where to find me, if you change your mind.”

She nodded slowly and walked away, leaving the three fierce warriors behind. Ebrisa let her feet guide her across Skyhold, clutching the lucky amulet in her hand and rubbing her thumb against the casing absentmindedly. Why couldn't Svarah have dealt out a punishment and left Ebrisa unaware of Finn's fate? She was only an honorary member of the hold and not a true Avvar, so was there truly need for all of this? There laws were not her own... was death really the only punishment that would satisfy the hold?

Her wandering had taken her to the lower library, now cleaned and sorted, but still very much unintelligible. She sat down in the reupholstered chair at the end of the narrow room and lay her head in her hands, trying to find a better solution. A book flopped open on the desk before her, startling the mage upright. She inspected the shelving above, fearing it had gotten loose and was going to come crashing down at any moment, but the planks appeared to remain structurally sound.

“Ser Cole?” She called out to the room, knowing it could be no one else, but got no reply. Then again, she did want to be alone. Curiously, she began reading the open pages and was surprised to find it a journal of some sort. It was written in Olde Common, but she could make out most of what it said. It was a fur trapper's account of his time with a northern group of Avvar. He'd been captured, having wandered into their territory and stalking their game, but the small tribe grew to respect his skills and he spent the remainder of the winter teaching them foreign techniques on trapping. In his time there, he'd seen many trials of varying severity and the effect each punishment had on the accused. It seemed that death was not the only thing an Avvar could suffer.

~~~~~~~
There was a guard standing by, keeping an eye on Cullen as much as the prisoner, and the commander could not deny it needed to be that way. He handed his sword to one of the men outside the door as a precaution before walking into the main hall and stood silently at the base of the dais as the Avvar man was brought in for judgment, glaring intently as the prisoner approached.

The Avvar was by no means scrawny, but definitely smaller than Cullen and surprisingly seemed to be barely a man himself – no older than 20. For someone so young, so weak, to think he could steal away Ebrisa was maddening. Hawke sat imposingly on her throne, glancing between the two men before her and wondering if she shouldn't call Cullen back - the commander looked as though he would pounce at any moment. She saw his sword hand twitch and was thankful the blade wasn't resting at his hip.

“Finn Caldansen,” she bellowed into the room, sounding so much like his thane in that moment that the man jumped. “I will not repeat your crimes here. You know well the Avvar law you broke and that there is no defense for it. You have confessed to Thane Sun-Hair already, correct?”

“Yes, Inquisitor First-Thaw.” Finn raised his eyes. “I am ready for my punishment.”

Hawke leaned back in the throne, folding her hands. “I am ready to hear it as well.”

Ebrisa took a deep breath before stepping away from Hawke's side. “What you have done can not be forgiven, but I can not sentence a member of the hold to death because of transgressions against myself.” She could practically feel Cullen's look of disbelief. “Neither can I allow you to remain of the hold.” The few Avvar present began to murmur and when she finally forced her eyes to look at the prisoner, she saw the devastation on his face. “I hereby strip you of your father's name, of your ties to Stone-Bear Hold, and exile you to the Arbor Wilds of Orlais. May the Mountain Father and The Lady of the Sky show you mercy, for you will find no more of that here.” She turned her back and waited, hearing the sound of Finn being cut loose and lead away.

“Lady Flame-Touched...” Ivar came up behind her as the room began to empty. “When we return to the hold, I will see to it personally that Finn is removed from the records. Let us hope that when Caldan's spirit finds body again, he raises a better son.”

Ebrisa turned back to the man and nodded. “Will you all be returning soon?”

“Aye, all save Bjorn. He'll stay to help with Strovacker.” The man gave a half smile, still recovering a bit from the punishment. “Can't let her have the run of your fortress here, now can we?”

“Hey, it's my fortress,” Hawke grumbled as she joined them. “And I look forward to seeing Cullen training Storvacker with the other recruits.” She turned to where the commander had been standing, then quickly to the main door where she caught a glimpse of him disappearing down the steps with his sword back in his hand. She elected to stay quiet and hoped Ebrisa hadn't seen him too.

 

Cullen watched closely as Finn was given a horse and loaded with supplies, resting his hand on the hilt of his blade. He did not escape the Avvar's notice and when Finn turned to him fully, the man started at the dark fury burning in Cullen's eyes.

“I see you are dissatisfied with the punishment.”

The commander narrowed his eyes. “It seems incredibly lacking in severity.”

“To a lowlander who holds nothing beyond themselves precious, perhaps,” Finn grumbled.

In an instant, Cullen's sword was drawn and against the Avvar's neck. “I hold her precious.”

Finn did not try to pull away. “You are Flame-Touched's intended.”

“I was,” Cullen responded slowly. “Now I'm her husband.”

“That was quick.”

“Not quick enough, it would seem.”

Finn let out a deep breath. “And you would have me dead.”

“I would.” Cullen pulled back, but kept his sword at the ready. “But if Ebrisa wanted you to die, she would have sentenced you to it instead of simple banishment.”

“You think this fate is better?” Finn hung his head. “Lowlanders... No, this is far worse. I am no one now, I belong nowhere. I shall live as a ghost, and die unremembered.” He lifted his eyes to the sky and sighed heavily. “As she said, you have your hands full with her. Lady Flame-Touched is not to be trifled with.”

 

Chapter Text

After the Avvar left, Ebrisa had been spending as much time during the day away from Cullen as possible without seeming obvious about it. He was slow to notice the effort as Storvacker was quickly becoming a nuisance. Her handler suggested letting the beast spar in the ring and after several rounds of the soldiers barely lasting a few minuets, Cullen took it upon himself to show the men how it was done. He managed to keep the animal back and knock it to the ground, a moment in which any spar would have concluded, but when he turned to the spectators to explain the points of attack, Storvacker demonstrated just how much of a sore loser she was.

Cullen returned to his new quarters, shaking his hand in disgust. He started slightly to find Ebrisa kneeling before the shrine and she nearly dropped the candle she was holding in her own surprise. “You're praying in the middle of the day. Is something the matter?”

“No, I just..” She cleared her throat and extinguished the candle. “What brings you here? Finished for the day?”

“If only,” Cullen sighed as he moved to the wash basin on the vanity. He removed a glove and shook his head. “The Inquisitor's newest recruit is rather spoiled. Even with Bjorn there, the beast threw a fit when I bested her in the ring.” He cleaned the slobber away as he grumbled. “Your bear ate my glove and wouldn't release my hand for a solid minute.”

Ebrisa laughed from across the room and Cullen realized he had missed the sound, not hearing it since the bear first arrived. “I'll have a talk with Storvacker,” she giggled lightly. “She needs to understand that as part of your army, she must show you the proper respect.”

“You're going to talk... with a bear?” He set down the cloth, feeling no more trace of the animal's saliva.

“She's not just a bear, she's a hold-beast.” The mage stood up and dusted off her skirt. “Storvacker is quiet intelligent, you know. A fine addition to your forces, once she gets past her pouting.” Ebrisa fidgeted a bit as he looked at her, cheeks flushing faintly. “I-I'll go now. Whe-where is she?”

The commander furrowed his brow as he watched her, ignoring her question. Why hadn't he heard her laugh recently? Was he focusing too much on his duties and ignoring his wife? Even when he had much more work to do, he'd always found time for her before. Cullen crossed the room and took hold of her hands, resting his forehead against hers and sighing. “I'm sorry.”

“For what?” Ebrisa asked in a shaky voice.

“For not doing enough things like this,” he mumbled, nudging against her head slightly. “I go all day without seeing you and then just... take you at night. It's not right. Our marriage should be about more than sex.” The mage tried to pull away, but he held onto her. “I'm here for you. You are allowed to complain if I ignore you, you know.”

“Cullen, yo-you haven't... I've been – I don't – I'm...” Ebrisa attempted to break free again as her guilt became overwhelming. “Its me, I've... I've been avoiding you.”

He moved his head back to look at her, confused and slightly hurt. “Why? Because of that punishment?”

She took a deep, shaking breath. “No, that's not it. I... well, be-because practically everything you say or do now... it makes me... excited.”

Cullen blushed as she squirmed and averted her eyes. “Oh.”

“I-I can't help it.” Ebrisa's face burned in embarrassment and shame. “I thought if I distanced myself, maybe I wouldn't be so sensitive and I could think again, but it only makes it worse when I am near you.” She looked up briefly. “As made evident by... how loud I get when we're in bed.”

“I... I see.”

“Its like you said though. It's not right.” She frowned in mild anger at herself. “This isn't what was supposed to happen. How did I become so lustful?”

“It's my fault, obviously.” The man smirked slightly. “I've encouraged you too much.”

Ebrisa opened her mouth to protest, but stopped once she realized he was teasing her. “Cullen, I'm being serious.”

“As am I.” He drew a hand softly down her side, settling it on her hip as she shivered. “See? Entirely my fault.”

“You aren't making my body react this way. Well, you are, but...” Ebrisa lowered her eyes and took a deep breath. “Even your innocent touches set me a fire. Those you don't do on purpose.”

“Perhaps its an Ostwick thing for a wife to find shame in desiring her husband,” Cullen mused quietly. “Strange.”

“Bu-but... all the time?” She brought her fingers to her burning face. “This can't be normal...”

“Can you imagine how little we would have accomplished if I did take you before the march to Mythal?” He continued. “Thank the Maker the war ended first.”

“Cullen!” Ebrisa smacked his arm. “Stop being so dismissive about this.”

The commander raised a brow. “Are you asking for some sort of punishment for you actions, Wife?”

“I... I suppose,” she mumbled softly, keeping her head down.

“Very well. Come along then.” Cullen sighed and ushered the woman to his office, instructing her to sit in the corner chair. “I have work to do, so stay put until I'm done.” The mage began to say something, but was cut off. “And no talking. Sit there and watch and say nothing.”

Ebrisa did as she was told to the best of her ability, fidgeting every so often. The runners and officers who came into the room to speak with the commander or deliver reports regarded her curiously as she sat silently but Cullen, for his part, continued his work as if there was nothing going on at all. He did hide a periodic smirk behind his hand and watched her from the corner of his eye, but managed to keep his full gaze away and expression relatively neutral. He wondered how long she would really sit there...

“Commander,” a runner began at the opened door. “The Inquisitor has called a meeting. They await you in the...” The elf looked over the quiet mage in the corner. “In the war room.”

Cullen stood from the desk. “Something vital must have just come in. I'll be right there.”

“Ser.” The elf nodded and left, continuing to her next task.

He was uncertain what the meeting could be about, but was eager to put the bear recruit to some actual use. Perhaps he could convince the Inquisitor to send the beast to visit other Avvar encampments and gain some allies in the Frostbacks. They could always use some helpful neighbors. Cullen exited his office and closed the door without a word, leaving Ebrisa to fidget awkwardly by herself. He didn't expect her to stay there long and sighed lightly for having to step away. What was the fun of putting his wife in time-out if he didn't get to watch?

~~~~~~~

It had gotten late, but Cullen was still not back. Ebrisa knew that the meetings could run quiet long and that it really must have been about something important to demand so much attention. She watched the final candle in the room as it melted smaller and smaller until it too flickered out entirely. Ebrisa resisted the urge to sigh or get up and fetch a new candle, so she sat silently in the dark and waited.

Sera had snuck in earlier and went straight to Cullen's desk. She lifted the corner to slip something underneath one of the legs, but swore loudly when she noticed the mage looking at her. “Friggen piss, Herald!” The elf put a hand to her frantically beating heart. “Scared the shite outta me!” Ebrisa just tilted her head quizzically. “Oh, I weren't doin' nothing.” Sera quickly retrieved the bit of wood and shook the desk. “See? Completely stable. Nothing wonky here.” She laughed nervously. “What are you doing in here all on your lonesome? On the lookout for pranksters? They're a tricky lot.”

Ebrisa lowered her head and folded her hands in her lap, but didn't say anything.

“Well, supper is just about up. Let's go get some grub, yeah?” Sera tugged lightly on the mage's arm, but Ebrisa gripped onto the chair tightly and shook her head emphatically. “What? Going to wait for Hubby?” The mage kept her eyes down and blushed, but still wouldn't talk. The elf looked the other woman over oddly before sighing and tossing her hands in the air. “Right then, suit yourself. More cakes for me, yeah?”

That must have been nearly an hour ago. Maybe not so long, but it was hard to gauge the passage of time from her corner. If it had been, that would mean supper was over. Ebrisa truly wasn't hungry anyways, the mere idea of food often made her a bit queasy. She wondered if she might have caught some sort of illness from all the traveling she'd done as she was becoming increasingly tired as the days wore on. Cullen seemed to be fine, so whatever she may have contracted wasn't contagious at least. Could her sensitivity also be a symptom of that? If only Solas or Vivienne were still in Skyhold, then she could consult one of them about it. She didn't know any of the healers well enough to feel comfortable discussing it with them and she was sure Dorian would only tease her. The Herald supposed she could read through books in the library about known ailments and see if anything matched... alphabetically... oh, that would take a while. One was rarely fortunate enough to find what they were looking for in A.

~~~~~~~~

Hawke stepped out into the hall and nearly groaned at seeing the meal was winding down. Blackwall waved her over to the plate he'd saved for her and the Inquisitor was filled with more adoration for the man than she should have been for such a simple feat. “Thom, you're my favorite, you know that?”

He chuckled as she sat down and began eating. “I should very much hope so.”

The advisors walked out as well, Leliana grabbing a small loaf of bread and some soft cheese from a table as she passed before heading back to the rookery. Sera looked up as Cullen surveyed the room slowly. “Looking for Wifey?” The elf called out over the noise. “Tried to bring her down, but Herald wouldn't leave your office. Hugged the chair and everything.” She nearly snorted at the behavior.

Cullen held back one as well as he made his way to his office. He opened the door to the dark room and frowned - someone usually came by to restock his candles. “Ebrisa?” There was no reply, but he did catch the sound of shifting fabric. The man chuckled quietly. “Punishment is over. You're free to move and speak.”

Ebrisa stood up and groaned slightly at the stiffness in her back. “I hoped you would come back soon,” she mumbled as she met him in the light of the doorway.

“Did you think I forgot about you?” Cullen smirked lightly as she nearly pouted.

“No... but... it was a long time.”

“It was. How long were you sitting in the dark?”

The woman chewed on her lip in thought. “Ten... fifteen minuets? It was hard to tell.”

Cullen chuckled again. “I'd say your first lesson in discipline went quiet well.” He motioned her forward. “Come on then, there's still some food left for us. If you were hoping for something sweet, I'm afraid Sera took care of those already.”

Ebrisa followed close behind him, noting that she did seem to have a firmer grasp on her desire. She still wanted to feel the heat from his body on hers, but she wasn't overwhelmed with the urge to throw herself against him in order to get it. Having the thing she longed for right in front of her and being denied both it and by it was exceedingly difficult, but she somehow managed to get through the task and came out better for it.

They sat at a mostly empty table and Cullen picked through the leftover dishes until he gathered enough food for them. He ate quietly for a bit, but paused once he noticed his wife had yet to touch her plate. “Ebrisa? Are you not hungry?”

“I... I had a big lunch,” she mumbled quietly, trying to not look at the meal before her. The way the grease slid down the meat and roasted vegetables made her stomach churn.

“Lies,” Josephine huffed from several spaces away. “You never came to lunch and the kitchen staff assures me you asked them for nothing.”

The commander frowned in concern. “You need to eat something.”

“But I don't-”

Eat,” Cullen practically ordered, Josephine giggling quietly as she held her own fork aloft.

Ebrisa winced as she looked her plate over and secured a piece of cut meat with her fork. She glanced at Cullen, who continued to level a stern look at her, then took a steadying breath and placed the food in her mouth. She chewed for a bit, then slapped a hand over her mouth and shook her head in disgust. She jumped to her feet and rushed outside to the upper yard until she could lean against a wall and spit out the meat into the grass. The mage felt her stomach clench as though she would vomit, but there was nothing inside to expel, making her dry heave quietly instead.

She flinched as Cullen placed a hand on her back, but relaxed when he began to rub in soothing circles. “I'm sorry, I shouldn't have forced you.”

“No its... you're right, I do need to eat.” Ebrisa wiped at her mouth and sighed. “Maybe bread and fruit would be okay. Everything else just seems so... ugh, I can't even describe it.”

“Are you unwell? You should have said something,” the commander said quietly. “Or I should have noticed.”

She turned around and rested her head on his chest, the man adjusting his arms to hold her gently and continue rubbing her back. “My anxiety from my improper thoughts and behavior, I think. Don't worry, it should pass now that we've discussed it.”

“Part of me wants to test how susceptible you remain to my coaxing, but the majority wants you to be on the mend first.” He planted a soft kiss to her temple. “Go back to our quarters. I'll bring you something... less ugh to eat.”

Ebrisa laughed meekly and complied, stepping away and into the tavern to cross the battlements that way. “Its different, but its okay.” Cole said softly behind her as she reached for the door at the top of the Herald's Rest. “Changing. Everything is changing.”

“Ser Cole?” She wasn't entirely sure what he as talking about. The Inquisition? They had already lost four members and many of their forces. New recruits and pledges of aide came in everyday, but they would never be as they once were.

The young man smiled shyly at the mage. “I like being able to hear you. I can help.” Then he disappeared.
~~~~~~~~~~~

That long meeting the Inquisitor had was regarding helping the dwarven kingdom of Orzammar. There were no rifts in the deep roads, but a strange series of quakes had destroyed a vital lyrium mine and cracked open several seals that had kept the darkspawn at bay. This is where the Inquisition came in. They were no Grey Wardens, but King Bhelen knew that they would help if called upon.

Cullen was able to convince Hawke to not bring the Herald along since the anchor would not be needed. He was extremely apprehensive about sending his wife to the deep roads to fight blighted creatures with the possibility that rocks could crush her at any moment. He wasn't about to become a widower after only a few weeks of marriage if he could help it.

So Hawke, Blackwall, Dorian, and Sera left for the destroyed mine in the early morning a few days later, Iron Bull staying behind to ensure he wouldn't be mistaken for an ogre. That wasn't the real reason, but that's what the qunari decided to tell everyone anyways. Krem wasn't sure who the big goof was trying to impress with that.

Ebrisa had seen them off while sipping some ginger tea with honey, something that seemed to accompany all her meals now - Cole's doing, no doubt. The warm drink did help reduce the queasiness eating brought on, but she still ate very little. Despite her reduced diet, she found some dresses to be rather uncomfortable to wear, especially the ones that fit snugly against her breasts. She suspected it had to do with her increased sensitivity and hoped it would pass soon as there weren't many dresses with loose fitting bodices hanging in her wardrobe.

With nothing demanding her attention, Ebrisa worked on her lengthy task of searching through medical tomes for what could be affecting her. Despite what Cullen teased, she highly doubted her level of desire was common and added it to her symptoms. She had been feeling a bit lightheaded that day and decided to read the books in the library itself instead of bringing them back and forth to her quarters as she had the days prior. The mage almost wished there was some cure-all tonic she could take and get back to normal already. The volume listed nothing even close to what she surely had and the Herald closed it with a resounding slam, sending dust into the air. She coughed heavily, feeling the dizziness in her head increase.

“My lady?” Josephine stepped into the alcove, on her way to see Leliana. “It is unusual for you to read in here. Did you need assistance researching something?”

“Oh!” The mage let out a final cough and stood up quickly to give proper greeting. “Lady Mon...” Ebrisa's eyes rolled up as she fell straight down to the floor, the book skittering to the side. Josephine screamed as the other woman lay in a heap, several people rushing over to see what was wrong. Leliana hurried down the steps and through the crowd, moving to the mage's side and checking her vitals.

“Her pulse is weak, but she seems otherwise alright.” The Orlesian looked up. “Josie, what happened?”

“I-I don't know!” Josephine panicked slightly. “She stood up to greet me and then just, collapsed.”

Leliana hummed worriedly. “We should bring her to the infirmary to be on the safe side.” She motioned for two others to carry the woman. “Josie, go with them. I'll inform the commander.”

 

Chapter Text

Despite Corypheus being dead, his scattered forces where still very much a problem. Some of the Tevinter held on strongly that their master would return at any moment and destroy the nonbelievers, as promised. It was a sad, desperate hope, but at least their limited resources stopped them from making too much red lyrium. Besides using Caer Bronach as a base of operations for hunting the cultist foreigners and tainted knights in Fereldan, the Inquisition's forces spent much time stabilizing areas and assisting with relief efforts. It was important to show Thedas that they were more than just an angry fist smashing down on enemies. They were doing good – helping people – and making the world a safer place then it had been since the sky first split open.

Cullen nodded approvingly at the status report from the Hinterlands where Corporal Vale was working along side Arl Teagan's men to rid the area of lingering bandits and help restore people to their homes. Fereldan had seen much over the years – everywhere had seen much – and it did the commander good to hear his homeland was recovering, albeit slowly.

There was a knock on the door, but it opened without waiting for a reply. A small step in the right direction. “Cullen,” Leliana began softly.

He stood up immediately. She rarely called him by name. “What is it? What's happened?”

“Its likely nothing, but the Herald has collapsed,” she continued, moving out of the way of the door. “We've taken her to be looked over.”

Cullen rushed past her, as she knew he would, and headed straight for the infirmary. Had Ebrisa still not been eating? Perhaps she truly was ill and was hiding symptoms from him so he wouldn't worry. A foolish strategy, but also something he wouldn't put past her. He saw Josephine holding her fingers to her mouth outside the small building, finding her nervous pacing did nothing to relieve his own worry. She looked up as he drew near and dropped her hand.

“Commander. They're examining her now.” She took a deep breath. “I would think this nothing if not for her strange behavior recently. Have you noticed she's been wearing the same four dresses for two weeks?”

“I... hadn't.” Cullen furrowed his brow. What else had he failed to notice? Were there clues he should have picked up on? “I'm not doing a very good job at this husband thing.”

Josephine was quick to protest. “That is untrue! You make her happy, Cullen. No wife could ask for more.”

The door opened and the healer motioned Cullen inside. Just Cullen. “Commander, we did find something, but I wanted more information before confirming.” The older woman glanced at the warmly bundled Herald laying peacefully on the cot. “Has there been anything strange going on with her? A change in behavior or eating habits?”

“Yes, actually, she's had a drastic loss of appetite.” Cullen cleared his throat. “For food. Loss of appetite for food. Says that even looking at it makes her unwell sometimes.”

“Hmm.” The woman nodded. “And you felt the need to clarify the appetite loss was for food because...?”

The commander blushed slightly and looked around the room, finding the others there watching him. He leaned in and answered in a quieter tone. “She's become rather sensitive and... excitable. Intimately. Ebrisa was concerned by it, but since she hadn't... been intimate with anyone before our marriage I didn't think much of it.”

“I see. And where is the sensitivity located?”

“Does it matter?” He paused at the stern look the older woman gave him and sighed. “Right. Healer. Of course it matters.” Cullen rubbed his neck and looked away. “When we're intimate, she's more... expressive than before. And... her breasts are especially tender.”

The healer hummed and smiled slowly. “That coupled with the fainting and what we've sensed proves it.” She chuckled softly and patted a hand on his shoulder. “You certainly work fast, Commander.”

“I what?”

 

Ebrisa shifted under the thick blanket, feeling sweaty, and sat up slowly. She remembered being in the rotunda's library and Josephine stopping by, but what happened after that? Cullen looked at her suddenly from across the infirmary, then back at the healer he was talking with, seemingly bewildered at whatever it was she had told him. He moved quickly to her side and took her hand, switching between smiling and disbelief.

“How, um, how are you feeling?” He stumbled over his words and brushed back some hair from her sweaty brow.

“What happened?” The mage pulled the blankets back further and tugged at her neckline, trying to get air to her heated skin.

“You're – that is you – you fainted.” Cullen shook his head slightly. “They brought you in here and when the healers looked you over... you...” He let out a tight laugh. “They say you're...”

She sat up straighter and looked around the room as the workers pretended to be very busy and kept their backs to the couple. “I'm what?”

“Ebrisa, you're... with child.” Cullen grinned widely at her, unable to keep his excitement at bay.

“I'm what?” She repeated. “But we've – I mean – we've only – Cullen, it's barely been a month!”

“Yes, well.” He rubbed at his neck. “We have been rather.... enthusiastic, wouldn't you agree? The healer says all your ailments and... behaviors are likely a result of the pregnancy.”

Ebrisa covered her mouth in shock. “That means I conceived in less than a week,” she mumbled. “That is really fast. Isn't it fast? It feels very fast.”

Cullen took hold of her cheek and caressed it with his thumb. “It is soon, yes, but I thought you'd be happy.” He looked at her with concern. “Don't you want this?”

“Oh, Love, of course I do!” Ebrisa wrapped her arms around his neck and held him tightly. “Of course I'm happy – I'm ecstatic! I just don't know if you've adjusted to married life yet, and now I'm forcing fatherhood on you. You already deal with so much and I... I feel like I've made you change too much as it is.”

Cullen pulled out of her embrace and kissed her slowly and sweetly, silencing her concerns. “Do I seem upset by the change to you?” He mumbled against her lips. “I've told you before that this is something I've longed for. Did you think I wouldn't be aware of what this entailed?” He rested his forehead to hers and nudged it. “Besides, I think that technically, I forced motherhood on you.”

Ebrisa blushed as a healer stifled a laugh and she remembered where they were. She looked up to the older woman, almost pleadingly. “You are certain? I am with child?”

The mage healer smiled and nodded. “It is small, barely becoming anything, but it is there.” She straightened her robes. “I was a midwife before the war called for more healers than birthers.”
~~~~~~~~~~~

It took every ounce of self control Cullen had to not immediately spread the news around, but Ebrisa agreed to his plan and the pair stayed quiet until the Inquisitor returned to Skyhold. Josephine was, of course, very concerned about what had happened, but took their explanation that the Herald had simply not been eating enough as reason for her fainting. Now that he knew the true reason, however, Cullen was more adamant than before that his wife eat properly and would watch her do so until he was satisfied it was a sufficient amount, no matter how long it took.

The commander stood in the war room with his arms folded and working hard to keep his expression neutral as Hawke relayed what had happen in the deep roads. He was certainly glad Ebrisa had not gone with them. Darkspawn, strange lyrium infused dwarves, miles upon miles of rock above head... the very idea filled him with trepidation.

“Turns out Dagna was right, lyrium is alive.” Hawke let out a small laugh. “The quakes have stopped and the mine will be up again soon, so mission complete.” She set her hands on her hips and looked around the room. “So, anything happen while I was gone?”

Leliana and Josephine both quietly denied, but Cullen cleared his throat. “Actually, Inquisitor, we did discover something vitally important. This will likely change much.”

Leliana looked at him curiously. “What are you referring to? I have heard nothing.”

“Indeed.” Josephine became concerned. “What is it?”

He let a grin finally slip across his face as the others looked at him expectantly. “Ebrisa is with child.”

They stared for a long while before Josephine finally screamed and threw herself against the commander in an enthusiastic hug. “This is momentous news! So quick, but not unwanted! Oh, this does explain her odd behavior – I knew you were hiding something!” She pulled away and turned to the others. “Have you nothing to say?” She laughed through her excitement.

“Its certainly... a change.” Leliana tried to mask her surprise. “And here I thought I was aware of everything in Skyhold.”

“Did you...” Hawke looked at the man suspiciously. “Did you wait on telling anyone just so you could one-up my report?”

Cullen smirked. “Perhaps.”

“You sneaky, son of a...” the Inquisitor mumbled as she moved around the table and punched him solidly in the arm with a wide grin. “That's not fair! I worked very hard for all that boasting!”

 

Ebrisa continued playing on the harp as the loud scream rang out through the keep, despite her small audience now being a bit distracted. She ended the piece early with an exaggerated trill when she heard Josephine's office door crash open and carefully moved away from the harp, not wanting it to get damaged.

The ambassador bolted across the hall and pulled the mage into a tight embrace, bubbling with excitement. “This is so wonderful! I can't believe that- ah!” She quickly released her grip and held her hands worriedly over the Herald's stomach. “I didn't mean to – are you alright? I must remember to be careful, but it's so- oh!” She hugged the blonde again, this time not quite so tightly.

Sera scratched her head and pulled a face. “The ambassador isn't talking right.”

“Yes, what exactly has her so opposed to using complete sentences?” Dorian touched his chin lightly as he looked the women in the front of the room over, trying to piece it together. Josephine stepped back, holding further squeals at bay with her hand as Cullen moved to his wife's side and placed an arm around her shoulders. The Tevinter's eyes widened slightly in realization, but he kept quiet.

“Everyone?” Ebrisa began meekly, cheeks faintly tinged pink. “We have an announcement to make. Cullen and I are - well, I guess he isn't – but...” She became a bit flustered and slipped a hand to her stomach. “I'm with child.”

Iron Bull let out a hearty laugh. “Aha! I thought something was up! You two are so touchy and awkward anyways that I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but this makes perfect sense.”

“Figured something had to happen with all that noise at night,” Blackwall mused quietly, but still loud enough for the others to hear.

Ebrisa blushed furiously. “Wha-what?! You mean you could... can... hear us?”

Blackwall reddened a bit himself. “Oh. Well, I wasn't going to say anything. You are married, after all. You're allowed to be... enthusiastic.”

The elf leaned over. “So, Beardy, what's it sound like? Lots of praising the Maker, yeah?”

“That is not something open for discussion!” Cullen shouted angrily, cheeks burning. “Don't make me regret telling you all.”

Ebrisa shook her head to try and rid some of her embarrassment. “This is something you would have all figured out sooner or later - the pregnancy, I mean, not the... other thing, hopefully – but I didn't want to tell you just to get ahead of the curve.” She took a breath and smiled at the remaining members of the inner circle. “The Inquisition has gone through a lot together – good and bad. We've come to rely upon one another and, though some of us have left and many more will as time goes on, I'd like to think we will always be close. Cullen, Hawke, Josephine, Leliana, Cole, Iron Bull, Blackwall, Dorian, Sera, Varric, Cassandra, Vivienne, Solas... each of you is like family to me now, possibly more so than those in Ostwick and South Reach. Family deserves to know these sorts of things.” The room watched her quietly as she began to fidget. Perhaps that was a bit much to say.

The elf frowned slightly. “So... I'm not Sera-Sera anymore?”

“I told you,” Hawke smiled lightly, getting over the shock slowly. “It's Serrah Sera.”

“Was not!” The archer protested. “I was Sera-Sera! It made me feel special...”

Ebrisa covered her mouth and giggled softly. “I am dropping the titles, but I can call you Sera-Sera if you'd like.”

“Yes!” Sera pumped a fist excitedly. “I get a special name from Herald.” She paused and looked at the blonde woman. “But if you... should we not call you Herald?”

The mage lowered her eyes and tried to hide her pout. “I would... prefer if you didn't, actually. At least not in private.”

“Right then, I can do this.” Sera thought for a moment, mulling over names in her head. “Think I'll call you.... Brizy. Not quite like the Circle name, cause that place was shite to you, but its still nice, innit?”

“Yes, Sera-Sera,” Ebrisa laughed and wiped a tear from her eye. “It's still nice.”

 

Chapter Text

Hawke stepped onto the dock and took a good look around the still struggling harbor. Kirkwall used to be a bustling port – one of the the largest in trade in the Free Marches – but the rebellion and ensuing madness had cost the city-state much. On the surface, things looked miles better, but it was obvious from the way the dock master shuffled about his tasks that there was a long, long way to go before things were back to normal. Well, as normal as they could get.

“Welcome back, Hawke!” Varric called out as he approached, laughing lightly. “Ah, its good to see you. Kirkwall has missed her Champion.” He glanced behind him at the other two figures. “Someone else has missed you too.”

The Inquisitor's eyes widened before she rushed forward and wrapped her arms around the warm neck. “I haven't heard anything, so I was beginning to worry! I'm so glad you're alright – you keep the guard in line?” She glanced up from her mabari at the woman standing beside him. “Oh. Hey, Aveline.”

“Oh hey? All I get is an Oh hey?” The Guard-Captain grumbled and folded her arms. “Any one not from Fereldan would be greatly offended that you went to your dog first.”

Hawke began squishing the dog's face affectionately. He rolled onto his back and she scurried her fingers over the exposed stomach. “But Deshyr is such a good boy!” She looked up at the red-haired woman and smirked. “What's the matter? Jealous? Donnic not giving you enough belly rubs of your own?”

Aveline frowned in disapproval, but couldn't stop her cheeks from heating. “Everything at home is fine, and I'll thank you to not bring it up again while I'm on duty.”

“Yes ma'am!” The Inquisitor stood up and wrapped an arm around the captain's shoulders. “On an unrelated note, when will you be off duty?”

“Not that I don't enjoy getting Aveline riled up, but didn't you bring Sunshine with you?” Varric looked back to the ship and watched the crew unload cargo and luggage. “I mean, you're swell and all, Hawke, but practically useless for sealing these rifts we got popping up.”

“I'm sure Cullen will bring her out any second.” The Inquisitor shrugged.

“The Knight-Commander came along?” Aveline raised a brow. “I thought that after all that happened, he would avoid Kirkwall.”

“I keep telling you, Aveline, there's no knight anymore. Just commander,” Varric sighed.

“Regardless, he's been practically glued to the Herald's side for months.” Hawke rolled her eyes and set her hands on her hips. “Its getting pretty annoying, actually.”

“Still in the honeymoon phase, huh?” The dwarf chuckled.

Hawke let out a sound of disgust that would make Cassandra proud. “I wish. He was at least a little reasonable then.”

 

Ebrisa took a deep breath of fresh air as she stepped onto the deck. Cullen had all but forbade her from going outside the entire journey, concerned that she would get sick from the chill sea air and icy spray. He tried his best to stay in the cabin with her as much as possible, but needed to take breaks periodically from the confined space. They were few and far between, but he still found them frustrating. She made for the ramp, but Cullen quickly took hold of her hand and waist to support her. “I can manage,” Ebrisa mumbled. “It's not very long.”

“There's no railing,” he argued quietly as he helped her from the ship. “Remember, you agreed to this.”

“I know, I know.” The mage smiled tiredly as she recalled the array of stipulations her husband had made in order for her to make the journey at all. It was rather unfair of him to do so, since Ebrisa was the only one who could seal the rifts and really did have to go.

They didn't get very far up the dock before a large dog came charging at them and pounced on Ebrisa. She fell back, but Cullen held her firmly around the waist, using the other hand to push the mabari away.

“Deshyr! At ease!” Aveline ordered sternly. The dog whined softly and lowered its ears as it backed away. “Apologies, miss,” the captain sighed. “He must have smelled something flowery on you. The dog's more girly than his master.” She shot an amused look behind her at Hawke.

“I'll have you know that I wore a dress last year.” The Inquisitor folded her arms. “Tell her, Varric.”

The dwarf ignored his friend and stared as Cullen eased the mage upright. “Are you injured? Mabari are war dogs, after all.” The commander placed a hand gently to her stomach. “I should have noticed him charging up.”

Ebrisa lay her hand over his and sighed. “I'm alright. Surprised, but alright.”

Varric set his hand on top of theirs and smiled at the swell beneath. “Sunshine, look at you! There's a person growing inside you!”

She giggled softly as Varric pressed his ear to her stomach. “I've notice.”

“Why did no one tell me about this?” The dwarf turned back and glared at Hawke. “I specifically asked you to keep me in the loop.”

“I thought someone else already did.” The Inquisitor shrugged.

“I'm sorry,” Ebrisa began softly. “I should have written you, but I thought Josephine included you in the formal announcements she sent.”

The dwarf held onto his frown for a moment longer before going back to his excitement. “How far along are you?”

The Herald blushed and pulled her cloak tightly around herself. “Six months...”

“But you've only been married six...” Varric turned to Cullen and slowly smirked. “Made up for lost time, huh?”

The commander was well past the point of being embarrassed, having heard every possible comment and snide remark over the months already. “Yes, and there's nothing wrong with starting a family early.” He placed a hand gently on the small of Ebrisa's back and began to guide her down the wide dock, leaving Varric to silently grumble about the failed teasing.

Hawke had insisted they stay at her family estate and made arrangements for the luggage to be delivered there, allowing the group to walk through the city unencumbered. It was surreal for Hawke and Cullen to see buildings and streets they knew to be destroyed smooth and sturdy once again. Lowtown, where much of the fighting got out of hand, still showed signs of battle with scorch marks high up on walls and large cracks mended sloppily with mismatched materials. The only place that really seemed to have been properly restored was the Hanged Man. Since it was like a second home to Varric, it really didn't surprise anyone that the tavern got special treatment. It was still a dive, but it was the dive it used to be.

Hightown looked as though it had never seen a day of conflict at all, the flagstones even and buildings polished. The only thing that the nobility couldn't hide was the Chantry. The rubble had been cleared and a new cathedral was under construction, but the limited clergy had to work from a small, disheveled building to the side. Hawke held back a growl of disgust at the skewed priorities and ushered the group into the family estate.

“As I said before, I am on duty.” Aveline handed Cullen a map of Kirkwall. “Not that I think you forgot you're way around, Knight-Commander, but I took the liberty of marking those rifts for you.”

“Yes, thank you.” Cullen took the rolled parchment. “And its just Commander, Guard-Captain.”

“Right. I knew that.” Aveline waved a hand. “Old habits, I suppose.” She called out to Hawke and Varric, promising to come by later, before nodding at the pregnant woman beside the former templar and leaving.

Hawke looked around the home, feeling strange at how nothing had changed in her absence. She let out a breath and shook her head, leading the group to a table. Cullen unrolled the map and set small items on the corners to keep it flat. “I thought you said there were three rifts.” Hawke raised a brow at the dwarf. “There's four here.”

“Well another one popped up on Sundermount since I wrote you last.” Varric shrugged.

“You're certain its new?” Ebrisa said worriedly. “It wasn't just overlooked before?”

“Afraid not, Sunshine. The Inquisition forces have been doing real thorough patrols on Curly's order.” The dwarf looked up slowly. “Speaking of, where'd he go?”

Cullen came back into the room with a chair and set it down beside Ebrisa. He gave her a stern look and she sighed quietly before sitting down. Varric looked at the couple quizzically. “I am supposed to sit at every opportunity,” the mage mumbled in explanation, making the dwarf snicker. “Back to my concern,” she sighed. “Its been over seven months since the second Breach was sealed and instead of slowing down, the rifts seem to be appearing exponentially over Kirkwall instead.”

“A lot has happened here. A lot of death, a lot of dark magic...” Cullen said quietly, leaning on the chair back slightly. “The rest of the Free Marches has seen very little. There was Ostwick's rift and rumors in Tantervale, but that one was quickly dismissed.” He glanced down at his wife. “Honestly, I think the devout locals just wanted to meet the Herald of Andraste.”

She looked up at him and pouted. “There are much easier ways to do so that don't involve forcing a temporary whole in the Veil. Let us hope others don't follow Tantervale's example.”

Cullen hummed in agreement and reached over the map. “If I recall correctly, you fought some sort of demon on Sundermount, right?”

“Yeah...” Hawke folded her arms and looked over the marked locations more closely. “Merrill thought a demon there could help her fix the corrupted eluvian, and then her keeper took the monster into herself so we could kill it. Then, further down the mountain... her clan attacked us. We... we had to kill them all.”

“And here there were some blood mages turning templars into abominations.” Varric tapped at a location in Darktown.

“And this place...” Hawke drew her finger in a slow circle around a marked spot in Lowtown. “This is where Mother... where she...”

“Hawke?” Ebrisa asked quietly, the only one in the room to not know what had happened.

“It's fine. I'm fine.” The Inquisitor shook her head and straightened. “The point is each rift has appeared where something pretty devastating happened.”

“The Veil worn thin years ago, and then the Breach finally allowing it to rupture...” Ebrisa mused quietly. “But if that's the case, then why isn't there anything at the Gallows?”

“There's not anything yet,” Varric grumbled. “Give it time...”

“For now, we can take care of what's already here.” Cullen moved away from the table and came back with a writing board, quickly jotting down orders. “I'll need to get word to our forces here and see if the rifts in or out of the city are worse off. I didn't hear screaming in the streets, so I'm guessing the ones in Lowtown and Darktown haven't spewed out any demons yet.”

“Yeah, Aveline has those areas blocked off and well guarded.” Varric sighed. “Not sure how long she can keep curious locals away though.”

“Dealing with the ones on Sundermount will likely take an entire day, depending on how many soldiers we bring with us.” Cullen mused, flipping up the sheet and writing another set of orders. “We'll need to secure a mount for that.”

“The mountain isn't that steep.” Hawke shrugged. “We can walk it just fine.”

We can, but I'm not about to let this one try.” He tapped Ebrisa lightly on the head with the board without looking up, pausing only slightly from his writing to do so. The mage blushed and sighed again.

Varric chuckled and leaned over to the Inquisitor. “Why did you say Curly was annoying? I happen to think his overprotective actions are rather cute, in a I'll punch the harm away sort of fashion.”

“Give it time,” Hawke groaned.

 

Chapter Text

With the troops reporting slight demon activity on the mountain, Cullen went ahead and made preparations to secure Sundermount in the morning. Aveline returned that evening, as promised, but informed the group that she could not accompany them outside the city. She had the guard to direct and a frightened city to protect - the Guard-Captain leaving the walls would likely ensue panic. Hawke was disappointed, but the other woman swore she would aide with the other rifts when the time came to rid Kirkwall of those.

Ebrisa became tired early into Aveline's visit and Hawke helped her up the main stairs to a room directly off the landing. She hesitated for a moment, then pushed open the door and motioned the mage inside. “You two can sleep in here, just do me a favor? No hanky-panky, okay?”

“You don't have to worry about that,” Ebrisa quickly agreed. “Besides the fact that this is your family home and you'll be right next door, I'm not exactly very enticing in my current state.” She opened the luggage on the bed and sighed. The pregnancy had not been so bad at first, but over the past couple of months the tiny bump in her abdomen had increased to an embarrassing size. It was as if someone shoved a mixing bowl under her clothes, a sentiment made all the more prominent by the high-waisted and heavily gathered dresses she now had to wear. Josephine had been more than accommodating in trying to find flattering clothing, but Ebrisa knew it was a fool's errand. She didn't know how Cullen could even stand to look at her these days.

Hawke leaned against the fireplace and folded her arms. “Do you want me to hit you or shall I fetch your husband?”

“I'd prefer to not be hit at all, actually.” The mage sifted through the clothing, looking for her nightdress.

“Then go look at yourself in a mirror,” Hawke sighed. “You are kind of big, but not unattractive. Know how Sera is always going on about you glowing? You are definitely doing that now.”

“That's kind of you, but...” Ebrisa trailed off, still feeling very much like an overstuffed pillow. She looked around the room as Hawke knelt down and started the fire. “Was this... Ser Bethany's room?”

“Ah, no.” The dark haired woman struck at the flint a few more times until the kindling caught. “Bethany never lived here. She contracted the Blight sickness during our expedition to the deep roads and joined the Wardens down there to survive. I used the money from the stuff we found to buy back the Amell family estate. This was... this was Mother's room.”

“Oh.” The mage stood quietly for a while, watching the Inquisitor stare into the flames.

“You're not going to ask what happened?” Hawke sounded tired.

“Earlier today you seemed upset when you mentioned her. I don't imagine it was anything... pleasant.” Ebrisa said the words as softly as she could. “I don't want to force you into remembering anything painful.”

Hawke stood up and sighed heavily. “It was painful. I spent so much time helping other people and stopping baddies that I didn't have the time to protect the last bit of true family I had here. There was... a crazy, crazy man. Obsessed with a dead lover or something. He'd slowly been abducting and killing woman, gathering... parts so he could recreate the person he'd lost with blood magic.” She drew her fingers over the mantle, sweeping up a small trace of dust the cleaners had missed. “Mother was the final piece he needed...”

Ebrisa held a hand over her mouth, completely horrified. She knew that Kirkwall had been unstable long before the Chantry explosion, but for something like that to happen inside the city? No wonder the Veil was so thin. She moved over to the other woman, lifting her arms and shifting around her awkwardly.

“What are you doing?” Hawke turned around, raising a brow.

“I was trying to give you a hug, but finding an appropriate angle to use with this belly is proving rather difficult...” the mage mumbled, still trying to figure it out. She slipped in under Hawke's arm and held her from the side. “I think this is the best I can manage, but I am so sorry for your loss.”

The Inquisitor chuckled lightly at the awkward embrace. “Well, thanks for the effort, Brizy. I appreciate it.” She untangled herself and shook her head. “I thought you were going to sleep.”

“Yes, I am, sorry.” Ebrisa fumbled and backed away. “Good night, Hawke.”

“Night.” The Inquisitor left the room and paused at the top of the stairs. She quickly went back inside and hugged the mage from behind, catching her in the middle of unlacing her dress.

“Hawke?”

The short-haired woman rested her chin on the mage's shoulder. “Thank you. Really.”

Ebrisa smiled lightly and patted the warrior's arm. “Of course.”
~~~~~~~

The Inquisition soldiers met them at the base of the mountain, saluting their Inquisitor and Commander before dipping their heads respectfully to the mounted Herald. “Mainly wraiths wandering out so far, Commander,” one soldier reported. “I'm afraid there is a pride demon stalking about.”

Hawke groaned loudly. “Andraste's blazing knickers, I hate pride demons.”

“Well why don't you channel that hate into some good, old-fashioned ass kicking?” Varric suggested wryly.

“I think I can do that.” Hawke smirked back before moving up the path, following the soldiers.

Ebrisa looked down at Cullen as they brought up the rear. “You know I can't stay on here forever, right?”

“Are you suggesting I carry you the rest of the way, Wife?” The commander shot her a teasing smirk, making her huff.

“Don't even joke about that, Love. I merely meant that the horse is likely to spook when we get close.” Ebrisa leaned down slightly. “Would you rather I walk a bit on my own or be thrown from the saddle?”

Cullen stiffened at the idea. “You do have a point...” He tried to bring up the route in his mind and recall where the rift was, exactly. “Alright, two more bends, then we'll tie the mount and continue on foot. Sound fair?”

She smiled softly. “About as fair as I could hope for.”

As promised, Cullen called for a halt and helped his wife down further along the path. “If this were one of our own mounts, you know you'd be on there the whole time, don't you?” He began as they continued on, supporting her at the waist and elbow.

“Yes, and if it were Rufous I'd likely seal the rift from his back,” Ebrisa giggled lightly.

“Now there's an image.” Cullen smiled slowly. “The Herald of Andraste riding into battle on her mighty war-deer.”

“Hart, Cullen.” She smiled right back. “He's a hart.”

The anchor sparked as they drew close, a sensation the mage had not felt in months. Cullen had forbade her to engage the enemy and instructed her to stay to the side and keep barriers on herself, especially since Harrit had been unable to make a proper armor set for her that could fit comfortably over her swollen belly. She did wear an enchanter's coat, but could only manage to fasten the top, leaving her most vulnerable area completely unprotected. It was difficult to not aide in the fight, especially since she was the only mage there, but she knew that she was tasked with protecting more than just herself. She slid a hand over her stomach as she watched the battle, waiting for the final demon to be slain.

Hawke swung her sword in a wide arc, lopping off the third pride demon's arm and watched it roll as it disintegrated into green flecks. There was one of them for the first wave, sure, but the second had seen two of the hulking beasts and several wrath. She patted the demon-slaying rune set on her blade and sighed heavily. “Okay, Herald, you're on.”

Ebrisa moved underneath the rift and connected with it, inhaling sharply at the pain ripping though her arm. She kept her cry muffled and focused on mending the tear. It had been so long since she'd sealed a rift, did it always feel like this? Once the hole closed, she leaned heavily on her staff and took deep breaths.

“Are you alright?” Cullen eased her upright, more than a little concerned. “We can wait here for a bit, if you need to rest.”

She shook her head and tried to smile. “Out of practice, I think. I can rest on the horse.”

A soldier came back up the path, leading the mount, and Ebrisa reached into the saddlebag, pulling out a fist sized stone. “Now then, one more thing to do here.” She slammed her staff into the ground below the former rift, using the force of the Fade to create a small hole. The mage dropped the stone inside and charged it with a bit of her aura, making the strange design on the stone flare up briefly before fading.

“What was that about?” Varric came closer to inspect the now fused stone in the ground.

“You recall those elven artifacts Solas would point out? The ones that strengthened the Veil?” Ebrisa began, leaning on her staff again.

“I... yes?” Varric scrunched up his face slightly.

“Well we had Dagna look one over and she managed to duplicate the power in a rune. It's not as powerful, obviously, but anything helps.” Ebrisa tilted her head as the dwarf continued to look at her oddly. “I've brought several, Varric. I thought we could place one at each rift and spread the others in places where more are likely to appear. Perhaps we can prevent a rift from appearing at the Gallows at all.”

“You're... when did you start doing that?” Varric waved his fingers as Cullen helped his wife back into the saddle.

“The runes? Well, Dorian got the idea about four months ago, I think.” The mage hummed quietly. “Maybe it was five? He talks very fast at times.”

“The names, Sunshine,” Varric clarified. “When did you start with the names?”

“The Herald made a rather moving speech about the Inquisition being a family when she found out she was pregnant.” Hawke smirked from behind them as the soldiers prepared to press on. “If you hadn't dumped us so early, you would have been there to hear it.”

“Hey now, that's unfair.” The dwarf frowned at the dark-haired woman. “I didn't dump you guys, I went to help at home. Where's your Marcher pride, huh?”

“Buried beneath my wounded Inquisition pride,” Hawke sighed while patting her armor plated chest. “Now if you're through having a fit, the summit awaits.”
~~~~~~~~

The rift on the summit proved more difficult to deal with, the lingering magic of Merrill's pride demon's prison strengthening the ones that moved through the cave from the rift. Perhaps it was that stifling, ancient magic that made the connection to the rift so painful and difficult to maintain. Ebrisa felt agonizing jolts run down her left arm and across her chest to her right and she couldn't stay on her feet once the rift was sealed. Cullen was at her side in an instant, offering her water and lyrium and something to eat and watched her sternly until she took at least a little of each. At the mage's insistence, they left two runes in the cave.

They made it back to Hawke's estate before dark, the commander ordering half the men to continue patrols on the mountain and the others to ready for taking out the rifts within the city the next day. “Maybe we should only try for one rift tomorrow,” Cullen said quietly while they ate supper.

“What? You want to leave a rift alone for another day?” Hawke pulled a face as she ripped a roll in half. “The sooner the city is cleared out and we set those runes, the better. We can handle it.”

Varric nudged her and motioned his head to the exhausted mage. “Curly might be on to something. They've lasted this long without causing any issues. Another twenty-four hours shouldn't be a problem.”

“What if we got another mage to help?” Hawke offered. “That way they can keep the Herald shielded and set the runes and all she has to focus on is sealing the rifts.”

The dwarf chuckled. “Yeah. Sure. We'll just saunter over to the Gallows and ask the nice templars to let us borrow a mage.” He straightened. “Oh wait, that's right, there aren't any mages at the Gallows. We'd have better luck finding an apostate hiding under the rug.”

Ebrisa set down her fork and flexed her left hand under the table. “No, Hawke is right. We shouldn't hold back tomorrow.”

“Ebrisa, you don't have to-” Cullen began worriedly.

“This isn't some random field or isolated desert, this is a city!” She cut him off, her firm words conflicting with the weariness in her eyes. “People's homes are at risk, their lives. We can't ignore that, can we?”

“But Sunshine-”

“Varric, it's alright.” The mage slid her mostly empty plate forward. “The rifts on the mountain were opened for a while or affected by ancient magic. The ones we will take care of tomorrow have yet to have a single demon slip through, so they should be much easier to deal with.” She tried to smile reassuringly. “I'll be fine.”

Cullen let out a deep breath, knowing she was right. “If you're certain you can handle it...”

“I am.” Ebrisa turned to him, swallowing her doubt.

“Then you're going to bed now.” He stood up and took hold of her hand. “If nothing else, you can be well rested.” The couple left the dining room and climbed the stairs, Cullen walking slightly behind her in case the woman slipped. To her surprise, the commander stayed in the room and began to help her change.

“Cullen, you don't need to,” Ebrisa mumbled as he lifted the main dress over her head.

“I know, but its awkward for you to do it yourself.” He began unlacing her chemise. “I've seen you trying to wiggle out of garments recently.”

She blushed slightly in embarrassment. “Yes, wherever did that lady you marry go?”

He chuckled softly and slipped the light fabric off her. “She's here.” Ebrisa grabbed her nightdress and held it against herself quickly, but he caught her hand and pulled it away.

“Cullen, don't look...” She struggled to hide herself. “I know I'm not...”

“Not what?” He trailed his hand gently over her stomach. “Why don't you want me to see you anymore? Did you get shy on me again?”

“I'm not... attractive,” she relented.

“Says who?” Cullen planted a trail of kisses up her neck. “I think that my opinion is the only one that matters on the subject. I've told you repeatedly how beautiful are, even now. Especially now.”

Ebrisa fidgeted, feeling exposed. “You just say that to make me feel better.”

He pulled away, studying the almost ashamed look his wife was trying to hide. “Lie to you a lot, do I? A terrible habit of mine?”

The mage played with the lace fringe of her night dress. “No... you've always been honest.”

“And you think I would start lying to you now because...?”

“Well, I'm... I guess you wouldn't.”

He rested his forehead against hers and let out a quiet breath. “What has you thinking this way, hmm?”

Ebrisa closed her eyes, relishing in the quiet comfort her husband instilled her with. “Well, you... we haven't been intimate for months.”

“And you think that's because I don't want to be?” Cullen nudged her head. “I'd take you right now, but you happen to be carrying our child at the moment. I don't want to do anything that might harm her.”

Ebrisa blushed and gently held his cheek, drawing her thumb over his stubble. “You mean that?”

“I'd do something to prove it, but we are guests in this home and that would be rather inappropriate.” He pulled back and kissed her softly on the lips. “Also, you need to sleep.” Cullen helped her into the nightdress and pulled back the covers, supporting the woman as she climbed in. He stripped down to his pants and snuffed out the lanterns and candles, leaving only the fireplace to give off a soft glow. The man slipped in behind his wife, and pulled the covers over them before adjusting on his side to hold her protectively between the swell of her breasts and stomach.

They lay in quiet for a moment, listening to the crackling fire.

“You said her again,” Ebrisa whispered.

“That's because we're having a girl.” Cullen stated, rather matter-of-factly.

“You can't know that.”

“I have a theory that if I say it enough, it will be true.” He glided his hand over her stomach in smooth circles. “Besides, it's always a girl in my dreams and you know what the Chantry says about where babies come from.”

“Yes, but I'm fairly certain they skipped a very crucial step in that process.” Ebrisa giggled quietly.

“Have you given any thought to names recently? Girl ones, obviously.”

“Because we're having a girl?”

“Exactly.” Cullen kissed her hair before nuzzling her head.

The mage hummed softly. “It would be nice to name our child after someone, to honor their memory.” She stilled for a moment. “I thought maybe Vemara? The senior enchanter who tutored me and helped me escape the Circle's fall...”

Cullen nodded. “I had a similar idea. I was thinking, perhaps, we could name her after my mother.”

Ebrisa twisted around to look at him. “You've never mentioned your mother before.”

He closed his eyes and let out a deep breath. “My parents died during the Blight. Yet another thing I missed knowing for years because of my anger...”

The mage settled against him once again, rubbing his arm soothingly. “I'm so sorry...”

“It was over ten years ago, Ebrisa. I'm alright.”

She slid her hand to rest on his as it stilled on her stomach. “What was her name?”

“Allison.”

They felt a sudden bump against the side of Ebrisa's stomach and the couple shot upright. “What was quite the kick... I think she heard you...” the mage whispered in awe.

She?” Cullen smirked.

Ebrisa smiled at the way the firelight made her husband's eyes twinkle, though she imagined they would be doing that anyways from the smug look on his face. “Well, we're having a girl, aren't we?”

The commander chuckled and guided his wife back to the mattress. “Yes we are, and I think she likes the name.”

 

Chapter Text

Aveline met the group outside the foundry with both the city guard and Inquisition soldiers. “The owner has been having a fit that we blocked off the building.” Aveline rolled her eyes as she signaled for her men to remove the boards. “I tried explaining to him that he could unwittingly unleash demons upon Kirkwall, but he didn't seem to believe me.”

“Um, Captain?” One of the guard called uneasily as he opened the door. “It looks like he really didn't believe you.”

Hawke and Aveline rushed inside the foundry, the redhead cursing mildly at the charred corpses beneath the open rift. “Alright, looks like we got a live one after all,” Hawke called behind her, ushering the Inquisition inside. “Wrath, for sure, but the building is big and we don't know what else is here. Watch your backs!”

Cullen stopped Ebrisa at the door. “Stay outside with the city guard. We'll get you when its time, alright?”

“If it's wrath demons, I'll be fine,” she tried to persuade him to allow her inside. “I won't even have to use any mana to protect myself.”

“Ebrisa,” he said firmly. “Swear you won't go inside until I get you.”

She opened her mouth to try and argue, but let out a puff of air instead. “I swear.” Cullen planted a quick kiss to her temple before moving inside and drawing his sword. Ebrisa moved slowly back down the stairs, one of the guard awkwardly reaching out to assist and helping her sit down on the lower steps. They were quiet for a long while, listening to the sounds of battle from inside.

“So...” A guard tapped his fingers on the hilt of his sword absentmindedly. “You said something about using mana. You a mage?”

“I am...” Ebrisa sighed as she placed a hand to her stomach, motioning with her head to the staff strapped on her back. He instantly felt foolish for asking.

“And that was the former Knight-Commander?” The one who helped her down asked, slowing moving his eyes from her staff, to her swollen belly, and up to the open door.

“Cullen, yes.”

“Huh.” A third guardsman looked back at the foundry. “So after all that huffing and fear mongering, he flipped his entire view. Maybe if he didn't have his head up his ass about how all mages were dangerous maleficarum, then the Chantry wouldn't have been blown up and the streets wouldn't have been overrun with demons.”

Ebrisa shot up to her feet with a surprising quickness and poked the man firmly in the chest. “You can not put those things on him! None of it was Cullen's fault!”

“Look, lady mage, you weren't here,” the guardsman sighed. “I delivered quite a few apostates to the Gallows and the man was always going on about how mages can't be trusted and they have too much power. I think he even complained once that the templars had a harder lot in life than their prisoner mages.

“They turned the city against magic, made mages feel like they had no freedom, and pushed them too far,” he continued. “That's why that mage destroyed the Chantry and killed all those priests and clerics. Maybe Meredith was the driving force, but he was her second and went along with everything she did.” The guardsman tossed his hand in the air. “Sure, he felt bad later and tried to help get the city cleaned up, but it was too little too late.”

Ebrisa took a step back and lowered her head and shoulders slightly.

“Just saying that maybe he should have thought twice about coming back-” The guard didn't get a chance to finish his snide remark as Ebrisa slammed her fist into his cheek, throwing her entire weight into the strike as she cried out angrily, staggering the man and nearly falling over herself.

“No, you don't get to do that,” she seethed. “You don't know what he went through before transferring here. You don't know how conflicted he was by wanting to serve the Order, but doubting his commander. You don't know what he's given to protect people – including ungrateful, snarky, little blighters like you!” She let out several deep pants as the guardsman stared at her and rubbed his jaw. Her right hand ached, but she refused to let the pain show as she straightened and went back to sit on the steps. She paused to find Cullen walking down towards her.

“And just what were you doing, Wife?” He raised a brow as he took her elbow and helped her ascend the stairs to seal the rift.

“Defending your honor...” Ebrisa mumbled quietly, blushing slightly at the silliness of it.

“That's what I thought,” the commander chuckled. “I'd chastise you for hitting an armored man in your condition, but I'm concerned you'd do the same to me.”

“Cullen, that's not funny.”

“Its a little funny.”
~~~~~~~

Darktown was like nowhere Ebrisa had ever seen - slums didn't even begin to cover it. Aveline explained that this rift was far more difficult to contain as the area was riddled with side passages and the residents showed the city guard little respect.

“But you explained it was dangerous, right?” Varric raised a brow. “Darktown may be full of folks well below the poverty line, but people hard on their luck rarely push it.”

Cullen kept his arm protectively around his wife as they moved through the dank pathways. Ebrisa claimed she was fine, but he had seen the pain on her face as she sealed the previous rift and the way she gripped her hand after. She said it was nothing, but he didn't believe her. Did it always hurt so much to use the anchor? Maybe now that the Foci had been destroyed for so long, the mark reacted differently...

“What did I tell you?” Varric gloated as they approached the glowing, yet unopened, rift. “They may be poor, but they aren't stupid.”

“Finally, something works in our favor,” Hawke sighed as she surveyed the space. “Okay, here's the plan. The Herald will open the rift from as far away as she can and then stay back while we fight. Be weary of what the noise we're making might draw – bandits, kids, nasty spiders. Remember, we aren't alone down here.”

Ebrisa waited for everyone to get in position around the rift before taking a deep breath and connecting. She clenched her right hand and tensed against the pain, reciting the Chant in her mind to gain the strength to hold on. She fell to her hands and knees when the rift finally opened, panting and holding an arm around her stomach. She had felt a jolt – a brief one – run through her abdomen and the mage waited impatiently for further signs of pain in the area. Had the child been harmed? Was it a fluke? There was still so little they knew about the anchor and what effect it had on the host, despite knowing that the Foci was, well, called a Foci. They had made no progress on that front either.

A green ring formed beneath her and the mage suddenly realized she hadn't been paying attention to the battle or cast any barriers. She hastily set an ice mine under her hands and tried to scoot away, but was too slow to react. A terror demon erupted from the ground, knocking her onto her back before triggering the trap and freezing. Ebrisa took the chance to scramble further away and drop a barrier over herself, remaining on the ground and thankful that she had not been tossed into the air or landed on her side or front.

She finally directed her attention to the fighting as the terror demon began to break free of the ice. The others hadn't noticed it. They were too far away and too occupied by the rest of the enemy to look at the far side of the large space. Ebrisa awkwardly withdrew her staff as she partially lay on the ground, trying to decide if she should attempt a Fade-step to get away. She set a glyph under her, relying on the added focus to make it as large as possible as she watched the demon stalk closer. It almost seemed to be grinning.

It was feeding on her fear.

That's why it came to her instead of the ones doing it harm. Ebrisa sat up more, wrapping an arm around her belly. The child wasn't even out yet and already the mage was having difficulty keeping her safe. What sort of mother could she hope to be if she allowed harm to fall on the babe now? No. She would not allow it. She spun her staff above her head with one hand, letting it seep fire as she glared at the monster threateningly. “Leave her alone.”

A rapid succession of bolts struck the demon from behind, drawing its attention back to the rift. “Hang on, Sunshine!” Varric reloaded Bianca, readying to fire again.

Cullen charged at the terror with a furious roar, slamming into it with his shield and sending the gangly creature flying against a wall. Before it had a chance to register what had happened, the commander ran it through with his sword, the blade pinning the demon in place, before bashing the creature solidly in the head with his shield, stunning it. He yanked the sword free, letting the demon slump to the ground as he reared back and swung down with his full weight, ridding the terror of its head. Cullen panted loudly in anger as he watched the demon fade away, ignoring the remaining creatures of the second wave for a moment.

He turned a concerned eye to his wife sitting in the middle of a glowing glyph and holding her stomach. “Are you – did it hurt you?”

Ebrisa shook her head slowly. “No, I... I think we're alright.” Cullen nodded and moved between her and the rift, standing ready to protect her should another demon come their way. They didn't have to wait long for the rest of the creatures to be dealt with and Ebrisa cautiously dispelled the ice mine and tried to climb to her feet. Cullen sprang to her side quickly and supported her more than a little as they moved to the waiting rift. He gave her some lyrium before he let her even raise her hand and she sipped the blue liquid awkwardly as the weary fighters watched her.

The mage took several breaths to steady her shaking hand, worried about what closing the rift might do to her but also knowing if it was left alone, more demons would emerge. From the looks of things, Darktown didn't see a lot of the city guard and many residents were too weak in body and spirit to fight off the creatures. Ebrisa squeezed her eyes shut and connected to the rift, tensing against the pain as it coursed through her arms and chest. When the searing flooded the rest of her torso, she felt the child move around frantically, as if trying to escape the pain too. The realization made Ebrisa lose her tight grip on the pain and she cried out in anguish as the rift closed, falling into Cullen's waiting arms.

He eased her to the ground, holding her to his chest. “Ebrisa? What happened? Are you alright?”

“It hurts,” she choked out, bringing a hand to her mouth. “The pain has been getting worse with each connection, but this time...” Ebrisa began to tear up. “I'd forgotten what it felt like, so I didn't say anything, but this has to be different than before... Cullen, it...”

The commander rubbed her back soothingly. “That was the last one. You're done now.”

She looked up at him, face pale. “The runes. I need to set-”

“Shhh,” Cullen tucked her head under his chin and rocked her slightly. “We can handle that tomorrow. You've done enough for one day.”

Ebrisa felt her resolve slowly slipping away. There was a soft nudge in her belly, as though the babe within was trying to express she was alright and it almost made Ebrisa smile as she drifted out of consciousness.
~~~~~~~

Hawke hated to admit it, but it was rather impressive to watch Cullen carry his pregnant wife all the way back to the estate, especially after a battle. She leaned over to Varric as they walked into her home behind the commander. “Still think we just keep him around to look pretty?”

The dwarf chuckled. “That comment was made well before he reached husband status. What you are witnessing is merely an emotional power boost.”

“I can hear you, you know,” Cullen grumbled as he moved up the stairs. He turned to face them before opening the door. “And would you stop calling me pretty? It's rather emasculating.”

“Just look at the baby bump in your arms and remember you did that,” Hawke called from the lower level. “Can't do anything more manly than that.”

He shook his head and entered the room, closing the door with his foot. Cullen carefully set the woman on the bed before unfastening and sliding off her mostly useless armor. If she had just told them she was in pain, they wouldn't have pushed forward with the last rift. It really could have waited another day... He sat on the edge of the bed and gently stroked her cheek, wondering how he could have missed the true level of her suffering.

 

“So one should go here...” Hawke mumbled as she drew an X on the map. “And one at the Chantry, obviously.”

“How many of those runes did you guys bring?” Varric leaned on the table, resting his chin in is hand.

The Inquisitor let out a deep sigh. “Not nearly enough. If Sandal were here, I'm sure he could have made us more.”

“Enchantment,” Varric sighed.

“Enchantment.”

They continued to pour over the map, marking the sites of the worst devastation first before arguing the few remaining locations. Talking about so many of the terrible things that had happened really drove home how much of a mess Kirkwall was. “Do you think I could have done more?” Hawke asked quietly as she rolled the charcoal stick in her hand. “I was the Champion, but what did I really do?”

“I wrote a book about it, if you need a refresher,” Varric chuckled lightly. “Despite what you may have heard, you are, in fact, only one person, Hawke.”

“But so many of these things we got to too late. If I'd responded to letters sooner or didn't spend so much time messing around...” She stared at the map and sighed. “We didn't understand what we were doing back then.”

The dwarf hummed quietly in agreement. “I don't think anyone did.”

 

Chapter Text

As they moved through Kirkwall placing and activating the runes, Cullen kept a very close eye on Ebrisa. He had made her swear upon Andraste's name that she would be forthcoming with everything, but Cullen saw no sign of lingering pain and she placed her hand to her back no more than normal. She seemed to be doing fine today.

It was surprisingly easy to convince someone at the docks to take them to the Gallows, the location for their final three runes. The Circle was incredibly strange to Ebrisa, and she had to remind herself that the fortress was a Tevinter prison first. She looked over the massive statues of chained figures as they climbed the steps, knowing that they were ages old and depicted the slaves that once served the Imperium there, but couldn't deny that the images would strike a fearful cord with mages. They were likely intentionally left when the fortress was converted for that very reason.

When they entered the courtyard, a templar approached. “State your... oh.” The man saluted immediately upon recognition. “Knight-Commander. Champion. We had heard you were in Kirkwall, but weren't expecting...”

“At ease, Ser Keran,” Cullen waved the man down. “And I know you were there when I resigned.”

“Yes, Ser. Sorry.” Keran cleared his throat.

Cullen and Hawke proceeded to explain their task to the templar as Ebrisa looked around the courtyard. She shuddered at how even the open area felt like a cage and couldn't imagine what it would have been like to study in a place like this. There was a statue in the center of the yard, small by comparison of the others, yet somehow far more terrifying. The mage walked around it curiously, studying the odd craftsmanship and knowing it to not be Tevinter in make. She couldn't quiet place the style or its purpose – what could a figure screaming in horror on its knees possibly do to welcome guests? Ebrisa held out a shaking hand and lightly touched the statue, retracting it immediately.

“Hey, whoa now, Sunshine.” Varric quickly ushered her away. “You really shouldn't stand too close to that.”

“Why, what is it?” The mage took a step back to look at the figure again. “It was warm...”

“Wait, you touched it?” He chuckled quietly. “Kudos. You win Who's Brave Enough to Poke Meredith. Just wait until I tell the local children.”

Ebrisa looked at the statue with a new found horror. “That's... that's Knight-Commander Meredith? Why is... what is it – she – still doing here?”

The dwarf shrugged. “Not many people want to get close enough to pry her off the flagstones.”

“She can't stay there, Varric.” The mage stared at the stone figure as she removed her staff. “But I think I know just where to put the first rune.” She focused on one of the tiles in front of the former templar leader and pulled it to the side before cracking a hole in the ground beneath. Ebrisa dropped a rune inside and activated it quickly, sliding the tile back in place and sighing from the effort. She looked up to find the others watching her. “Do you know of a better place to set a ward?”

Cullen tried to not look at his former commander. “No, but it does give me an idea. The site of Orsino's desperation could also use some strengthening.” He came up beside her and lead her with a hand to her back further into the Gallows.

Hawke moved to follow, but Keran stopped her. “Pardon, Champion, but why did you bring a pregnant apostate with you? Surely the Inquisition has several mages to choose from.”

“Hasn't Varric told you guys anything?” She shot a mild glare at the disappearing dwarf. “That's the Herald.”

“Yes, of course.” Keran tapped his head. “You sealed the rifts in the area first.” He stiffened suddenly. “Wait. I thought the Knight-Commander...”

“Yup. She's the misses.” Hawke nodded.

“But she's...”

“A mage? Sure is.”

“Huh...” Keran stood quiet for a while. “That's a change...”

“You don't know the half of it.” Hawke smirked. “Oh, the stories about those two that I could tell. I'll relay a few at the Hanged Man later tonight if any templars feel like buying.”

 

With a rune placed in the Gallows Prison and another in the very center of the fortress, the group went back to the boat. Several templars waved goodbye to Hawke and nodded, something Cullen found curious but ultimately decided to leave alone. They would wait a few days before heading back to Skyhold to ensure the wards were working. Then, finally, Ebrisa could get some proper rest. He contemplated if there was a way to convince the healers she needed to be bedridden for a while...

Ebrisa cried out suddenly, gripping her left hand to her chest as angry sparks danced up her arm. “A rift...” She panted out, dumbfounded as she zeroed in on its direction.

“Andraste's burning voluptuous tits!” Hawke stomped her foot in frustration. “What was the point of all that then?”

“Is it in the Gallows?” Cullen turned back towards the steps, but heard no reaction from the templars.

“No, its...” Ebrisa looked out over the harbor. “Up.”

The others followed her gaze to the glowing tear high above the water.

“Well,” Varric let out a heavy sigh. “That's not exactly going to boost commerce.”

Ebrisa reached out and tried to connect from the dock, grunting in frustration as she realized they were too far away. “How can we seal it over the water like that?”

Hawke looked at their small sea vessel and frowned. “We're going to need a bigger boat.” She rushed back up the stairs to grab some templar assistance and one of their ships. The warriors quickly agreed and began working the rigging as the others climbed on board and they soon set out towards the glow in the air.

As they drew near, things began falling through the rift and splashing in the water. They waited anxiously for demons to attack the vessel, but nothing did. “They're rocks?” Varric shouted in disbelief as another object smashed into the sea. “Its dumping rocks in the harbor?”

“Well that seems more annoying than dangerous,” Hawke muttered. A large boulder struck several yards away, rocking the ship violently to the side.

“You were saying?” Varric shouted over the spray.

Cullen held Ebrisa securely with one arm around her waist, the other to the bow railing as she stretched out towards the rift in a desperate attempt to seal it from a relatively safe distance. “Its too high...” Ebrisa murmured worriedly. “We might have to be directly underneath.”

The man at the helm cursed as he spun it to the side to avoid a rather sizable chunk, knocking nearly everyone off their feet. The rocks were appearing in greater frequency as they drew closer, barely missing the deck and causing waves upon waves to crash over the sides, soaking everyone thoroughly with the freezing sea water.

The Herald tried again and cried out as the anchor connected to the rift, racking her entire body with pain instantly and making her drop the hold. “Ebrisa...” Cullen grunted slightly as her knees buckled and she became a dead weight in his arms, but he urged her back to her feet.

“I... I can't...” She panted and looked at him worriedly as she clutched the railing. “Cullen, I can't...”

He moved away to direct the Chantry's soldiers on board. “Templars, the Herald needs your assistance! Your brothers were able to aide her in sealing the Breach and I have faith that you can help her close this rift! Focus past the Herald and suppress the magic in the sky. Help her end this and protect Kirkwall!”

The warriors looked at each other, a little uncertain, but they took up formation on the swaying deck and concentrated as one. Ebrisa connected once again, feeling an uncomfortable tingling run through her frame, but nothing unbearable. They could do this. Together, the pain was minimal and the rift would be sealed without having to fight any demons.

The rocks continued to fall around them, sending waves over the rails more than once, but the templars stayed. When a boulder from the Fade clipped the side of the deck, it rocked the entire ship violently and sent two, fully armored men overboard, breaking the group's concentration. The Order scrambled with ropes to try and retrieve their fellows before they sank. Cullen moved to assist, but his heart froze at the scream of agony from the front of the ship. He whipped around to see Ebrisa doubled over in pain, gripping the railing's supports and holding up a shaking hand, struggling to seal the rift. He wanted to help her, but he couldn't do anything on his own.

“Get them up, quickly!” Cullen ordered, joining the others on the rope as they hoisted the secured templars. He tried to block out the sounds of his wife's pain, knowing that this was all he could do to ease it. Once the templars were on deck, the others could resume the suppression and help once again.

The rift closed with a bang as the second templar was pulled to safety and Cullen let out a sigh of relief as the water calmed. Ebrisa cried out again, despite no longer using the anchor, and the commander rushed to her side in a panic. “What is it? Wh-why are you still in pain?”

The drenched mage held herself up with one shaking arm, sobbing in between her shuddering pain. “It hurts, it hurts so much!” She gripped her stomach desperately, face wracked with worry and covered in tears. “Something's wrong with the baby, Cullen. Something's wrong!” Ebrisa let out an agonizing wail and Cullen couldn't think of anything to do but hold her tightly against him.

“Do you have healers at the Gallows?” Hawke asked the templars urgently.

“For battle wounds, not...” Keran looked on at the screaming woman. “They know nothing about pregnancy.”

“Then take us back to the city,” she ordered the helmsman.

“But, Champion,” the man tried to argue, eyeing the rock-strewn waters.

“Do it!” Hawke shouted, moving as though to yank the wheel herself.

“Yes, alright!”

Varric paced the splintered deck, trying to recall what clinics employed midwives. The Chantry was slow to bolster its clergy with experienced healers, but there had to be someone still in Kirkwall who could help! He stilled suddenly as a thought struck him. “Don't worry, Curly,” he mumbled as they came in to dock. Once the plank was dropped, he rushed off the ship. “Go back to Hawke's place! I'll bring help!” He shouted loudly and tore off down the street.

Cullen gathered up his wife, Ebrisa wrapping her arms around his neck and crying into his armor. “Hang on, okay?” He stood up quickly and followed Hawke into the city. “Please, just hang on.” He tried not to think about what could be wrong as he would only drive himself insane. There would be time to worry once someone was looking her over, but who did Varric go to fetch? It could be a Venatori blood mage for all he cared, so long as Ebrisa and the child were alright. It had to be both of them. The Maker wouldn't make him chose, would He?

~~~~~~~~~~~

Varric burst into the estate, startling Hawke from her pacing. “About time! Where did you go, the Anderfels?”

“Nope, just your favorite place in Hightown.” Varric moved fully into the room, allowing two woman to come in after him.

Hawke stared at the well dressed, white-haired woman incredulously. “Madam Lusine?”

The Blooming Rose's proprietor dipped her head. “Hawke. How good of you to remember me. When I heard you were in the city, I had hoped you'd stop by.”

“I- I've been busy.” The Inquisitor glanced at Varric. “In a bit of a crisis now, actually.” As if on cue, Ebrisa cried out in pain.

“Yes, of course.” Lusine turned around to the elven woman behind her holding a large bag. The elf's tattoos were not typical of the Dalish – the thick, angular patterns ran up her arms, weaving intricately, and while her face did share some of those lines, they very obviously not vallaslin markings. “Sibil, I believe they need you upstairs.” The elf nodded and hurried off.

“I don't... what's going on?” Hawke frowned in confusion.

“You think the girls working a brothel don't get knocked up from time to time?” Varric smirked.

“You say that so vulgarly, Master Tethras,” the Madam sighed. “I take good care of my girls, even when they are stupid and have to work in the kitchens for nine months. Sibil may not talk much, but she's the best midwife in Kirkwall, though I know that isn't saying a lot these days.”

 

Cullen stared at the elf as she waltzed into the room and set down a bag on the bed before climbing on top herself. She placed her hands under Ebrisa's jaw, pulling a face in apparent displeasure before pressing her fingertips lightly across the mage's belly. Ebrisa cried out and the elf shook her head, reaching into her bag and pulling out a small flask. She handed it to Cullen and motioned to the mage. “Drink.”

“Who are you?” He unstopped the container and frowned. “Is this vinegar?”

The elf made a sound of annoyance and jutted her thumb at herself. “Sibil.” She pointed to Ebrisa once again. “Drink.”

Cullen knew he would get no more from the elf and sat his wife up slightly, pouring the liquid into her mouth. She gagged, but swallowed, and the elf seemed mildly satisfied and pressed a dark stone into the Herald's left hand, the faint glowing of the mark receding further. She glanced at the man.“Leave.”

Cullen gripped Ebrisa's right hand firmly. “I won't.” She had to be crazy if she thought he would abandon his wife in such a time of need.

Sibil rolled her eyes before she threw back Ebrisa's soaked skirts and pressed her ear to the exposed stomach, moving her hands from spot to spot as she made quiet noises to herself. She pulled out a vial from her bag and shook it as she moved on the mattress and raised the mage's knees, settling in front of her. The elf uncorked the vial and poured the herb infused oil into her hands, rubbing it along the groaning woman's legs and sides as she hummed something that vaguely resembled a Chantry hymn, drawing the Eye of the Maker over her belly.

Cullen had been mostly quiet through the odd proceedings, but when she pulled out a knife and cut off one side of Ebrisa's small clothes, he had to stop the elf. “What are you doing?!”

Sibil looked up at him curiously. “Baby come.”

“No!” Ebrisa panted out. “Its too early...”

The elf stilled and looked down. “Baby come...” She looked at Cullen. “How many?”

“She's only six months along,” he said worriedly.

Sibil sighed and reached into her bag, handing the man a worn copy of the Chant of Light. “Read.”

 

Chapter Text

It had been hours – it must have been hours – since the oddly tattooed elf instructed Cullen to recite scripture and Ebrisa to push. There was so much pain coursing through the mage, but she tried her best to ignore it and focus on her husband's voice and touch instead. He'd pause at the end of each stanza or when she cried out especially loudly to wipe her sweaty brow, kiss her hand, or whisper encouragement. Despite being filled with worry and the sense that something was very wrong, his actions were comforting and Ebrisa was thankful he was there.

Sibil urged her firmly, seeing the small child beginning to emerge. The size concerned the elf, but she kept it to herself and continued coaxing the delivery. Cullen dropped the sacred text to the floor and stood quickly, wrapping his arm behind his wife and around her shoulders, holding her tightly as she cried out and panted. “Come on, you can do this,” he repeated over and over. “You're stronger than you know.”

With a final, agonizing push, Ebrisa felt the child leave her fully and all her strength seemed to fade away. She fell back against the pillows and Cullen's arm, panting softly as the pain and pressure she had been feeling for so long began to subside with the quiet of the room.

Quiet.

It wasn't supposed to be quiet.

She shot back up, ignoring the swimming sensation in her head, and watched as the elf held the tiny, tiny child in her hands. Sibil patted the infant's back and pinched its foot, trying to get it to cry out and take its first breath of air. She could feel its heart beat slowing in her hands and redoubled her efforts. “Breathe,” she commanded.

Ebrisa found that a difficult task herself. Cullen tightened his grip on her as they stared at the midwife and watched her try all manner of pressure and massaging for several minuets. Sibil stopped and slowly wrapped the small form in a clean towel. “Was girl.”

“Was...?” Cullen echoed in a voice so quiet and raspy, he wasn't sure it was his own. He felt his heart drop to the floor, his chest crush in on itself as the elf kept her eyes down. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. Maker, this wasn't how...

“No!” Ebrisa reached forward and quickly took the bundle from the surprised elf, cradling it gently as she bent over her child on her knees. “No no no...” She studied the tiny, blood covered face through her tears. “You can't leave us. You won't!” The mage placed a shaking hand to the child's torso, covering half of the tiny form, and began to concentrate her magic.

Sibil shook her head. “Too small.” When the blonde woman continued to pour the glowing light into the babe, the elf grew concerned. “Stop. Weak.” Ebrisa ignored her, even as the buzzing in her head increased and her body ached. She sucked in a breath and pleaded with the Maker, Andraste, and His First Children for strength, the mark humming in resonance with her own power. The elf turned to Cullen and motioned urgently at the other woman. “Weak! Stop!”

The commander snapped out of his despair as he realized what the midwife was trying to convey. Ebrisa had been in pain for so long, straining her body with the birthing process after straining it from sealing the rift in the harbor. The efforts had left her weak. Too weak to perform any magic safely. “Ebrisa...” he began gently, trying to coax her into stopping. “You can't help her. You're too exhausted and she... she wasn't ready...”

“No.” The mage continued to watch the quiet face, searching for change. “She was so eager to make us a family. I can't let her go...” Her head throbbed against the exertion and both of her glowing hands seared with pain, but she continued to try and heal. She'd hoped that pulling energy from the Fade would help, but she felt herself losing the battle of will with the mark. She didn't know what would happen if the pull of the Fade won.

Cullen saw her slump forward more and her arms begin to shake. “Ebrisa, stop it. You can't keep this up.”

“Come on, Allison,” the woman whispered, ignoring him. “Open your eyes. Breathe for Mama...” The Maker, Andraste, the Fade Spirits... she didn't care who she had to plead with, so long as her child woke up. She didn't care what they wanted from her in return, not anymore. “Just... just breathe...” Her vision began to darken, blurring and tilting as she struggled to even stay upright, but Ebrisa wouldn't stop, not ever. She would pour her very spirit into the babe to save it if she could. The mage felt her fragile control chipping away as every part of her body grew heavy and her heart beat frantically, as if it couldn't pump her blood fast enough to sustain her.

Not yet. There had been no change. Not yet!

Ebrisa forced out one final burst of energy, the mark releasing a blinding pulse of light, and then she felt nothing else and dropped face down onto the mattress, barely missing landing on the bundle in her limp arms.

“Ebrisa?” A new fear gripped Cullen's already aching heart as his wife lay motionless before him. “Ebrisa!” He pulled her onto her back, taking in the paleness of her skin and checking her pulse. He found none. “No no no. Don't you dare!” He climbed onto the bed and began rhythmically pressing down on her chest in an effort to get her heart beating again. “You can't sacrifice yourself. Never again, remember?” Cullen couldn't handle this. To go from a husband and a father-to-be to nothing in a matter of minuets was more than he could bare. “Andraste preserve me, Ebrisa, I won't lose you too!” He slammed the side of his fist down on her chest in desperation, unable to hold back his tears any longer.

Ebrisa shot up with a gasp, eyes wide and panicked. Even as she gulped in air, she struggled to get back up and resume her spell. “I- I need to-”

“No, Ebrisa, stop it!” Cullen held her firmly in place, refusing to allow her to move. “You can't.”

“But I need-”

“No!”

She sobbed loudly as she fought against him. “Cullen, she's our girl...”

“I know. I know, Ebrisa.” He took in a shuddering breath and pressed his forehead to hers, tears falling from his cheeks to her own. “But you're my wife, and you can't leave me alone.” 

“Pardon.” Sibil stood at the side of the bed, waiting for one of them to acknowledge her. Cullen finally turned his head, glaring at the elf through his tears. She offered him the bundle. “Is girl.” The child's eyes remained closed, but it moved its mouth, as if yawning. Somehow - be it Ebrisa's magic, benevolent Spirits reaching though the mark, or the Maker himself – the Rutherfords had their child back. The babe still didn't cry, but her parents more than made up for that.

 

Ebrisa was reluctant to let the child out of her arms after working so hard for her, but Sibil eventually managed to remove the frail thing and get it properly cleaned and swaddled. By the time the elf returned to the bed, the mage was solidly asleep in her husband's arms, body covered in sea water, sweat, blood, and womb fluids. Sibil sighed heavily at the mess, knowing she would have to clean the mother as well. She motioned Cullen over, the man awkwardly removing himself from the sleeping form in his grasp and settling her on the pillows. “Take.” Sibil placed the child in his arms, adjusting the bundle to show him where to support. “Leave.”

“But...” Cullen looked worriedly over his shoulder at his wife.

The elf pushed him towards the door. “Mamae rest.”

He hesitated, but nodded and left the room with his child. His child... Cullen smiled at the swaddled babe as it scrunched up its nose and wondered when she would let him see the color of her eyes.

“Don't keep us in suspense!” Hawke shouted from the main level, standing with Varric and Aveline at the base of the stairs.

Cullen shushed her and motioned to the bedroom before moving carefully down the steps. “Keep your voice down, Ebrisa is resting.”

“Yes, fine, whatever,” Hawke hurriedly sighed. “The baby, Cullen, let us see him!”

He leaned forward slightly, showing the group the tiny child. “It's a girl, Inquisitor.”

“Sweet Maker, she's so small,” Aveline breathed. “I haven't seen one that size survive-” She covered her mouth quickly. “Forgive me! I did not mean to...”

The commander cleared his throat to try and rid it of the tightness before he spoke. “She almost didn't. She wasn't breathing and...” His voice became hoarse. “Maker, I was so sure... but Ebrisa wouldn't give up.”

Varric smiled at the red thing squirming against the brightness. “Between Sunshine's determination and your protectiveness, I don't suspect anything bad will ever happen to this kid.”

“No.” Cullen trailed a finger lightly over his child's little bump of a nose. “Nothing will.”

Madam Lusine set down her glass of wine and stood up from the chair by the fire. “Congratulations, Commander. I see Sibil's services are no longer needed.” She turned an eye to Varric as she smiled slyly. “So I'll stop the clock here, Master Tethras. You did say triple the normal brothel rate, did you not?”

The dwarf waved at the woman as he continued to look at the child. “Triple, yes, sure thing. Just send me the bill.”

Sibil emerged from the bedroom with her bag and hurried over to the older woman. She paused and took a final glance at the quiet child, before looking at Cullen. “Name?”

He stilled. They had discussed the matter several times, tossing various names around, but since they thought there was more time, Cullen and Ebrisa hadn't really agreed on one yet. It would be wrong of him to just decide that on his own, wouldn't it? A smirk tugged at his lips as he recalled his wife's frantic whispering earlier. Cullen looked down at the small, swaddled child in his arms and grinned widely. “Allison.” He raised his eyes to the rest of the room. “Her name is Allison Vemara Rutherford.”
~~~~~~~

Perhaps it was because she was so early and her lungs weren't very strong yet that Allison was so quiet in her first week. Sibil had left a thin manuscript behind filled with illustrations depicting proper holding, feeding, changing, and swaddling techniques but few actual words – no doubt made by the elf herself. Ebrisa was eternally grateful and studied the pages constantly from the moment of her first awkward feeding attempt. She had been confused by the entire procedure and after nearly fifteen minuets of stumbling she became concerned that her breasts had not yet produced anything for the babe to drink. It turned out that the problem was not with herself, but the child was simply unable to suckle yet. It took a bit of time, but the mage was able to figure out a way to coax the milk into the babe's mouth. Once there, Allison swallowed it eagerly.

Ebrisa hadn't realized how much newborns slept and was initially concerned, adding the worry to the long list of vital things she didn't know. Having nowhere else to turn for immediate answers in Kirkwall, they paid a short visit to The Blooming Rose after a few days of rest.

Hawke immediately ordered the house special from the barman upon entry and Varric handed a rather full pouch to Madam Lusine, leaving Ebrisa and Cullen to stand awkwardly in the middle of the main room. The mage adjusted the child in her arms and managed to catch the attention of a serving girl. “Pardon, I don't mean to disrupt your work, but I was wondering if you knew where midwife Sibil was?”

The brunette set down her tray of empty mugs and leaned in, trying to inspect the bundled child. “Oh, you're the emergency case, aren't you?” She chuckled softly and turned around. “Sabina, Faith, get over here!” The waitress waved at two other women leaning on the balcony of an upper level. “It's the new mom!” The figures disappeared from view, then emerged excitedly from the stairs a moment later.

“I heard the babe was tiny, is she tiny?” Sabina, the elven woman, approached curiously.

Ebrisa carefully adjusted the load in her arms to show the other women. “Very tiny. She came to us early, so I wasn't able to prepare properly.” She lowered her eyes and chewed her lip worriedly. “There's so much I don't know and the notes midwife Sibil left me with only covers a little.”

Faith, the other woman, let out a quiet laugh. “And I take it you were hoping her other clients might fill in some gaps?”

“I know it is asking much, but writing to my sister-in-laws would leave too much time until I received any answers.”

“No trouble, no trouble,” Sabina ushered the mage to a table and the prostitutes sat down with her. “So, what sort of questions do you have? Its been a few days and you seem to be doing an alright job so far.”

Ebrisa smiled timidly. “Thank you. We've both been extremely vigilant with...” She paused and turned in the chair to look at her husband, still standing awkwardly with his arms folded and keeping his eyes down. “Cullen?”

He snapped his head up at her call and only then realized she'd moved across the room. “Oh, yes, sorry.” The commander walked over with the intention of simply standing behind her, but with the low-cut blouses of the workers and the angle of view that would provide him, he quickly pulled over a chair and sat beside her instead.

Sabina smirked in recognition as he joined the group. “Well, well, well. I see the Knight-Commander hasn't changed much. Still all thumbs and blushes around the fairer sex, are we?”

Ebrisa tilted her head curiously. “He's been here before?”

“Oh, we serve many templars here.” Faith chuckled low in her chest, making it sound more seductive. “He's been in more than once.”

“To retrieve my men!” Cullen blurted out defensively, face burning. “There were several incidents, especially with recruits and initiates, but I never – uh, I didn't – partake in the services of these... young ladies.”

The elf giggled and lightly slapped the other worker's shoulder. “Hear that? He called us young.”

“And ladies,” Faith added. She turned her attention to Ebrisa with an amused smirk. “You may want to hold on to this one. He's a bumbling flirt.” She winked at the commander before continuing. “It's rather adorable.”

Cullen quickly threw his arm around Ebrisa's shoulder and pulled her closer as he continued to blush. “She is. Very tightly. Married! We're married.”

“Ah, so the little one is official?” Sabina smiled slowly. “Good for you, miss. Bastards are quite the handful to raise.” She shook her head to rid it of thoughts of her own fatherless brat. “But you had questions, yes?” Hawke and Varric teased Cullen repeatedly about the encounter for the remainder of their stay in Kirkwall.

~~~~~~~~

Ebrisa wanted to tell her family about the birth immediately, but knew that doing so would only summon them to Kirkwall and extend their already too long stay. Hawke had pushed back their return to both allow the Herald more time to recover and watch for rifts, but the three of them really had to return to Skyhold. Well, four of them now.

Varric saw them to the dock on the day they left, tempted only slightly to come along with them, but filled with a sadness to see them go. He promised to visit before long and bring something soft and fuzzy for the child when he did. With Allison being so small, both parents feared she would become ill easily and once again Ebrisa spent the entire journey below deck and out of the cold wind. Cullen slept on the floor of the cabin, as the babe encircled in Ebrisa's arms on the bed left no room for him. He half-heard them wake often throughout the night with fussy murmurs from the child and soft humming from the mother. He'd get up too a few times and sit on the edge of the bed as Ebrisa leaned against the wall and soothed the child with feeding or rocking, watching the pair contently until they fell asleep again.

It was like a dream, too perfect to be real. He had a beautiful wife who loved him and a tiny child ready to be showered in affection. He never thought this would be possible for him, and if he had stayed with the templars, he knows it wouldn't have been. He would be too focused on the Chantry and the rules, too suspicious of magic, and too lost in the lyrium to know he was unfulfilled. Serving the Order was an honorable thing, but it took your life and often destroyed who you were. In a way, being a templar was like slowly being made tranquil, never realizing the change until it was too late and you forgot who you were. That sort of life was no life.

Cullen gently eased Ebrisa back to the mattress and adjusted Allison beside her, giving both of his girls a kiss on the temple. He watched them sleep and smiled to himself. What did he do to deserve this?

 

Chapter Text

Though Ebrisa kept the child bundled tightly in layers of wool to keep out the cold, Allison squirmed and fussed the entire journey up the mountain pass. The frigid air found its way into her lungs, making them fuller than they'd ever been, and she released her first, full-volume cry. Ebrisa started out of her half-sleep on the cart at the wail and pushed back the warm fabric to watch for a bit.

“So you can be loud now, huh? That's good.” The mage held Allison to her shoulder, lightly nudging her with her cheek. “That makes Mama very happy.” The babe quietened, preferring the woman's body heat to the blanket's warmth, and drifted off to sleep.

When they passed under the gates of Skyhold with the small escort, they were greeted with cheers and applause. The loud noise woke up Allison immediately and she cried at the uncomfortable sound. Ebrisa felt like crying herself, as it had barely been fifteen minuets since the child went down. While the babe did sleep much, it was never longer than a few hours at a time and followed an incredibly erratic pattern. This made Ebrisa's own sleep difficult to find, but she did her best to not allow it effect Cullen by responding quickly to their child's needs.

“Yes, I know, they're very impressive,” Hawke called out as she dismounted. “But Andraste's ass, could you keep it down? The thing's been crying off and on for hours now.” The assembled group lowered their voices and eyes sheepishly, but still beamed with excitement and joy.

Cullen took the still wailing child from Ebrisa so she could climb off the cart. “Come here, Alli.” He held her gently to his chest, being sure to keep a layer of fabric between them to block out the cold of his metal armor, and paced slowly as he hummed quietly. He wasn't sure if it was the low rumble of his voice or the rhythmic vibrations in his chest, but Cullen found the action soothed the child quickly. Allison soon quietened and drifted back to sleep, much to the relief of Hawke. Thank the Maker the Rutherfords slept on the other side of the fortress from her.

“Welcome back, my lady.” Josephine smiled widely and dipped her head as she approached Ebrisa. “It took some bribing and much persuasion, but your room has been readied for the little one. Unfortunately, the wet nurse I originally arranged for is still under contract with another family at the moment. In fact, it seems that just about every respectable wet nurse was not immediately available. I do apologize and will continue searching.” The Antivan shook her head and sighed heavily before meeting the Herald's eyes once again with a smile. “I have here a draft of the birth announcement for you to approve.”

Ebrisa took hold of the board and read over the sheet with tired eyes. “Yes, this will do nicely. Thank you, Josephine.” She handed it back and sighed. “Varric wasn't on the previous announcement list, so I'd like to double check the recipients before this goes out.”
“I'm sure that was quite the shock for our dwarven friend.” Josephine hummed. “He no doubt felt slighted.”

“And rightfully so,” the mage sighed and took a moment to fix her messy bun. “I hope you haven't worked yourself too hard on our account.”

“Nonsense.” The ambassador looked past the woman in front of her to Cullen gently bouncing the swaddled child. “I enjoyed every moment of it.”

~~~~~~~

They had been back for weeks now and the troops were disappointed to discover that instead of the commander softening due to his new role as father, he raised his standards and became all the sterner. He had a wife and child now and the Inquisition needed to be ready to defend his family against any threat. This made for longer patrols, harder drills, and far more stabilizing efforts in the surrounding regions. The soldiers really hadn't considered how fiercely his protectiveness would extend.

Cullen didn't laze about either. He spent a great deal of time both personally sparring with and training the troops as well as in his office reading reports and writing letters. Some of the closer Fereldan arls felt threatened by the army at their borders, so Cullen tried his best to be diplomatic with them and work alongside the nobles when securing their lands from lingering threats. “The Inquisition is not here to conquer your homes, only to ensure you still have them.” Josephine made sure to glance over the correspondences before they went out to the nobility, but she was quickly becoming pleased with his efforts. And it took a lot of effort.

By the end of the day when the commander finally snuffed out the lights in his office and went to join his family, he was weary, but not to the point that he ignored them. Ebrisa always got a kiss first, the level of affection depending on Allison's attitude. When the child was loud or fussy, the mage only received a peck on the temple or cheek, but if Alli was sleeping or otherwise content in the bassinet, Cullen would pull his wife to him and kiss her so deeply that everything else faded away for a few minuets. Ebrisa knew he was working hard and tried to not burden him with too much once he returned to their quarters, ensuring Allison was clean and feed before he came in so he could relax and play with the babe if he so desired. He often did.

~~~~~~~~~~

Cullen shot up suddenly in the bed, panting as the demon nightmare slowly left him. He dropped back down against the pillows and rubbed his hands over his face. It had been so long since he'd had a dream that bad that he thought he was finally rid of them. Cullen reached out in the dark for his wife's sleeping form, hoping to banish the last bit of panic with her comforting warmth.

He met only air.

He shot up once again and searched the bed while softly calling for her. In desperation, Cullen lit a candle and was startled to find he was completely alone. Wherever Ebrisa was, she'd taken Allison with her. A faint cry cut through the howls of the wind outside and the commander quickly followed it to his office.

Ebrisa slowly paced the room in the light of a single candle with the wailing child to her shoulder, bouncing her lightly and mumbling out pleas for quiet. She turned and would have collided with Cullen had he not caught her by the arm. She looked up at him slowly, confused.

“Its morning?” She gasped suddenly and spun around, trying to hide her messy appearance. “Di-did you sleep well?” The dark circles under her eyes and pale complexion spoke volumes for how little sleep she'd claimed herself.

“How long have you been up?” Cullen undid her falling apart bun and ran his fingers through her hair, the action soothing away some of the mage's anxiety.

She laughed timidly. “Two guard rotations... Did you know Amit and Gabe do a special handshake when they switch?”

“Gabe isn't on duty tonight.” The commander directed Ebrisa to a chair and sat her down.

“No, but he was the past three nights.” She turned her head away and yawned into her shoulder. “It starts with a high-five, then there's this weird... lasso type move, I guess.”

Cullen knelt down before her, frowning in concern. “The past three? Ebrisa, have you been sleeping at all?”

Again, she laughed. “I catch some rest while Alli sleeps, but she's more active at night.” The woman looked down at the crying babe. “I think she has days and nights confused... or just prefers being the only loud noise around.”

It hadn't escaped Cullen's notice that Ebrisa had been wearing makeup recently, he just didn't realize she was doing so to cover her tired features. She went out of her way to be attentive around him, despite being so exhausted from caring for the babe all day... and all night as well, apparently. “Why haven't you said anything about this?”

“Ysmay and Cinnie both assured me this is normal... for several months... at least.” The Herald dropped her head and sighed.

“But why take this on yourself?” He reached out and held her cheek, his wife leaning into his warm touch.

“You work so much during the day. You need your sleep,” she mumbled as her eyes fluttered slightly.

Cullen sighed and stood up, taking Allison into his own arms. “You need sleep too, Wife. I believe this is our child, not just yours.” He bounced the babe as he continued to look at the exhausted woman. “I'm responsible for her too. Let me help.”

“But you... with the... the swords...” Ebrisa's mind was already shutting down as the commander coaxed the child to quiet.

“Training and managing the army?” Cullen chuckled. “Yes, I do have work to do, but if you keep insisting on doing all this parenting yourself, I'll have two crying girls on my hands. Let me help.”

“Not too much...” Ebrisa relented as her head dropped against the chair back. “You still need to... with the pointy... sharp things...”

“I think I'll manage.” He bent down and pressed his forehead to hers. “Go to sleep.” The woman complied instantly and was out by the time Cullen stood upright again. He looked at the fussing, yet considerably quieter child. “Now if only that could work on you as quickly.”

~~~~~~~

It only took a week for Cullen to develop a whole new level of respect for his wife.

Though she had been deprived of sleep for the better part of a month, Ebrisa had managed to keep up her appearance to the point few could notice her tiredness. Even though the two were now sharing the responsibility at night, Cullen quickly found himself matching her in exhaustion from caring for Allison at all hours.

The lack of rest Cullen was receiving left him too tired to groom himself as usual, some days not shaving properly and others leaving his hair unstyled, the true twisted nature of his hair slowly springing back. Before long, those who had not known the commander prior to the Inquisition came to realize why he had the nickname Curly. His weariness never got too out of hand, but it was enough for several to take pity and for Josephine to redouble her efforts in finding a wetnurse.

 

Allison cried out suddenly, twisting in the warm blankets of the bassinet beside the bed of her haggard parents. Ebrisa groaned and began to untangle herself from her spouse.

“Wait...” Cullen mumbled. “It's my turn...”

She stifled a yawn and shook her head in the dark. “You spent a good deal of the day training the men in the yard. You need more rest...”

Cullen couldn't deny he would love some more sleep, but he had vowed to help. “Cole?”

The young man slipped into the room and stood over Allison quietly, tilting his head as he listened. “She's hungry.”

Ebrisa climbed off the bed with more than a little effort. “That's a Mama-only job.” She nodded in thanks to Cole, the boy grinning widely before he left, and scooped up the child. Its was a bit strange the first time they awoke to find Cole standing over the crying babe, talking to her in an attempt to soothe her crankiness. Since then, the new parents came to rely on him during the long nights so Allison's needs could be seen to as soon as possible and they could all return to sleep.

The mage sat down in the rocking chair and began to feed the babe. Blackwall was terribly displeased with the piece as he had to scramble to get the thing completed instead of taking the time he thought he had on it. Once in a while he would replace a part with something better, but he was always sure that the chair was ready to use and back with the Rutherfords by nightfall. Anything to quiet the child faster – she wasn't keeping just her parents up at night. Blackwall began spending more nights with Hawke in her quarters as a result. Well, that was his excuse at least.

Despite the crying and fussing and erratic sleeping pattern, Ebrisa was the happiest she'd ever been in her entire life. To hold the steadily growing physical manifestation of her and Cullen's love was nearly overwhelming at times. This little thing, this tiny person, this small marvel was a gift – a reward, perhaps – from the Maker. All the pain, suffering, torment, and fear that used to occupy Ebrisa's life had brought her to this point. Her insecurities lead her to Cullen, to love, to marriage... to a family. She didn't mind the demons or twisted ancients or terrible battles that accompanied her transition from frightened mage to caring mother, because now she could dote on her husband and child and try to show them some measure of the love, warmth, and happiness that they filled her with each passing second of every single day.

 

Chapter Text

It had taken much convincing from both Josephine and Ebrisa to get Cullen to agree. The ambassador tried all manner of angles to get him to concede, even throwing in bribes and promises, but he was slow to budge at all.

“I haven't been in so long, Cullen,” Ebrisa whispered one morning as she helped him secure his armor. “But it wouldn't be the same without you there. I guess... if you really don't want to attend, then I won't go either.” She looked up at him with sad eyes and a slight tremble of a pout. That was a very unfair card to play. Ultimately, it was the heartbreaking look of disappointment on his wife's face that finally won him over.

So now the group was in Northern Ostwick, riding in a carriage and dressed in uncomfortable finery. Okay, so Cullen was the only uncomfortable one – even Allison seemed to be enjoying the frilly sleeves and colorful stitching on her dress. Cullen wasn't even aware they made such detailed clothing that small.

“Yvette will be there, so please do me the courtesy of not taking anything she says at face value,” Josephine sighed and leaned back against the plush seat. “I know you said she behaved properly during your assignment in Antiva City, but gossip flows from her as freely as air.”

Ebrisa laughed lightly into her shoulder, using both hands to secure her child in the jostling carriage. “Its a family trait then?”

The ambassador blushed slightly and frowned. “My lady, I am not nearly as bad as her. At least I take the time to vet the legitimacy of rumors before I spread them to others. Why, at the Winter Palace she had the audacity to say you found the templars drinking blood at Therinfall Redoubt, or some such nonsense.” She sighed and shook her head. “The Inquisitor played along for a little while. It was truly horrifying.”

“Let us hope she did not bring too much Orlesian influence with her,” Cullen grumbled. He stilled at the mournful expression that passed over Ebrisa's face. The Summer Ball was her favorite time of year as a child, he knew that. She wanted to share that experience with him and introduce their small family to the Trevelyans. She wanted him to enjoy himself... Cullen cleared his throat and sat up straighter. “Haven't been to a Free Marches party before. I expect it will prove to be a far more enjoyable affair than the Winter Palace masquerade.” Ebrisa turned to him and smiled brightly, the action still making his heart quicken, no matter how many times he witnessed it.

Josephine laughed behind her hand. “Well, we are going into the event without an assassination plot hanging over our heads, so I believe the chances of a better evening are quite high already.”

~~~~~~~~~~

While the estate was far smaller and less gaudy than the Winter Palace – and understandably so – it was still rather impressive to behold. The breath caught in Ebrisa's throat as she looked up at the hundreds of candle lanterns decorating the front courtyard and windows, the flickering lights almost making the party twinkle in the dimming twilight.

Josephine went in before the couple, giving her name to the footman who quickly passed it along to the steward at the ballroom's entrance. She stood at the top of the stairs as she was announced, then slowly made her way down the the bustling main level and up to the small, elevated dance floor where the hostess was waiting to receive her. They exchanged pleasantries before the ambassador dipped her head respectfully and went off to find her sister.

Ebrisa panicked slightly as they made their way down the corridor to the party proper. She'd forgotten the correct way to hold herself when there was a child already in her arms and didn't want to drop her by not giving the babe enough support either. Cullen noticed the awkward shifting back and forth she was doing and the bubbling laughter from Allison as she was swiftly moved around. “Should I take her?”

“What?” The mage turned to him, nearly having forgotten that was an option. “Yes, actually.” She handed over the child and straightened her gown and clasped shrug, then positioned Allison securely on Cullen's left side. Ebrisa ran a hand through the child's short, golden curls and tapped her nose before taking hold of Cullen's right elbow and approaching the doorway together.

“Commander Cullen Stanton Rutherford of the Inquisition,” the steward called out to the room, a small portion of the crowd stopping their chatter to regard the new arrivals. “Accompanying him, the Lady Herald Ebrisa Amelisse Trevelyan Rutherford, and Allison Vemara Rutherford.”

The small family made their way down the steps carefully, but not to the point they looked awkward doing so. They stopped before the aging woman in the center of the dance floor, Ebrisa releasing Cullen's arm as she curtsied and he bowed slightly, not about to drop his child for etiquette’s sake.

“Great Aunt Lucille.” Ebrisa smiled warmly at the hostess. “It has been far too long.”

“My, my, my.” Lucille placed a hand to her cheek and shook her head. “Blessed Andraste, how you've grown. I recall when you couldn't even reach my hip.” She laughed lightly and moved forward. “I'm so sorry I could not attend the wedding - Bloomingtide is always so fretfully busy for me.” The aging woman reached out and pinched Allison's cheek. “It would seem the month was busy for you as well, hmm?”

Ebrisa blushed furiously, unsure how to respond but knowing she had to say something. “We – uh – that is...”

“The Inquisition has kept us quite busy with relief efforts and clearing up Corypheus' influence, it's true.” Cullen glanced down at his flustered wife. “We manage.”

Lucille laughed quietly and backed away. “And so you do, Commander.” She nodded at him knowingly. “Enjoy the rest of the evening.” The couple dipped slightly in parting and moved off the raised floor.

Once far enough away, Ebrisa let out a deep breath. “Maker's Mercy, I didn't think she would say something like that... in front of everyone...”

“Well, we were busy.” Cullen smirked as his wife blushed again. It was so delightfully easy to make her flustered.

The mage shook her head and let out a quiet breath. “Shall we see who else is here? I'm eager to meet Federyc's little boy.” They moved through the ballroom, slowly taking in the sights and sounds as a few people approached them. Having not seen most of her family for nearly twenty years due to being sequestered off during gatherings when she still attended them, Ebrisa was at a terrible disadvantage at recognizing anyone. Those who did talk with the Rutherfords had to introduce themselves and as the awkward conversations wore on, the mage realized she knew next to nothing about her extended family members. When you're a child you just don't pay attention to business dealings or land disputes, so Ebrisa was left to rely upon her etiquette to see her through and feign interest on the various updates she received. She would have to spend some time in her father's study to familiarize herself again, it would seem.

~~~~~~

Aurelia tightened her grip on the stem of her glass as she watched her sister move excitedly across the room. She'd hoped Ebrisa would not attend, as she had missed last year's Summer Ball, and spare her the sight of the loving couple. It was almost sickening to see the interaction between the Rutherfords and the fact that there was now a third member twisted Aurelia's insides with a furious jealousy. It had all come so easily to Ebrisa – the love, the happiness, the child. It wasn't right. It wasn't fair.

She'd visited every midwife, apothecary, and Chantry in Starkhaven for maneuvers, tonics, and blessings to aide in fertility, but Aurelia remained unsuccessful. She presented herself to her husband practically every night and could tell he was becoming frustrated with her. It had been over a year and still she had given him no heir. He became irritated by the sight of her in recent months and his actions while bedding her grew more aggressive and forceful. Aurelia's hope for his love crumbled away each day and was replaced with the crippling fear that she would be dismissed from his side in disgrace and he would look elsewhere for a more capable mate.

Maker, it wasn't fair! She was trying so hard, doing everything in her power to be a proper wife and bare Lord Bainard's children. The Chantry says that you dream of babies and the good Fade spirits scoop them up and place them in your arms... but if that were true she'd already be holding a child by now. Aurelia dreamed of them often, adorable little boys and girls running around with dark hair and bright eyes – proof that there was something special between herself and Bainard. Why did nothing work for her? She tried everything...

Everything save magic.

Was that how her mage sister produced a child so quickly? The time between the Rutherford wedding and birth announcement did not lend itself to the normal gestation of a child, so their was either magic at play or Ebrisa had conceived far earlier than she claimed. Aurelia huffed and set down her empty glass. Having relations out of wedlock and parading the result around was decidedly improper and disgraceful. It would not stand.

 ~~~~~~~~

“Ah, I see you have found us.” Ysmay smiled up at the Rutherfords as they approached the corner of the room.

Catilynn set down the sketchbook and hurried over to Cullen. “I want to see the baby!”

“Cat,” Ysmay sighed with a hint of sternness.

The little girl lowered her head in shame. “Sorry.” She looked back up at the commander, holding her skirt out and curtseying slightly. “Hello, Uncle Cullen. May I see my cousin?”

He chuckled and knelt down. “Of course, Cat.” He turned the babe around and set her on his knee. “This is Allison. Say hello, Alli.” The child babbled out a few sounds and reached out for the other girl's swaying pigtail.

Catilynn took hold of the outstretched hand and tilted her head, looking between Cullen and Allison. “You have the same eyes.”

Ebrisa smiled widely as she knelt down as well. “Oh yes, Allison is definitely Daddy's girl. I'm jealous of how much he dotes on her.”

Cullen blushed slightly and shot his wife a sideways glance. “That's a bit of an exaggeration...”

She giggled softly, driving the teasing home further, before turning to her niece. “How are you liking being a big sister? I'm the youngest of the family myself, so if you're looking for tips I'm afraid I have none.”

“You're lucky then. Its a lot of work,” Cat huffed and let go of Allison's hand. “Alphie cries a lot. Mistress Sadie wasn't happy and left.”

“His first wetnurse,” Ysmay explained. “The current one seems to be able to handle things. Of course, Alphonse cries considerably less now. I'm trying to persuade Madlin to stay on as his nanny after.”

Allison made a pouting face and began to cry, causing Cullen to stand back up and bounce her. “Hey, hey. What is it?”

Ebrisa moved a hand to her breast and flushed slightly. “Ah.” She got up quickly and took hold of the child. “Mama-only time. Let's go get you fed, Alli.” She dipped her head at the other woman. “If you'll excuse me, I need to go find a secluded area for a bit.”

“Oh, yes, by all means.” Ysmay nodded and watched her cut through the crowd towards a side hall. “I take it you didn't bring your wetnurse?”

“We could never find one,” Cullen sighed.

Ysmay raised her brows in surprise. “Never? You two had no help?”

The commander hesitated slightly. “Someone does... provide a bit of insight from time to time and my sister-in-law did assist for a few days when my family came for Allison's dedication into the Chantry, but as for official help, no.”

“I do wish we could have made it to Orlais for that,” she sighed. “Not every child gets dedicated by the Divine.”

Cullen chuckled as he recalled Cassandra stiffly moving step by step through the ceremony, constantly checking her notes on the alter and needing a priest to whisper each line for her to repeat to the cathedral. It was awkward and forced, but Ebrisa was immensely happy to have the whole affair performed by one they knew so well, one who would cherish the memory as much as the parents. It was one of the first acts Cassandra had performed as Divine Victoria and despite not knowing a single thing about the procedure, she had requested to do it herself once she received the birth announcement. The founder of the Inquisition dedicating a child of the Inquisition into the Chantry.

“Yes, well, it was certainly memorable.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Ebrisa had ended up in the same, small study she used to spend the event in as a child and let out a quiet laugh at the irony as she shut the door behind herself. She sat down in an armchair she remembered being much larger and unclasped her light shrug to gain access to the knot of her gown's straps. The fabric crossed in the front over a wide-necked blouse, making feeding the child much easier. She adjusted Allison and slipped the rest of the blouse out of the way, hiding her exposed self and Allison from view with the shrug. Ebrisa looked down at the babe as she fed, always sure to keep herself visible to Alli when covering up. She rarely had to as there was usually time to make it back to their quarters when in Skyhold, but whenever they ventured from home her modesty wouldn't allow for intentional exposure.

When Allison had her fill, Ebrisa adjusted her clothing back in place, but remained in the study and listened to the muffled music. So far, the evening was everything she remembered from her grandiose memory. The dresses were still beautiful, the room glittering, the music delightful, and the dancing graceful... but there was a disconnect between them and herself. Her time away from her family made Ebrisa feel out of place amongst them, like a stranger invited in for political obligations. She tried to immerse herself in the party and spoke with anyone who approached her, laughing and smiling, but each time she turned to her husband, reality set in.

Cullen would stand silently beside her, keeping his groans quiet and answers short, but respectful. This was almost painful for him. She felt foolish for dragging Cullen all the way there, for forcing him onto a ship with its confined spaces and into a party he was obviously uncomfortable at. The one thing that seemed to be making him smile at all during the entire trip was Allison, and now Ebrisa was keeping her from him.

She let out a deep sigh and stood up, looking at the sleepy child in her arms. “Let's pass you off to Daddy so he can go hide somewhere, hmm?” Ebrisa moved back to the ballroom and found Cullen where she left him, only now he was alone with Federyc. He stopped talking abruptly when he noticed her and nodded at her brother.

“I wasn't expecting you to come back so soon.” Cullen noted the child's drowsiness. “Won't all this commotion keep her up?”

Ebrisa gave him a half smile. “I thought you might take Alli somewhere quiet so the both of you could rest. You'd like a break, yes?”

“I suppose...” He was a little confused as the mage handed their child off to him. “We'll see you later then.” Cullen kissed her cheek before he walked away.

Federyc studied the interaction and smiled slightly, but kept his thoughts to himself. Ebrisa looked at her elder brother and tilted her head. “I take it Ysmay has the children?”

“Yes. They've gone to find somewhere not quite so crowded for Alphonse to walk around.”

She lifted a hand to her mouth in surprise. “He walks now?”

He smirked proudly. “He does. No running just yet, but the little one is very well balanced. What progress has yours made so far?”

“Ah, well, she can roll herself over and I expect she'll be crawling any day now. Not nearly as impressive.” The mage smiled warmly. “Alli looks at you when you say her name and she laughs so much now. Especially when Cullen plays with her. She likes him better, I think.”

“It's a little early to tell that sort of thing,” Federyc chuckled softly. “She's only seven months old.”

“So she will pick a favorite,” the mage giggled. “I suspected as much. He'll be her first word, just you watch.”

Federyc hummed in acknowledgment before lowering his eyes and returning to his normal serious posture. “There's something I think you should know. Mother is here.”

Ebrisa stiffened slightly. “Oh? I... I haven't seen her.”

“That's intentional. She's taking care to stay out of your way.” He returned his gaze to his sister. “I was with her when you were announced and she had such a look of pride on her face. There was sadness too, but the pride overtook it easily. Mother was glad you kept the tradition, despite everything she put you through.”

It took a moment for the mage to process what she heard. Had Galatea truly felt remorse for her actions and finally accepted her daughter? Ebrisa's brow wrinkled slightly in confusion at the other comment. “What tradition is she talking about?”

“The naming, of course. Did you not name your child after Andraste's granddaughter?”

“No. Allison was Cullen's mother and Vemara was the senior enchanter who helped me escape the Ostwick Circle when it fell. We didn't...” She paused and mulled over the name. “Alli... Vemar... Maker, I never noticed.”

Federyc let out a single laugh. “You mean to say you named your daughter after Ebris' child on accident?”

Ebrisa smiled. “I'm saying Cullen did. I had promised Emery I wouldn't let my poor naming habits adversely affect my children.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cullen held Allison to his shoulder, lightly swaying as he hummed to her. He'd found a quiet section of a side hall for them to hide in and watched the lamp-lit merriment outside from the large window. This was how Ebrisa had seen so many of the past Summer Balls and even though this sort of thing wasn't his idea of fun, Cullen could see how studying everything from afar would fill her with longing.

“How do you know that tune?”

He turned around slowly at the voice, coming face to face with a hesitant Galatea. Cullen refrained from growling if only for the sleeping child in his arms. “Ebrisa sings it to Alli often.”

Galatea lowered her eyes and smiled softly. “So she remembers the words as well...”

The commander tilted his head and looked the woman over more carefully. The noble was dressed elegantly, not that he expected any different, but instead of her normal stiff posture, she held herself weakly. Almost in defeat. “I see you have not been sent away after all.”

“No, I have not. Your wife is due most of the credit for that decision.” Galatea lifted her eyes to look out the window. “I know what I have done can never be forgiven. Ebrisa can't or won't bring herself to hate me, but you are an honorable man. You can see my actions for what they were and I fully expect you to continue to loathe me for them. In fact, I am rather counting on it. I deserve to be despised.”

“If you approached me so that I may yell at you, I'm a bit occupied at the moment.” Cullen turned back to the window. “Perhaps later.”

“Yes, we wouldn't want to wake young Allison.” Galatea looked down at the folded object in her hands. “I had something I wanted to give her. I made it the same way I did for my children, but for one exception.” She crossed the tile and set the small blanket on the bench beside Cullen, exposing a hand-stitched lion's head in profile on the corner. “I had little reference for the heraldry, so I hope it's correct.”

“It... yes.” Cullen looked at the woman curiously. “Why did you do this?”

The noblewoman sighed quietly and straightened herself. “I know I was not a good mother to Ebrisa, but I hope to be an adequate grandmother for Allison. I'll send her whatever love you deem appropriate.”

He glanced down at the blanket, then back at the woman. “You know, with all the magic and Fade energy that coursed through Ebrisa around Alli's birth, its very likely she will be a mage. Would you still send her love then?”

Galatea closed her eyes and let out another sigh. “Fear controlled much of my life. I failed my sister. I failed my daughter. I will not fail my grandchild, if I can help it.”

~~~~~~~~~

“My dear Lady Rutherford, may I have this dance?”

Ebrisa spun around quickly, nearly dropping her newest nephew in surprise. Alphonse wiggled in her arms and she slowly set him on his feet as she continued to stare at Cullen. The red-haired child walked back to his mother and the toy awaiting him, having been completely forgotten by his aunt. “Y-yes.” Ebrisa straightened and took Cullen's offered hand. “Of course, my beloved Commander Rutherford.” She smiled as Ysmay giggled and Theoderyc made gagging noises behind her, ignoring them in favor of focusing entirely on her husband.

They moved up to the raised dance floor as a few other couples followed suit. Cullen had requested the song, ensuring he could perform the dance properly – making a fool of himself was the farthest thing from his goal. The music began and the dancers bowed before joining hands with their partners and moving in small patterns across the tile. Ebrisa was beaming brightly at him, as Cullen hoped she would, and barely contained her giddy laughter.

“In case you're wondering, Josephine has Alli.”

The mage broke from her happy daze. “Oh, I'm such a bad mother! I hadn't even noticed you didn't have her.”

Cullen chuckled. “I did ambush you with this dance, so don't dwell on it. You needed a break from motherhood. In fact, Federyc has agreed to take Alli for the night so you can focus on being a wife.” He leaned in to whisper. “I'm rather looking forward to it.” Ebrisa blushed and ducked her head.

“Don't say things like that in front of everyone...” she mumbled against his shoulder.

“Whatever do you mean, dear wife?” He smirked at her. “I haven't said anything inappropriate.”

Ebrisa looked up at him and pouted. “You're intention was the same. You just like watching me squirm.” Cullen's smirk widened and he raised a brow, saying nothing and letting the mage's own words sink in. She blushed further and looked away again.

“Now who's being inappropriate?”

“I- I didn't mean it that way!” Ebrisa whispered harshly, trying to ignore the eyes on her.

“Didn't you?” Once again, Cullen leaned in to her ear. “Because you're right,” he whispered huskily. His hot breath against her neck in combination with his implications sent shivers through Ebrisa and she struggled to keep any sort of noise from escaping, biting her lip. Cullen tightened his hold on her and wondered how much longer they had to stay at the party. He really was looking forward to wife time.
~~~~~~

Federyc's family was preparing to head out, the children nearly falling asleep on their feet from sheer boredom. “How Ebrisa enjoyed the Summer Ball at their age, I'll never know,” he sighed as they waited for the carriage to arrive.

“How she enjoys it at her own age alludes me as well,” Cullen muttered under his breath.

“Oh, I don't know. You seemed to enjoy a moment or two, Commander,” Ysmay laughed lightly. “I saw that smirk on your face as you danced.”

“Ah, but that was...” Cullen blushed slightly. “That had nothing to do with the party. I was just talking with Ebrisa.”

The woman raised a brow. “And you could only say it on the dance floor?”

“No...” the commander relented. “But she likes dancing and we don't have much opportunity to do so. I thought I ought to dance with her at least once while we were here.”

“So you might go again just to make her happy?” Ysmay adjusted the slumbering Alphonse in her arms. “How terribly sweet of you.”

Federyc straightened as the carriage pulled up and turned to Cullen, holding out his arms. The commander carefully handed the sleeping Allison over, like she was the most fragile thing in the world. He tucked the new blanket around her, ensuring she was warm, then paused and adjusted it. When he moved to fuss over the child a third time, Federyc pulled away. “We will take care of her. Try not to fret so much.”

“Right...” Having someone else watch Allison for the night seemed like a great idea, but now that she was leaving his side Cullen felt a nearly overwhelming anxiety. This was the first time she would be away from both parents for so long and he wondered if perhaps he should keep her after all.

Federyc seemed to notice his apprehension and sighed. He leaned in, ensuring Ysmay and the children wouldn't hear. “Would you rather abandon your duty as a father for one night or ignore the wife you were so eager to get alone? How long has it been since you truly did not have to hold back, hmm? With the three of you in the same room and no one to take the child off your hands, I suspect it has been quite a while.”

Cullen cleared his throat and rubbed his neck. “Well, we... are all the men in your family so forward, or just you and Emery?”

“Avoidance. That means I'm right.” Federyc shook his head. “You should really figure something out when you get home. Find a sitter for a few hours or go into another room when the child is sleeping.” He studied Cullen's flushed face and shook his head again. “We'll see you at the estate in the morning. The late morning.”

“Are you two done talking?” Ysmay leaned out the carriage door. “If you terry any longer, you'll have to ride back with your mother and sister and I won't be able to carry all three of the children in by myself.”

“Coming, dear,” Federyc called over his shoulder. He leveled an eye at his brother-in-law one last time before joining his family and leaving the Fereldan alone by the gate.

 

Chapter Text

“Oh! My lady Herald! Remember me?” Yvette flicked her hand high in the air in a beckoning motion, catching Ebrisa's attention.

The mage made her way over as Josephine held her head in an attempt to hide from the embarrassment. “Yvette, honestly...”

“Josephine, Mama said for you not to stifle me.”

“Stifle you?! I am doing no such thing,” the ambassador huffed.

Yvette waved her off and turned her face away. “I can feel your negative thoughts crushing in on my artistic nature, sister.”

“Lady Yvette, it is good to see you have recovered from witnessing the rift in Antiva City.” Ebrisa smiled sheepishly before lowering her eyes. “I was a concerned you might still be afraid of me.”

“Afraid? I would never!”

The mage leveled a skeptical look at the woman. “You kept a piece a furniture between us for the remainder of my stay at your family estate. How would you describe such behavior.”

Unacceptable, but you were not asking me,” Josephine sighed.

“Oh, but I was merely in awe! Hearing the tales and seeing one unfold before my eyes are two very different things,” Yvette defended. “But now I have something to regale your family with, even thought they are already talking about you - and not just for the Herald of Andraste thing.”

Thing, Yvette?” Josephine sighed.

“Calling, duty, whatever,” the younger woman rolled her eyes. “The point is many here are talking about you.”

“They... are?” Ebrisa felt uneasy and glanced around, noticing the people watching her across the room.

“Yes! It's a terrific scandal.”

“Scandal?” Josephine frowned. “Yvette, what are you talking about?”

“Why, the little one of course!” Yvette leaned in to the mage and brought a hand to her face to shield her hushed words. “So, which is true? You conceived before the great battle in the Arbor Wilds or upon the victory? I am betting it is the later.”

Ebrisa stared at the expectant young noble, stunned and mortified all at once.

“Yvette!” Josephine grabbed her sister by the wrist and pulled her away from the Herald. “Why would you say such things?!”

“Josephine, one of them has to be true, everyone says so,” the young woman sighed. “How else could they have a child so soon after being wed? And the Commander obviously agreed to the marriage to take responsibility for getting the Herald pregnant, yes?”

“No, Yvette, very much no!” Josephine brought her hands to her eyes. “Who told you this?”

“Several people did – like I said, everyone says so – but the first one to tell me was...” The artist tapped a finger to her chin in thought. “It was a dark haired woman... shared her name with a Divine...”

Josephine turned to the pale-faced mage. “I had seen your mother around, but I would not think she'd spread rumors against you...” Ebrisa found it difficult to believe as well, despite her mother saying something similar last time they were in Ostwick.

Yvette laughed. “Oh no, she was old, but not that old. About your age, Josephine.”

“Aurelia...?” Ebrisa asked softly, though unsure why her sister would say such slander.

“Yes! That was it!” Yvette nodded enthusiastically. “She came up to me when you were dancing. She said the commander likely forced himself upon you, but he doesn't seem-”

The confusion lifted in an instant and an uncharacteristic rage consumed the mage. She walked away from the Montilyets without a word and stormed through the ballroom, searching out her sister. Anger built with each step until the fury was so great that when she did find Aurelia, the mage slapped her across the face with such force it sent the other woman to the floor. Ebrisa failed to notice the others around them, seeing only her elder sister and leveling a fierce glare. “How dare you!”

Aurelia held her hand to her cheek and looked up at the gathering crowd. She carefully picked herself up and tried to regain her composure. “Sister, perhaps we might go elsewhere to-”

“You have no right to speak ill of them! To spread lies about them!” Ebrisa wasn't going to give a single inch. “Say whatever you want about me. Rumors, slander, I don't care – I'm used to it – but don't you ever try and degrade my husband or child!” The anger wavered slightly. “Why would you even do that? They've never done anything to you... I've never done anything...”

The elder sister pulled her hand away and frowned in her own mild anger. “That's it exactly,” she hissed. “You didn't have to do anything and you got everything. You didn't even try!”
“What are you talking about?” Ebrisa couldn't understand. Aurelia was always the one to get what she wanted.

“Your marriage, your child – they came so easily for you. You've always had things easy,” Aurelia spat.

“You think it was easy? Nothing has been easy for me. Ever!” Ebrisa clenched her hands to keep from striking her sister again. “I spent so much of my life scared of myself and hating myself because of what Mother and the Circle put me through. So much time struggling with my feelings and thinking I couldn't be loved, that I didn't deserve it.” She looked down at her feet, not wanting to look at her sister any longer. “Did you forget the war we fought across the Waking Sea? There was death and demons and fighting every day, but somehow in all that I was able to find Cullen. And Alli? There almost wasn't an Alli!”

Ebrisa tried to hold back the tears as her voice became quieter. “Sealing the rifts in Kirkwall put so much stress on my body and it hurt her, making her come out too soon and she wasn't ready. Sh-she was so small and the midwife couldn't get her to – Maker, she wasn't breathing and -” She placed a hand over her mouth as the tears flowed freely down her face, the pain and heartache of that moment still so fresh in her mind. “It took everything I had – it almost took me – but somehow... somehow I got her to take a breath. Then another... and she finally moved and... By all accounts, Allison shouldn't be alive, but she is. By all accounts, Cullen shouldn't love me, but he does.” Ebrisa raised her reddened eyes to meet her sister's startled ones. “They are my heart, and you don't get to belittle my heart.”

“I... I wasn't trying to...” Aurelia had to look away from the tear filled glare, but she could still feel its intensity burning into her.

“So what was your intention then?” The mage nearly growled, her anger building once again as Aurelia tried to make excuses.

A hand on her shoulder caused Ebrisa to jump slightly and finally notice the small crowd. Her rage slowly died out with the murmuring around her and she looked away. She knew who was touching her, recognizing the combination of gentleness and firmness instantly. “Cullen...”

“Come on, let's go,” the commander said softly as he guided her away. Ebrisa nodded and wiped at her eyes, moving through the parting onlookers and letting herself be lead all the way outside. When Josephine ran up to him in a panic, Cullen wasn't sure what to expect. The Antivan was so out of breath that she could barely say more than the Herald and angry and that was really all it took to get him rushing to the ballroom. Cullen had to push his way through the gossiping party goers to get to his wife's side, but he heard much of her shouting before he even drew close. She had stood up for him quite violently once again and as much as he reveled in her devotion, Cullen hoped she wouldn't make a habit of it. At least she hadn't punched anyone this time.

“She was saying terrible things...” Ebrisa mumbled as they waited for the carriage.

“I know,” he sighed quietly and pulled her to his side, rubbing her arm. “I heard.”

“I couldn't let her...”

Cullen kissed her temple lightly. “I know.”

Ebrisa leaned against him and closed her eyes. “I don't think we can come back. At least not for a few years...”

“That's probably a good idea.” He paused for a moment as their ride approached. “I promise to find some other places to take you dancing in the mean time.”

She looked up at him, a little surprised, but quickly recovered. “I'd like that.”

Cullen helped her into the carriage, then told the driver their destination and climbed in himself. He sat beside her and waited for them to start moving before pulling Ebrisa into his lap and holding her securely with an arm around her waist. She squeaked and Cullen chuckled lightly. “You know, if you keep defending my honor like that, people will think I can't fight my own battles. What sort of commander would I be then?”

Ebrisa draped her arms around his neck. “A well loved one.”

“I think that's a given, Wife.” He trailed a hand up and down the exposed section of her back under the loose shrug. “But you really shouldn't do things like that so much. You may have squashed one rumor, but poor Josephine must be working overtime to deal with the aftermath of your sisterly spat.”

The mage arched her back against his touch. “But Aurelia-”

“Doesn't matter,” Cullen cut in. “I'm not sure what her issue is, but private matters should remain private. Perhaps confront her in a more secluded area next time?” Ebrisa made a quiet whimper of understanding, as though she was being scolded and afraid to worsen the situation. “Good. Now can we forget about everything for the rest of the night?”

Ebrisa leaned in and rested her forehead against his. “Everything?”

“Everything else,” Cullen corrected with a smirk. “I have plans for you.”

~~~~~~~

As much as they enjoyed and needed the time alone, Cullen and Ebrisa were desperately anxious to have their daughter once again. They arrived at the family estate in the late morning – as Federyc predicted – to find a flustered wetnurse trying to calm the crying little girl in the nursery. Alphonse took the opportunity to climb up on the window seat and open the glass pane, the creaking hinge alerting Madlin to the danger and she quickly set Allison on the floor so she could retrieve the boy.

“Perhaps we should have come by earlier...” Cullen mumbled as he watched the frantic wetnurse pull Alphonse away from the second story opening.

Allison stopped crying at the sound of his voice, rolling onto her stomach and giggling. She looked up and babbled happily, stretching out her little arm. “Dada!” She pushed herself up on her arms and wobbled, then wiggled side to side and pulled herself across the floor towards her stunned parents. Ebrisa covered her mouth and tugged on Cullen's arm excitedly as the child moved across the rug. When Allison's hand touched the cold tile, she stopped and began crying again.

“Come here, Alli.” Cullen scooped up their child and kissed the top of her head affectionately. “We leave you alone for just a little bit and you get so independent. First word and crawling all in one day.” Allison began laughing again and soaked up her father's warmth.

Ebrisa giggled and tapped the infant's nose. “Mama is so proud of you, even if you only have eyes for Daddy right now.” She looked up at Cullen with a light smirk. “I told Federyc you'd be her first word.”

Madlin set Alphonse on the floor and latched the window securely. “Thank goodness you're here, my lady,” she sighed heavily. “Alphonse has become a bit of a handful as he's gotten more adventurous and the little miss cried practically the entire time she was awake. If not for Lady Trevelyan, I don't think she'd have gone back to sleep at all.”

“I'll have to thank Ysmay then.” Ebrisa nuzzled her daughter lovingly, grateful to have her back.

“Lady Ysmay did try to help, it's true, but I was referring to the lady of the house.” Madlin took a moment to correct her hair. “There was a lullaby she sang and it put the little miss out near instantly.”

Ebrisa seemed confused as Cullen adjusted the child in his arms. “You know, that one you always sing about the Fade and dreaming? Your mother recognized the tune when I had Alli last night. I think she must have sang it to you...”

“Oh...” The mage lowered her eyes. That made sense, of course, where else would she learn lullabies? It had just popped into her mind one night and she never even thought about where it had come from, only caring that it worked. “Is she here?”

“I believe her ladyship is off the estate this morning.” The wet nurse directed Alphonse back to the pile of toys.

“I see...” Ebrisa frowned slightly. They were heading back in the afternoon and didn't have much time left in Ostwick. Would she be able to speak with her mother at all?

“Lady Taygett is here.” Madlin looked up at the Rutherfords with a light smile. “She watched the little ones from the door for a long while. I invited her in to play with them, but she refused and left.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

“It is good to see your Inquisitor is a woman of her word. Emery writes that the reformation of the Templar Order is going quite smoothly,” Randyll commented from the head of the table as he ate lunch with his children and their families. His wife was still not present.

“Divine Victoria has been pulling most of the strings, but yes, the Inquisitor has been doing her best to keep her promises.” Cullen nodded.

“Will you be rejoining the Order when it has been fully restored?” Federyc looked up from his plate.

“No. I've left the Templars behind.” Cullen looked to his right and watched Ebrisa feed Allison a small piece of peeled peach as she held the child on her lap. The mage looked up at him and smiled. “That's not my life anymore.”

“I'll accept that answer,” Randyll said with a small chuckle. “There are plenty of opportunities for a military man like yourself. When the Inquisition disbands, I have confidence you will be able to find another worthy position easily enough.”

“Thank you, my lord.” While he knew the Inquisition would not last forever, hearing someone else speak of it ending somehow made the prospect more real and unnerved Cullen. He hadn't given any thought to what he might do after to support his young family.

Aurelia stood up suddenly from her quiet corner of the table and dipped her head to Randyll. “If you'll excuse me, Father. I really must ensure my things are packed for the journey back.”

“Of course.” He nodded before continuing his meal.

Ebrisa handed Allison to Cullen and stood up as well. “I- I need to go check on something. Pardon.” Randyll waved her off as well, watching her abandon her barely touched plate and hurry out of the room. He looked at the commander curiously, but Cullen could only shrug, just as confused as the Bann.

 

“Aurelia!” Ebrisa caught up to her sister in the hall, the other woman stiffening, but refusing to turn around. “Aurelia, please, I wish to speak with you.”

“Speak? So there will be no hitting this time?”

The mage folded her arms as she walked in front of her sister. “I hardly think I need to defend my actions last night. What I want to discuss is why you said those things. You know how much I love Cullen – do you honestly think he would force himself on me?”

“Well... the timing...” Aurelia mumbled in a soft voice, keeping her blue eyes low.

“To be honest...” Ebrisa blushed slightly. “I- I did offer myself to him before the march to the Arbor Wilds. His desire was obvious, even to one as inept as me, and I was scared he wouldn't come back. I was scared of a lot of things... Would it hurt? Would he look at me differently after? Would it be like when the templars forced themselves on me in the Circle?” Aurelia met her eyes in surprise, but she kept going. “Cullen saw I was scared, that I wasn't ready, and even though he was very much eager to take me, he didn't. He told me he'd wait for me and as time went on and I made it increasingly difficult for him, he continued to wait. We didn't consummate our love until we were wed.”

Aurelia looked away again. “Part of me already knew that. Part of me could tell your husband is a decent man, but still... I had to make sense of why you got everything so quickly.” Ebrisa noted how she no longer claimed it was easy. “I... I've been doing everything right. I followed all the rules of society and everything Mother taught me. I heed my husband's every word, I attend Chantry services almost as much as the clergy... but still, nothing has changed.”

“What do you mean changed?” The mage tilted her head slightly.

“Lord Bainard... he still does not look at me the way your husband looks at you,” Aurelia relented softly. “We barely knew each other when we wed, it's true, but by now I had hoped he would show me at least a little bit of affection. And despite my efforts, I'm still not...” She shook her head to try and keep her tight control over her emotions. “I want a child. I need a child, Ebrisa. I fear that... that there may be something wrong with me.”

“Aurelia...” Ebrisa looked at her perfect sister, the example Galatea always compared her to, and finally saw her for the fragile person she was. For all the years Ebrisa yearned for love growing up, Aurelia was longing for the same thing now. Isolated from her family, seemingly alone in a gilded prison, left with nothing but her thoughts and fears... Maker, that sounded familiar. “Have you gone to a healer to see if something is wrong?”

“I have been examined by physicians and apothecaries, but they could tell nothing.”

“I know you likely distrust them, us... but have you consulted a mage?” Ebrisa smiled sheepishly. “They can sense what's within you and catch things others miss. Perhaps even heal, if there is a problem.”

The elder sister laughed lightly. “Starkhaven is not so full of apostates that a lady can make medical appointments. Our Circle fell well before the rebellion began and there has been little desire to restore it. We are, for the most part, a mage-free city state.”

“Would...” Ebrisa hesitated. “Would you like me to...?” She rubbed at her forehead. “I'm well versed in the spirit school of magic and have progressed far in the healing arts. I could at least let you know if there is a physical issue...” They had been raised to distrust magic from both their mother and the Chantry teachings and for the elder sister to spend so much time in a region devoid of the arcane arts would surely succeed in only furthering that mentality.

Aurelia took hold of the mage's hand and held it tightly. “Yes, please!” She was desperate for any answer or assistance and cared little where it came from at this point. “I must know!”

They moved to the music room where Ebrisa instructed her sister to lay down on the chaise lounge. She knelt on the floor and took a deep, calming breath before summoning the glow to her hands. Aurelia gasped slightly at the sight, a little fearful of the magic, and closed her eyes tightly. The mage took another breath and eased her hands to her sister, slowly moving them across her abdomen. She felt no scaring or damage, but there was something strange. It was small, and she had missed it on her first pass, but as she focused on the spot she only grew more curious.

“Wh-what? You stopped. What's wrong?” Aurelia opened her worried eyes and took in the puzzled expression on the mage's face.

“There's a... pulsing,” Ebrisa mumbled as she tried to figure it out, frowning in confusion. “Its rhythmic... almost like...” Her eyes widened in realization and she pulled her hands away. “I... I can't be certain, I'm not schooled in this by any means, but... You should go see a true professional before going to Starkhaven, someone who can confirm this. I... I don't want to get your hopes up.”

“Confirm what? Ebrisa, please, tell me.” Aurelia pleaded, barely above a whisper. “What did you find?”

“I think... a heartbeat.” The mage looked at her elder sister with a small smile. “Its quiet, but there.”

“You're saying I... I am with child?” The dark haired woman breathed, holding on to her fragile hope.

“Yes,” Ebrisa replied as with a sheepish smile. “I believe you to be with child. But, please, see a professional before-”

Aurelia shot up on the couch and wrapped her arms around her sister, crying into her neck. “Andraste forgive me for ever speaking out against you, sister. Maker bless you...” Even if it turned out that she wasn't with child, the small glimmer of light Ebrisa's words bestowed upon her filled Aurelia with a long abandoned and much needed happiness. She felt warm and complete for the first time in many years and perhaps that was all she needed. Just a little bit of light to bring her out of the suffocating darkness she'd fallen into.

 

Chapter Text

Firstfall 9:43 Dragon

 

It was a quiet, peaceful morning – something Skyhold was becoming accustomed to as Corypheus' lingering influence became smaller and smaller. Those who had hoped for the magister's return were finally coming to terms with the fact that the monster was gone for good and took whatever numbers they had deep into the underbelly of Tevinter where they waited for a new leader to take over the dwindling cult. Tevinter could be great again – it was still a possibility – but not through the methods the Venatori had employed. The nation held fast to its history and heritage, but if it wanted to join the rest of Thedas as an equal and not the villain, they would need to change.

“Thank you so much for doing this, Josephine. I know you have far more pressing matters to attend to.” Ebrisa glanced up from her embroidery as the Antivan poured over menu options in her office.

“Oh, think nothing of it. Planning the little one's party is an absolute delight. I'd much rather be doing this than mediating trade disputes.” Josephine smiled softly. “Already a whole year old. Maker's Mercy, that went quickly.”

The mage giggled quietly and switched thread. “Some days seemed to never end and others I wished wouldn't, but each is an adventure with Allison.”

“And where is she at the moment?”

“Oh, Cullen has her.”

Josephine nodded, then abruptly sat up straight. “But isn't he supervising sparring matches right now?”

Ebrisa hummed in confirmation, focusing on placing the needle just right in the design.

“Is that safe?”

The blonde looked up with a knowing smile. “I said Cullen had her, didn't I? There's no safer place for our child than in his arms.”

“You're rather certain of that...” The ambassador tried to match the level of calm her friend was displaying.

Ebrisa giggled and snipped the end of the thread from the small dress. “Well of course I am. Have you met my husband?”

~~~~~~~~
A soldier slammed his shield heavily into another, knocking his opponent to the ground. The hit man rolled as he landed, swiftly getting back on his feet and slashing out as he rose. The first soldier backpedaled to avoid the unexpected attack, tripping over himself and falling to the dirt. He managed to raise his shield in time to block his opponent's next blow.

“Alright, that's enough,” Cullen called out from behind the fencing. “Hamett, lower your center. Davi, your footwork needs improvement.” Allison began clapping from her secure position on her father's side and he glanced down at her. “Don't encourage them. They both need to put in more work.”

The child frowned and swatted his arm lightly, babbling argumentatively and making Cullen sigh. Despite what Ebrisa teased, Allison seemed more and more a tiny version of her than him. “Very well.” The commander caught the fighters before they switched with the next pair. “Your reaction times have improved and you did well in recovering, but work on what I mentioned and you won't need to recover so much.”

“Yes, ser. Thank you, Commander,” the first soldier replied, saluting.

“And thank you, mini lady.” The second man grinned and saluted at Allison, who giggled and tried to mimic the action.

As the next pair made ready, Cullen looked down at his daughter once again. “May I continue my duty without you undermining my authority again?”

Allison put her finger to her chin and looked up, carefully thinking about it, before nodding.

He smirked. “Much obliged.”

The soldiers had gotten used to the sight of their commander toting the child around while performing his duties. They were originally terrified that a stray arrow or wayward swing would harm the young girl and what her father would do to them in retribution, and Cullen was quick to establish his impressive reflexes and balance when it came to protecting his family.

It was no more than three months ago when the Lady Herald had brought the child over, concerned about a strange cough and checking in with her husband before stepping into the clinic. One of the blacksmith urged a guardsman to test out a freshly forged blade, eager to see how the new technique he was trying worked out. The guard gave the sword a few light swings and noticed an odd imbalance. He swung harder and the thin blade dislodged entirely from the hilt, flipping through the air.

Cullen turned his daughter's face, checking for red blotches, as Ebrisa held her. He grabbed his wife around the shoulders suddenly and pulled her firmly against him with one arm, twisting away from the yard as he raised his other to block the incoming metal with his vambrace, stopping the blade less than a foot from where his wife once stood. Ebrisa stared at him in stunned silence as he ensured both she and the child were unharmed before turning his attention and a deathly glare to the guard and blacksmith across the yard. Allison giggled through the entire thing, her cough forgotten.

The men had been punished severely after the initial verbal assault they received and their fellows weren't eager to join them. Once the soldiers and guards figured out the proper level of caution they needed to keep around the child, they actually enjoyed having the extra set of amber eyes supervising them. Allison studied them as intently as her father did and reacted as though she understood what was going on. More than once, she'd cover her eyes just before someone took a nasty hit in training, as if she saw the strike coming. She also shared many of Cullen's reactions, albeit on a much smaller scale, and the two were often seen sighing or frowning at the same time. Once a runner insisted that he'd witnessed the commander roll his eyes in the middle of reading a report, the child doing a rather admirable eye roll herself.

But more than witnessing the miniature mimicry, seeing the commander interact with his daughter helped the forces remember that the man was a normal man and not some drill-running demon. The way he spoke to her – not at her – and held conversations in his normal tone of voice was often rather adorable. The child couldn't really talk yet, but Cullen seemed to understand much of what she said to the point that they could go on for several minuets. Even Ebrisa, try as she might, couldn't grasp more than a few bits of what Allison said. When the child was being exceedingly difficult to understand and Cole wasn't around, the mage would sigh and offer to fetch Cullen. Allison would nod and fold her arms, confirming her approval with an emphatic “Dada.”

~~~~~~~~~~~
To say Ebrisa wasn't at least a little jealous of both sides would be a lie. She managed to hide it well, masking the feeling by teasing the two, but there was someone she couldn't fool.

The mage stood in their quarters, slipping the finished party dress onto a hanger and wondering if it was good enough. She'd intended to pick up Allison after meeting with Josephine, but seeing how much fun the child was having playing second-in-command made the idea seem cruel and selfish.

“Loving. Longing. Lonely...” Cole frowned as he sat at the foot of the bed, tucking his legs under himself. “So happy without me...” He shook his head. “That's not true.”

Ebrisa hung up the dress and closed the wardrobe, leaning against the door slightly. “I know. I know, but... sometimes I just feel like a third wheel.” She pushed away with a sigh and sat beside the spirit. “I love them both so much, Cole. Seeing them happy makes me happy, but at the same time... I don't know... sometimes it makes me feel unneeded, I guess?”

“Lots of people need you.”

She looked up at the young man with a half smile. “Divine Victoria nearly has the Chantry restored, the Inquisition has stabilized practically everywhere, and there hasn't been a rift in months...” She looked at her left hand, not having felt anything from it since her short mission in Antiva. “No one needs the Herald of Andraste anymore.”

“No, they don't.” Cole nodded in agreement. “People need you.”

Ebrisa turned to him curiously. “But I am the Herald...”

He frowned and rocked forward. “I'm not good with explaining. Varric was good with this... You're good with this.” Cole tilted his head. “Why can you help others understand when you can't? Why can't you listen to yourself?”

She furrowed her brow, trying to catch the spirit's meaning.

“The Herald is more than a person, but the person who is the Herald is more than the Herald,” Cole said slowly, hoping the pacing would allow his words to sink in. When she continued to stare at him, he shook his head and climbed off the bed. “You need someone good at this.”

Ebrisa watched the empty space Cole was standing in, feeling as though she failed the spirit somehow. He was trying so hard to help, but she just couldn't grasp what he was trying to say. Before, when her aunt had all those mental blockades in place, Cole wouldn't have been able to tell if she was lying and Ebrisa could simply smile and nod and say she understood just so Cole wouldn't worry for her anymore. Though, lying to the spirit would be failing him even more.
~~~~~~~~
“That is the last time Auntie Hawke will watch you,” Ebrisa huffed as she worked the soap into Allison's hair. “We leave you in her care for a few minuets and you end up with an entire bottle of ink on your head. And the way she tried to hide the mess with a book... as if I would leave a book on your head forever.” She leaned the girl back, supporting her carefully with one hand as she scooped up water with her other and rinsed out the stained curls. Ebrisa sighed in relief as the golden color returned and maneuvered around in the tub until her daughter was laying back on the mage's bent legs. She rubbed the mild soap against a soft cloth until it became overwhelmed with suds.

Allison laughed and babbled excitedly, reaching out for the cloth. “You want the bubbles, don't you?” Ebrisa giggled and dabbed the cloth on the child's nose, leaving behind some fluffy suds. “Well we can play in here with all the bubbles you like after you no longer look like an Antivan Spotted Pony.” She proceeded to clean off the remaining splatters of ink, pausing periodically to tickle her child's tummy.

Ebrisa squeaked as she heard the door open, uncertain if she had remembered to lock it in her haste. “He-hello?” She called out cautiously from behind the dressing screen. “We aren't decent, so if you could come back later?” The door closed without a word and the mage sighed in relief, only to suck the air back in as footsteps approached. She panicked slightly and held Allison close, trying to use the washcloth for modesty.

“Who is being indecent with my wife?” Cullen stepped into view, folding his arms in mock disapproval.

Ebrisa let out another sigh and relaxed her grip, laying Allison back on her thighs. She frowned mildly and splashed water at Cullen, which he easily sidestepped. “Announce yourself next time. I was seconds from setting you on fire.”

He chuckled and knelt down by the tub. “And why are you bathing so early? I had thought to eat lunch with you before my afternoon duties began.”

“It was entirely necessary, I assure you.” Ebrisa went back to her task, rubbing behind the child's ears. “Someone decided she should climb Josephine's desk and ended up covered in ink. Her dress is ruined and I... may have yelled at Hawke, but Alli is fine.”

“I think it must have been intentional.” Cullen smirked as Allison grabbed hold of the pinky on Ebrisa's free hand. “This is the only time she gets Mama all to herself.” The child pulled the hand close and frowned at Cullen, the man raising his hands defensively. “Fine, I'm going,” Cullen sighed and climbed to his feet. He leaned down and kissed Ebrisa's temple. “But I expect to have some indecent time of our own with my wife later.”

Allison nodded as Ebrisa blushed furiously. “Do-don't say things like that in front of her! I'm certain she understands your meaning.”

“Not as fully as you do, Wife.” He smirked one last time before leaving the room, locking the door behind him.

Ebrisa let out a shaky breath and willed her blush away, focusing on her child instead. She tilted her head and swung her hand gently, watching as Allison giggled and held fast to her finger. “You didn't really make a mess just for bath time, did you? There are far easier ways to spend time with Mama.” The child lowered her eyes and babbled quietly, pulling the hand to cover her face. The mage moved her hand out of the way and kissed Allison's forehead before pretending to bite her nose with a chomping sound. The child laughed and squirmed as her mother smiled warmly. “Now then, I believe I promised you bubbles.”

~~~~~~~
After Allison had fallen asleep that night, Cullen lead his wife back to his old room, being sure to lock every door. It was a little tedious, but Ebrisa couldn't bring herself to be intimate in front of their child anymore for fear of waking her. Truthfully, Cullen didn't mind, as it allowed them the freedom to focus on each other. The only awkward part was getting dressed again and moving back to their quarters after. Tonight, however, he convinced her to linger a bit longer in his arms.

“Not that this had any influence on tonight, but I did hear something a little troubling,” Cullen said softly, brushing the loose strands of hair from his wife's neck. “From Cole.”

“Oh...?” Ebrisa hunched her shoulders, trying to hide against Cullen's chest and pretend she didn't know what he was referring to.

“You don't feel needed? What sort of nonsense is that?” He trailed his fingers along her side. “Ebrisa, I need you every day. You keep me in check, keep me sane. Without you, I would have succumbed to lyrium addiction a long time ago.”

She twisted around and raised herself up on her elbow. “Now that's not true. You're strong, Cullen. You could have gotten through the withdrawal on your own. All I did was help with headaches.”

The man pulled her back down. “You think too highly of me and too little of yourself, Wife. I struggle each day. Even after all these years, I get dark thoughts and can be overcome with anger so easily. If I didn't have you to keep me grounded, I would have lost so much of myself. If I didn't have your love, I couldn't have become the type of person trusted with children, let alone have one of my own.” He held her firmly on top of him, soaking in her warmth. “So much of who I am – of what I am – is because of you. You are needed. You are important. You are loved.”

Ebrisa lowered her eyes, feeling foolish for her doubts, but unable to shake them. She wanted to be ride of the negative thoughts in her mind and focus on all the good things around her, dwell in the happy moments instead of listening to the troubling what-ifs playing in the background. Why was it so hard to believe she could just be happy? Why did the hissing voice in her head never truly go away?

“I have a husband and a child. I love you both more than anything,” she whispered against Cullen's chest. “I want to be happy with you two, I want to focus on you two, but even the tiniest doubt grows into a crushing weight.” Ebrisa closed her eyes, trying to keep herself from crying. “Why am I like this? Why can't I trust my own mind?”

“If you can't trust yourself, then trust me.” Cullen released his hold and sat up, bringing his wife upright with him. He placed his hands on either side of her face and looked deep into her eyes in the moonlight room. “Trust what I'm telling you to be true. I love you, and I need you. Alli loves you, and she needs you. If nothing else, can you trust me on this?”

She stared at him, tears blurring her vision. “Yes.” Ebrisa tried to smile as she began to cry. “I trust you, Cullen. I'll always trust you.” He pressed his forehead to hers, caressing her cheeks gently until the tears stopped.

 

Chapter Text

For all the time and effort Ebrisa and Josephine put into arranging the party, Hawke expected the birthday to be a grand affair. To her surprise, while the main hall had been overtaken with decorations and catering, the attending guests seemed relatively small in number. Ebrisa had been disappointed with each negative RSVP that came in from political allies, but her heart ached every time she learned family could not attend.
Her father had fallen ill in recent months, something the Trevelyans were keeping as secret as possible, and Federyc had taken up the family duties. Ysmay could not very well travel the distance with the children on her own and Galatea was still doing her best to stay away. With the Templar Order restored, Emery was no longer under the Inquisition's command and was not granted leave from his Knight-Commander to attend. Aurelia, confirmed at last to be pregnant, had been confined to the Taygett estate where she happily reported her husband personally saw to her every need.

Mia and the rest were more or less stuck in South Reach, the area still recovering from both the Red Templar attacks and the Chargers'... exuberant methods of defeating the enemy. Cullen couldn't help but feel a bit responsible for putting the idea of dropping a mountain on an invading army in Rocky's head, as it had worked so well in Haven. To be fair, it was mostly snow in Haven and not actually the bulk of a mountain itself. When Cullen got word of the mess Bull's men made in their effort to help, he deployed a good sized force to assist in clearing the rubble. The reports he received from his officer in the field also kept him up to date on his family, including the fact that one of the newer soldiers had taken a shine to Rosalie. Furthermore, with Mia directing the local's side of the clean up, apparently it was like the commander was there in person. Cullen was uncertain how he felt about that comment.

As for their Inquisition family, those who had left them couldn't return either. Despite promising to visit, Varric had been unable to tear himself away from Kirkwall or even write more than a few lines of correspondence at a time. Cassandra was, understandably, exceedingly busy with the Chantry, Seekers, and Templars – it was a wonder she found the time to pick up a sword and swing away her frustrations on practice dummies to keep sane. Vivienne's response was perhaps the most flowery 'no' Josephine had ever read, the letter filled with an unsurprising amount of boasting about all of the enchanter's responsibilities that she simply could not tear away from.

Dorian had only returned to Tevinter a month ago, but already he was pulled deep into the political turmoil the Venatori had sparked. He was not alone in his views of what Tevinter could be, finding an ally in Maevaris Tilani, a magister who was actually related to Varric by marriage. Dorian was uncertain what a high-born Tevinter could see in a dwarf, but Mae often spoke fondly of her dearly departed husband and Dorian knew better than to question another person's heart.

Ebrisa had wanted so much for Allison's party to be the best it could be, to make sure the child experienced the things she was never able to, so the mage put on a smile and got her daughter ready for the celebration. “I have a special task for you today, Alli. A mission.” Ebrisa tugged the back ribbon of the party dress into a perfectly symmetrical bow. She leaned in and whispered into the child's ear, glancing up at Cullen across the room as she did so. Allison giggled and nodded, bringing her fist to her chest in a salute.

He raised a brow and folded his arms, regarding the giggling pair curiously. “Do I want to know what that was about?”

“You can want to know all you like, but this is a secret assignment.” Ebrisa picked up the birthday girl from the vanity's bench and held her securely on her hip. “Even the commander must be kept out of the loop.”

“Oh?” Cullen smirked and opened the door. “I think I can coax it out of at least one of you. Preferably the one with the larger vocabulary.”

When they entered the hall through the main door, Josephine quickly quietened the room and announced them. The guests clapped politely, Allison joining their efforts. “No, sweetling,” Ebrisa set the girl on her feet and took hold of her hand. “They're clapping for you.” Allison looked up, eyes wide and mouth open. Ebrisa giggled as the child took in the room, directing her wobbly steps slowly down the hall in her pale blue party dress painstakingly detailed with embroidered flowers and trimmed in lace. It had taken nearly a month of trial and error to create the trim, but Ebrisa was immensely satisfied with the result.

Hawke had offered her throne for the day, but seeing as it was rather high and covered in dragon teeth, Ebrisa politely declined. Josephine had the heavy chair pushed back and arranged a blanket and several pillows on the dais for the child to use instead. The Inquisitor insisted the offer still stood and counted as a gift.

The guests came before Allison one by one, bowing or saluting as they gave well wishes to her on the makeshift seat and compliments to her parents standing at the base of the steps. Allison watched her parents closely, mimicking their responses with her her own head nods and salutes. She tried curtseying once after seeing Ebrisa do so, but nearly rolled down the steps with the motion. Cole caught her before anyone else even knew what was happening and pulled her back to the pillows. She giggled and reached out for his hat, calling out a delighted “Co!” He grinned and set a woven flower crown on her head, sneaking in the first gift of the day.

Ebrisa begrudgingly tore herself away to perform her duties as hostess, but gave both halves of her heart a kiss on the cheek before leaving their side. Cullen sat on the edge of the dais beside his daughter, watching the mystified look on her face as the macaroon dissolved in her mouth. “Remember, if your mother asks, you ate your vegetables first.” She nodded and popped the rest of the tiny treat in her mouth, again confused as the sugar quickly liquified. Cullen reached out and wiped the colored drool from her chin with a napkin. “Mama worked hard on that dress, so lets try to keep it clean for her at least a little longer, alright?”

Allison looked out into the room, easily picking Ebrisa from the crowd and stretching an eager hand out towards her. “Wub Mama.”

The commander smiled widely. “Can you keep a secret?” The child nodded and Cullen leaned close. “I love her, too.” She giggled and babbled, patting his cheek. “What do you mean that's not a secret?”

“Maybe because its obvious.” Sera plopped down on the steps holding a rather impressive looking cupcake. “If you didn't love Brizy, you wouldn't have made her Wifey.” The elf turned to the child. “Your pops isn't as clever as he lets on, is he?” Allison was too distracted by the frosted object in Sera's hand to defend her father. The elf followed her gaze and smirked. “Birthday girl's got good eyes. Made this for you. A mini cake, for my mini friend.”

“Sera, that's far too much frosting. She'll make a mess.” Cullen frowned, but couldn't deny the look of utter want on his child's face.

“Shut it, you. Its butter and sugar and the best friggen part!” Sera looked between the pair, trying to figure out a compromise. She lay her palm flat and used it like a knife to scrap the colorful tower from the baked base. “Here you go then, a no-mess cake.” She handed the naked cupcake to the child, Allison looking up at her with a heartbreaking pout. “No no! Don't do that!” Sera swiped up some frosting with her finger and held it out. “Ah?” Allison opened her mouth and Sera pushed the frosting inside. “Right, so, its two parts now. No big deal, Mini.” The young girl seemed to understand the plan and took a bite of the cupcake to accompany the frosting. Once she chewed and swallowed, she opened her mouth for another scoop, which Sera eagerly gave her.

Cullen was uncertain if he should stop them. As awkward as the process was, Allison was staying relatively clean and seemed to be having fun. “Just... don't let Ebrisa see this.”

Sera snorted. “Brizy was the one who helped me make it – and I did help with dishes this time.”

That did help his initial concerns somewhat, and Allison appeared to like the treat, so Cullen sighed again and lay a napkin in the girl's lap as a precaution. She made it a decent way into the cupcake before stopping, the level of sugar finally getting to her, and handed the half-eaten treat back to Sera. The elf sighed sympathetically, recognizing the look as one she often sported herself, and moved away to finish eating the present.

Ebrisa approached just as Cullen finished cleaning the child's face and the girl sat up straighter as her mother walked past them and took a seat at the harp. Allison carefully made her way down the steps and turned around, holding out her hands and calling for her father. Cullen joined her and picked her up, but she shook her head until he set her back down. Again, she held out her hands, this time the man taking hold of her small, sticky digits. A bouncy tune began to play and Allison laughed, swinging her hands in Cullen's and stepping from side to side. He let her pull him around, needing to bend slightly, and tried to figure out what she was doing.

Hawke was the first to laugh, followed quickly by a reserved giggle from Josephine. Others soon let out reactions of their own, many of those being whispered comments about how cute it was. It wasn't until Cullen caught Ebrisa smiling slyly at him as she plucked at the strings that he realized what was going on. He looked down at his grinning daughter and hummed. “I take it that dancing with me was your secret mission?” Allison nodded as she stepped. “You are definitely your mother's child.”

 

Despite so many not being able to attend, many still sent gifts. Varric sent a copy of not one of his own books, but The Seer's Yarn, a collection of children stories from all over Thedas and Ebrisa was eager to read them to her child. There was a stuffed cow doll with wings from Dorian, a sort of Minrathous tourist souvenir, and Vivienne sent an enchanted glass bobble that lit up with an array of colors when shaken. It was pretty and no doubt expensive, but Cullen knew it would be broken within the week and dreaded having to clean up the shards. Cassandra, ever the practical one, sent a woolen hooded cloak. Ebrisa noticed loose bits of colored thread on the front as though someone had tried to stitch something there, but ultimately pulled it out. The idea that the Divine had taken the time to attempt to add a personal touch to the gift made Ebrisa smile. The Chantry was in very good hands.

There were toys – including a rocking horse from Blackwall - and dolls and, Maker, so many dresses that Ebrisa didn't know where they were going to put them all. Their quarters were already so cramped and Allison could only stay in her bassinet for a little longer before she'd have to share her parents' bed. It was a concern Ebrisa had been pushing off for a while, but seeing the growing pile of possessions brought it back with full force.

“Since you so rudely declined my earlier gift, I figured I better try something else.” Hawke tapped Allison on the head with a rolled up parchment before handing it to Cullen. “It will take a little bit of time, but Gannon is eager to start.”

Cullen spread open the roll to discover blueprints of Skyhold and studied it curiously. It actually looked to be the same copy from his office, snatched from a shelf without his knowledge. “Inquisitor, I'm not sure I know what you're getting at.”

“Here, Curly.” Hawke tapped on the upper corner of the sketch where the Rutherford quarters were and Cullen squinted at the area, finding an added line and box. “It won't be too big – still need to be able to patrol the battlements - but it will help, right?”

Ebrisa stared at the scribbled in addition, then up to the dark haired woman. “Are you sure?”

“It's my fortress, and I can do as I like to it.” The Inquisitor grinned and barely had time to fold her arms before Ebrisa threw herself at her in a hug, forcing the warrior to put her balance and reflexes to use to prevent falling over.

“Thank you, Hawke. Thank you so much!” Ebrisa was too overwhelmed to care about the proper decorum or how the guests might react to her outburst. A room. Allison was going to have her own room.



Ebrisa and Cullen said good bye to the guests at the door and thanked them for attending as Cole and Sera kept Allison entertained on the other side of the room. “Thank the Maker that's done with,” Cullen sighed after the last guest left them. “I don't think I could stand anymore inflated chatter. Is this what a noble child's birthday is always like?”

“For the most part, I think. I had to rely on Josephine for most of this.” Ebrisa turned away from the open door and walked back inside. “By the time I was old enough to remember my siblings' parties, they'd become far less festive and I never had one of my own.”

“I know your mother hid you away, but I thought there were a few years or normalcy before your magic presented itself.” Cullen frowned. “Why would she deny you before that?”

She looked up at him, a little confused. “Because I was born on All Soul's Day. You can't celebrate when you're supposed to be showing reverence for Andraste's death.”

Birthdays had never been a big deal in his family and all he had really gotten in way of gifts was being allowed to sleep in and excused of his morning chores. He had just figured nobles were different and took any excuse to throw parties. To hear that hadn't been the case for his wife was somehow painful.

“Did you want a party for yours?” Ebrisa tilted her head. “The ides of Firstfall is pretty close, so we don't have much time to arrange for it, but then again you would prefer a smaller affair.”

He stopped walking. “How do you know when I was born?”

“I asked Mia, and I'm sorry.” She sighed and shook her head. “I would have done something last year, but we were a bit busy with a newborn and the days just got away from me. By the time I realized, it would have been too awkward to say something and I decided to just try again next year, which would be this year.” Ebrisa smiled and took his hand, urging him to start moving again. “So, something small and intimate? Rent out the tavern with a few friends, perhaps?”

“If you're truly insistent on celebrating, I suggest something smaller and more intimate.” He laced his fingers in hers. “Just find someone to watch Alli for the day.”

“I can do that.” She hummed and wondered who could play nanny. “What did you have in mind? Where would we be going?”

Cullen grinned at her deviously, rubbing his thumb over the back of her hand. “Everything and nowhere.”

“Oh?” The woman turned to him curiously, nearly tripping as she registered the look in his eyes. “O-oh.” Her face heated instantly and she had to tear her gaze away to prevent becoming lightheaded. It was a small wonder her husband still made her so flustered and the fact that he enjoyed doing so made the effect all the more devastating on her composure. Truthfully, Ebrisa wasn't sure if she ever wanted to become used to it, finding Cullen's advances and smoldering gaze both thrilling and comforting.

To others, they may seem like acts of lust, but Ebrisa knew that behind the desire lay the true driving force of his wanting – love. To be connected so completely - in body, mind, and soul – to embrace every fear and flaw and mistake, and not look away... that was what Cullen really yearned for when he held her, when he kissed her. The feeling of being one with another person and accepted entirely was something you could only achieve when love was at the core of your actions, and that feeling sustained him.



“No, Mini. Wolf.” Sera shook her head, growing annoyed with correcting the child.

“Fen!” Allison insisted, thrusting the carved figure forward.

“Whatever,” the elf sighed and picked up a plush lion with a dark mane. “What's this one?”

“Dada!” The little girl grabbed the soft toy and hugged it tightly, still holding the wooden wolf.

“Well, you're not wrong, I suppose.” Sera scratched her head.

“During day, Lion and Light. Dream protector, Wolf at night,” Cole said quietly from his crouched position beside the child.

The elf's confusion only grew. “At least I'm not supposed to understand Mini, she's a baby. You got no excuse, demon boy.”

Allison swatted Sera with the lion, frowning heavily. “Co!”

“Yes, fine, Co.” The elf rolled her eyes and stood up. “Think its time I leave the sweets and go get some real food in me.” The child looked up at her and babbled. “I know, scary, innit?”

After she left, Cole patted Allison's head lightly, careful to not crush the flower wreath. “Thank you for standing up for me.”

She grinned widely, eyes shining with affection. “Wub Co.”

He stared at the child, hand hovering above her hair. “I... I wish I knew what that felt like, Alli.” She babbled at him, waving the lion around as a visual aide before holding it tightly to her chest again. “No, that didn't really help.” She pouted and lowered her head, making quiet fragments of speech. “Don't be sad, Alli. I'm not really a person, so... I don't think I can understand. I'm a special kind of spirit.”

Allison set down the toys and stood up, tilting her head curiously. She reached out and poked Cole's knee, then his arm. She babbled in confusion and placed her small hands on his cheeks.

“Yes, that's why I'm special. You're special, too.” Cole took hold of her hands and shook them gently. “Did you know that? It made you special.” Allison held his gaze a moment longer before leaning back and yawning.

“I was wondering when the sugar crash would hit,” Cullen chuckled as he scooped up his drowsy daughter, slipping her from Cole's grasp.

“What sugar crash?” Ebrisa raised a brow, noting how Cullen seemed to be avoiding her eyes.

“Sera gave her a rather large cupcake earlier...” he mumbled. Allison began to slur out some sounds, but he quickly hushed her. “You'll get us both in trouble,” he whispered quietly as he walked away.

The child reached out tiredly to the toys on the blanket. “Dada... Fen...”

Ebrisa looked at the plush lion and smiled. “That would be Dada. I'll need to write Captain Aveline an especially warm letter.” She picked up the toy, then reached for the other animal, hesitating as she realized it didn't seem familiar. There had been a lot of gifts that day, but she and Josephine kept a detailed record so they could send out thank you notes. She thought Allison had only received a few wooden toys and none of those had been so detailed.

Ebrisa picked up the wolf with her left hand and the mark sparked briefly, sending a jolt up her arm and making her drop the toy. It had been months since the anchor reacted to anything at all and she was uncertain what could have caused it to act up now. She poked the wooden figure tentatively, testing it out before wrapping her hand around it once again. The wood felt oddly cool to the touch and very sturdy, like ironbark. It would take a great amount of effort from a true craftsman to carve such a detailed figure from such a troublesome material. The amount of time put into the piece alone made it incredibly valuable, and for her to have no recollection of seeing it before made Ebrisa concerned. It was surely an expensive gift, but where had it come from?

Sun Child almost died. I did not know that would happen,” Cole began quietly, drawing Ebrisa's attention. “Too much strain to handle. Racked with so much pain. It was my fault. I am sorry.”

“Cole?” The mage was unable to keep the slight tremor from her voice. “What are you talking about? Who's Sun Child?”

The spirit tore his eyes from the wolf and looked up at her suddenly, as if only now noticing she was there. “What? Was I saying something? I think I was, but I wasn't...”

Ebrisa tried to smile and push the unsettling words away. “Never mind, Cole. It doesn't matter.” With the toys in hand, the mage headed back to her family's quarters where she would tuck her daughter in for a nap before curling up beside her husband and taking one of her own.

 

Chapter Text

Bloomingtide 9:44 Dragon

 

While Hawke thought visiting the Winter Palace in the first month of Summer kind of funny, Cullen found going to Halamshiral at all exceedingly annoying. He'd been dreading the Exalted Council since Josephine first mentioned it and had hoped Divine Victoria would be able to keep at least Orlais off their case for, well, forever, to be honest. That was, of course, impossible to do.

Josephine reminded him through a forced smile as they rode in the procession that Cassandra had done all she could, but the summit was more then necessary at that point. “Orlais would control us, but our real concern is Fereldan.” She lifted her hand and gave a dainty wave to the scowling representative looking down at them. “They would see us disbanded entirely.”

The commander shook his head, but maintained a strong posture and ceased his public grumbling. Negotiations could normally be handled by Josephine, sometimes accompanied by the Inquisitor, but the Exalted Council had summoned practically every member of the Inquisition and was likely to call upon each of them at some point. The idea of his actions during war being called into question by those completely removed from the situation filled him with equal parts irritation, exasperation, and annoyance. Two of those feelings were similar, but politics often drew them both from the commander.

“Look on the bright side,” Hawke called over her shoulder from the back of her mount. “Now we get to see everyone again!”

Cullen was already well aware of that. Ebrisa had been repeating the same thing wistfully for days and seeing the smile on her face was possibly the one thing that would make the entire affair worth it. He couldn't deny that Skyhold had become quiet with so many gone and how each departure brought its own tinge of sadness to his wife. She'd been able to justify everyone in leaving and was able to see them off with a smile, but the one that hurt her the most had to have been Cole. Even that separation, however, she had claimed to understand. The only hurt left in Skyhold was her own.

He turned around briefly and caught a glimpse of the rest of their party following far behind them. “She should have ridden with us,” he mumbled as he faced forward again.

“It was agreed that we would lead the procession, like we lead the Inquisition.” Hawke shot him a knowing smirk. “The Herald may have greatly influenced you, but I made my own world-shattering decisions.”

~~~~~~
“And the captain of the city guard had a very... colorful message for me to deliver to you as well.”

Varric groaned and ran a hand over his face. With all the letters and messages Bran was relaying, it was as though he'd never left Kirkwall. Odd, since he clearly remembered watching the nagging seneschal getting sick over the ship's railing on the journey to Orlais. “Colorful for Aveline or for me? We work in completely different spectrums of vocabulary.”

“Well you'll not get me to repeat it verbatim. Not in the open, anyways.” Bran shook his head and sighed.

“I won't be able to get the full extent of her Fereldan fury if you don't-” Varric stopped suddenly as he felt a strange pressure around his leg. He looked down and found a very small child with curly, golden hair framing her face grinning widely at him. “Uh. Hey there, short stuff.”

“Bawic!” She exclaimed, amber eyes shining in excitement.

“One of your fans?” Bran asked wearily, unable to grasp his mind around the fact that someone had brought a toddler to such an important summit.

“I'm so sorry!” A woman called out as she rushed up to them,out of breath. “I let go of her hand for only a second and she dashed off. I don't know what came over her.”

“You should mind your child better, good lady,” Bran snapped. “The Viscount of Kirkwall hasn't the time to play nursemaid.”

“Oh!” She brought a hand to her mouth. “O-of course, please excuse us. I-I didn't mean to interrupt delegates of the Exalted Council.”

Varric chuckled. “I know of only one person who becomes so terribly flustered.” He turned around with a wide grin. “Good to see you, Sunshine.”

Ebrisa blinked in surprise. “The Viscount is...”

“Bawic!” The child called again, releasing the dwarf and tugging on her mother's skirt. “Bawic Bawic!”

She giggled lightly and picked up her girl. “Now it makes sense. I would have ran over here myself if I'd noticed first.”

Varric took a closer look at the small girl, now that she was being held by her mother, and let out a laugh. “There's no way this is the same, tiny, red thing I saw in Kirkwall. Look at how big you are!”

Allison straightened proudly. “Big giw.”

He looked to the mage with a smirk. “Trouble with Ls, I take it?”

“And Rs, and Vs, and a few others,” Ebrisa sighed and sat down on the fountain's ledge. “But her expanded vocabulary is appreciated. Daddy's not the only one who can talk to her now.”

“And where is the mighty commander?”

“Positioning the honor guard. He said to meet him by that arch later.” She grinned and adjusted Allison in her lap. “I think he plans to use me as a shield against the political horde.”

“He is used to having a shield on his arm in combat, so can you really blame the guy?”

“Master Tethras,” Bran cut in, reasserting his presence. “There is still much that needs your attention.”

Varric turned back to the man with a near scowl. “Kirkwall's had so much of my attention that I haven't seen either of these ladies since one of them popped out the other. A little more time won't hurt.” He turned back to Ebrisa, the mage looking down and frowning slightly.

“She did not just pop out, Varric. Nothing about that day was so easy.”

“I know, Sunshine, I... sorry.” He scratched his head and sighed. “Didn't mean to... sorry.”

Ebrisa let out a breath, as if expelling the painful memory, and straightened. “Did Allison say thank you?” The child's eyes widened in panic, looking quickly between the dwarf and her mother. Ebrisa tssked quietly. “Go on then.”

Allison turned fully to Varric, smiling brightly. “Tank'u, Bawic.” She moved her fist to her chest in salute.

He laughed loudly at the combined mimicry of both parents. If there was any doubt that this girl was equal parts Cullen and Ebrisa, it had been thoroughly squashed. “And what am I being so enthusiastically thanked for?”

“The stories.” Ebrisa looked down gently at her daughter. “Alli really enjoys me reading them to her.”

It really was true. To her surprise, Allison even seemed to prefer the Dalish lullaby included within the pages to the song Ebrisa had learned from her mother. She had to consult the not mage member of the Chargers about the tune, and the first time Ebrisa sang the full lullaby in its original language back to her, the elf broke down in tears. Ebrisa feared she had somehow offended the other woman, said something wrong in her stumbling accent, but Dalish pulled her into a tight hug and whispered a thank you. Ebrisa smiled at that. It felt nice to use her budding understanding of the Elven language for something other than studying.

“Really? Didn't think my books were child appropriate.” He raised a brow. “You at least eased her into Swords and Shields, right?”

The mage blushed furiously. “Sweet Andraste's flaming sword, Varric! I meant the book you sent for her birthday! The closest she got to any of your books was your portrait on the back cover.”

Varric laughed again, feeling more relaxed then he had since becoming viscount. “So that's how she recognized me. Speaking of presents, I sort of got you one.” He reached into a pouch on his belt and withdrew a folded piece of parchment. “Its official recognition of your title and holdings in Kirkwall. Congratulations! You're a comtesse now.”

Bran sprang to his side, a bit flabbergasted. “You can't actually do that without-”

“-Too late!” Varric tossed up his hands and smirked at his assistant. “Already did it.” He faced his friend, finding as much enjoyment from annoying the seneschal as he did in surprising the mage. “You should stop by Hightown sometime to see the estate. Its pretty nice! For Kirkwall, anyways... and its no where near those sinkholes that riddled the area a few months back. Perfectly structurally sound.” Again, Bran protested the lavish gift, citing regulations and procedures that normally would accompany the action. Varric got him to leave them alone, but Bran stayed close by, pacing nervously in case the ruler tried to give something else absurd away.

Ebrisa held the decree awkwardly in her hand, unsure what to feel. “Why did you do this?”

Varric puffed out his chest, trying to look like the leader Kirkwall had elected him to be. “What kind of Viscount would I be if I didn't abuse my position to give shit to my friends? I've got tradition to uphold!”

She quickly covered Allison's ears, frowning in disapproval. “Varric!”

“What? I- oh.” He smiled sheepishly. “Sorry. Haven't had to talk around innocent ears before. I'll try to be on my best behavior, but I make no promises.”

“If Sera can find unoffensive substitutes to use around Alli, then so can you,” she chided quietly, slowly removing her hands. “But really, Varric, what is this all about?”

The dwarf folded his arms and sighed. “I don't know how this council thing will end for the Inquisition, but whatever gets decided, you've got a place lined up for you in Kirkwall, if you want it. Also...” He averted his gaze, unable to look at Ebrisa's questioning eyes anymore. “It's pretty gloomy back home. We could use some sunshine to brighten it up.”
~~~~~~~~~~
Ebrisa intended to spend the entire day catching up with everyone. They had all left for their own reasons and she was eager to hear how they had been and what progress had been made in those quests. She saw Blackwall out of the corner of her eye – or was it Rainier now? - but he was... otherwise occupied with the Inquisitor at the moment. The mage blushed and focused straight ahead as she walked off, wondering if she and Cullen made others feel so uncomfortable during their own enthusiastic displays. At least they were married.
“Warm, welcome, feels like home.”

She started at the sudden words in her ear and spun around to the voice she hadn't heard in months. “Cole!” Ebrisa went in for a hug, Allison taking the opportunity to escape and jump into the spirit's arms. It made the embrace awkward, but not at all unexpected, and the mage giggled lightly as the wide brim of Cole's hat cast a shadow over her face.

He was as pale as ever, the time traveling with the bard Maryden and aiding her in healing the quiet hurts in taverns and inns doing little to tan him. Ebrisa reminded herself that he wasn't a person in the traditional sense, despite how much he felt like a brother. Cole looked up at her as she pulled away, a timid smile on his face. “Do I really?”

Ebrisa tilted her head just a little in confusion, then smiled. “I've fallen out of practice of saying everything out loud, it seems. But yes, Cole, you really do.” She lowered her gaze to watch the child clinging to the spirit tightly. “Which makes you like her uncle.”

Allison grinned widely and pressed her cheek against his chest. “Wub Co!” She looked up with shining eyes. “Co stay?”

“Oh, I... I don't know.” He frowned slightly. “There are a lot of things going on, Alli. No one knows what will happen for sure.” That was not what the girl wanted to hear, and her face pushed together in a pout. “I won't make a promise if I don't know I can keep it. But you will never be alone, so don't be sad. You have your father and mother...” Cole looked up slowly, studying the woman in front of him. “And you will have...”

Ebrisa's eyes widened suddenly and she slapped a hand over his mouth. “No, Cole, don't say anything!” She whispered harshly.

He continued to watch her as she pulled her hand away. “He doesn't know.”

“No.” Ebrisa held her arms in front of herself. “No one does.”

“But you want him to know.”

She nodded, frowning a little. “The timing just isn't very good. I didn't want to distract anyone from the Exalted Council. Its too important.”

“So is this.”

“Is that Brizy and Mini?” Sera popped her head out of the tavern with a half-empty mug in her hand. “It is!” She rushed outside and thrust the mug in Ebrisa's hand before snatching the child from Cole. “It's my second favorite little person – top favorite little human!”

Allison giggled loudly as the elf spun her in circles. “Sewa-sewa!”

“Oy, you big enough to help with pranks yet? This place is full of knobs who need a good knocking.”

“She's not.” Ebrisa set a hand on her hip and used the other to hold the ale as far away from herself as possible. “I'm sure you and Hawke can manage the task without roping in my daughter.” Her tone had a hint of sternness in it, but her smile betrayed the warning. A feeling of pure happiness washed over the mage as she watched her friends play with her child. Whatever happened during this Exalted Council was going to be worth it.

 

Chapter Text

Being in a cathedral for Allison's dedication had made it easy to address Cassandra by title, but standing outside over looking Halamshiral's landscape just felt so familiar that Ebrisa hesitated to approach the Divine. She looked down at the object in her hands and wondered if it was even appropriate anymore. Just as Ebrisa was about to turn around and move back up the steps, she heard Cassandra call out to her.

“Herald. Pardon, I did not notice you there.”

The mage timidly moved closer, keeping her head bowed, curtseying low to the ground once close enough. “No apology necessary, Your Holiness. I did not wish to interrupt what was surely a small moment of peace for you.”

Cassandra let out a tired sigh. “Such ceremony. I had hoped at least you would not treat me with such... reverence.”

Ebrisa rose back up and frowned slightly in confusion. “You are the Divine. To show any less would be near blasphemous.”

The Nevarran held back a groan. “Yes, but... you are the Herald of Andraste. Does that not make us equals?”

“I...” Ebrisa was beyond stunned. “I am nowhere near your equal.”

“There is a reason you were the first choice, Herald. Do not forget that.” Cassandra smiled awkwardly. “Would you do me the courtesy of indulging me, even if you still fail to see yourself properly?”

The mage rubbed her forehead and blushed. “I... I will try, but you must allow me to call you Divine Victoria.”

Cassandra nodded. “A fair deal, Herald.” She looked around a bit. “Is the little one not with you?”

“Thom ran off with her,” Ebrisa chuckled softly.

Allison could never really grasp the name Blackwall and Rainier wasn't going too much better, but as soon as they tried Thom she went straight to Thommy. Ebrisa could practically see the fighter's heart melt at the name and knew it had to be related to his departed little sister. The speed at which he scooped up the child and bolted for the shops was rather impressive for a man who was sitting down.

“I, um, I had something I wanted to give you.” The mage held out a plain covered book. “I know its a little nondescript, but you may want to keep a close eye on this.” Cassandra took the book curiously and flipped it open. “I don't know if this still interests you, but I thought it unfair that I had the only copy.” Ebrisa looked up sheepishly. “I mean, you were a fan long before I was.”

The Divine darted her eyes over the pages, turning them carefully. “This is... you had the last Swords and Shields transcribed for me?”

Ebrisa fidgeted a little and cleared her throat. “There would have been too many questions if I had sent it out, so I took the task upon myself.” It had taken a lot of time and Cullen teased her mercilessly, unsure why she was even copying the story. “I... well, its a little silly, but I like keeping this between us. It feels... special.”

Cassandra closed the unassuming book and held it to her chest, face heating, but not from the story inside. “It does feel special, my friend.” She raised her eyes and let a tiny smile slip across her face. “I hear there is a new book coming out from a rather popular Antivan author. Perhaps we could both pick up a copy and... write each other about our thoughts on it?”

The mage giggled quietly. “The Herald of Andraste and The Most Holy - members of a secret, romance novel book club.” She smiled widely and met the Nevarran's gaze. “When do we start?”

~~~~~~~
It was just unbelievable what Orlesians threw away, caring only to have what was popular and then discarding it the moment it no longer tickled their fancy. The practice was bad enough, but to toss out an animal like last season's shoes was despicable. Cullen had come across the dog by accident while stationing his men around the palace and after hearing the merchant explain how they came into possession of the mabari, he couldn't just walk away.

“Are you watching?” Cullen knelt on the cobbled ground, locking eyes with the dog. “Alright... dodge!” He chucked the ball as swiftly as he could, but to his annoyance the beast caught the round object in his mouth and brought it back excitedly. It was going to be hard work to train a fully grown dog, but he'd dealt with far more difficult recruits. “You're supposed to dodge, not catch.” Cullen frowned as the projectile dropped into his hand. “If that ball was a fireball, you'd be dead.”

“Look, Alli, Daddy made a friend,” Ebrisa giggled as she approached, child on her hip. “And at a political event no less.”

He looked up at her and let out a deep sigh. “Maker, you're a lovely sight.”

The mage blushed slightly and darted her eyes to the side. “Cullen, I've been running around for hours. I hardly think lovely is the proper way to describe what sort of sight I am.”

“You could be covered in mud and still breathtaking to me.”

“Yo-you're sweet talking me for a reason,” Ebrisa mumbled suspiciously.

“Can't a man compliment his wife without his motives being drawn into question?” Cullen tried to defend himself, but the lack of further eye contact wasn't helping his case. He cleared his throat and scratched the dog's ears. “Coincidentally, I may have adopted this mabari. I – um – I thought Alli could use a playmate.”

“Cullen,” she sighed and shook her head, moving closer. “You got a pet on a whim without discussing it with me?”

“Well, I...” He continued to avoid her eyes. “He was abandoned by his owners. I couldn't leave another Fereldan trapped in the Winter Palace. Besides,” he let out a short, youthful laugh. “I think he likes me.” The dog barked, as if to confirm, and Cullen looked up sheepishly. It was such a hopeful, pleading expression – almost puppy like - and it forced Ebrisa to drop her feigned disapproval. Thank the Maker Cullen didn't do that often, or she'd never be able to say no.

She shook her head and studied the dog. “Look at the size of him. This is no playmate, it's a mount.” To emphasize her point, Ebrisa sat Allison on the mabari's back, holding her loosely under the arms for balance.

Cullen chuckled as Allison rubbed the animal's neck. “You say that as those the two are mutually exclusive.”
She met her husband's eyes with a playful smirk. “Give me a week and I'll have a proper saddle all figured out, but there's no need to hide behind Alli,” Ebrisa teased. “You could have just said you wanted the dog.”

Cullen blushed slightly, feeling a little embarrassed. “Circles frown upon keeping pets, but there was a local dog back in Honnleath when I was a boy,” he began. “The mutt was a stray and no one's parents would let them take the thing in, so he sort of belonged to all the village children. We took turns caring for him...” He looked down with a slight frown. “I wonder what happened to him...”

She pulled Allison from the dog and set her on her feet, the dog rolling on its back. The girl watched as Cullen rubbed the mabari's stomach and tried her best to do the same, patting her hands on the furry belly. Ebrisa raised a brow. “And this dog is going through fireball training because...?”

“He'll be prepared should something happen,” Cullen responded automatically, completely serious. “Not that something will, or that it will involve fire. But, well, the more eyes looking out for my little girl, the better.”

“And a dog is supposed to do that?”

“A pure-bred mabari war-hound is.” Cullen straightened proudly. “Its in their blood to protect their master. The queen of Fereldan kept one at her side through the entire Fifth Blight. Story goes that it even took a bite out of the archdemon.”

Ebrisa laughed as she sat by his side. “Alright, alright, the dog can stay. Just don't ask me to name him.”

Cullen grinned widely as he switched to a sitting position and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Admittedly, I may have been a little jealous of the Inquisitor's hound when we were in Kirkwall. The way Captain Aveline has been able to integrate him into the city guard is rather impressive.”

She hummed quietly and shifted a little. “Speaking of Kirkwall, um, did you know Varric is the Viscount now?”

The commander snorted. “Yes, actually. Her Holiness said his appointment was a mystery for the ages.”

“Well, he... has started to abuse his power. Varric gave me a title and, um, an estate...” The mage pulled up her knees, carefully studying Cullen's features to try and gauge his reaction. “It was nice of him, but I'm wondering if I should turn it down. Kirkwall isn't exactly filled with good memories for you...”

Cullen was quiet, watching Allison play with the giant, yet unmistakeably loving beast. “The Inquisition will change after this. I'm not yet sure what that will mean...” Despite the friendships they had made and how much the people there seemed to care for Allison, Skyhold was no place to raise a child. He knew that, Ebrisa knew that, but they hadn't really discussed where would be a good place. He supposed a part of him was hoping they could join his family in South Reach, help with the Rutherford farmstead and let Allison grow up with her cousin, but would that be fair to Ebrisa to force her into a life of labor? To remove her so thoroughly from everything she knew and was accustomed to? Was that the sort of life she deserved? And while he had enjoyed his childhood, did his fair share of chores and tasks, was that the sort of life he wanted for his little girl? If it had truly been such a wonderful life, he wouldn't have been so determined to join the templars.

His previous life in Kirkwall was centered around his duties and the Gallows, filled with suspicion and hateful emotions, but it was not... overall unpleasant. There were some good times to be had over the years, moments that he actually enjoyed himself. But then when he returned for the rifts... he had not missed the looks the locals gave him. The very fact that an armored city guard had expressed negative thoughts about him in such a way that pregnant Ebrisa felt compelled to punch the man spoke volumes for how much those he abandoned despised him.

Ebrisa's quiet sigh brought him out of his thoughts. “I think I can catch Varric before Seneschal Bran buries him in more letters. I'll be right back.” She made to stand, but Cullen held her firmly in place.

“Let's just... take some time to think about it,” he said softly. “I mean, just because you're a countess in Kirkwall, doesn't mean you have to live in your estate there all the time.”

She smiled lightly, happy to see he was at least entertaining the idea. “I'm a comtesse.”

“Well, excuse me, dear lady.”

Ebrisa hummed, seemingly weighing her options. “You are forgiven, I suppose, but allow me to address the nobility first to prevent further social transgressions.”

Cullen sighed heavily, rubbing her arm affectionately. “I am so glad you're here. I might just survive this council after all.”

“I'll try to stay close by, should you feel the need to punch someone rising.”

He chuckled. “Unfortunately, that feeling is always bubbling at the surface in Orlais.”

Ebrisa rested her head on his shoulder, looking up at him with a sly grin. “You know, you can just admit you want me around.”

Cullen hummed and kissed her hair. “Always.”

~~~~~~~~
“Is she dead?” Sera poked at the Inquisitor, Hawke's face planted firmly on the table.

“Nah,” Varric scoffed and waved a hand through the air. “It takes more than...” He paused and counted the empty mugs around his friend. “Seven ales to do in the mighty Inquisitor. I think she's moping.”

“I'm not moping,” Hawke mumbled into the wooden table.

“I know you're sad I'll be staying in Tevinter, but there's no need to be so dramatic about it,” Dorian sighed.

Hawke snorted, the action raising her head from the table enough to smack it on the recoil. “Ow, friggen Orlesian mahogany.” She sat up and rubbed her forehead. “Not moping, Dorian or no Dorian.”

The mage held a hand over his heart. “Oh, my pride.”

“There, there, Kadan,” Iron Bull handed the Tevinter one of the tavern's insanely fancy drinks. “You still have me.”

“Ah, we're doing the names, are we?” Dorian raised a brow at the twirl of orange zest in is new source of alcohol.

“It's a title of honor, Kadan.”

“How precious,” Hawke muttered, dragging her eyes to Varric. “You, on the other hand, are on my bad list. For a little while.”

The dwarf laughed. “And just what did I do?”

“Your prank on Cassandra backfired on me. A little warning next time would be appreciated,” Hawke huffed as she signaled the waitress for another mug.

“My prank?” Varric leaned on the table as he thought. “Oh yeah, I remember now. Told her there was going to be a proposal, but I never gave any specifics. Was rather hoping I was going to see her fumble into that.”

“Yeah, well, she thought you meant me.” Hawke took the new drink and stared at it a bit. “Her reaction and frustration were hilarious, even more so because she has that ridiculous hat now.”

Sera poked at each of the empty cups. “So then why the collection?”

Hawke took a big swig, then slammed the mug down, sending ale and foam over the side. “Because I thought the very idea of me getting married was absurd! Have you met me? I laughed all the way over to tell Thom!” She dropped her head back down on the table and let out a loud groan. “Shouldn't have done that...”

“Hero didn't share your view, I take it?” Varric asked hesitantly.

Hawke folded her arms on the table and lifted her chin to rest in the crook of her elbow. “He... didn't say anything. Just kinda... looked hurt.”

“Noooo, I thought you and Beardy were true true,” Sera whined.

The Inquisitor stood up slowly and tossed her payment on the table. “I thought so, too.” She left the group, already regretting drinking so much. Tomorrow the talks would begin and Josephine would surely kill her if she showed up hungover. Hurray, another terrible consequence to a stupid idea.

She went back to her guest room and plopped face down onto the bed, groaning and still fully dressed. Hawke kicked at her feet until the boots fell to the floor, but refused to get back up and remove the jacket.

“Hawke.”

The Inquisitor jumped up at the voice and slipped off the side of the bed, scrambling to her feet at an impressive speed for one so drunk. “Thom! What- When did you get in here?”

He chuckled quietly. “I was here just a bit before you. You walked right by me, in fact.”

She wiped a hand over her face. “Course I did...”

“Look, Hawke,” Rainier began softly, walking up to her. “You have a lot on your mind with the council and I just wanted to take one thing off it.” He reached out and brushed at her layered hair. “I'm not going anywhere.”

Hawke looked away, embarrassed at her blushing, which only caused the blush to deepen. How did the Herald stand this? “Even though I don't want to get married? Maker knows I would be a terrible spouse anyways...”

“I'll stay with you as long as you'll have me, and if, one day, you decide you'd like to have more, we can discuss it.” He smiled playfully. “Though I'd likely make a bad spouse, too.”

She chuckled and nudged him with her shoulder. “One day at a time then.”

“Sounds like a plan, Inquisitor.”

 

Chapter Text

It had been dark for hours and Cullen was growing concerned. Vivienne whisked Ebrisa away in the late afternoon, saying something about an appointment, and his wife had not joined them for supper or returned in time to put Allison to bed. The Winter Palace did not seem to know – or, most likely, believe – that the Inquisition was bringing a toddler and didn't provide any sort of place for her to sleep, so Cullen pushed two armchairs together and padded them with a folded blanket. He put Alli down with more than a little trouble on the makeshift bed, only able to calm the girl after assuring her Ebrisa would be in any moment to give her a goodnight kiss. The child was fast asleep on the other side of the guest room and the yet-to-be-named mabari rested by the crackling fireplace as Cullen sat on the bed and stared at the door. He'd wait ten more minuets, then go out searching for her.

The door opened and Ebrisa poked her head in, seemingly uncertain. She locked eyes with Cullen and smiled widely. “So this is the right room.” She walked in and closed the door, humming an unfamiliar tune to herself as she walked further in and began working the lacing of her dress. She just seemed so carefree...

“Do you know how late it is?” Cullen nearly snapped. “Where have you been?”

Ebrisa jumped slightly from his tone, but seemed otherwise unphased. “Josephine took me to the Orlesian opera. Lady Brask was absolutely marvelous in her role and the aria in act two was so moving.”

“Josephine?” Cullen furrowed his brow. “I thought you were with Vivienne.”

“Yes, Vivienne.” Ebrisa sunk onto the bed. “She had an appointment for us at The Baths.”

“I know you get relaxed in a bath, but-”

“Not a bath, The Baths of Halamshiral!” She pulled herself back up and looked blissfully into his eyes. “The Imperial Gardens Spa is practically legendary and getting an appointment at all is some kind of miracle. Vivienne said she was having something proper made for me, but I was too far gone by then to really hear. I was walking on air after I left and then I bumped into Josephine and she was looking for someone to accompany her. I have an aunt who loves Antivan Operas, so I thought I'd give Orlesian ones a try. I'm so glad I did.”

He frowned at her. “You just disappeared. Alli was scared you weren't coming back, and I...” Cullen broke her gaze and continued in a low voice. “I was worried something may have happened.”

“I didn't... I thought someone told you where I went,” Ebrisa said quietly as she stood back up and moved across the room. She looked down at Allison in the cushioned enclosure and brushed the curls from her face. “I'm sorry, sweetling.” The mage bent down and kissed the child's cheek, staying close to whisper in her ear. “Mama will always come back.”

“She better,” Cullen grumbled from behind her, pulling the rest of the lacing out of the dress. “I was about to round up the honor guard and do a systematic search of the Winter Palace.”

Ebrisa held back a giggle and moved away from the sleeping girl. “Wouldn't that have gone over well with the council. The Inquisition's commander kicking down doors in the middle of the night, looking for his wayward wife.”

He raised a brow in challenge. “Don't think I wouldn't.”

“Oh, I know you would.” Ebrisa hummed the same tune from earlier as she changed out of her clothes. She glanced over her shoulder and found Cullen frowning slightly at her, the man sitting up against headboard with his arms crossed. He was still angry, at least a little, and Ebrisa knew she couldn't go to sleep with him stewing like that.

Deciding against putting on the nightdress, she dropped it to the floor and turned around in only her small clothes. With a sly smile, she slowly climbed towards him on the bed and finally sang the bit of song that had been looping in her head for the better part of the day. “Like Commander Cullen, who lead his men through the Inquisition. A Templar, a knight. Stayed with the fight. Stout and bright .

Cullen blushed a bit as the woman crawled to a stop, holding herself up over him with a knee between his legs. “A-and just what is that, exactly?”

Ebrisa's smile twisted into a smirk, trailing a finger gently along his jaw and down his neck, hooking the collar of his shirt. “It's part of Maryden's new song about the Inquisition's core members, myself and Hawke excluded.” She leaned in and hovered her lips over his, her hot breath tingling the sensitive skin of his scar.

Cullen swallowed hard, trying to not be swayed from his justified anger, but found himself breaking down from the rare seductive actions of his wife. Ebrisa's confidence had improved over the years, but she was often still embarrassed when it came to being intimate. For her to be so sure of herself, so calm, and so in control while straddling him in a fully lit room in only her small clothes was undeniably erotic.

Ebrisa fanned out her fingers and slipped her hand slowly down his chest, feeling Cullen shivering through the rough fabric of his shirt. “She left out how terribly handsome the commander is, but I suppose she got stuck trying to find a good rhyme.” The mage pulled back swiftly and dropped to the mattress on her back, scurrying under the covers and pulling them up to her nose to hide her grin.

Cullen sucked in a breath, simultaneously hot and bothered from her lingering proximity and cold from her sudden absence. It took a moment to register what happened before he leveled a mock glare at the giggling woman hiding beside him. “Think toying with a man is funny, do you?” He had the sheets out of the way and his wife beneath him in an instant, smirking as her giggle turned to a squeak. “You won't be laughing in a minute.”
~~~~~~~~~~~

“Maker, who decided to make the morning so early?” Hawke whined as she wandered towards the apothecary station with her mostly-completed remedy. “Well, I guess that would be the Maker.” Her hangover wasn't as bad as she feared, but once the shouting got underway in the council chamber, she knew her head would be ringing. “Just need one more thing in this and I'm good to go.”

To her surprise, there was another person already making a concoction of their own at the bottle covered workbench. Ebrisa hummed quietly as she ground the herbs into a paste, a kettle of water heating up over the fire in the corner of the room. She had no need for a recipe, being so familiar with the formula by now that she could make it sleeping on her feet.

“What you got cooking there, Brizy?” Hawke set her glass on the bench and leaned over to inspect the ingredients. “Elfroot, ginger... is that grass?”

The mage took one look at Hawke's unfinished drink and turned her head away, covering her mouth. “More of... of a sprout.”

The Inquisitor hummed and poked around the jars. “You see the powdered elfroot?” Ebrisa slid a container forward, still avoiding the fowl smelling substance. “Thanks.” Hawke dumped a spoonful into her glass and stirred it as the bubbling began. She pulled out the spoon and shook it off, taking a steadying breath. She chugged the nasty liquid as quickly as she could and slammed the empty glass on the bench, making a sour face.

The kettle whistled and Ebrisa carefully removed it, pouring the hot water directly into the mortar. She whisked the contents for a bit, then transferred them to a tea cup.

“I'm sure there are far easier ways to get tea, especially in the Winter Palace.” Hawke smirked, feeling her ailments begin to lift.

“Maybe, but... this isn't really...” Ebrisa picked up the cup and sipped it carefully. “Well, its... not important.”

Hawke hummed sceptically. “Afraid I don't have the time to prod you right now. Gotta get ready for the Exalted Council. Yippie, I guess.” She left the building with slumped shoulders, dreading the rest of the day.

~~~~~~~~~
Ebrisa turned the sending crystal slowly in her hands, watching her reflection shift on each face as she did so. “This will really work? But Tevinter is so far...”

Dorian chuckled and leaned back on the couch, crossing a leg. “For a mage who has seen so much, you really don't seem to understand the near limitless possibilities of magic.”

She smiled and tapped the device to her chin. “So if Alli is missing her Uncle Dory-”

“-as the child is certain to do,” Dorian cut in.

Ebrisa giggled. “So when Alli misses her Uncle Dory, I can just activate this and we can talk with you?”

“Assuming I'm not in the middle of something, yes.” The man smirked and ran a hand through his hair. “My velvety voice is at your fingertips, but perhaps I should have a portrait sent to Skyhold to keep the little one from falling completely into despair at my absence.”

Dorian chuckled, as if suddenly remembering something ridiculous. “By the way, I'm more Uncle Dory than you may have realized. Now I already knew this tidbit, but I thought I might refresh my memory and did some digging while back home - somewhere in the dank nethers of my family tree was a Trevelyan. Perhaps this is the same one who ventured off to Ostwick to establish the branch.”

Ebrisa's eyes brightened at the idea. “So very long ago, but it's possible.”

“I thought we might take the absurdity a step further and tack on a claim to Andraste as well.” At that, the woman gave him a disapproving frown. “Now now, hear me out,” Dorian urged. “Andraste's daughter – the one you aren't named after – absconded to the Imperium with a Tevinter mage and had daughters, who had daughters, who had daughters. The entire thing makes tracing the blood line impossible – even with Tevinter's zeal for such things - so who is to say you don't have a bit of Andraste in you?” He nudged her with a grin. “It would certainly explain your spark of divinity, at least as far as the South in concerned.”

“You know, The Seer's Yarn claims to be a collection from all over Thedas, but it hasn't a single children's tale from the Imperium. We ought to learn more of this new heritage.” She looked up sheepishly. “Would it be a terrible bother if you read some to Allison? Not every night, obviously, but... maybe once or twice a month?”

Dorian rolled his eyes dramatically. “Oh, very well. Just don't ask me to sing any lullabys.”

The woman laughed behind her hand. “Don't worry, I won't be making that mistake again.”

“Oh ho! Sass from the Herald. I feel honored.” He watched her laugh, burning the sight into his memory. “And if the mother finds herself lonely, she can use it too, I suppose.” Ebrisa quietened and turned to the other mage. “If you need me, say the word and I will come running. I can't just abandon my friend, after all.”

She lowered her eyes and blushed, obviously touched. “I... well, I'll be sure to take you up on that.”

Dorian grinned and stood up. “Lets try it out, shall we? Stay right here and be amazed.”

He walked off to the other side of the palace grounds, leaving Ebrisa with their unfinished game of chess. She smirked at the board, knowing she had him in three moves, and couldn't shake the feeling that he knew it as well. Counting it as a forfeit, that broke their tie and put her back on top. The woman picked up a rook and wondered if it would be a nuisance to play games using the crystal, recite the moves to each other over the long distance. She could almost hear Dorian accuse her of enlisting the commander's aide and cheating.

Ebrisa?”

She jumped at the voice in her hand, surprised by how clear it was. She brought the crystal closer, speaking into it. “Dorian? Where are you?”

The alley beside the tavern...” There was an uneasy tension in his voice. “You better get over here.”

The Herald moved briskly across the courtyards, noting the repositioning of the Inquisition's men. For them to be abandoning their posts, something very big had to be going on. She arrived at the ivy covered area the same time as Leliana and looked around the spymaster at the end of the alley. Sera was pacing with a bloody knife in her hand, cursing under her breath.

Leliana knelt down by the body of a dead, fully armored qunari soldier. “What happened?”

The elf shook her head. “The brute just barreled through a door, already bleeding everywhere and went straight for me! I tripped him over the balcony and followed him out. Beast kept going, so I finished him off.” She dropped the knife and groaned. “Friggen qunari in the Winter Palace! Like this place wasn't weird enough already.”

Ebrisa starred at the elf, ignoring the corpse for the more pressing issue. “Sera? Where's my daughter?” The rouge had volunteered to watch the child earlier in the day and gleefully ran off to play hide and seek.

Sera's eyes widened and her mouth dropped. “Piss...” She looked up the wall to the broken third story railing. “When he came out, I wasn't... I left Mini up there.”

“By herself?” Ebrisa shouted angrily as she hurried to the wall. She tried to climb, but her feet quickly became tangled in her skirt.

“Come on, we'll go around,” Dorian began as he touched her elbow. The Herald yanked free and grabbed the hem of her skirt, ripping the fabric nearly to the waistband and taking hold of the vine-covered lattice once again. “Or that,” the Tevinter mumbled as he watched the woman scale the side of the Winter Palace. He turned around and picked out Cole's hat from the Inquisition soldiers beginning to block off the area.

With a final grunt, Ebrisa pulled herself to the balcony floor and scrambled to her feet. “Alli? Alli, it's Mama!” She moved into the hall, lifting the sheets covering the various pieces of furniture in the obviously closed off wing, searching for any sign of her daughter. “You win, Alli! Sera-sera couldn't find you, so it's time to come out!” The door to the hall was shut – an obstacle Allison had yet to be able to figure out – so where was she? Ebrisa turned to the shattered door on the floor and rushed to the small room. It was meant for storage, filled with random chests and nicknacks, but the most prominent object inside was the glowing, active eluvian.

“She's not here,” Cole said quietly from the doorway. “I don't feel her in the palace at all.”

That wasn't what she wanted to hear.

Ebrisa pushed through the mirror, thousands of tiny glass fractures sounding in her ears as the surface passed around her and she stepped out on the other side. Her breath caught in her throat at the open, rocky landscape. Waterfalls running off into nothing, cliffs and thin bridges everywhere. So many places for a child to fall off and never... “Alli!” Her desperate voice echoed back to her. “Allison, please! Answer me!” She stepped further from the portal and kicked something with her clothe shoe, feeling every imperfection in the rough stone through the thin sole. It was one of Allison's toys, one of her favorites. Ebrisa dropped to her knees and held the wooden wolf tightly to her chest, eyes filling with tears.

Dorian and Cole stepped through a few moments later, the Tevinter holding a staff and looking around with a faint hint of recognition. “The Crossroads? It's different from when Morrigan lead us through, but this is surely part of the same network.”

“A-Alli wouldn't have dropped this on purpose,” Ebrisa said in a shaking voice, not even bothering to hide the fact she was crying. “Something happened. She's hurt, I know it.”

Cole touched her shoulder gently. “She's not here either.”

She turned around to face him, eyes red and panicked. “Then where is she?”

“I can see only one other active mirror.” Dorian nodded towards a shining eluvian across a wide expanse. “I would say our little adventurer went through that.”

Ebrisa clutched the wolf in her hands and scrambled to her feet. “Then so am I.” She hurried across the narrow path, forcing the others to follow.

“But dear, you haven't any equipment!” Dorian called behind her. “Go back and wait for help. We'll try and find her.”

“I am her mother,” the woman said in the most determined voice Dorian had ever heard. “That is all the equipment I need.”

 

Chapter Text

The eluvian lead them to an old tower, covered in vines. There was a clear trail of blood in the dark hall and Ebrisa took steadying breaths, trying to convince herself that it belonged to the qunari and not her child. The dead warrior they found further in reinforced the comforting thought. The group stepped out into the light of day and once again the Herald felt overwhelmed with worry by the sheer height of the tower and the enormous amount of space around them. There was another eluvian glowing at the bottom of the steps, the smoking remnants of a devastating spell billowing just before it.

The bricks were scorched, still seeping heat, and petrified qunari stood around the edge of the blast, barely out of range to have not disintegrated all together. “A very powerful mage did this..” Dorian mumbled, feeling the crackling energy in the air. “This spell was cast no more than an hour ago. They took out the qunari, so let us hope they are friendly to us.”

Ebrisa took in a deep breath, the taste of ash in her mouth. “Cole? Is she...?”

The young man was quiet, searching. “Further in. I can't tell where, exactly, but she is here.”

She expelled the tainted air and raised her eyes to the mirror. “Then we press on.”

Beyond the glass they found themselves on a long bridge with a sizable piece retracted. Ebrisa looked over the edge at the lake below and contemplated jumping and swimming across. Or maybe she could freeze it and Fade-step, or perhaps-

“Qunari. There, on the other side.” Dorian pointed across the water to the faint figures of the fighting horde. Who they were fighting, they couldn't quite make out. “Maybe the mystery mage has friends.”

This didn't make sense. None of this made sense! How could Allison have gone so far on her own? Ebrisa gasped suddenly and brought her hand to her mouth. “They took her. The qunari have my daughter!”

“You can get to her,” Cole mumbled. “Unlock the veiled truth with the power beyond the Veil.”

Ebrisa turned to him, too worried to even try and make sense of his attempt at aide. “Cole, please, if you can sense her, go to her! Keep Alli safe.”

The spirit was conflicted, wanting to keep his friend safe as well. He saw the desperation in her eyes and lowered his head. “I will find her, but the jump would kill you. Find a better way across.” With that he vanished, putting a stop to all of the Herald's foolish ideas.

“There's another eluvian over here,” Dorian called. “We might be able to find the key we need to activate the bridge or a closer mirror.” The mages went through the shimmering surface, stepping out on another tower in the same valley, but this one was not abandoned.

Elven spirits stood over them, weapons at the ready and a dead qunari crumpled on the last step. “Atish'all vallem, Fen'harel elathadra.” The most imposing spirit called out as they approached.

Dorian frowned. “Of course there would be ancient spirits speaking Elven in the middle of an eluvian maze.”

The spirit grew impatient. “Nuvenas mana helanin. Dirth bellasa ma.”

The man cleared his throat and pushed Ebrisa forward slightly. “Well then, dear, your turn. You're sort of like Solas' protege, so ancient elves and spirits are your thing now.”

She glanced at him, more than a little surprised. Its true that Solas tutored her while he was in Skyhold and she continued the lesson plan after he left, but she hardly thought herself his protege. Ebrisa had even taken it upon herself to try and learn Elven so she could study more of the books in the lower library, but by no means did she know what the spirit was asking for. All she'd been able to grasp through his fluid accent and fast pace was Fen'harel. Still, she needed to get past them.

Ebrisa took a deep breath and tried to appeal to the spirit's good nature. “Ma halani. Ir mamae.” She clasped her hands together desperately, squeezing Allison's toy to her chest. “Mir len bora! Mir lin, mir nehn... mir da'vhenan.” Her voice cracked as the tears ran down her face. Solas had often said that Elven was as much about the feeling and intent as it was the words and she desperately hoped these spirits could see past her human face ignoring their procedure to the suffering mother pleading for their help.

“Virthar ma. Na din'an sahlin!” The spirit lifted his maul off his shoulder and prepared to swing.

“Mana!” Another spirit called out, breaking from formation to join the first. “Mana. Mah holmal...” The first spirit darted its glowing eyes from Ebrisa's tearful face to the carved wolf in her hands, then back again. “Fen'harel'enaste,” the second spirit urged.

Dorian leaned in and whispered to the other mage. “What's going on? What did you say?”

“I... I told them I lost my child,” she whispered back.

“Well they seem less keen on killing us now, at least.”

After conversing in their melodic tongue, the first spirit nodded at the mages. “Mar ashalan eth. Atish'all vir vindhru.” It stepped back and motioned to the side of the tower.

Ebrisa bowed in thanks, wiping at her eyes. “Ma serannas, elgar.”

The spirit nodded again. “Dareth shiral, Elgara'len.” By the time Ebrisa whipped up her head in surprise, the spirits were gone. It was entirely possible that she had misheard the fluent speaker of the language she was stumbling through, but if not, he had called her sun child. She looked at the toy in her hand and furrowed her brow as she recalled Cole's odd words when she had first touched the wolf. More than that, she could swear she had been called that name before...

“This is a dead end,” Dorian huffed as he came back from circling the tower. “There's a smashed eluvian on one side and a broken walkway on the other. Let's go back and see if we missed something.”

“Broken?” Ebrisa followed him to the destroyed section of the tower, squinting past the smoking rumble at the glowing eluvian. The mirror was active and the destruction recent, as though done to prevent being followed. “Maybe we could jump it.”

“Ha!” Dorian let out a single, loud laugh. “And how much clothing will you need to rip to accomplish that feat of dexterity?”

“There must be something here!” The woman turned away, finding herself staring at a large mosaic, faintly shimmering green. “Did the other sides have this too?”

“Hmm?” The Tevinter followed her gaze and frowned. “No, they were all rather plain.”

She approached the mosaic and brushed her left hand over the tiles, feeling a humming in her fingertips before the anchor flashed to life and energized the wall. She winced against the brightness and held back her cry of pain, a strange feeling washing over her. It was... welcoming. Images flooded her mind of ancient elves, slaves, coming to this place seeking refuge. Words echoed in her head, a voice familiar, but hard to place. In a moment the feeling and words were gone, the wall knocking her back and burning away like veil fire.

Dorian helped her to her feet, blinking dumbfounded at the newly exposed eluvian. “That was terribly unexpected. Are you alright?”

“Yes, I... I think so.” Ebrisa shook out her hand, trying to rid it of the searing ache. “This place, this entire valley, was a sanctuary for ancient elven slaves... protected by Fen'harel.”

“Ancient elves? So not hiding from Tevinter, but themselves?” Dorian hummed curiously. “I knew this place looked old, but pre-Imperium?”

“You can come back with some scholars later, if you like.” The Herald gave her hand one final shake before raising it to the glass. “Right now, we need to get to my daughter.” They passed onto another tower, finding fresh qunari corpses and another mosaic. The connection brought more feelings and images, gentle words of hope, along with increasing physical pain. It claimed Fen'harel was mortal, not even a spirit as Ebrisa suspected the Creators to be. Just a mortal who wanted to help without the worship. The Herald could certainly understand that.

The wall had been concealing an entrance leading down into the tower. Winding steps took them out of the sunlight and away from torches until they arrived in a dark hall, lit only by the shimmering green of a mosaic. The fury that consumed Ebrisa as she touched the magic burned as hot as the mark on her hand and the voice that had been so gentle and calm before bellowed in her mind. When the wall vanished and she broke away, the woman gasped from both the pain and surprise.

“The Creators, the elven gods, were all mortal. Powerful mages, their leaders, perhaps, but...” She shook her hand and her head. There were too many implications to deal with at the moment. This was the type of discussion to have over tea, not while trying to find Allison.

Dorian walked into the dark room first, struggling to make anything out with the flickering green energy in the center of the room. “I think we found our key, dear!”

“Thank goodness.” Ebrisa sighed in relief and hurried over to him, but as she drew near the flashing energy shot to the anchor like lightning. She cried out loudly and dropped to her knees, holding her wrist in an attempt to keep the pain from spreading up her arm as she became the only source of light in the room.

“Ebrisa! Are you alright?” Dorian grabbed the strange statue and stumbled to her side. “Does that feel as painful as it looks?”

“Probably,” she groaned as he helped her upright. She was quiet for several minuets, focusing on the effect the anchor was having on her body. After a moment, she let out a sigh and met her friend's eyes. “It'll be worth it, though.” The mages retraced their steps as quickly as possible, passing through eluvians until they arrived back at the bridge.
“What if I fire an arrow reeeeeeeal far with a rope attached and we use that to climb across?” Sera suggested, giving the distance a trial shot.

Or we can activate the mechanism,” Dorian called out as he pushed through the fighters and set the statuette in place. The pedestal sank down and clicked, the sound of splashing water and grinding stones filling the air as Ebrisa secured the toy at her waist and impatiently waited at the gate. She was going to need both hands for this.

The qunari had not stopped fighting while she was gone, and the mage watched them intently as the bridge rose up. Hawke came up beside her, eying the woman curiously and noting her lack of shoes. “Now that we're here, you should head back. We'll find out what the qunari are up to.”

“No,” Ebrisa flatly refused. “Allison is over there.”

“Are you serious?!” Hawke looked to Sera, the elf as surprised as her. “How did-?”

“They took her. They must have!” Ebrisa clenched her hands. “If she hadn't been left alone, she wouldn't be out here.”

“I didn't know Mini would-” Sera began in a mumble.

“What were you even doing in that wing?” Ebrisa cut her off, turning back to give Sera a firm glare before facing forward again.

The archer plucked absentmindedly at her bowstring. “Well, I thought maybe there was some stuff... that no one would miss...”

The walkway finally latched in place and the gates dropped. “If my child is even a little bit harmed because you wanted to steal while you were supposed to be watching her, I will never forgive you, Serrah.”

The elf straightened. “But I... aren't I Sera-Sera?”

“Not anymore,” Ebrisa growled as she stormed across the wet stones.

Sera tightened her grip on the bow and watched the mage walk away. “Words. Just words,” she mumbled, trying to keep the hurt from sinking in, but she knew Ebrisa was right to be angry. If Mini was harmed because of her, Sera wouldn't forgive herself either. Rainier gave her shoulder a quick squeeze and then the group rushed after the Herald.

Only a small squad of qunari remained outside to guard the entrance, the majority of the fighting having moved into the large building, and they failed to notice the Inquisition until Hawke's group was already upon them. Sera and Dorian took out a spearman by surprise as Hawke and Rainier charged into the warriors. Those were the lucky ones. Ebrisa spread her fury in a wall of flame, pushing the unengaged qunari back faster than they could move, and coating them in the white hot fire. She moved past them as they cried out and ignored the calls to wait from behind her, entering the grand hall on her own.

The qunari force was larger than she originally thought, but their numbers were matched by the same elven spirits Ebrisa met earlier. If this entire valley was a sanctuary, then perhaps these spirits were its guardians. A small group of qunari noticed her, confused to see an unarmored woman approaching them in the heat of battle, but then she raised her left hand and called upon the aching mark. “Asala-rass! Inquisition!” One shouted in an attempt to redirect the other fighters to the new target. His next stream of words faded into the vacuum of the rift above the group, the tear pulling at them painfully.

Ebrisa rushed past them and straight to the glowing defenders, hand still sparking softly. “Elgar'en! Iras mir ashalan?” She called out, hoping these spirits had spoken with the others at the tower. An archer pointed further into the hall, past the fighting, at a large stone wolf. “Ma serannas,” she panted, making to run off.

Rainier caught her hand and held her firmly in place. “Easy, my lady.”

She turned to him desperately. “But I need-”

“You'll be no good to your girl if you're hurt yourself.” He released her and nodded reassuringly. “We'll get to her, all of us, and then we'll get her to safety. Alright?”

Ebrisa took in a deep breath to ease her shaking nerves. Cole was with Allison, keeping her safe. He would have come back otherwise. Where ever she was, she was safe. The mage looked back at the archer and motioned to the other Inquisition members. “Mir falon'en. Halani... uh,” she rubbed at her forehead, trying to remember the words she needed. The spirit nodded and spoke too quickly for her to grasp any words, but his meaning was clear enough. Ebrisa turned around and shouted to the others. “Only engage the qunari! The spirits will not harm you if you do not attack them!”

Sera made an uneasy groan and shifted targets before loosing her arrow at a charging Ben-Hassrath. The group fell into old habits, supporting and working off each other as if they had never spent a day apart. Too bad it took qunari intruders and a missing child to bring the gang back together.

 

Chapter Text

As soon as a path was clear, Ebrisa broke from the others and rushed up to the statue. There were no other doors and the balcony lead out to nothing, but the spirit had directed her here. She found a switch by the wolf and pressed it, hearing a click and nothing else. She pressed it again, leaning harder into the switch, but still nothing. Ebrisa looked around the landing, finding rubble and large fresco murals dotted with veil fire braziers. The prominent figure on both walls was draped in a wolf skin and removing the face markings from the Dalish... but this place was too old for the Dalish. Ebrisa stared at the obscured figure, Fen'harel, then to the statue behind her. Every stone wolf they had come across before had been depicted the same, but it always looked out over something. The horizon, the water, the path... why was this one looking at the wall and not the room?

She followed the wolf's gaze to a single brazier on the wall and sparked the blue flame to life. There was a click, then loud grinding and she whipped around to find the others standing by the wolf as it slid across the floor, Hawke still holding her hand out from activating the switch. “Sorry,” Hawke half laughed, still a little surprised. “I see a button, and I push it.”

“I think we all know a few people who would agree with that, Inquisitor.” Dorian smirked as the leader shot him a look. “You must know you walked right into that one.”

At the bottom of the newly revealed steps was a mosaic and Ebrisa didn't even have to get close to it for her hand to connect, the energy jumping from the mark, almost hungry as the words and images flooded her. “The Vallaslin used to be... slave brandings of the Evanuris. This place wasn't just a sanctuary, it was the base for a revolt.”

“The whats were a what to the what-what?” Hawke was the first to cross into the now opened room, looking around at the piles of stashed weapons.

Dorian did his best to fill them in on what he and Ebrisa had learned, and Sera snorted. “Their gods weren't gods and elves enslaved themselves? The Dalish. Are going. To shit themselves.”

“Not likely they'll just take our word on it,” Hawke sighed, finding the proper corridor. “Most Dalish I've come across wouldn't believe even with physical proof in their hands.”

They stepped around a corner and could plainly make out another, shining eluvian down the corridor. Ebrisa help back a whimper, beginning to feel they were being lead through an endless looping maze and she would never hold her girl again.

“We're here.”

Ebrisa turned around at the whisper in her ear, startling Dorian at her sudden movement. “Is everything alright?”

“I heard Cole,” she breathed. “He said...” The Herald tore off down the low hall without another word, Rainier shouting after her. She didn't care what else may be in the room up ahead, because her daughter was there. “Allison! Cole!” Qunari looked up in confusion as she slid to a stop in the center of the room, her bare feet giving her no traction against the moss-covered stone.

“Here,” Cole's voice answered behind a closed door, the qunari turning towards it with just as much confusion. A spearman launched his weapon, but the mage swept her hand as she ran to the voice and turned the projectile to ash.

The Herald flung open the door of the small side room and dropped to her knees at the sight awaiting her. Cole held a sleeping Allison in his lap, the girl slightly dirty but undoubtedly unharmed, and he smiled gently. “Her dreams are soothing. My favorite quiet.”

“Mine, too...” Ebrisa crawled over and took hold of her child, cradling her in trembling arms as she sat on the cold, damp floor. “Thank the Maker. Thank Andraste, His bride. Maker be praised.” She repeated the words over and over under her breath as the sounds of fighting echoed behind her. Allison was safe, her sweet little thing. She thought she heard someone call out to her, but it sounded so far away...

A qunari grabbed Ebrisa by the the straps of her kirtle and yanked her from the room, Allison slipping from her grasp and rolling to the floor. “Asala-rass!” The qunari bellowed, a few of his kin in the room turning to look at the mage. Allison woke at the shout and started crying, the qunari releasing Ebrisa in surprise. “Imekari?” The mage made a move to the child, but the warrior threw her back into a stack of jugs, the metal spheres falling over and pinning her to the floor.

Ebrisa groaned as she pulled herself free, digging her nails into the grout to try and gain leverage. Allison's cries echoed in her head and with a desperate shout she squeezed shut her eyes and hands, a shock wave erupting from the anchor and sending the debris flying off her. Her entire body was overflowing with power and with a fury filled scream, she flew into a Fade-step and launched herself at the qunari, tackling him to the floor. “Leave her alone, leave her alone!” Her glaring eyes burned with green fire as the terrified warrior struggled underneath her. He punched her in the face, staggering her back enough for him to climb back to his feet.

“Ashkost say hissra, Asala-rass!” He reared back his blade, but the curse had given Ebrisa enough time to gather her mana. Before he had a chance to swing, the mage blasted him with a steady stream of fire, roaring defiantly until the warrior fell dead to the floor, flames still burning strong.

The Herald panted softly as she climbed to her feet, ignoring the others and rushing back to her daughter. She picked her up, holding the child firmly to her and washed with relief. “It's alright, sweetling. Mama's got you. You're okay, Alli, you're okay.” Ebrisa peppered the crying child with kisses, nuzzled her hair, and tried to keep from crying herself.

“Mama,” Allison wailed, wrapping her little arms around the woman's neck. “Scawy Boo!”

Ebrisa looked to the dead qunari laying around the main room, Hawke standing over one with a bloodied note in her hands. “Yes, but they're gone now. They were only a little like Iron Bull. You know Bull wouldn't hurt you.” She bounced the girl, turning so Allison wouldn't see the bodies. “Did they bring you here?”

The child shook her head. “Fen.”

“I- I have your Fen. Do you want him?” Ebrisa fumbled to free the toy with one hand.

Another set of fingers untied the wooden toy. “Here, Mini,” Sera offered softly, tucking the wolf under Allison's arm.

The child looked up, pouting slightly as she clutched the toy. “Scawy Boo owwie Sewa-sewa?”

“You were worried about me?”

Allison nodded.

Sera grinned and puffed out her chest, hands to her hips. “No way! A Friend of Red Jenny can take one measly qunari intruder, no problem!”

The child giggled at the bravado, her laughter sinking deep into Ebrisa's heart. If they hadn't found her, if they hadn't gotten to her in time, Ebrisa would never have been able to hear the sound again. It was always so clear, so easy to elicit, and so very infectious – she didn't know if she could have ever laughed again without the bubbly reference. With the worry and anger gone, all Ebrisa was left with were her tears and she cried them silently into her daughter's golden hair.

Allison looked up, a tear dropping to her cheek, and patted the woman's face. “Mama owwie? Dada fix.”

“Yup, he's good at that,” Hawke sighed as she folded the qunari's orders. “And right after, Cullen can help us figure out why qunari were preparing to infiltrate the Winter Palace.”

~~~~~~~~
When Cullen received the first bit of news, Hawke had already been pulled from the council chambers and was preparing to go through the eluvian with Sera and Rainier. As he understood it, Sera had stopped the qunari warrior and Ebrisa, Cole, and Dorian went to investigate. Hawke teased the worried expression on the commander's face and promised to send his wife back through when she found her. Not knowing what, exactly, was on the other side of the mirror made the waiting all the more torturous, but Cullen obeyed his orders and saw to it that the wing and qunari body were secured.

Hawke was the first back, walking right up to Cullen and showing him the orders she found as the others trickled through the mirror. “This is unbelievable,” Cullen grumbled, brows furrowing as he read the parchment a second time. “To already be stationing men, their plan, whatever it is, must be pretty far along.”

“Yeah, and we need to figure out what that it.” Hawke let out a heavy sigh. “I'll go round up Leliana and Josephine. I need all my advisors on this, so join us as soon as you can.”

“I'll be right there, Inquisitor.”

The look she gave him made Cullen pause. “As soon as you can.”

Ebrisa stepped through the eluvian, dress wet and torn in several places, feet bare and dirty, and Allison clutched securely in her arms. To say Cullen was stunned would be an understatement. He rushed up to them, taking hold of Ebrisa's shoulders and looking her over. “Wha... I don't... What happened? Why was Alli in there?” His wife did her best to explain as he took them back to their room, intending to stay until the shaking left her voice. As much as she wanted Cullen to keep holding her in his arms, Ebrisa urged him to go to Hawke and figure out what was really going on.



The meeting did little but reaffirm what they already knew: they needed to find out what the qunari were planning, it made no sense for the qunari to be using eluvians, and the Exalted Council was furious that Hawke left in the middle of the first meeting. Cullen relayed new orders to the honor guard, ensuring they would be vigilant and keep a close eye on the repositioned mirror. He knew he had a reason to distrust eluvians.

The commander entered the guest room, smelling a familiar fragrance in the air and instantly knowing Ebrisa had taken a bath to clean up as much as calm her nerves. He removed the annoying dress jacket and made his way over to the bed where his wife lay with her head in her hand, watching Allison sleep beside her. Cullen knelt down on the floor, crossing his arms on the mattress and studying the pair. “The Inquisitor told me a bit more about what happened,” he began softly. “You were apparently quite frightening today.”

Ebrisa looked up at him with a sly smile. “Well, I'm a Rutherford, aren't I? I needed to do my adopted heraldry proud and became a fierce lioness to protect her cub.” She swirled her fingers slowly in Allison's slightly damp hair, sweeping the curls into a larger twist. She wondered if she could start braiding the growing locks yet...

Cullen chuckled, noting the plush lion toy in the child's hand. “There is that, but she said you did... something with the mark you hadn't before. You were glowing.”

“Sera says that all the time.”

“Well this was apparently different and allowed you to physically take down a qunari twice your size.” He leaned in, frowning a little. “Are you alright? Does it hurt?”

She hesitated. The anchor had certainly done a lot that day and it still ached, but it had been a while since she used it at all, let alone in combat. “Don't worry, it's nothing.” His frown deepened, unconvinced. Ebrisa patted the mattress and sat up, taking Allison into her arms. “Join us, Love.” As she hoped it would, the invitation banished the frown away.

Cullen removed his boots and climbed onto the covers, laying on his back. The mage placed the still sleeping child on his chest before settling against his outstretched arm herself. He brought in his hands, holding his wife to his side and gently playing with Allison's tiny fingers. “I know you're just trying to silence me. I'm on to your ways, Wife.”

She giggled lightly, shifting enough to kiss his cheek. “Then I'll just have to come up with some new ones.” Ebrisa rested her head back on his shoulder. “Tell me, are the talks going to be put on hold until the qunari are dealt with?”

“That would have made sense, so naturally that isn't what's happening,” Cullen sighed. “We apparently don't have enough evidence to bring forward yet, so Hawke is going to investigate the Crossroads more tomorrow and Josephine will do her best to handle the council.”

“By herself? That's insane.”

“I'm sure the Inquisitor will bring others along,” he said, stifling a yawn.

“I meant poor Josephine,” Ebrisa huffed. “The council was going to be difficult enough with all members present, but to try and defend the Inquisition on her own will surely burn her out.” She paused, thinking things over. “I should help. Put my upbringing to some use.”

“But you weren't really a part of most of the decisions they will be calling into question.”

“If nothing else, having two people there will divide their wrath and give Josephine time to recover and think of responses.” She looked up and met his tired eyes with a smile. “I've been on the receiving end of many beratings. I can take a yelling.”

“Unless they call my honor into question.” Cullen smirked. “No punching the Exalted Council.”

Ebrisa blushed slightly. “Then I'll just have to think of a different punishment to bestow upon the delegates, should they prove so foolhardy.” She snuggled closer, wrapping a leg around one of his own and clutching his shirt protectively. “No one belittles my husband and gets away with it.”

 

Chapter Text

The summer songbirds were already chirping merrily across the palace grounds, betraying the high tensions in the slowly filling council chambers. Hawke's sudden departure the day before – and failure to return after the recess concluded – made the delegates feel as though the entire proceeding was beneath the Inquisitor. The notion was infuriating. The purpose of the Exalted Council was to determine the future of the Inquisition, and if they could not be bothered to at least pretend to listen, how could Orlais think they could truly control the group?

Josephine paced in the corridor beside the door, shaking her hands and trying to gather herself. Yesterday had been a tragedy, both in the chambers and with what had happened outside it. She could still feel the bite of anger she had during the meeting with the others that night, how she snapped at Cullen for his blatant disregard for the importance of politics once again. Josephine regretted it, of course, forgetting in that moment what the man's wife and child had gone through because of the real problem.

She took a deep, calming breath to settle her nerves and entered the council chamber. The room quietened at her approach and began to take their places, the sound of chairs being dragged across the marble replacing the chatter from a moment before. Josephine sat at the table and began sorting her notes, trying to keep her expression as neutral as possible. The chair beside her slid back and she looked up, hoping to see the Inquisitor had changed her mind, but dropped her jaw a little in surprise as Ebrisa folded her hands the table. Josephine quickly recovered, hoping the delegates had not noticed her shock.

The Divine eyed the blonde mage curiously, but said nothing and stoically called the meeting to order. Arl Teagan instantly objected. “I would like to know how the lady Herald is going to replace the Inquisitor in these talks. She is not the leader and has no place in these proceedings.”

Duke Cyril leaned back in his seat, bridging his fingers together. “Her worship is, of course, welcome to observe from the gallery.”

Before Josephine had the chance to say anything, Ebrisa rose to her feet and dipped her head respectfully. “I know this is unusual, my lords, but the Lady Inquisitor deeply regrets being unable to attend and asked I act in her stead. While it is true the decisions she made were not my own, I was there when she made most of them. Unlike her other advisors, I fought along side the Inquisitor in the field practically every time she ventured out and witnessed the circumstances that lead her to the choices she made. I do not presume to know her mind on these matters, but my firsthand knowledge should prove a valuable asset for answering your many questions.” She dipped her head again and sat back down, the council members discussing her substitution amongst themselves.

Josephine leaned over slightly. “My lady, given what occurred yesterday, I will understand if you wish to excuse yourself from the Inquisitor's orders at any point during these proceedings.”

The mage smiled softly, continuing their whispered conversation. “Allison is in the safest place possible right now and my being there won't make her any more secure. You, on the other hand, could use some extra cover. This was my own idea and I don't plan on abandoning my friend when she is in such dire straights.”

The Antivan squeezed the mage's knee and smiled gratefully. “Indeed I am.”

“The council acknowledges the Lady Herald,” Cassandra called out to the room before locking eyes with the mage and giving her just the slightest hint of a smile. “Let us now proceed.”
~~~~~~~~~
From his position in the yard, Cullen could clearly see the room they had moved the eluvian to, the hallway leading to the council chamber, and two entrances. Inquisition soldiers were stationed strategically around the yard and passageways, ensuring the area was well secured. There would be no repeat of the day before.

“Dada,” Allison called, tugging on his arm. “T'ow!”

He looked down at the child, her hair tightly woven in a braid along her scalp with curly wisps framing her face and breaking free of the expert plait. Cullen had hoped that Allison had inherited her mother's softer curls as well as richer color, but it was becoming apparent the girl was stuck with his barely manageable twists instead. “Why don't you throw it this time?” He handed the ball over and watched as Allison eagerly reared back with both hands over her head and chucked the ball across the yard, the mabari running to catch it. The dog dropped the ball into the child's hands, Allison making a face at the slobbery coating but laughing all the same.

Seeing how attached the dog became to the child over such a short amount of time reaffirmed the adoption in Cullen's mind. Here was another Fereldan warrior determined to keep Allison safe, and with the current situation, he wanted as many of those as possible. The commander scratched the dog and looked to Allison as she wiped the drool off her hand on the animal's fur. “The dog needs a name, Alli. How about Amer or... Riggs?” Allison shook her head. “Nell?” She stuck out her tongue in displeasure and Cullen laughed. “Alright, what do you think we should call him?”

The girl studied the dog and crossed her arms in thought. She pursed her lips, almost in a pout, and scrunched up her nose. Cullen held back a chuckle at the expression, finding it strikingly similar to Ebrisa's focused face. Allison nodded, coming to a decision, then lifted her shining eyes. “Dhar'ghi.”

“Yes, Alli, what should we name the doggie?”

She nodded again, patting the mabari. “Dhar'ghi.”

Cullen eyed her oddly. “You want the dog's name to be Doggie?”

The child shook her head in a no. “Name Dhar'ghi.”

“Pardon, Commander,” an elven soldier called as she approached. “The hourly reports, ser.”

Cullen sighed and stood up, taking the sack of papers and reading them over. “Very good.” Allison hugged the mabari, repeating her name choice over and over as she frowned at her father and waited for his approval. He darted his eyes briefly from the reports to level a firm look at the girl and she instantly quietened. Once he was finished, he handed the reports back to the soldier, the elf smirking at the child.

“You've got a real bright kid, Commander,” she chuckled.

“She knows better than to interrupt me while I'm working.”

The soldier shook her head. “There's that bit too, but I meant her language skills. Don't know many her age that can grasp two.”

At that, Cullen frowned in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“Well, she was speaking Elven. Dhar and ghi.” The elf jutted a thumb at the mabari. “Hound beast.” Allison grinned widely, trying to climb on the sitting dog's back.

Now that the woman had pointed it out, Cullen could clearly hear the two words. He wasn't sure why he hadn't noticed the distinct R sound, especially since Allison had trouble with the letter. The girl had also named several of her toys unusual words, but perhaps those weren't in the common tongue either. The only one Ebrisa had noticed after beginning to study the language was Allison's beloved wooden wolf, Fen. He would have thought the child picked up some words as her mother recited them out loud to herself, but Fen had been named at least a month before Ebrisa started, so where had Allison learned them?
~~~~~~~~~~
“It was my understanding, Arl Teagan, that commerce is stronger in Crestwood than it had been since before the Fifth Blight,” Josephine carefully interjected. “The actions of the Inquisition have done much to restore the area – including exposing a mass-murderer of your country's citizens.”

“Yes, and Fereldan is grateful for that, but you can not station such a sizable force in the middle of the Bannorn!” Teagan shot back, silencing Josephine.

“It is precisely because Caer Bronach is located in the Bannorn that our forces remain, my lord,” Ebrisa cut it, giving the ambassador time to shuffle through her papers. “It is fortunate that the Eastern region of Fereldan saw little of Corypheus' influence, but the Hinterlands, Bannorn, and Storm Coast were hit hard and problems persist. It was our forces that cleared out the demons on the shores of Lake Calenhad not two months ago. The Circles are just getting back on their feet and the too few templars at Kinloch Hold would not have been able to fend off the demons. If we had not been so close at hand, so ready to help, Redcliffe could have been devastated once again!”

Teagan quietly gathered his thoughts, unable to deny what the woman was saying. “The stronghold is strategically placed, yes, which is why we can not condone an outside force to occupy it. If Fereldan soldiers were stationed there, the Inquisition would not have been needed at Lake Calenhad.”

“And whose army would take over?” The mage sat up straighter in her chair. “The Banns would see one house taking possession as a power grab, a combined force from the different lords would leave the officers bickering without a universally recognized commander, and the crown can surely not supply the man power as it would leave the coast and capital too vulnerable.”

“We would be able to unite the Bannorn-”

“As I see it, Arl Teagan, the Bannorn would only unite against a common foe, as they have done gloriously so in the past. Are you suggesting you mean to unite against the Inquisition?”

“The Inquisition has all but seized Caer Bronach! Fereldan's people will see it occupied by our own!” Teagan fumed.

“If Fereldan's people could successfully occupy the stronghold, then the Inquisition wouldn't have needed to clear it of bandits in the first place,” Ebrisa shot back, though not as heated.

The arl had been able to hold back much of his anger, not wanting to shout at the Herald of Andraste too much, but the woman had worn his patience thin and was taking advantage of his respect for her position. She was by no means being rude or improper, but as he pressed on matters concerning the military the mage became fiercely defensive. Teagan's eyes moved to the gold ring on the Herald's left hand and he let out a frustrated huff, finally having enough.

“Your personal attachment has clouded your mind on these issues with the Inquisition's forces.” Teagan leaned back and looked away, as if no longer acknowledging her authority.

The duke grinned deviously, resting an arm on the table. “Do try to keep your passion for the commander in the bedroom.” There was a mixture of gasps and snickers in the gallery, Josephine and Cassandra both shocked by the Orlesian's snide remark. Ebrisa slowly balled her hands in her skirt under the table, taking deep breaths to keep calm. She had promised to not punch anyone.

“Do you know any wife who would not come to her husband's defense?” She began quietly. “Do you think we do not discuss his work? Do you think he does not ask my opinion from time to time? Who would know his mind and intentions better than I?” Ebrisa closed her eyes and took a slow breath before raising them to the council again. “I am certain a withdraw from Caer Bronach can be arranged over time, but we would not leave until it was clear the area is in good hands.”

“A ploy to systematically take over Fereldan, I'm sure,” Teagan scoffed.

“Do you think a man born in Honnleath with family in South Reach – a Fereldan – would wish to see harm befall his homeland?” Ebrisa shook her head. “Commander Cullen is not that type of person. If he were, I never would have married him.”

“Then perhaps you should not have.” The arl frowned. “But Fereldan has no interest in your private life, Herald.”

“Ah, but they did.” The mage smiled softly. “King Alistair spoke fondly of you at my wedding reception. He said that you were a good man who he trusted more than any other and that you urged him to attend my nuptials. If Fereldan – or, more specifically, you – did not think Commander Cullen a good man, then the King of Fereldan would not have sat in the front row beside the groom's family.”

Teagan faltered slightly, his frown deepening. “That was two years ago. People can change.”

“Another day, and it will be,” Ebrisa whispered softly, grinning to herself. She cleared her throat and met the arl's eyes. “I ask then, my lord, who it is that changed?”
~~~~~~~~~
The Exalted Council finally concluded for the day and Josephine was more than pleased with the outcome. It had gotten a little heated towards the end, but she honestly couldn't expect to go a day without yelling from the delegates. She gathered up her notes as the room cleared, taking the time to breath calmly again. “Thank you so much for attending today, my lady,” she sighed.

Ebrisa stood up from the chair, then sank back into it and leaned forward. “Yes, of course... could you pass me some water?”

Josephine poured a glass from the pitcher on the table and pressed it into her friend's hand. “Are you alright?”

The mage sat up enough to sip the warm water, the ice long since melted. “We were in here longer than I expected. I should have taken another dose by now...”

“Dose?” The ambassador tilted her head, studying the other woman. “Dose of what?”

Ebrisa nearly dropped the glass as she realized her mistake. “Di-did I say dose? I meant, um, food. I'm very hungry.” She laughed awkwardly, then went back to her water and stared at the ceiling.

“I suppose negotiations this intense would have anyone's mind jumbled,” Josephine slowly relented. “Let us go get you that dose of food, shall we?”

They exited the chamber, walking a little slower than was perhaps necessary, and were surprised to see the sun had not yet begun to set. Maybe time only felt as though it dragged on forever in that room. “Mama!” Allison ran up excitedly and jumped onto the mage's legs, nearly knocking the unbalanced woman into Josephine. “Fun day?”

Ebrisa picked up her daughter and let out a dramatic sigh. “Not at all. No one laughed and I'm absolutely starving.” She dipped the child back, making her giggle. “Aha! My snack!” The mage pulled the girl close and made chomping noises, as if gobbling up the laughter, which only caused another round of giggles. She set Allison back on her feet, taking in the frizzy mess of hair and frowned.

“I tried to get it to stay down with water, but once that dried it just sprang back up,” Cullen sighed as he approached, the mabari trailing behind.

Josephine's eyes lit up at the sight of the dog. “Oh, who is this?”

Allison proudly set her hands on her hips. “Dhar'ghi!” She proclaimed as Josephine tentatively patted the dog.

With the others distracted, Cullen turned to his wife. “I'm afraid we don't have a lot of time, but how-”

Ebrisa pulled him into a kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck and pressing herself against him. She knew going in that the council would nitpick dozens of choices, but she expected them to focus on the Inquisitor and hadn't been nearly as prepared as she should have been. Each time they insulted the commander or belittled his motives, she felt herself burn with anger – at one point nearly wanting to jump over the table and slap some sense into the delegates. The way Cullen held her, firm but gentle, how he was always so warm, how he could go from laughing to serious and protective in no time at all... how could anyone think a man like this had anything but the best intentions?

She vaguely registered giggling and slowly drew away, her still tingling lips close enough to feel Cullen smirk. “That bad, huh?” His voice was breathy, but still had a hint of amusement to it. He turned to the source of the giggles, Josephine and Allison, the two females holding a hand over the other's eyes to block out the kiss. “You've seen us do worse,” Cullen chuckled, Ebrisa lowering back to her heels.

“That may be true, but that does not mean you don't deserve some privacy,” Josephine grinned, pulling her hand away and standing up. “Has the Inquisitor found anything out today? I would like to think your wife's efforts were not wasted.”

Cullen blushed a little, glancing at Ebrisa. They certainly had not been. He cleared his throat and looked at Josephine again. “We were actually waiting for you to finish before the debriefing. I was instructed to bring you as soon as possible.”

The ambassador grinned knowingly. “I will begin heading over there. I believe I remember the way.” She walked off down the steps with a bemused smile.

“Sorry about that,” Ebrisa mumbled, suddenly feeling embarrassed for such a public display and wondering who else had seen. “I don't mean to delay you.”

He drew the back of his hand softly down her face, smiling gently. “You've been fighting for us the entire day. Cause all the delays you like, Wife.”

She giggled quietly and nudged his arm. “The more I delay you, the longer it will be before you're done.”

“True.” Cullen leaned in and kissed her cheek, lingering to whisper in her ear. “The more time we have later to explore your efforts, the better.” He pulled away and gave Allison a quick peck on the head before following Josephine, only looking back once with a maddening smirk to take in the furious blush igniting his wife's face.

Ebrisa coughed awkwardly, trying to calm her hormone heavy body, before picking up the girl. “Come on Alli, let's go make a quick visit to the apothecary, then pick up some treats for Dhar'ghi.” She hummed at the name. “You're just as bad as I am...”

 

Chapter Text

Ebrisa opened the door and stilled. The guest room was empty, but there was something... strange in the air. The mabari walked in like normal, not tensing or growling at any oddities, so the mage dismissed the feeling and closed the door behind herself. The dog treats they had managed to find were a bit expensive, but very large and Ebrisa planned on breaking them into smaller pieces to help with training. Cullen was good with recruits, but if he expected to train a full grown dog by throwing a ball and shouting dodge when it had been ingrained in the animal its whole life to do the opposite, he had another thing coming. Lucky for him, his wife grew up around training animals.

She dropped the bag on the bed, a place that the mabari already knew to not climb on, and turned towards the cold fireplace with Allison in her arms. A servant had been lighting the fire the previous days, making Ebrisa wonder if the chill in the air was what had put her off. She stepped closer to open the flue and caught a flash out of the corner of her eye. Before she had a chance to turn her head or even give it a second look, the anchor erupted in jumping cracks of energy. She cried out in pain, her nerves on fire and muscles clenching as the wide sparks danced off her fingertips. As the agony continued to build, her own cries were drowned out by Allison's.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gaatlok powder in the Winter Palace.

Cullen shook his head in disbelief as he headed to his room. Whatever this Dragon's Breath plot was, it promised to be devastating. He walked in, noting at once how chill and dark it was. He thought maybe he had gotten back before his family, but then he heard Allison's unmistakeable whimper. “Alli?” Cullen quickly lit a lantern in the windowless room and followed the sound to the fireplace where Allison sat, crying and alone.

He picked her up quickly, rubbing a hand over her back and bouncing in an attempt to soothe her. “You're okay Alli, Daddy's got you. Shush now, it's alright.” His eyes scanned the room as he comforted the girl, taking in the knocked over chair and something else he couldn't quite make out in the dim light. He crouched down, supporting his sniffling daughter with one arm, and set the lantern on the floor. With a cautious hand, he touched the dark drops on the tile. It was blood and it was fresh.

His grip tightened protectively around the girl as he stood back up. “Alli? Where's Mama?”

She rubbed at her eyes, lips quivering slightly. “Mama owwie...”

Panic set in as his eyes followed the dark drops to the wash room, noticing the mabari standing rigid at the closed door. He whistled, getting the dog's attention, and the animal quickly changed moods and hurried up to him excitedly. Cullen set Allison on her feet, keeping his eyes on the door. “Alli, stay with Dhar'ghi.” He moved to the door, not liking how silent it was on the other side, and pushed it open.

Ebrisa sat beside the tub, hunched back facing the door, and crying quietly. Cullen released a deep sigh of relief and approached her. “I was so worried something happened. Alli said you were hurt.”

She shook her head vigorously. “No, Cullen, I hurt her! I- the mark, it...” Ebrisa took in a shaking breath. “I was holding her and the mark just... I dropped her and then... then it...” She held back another sob. “I hurt her. A spark from my hand struck her. The mark hurt her, just like in Kirkwall when she was still-” Ebrisa gasped suddenly and moved her hands frantically to her stomach, holding them there and not moving.

As she stilled, Cullen moved further into the room to talk face to face, but quickly dropped to her side and pulled her right arm closer to get a better look. There were multiple, deep punctures above her wrist gushing with blood, the skin partly torn away nearly to the muscle underneath. “Maker's Breath! Ebrisa, what happened?” He looked at her tear streaked face, saw the self-loathing, and knew why she hadn't healed herself.

“I hurt her, so he protected her.”

“Come on, we need to get this taken care of.” Cullen pulled her to her feet, feeling her try and resist him. “It could get infected, you could lose the arm.” He dragged her out of the room and heard Dhar'ghi growl instantly.

“No!” Allison swatted the dog's nose. “Bad Dhar'ghi!” She scrambled away as quickly as possible and rushed up to Ebrisa. The mage tried to stay back, but Allison latched onto her, hugging her leg. She turned a fierce frown to the mabari across the room. “Wub Mama! Dhar'ghi bad!” The child looked up, eyes shining with concern and new tears. “Mama owwie? Owwie bad?” She looked to Cullen, her lips quivering as she began to cry again. “Dada fix?”

Ebrisa held her arms close to herself, wanting to comfort her daughter but at the same time fearing to harm her further. “Mama's so sorry, Alli. I didn't mean to hurt you. I-I'm so sorry.”

The girl shook her head. “Gwound owwie. No Mama.” She reached up and patted her own head. “Owwie gone.”

“But I...” the mage hesitated. “The lightning, the green light? That hurt you.” Again, Allison shook her head. “But... I saw it. I felt it strike you.” Ebrisa furrowed her brow, confused. She'd seen similar sparks from the mark destroy books and set trees on fire, so how could it have not harmed her daughter? Was Allison lying to try and make her feel better?

“Honest, like her name. It can't harm her. It made her special.”

Cullen turned to the doorway, finding Cole poking his fingers together. “I wanted to heal, but you are better. I try, but you are better.” He dipped his head, hiding the entirety of his face with his hat. “Please make her better.”

Allison nodded in agreement. “Dada fix.”

The commander looked around the room, knowing he needed to get Ebrisa seen to but also that he could not bring the both of them the way she was fighting him. He couldn't leave Allison alone, especially after the mabari had just attacked Ebrisa.

“I can stay,” Cole offered. “Dorian is by the fountain, he will help.”

Cullen nodded gratefully before looking down at the child. “Stay with Cole, Alli. Daddy's going to make Mama better, okay?” She frowned a little, knowing that meant she'd have to let go. Slowly, she released her grip and stepped away. Cole was there in an instant and she latched onto him as a placeholder until Ebrisa came back.

~~~~~~~~
The room was still and warm, the fireplace flickering shadows against the walls and providing a peaceful rhythm with its crackling. Dhar'ghi lay on the floor, his earlier wrath forgotten, and Cullen slept soundly in the bed across the room. Ebrisa sat in a chair by the fire, holding a drowsy Allison in her lap and supporting the child with her right arm. She rocked gently, trailing her fingers over her daughter's cheek as she softly sang that lullaby she loved so much.

She stopped suddenly as the mark flared to life and quickly flung it to the side, trying to scramble away without dropping the girl. Devastating streaks of energy erupted from her hand, crashing into the walls and furniture violently. Ebrisa tried to squeeze her hand shut, tried to calm the surging energy, but the pain was too much and she fell to her knees. She felt the mark open wider, split apart her flesh and begin to snake down her arm.

As her body wracked with pain, as the bright flashes lit up the room, as wood and stone fractured around her, she heard the cries and shouting. Ebrisa dared a look up and saw her daughter convulsing on the floor, a constant stream of energy shooting into the child. “A- aaaah!” She couldn't even open her mouth long enough to say the name without screaming herself. But someone else could.

“Alli!” Cullen called out again, trying to fight through the torrent of lightning. He was hit solidly in the chest and flew back, crashing into a table with a grunt.

The mark ripped open further, and Ebrisa heard a low rumbling from within. She forced an eye open against the pain and her heart stopped at the sight. Long, wicked fingers clawed their way through the anchor, first one hand, then another. She recognized the pointed joints and coloring, but could do nothing as the terror demon forced the edges of the portal wide open, tearing her hand and arm to shreds. The demon pulled itself through the glowing rift that had once been such a small part of the mage's body, the sensation like nothing she had even felt. It was as if every inch of the demon that came through was dragging Ebrisa's insides out with it.

When it had fully emerged, the mage was too far gone in the agony to even move and lay motionless on her back. The demon crouched low before Allison, regarding the crying child curiously.

Ebrisa's labored breath hitch and she struggled to lift even a finger. “No... Alli...” Terror grinned at her over its shoulder, swatting the girl against the wall with a sickening crack. Ebrisa screamed in horror, following the hit with her eyes and staring at the silent heap on the floor that had once been so full of laughter. The demon rose up to its full, imposing height and stalked across the room as Ebrisa continued to stare and struggled to breathe. She heard another crash, this one louder, followed by a deep groan and she tried desperately to see what the demon was doing, even though she already knew it had turned its focus to Cullen.

Ebrisa lay there, unable to do anything but scream in an attempt to block out the sounds of her husband being violently killed as more demons seeped through the throbbing portal.

~~~~~~~~~~~
Cullen shot up quickly in bed, startled out of his sleep by Ebrisa's screams. His first thought was that the mark was hurting her, but as she lay on her back and her screams turned from painful to terrified, he realized she was dreaming. He'd never known her to have this sort of reaction to a nightmare – he couldn't even recall her having nightmares. “Ebrisa! Wake up!” He shook her shoulder, finding her entire form rigid, and heard Allison begin to cry.

The soldiers stationed down the hall burst into the room, weapons drawn and ready to defend the commander's family. They faltered when they found no intruder. Cullen turned to them briefly. “Get a light! She needs to wake up!” One soldier snatched a torch from the corridor as the other picked up Allison to try and calm the child.

With the added light, Cullen could make out the sweat beading his wife's skin as her muscles twitched, as if trying to move but being restricted somehow. He shook her firmer, trying to call to her over her own voice. They tried water, put the splash found its way into the mage's mouth and she let out horrific gargling screams until the action expelled the liquid. The guard standing with the torch hesitantly lifted his hand. “Uh, Co-commander?”

“What?” Cullen snapped, looking up at the other man. His eyes widened slightly in recognition of the soldier's intent. It was true they hadn't tried it yet and Cullen knew he would be unable to strike his own wife...

“With your permission, ser?”

The commander moved back and nodded, looking away.

The Inquisition soldier took a deep breath and silently begged Andraste for her forgiveness before rearing back his hand and slapping the Herald across the face. It was harder than he planned, the force not only twisting Ebrisa's head, but knocking her out of the bed altogether and sending her to the floor. He stepped back, horrified, and shifted his gaze to his commander in the now quiet room.

Cullen would have struck the man back had it not worked. He scrambled to Ebrisa's side as she slowly began to pick herself up, pulling her into a comforting embrace. If he had to pick between having a nightmare or witness her's again, he'd gladly call the demons on himself. “You're okay now, its gone. You're awake.” He whispered softly to her, trying to sound as soothing and reassuring as possible.

Ebrisa clung desperately to Cullen, listening to his heartbeat and breathing more than his words. He was alive, he was safe, and from the soft whimpering she could make out behind awkward, inexperienced shushing she knew Allison was safe as well. Maker, it had felt so real.

She was not prone to nightmares, something about her altered essence kept minor demons away in the Fade, and this had been devastatingly horrifying. The anchor acting so violently that evening had rattled her greatly and she still didn't know what had caused it to happen. There were so many things they didn't know about the anchor. She had needed it to heal Thedas, but now that the task was over, maybe the mark was trying to escape its host. Ebrisa had hoped to find something about Foci in Skyhold's lower library, but she had either not yet come across anything useful or missed it from not having a large enough Elven vocabulary. The mark was not sparking, but it did ache, and she slowly raised her hand to look at it over Cullen's shoulder. She froze, eyes widening slightly in fear. Was it her imagination, or had the mark actually gotten bigger?

 

Chapter Text

“And Mother Giselle can attest to how beneficial it has been for the Inquisition to be stationed in Suledin Keep,” Josephine said while inclining her head.

“Yes, it has certainly proven invaluable for restoring Emprise du Lion,” Duke Cyril nodded. “Both the people and the mine are functioning marvelously now.”

Ebrisa had barely said anything the entire morning and was unable to meet anyone's eyes. She rubbed her right thumb worriedly along the edge of the mark under the table and could no longer fool herself into thinking it didn't look bad. She had gotten so used to the glowing tear that she had stopped noticing it at all, ignoring how it looked because it was dormant. It had been dormant, at least. She tried to think back to the first time it flared up without Veil interference...

“Is that not true, Lady Herald?”

There had to have been something that it reacted to, something that triggered the sparking and the pain. She had seen something glimmer yesterday in their room, so maybe-

Josephine nudged her foot discreetly, and Ebrisa straightened. “I beg pardon?”

The Orlesian ambassador sighed dramatically. “And here I was trying to pay compliment to your attentive nature.”

“The child you valiantly rescued from monstrous wolves?” Josephine politely prodded.

“Oh, yes,” Ebrisa tried her best to sound enthusiastic. “The sisters named her Dawn, for she survived a terrible darkness with hope as her guide. Revered Mother Teffan informed me in her last letter that they are already teaching her the names of Andraste's disciples. It is slow going for one so young, but the sisters are ever patient and the girl eager to learn.”

“Saving one Orlesian child does not make up for the-” Teagan went off on another tangent, but Ebrisa could no longer focus and sucked in air sharply.

Her hand was twitching, tiny wisps of energy dancing across her palm under the table. She darted her eyes around in a panic, afraid of what a larger display would do to the people around her, let alone the talks themselves. Cassandra furrowed her brow slightly, noting the change in behavior.

“I believe now would be a good time for a short recess,” the Divine called out, rising from her chair. Once the delegates left, the rest of the room began to move around and chat amongst themselves, but Ebrisa walked outside as briskly as she could without being obvious.

She leaned on a balcony railing, taking deep breaths and clutching her left hand to her chest until the pulsing slowed down and the mark was calm. Perhaps she had imagined it, she couldn't very well have seen her hand through the table and yesterday had her jumpy. She just wanted to know what was going on...

“My lady?” Josephine called out softly as she came up beside her. “There appears to be much weighing on your mind.”

“No, I...” Ebrisa placed both hands on the railing and took another deep breath. “I will try to participate more. What am I doing in there if I can't assist you?”

The Antivan frowned slightly, looking at the marked hand. “Is it...?” She reached out and took hold of the hand and Ebrisa tensed, fearing what the ambassador would say when she saw the disfigured palm. But Josephine didn't turn the hand over, instead she gently drew her thumbs over the wedding band. “I apologize for not realizing the Exalted Council would fall on your anniversary. These talks alone would put a hamper on any plans you made, but with all this added chaos with the qunari...” She sighed quietly before lifting her eyes and giving her friend a sympathetic smile. “Am I correct in thinking the commander does not realize what today is?”

Ebrisa frowned a little, failing to fully hide her disappointment. “Political affairs always puts his mind in a jumble and, as you said, with the added chaos... Honestly, I may have tried to hide it.”

“Hide?” Josephine released the hand and knitted her brow in confusion. “Whatever for?”

The mage laughed tiredly. “This Exalted Council needs our focus. We have three years worth of defending and justifying to do and if we fail, how many of those acts would be invalidated? How many decisions overturned?” She shook her head. “Now there's just so much going on and I can't distract him anymore than I already have. I can't be selfish when qunari are running around with explosive powder, capable of placing it practically anywhere in Thedas.”

“My friend, do you not think you deserve at least a moment of his time today?” Josephine set her hands on her hips, huffing in annoyance. “Duty does not take precedent over ever aspect of his life.”

“This duty does...” Ebrisa lowered her eyes. “If I could be swayed to think otherwise, I would have already told him I'm with-” She stopped suddenly, eyes widening before slowly drawing them to the other woman.

It took only a moment for Josephine to fill in the rest of the sentence and she brought a hand to her mouth. “We have been preparing for the council for months. I presume you found out sometime around then?” The mage gave a short nod, lowering her eyes again. “Ebrisa, you must tell him!”

“No, Josephine, I can't!” She stepped back, unconsciously rubbing her palm again. “I've already given him far too much to worry about and if his attention becomes anymore divided... I fear what will happen.”

The Antivan held her pleading look a moment longer before sighing heavily and relenting. “Very well, I understand. Do try to take the remainder of the recess to at least give your husband a kiss.” She gave what could almost be mistaken as a smirk before walking off.

Oh, how Ebrisa would love to spend the entire break doing just that. To feel safe in his arms, where nothing could hurt her. To let his presence push away the building anxiety, as it so often did. To be drawn into his lips, blocking out everything else around her. She took a step towards the courtyard she knew him to be in, but another flicker of sparks broke over her hand and she stilled.

Her nightmare came back in full force. The pain, the sounds, the images – they all burned into her memory and she just couldn't shake them. Until she knew what was going on, until she had some control, she couldn't risk her family. Ebrisa turned on her heel and left the council chamber far behind, purpose in her stride as she crossed the palace to her guest room.

The mabari lifted its head when she entered and she tensed only slightly as it looked at her. Ebrisa drew her fingers over her once bleeding arm, remembering the incredulous look Dorian had given her the night before as she refused to explain what happened and the way he muttered in Tevene as he worked, no doubt chastising her. Cullen stood behind her the entire time she was being healed, a hand to her shoulder to both comfort her and firmly keeping her from running away. Even as she begrudgingly accepted their aide, she knew that if the situation had been reversed, she would be doing the same to them.

Cole claimed he explained the situation and that the dog no longer saw her as a threat, but she was uncertain how well the spirit could really communicate with the animal. After all, human and mabari minds were very different. To his credit, Dhar'ghi did not growl or tense, and simply lay his head back down over his paws. Allison was still mad at the dog and refused to go anywhere with him, so Cullen left the mabari in the room while they went about their day. Ebrisa gave a small, sympathetic sigh and closed the door. Dhar'ghi shouldn't be punished for doing what they all hoped he would – protect Allison.

She turned back to the task at hand and lit the lanterns with a flick of her wrist while heading to the fireplace. Her eyes fell to the spot on the wall Allison hit in her nightmare, half expecting to find a large crack or dent, but saw nothing. An uneasy sound left her throat as she tore her eyes away. It hadn't really happened, and it wasn't going to.

“It was something over here...” Ebrisa mused quietly to herself as she searched the book case. It all seemed so... normal. She frowned in frustration, but refused to give up. Something had lit up, something reacted to her, or her to it. She slid aside ornately painted nicknacks and thin, useless tomes until she found dark streaks burned into the wood shelving. Ebrisa drew her fingers over the scorch marks, noting an outline that didn't seem to fit any of the items decorating the tall piece of furniture. Had someone taken the item away? It was possible that it had broken and the cleaning staff whisked away the pieces, but somehow that seemed too mundane an answer.

The mage backed away and sighed wearily. Maybe she had only imagined it. Maybe these burns had been there to begin with. Regardless, the recess was surely over by now. Ebrisa turned to leave, stilling as her eyes fell on a small chest she had not noticed before. The same eerie sensation from yesterday washed over her as she stared at the metal box, and she approached it cautiously. Her stomach twisted nervously, but the mage reached out and placed a shaking hand on either side of the lid. There was a tingling in her fingertips, the hum of a very basic sealing ward, and with a steadying breath Ebrisa dispelled the magic and opened the chest.

Immediately, the object inside reacted and its aura latched onto the anchor. Ebrisa cried out against the pain ripping through her entire arm, but refused to close her eyes. There was an amulet inside, the patina spoke of its age and the elaborate design its origin, though Ebrisa felt she should have recognized that by the familiarity of the aura. It was Elvhen, more than that, it was enchanted. The ancient magic connected with the anchor so fiercely, the auras calling to one another. Ebrisa struggled to focus past the pain and arm length sparks to close the lid, hoping the ward would reactivate, but the pull was too much to resist, too much to bare. With a final agonizing shout, she fell over and fell out of consciousness.
~~~~~~~~~~
It was a strange feeling to see so much open air and feel no breeze. Ebrisa's mind told her that being at such a dizzying height surrounded by only stone and clouds meant she should be high on a peak, wind whipping around her. This was wrong, yet somehow so natural. She took another step, her bare feet persisting in their futile attempt to navigate the Crossroads. She dare not touch any of the eluvians, uncertain where the mirrors would take her, and wandered aimlessly. A small river ran off a higher ledge and fanned out in a wide and noiseless waterfall. As she approached, Ebrisa notice a dark-haired figure standing on the other side of the spray.

The figure lifted its head once it noticed and called out to her. “Sweetling.”

Ebrisa stilled, emotion welling up inside her as Renata smiled gently. The Herald shook her head. “You aren't her.” Even if her aunt's spirit could return to the Fade as the Avvar believed, even by their understanding, she would not be the same.

Renata hummed, crossing the water and stopping before the mage. “No, I am not, but I needed to take a form you would trust.”

“So you choose one I would easily see through?” Ebrisa sighed softly. “Doesn't that make the guise pointless?”

“You are already aware you are dreaming,” the spirit chuckled. “Any guise would be pointless.”

Ebrisa furrowed her brow. “Then why attempt at all?”

The spirit dropped her mirth, turning concerned. “As I said, I need you to trust me. There is much I must tell you and your time... is growing short.” When Ebrisa did not question further, the spirit continued. “The anchor on your hand is expanding, rapidly. You may not be able to tell from your side of the Veil, but here it burns intensely. Intense things... tend to flare out violently.” She let the silence hang, her words sink in. “It will erupt. It will devastate. The qunari know this, which is why the Viddasala has been working to stop you.”

At that Ebrisa took a step back, looking down at the mark on her shaking hand. “Is there a way to... to control it?”

“To stop the flare? No.” The spirit frowned. “To direct it? Perhaps.” It looked out over the hazy expanse of the Crossroads, focusing on a far off eluvian. “If you bring the fight to the qunari, you can stop them from their plot before they execute it. The destruction that you will inevitably cause can be used against the enemy.”

Ebrisa followed her gaze, recognizing the cliff face. She took in a shaking breath, knowing the answer before she even asked. “Will... will I survive?”

Renata's doppelganger dragged her eyes back to the mage, sorrowful and sympathetic. “No, dear one.”

Ebrisa closed her eyes, hugging her stomach and holding back a sob. “Wh-why are you telling me this?”

“Because he said you would heed the warning, that you would act as you always do and set aside your fears for yourself to protect others.” The spirit smiled sadly. “You have time yet to spend with your family. Make the most of it.” The ground began to shift and the spirit looked around. “Remember, the Viddasala! You must get to the Darvaarad!” It said urgently. “There is a password, Maraas nehraa. Remember it!”
The spirit faded away, her borrowed voice echoing the password once again as the Crossroads continued to crumble. Ebrisa felt eyes on her and looked up the waterfall, locking gazes with a silhouetted canine.
~~~~~~~
Ebrisa groaned, wiping at her wet face and trying to collect her thoughts. Another swipe of wetness had her opening her eyes and staring at the exceedingly close face of Dhar'ghi. She blinked, confused, and slowly sat up on the tile. She had knocked the table over when she fell, the contents spilled across the floor, including the small chest. Her pulse quickened and she tentatively reached out to it, expecting a reaction. The chest was empty. She looked around for the amulet, hoping she could lock it away again before the mark sparked back up, but found nothing. Ebrisa searched for its aura and after a bit of concentrating she felt just the slightest remnant of Elvhen power in the blazing fireplace.

“How did it get in there?” The enchanted trinket could have slid across the floor, but to make it into the fire was impossible. The mabari barked beside her, then moved to the fire and lowered his ears, growling menacingly at the amulet burning inside. “Dhar'ghi? Did you...?” Ebrisa trailed off, studying the dog as he moved back to her and licked her left hand, whining softly. It was then that she noticed the streaks of angry blisters running through his dark fur and the mage knew Cole had been able to get through to the animal after all, perhaps explaining more than he let on.

She gathered the softly glowing healing energy to her hands and gently went about tending the wounds inflicted by the mark. “You got hurt for my sake. I'll have you know that I do not normally approve of such things,” Ebrisa chided the dog quietly. She heard him whine, as if trying to defend himself. “However, I don't know what would have happened to me if you did not get rid of that thing.” Her task done, she wrapped her arms around the mabari and hugged his massive neck. “Thank you.” Dhar'ghi barked excitedly, happy to be praised.

The warnings in her dream echoed in her mind and Ebrisa tightened her grip slightly. Perhaps it was another nightmare, playing on a different fear? But if it wasn't... Maker, how much time did she have? How devastating would the eruption of power be? Her mind went back to the nightmare last night, the mark flaring out uncontrollably and demons pouring through. Demons killing... killing...

Ebrisa shook her head and began cleaning up. Even if the warning wasn't real, even if her mark wasn't driving her mad with concern, she knew she could not go back to the council chambers. There was something far more important to do today.

 

Chapter Text

“Just barely dawn, and already Captain Hendallen was buried behind a mountain of paperwork taller than the Vimmarks. All Donnen could see of the captain was her fiery hair and an angry gaze that had stopped more than one pickpocket mid-grift.”

“Dada?” Allison titled her head in confusion, patting the page in front of her.

Varric chuckled softly. “That does sound a bit like your pops, now doesn't it?” He looked up from the book to Cullen standing a short distance away with his own angry gaze staring down the reports in his hand, as if trying to intimidate the words into something more acceptable. “Don't think he'd make a good redhead though...”

“Wewi?” The child looked up from the book.

He made a face, trying to figure out what she said. “Wanna try that one again, Bubbles?”

Allison brought her hands to her forehead, holding her arms close and shielding her face. “Wewi.” When that didn't seem to work, she frowned and pressed her hands together, over lapping her thumbs and flapping her fingers. “Wewi.

“Leliana,” Cullen offered as he joined them on the bench.

“Ah.” The dwarf smirked at the child sitting on his lap. “Why didn't you just say so?” Allison huffed and folded her arms.

The commander glanced at the copy of Hard in Hightown in Varric's hands and sighed. “I can't believe you're actually reading that to her. I can't believe I'm letting you.” To his credit, the author was skipping the more graphic portions and paraphrasing the colorful language. There were awkward pauses when he did so, stumbling over himself to prevent swearing. After all, if Allison started using shit in her daily vocabulary, Ebrisa was sure to notice.

“Hey, the poor kid was bored out of her mind standing around while you surveyed and waited. It was either this or nothing, since you so vehemently said we couldn't play in the fountain.” Varric adjusted the book and leveled a glare at the other man. “Meanie.” Allison leaned forward to expose her own angry pout.

Cullen sighed and waved them on, allowing Varric to continue his story. His eyes fell to the book title and thought back on the estate waiting for them in in the Free Marches. He knew Ebrisa would go wherever he wanted, make do with whatever kind of life they settled in, but she shouldn't have to make do. “How is it in Kirkwall now?” Cullen asked quietly, interrupting before Varric could start the next chapter.

Varric turned the page and chuckled. “It's Kirkwall. There's always something going wrong. If you want a full rundown, I think Bran can materialize an armload of letters for you to peruse.”

“But is... is it safe there?” The commander's lips tugged into a slight frown. “The back-stabbing templar and an apostate with their defenseless child. I don't suspect public opinion has changed much since our last visit.”

“So that's what this is about. Sunshine told you about my generous gift.”

Cullen nodded. “I'm still not sure what is going to happen with any of this – the qunari, the Exalted Council, the Inquisition – but I don't want to make a rash decision when it impacts my family so much. And then... what would I do to support us? While I'm certain Captain Aveline would accept my services, the guard themselves harbor less than flattering opinions of me and that would make working with them difficult.”

Varric snorted. “Yeah, but they know better than to voice them. Sunshine's retribution spread through the barracks almost as quickly as confiscated liquor on Aveline's off day.” Cullen shot him a familiar look of tried patience and the dwarf sighed in defeat. “So the city guard wouldn't work, big deal. Lots of use for a trained military man, like yourself. One might even say the Viscount's Keep is in dire need of a staff change.” He returned his attention to the book in his hands, letting the unvoiced offer hang in the air and settle in as he continued the story.



Ebrisa approached the small group on the bench with a smile, which she instantly dropped upon recognizing the book. “Varric!” She snapped out his name with such motherly disapproval that the dwarf tensed, feeling as though he was a child again getting caught sweeping a broken plate under the rug. “I specifically told you that Allison wouldn't be exposed to your books until she was at least sixteen.”

“Cullen said I could!” Varric quickly defended, still in child mode.

“Traitor,” the commander muttered, only half as coldly as he normally would have. He knew the council had not been dismissed for the day yet, but was too pleased to see his wife acting like her normal self to question her sudden appearance.

“Besides,” the dwarf continued, regaining his composure, “I've taken great care to use my kiddie filter.”

“Ass,” Allison said while pointing to the open page, making Ebrisa's eyes widen and Varric pale.

“Okay, so that one slipped,” he laughed awkwardly. “The filter has a few kinks to work out.”

The mage rubbed her forehead and sighed, drawing attention to the fingerless wrist gloves she had on. Ebrisa used to wear gloves all the time to hide the mark out of fear of it, but she had since both gotten used to the anchor and accepted its role. Varric narrowed his eyes just a hint at the oddity, but Cullen wasn't overly surprised to see her falling back into old habits with all that had happened yesterday.

“I don't suppose you heard me reading from all the way in the council chambers and came running to chastise me?” The dwarf chuckled, closing the book and setting it aside, much to Allison's disappointment.

“Unsurprisingly, no.” Ebrisa frowned slightly, seeing there was no space on the bench for her. “Josephine encouraged me to spend this special day with a certain someone.” She smiled down at Cullen, eyes twinkling as she saw the confusion take hold. “Don't you know what today is, Love?”

Cullen furrowed his brow and ran through things in his head, vaguely registering Ebrisa sliding her left hand up and down the chain of her good luck charm. He could tell from the way she tilted her head that she was giving him a hint, but with everything else going on in recent months he was having trouble figuring it out. Varric coughed at his side, obviously having caught on, and Cullen shot him a quick glare as if to say don't help me. Ebrisa twisted her hand slightly, light reflecting off her ring and-

Cullen shot up to his feet and grabbed her shoulders. “Maker's Breath, what is wrong with me? Wedding anniversary, of course! I-I am so sorry I forgot this. How could I forget this?

She giggled, finding his panic incredibly endearing. “You can make it up to me.”

“Does that mean I should pick this book back up and entertain Bubbles for an hour or two? Not sure how much making up he'll have to do.” Varric raised a brow and smirked, implying something that normally would have made the mage redden.

“No no, this is a wholesome, family outing.” Ebrisa lifted Allison into her arms, meeting Varric's eyes only long enough for him to catch the faint tinting heating her cheeks. “And if you want to read to her so much, why not write an actual children's story instead of something poorly filtered?”

“Bah, too much work.” The dwarf waved his hand to dismiss the idea. “I'll take reports and send for Curly if something happens. Dwarf's honor.”

Cullen bit back the comment he was surely set up for and placed an arm around Ebrisa's shoulder, leading her out of the yard. “So, does this outing have a specific destination?”

She hummed softly, nudging him lightly with her head. “Not particularly, but we do need to pick up one more member before we go.”

~~~~~~~
It took much convincing from both parents and quiet words from Cole, but Allison finally forgave the mabari for hurting Ebrisa. Cullen carried the child on one side while his wife secured herself on the other, switching between clasping his hand and encircling his arm in hers, as the dog walked obediently behind them. They moved through the market, poking around shops and stalls until Vivienne waved them over by the blacksmith.

“Impeccable timing, darling, it's just been finished.” Vivienne snatched the Herald's hand and pulled her inside the workshop, Cullen curiously following after. On one of the many wooden forms lay a high collared armor set. The main body was a striking white leather, the collar and waist a glittering gold silk, and the flared out tail coat was intricate layers of both.

“Oh, its beautiful...” Ebrisa gently ran her fingers over the laced up top, expecting it to be a bleached halla leather. “What sort of hide is this?”

“Hide, she says,” Vivienne called over her shoulder to the blacksmith and the two share a short laugh. “My dear, this is dragon bone. Painstakingly shaved and treated by hand and magic until its as supple as one of Leliana's new born nugs. It retains all its strength and fire resistance, hence the magic. After all, it just wouldn't do to supply you with new armor only for you to burn it away. Again.”

Ebrisa retracted her hand. “Vivienne, I can't possibly-”

“Did you even bring any armor with you?” The enchanter took the silence as a no and looked up slightly, the courtly equivalent of an eye roll. “Once again I prove my usefulness and practicality. While the Inquisitor is still gathering information on this Viddasala and her Dragon's Breath plan, we must be prepared for the worst. It simply would not do to have you traipsing around in borrowed, raggedy armor when you are called to action.”

Ebrisa held her hand to her chest as she looked over the hanging armor and other pieces resting on the small table beside it. The way Vivienne had dragged out the name left no room for doubt. Viddasala. She'd never heard the title before today and the chances of it being a coincidence were far too small. Did that mean the rest of her dream was real as well? Ebrisa shrunk back slightly, trying to mask her worry.

“She won't be called to action, Vivienne.” Cullen's voice was startling close, making the Herald jump slightly. “She's not going back through that mirror.”

The enchanter tittered behind her hand. “Your protectiveness is adorable, Commander, but she needn't use the eluvian. There has already been one spy caught in the Winter Palace, so who is to say how many more there are? We still know nothing of their plans and it does not hurt to err on the side of caution.” She paused and lifted her head. “Don't you want your lovely wife to be as safe as possible?”

The tension in the room grew to a near palatable level and Allison squirmed uncomfortably, snapping Cullen from his silent stare down with the enchanter. “Thank you for your considerate gesture, Vivienne. If you'll excuse us.”

“Of course, Commander. I'll have this sent to your guest quarters.” Vivienne waved at the departing family with a dainty wiggle of her fingers before turning to a nearby servant and dishing out commands.



Ebrisa didn't want to think about her dream, about the warnings, about what the Inquisitor going after the Viddasala meant or how much time she had left. She took a deep breath and pushed the thoughts aside, turning to Cullen with the brightest smile she could manage. “Let's find somewhere more quiet.” They moved across the palace grounds and ended up in an empty garden with lush grass and rows of flowers, both local and foreign.

Cullen set down Allison and went back a little ways to tell the closest Inquisition guard where he was, should anyone come looking. When he returned, the child and dog were already running around in a game of tag while Ebrisa sat watching them. There were several benches in the garden, but she had ignored them and rested on the grass directly.

“You're going to stain your pretty dress,” Cullen chuckled as he plopped down beside her.

She hummed a little in thought. “That's probably true.” The mage shifted position and situated herself in Cullen's lap, resting her head on his shoulder. “Much better.”

He smirked and wrapped his arms around her. “I agree.” They were quiet for a long while, just watching their daughter run around and pull up fists of grass, covering the extremely patient dog with the blades. It was as if in this little section of the palace, there was no council or qunari plot, no spies or explosive powders, just his family. Cullen knew then that it didn't matter where they went or how they lived, because he would be happy just being with his wife and child... and dog. Maker, that sounded like such a cliché thing to have now, but he was content. Just this was enough.

Cullen placed a soft kiss to Ebrisa's intricately woven hair. “Shouldn't I have gotten you a gift?”

She gazed up at him, eyes shining with unbridled affection, and raised a hand to his cheek. “You did. Two wonderful years of bliss that I wouldn't trade for anything.”

His heart skipped a beat. Something about the way she was smiling at him seemed eerily familiar and he was struck with the sudden need to keep her close. He adjusted his hold and pulled her into a kiss, gentle and loving. He could feel her lips part in a soft gasp before returning the kiss with increasing intensity. Ebrisa's hand moved from his face to his hair as she twisted around in Cullen's lap until she had a knee on either side of him. She pulled away for air and Cullen seized the opportunity to kiss her neck, running his hands down her back. Ebrisa panted in his ear, the occasional quiet moan escaping her parted lips. Cullen grabbed her rear to pull her closer and she gasped, tangled in her skirts, and knocked the both of them to the grass with a solid thud.

Cullen groaned a little, moving a hand to his head as Ebrisa rolled off. She started laughing behind her hand, trying to muffle the sound with little success. “Sorry, I'm sorry,” the mage managed to get out.

He smiled lightly in amusement, moving his hand away. “If you were that eager, perhaps we should have let Varric play nanny for a bit.”

“I'm always eager, Love.” She bent down and gave his nose a playful kiss. “But no, I meant what I said before. This is family time.” Ebrisa called over their daughter, Allison eagerly rushing up to her open arms and quickly settled on the woman's lap. The mage encircled the child in a tight embrace, pressing a kiss to her head before nuzzling it. Cullen pulled himself up beside her and wrapped an arm around the woman, holding her to his side. Ebrisa lay her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes, feeling him rest his head against her own.

They stayed like that for what felt like hours, Ebrisa quietly soaking in the warmth and filling her frightened heart with her family's love. Whatever lay ahead, whatever was going to happen, she would hold on to this moment. This feeling of completion would see her through.

 

Chapter Text

It was worse than they had thought. Leliana's agents were able to confirm that gaatlok barrels were hidden in Denerim, Val Royeaux, and across the Free Marches. Finding the explosives was one thing, trying to remove them safely was another. With a single order, every noble house in Southern Thedas could be destroyed and that didn't even include who may be targeted in the North. Tevinter had been at war with the qunari for ages and it was unlikely they would leave them out.

“There is a bright side,” Josephine piped up, sounding as if she was trying to convince herself as much as everyone else. “Warning the ambassadors will remind them of the Inquisition's value.”

“Ever the optimist,” Hawke smiled wearily. “Maybe this will get them to stop throwing such hissy fits when I leave to do my job.”

“Not when the Inquisition is responsible for that threat.” Leliana tucked her hands behind her back, leaning slightly forward.

The Inquisitor drew her hands down her face. “Andraste's ass, Leliana, don't tell me we did this. Please don't tell me that.”

The palace servant they had arrested confessed to much, including working for the qunari. The gaatlok barrels that showed up in the Winter Palace? Listed on the Inquisition supply manifest. The hands that snuck them there? Disappeared, Inquisition elven workers. Who failed to properly vet the qunari-spy volunteers from Kirkwall? The Inquisition.

Hawke growled in anger, furious that this connection would likely keep the council from seeing sense. “So we made a mistake and suddenly everything is our fault? The Winter Palace is only one target and we had nothing to do with the others. The qunari would have found a way to sneak in regardless, just like how they stationed the gaatlok everywhere else.” She folded her arms and looked right at the ambassador. “Just let Teagan try and pin this one on us.”

Josephine pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes slightly, her limit being reached. “Ah, I was not aware you cared enough about the summit to even remember the names of the delegates. Even before you ran out that first day of the talks, you behaved like a child.” She tightened her grip on the quill in her hand, nearly snapping it in half. “I fought to protect the Inquisition in this Exalted Council. The Herald is the only one who helped me, and she did not even need to be there! She likely shouldn't have been, as I'm certain the stress was far too trying on her condition, and for what? So we could deceive and threaten those we claimed to protect?”

The commander held back a sigh of annoyance as he turned to the Antivan. “Once we locate the spies-”

“This isn't about the spies!” Josephine slammed her clipboard to the table, turning fully to the other advisors and waving around her hands accusingly. She looked straight at Leliana. “You hid the qunari body.” Cullen was next. “You've all but seized control of the Winter Palace!”

“We did what was right,” he quickly interjected. “Not what was politically convenient.” The very idea that Josephine was still so worked up about the summit while the full scope of the qunari plot lay before them had Cullen infuriated. Did she not understand the lives that were at stake? How this Dragon's Breath would affect the fate of nations more than this little political pow wow?

“I know you have little patience for politics, Commander, but there are rules and procedures in place for a reason. Do you know what this has cost us with Orlais and Fereldan?” Josephine snapped. “Even with the Lady Herald's aid, they are planning to dismantle us as we speak!”

Hawke grabbed a scroll from the table and threw it between Cullen and Josephine, sending it crashing to the wall and making them both take a step back. “Put a pin in it, you two! I'll not have infighting when everyone else is already so keen on tearing us down. We save Fereldan, and they're angry. We save Orlais, and they're angry. We close the Breach twice. So when trouble this big pops up, do we ignore it? Fuck no! You know why? Because Thedas needs us, needs our help! Because it's what we do!” She panted heavily, looking each advisor in the eye one by one as she calmed down. “I need to get to the Darvaarad. You all can fight amongst yourselves once I get back.”

Leliana was the first to recover. “Thank you, Inquisitor.”

“Would you like us to inform the Exalted Council of the danger?” Josephine tentatively asked, picking up her clipboard, now covered in ink splatter.

Hawke let out a deep breath. “Yes. If we fail, they need to know what happened.” Leliana and Josephine quietly insisted on doing so, but the spymaster won out.

Cullen straightened, glancing at Josephine briefly before addressing the Inquisitor. “I'll have guards ready at the eluvian, in case the qunari attack the palace.”

Hawke nodded grimly and left the room to prepare and gather her strike party, Leliana calling out a small prayer after her before gathering her evidence and going out a different way.

The commander and the ambassador stood awkwardly in the now quiet room, both ashamed for their outbursts at the other. “Cullen,” Josephine began softly. “Please forgive my rudeness. I know that protecting the Winter Palace has been no small feat and that much else weighs on your mind.”

He made an uncomfortable noise. “I was a bit out of line myself. Just because I can't do what you do, doesn't mean I don't appreciate your hard work. And I should thank you for today.” Cullen rubbed his neck, embarrassed. “Ebrisa said you convinced her to tell me and who knows how long I would have gone without realizing it.”

Josephine let out a light laugh. “Yes, well, she did her best to hide it. I barely noticed her condition myself.”

At that, Cullen dropped his hand and furrowed his brow slightly in confusion. “Condition? There you go with that again.”

“She did not tell you?” She paled slightly. “I am... bad at keeping secrets...”

“Do you mean her hand?” Cullen offered quietly, frowning in concern. “The mark has been acting up recently and I can tell she's in greater pain then she's letting on.” He sighed heavily, lowering his eyes. “I fear what going through all those damn mirrors might have done to her.”

Josephine held her fingers to her lips, trying to mask her surprise. She had no idea the mark was becoming unstable, but now that he mentioned it, Josephine did recall the Herald rubbing her hand an awful lot during the talks. “It... yes. Her condition. Exactly that.” She swallowed her panic at the implications and tried to smile. “After this is over, I'm certain Madame Vivienne knows several experts in Montsimmard who can take a look.”

Cullen nodded and straightened. “I should get started arranging the guard.” He headed up the steps, barely catching Josephine's mumbled response, and back to where his wife was waiting for him outside the door. When the runner came to fetch him for the meeting, Ebrisa insisted on coming along. They left Allison with Cole and Dhar'ghi in their room before joining the other advisors and Hawke. The mage stayed out of the actual meeting, saying she knew so little about what was going on and didn't want them to bother with getting her up to speed. Truthfully, Cullen was glad she hadn't been standing with them around the table to witness the arguments.

He stepped through the doorway to find Ebrisa holding her left wrist and letting out slow, controlled breaths. There was a faint sheen of sweat on her brow and Cullen knew instantly the mark had just flared up. She looked up at the sound of his foot steps and straightened, dropping her hand and smiling sweetly. She was trying so hard to hide the pain, to keep him from worrying so he could focus on his duty. He was going to allow her to think she was succeeding.

“The Inquisitor is preparing to head out to the Darvaarad to confront this Viddasala, hopefully catch the qunari before they enact their plan.” Cullen took hold of her hand and lead her back to their room. “I need to get our men in place in case of a counterattack. They could come through the eluvian, but a frontal assault is also likely.” He continued to lay out his plan as they moved briskly across the grounds, wondering how many of the Orlesian and Fereldan forces would actually listen to him or if the ambassadors would believe them at all.

They entered their guest room, Cullen moving inside and changing into his armor. Allison came over to him, staring at the different pieces before trying to pick up the helm. By the time he was fully armored and had his shield slung on his back, the child almost had the thing in her arms, grunting loudly with the effort. Cullen smirked and took the helm from her, tucking it under his arm. “Thank you, Alli. You're very helpful.” She grinned proudly and set her hands on her hips with a nod. “Now stay here with Mama. I'll be back a little later to check on you.”

She saluted. “Yes, Dada.”

He ruffled her hair, having given up on it looking anything but a mess for at least a few more years, and headed back to the door where Ebrisa waited for him. “I'll return after getting everyone stationed, but after I will need to be out there until we receive word from the Inquisitor.”

Ebrisa nodded and gently placed her hands on his cheeks. She drew him to her and gave a short, soft kiss before pressing her forehead to his. She took in a calming breath and closed her eyes, savoring the sensation of his presence. “I love you. Please, be safe.”

Cullen nudged her head before pulling away. “You as well, Wife.” He went to the door and looked over his shoulder. “I'll be back.” Ebrisa nodded and smiled brightly, the expression causing Cullen to pause only slightly before closing the door and leaving. Even as he stormed down the hall to set up defenses, there was a nagging worry settling in his heart.
~~~~~~~~~~
Hawke gave her hair a good ruffle to amp herself up before pulling on her helm. Viddasala likely didn't know they were coming, thinking them incapable of following just because her mirror had a key. There was still time to catch the qunari unprepared. With a deep breath and a firm nod, she pushed through the eluvian and into the Crossroads, leading the others down the steps to the portal that had been mockingly in front of them the entire time. She halted suddenly, Varric nearly slamming into her, too surprised by the sight awaiting them to consider she could have knocked someone off the side.

Ebrisa stood before the eluvian in white and gold armor, the strange lighting of the Crossroads illuminating her form to something almost ethereal, running a hand over the dark glass. Her left arm and hand were completely shielded in armor, the gentle thrum of the ore's innate magic feeling almost soothing to the searing mark hidden underneath. She turned at the sound of scuffling on the stones and faced the small party. “Oh good, you're here.” Ebrisa smiled and looked back at the mirror. “I've been waiting a while.”

“We, uh...” Hawke continued down the steps and pulled out the keystone she'd lifted from a qunari corpse. “We needed to make sure we had everything we needed.”

“My lady, you don't mean to come with us, do you?” Rainier looked her over, noting the full potions belt and staff.

“Of course she does, don't be absurd,” Vivienne glided into place at the landing. “She likely heard Dorian was too worn out from the excursion to that library earlier today and knew we could use another mage for support.” The enchanter lifted her eyes to the Herald, offering the reason.

Ebrisa accepted it. “Yes, of course.”

Varric exhaled quietly, looking back to the mirror they'd just come through. “And Curly knows you're here?”

“Yes, of course,” she repeated, trying to sound as firm as the first time.

“I don't like it, or believe you,” Hawke frowned and lifted the keystone to the eluvian. She huffed in annoyance. “Why isn't it unlocking? Who remembers how this works?”

“None of us were with you, Hawke,” Varric sighed. “You wanted a fresh crew for this part, remember?”

“Shit, you're right,” the Inquisitor grumbled.

“It needs a password...” Ebrisa said quietly, almost sadly. “Maraas nehraa.” The eluvian lit up instantly and the others looked at her in surprise. She smiled sheepishly. “Cullen told me. He thought Hawke might forget.”

“That proves the commander's consent, does it not? Not that she needs it.” Vivienne raised a brow. “Now I believe there are qunari who need to be taught a lesson.” She shooed the fighters and rogue through the portal before turning to the other mage. “I hope you find your new staff as satisfactory as your armor, my dear. Do let me know if the Veil quartz adds focus to the Anchor.”

Ebrisa nodded. “Once again, thank you, Vivienne. The reason I'm here... I...”

The enchanter lifted a hand to silence her. “My dear, your reason is unimportant. Just do me the small courtesy of keeping this new armor as free of your blood as possible.” Her lip curled up ever so slightly as she ghosted a hand over the Herald's hair. “I don't know what I'd do if my meddling lead to the ruin of such a lovely and dignified thing.” The mages looked at each other a moment longer, Ebrisa understanding the hidden voice of concern. Without another word, they crossed over to the Darvaarad.



 

Chapter Text

Despite their original skepticism, the Exalted Council delegates conceded to the pile of evidence and each lent a small contingent of men to serve under Cullen to better secure the Winter Palace. While the aid was welcome, it did take far longer to arrange the forces than he estimated and night had already fallen by the time he was done. True to his word, Cullen went to check on his family before reporting to the command station he would be occupying for the night.

He walked in, hearing Allison laughing and letting out a sigh of relief at the sound. “Ebrisa, Allison, I've only a little time.” Cullen turned the corner of the entryway and stilled.

Cole and Allison were playing on the floor, Dhar'ghi laying calmly nearby, and Ebrisa... she wasn't there. Cullen checked the bathing chamber in case she was playing a hiding game with their daughter, but found that area cold and empty. He moved back to the main room, eyes falling on an open box from the armory and his mind went back to Vivienne's insistence that the Herald would be called upon. But, no, Ebrisa may have put on the armor as a precaution – just as he had – but that didn't mean she went anywhere. So... where was she?

Tell him I'm sorry we didn't have more time,” Cole said quietly, pausing in his playing.

“What...?” Cullen lifted his head to look at the spirit, but Cole was looking at something else.

Tell him I love him. Tell them both I love them.”

Cullen slowly approached the small table the spirit was focusing on, staring at the items set on top with disbelief.

And tell Alli Mama's sorry she can't come back...” Cole began patting Allison's head, the child looking up at him with confusion and hurt.

Words stuck in Cullen's throat as he touched the wedding band and encased coin with a trembling hand. It didn't make sense. Why would she...?

“Whispered warnings. The signs were there. It hurts so much,” Cole mumbled before lifting his eyes to meet the commander for the first time since he came back to the room. “It is killing her. The spirit said it would. Can't control it, but can keep it from hurting you.”

“Cole,” Cullen said in a tight voice. “Don't tell me she...”

The spirit lowered his eyes, deeply saddened. “I have one last chance to help.”

Cullen bolted from the room and made a beeline for the eluvian, his thoughts racing the entire way. Ebrisa thought she was dying? If the mark was that bad, why didn't she say anything? Why didn't she ask for help? Why wouldn't she tell him?!

He barely slowed down when he got to the room, narrowly missing plowing through the guards stationed at the door as he threw it open. “Did Ebrisa come through here?” He asked with such force that it almost didn't sound like a question.

The Inquisition stationed inside were too startled to respond right away, looking to each other in confusion.

“The Herald, my wife, the mother of my child!” Cullen growled, growing irritated by the silence. “Did she go through the damn mirror?!”

“Ah.. y-yes, Commander,” one man finally managed to get out. “She said she was to await the Inquisitor inside.”

Cullen shot him a look that nearly struck the man down before rushing through the eluvian. The Crossroads was every bit as unnerving as he thought it would be, but he pushed the notion back and made his way to the portal Hawke had pointed out on her crudely drawn map earlier. The glass was dark when he approached and he searched the eluvian for someway to activate it. He'd hoped that once it was unlocked it would stay that way and he could simply run in and pull his wife out, kicking and screaming if need be.

“Damn it!” He shouted into the empty space, pulling back his hand to strike the mirror in frustration. His fist stopped inches from the surface, somehow remembering through his anger and worry and panic that when the eluvian was inactive, it remained as fragile as the simple looking glass it appeared to be. One crack, one fracture could render the entire portal useless and trap both his wife and the Inquisitor's party in the Darvaarad.

“Damn it.” Cullen sunk to the rocky ground, holding a hand over his eyes as the adrenaline left him. He thought back to the smiles she'd given him that day, how there was something about them that made him worried, and he was finally able to place what it was. She had known all day what was coming, what she was going to do, and instead of trying to find a way around it, Ebrisa accepted her fate. She spent the time that could have been used to research or place wards or any number of things... just quietly sitting with her family. If she had just told him...

“Damn it...” He felt the tears run freely down his face, remembering their parting words.

“I love you. Please, be safe.”

“You as well, Wife.”

Maker... he didn't even say I love you back...

~~~~~~~~~
The lever was stiff from the nearby sea spray and lack of use, making Ebrisa lean into it with her full weight. The iron gate dropped with a clang and the tortured, captured dragon limped out of the opening. It took much effort for the beast to get into the air - its wings having gotten little exercise in the confines of its prison - but once it had a strong beating going the dragon made her escape over the ocean, taking a qunari along out of spite just to drop him from several hundred feet in the air.

“I can't believe that Dragon's Breath was an actual dragon!” Hawke panted, taking a moment to catch her breath from the near endless waves of qunari they had been fighting. “You doing okay, Brizy?”

“Yes, I'm fine.”

She wasn't.

Ebrisa tried to put on a brave face, hide the pain as best she could, but the mark had already flared up three times since they got to the qunari base. Each occurrence was more painful than the last, bringing her to her knees and making it impossible to pretend nothing was wrong. The looks she got the first time she went down were a mixture of surprise, concern, and horror and all she would say to answer the group's onslaught of questions was “We need to hurry.”

Though it was heavy and slowed her casting a little, Ebrisa was glad for the armored sleeve. The quartz acted as an insulator, keeping the pain circulating in her arm and preventing the arcing energy from getting too out of control and striking an ally. It also, simply by being there, blocked the glowing tear in her flesh from sight. Ebrisa was certain the mark had snaked its way to her forearm by now.

“We may have freed the dragon, but the crazy lady is getting away!” Varric called out as he dropped from the other lever. He glanced at Ebrisa and tried to not let his look linger.

“Right you are, Varric dear.” Vivienne swung her staff elegantly behind her. “Allow us to capitalize on the chaos our little jail break ensued.”

Hawke lead the charge across the battlements, seeing an eluvian light up at the end of the walkway and several qunari slip through. “Viddasala!” She roared, making the qunari woman turn away from the mirror and scowl at the Inquisition. A squad of warriors stood between the two imposing women, but Hawke was already eying the group for a weak point.

The anchor erupted in such sudden pain that Ebrisa cried out and fell over in mid run, landing heavily on her side and gripping her wrist through the armor. Viddasala raised a brow at the writhing mage before dipping her chin and pacing before the eluvian. “So the Herald decides to use the precious little time she has left to oppose us? You must finally see the truth, Inquisitor.”

Rainier helped Ebrisa to her feet, supporting her a little as she took deep breaths.

“Elven magic already tore the sky apart,” the qunari continued. “If the agents of Fen'harel are not stopped, you will shatter the world as well.”

“For the last time, we aren't working for Fen'harel!” Hawke shouted angrily. “I'm the Inquisitor, I'm the leader, you need to get your facts straight!”

Viddasala would have rolled her eyes, if such a thing was known under the Qun. “Come, Inquisitor. I am the eyes and ears of the qunari people. Do you think you can deceive me? Your Herald would have died from the mark on her hand, but for the help of one of their chief agents.” At that Ebrisa looked up, confusion shared with the whole group. “The same agent who helped seal the Breach, who led you to Skyhold, who gave Corypheus the orb, then founded the Inquisition.”

Ebrisa felt her stomach drop as the words formed on the qunari's lips.

“Solas,” Viddasala spat, “agent of Fen'harel.”

Hawke argued loudly with the qunari and Varric muttered a curse under his breath, but Ebrisa could hear nothing but the pounding in her ears and her own racing thoughts. Solas gave Corypheus the orb? That made no sense – he was trying to retrieve the Foci! He fought against the magister from the beginning, despite the personal danger he was in by being an elf and an apostate in a Chantry organization. She thought back to all of their talks and his advice. How he seemed so genuinely attentive while tutoring her and answered her basic level questions without being condescending. He didn't seem like a man acting on orders...

The mark flared up again and she held it as far from Rainier as she could while the man supported her. It was happening too often now. How much longer did she have? When the pain finally subsided, she looked up to find the qunari force already gone and Hawke with a hard to read expression.

The Inquisitor walked up to her and grabbed the marked hand, ignoring the tiny wisps of energy dancing off the gauntlet. “Whoever he is, whatever he did, Solas is the only one who can help you with the mark. He's our only chance to save you, and I won't let Viddasala take that chance from us.” Ebrisa saw a brief flicker of emotion escape the Inquisitor's stern face. “I won't.”

Hawke was scared.

Without another word, the Inquisition rushed through the eluvian and into the light of day. Whatever overgrown ruins they ended up in, they were very very far away from where they started. Hawke lead them on, holding the Herald's hand as they ran to keep her at their pace. She was determined to get Ebrisa to Solas as quickly as possible, even if she had to pick up the mage and chuck her at the elf to do it. “Didn't anyone ever tell you keeping secrets from friends is bad? Andraste's tits, Brizy! If you told us, we could have looked for something!” It wasn't the first time that night – or day now? - that Hawke had angrily berated the mage, and it wasn't going to be the last. “Maker, this is like Bethany in the Deep Roads all over again!”

They made it out onto a waterlogged path and Ebrisa felt a strange pressure building in her hand. “Hawke, let go!”

“No, we need to stop Viddasala before she kills Solas!”

“Hawke, please! You- argh!” Ebrisa fell to her knees, the Inquisitor still trying to pull her along. “Get back!” A devastating pulse exploded from the mark, knocking everyone back like a club to the chest. The Herald panted frantically, struggling against the pain, and tried to wrap her mind around what just happened. She surveyed the damage with building horror as the others began to pick themselves up.

The Inquisitor coughed as she rolled over and pulled herself to her shaking feet. “Now just do that to the enemy, and I think we might be on to something here.” She tried to smirk, but it was obvious she had taken a very bad hit from being so close to the epicenter. “You okay?”

Ebrisa stared at her, looking over the new dents in the armor and blood trickling down from a fresh head wound. “Am I okay?!”

“Hey, Hawke's a tough cookie. She can take a little flying across a clearing.” Varric pulled the mage to her feet, but did give the fighter a good once over. Hawke nodded that she was fine and wiped the trail of blood with the back of her exposed hand. The gauntlet she had been wearing, the one holding the Herald's marked hand, was completely gone. Faint burns graced her fingers, but she ignored them in favor of looking for her vanished helm.

“We should keep moving, but do let us know if you feel that coming again, my dear.” Vivienne picked up the dented helmet from the water and held it out to the Inquisitor as she looked over the other mage. “Perhaps you could be able to focus that on these qunari.”

Hawke took back the headpiece and frowned at the large split on the side, making it unusable. “Or we can just listen to you next time you tell us to get back.” She dropped the scrap metal to the ground and pointed a finger at the Herald. “You owe me a new armor set. Be sure to make it a nice one, when we get back.”



They followed after the qunari, trying to keep them in sight as they trudged through the ruins. “Aww, you waited for us,” Hawke cooed sarcastically at the warriors blocking the eluvian at the end of the path. “How sweet.”

“Another mirror maze to navigate,” Rainier grumbled as they engaged the qunari. “Just what we need.”

Ebrisa stayed back with Varric, supporting the other three, and failed to notice the building pressure as she swung her staff. She waved her arms out, casting a barrier, and froze at the sight of the vibrant, green light pulsing around her limb. She dropped her staff, alerting the dwarf at her side, and ran from the group to put as much distance between them as possible. The pain wouldn't let her go far and the mage fell to the ground, gripping her wrist and struggling to keep it close, hoping to shield the others with her body. The anchor sparked madly, and Ebrisa felt a powerful pull on her hand, yanking it upwards. She fought against it, grunting and screaming with the effort as she felt herself rise up off the ground. Her feet kicked at nothing and she dangled in the air, feeling the pressure and pain focusing in on a single point before erupting, the explosion of power propelling her back to the ground. The mage rolled to a stop just short of the cliff and coughed violently, trying to gain back some of the wind that had been so thoroughly knocked out of her.

“Sunshine!” Ebrisa looked up at Varric as he ran to her side, glad to see her latest development hadn't hurt the others. “We need to get you to Chuckles, now.

“Shit shit shit shit shit!” Hawke hurried up to them and scooped up the mage as best she could, dragging her towards the mirror. “Shoulda brought Bull. Bull makes this look easy.”

As the Inquisition gave chase to Viddasala and fought those she left in their path, Ebrisa managed to gain some semblance of control of the ever building pressure and pain in her hand. When she felt it begin to pulse, she would Fade-step into a group of enemies and unleash the destructive energy. It took a lot of focus to hold on long enough to direct the blast, struggling to keep her hand in place as she grit her teeth and looked away to prevent blinding herself. The resulting blast knocked her on her back and did a fair amount of harm, but the enemy always suffered far worse. This tactic was effective against the qunari and kept her companions safe from her, but she was needing to discharge the anchor more and more frequently.

With each thrumming surge up her arm, Ebrisa knew her time was running out. Was this how she was to die? The energy and pressure building too quickly and simply exploding from her all at once? How much devastation would it cause? If the Foci gave her the mark, and the explosion from doing so took out the entire Temple of Sacred Ashes, then no one with her was safe.

At last, the group reached the ruined shrine that had been teasing them in the distance as they ran from mirror to mirror. Despite the broken walkways and fallen over walls, there appeared to be signs of recent use in the shrine. Candles decorated the base of Fen'harel's statues – both used and new – and a cleanup effort had been made by at least a few respectful hands. The qunari stationed around the perimeter were doubtfully those hands – the saarebas stalking across the rubble filled courtyard seemed especially unlikely.

The towering qunari was huge, even by his people's standards, and the magic he wielded gave Hawke pause, but for Viddasala to unleash her chained mage pet, she knew they had to be close to Solas.

“Allow me to entertain the thing while you handle the others, Inquisitor.” Vivienne tightened her grip on her ornate hilt, bringing the magical blade to life. “Iron Bull has always said I remind of a tamassran. Let us see if this poor dear thinks the same.” She kept the hulking mage occupied while the others cleared the rest of the ruin. At times it would jump high into the air, gathering energy, then slam down in a different spot to attack the others. Vivienne was quick to Fade-step over and regain the saarebas's attention, wearing down his barriers and taking his attacks in stride as the courtyard became less and less crowded.

Ebrisa rushed in suddenly, holding her hand out. “Vivienne!” The enchanter dashed away just in time to see the anchor discharge knock both the other mages over. Ebrisa rolled to her feet and grimaced against the ache, already feeling the pressure building again. Saarebas held his head, growing agitated and struggled against his bonds until it let out a roar, breaking some of the chains restricting him. Viddasala called out the to mage, trying to regain control and bring the saarebas back to her side, but the tool had broken its leash and rampaged on its own.



 

Chapter Text

It was far, far too quiet and calm at the Winter Palace and Cullen needed to throw himself into work to keep his sanity. He almost wished for a full company of Antaam soldiers to come barreling through the front gate just so he wouldn't be reading the same monotonous reports over and over. Maker, he just needed to keep his mind from wandering, his heart from worrying.

“Cullen,” Cassandra called from the doorway.

“There's been no new development, Your Holiness,” he answered quickly, voice and face hard and controlled.

The Divine looked to the others in the room. “Leave us.” The soldiers dipped their heads respectfully and did as they were told, Cassandra moving into the room once they were gone. “We do not know anything yet.”

“Precisely. Leliana has sent forward scouts ahead of the patrols outside the palace. We'll know more once they return.” Cullen shuffled through the messy parchments on the table, the disorganized paperwork saying more about the jumbled state of his thoughts and nerves than anything. He was usually so organized. “There's a map of the patrol route here somewhere...”

“Cullen.” She placed her hand firmly on his, ceasing its search and feeling the trembling he was trying so hard to conceal. “Do not give up on her when so much is uncertain. Do not lose hope.”

“I haven't lost hope,” he said sorrowfully, barely above a whisper. “It disappeared through an elven mirror.”

Cassandra straightened her back and folded her arms, becoming the fierce Seeker of Truth once again and scowling at the man. “Commander! I did not believe you held so little faith in the Herald. Did it diminish when she became your wife?” She let out a sound of disgust. “I recall a time when you refused to give up on a woman everyone else thought lost, when you stubbornly ignored reason and circumstantial evidence because you saw no physical proof. Am I remembering incorrectly, or is this not the same woman?”

“But this is... different.” He ran his hands over his face, not wanting to voice Ebrisa's concerns. If he told Cassandra that his wife believed she was going to die, then that would only make it more real... more likely....

“You're right, this is different,” she cut him off. “It has been, what, an hour, since the Inquisitor's party left? The Herald was in the Fade for weeks and you held fast to the notion that she would return to you. Not just return, but return to you.” Cassandra lowered her arms and her ferocity, sighing almost silently. “The way you are together, the love you share, it has always filled me with happiness to witness. You should not let something as simple as ancient elven magic come between you now, so why not try to find that hope again?”

Cullen took a deep breath and fanned out his hands on the table, leaning heavily on the cluttered surface. “She... she's not gone. She'll come back,” he recited his old mantra in a shaking voice. “Don't lose hope. She'll return.”

The Divine gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. “Yes, she will.”

~~~~~~~~~~~
With a final, well placed discharge from the anchor, the saarebas was down for good. They were all weary, having been running and fighting almost constantly since leaving the Crossroads, but Hawke managed to take a firm hold of the Herald's arm and drag her to the ornate eluvian just as the barrier dropped.

“Come on, we're almost there. We have to be almost there!” Hawke pulled the staggering mage through the mirror without waiting for the others. As soon as the two emerged on the other side, the eluvian went dark, blocking them in and keeping the others from following. “Well that's... perfect...” the Inquisitor grumbled. She shook her head and turned away, yelping in surprise at the large qunari statue right in front of her.

“Petrified... like at the sanctuary,” Ebrisa panted, looking around at the startling amount of frozen warriors, all poised for attack. If Viddasala was chasing Solas, did that mean he did this? Was he the one at the sanctuary as well, or do all agents of Fen'harel know this magic?

“We can gawk later.” Hawke started pulling the mage along again, weaving through the stone figures littering the path. She could see a glowing eluvian in the distance and held back a groan at the idea that they would never be done with the portals.

Qunlat words drifted in on the breeze and both women stilled at the voices. Hawke grinned widely at the Herald and they hurried up the steps. “I know that haughty tone anywhere!”

At the top of the stairs stood Viddasala, preparing to launch her spear at the slowly retreating elven figure. Ebrisa panicked. “Solas!” The figure paused and almost instantly Viddasala turned to stone, arm still reared back. It was so quick, so effortless. Why had he never shown this level of power before?

The elf turned around to face the newcomers, a small, sad smile on his lips. “You came.”

“I have a lot of things to yell at you for,” Hawke huffed as she dragged the Herald closer, her concern overshadowing the urge to punch Solas. “But Brizy needs your help right now!”

The pressure in Ebrisa's hand was almost at its limit and she shoved Hawke off before turning away and letting the energy out. As she rolled to her knees and climbed back up, she felt the pain building. There was no moment of calm and she clutched her wrist, trying to keep her cries as muffled as possible. All at once, the pain stopped. She whipped up her head and caught a fading flash of light leaving the elf's eyes. “Solas? How did you... is, is it gone?”

“That only provided a little time, I'm afraid.” He looked away, unable to stand the devastation written over Ebrisa's face. “I suspect you have questions.”

“Fix her hand properly first,” Hawke growled, reaching for her weapon's hilt in warning.

“Hawke, please, there's no need for that,” Ebrisa quietly said, slowly straightening. For the first time in a very long time, her hand felt truly calm. No throbbing or jolts, no pains or aching. She had been granted a small bit of peace. “Solas is doing this because he wants us to understand, and if you don't have any questions, I'll go ahead and ask mine.”

The Inquisitor took a deep breath and shook her head, waving a hand through the air. “You need help, he can give it, but he isn't doing it! But fine, ask your questions to Fen'harel.” Ebrisa expected Solas to correct her, but he remained silent. Hawke smirked just a little. “Guess I'm not completely oblivious, am I?”

“Indeed not, Inquisitor,” Solas returned her mild smirk. “But I was Solas first. The Dread Wolf came later.”

“When I found Allison at the sanctuary,” Ebrisa began slowly. “I asked her if the qunari had taken her, but she said Fen. I thought she wanted her toy wolf, but that wasn't it, was it?” She raised her eyes, confused and hurt. “She meant you. You... you brought my daughter there.”

“I did,” he said in a quiet voice.

The slap that followed echoed loudly around them, startling birds from their peaceful perches in the nearby trees to scatter through the air. Ebrisa shook the tears from her eyes, unsure if they were for hurt, betrayal, or anger. “Why? She's so little! She could have been hurt by so many things, killed in so many ways, and what if I never found her? Solas, why?!”

The elf did not flinch at her strike, letting the sting run its course on his cheek before turning his head forward again. He took a deep breath, knowing his justification would do nothing to erase the ordeal he had put his friend through. “After pushing the wounded qunari through the eluvian, I did not notice Allison following me until I was already back at the sanctuary. By then I did not know who would be in the Crossroads and could not risk being discovered yet, so I took her to a secure location and waited until the spirits told me you were there.” He felt a small swell of pride as he remembered the report. “Your elven vocabulary is small, but your accent is impressive for one not of the People. You have always been a good student.”

That only raised more questions for Ebrisa. “Allison wouldn't have just followed you unless she knew you. How does she know you?”

“When I heard about the circumstances of her birth from my agent in Kirkwall, I was concerned. You did something very dangerous, using a power you did not fully understand out of desperation, and it changed the child.” Solas paused, trying to let the severity of her actions sink in. “I visited the child in her dreams, observing at first, then interacting. Sometimes the wolf, sometimes the elf, but always she greeted me with a smile. I can not deny I became fond of her. She is, after all, very much like her mother.”

Ebrisa shook her head. “It changed her? Cole says that too. What does that mean?”

“It is not a bad change, Elgara'len.”

She looked at him again, the name sparking her memory. “The ironwood wolf was a gift from you, correct? Those things that Cole said when I first touched it... that was a message from you?”

Solas frowned slightly, but nodded. “As I said, you did something very dangerous. Sibil was convinced you had indeed perished and that your spirit passed on to the child, but knowing Allison as we do, she very much has her own spirit.”

Hawke stared at the mages, dumbfounded. “Brizy, how are you not throttling him right now? I very clearly remember your mom vengeance the other day.”

“He didn't put her in any purposeful danger,” Ebrisa defended quietly. “Solas wouldn't harm an innocent like that.”

“Think so? You missed all the good stuff at the library.” Hawke folded her arms. “Don't get suckered in by his rebel leader propaganda from the sanctuary, this guy is the one who created the Veil and destroyed the ancient elves. His people were killed, trapped, unable to go home, and the spirits working the library recorded all of their terror and devastation.”

Again, Ebrisa hoped Hawke was wrong, but Solas quietly confirmed and explained what it was he did and why it had to happen. Would-be-gods going too far, enslaving thousands, gone mad with power. They had to be stopped, and it could only be by a drastic measure. He looked out over the canyon as he spoke, his past actions weighing heavily on him. “The Veil took everything from the elves, even themselves.”

Ebrisa was almost at a loss for words. “I... I never thought of you as someone who would do that, Solas...”

He was unable to meet her eyes, not wanting to see the disappointment. “Thank you...” To him, waking after so long to a world so wrong, a world he helped create, was beyond devastating. People walked around ignorant, locking away those not blocked from the Fade to feel safer. Scared of what they did not – could not – understand, because of the Veil.

“For claiming to not be a god, you sure have this mightier-than-thou thing down pretty good. You make it sound like we aren't even people to you.” Hawke folded her arms, restraining from really laying into the elf.

“Not at first,” Solas relented, looking the Inquisitor straight in the eyes before directing his attention back to Ebrisa. “You showed me that I was wrong... again.”

The Herald looked at him sadly, trying to understand where all of this was going. The regret in his voice, the way he keeps looking at nothing. His past mistakes were weighing heavily on him. “You mean to destroy the Veil, don't you?”

Hawke's eyes widened. “Andraste's flaming tits... you have got to be kidding me.”

He almost chuckled. “Is my desperation so obvious?” He looked so old then, so tired. “I lay in dark and dreaming sleep while countless wars and ages passed. I woke still weak a year before I joined you.” Solas paced a little, hands thoughtfully tucked behind his back as he moved. “My people fell for what I did to strike the Evanuris down, but still some hope remains for restoration. I will save the Elvhen people, even if it means this world must die.”

Ebrisa rubbed her forehead, frantically trying to think. “Wouldn't destroying the Veil be the same as the Breach swallowing the world? Spirits who had spent ages upon ages in the Fade suddenly met with the physical world and losing their minds and natures? Isn't that what happened? Isn't that a bad thing?” She dropped her hand and moved in front of Solas, trying to get through to him, to break him of his resolve.

“The Veil isn't a true barrier, its like... magical vibrations. What... what if there was a way to redirect the vibration, create areas without Veil interference but leave the Veil as a whole intact? We could make safe places for spirits and restored elves. Places for them to adjust. Dorian would help – lots of people would! One act of desperation won't correct another! You would be destroying countless, thriving cultures to save the lingering remains of one! How can you even know removing the Veil would change your people back? Why does this world have to die for the elves to return?”

He lowered his head, quietly going over her points and seeing the merit of some. Solas smiled at her, and for a moment Ebrisa thought she broke through. “You have always shown a thoughtfulness I respected. It would be too easy to tell you too much.” The smiled dropped, but he no longer looked as determined as he once was. “I am not Corypheus. I take no joy in this. But the return of my people means the end of yours.”

“No, Solas, you don't need to destroy this world.” Ebrisa pleaded. “I'll prove it to you.”

The elf took hold of her hands, tilting his head and looking directly into her eyes for the first time in two years. “I would treasure the chance to be wrong once again, my friend. I'm sorry, but we are almost out of time.” He dropped her hands and instantly the pain returned to the Anchor.

Ebrisa fell to her knees, the sudden agony making her cry out. Hawke rushed to her side, holding her shoulders to support her friend. She looked at the elf frantically, fear evident all over her face. “Solas, its killing her!”

He knelt down in front of them, a grave expression weighing down his features. “In the end, only I could bare the mark and survive. Drawing you here gave me the chance to save you.” Solas raised his eyes and held the Herald's gaze. “The mark will claim life from this body, but it does not have to be yours.”

She furrowed her brows in confusion, then snapped them back up as she caught on. “No. Solas, you can't!”

“I think, perhaps, someone else is watching out for you. One would not be enough, but the two...” The elf sighed only a little, barely detectable, but did not waver. “It is either them now, or all of you later. Do you honestly think they would have survived? With everything you have gone through?”

“Please, Solas.” Ebrisa lowered her head, her voice cracking with her desperate plea. “Don't ask this.”

He gently took hold of her left hand. “I already know what you would say. Your self-sacrificing nature is a rare and humble quality.” Solas lay his other palm flat against her stomach. “And it is why I do not ask.”

She shot her head up, eyes wide with fear and betrayal. “No! Solas, you can't! No!” Ebrisa tried to get away, frantically kicking.

Hawke still held the Herald's shoulders, not sure what was going on, and Solas shot her a pleading look. “Do you want to save her?”

“I- yes! Of course!” Hawke responded instantly.

“Then hold her down!” Solas began his spell with the aid of the Inquisitor, his hands coated in blue wisps as Ebrisa screamed and fought them. His eyes lit up as he retracted his left hand from her stomach, pulling faint wisps with it. The lights wrapped around his fingers and with a swift snap to the side his hand flashed with green and blue auras. He waited a moment, as if thinking better of something, and his eyes sparked briefly, then dropped her hand and stood up silently. “I do not expect you to ever forgive me, Elgara'len, but please try to understand that I could not let you die for my mistakes. Enough of my friends have done so already.”

Ebrisa lay in the shallow pool of water, sobbing uncontrollably. Hawke worked the buckles of the Herald's Veil quartz armor piece as quickly as possible. She removed the gauntlet with a firm yank and took Ebrisa's left hand in her own, turning it over and running her fingers over the smooth skin. “It worked. Brizy, its gone! You're okay!” Hawke looked up at the mage's still tormented face. “Ebrisa?” Maybe some pain was still lingering behind.

Ebrisa's crying changed pitch, lacing with pain once again and her hands flew to her abdomen as she twisted on the ground. Blood began seeping through her white leggings, the water spreading the red with a frightening speed. “Oh Maker...” Hawke scrambled to remove the waistband. “What did that bastard do?” She unlaced the armor and pushed it out of the way, expecting to find a deep gash or hole, but instead saw a confusing pulsing of dim light beneath the skin. Hawke placed a hand to the Herald's stomach, retracting it immediately as the mage cried out. She twisted around to yell at Solas, but found he was gone, and he'd locked the eluvian behind him.

“Did you find Solas?” Varric called out as the rest of the group rushed up the stairs. He skidded to a stop at the stone figure. “That looks eerily like the Viddasala. Which means those other creepy statues were qunari, too. Shit.”

“Inquisitor, what ever happened?” Vivienne came around and surveyed the scene.

“Solas took the mark and he did... I- I don't know what he did.” Hawke shook her head and ruffled her hair. “Everything was glowing and Ebrisa was fighting him and I... I don't know!”

Vivienne looked over the Herald slowly, her eyes becoming heavy with sorrow. “Oh. I see,” she said softly to herself, closing her eyes and taking a breath. When she opened them again, all trace of the emotion was gone. “We must get her back as quickly as possible. Rainier, would you be a dear?”

The man nodded and gently picked up the still crying woman. Her pain had lessened, but she buried her face and cried against his neck. “Come on, my lady. Let's get you to the commander.” At that, Ebrisa let out a heart-wrenching sob and tightened her grip on her friend. The entire trek back through the eluvians Hawke wondered what it was that Solas had done. More than that, she wondered what she had done.

 

Chapter Text

Leliana's scouts had found nothing out of the ordinary, but Cullen did not call back the patrols. He had healers standing by to receive the Inquisitor's party when they returned and he hoped they wouldn't be needed. He hoped the qunari plot was thwarted without too much loss. He hoped Ebrisa had held on.

She's not gone. She'll come back. Don't lose hope. She'll return.

Cole was suddenly in front of him, crouching low on the table and making an Orlesian guard swear loudly in surprise. The spirit ignored everyone in the room but Cullen. “She needs you.”

Without a word of explanation, the commander bolted down the hall and crashed into the other room before the runner could even open the door to fetch him. Hawke paused in mid sentence when she saw him, then looked away and finished her orders, sending someone off to grab the healers. She looked so guilty. Why was she avoiding his eyes like that?

Rainier stepped through the eluvian with a shaking Ebrisa in his arms. Her lower half was nearly covered in blood and from the sweat beading on her pale skin, Cullen knew it was hers. He crossed the room as the mirror went dark, trying to find the source of the injury in the short amount of time it took for him to reach his wife. “Thank the Maker you're still with me. The healer's are nearby and ready,” Cullen said softly, reaching out lovingly to brush the hair from her tear covered face. Ebrisa flinched and turned away from him, trying to hide against her friend instead.

The commander looked at Rainier, trying to understand, but the man was just as confused as he was. Hawke and Varric seemed equally at a loss, but Vivienne gave him a rare sympathetic look. She seemed as though she wanted to say something, but hesitated and shook her head once.

Healers came in with a stretcher and helped Rainier ease the mage onto it before taking her to the medical room. Cullen made to follow, but Vivienne caught his arm. “Not now, Commander. Much has happened to her and she needs... time to adjust.”

“Adjust to what?” Cullen did not bother to mask the concern or panic from his voice, his response coming out raspy.

“I will say only that I have seen this many times in the Circle.” The enchanter knew more than she was saying and her years of court intrigue would prevent anything from slipping accidentally. Vivienne may know what was going on, but she would answer only on her terms.

“Her life's not in danger, I don't think,” Hawke mumbled, staring at the smears of blood on both herself and Rainier. It was a long way back to the Crossroads and the two of them took turns carrying Ebrisa, opting to share the task instead of stopping and resting. “We found Solas, and...” She let out a deep, tired breath. “There's a lot of stuff I need to tell you guys.”

~~~~~~~~~~~
Ebrisa lay on her side, starring at her left hand. The skin was smooth, unmarred, and the most hateful thing she had ever seen.

And He knew He had wrought amiss.” Ebrisa began in a very tired voice.

For nearly three years the mark had been the point of so much speculation. She'd come to believe it was a boon from Andraste, that the Maker arranged events to put her in the right place at the right time to interrupt Corypheus and keep the Anchor from the vile darkspawn monster. She let herself believe she was special, that everything had been for a reason.

“'Here, I decree

Opposition in all things:

For earth, sky.

For winter, summer.

For darkness, Light.

By My Will alone is Balance sundered

And the world given new life.'”

She let herself believe she was following the Maker's will, something she now realized was far more presumptuous than she could have ever imagined. She was nothing more than a stumbling child, trying to claim a higher purpose than she deserved.

“And no longer was it formless, ever changing,

But held fast, immutable,

With Words for heaven and for earth, sea, and sky.”

The Maker did not direct her steps through the years, sending her on a path of suffering to gain humility and compassion.

“At last did the Maker

From the living world

Make men. Immutable, as the substance of the earth,”

The Maker did not lead her to the Conclave so she could thwart the wicked plans of one who had broken into the Golden City and turned it black, spreading corruption.

“With souls made of dream and idea, hope and fear,”

The Maker did not guide the Foci to her hand.

“Endless possibilities...”

Solas had placed it in Corypheus'.



So many things that she knew to be true, beliefs held fast in her heart that formed her very core... they were wrong. The Maker did not create the Veil when His first children failed Him, Solas did it to stop tyrants of his people. Ebrisa didn't want to believe a single thing Solas had said that day, but it was impossible to ignore the power he displayed or the sad weight of his words.

To have so much taken from her all at once left Ebrisa with nothing to cling to, and she desperately needed something. The healers had looked her over and mended the minor wounds she'd gotten from fighting and being thrown around, cleaning her up and changing her into a plain chemise. Their more thorough examination to find the source of her internal bleeding only confirmed what Ebrisa already knew. The healer's were at a loss and silently stood on the other side of the room as their patient quietly recited the Chant of Light, hoping the Maker's words would provide the comfort they couldn't offer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“He was obviously very busy over the past two years,” Hawke grumbled, leaning heavily on the table in front of her advisors. She'd done her best to recount what Solas had said and managed to piece more of it together with the information Leliana had been able to gather about the missing elves. The spies in their midst had belonged to more than just the qunari.

“So he had the ability to remove the Anchor this whole time?” Cullen shook his head, trying his best to keep focused on the meeting. “Why wait so long to do so?” With all his agents, Solas had to have known how much pain it was causing Ebrisa.

The Inquisitor scratched the back of her head. “I think he was still pretty weak while he pretended to help us.” She paused and wrinkled her brow in confusion. “And he said something strange right before he removed it... that only he could bare the mark and live.”

Fear washed over the commander, his mind racing with the possibility that his wife was still in danger. “Did... did he say... how long?”

Hawke frowned, her brow knitting further. “Solas said the mark would claim a life from her, but it didn't have to be her's. I don't know what that meant, but that's when Brizy started freaking out.”

A loud clattering cut through the silence and the room turned to face Josephine, her writing board forgotten on the floor as both her hands covered her mouth in horror. She looked Cullen in the eyes as her own began to fill with tears. “Go to her. Now. Make her tell you, please.” Her voice was so desperate and pained that the commander didn't even wait for Hawke to give the okay before moving briskly out of the room.

Leliana studied her friend in concern. “Josie? What aren't you telling us?”



Cullen entered the small room they'd converted to a medical station, expecting to find the healers still working. Instead, the only one in the room with his wife was Mother Giselle.

Eyes sorrow-blinded, in darkness unbroken

There 'pon the mountain, a voice answered my call.

'Heart that is broken, beats still unceasing,

An ocean of sorrow does noboby drown.'”

Giselle turned around as she recited scripture, nodding slightly to the commander.

“'You have forgotten, spear-maid of Almarr.

Within My creation, none are alone.'”

With that, the priest rose from her seat and left, pausing only long enough to close the door, giving the couple some privacy.

Cullen crossed the floor cautiously, remembering how his wife had pulled away from him when she first returned, and claimed Giselle's chair by the bed for himself. Ebrisa was facing the wall, her back to him and the rest of the world, still staring at her hand. He could tell from the way her shoulders curved in and how close her knees were pulled up that she was immensely upset. Josephine and Vivienne knew what was going on – or at least thought they did – and both had given him different instructions. Seeing his wife laying so still and so quietly, he knew which woman he would listen to.

“Ebrisa,” he said as gently as he could, trying to ease her to his presence. She stiffened, then broke her silence with a muffled sob. He wanted to pull her to him, to hold her until she never felt the need to cry again, but was afraid she'd only push him away. “Ebrisa, what's wrong?” She didn't reply, but she didn't move away from him either. “Please, tell me what happened.”

She let out a quiet, shuddering breath and lifted her left hand. “Solas took it back,” the mage told the wall, voice cracking in sorrow. “There was a price... and he wouldn't let me pay it. It was mine to pay, I was ready...”

“You mean you were ready to die.” Cullen said it louder and harsher than he intended, the crushing devastation he'd felt earlier that night still too fresh and painful. “You thought you were going to die, and you didn't say anything to me. You just let me walk away without a goodbye.”

Ebrisa dropped her hand. “If you saw me as we chased Viddasala, you would understand why I couldn't let you follow. I had no control of the Anchor, energy was going everywhere, hurting the others and throwing me around. Each time it erupted on its own, it got more painful and more forceful. I knew it was only a matter of time before it consumed me... before it consumed everyone around me... I couldn't let you die, too.” Her voice grew quiet. “It was supposed to be me.”

He reached out and ran his fingers through her messy hair. She flinched at his touch and whimpered softly. “Ebrisa... are you disappointed that you didn't die? That you didn't leave us?”

She turned around and took hold of his hand, studying the stitching of his glove with reddened, puffy eyes. “I never wanted to leave you, Cullen, but it was my price to pay.” Her voice cracked and she pressed his hand to her forehead. “There must have been a half measure, a way to buy a little more time, but Solas wouldn't do it. He took them instead of me.” She started crying again, but she had to tell him. “There were two, Cullen...”

“Two?” He shifted in the chair to lean in more, becoming eye level with the mage. “Ebrisa, what are you talking about?”

The woman lowered his hand, holding it to her chest and finally raising her eyes to his. “I'm-” she choked out, holding back another sob. “I was... pregnant. Solas took them both to save me...” Ebrisa squeezed her eyes shut, not wanting to see the devastation overtake her husband's face. “I-I'm so sorry. I pleaded with Solas to not do it, but he wouldn't listen!” Her voice grew tight as she struggled to continue. “It was my price... It should have been me, not them. I failed you, I failed them.

She felt Cullen tug his hand free and heard him rise to his feet, her heart breaking with the anticipation of his departing footsteps. But he did not leave her. He would never leave her. Cullen dropped to the mattress and pulled her into his lap, crushing her against his armor in an almost painful, desperate embrace.

“Maker's Breath, Ebrisa... you didn't...” Cullen could feel her shaking through his armor, or was he the one shaking? “You didn't fail me...” She had been with child? How long had she known? Why didn't she tell him? Why didn't he notice? Would he have acted any differently if he had? “You didn't fail them...”

“It was my price to pay...”

“Solas took that choice from you,” Cullen insisted, nudging her head into place against him. As awful as it sounded and as much as it broke his heart, he knew he had to continue. “He was right.”

Ebrisa tried to pull away, to stare at him incredulously, but he wouldn't ease his firm hold on her. “How can you say that? They were innocent!”

“You went out there intending to die,” Cullen began quietly. “If you perished tonight, wouldn't they have gone too?”

“Bu-but there must have been a way to buy more time...”

“You don't know that, Ebrisa. How many more months do you think you could have gotten? In all likelihood, you still wouldn't have been able to come to full term.” He trailed a hand gently along her back, trying to be comforting while still crushing her. “And then what? You would die? Leave me to raise them by myself? A reminder everyday of the love I would never see again?” Cullen inhaled slowly, doing his best to stay in control of his emotions. “Ebrisa, I don't want to lose you... ever.”

“But...”

“I love you, and I need you,” Cullen whispered against her hair. “Alli loves you, and she needs you.”

Ebrisa buried her face in the fur of his armor, the dark fibers soaking up her tears like her husband soaked up her pain. Her faith had been shaken from all that had happened that day – her friend's betrayal, the truths of creation called into question, the loss she suffered – and she needed something to cling to. “I trust you. I will always trust you...”

Her heart still ached and she felt as though a piece of her soul was gone, but she couldn't honestly say she wished she had died. She had been robbed of a choice and the resulting horror, however devastating and painful it was, was not her fault. Ebrisa saw that now. It would take time – much time – to recover, but she wouldn't be doing it alone. The Maker may not have made the Veil, but there was no doubt in her mind that He had brought Cullen to her.

That, she could cling to.

 

Chapter Text

When Josephine forced out the words through her tight throat, Hawke was almost sick right in the middle of the room. She'd managed to get outside and slump down on a cool bench, hanging her head between her knees and taking deep breaths.

Ebrisa had been pregnant. Solas took the lives of those unborn children. Hawke had helped him.

She hadn't known the full weight of the situation when she held down the Herald, not understanding at the time why Ebrisa would be resisting something that was going to save her. The Herald knew what Solas was doing, she pleaded for him not to, she fought him, but all Hawke knew was Ebrisa would die if nothing was done. She had helped kill her friend's children.

They had never spoken about what had happened when Allison was born, but Hawke remembered the sounds that came from her mother's old room that night. There had been the struggled shouts and groans of labor muffled only slightly by the door and distance, but then it had gone quiet. Eerily quiet. Ebrisa's desperate voice cut through the silence and Hawke's heart ached for the mage, recognizing the tone of her pleas from the midwife's hut in Lothering. But then it had gone quiet again... this time broken by an angry and terrified Cullen. He shouted and argued, but no one responded. “Andraste preserve me, Ebrisa, I won't lose you too!” Oh, how Hawke's body ran cold at that.

When Cullen had stepped out of the room holding the small bundle in his arms, looking so tired and drained, but also so incredibly happy, Hawke knew that everything was fine and didn't hesitate to distract the man from whatever it was he'd just gone through. Aveline's slip up about the size of the child only made Cullen reaffirm what the Inquisitor had feared. “Maker, I was so sure... but Ebrisa wouldn't give up.

According to Solas, Ebrisa had almost died to save her first child. If she was given the choice, the Herald would have done the same again... that's just who she was. Hawke didn't know if she should feel better or worse that she had taken that choice away.

“Stolen, shaken, stricken.”

Hawke fell off the bench in surprise, staring up at the spirit crouching down beside where she had just been sitting. “Andraste's tits, Cole. I will never get used to that.”

He hung his head a little. The Inquisitor had allowed his presence mostly because Ebrisa, Cullen, and Solas had vouched for him, but he knew she still struggled to accept him herself. “I'm sorry. Her hurt was too loud, but yours is quieter. Her hurt is your hurt...”

She climbed back to the bench and leaned against the wall, staring at the night's sky. “You mean Ebrisa?” Hawke saw his hat move up and down from the corner of her eye. “Don't you make people forget their pains? Can't you make her forget?”

“I offered,” Cole began quietly. “When the healer's left her side, I tried to help. I do not like her sad.”

“Me either...” Hawke mumbled.

“My friend said Solas took all of them away from her. The memory is all she has.”

Lothering wasn't a large village and whenever there was a still born or miscarriage, the Chantry would arrange a funeral pyre. She hadn't attended as many as she perhaps should have in her younger years, but there had always been remains to return to the Maker. Hawke gasped a little, recalling the strange lights she'd seen under Ebrisa's skin as Solas made his escape. Had he done something more than take their lives?

“He was trying to help. Spare her the pain of seeing them.” Cole frowned and shook his head. “The slow arrow breaks in the sad wolf's jaw. His helping always hurts in a way he didn't mean.”

Hawke sighed heavily and twisted the ends of her hair. “The way he spoke, it was like he knew everything. He had agents in Kirkwall, in the Inquisition... ” From the way each eluvian locked behind them as they headed back to the Winter Palace, it seemed like Solas had control over all the mirrors. How far did his reach extend?

“I heard one this morning,” Cole said softly. “She was on the maid staff.”

“By one, you mean a Solas spy?”

He nodded. “She was hiding ancient magic in my friend's room. The magic made the Anchor worse... it had to be worse, or she wouldn't go see him. Solas needed her to see him.”

The Inquisitor turned sharply, staring at the hat-hidden spirit. “He... forced her to that level?”

“He knew it was bad, he felt it when she came looking for Alli, but it had to be worse.” Cole rubbed the pads of his fingers over the edge of the bench, feeling the worn down smoothness. “She was ignoring the pain, hiding it. If it wasn't bad enough, she would wait too long and be beyond his help.”

Hawke was quiet, taking in what the oddly coherent spirit was saying. With a sigh, she plopped heavily against the wall. “I still should have punched him.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~
The Exalted Council had graciously decided to take a few days off, giving the Inquisition time to recover physically and come to terms with all that had happened. Josephine pushed back her sorrow for her friend and focused on the task at hand, preparing the evidence and defenses she would need for the summit when it reconvened. It would be too easy for the delegates to shift the blame for everything – even the Conclave explosion – on the Inquisition at this point and she would not see everyone's efforts be marked as the group trying to make amends instead of the heroic actions they truly were. Solas, for all the assistance he may have given after the Breach opened, was the downfall of the Inquisition before it had even formed.

Cassandra tried to push for another day, but Teagan and Cyril were already far too concerned that more time would allow clever lies to cover up all that had just been exposed. The fact that it was only by the Inquisition that they even knew what was going on did nothing to ease their suspicions. When the meeting began, it was once again Josephine on her own. She did not expect the Herald to be there – no one did – but standing alone before the visibly angry nobility made her yearn for her friend's calming presence. It was selfish to wish for it, however, as she knew Ebrisa was doing anything but smiling these days.

“Without our organization, I doubt you would be alive to complain,” Cassandra huffed, very un-Divine-like. She had not said much during the proceedings, fearing to show nepotism, but after the onslaught of blame being piled on the group, she could not sit silent. Josephine gave her the tiniest nod in thanks for her interjection.

Teagan sighed in exasperation and leaned on the table. “No one has forgotten what you have done, but Corypheus is two years dead.”

“If the Inquisition is to continue, it must do so as a legitimate organization, not a glorified mercenary band,” Duke Cyril flicked a hand in the air, conveniently forgetting how integral the Bull's Chargers mercenary band had been in stopping another Orlesian civil war earlier that year.

The chamber doors swung open and Hawke marched in, wearing the red dress jacket and all its trappings. Josephine failed to hide her surprise, joining the rest of the room in shocked gasps as the Inquisitor stopped at her side and lifted the well worn binding of papers that had started it all.

“You all know what this is?” Hawke looked around the room, not waiting for a response before continuing. “A writ from Divine Justinia authorizing the formation of the Inquisition. We pledged to close the Breach, find those responsible, and restore order. With or without anyone's approval.” She pointed an angry finger at Teagan. “It wasn't a formally authorized treaty that saved Fereldan's people.” Cyril received a similar gesture. “It wasn't careful diplomacy that ended your inane civil war. It was never about the organization. It was about people doing what was necessary.”

The Inquisitor took the book in both hands, staring at the embossed symbol. “But, if the Inquisition now threatens the very stability it helped create, there is only one solution.” She turned away from the delegates, speaking out to the room. “We will not become what we once fought against. It is time for our soldiers to sheathe their swords and go home.” Hawke handed Josephine Justinia's decree, her expression hard to read, despite the firmness in her words. “Effective immediately, the Inquisition is disbanded.”

The room erupted in gasps and murmurs, but Hawke didn't stay to listen to them and strode out of the chamber with as much ferocity as she entered it with. The Inquisition really had gotten too large, too vulnerable to infiltration and corruption, but there was no way she was going to let Solas get away. She had already discussed it with Leliana and the spymaster agreed that a smaller, secretive group would be much more effective. Fight shadows with shadows. In order for that to work, however, the world had to believe the Inquisition was gone. She'd have to leave her friends, bring in new allies, and keep up a facade of doing something else. Maybe claim something about the Wardens? Bethany was always a good cover.

She knew that most of the others would help her if she asked, which was why she wouldn't. If she failed to stop Solas from his idiotic plan, then they only had a few years. True, he didn't give them a time table or anything, but he had only just come out of hiding. He would need time to gather his people and she would use that time to find him. Her track record with negotiations wasn't the greatest and if Ebrisa couldn't make him see reason, then there was no hope of Hawke doing it. Maybe if Ebrisa had more time to talk with him, something could have sunk in. Maybe something already did and the Herald had managed to plant a small seed of doubt. Maybe if Ebrisa tried again...

Hawke shook her head furiously, expelling the line of thinking from her head. They'd put the poor woman through too much hardship as it was, and Hawke was damned if she'd put the mage through any more. Ebrisa deserved to be happy, to be at peace, to be with her family and focus on them instead of having the weight of the world crushing her dreams. She deserved so much...

The Inquisitor – or maybe she was only the Secret Inquisitor now – finally stopped her marching as she realized where her loud, traitorous feet had taken her. “Shit.” Just as she was about to turn around and leave the hall, the door opened.

“Inquisitor?” Cullen stood in the doorway dressed in neither his armor nor formal wear, but casual trousers and a shirt. His eyes seemed so tired as they looked at her curiously, wondering both what she was doing there and why she was wearing her uniform. “Has something come up?”

Maker, she hadn't seen any of the Rutherfords since the man bolted out of the meeting at Josephine's behest. After Ebrisa was cleared by the healers, she'd holed up in their guest room, taking meals in there. Cullen stayed by her side, but did occasionally take Allison and Dhar'ghi out so they could run around in the sunshine. The very notion that they had to leave Ebrisa to get sunshine really drove home how upset the mage was.

Allison ran up to the door, holding a book on her head. “Dada! Stowy!” She looked up at the dark-haired woman and grinned. “Hawke!”

“Hey, kiddo,” Hawke waved awkwardly at the child. “I was just... um...” Being at a loss for words was something new to her, but looking at the little girl only reminded Hawke what she had done to her mother.

Noticing the woman's distress, Cullen tapped the book on Allison's head to get her attention. “Why don't you go ahead and pick the story? I'll be there in a minute, Alli.” The child nodded and scampered back into the room as Cullen stepped out and closed the door. He folded his arms and looked at Hawke expectantly. “What's happened, Inquisitor?”

Hawke twisted her hair and gave an uncharacteristically sheepish grin. “For starters, you shouldn't call me that any more.”

He furrowed his brow and rolled his shoulders back, changing his posture to full on commander mode. “And that means what, exactly? Its a bit early in the day for the council to have made a decision.”

“Well, I made it for them. I disbanded the Inquisition.”

Cullen stared at her, baffled. “You... you what?”

“I know, I know, what was the point of this whole summit if I just call it quits, right?” Hawke let out a deep breath. “Before... everything that happened, I thought we were still needed. But we got too big, Cullen. We had spies in our ranks – we might still have some – and our heads were too busy with big, nation-changing stuff to pay attention to what was really important.” She paused, looking past the man and through the door.

He lowered his eyes, unable to deny the truth of that statement. “I should have noticed...”

“We all should have.”

Cullen shook his head before looking at Hawke again. “But what of the qunari threat? What of Solas?”

“The Inquisition can't stop them, Cullen. The qunari no longer have use of the eluvians, so they are stuck with their normal means of transportation. They'll have to march across nations, and the best way to combat that is with national armies. If our forces disperse, they can go fill those ranks.” Hawke risked a smirk. “I know you think you're hot stuff, but you were not the single driving force of my army, big guy.” Hawke was rewarded with an eye roll and a quiet, almost snort.

“Fair enough,” he relented. “But Solas?”

“He knows all our allies, our people, our strategies, but we know nothing about his network. Did you know the elf who delivered Allison was one of his? Anyone could be one of his agents. We're at too big of a disadvantage to stop him.” She sighed quietly, being careful to not make everything sound hopeless. “There are other groups better suited for dealing with this elvhen underground. We're lacking the kind of subtlety needed for the task, you especially.”

“You're no master of the Game yourself, Inqui-” Cullen cleared his throat. “Hawke.”

She grinned and punched his arm. “It'll take a bit of time to get everything arranged, so don't you worry, you still have work to do.”

“I always have work to do.”

Hawke nodded towards the door. “Yup, and I believe story time was next on the duty roster.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Ebrisa carefully applied the lily powder and rosewater mixture lightly under her eyes to cover the bags lingering there, ignoring the rest of her face. Her skin was pale enough as it was and people weren't used to seeing her in makeup, but this was necessary. Rouge and lipstain would be necessary too.

“You don't have to do this,” Cullen said gently from behind her, meeting her eyes in the vanity mirror's reflection. “They'll understand.”

She would have liked to stay locked away, to wait until the coast was clear before venturing outside, but she couldn't let their memory of her be tainted. Ebrisa held back a sigh and broke from Cullen's concerned gaze as she picked up the soft brush and gently dusted color on her cheek. “No, I should see them off. I... I need to be there, too.”

It had been a week since the Darvaarad, since Solas, and the Exalted Council had concluded two days ago. Despite Hawke's dramatic proclamation, there was still a great deal that needed sorting out with the delegates and Josephine continued being the Inquisition's advocate. A schedule had been drawn up for troop withdrawals, trade contracts, and numerous other things that Hawke hadn't given a second thought to, but would now need to follow. She couldn't just say the Inquisition was done and everything end abruptly, after all.

But today it did feel done. Today everyone was leaving the Winter Palace and returning to their own lives, returning to their place outside the Inquisition. Only those she'd arrived with would be going back to Skyhold and Ebrisa was uncertain when she would see everyone else again. She couldn't let their last memory of her be of a crying, broken woman. She wanted to see them off with a smile, like she had when they left her side the first time.

“Mama, wook!” Allison came bounding up to the seated woman, holding out her skirt and swishing it from side to side. “Pwetty dwess!”

Ebrisa cracked a smile and let out a quiet bubble of laughter. “Backwards dress,” she corrected with a shake of her head, her lips still curled upwards.

Allison glanced down at the lacing as her mother began to untie it, then up at Cullen with a look of betrayal. “Dada,” she whined, embarrassed.

He looked away innocently and shrugged. “Did I do that wrong? I don't know where my head has gone.”

Ebrisa pulled the embroidered jumper off the child and turned it around before slipping it back into place, the correct way this time. She turned the girl around and began to redo the lacing, raising her eyes to meet her husband's. Cullen had dressed their child numerous times and even helped Ebrisa change on occasion; he'd done this on purpose. The soft smile he gave her confirmed the mage's suspicion and she felt her heart swell. This man knew exactly what he was doing.

She tugged the ribbon of the lacing into a bow and patted Allison's curly hair before standing up from the small bench. Ebrisa turned her attention to Cullen, back in his armor with the troublesome red uniform already set at the very bottom of their semi-packed luggage. She lay a hand to the chest plate and stretched up to press a gentle kiss to his cheek. When she returned her heels to the floor, Cullen lightly cupped her face, careful to not mess up the foolish makeup she'd applied. He'd been so gentle with her, trying to give her the space she needed, but always reminding her in the most subtle ways that he was there when she wanted him to be.

Allison began giggling, causing her parents to stop gazing at one another to regard her. She pointed at Cullen's face with one hand, the other over her wide grin. “Funny mawk.”

He bent slightly to check his reflection in the mirror. “Aw. So there is.” The lipstain Ebrisa applied had still been wet and her innocent kiss had left behind a colored imprint of her lips.

“Sorry, I wasn't thinking,” Ebrisa rushed out when she saw, fumbling to grab a cloth from the vanity. “Let me get that.”

Cullen pulled away from her outstretched hand and took several steps back. “I think not.” She offered him the cloth, but he shielded the mark instead. “I would rather I keep it.”

“Cullen, don't be absurd,” she huffed, trying for his face again. “What will people think?”

He smirked just a little, not in a smug way, but enough to make the woman still. “That you love me enough to leave physical proof behind.” Ebrisa blinked in surprise. She wasn't expecting that.

Allison tugged on her skirts to get her attention. “Awwi next! Kiss!” The child presented her cheek, pointing eagerly to the spot.

Ebrisa let out another, quiet trickle of laughter and pulled her daughter to stand on the vanity's bench. “If we're to do this, then we are going to do it right,” she said while picking up the small brush dipped in stain. First, she coated her lips, then she held the brush out to Allison. The child stared for a bit, then nodded enthusiastically and pursed her lips towards the makeup. Ebrisa tapped the girl's nose to get her to relax her face before gently applying a hint of stain. She leaned in and kissed Allison's cheek, leaving the mark and removing the excess from her lips. The mage turned and called Cullen over, Allison taking hold of her face and planting a kiss on her cheekbone. Ebrisa dropped the brush to the floor, slowly turning to face the child. “Didn't you want to kiss Daddy first?”

Allison shook her head, curls whipping around her face. “Mama need mo' wub.” She leaned in and kissed her cheek again, right below the first mark.

“Oh...” Ebrisa's throat clenched up and she found she couldn't say any more than that, struggling to keep her tears from falling. She dabbed at her eyes with the same cloth she'd tried to use to erase her mark from Cullen's face as Allison was making her own right beside it.

“Dada tuwn,” Allison said as she made a grab for the makeup on the vanity, intending to smear the lipstain on her father with her fingers. Luckily, Ebrisa recovered in time to snap the lid closed.

“Daddy's have another way, Alli.” He shot his wife a grateful look, thankful to avoid the mess that surely would have ensued with a red-handed toddler swiping at things. Cullen brushed out her hair a little, knowing it wouldn't stay smooth no matter what he did, and took a small amount at the crown of her head between his fingers. Carefully, he pulled a ribbon from the box on the vanity and tied it into a bow, fluffing the curls out to prevent the bit of silk from slipping from her hair. Without missing a beat, Cullen grabbed another ribbon and wove it into Ebrisa's already styled hair, doing his best to make the small bow symmetrically placed. “While I do agree with Alli that Mama needs more, I'm afraid to mess up your hair with the absurd amount of ribbons that would require.”

Ebrisa raised her eyes to his, smiling at the affection she saw in his amber depths. She wasn't beaming brightly at him, she couldn't get there yet, but she knew he would help her do so. Yes, Cullen knew exactly what he was doing. With her, he always seemed to know.

 

Chapter Text

Saying goodbye had been hard, much harder than the first time. There was laughing and joking and teasing comments about the red marks on the Rutherfords, and it was all Ebrisa could do to stand on the balcony with them and not cry. They made promises to keep in touch, to spend time with one another when paths crossed, and each swore that should anyone need them, they would come running. In truth, however, doing any of that proved very difficult.

The last few months in Skyhold were a blur. Cullen worked diligently bringing their troops in and writing letters of recommendations for those who wished to enlist elsewhere while Josephine saw to it that everyone was paid. Ebrisa took it upon herself to wish everyone luck as they left the fortress for the last time. Though she felt she was less than she once had been, the people who served looked at her the same as they ever did. The first soldier who asked for her blessing before venturing off had taken her by surprise.

“I no longer bare the mark,” Ebrisa said quietly, not wanting to explain to the man how much her beliefs had wavered.

The soldier shook his head and smiled. “Forgive me for saying, your worship, but the Maker's Light never resided in your hand. It shines in your heart, warm and bright even now.”

Ebrisa hadn't been prepared for the comment and cried as she took his hands and asked the Maker to guide the soldier's steps.

As time went on, she thought more about what she'd gone through – all of it – and how it impacted her faith. Solas had sown seeds of doubt in her mind about creation and the Chant of Light, but the elf had given no explanation of his own of how things came into being. If the Maker did not create spirits and the world, than who or what did? Elven legends cited the Creators, but the Evanuris were only elves themselves and only in recent years have elves been brought back into the Chant's writings. So much was left unknown, and so many truths removed and lost.

What if mankind were not the Maker's second children, but His third? If the Maker created spirits, then elves... the Chant still rung true. He became disappointed in them, seeing how they grew mad with power, and then made man after the Veil had settled in place. Man would not be immortal like His children before, but they remained as prideful... forcing Him to turn away. The Chantry could have removed this, as they removed so much about elves. The Maker could have worked through Solas to correct His mistake... just as He worked through Ebrisa to correct another. The thought filled her with hope that the Maker could guide another to stop a third mistake from happening, if He did not see her fit to the task herself.

~~~~~~~~~
Pawn to H3.”

Allison picked up the white piece and set it down one square higher than it was previously.

Ebrisa hummed thoughtfully into the glowing crystal set in the bracelet on her wrist as she eyed the board. “Knight to D4,” she said while moving her piece.

Knight to D4,” Dorian mimicked.

The small girl moved the figure, capturing her mother's piece and setting it to the side. She stared at the carved monster and frowned. “These pieces are weird. I liked the old set better.”

“Well, Daddy took it to his office in the Viscount's Keep, so we'll just have to get used to this one.” Ebrisa did agree that the themed pieces were odd, one side featuring a darkspawn horde and the other the Hero of Fereldan's group. Varric said he came across it in the Black Emporium and just had to get it for them, perhaps hoping this would be the one Cullen would take to work. The white side had mabari pawns, two female mage bishops, crouching female archer knight and a dwarf knight, and a rook that resembled a golem with the other a soldier with a sword as big as him. Then, of course, the Grey Wardens were represented as well.

“I still don't understand why King Alistair is the queen piece. He's the King of Fereldan!” Allison pouted at the board in confusion.

Ebrisa laughed as she glanced at the hourglass beside them on the prep table. “Yes, but the queen is the Hero of Fereldan.”

If you are quite finished staling for time, I believe it is your turn,” Dorian's voice huffed from the crystal.

“Sorry, Magister Pavus.” She giggled at the groan she got in response, picking up the emissary figure and moving it all the way across the board. “Queen to H2.” There was the faintest click from the magic device adorning her wrist as Dorian mirrored her move. “Check.”

Kaffas.”

“Swearing in front of my daughter in Tevene is still swearing in front of my daughter,” Ebrisa chided in between her laughter.

Technically, I'm not in front of your daughter at all,” Dorian quiped, his voice going quieter at the end, indicating he had turned his head away, no doubt accompanied with a defiant fold of his arms.

The last grain of sand dropped to the bottom of the hourglass and Allison jumped down to the floor excitedly. “They're done!” She rushed to the oven and went to yank the door open with her bare hands.

“I think not, sweetling!” Ebrisa swept her daughter up and away from the hot surface. “You'll get burned.”

Allison folded her arms as her mother set her down further away, the woman grabbing a small towel and taking out the pan from the oven. “I'm a big girl, Mama. I'm four.”

“I am well aware,” the woman sighed, shutting the oven door with her foot and placing the pan on the stone table top beside the chessboard. “But no matter how many birthdays you have or quickly you grow out of your clothes, you will always be my little girl, Alli.”

The child held on to her pout only a moment longer before grinning widely and latching onto her mother's skirts. “And you'll always be my faaaaavorite mama.”

Ebrisa smiled down at the girl, tapping her on the nose. “I'll hold you to that.”

I think I need some milk to wash down all this sweetness,” Dorian groaned from the still active sending crystal.

“Don't you have some meeting to go to?”

Ugh. Don't remind me.”

They said their goodbyes, Allison shouting a farewell just before the mage ran her finger over the crystal's surface and severed the link. Ebrisa still marveled at the gift her Tevinter friend had given her, treasuring the connection it provided them. She had needed it greatly as Skyhold became emptier and emptier and before Cassandra sent that Antivan romance novel she promised.

“Can I have one now?” The little girl watched with wide eyes as Ebrisa carefully removed the cookies and set them on a plate.

“You know better than that, Alli,” the woman glanced down with a slight frown. “You'll spoil your supper. And we made these for a special reason, didn't we?” Allison folded her arms and pouted.

“You're so cute when you're all motherly like that,” Cullen chuckled from the kitchen doorway. Ebrisa started at the sudden voice, but Allison rushed across the floor and jumped into her father's arms.

The woman glanced back and forth from the City Commander to the sunlight outside the window. “You're early. Supper is still a little ways off.”

He gave Allison a tight squeeze, swinging her from side to side before planting a kiss to her hair. The frizzy strands had actually manged to stay relatively secured in its ponytail today, fluffing out in a poof of curls behind the cord tie. Holding the girl on his hip, he crossed the room and stood before his wife. “The Viscount all but kicked me out of the keep. He said I had to go home, but wouldn't say why.”

Ebrisa giggled at the accusing look he leveled at her. “Are you suggesting this was my doing? I haven't said a thing to Varric.” The dwarf, though privy to all sorts of official channels of information, still nurtured his network of rumors and could have come across any number of things to want to send the commander of Kirkwall's growing army away – even something as simple as wanting to sneak off from the keep himself and needing less eyes watching him do so.

“Daddy, we went to the clinic today,” Allison said excitedly as she bounced slightly in his arm. “They said I was all healthy! Then Mama and me made cookies!”

“And so you have.” Cullen looked at the cooling baked goods on the table, reaching out with his free hand. Ebrisa smacked it lightly, making him pull away.

“You'll spoil your supper,” she repeated the same warning she'd given their daughter a few moments earlier.

“Your being motherly isn't as cute on the receiving end,” he muttered, gaining a giggle from Allison. “You just said supper wasn't ready yet, so can't we please have one? Just one?” Cullen gazed at her with sad, pleading eyes, Allison mimicking the expression and adding a trembling pout of her lips.

Ebrisa took a step back from the double amber puppy eyes, her willpower diminishing with each passing second. She couldn't look away, the pair intensifying the hopeful stare until she let out a whimper of defeat. “One,” she relented quietly, picking up the plate and holding it out to them. “Its no fair when you team up on me like that.”

Cullen smirked as he took his hard-won treat, setting Allison down after she grabbed her own. “Alli may need the assistance, but I have my own ways of getting what I want from you.” He leaned in and brushed his lips over her neck, grinning as she squirmed away with a muffled squeak. With tinted cheeks, Ebrisa gave him a true kiss on the lips before he straightened. “Now I'm home,” he said with a smile.

Ebrisa moved away to the stove and lifted the lid from the heavy pot, giving the stew a few good stirs. She gave it a taste, then hummed and added a light sprinkling of sea salt and reset the lid. It still had a ways to go for the flavors to develop and the broth thicken, but with the bread already baked and wrapped in a teacloth on the counter, there was nothing more she could do but wait.

It wasn't until Cullen took a bite of the butterscotch and oatmeal cookie that he recalled what his wife said when she turned down Allison the first time. In keeping with the Rutherford tradition, Ebrisa only made these cookies on special occasions – sometimes all that required was Cullen asking after a particularly trying day of work – and he was curious as to what the reason was this time.

“So,” Cullen said after his second bite, leaning on the prep table in the middle of the kitchen. “Are these to celebrate Allison's clean bill of health?”

The woman crossed the short distance back to him, eyeing the floor in an attempt to hide the smile on her face. She had planned on bringing in the cookies after supper and explaining then, but since he was early and already asking... “Not exactly. But it does have to do with news from the clinic.” She stopped right in front of Cullen, face still hidden. “She wasn't the only one that was looked at.” Gently, she took his empty hand and rested it on her stomach, slowly raising her eyes.

Cullen instantly dropped the cookie to the floor, joining his hand beside the other as he straightened. He searched her eyes, seeing the lingering fear become overwhelmed by the hopeful happiness shining through. “Ebrisa... you're certain? I mean, the healers were certain?”

“I am, they are, and the staff at the other clinic I visited yesterday were as well.” She smiled timidly, but didn't break his gaze. “I had suspected for a little while, but after... after everything, I wanted a second – and third – opinion before I told you. I wanted to be sure...”

He moved his hands to her cheeks, gently cupping her face, and pressed his forehead to hers as he let out a tight burst of giddy laughter. After Halamshiral, it had taken Ebrisa a long time to even want to be touched and it wasn't until they had moved to Kirkwall that they'd actively been trying to conceive again. For nearly two years, nothing happened and Ebrisa was convinced Solas had somehow made her barren when he took so much from her. She had nearly given up hope of ever giving Allison a little brother or sister and though she tried to hide it, Cullen had clearly seen the way that devastated her.

They felt something brush against their legs and looked down at Dhar'ghi as he ate the forgotten baked treat on the floor. Ebrisa giggled softly before facing her husband again. “I said you could only have one. No complaining that the dog stole yours.”

Cullen chuckled and returned his forehead against her own, still holding one hand to her cheek. “That's alright, I don't need cookies.” He slid his other hand to rest on Ebrisa's stomach once more, grinning like an idiot and not caring a single bit. “I'll just stick to the bun in this oven.” The comment earned him a giggle, the sound filling his heart with hope for the future.



~The End~