The responsibility to carry the Chant of Light is but this - a duty, a burden thrust upon the shoulders of each and every one of us. It is in force not only within a chantry's walls or under its roof, not only in one's school or house, but also in the farthest reaches of every land, in the wilderness, in the harbour and at sea. One should bear in mind that it is not repeating the rhymes and wisdoms of the Chant, nor cautioning our neighbours, but setting an example with one's deeds, spreading faith that is mature, reasonable, well aware of the fact that Maker's greatest gift for us is our mind and free will - that this is the very essence of our mission on this earth.
Encyclical "The Truth and the Light"
Trevelyan awoke from a dream about a labyrinth full of contorted mirrors and raised her arm to wipe the sweat off her forehead but didn't reach it. The stump was too short.
She rubbed her face with her only remaining hand and rolled over to the edge of the bed. It was already light outside, but days began earlier now and lasted longer. She put on a robe, tied it with some difficulty, and opened the terrace door, letting in the brisk mountain air.
She brushed out her hair and selected the clothes to wear. Her maid was a considerable help in the matter of putting them on, as the current season's all the rage were hooks, incredibly difficult to fasten with just one, clumsy hand. All her caftans, doublets and cloaks had already been modified by the tailor; looking back, however, she didn’t consider it a right decision anymore. A shorter sleeve seemed to only attract attention to something that had enough of it as it was.
The maid also brought her breakfast – fresh, warm rolls with butter, and slices of goat cheese.
"No letters?" she asked, not seeing any on the tray.
"Oh, forgive me, Your Excellence." The maid wiped her hands on her apron and took the letters out of its pocket. "I didn't want butter smudges on them."
"Thank you, Marty. You really are a great help."
"Thank you, Your Excellence." She bowed and left the room.
After what happened during the Exalted Council, Trevelyan changed all her serving staff, just in case. There were no problems with finding new people to fill the positions; in the mountains the Inquisition was known to be a good choice in terms of employment.
Trevelyan smoothed out the correspondence and opened it. The first message was from Orlais, just a confirmation that the troops stationed there knew their orders. The second one was a letter from Leliana.
My dear, it began, promising, thank you for your continuous support. I fear we will continue to need it: Emprise du Aur will not let our officials into their cathedrals and temples, nor are they willing to let us implement changes or carry out the inventory of the monastic property. I sent the details to Cassandra. I would ask you to touch upon that subject during the Council meeting, using means rather stronger than weaker.
After breakfast, she went for the usual inspection of the grounds. The hold seemed empty now that most of the Inquisition’s manpower had left it to continue their service at other posts. The ones that remained consisted of the essential crew, serving staff, a few researchers, and novitiates trained by Cassandra.
Pain in the stump, or, to be more precise, in the hand she no longer actually possessed, would not leave her since morning. Having abated slightly in the sunny spots in the garden, it grew stronger again in the shadows cast by the walls; so strong in fact that she had to stop for a moment and catch her breath. When she reached the war room, her advisors were already waiting: Josephine, focused on some bills, and Cassandra, stamping her feet impatiently and tapping her fingers against the table. Before her, unfolded, lay the message from Leliana.
"We have a problem," announced Cassandra upon seeing Trevelyan.
"I am well aware of that." Trevelyan closed the door with her shoulder. Cassandra twitched, as if she wanted to help her, but had to forcibly refrain from doing that. "However, as we are well known for taking care of problems, I'm sure we will handle this one as well."
There must have been something in her voice, because Josephine suddenly raised her head, and Cassandra – eyebrows.
"Would you be so kind as to elaborate, Seeker?" she continued. "I only got the general information."
When Cassandra, her voice monotonous, reported on the current situation in Emprise du Aur, Trevelyan stared at the map, her teeth clenched. Both the number and the complexity of the markers had grown significantly ever since the Exalted Council, and it looked like it wasn't about to change in the nearest future.
"Inquisitor?" Josephine touched her shoulder. "Is everything all right?"
She realised she had stopped listening somewhere along the way and leaned heavily on the war table. "It is, I'm fine. Please, continue."
Cassandra went on, but not before giving her a suspicious look. "Marquis Duvergny, admittedly, didn't openly forbid the Inquisition forces from entering, but his declaration was quite unambiguous."
"Agreed. That's why we need to send more people there. Which will also be unambiguous."
"I am entirely sure we can find a diplomatic solution to this problem," Josephine interjected.
"Which would be? Letters, even those full of veiled threats, do completely nothing for them. Right now, Cullen should be a day or two to the north, but even our presence doesn't really move them. If we're just going to patiently wait for them to calm down—"
"Then what?" asked Cassandra aggressively, ignoring Josephine's attempts to appease them.
"They will consolidate their position and will be able to resist us. We cannot let that happen if we want to stop another war from coming."
"I think you meant, if we want to cause another war," disagreed Cassandra, her voice raised. "Respectfully, all we do recently is send troops everywhere. I have had enough of training these boys and girls only so that they can become bodyguards to the Revered Mothers or, even worse, so they can die in the name of the new order! This is madness!"
"Are you done?" Trevelyan asked when she finished.
Cassandra banged her fist against the table, anger rendering her speechless. Josephine raised her hands. "Let us talk more peacefully. Anger is an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and I know that you can reach an understanding."
Cassandra gnashed her teeth, but when she spoke next, her voice was quieter and lower. By now, Trevelyan knew that it wasn't really a good sign.
"We need to stop being a threat. We are supposed to be peaceful forces, not the Divine's muscle heads whose only purpose is to forcefully make everyone do their bidding."
"The use of force is the only thing that can make them fall into line. Or should we wait for the pyres to burn?"
"You know perfectly well that it was a single—"
"But the sentiment behind it is anything but!"
"Let us stop for a moment," Josephine interrupted, and Trevelyan turned to face the wall to calm down. She had a vague feeling that, once, these meetings used to be different.
When she reappeared at the table, Cassandra was silent, her eyes fixed on the table, and Josephine was smiling soothingly. "Much better, isn't it?"
"Yes," Trevelyan lied. "But I made my decision. Emprise du Aur is too important for many various reasons to let something go awry. We will send people there, and someone competent at that. I would like you to choose that person, Cassandra."
Cassandra gave a stiff bow. "Very well."
They still needed to discuss the issue of stock distribution, which didn't result in so many arguments, but definitely took a long time. When they parted ways, it was almost midday, the sun warming up the walls of the hold. Guardsmen tilted their heads to meet its rays, and all the cats usually watching the Inquisition's storage rooms took strategic positions in the warmest spots. No one stopped Trevelyan to talk to her, so she climbed to the top of the tower alone, finally letting the grimace of pain appear on her face.
The sunlight arranged itself into soft spots on the floor of her quarters. There was a stack of overdue correspondence on the desk, and atop of it – the letter from Leliana, the very same that caused the whole controversy.
Letting out a sigh, she sat down and reached for the inkwell. At first, not long after she had lost her arm, she had been using the services of a scribe, because using her right hand felt like a child learning how to write – it took ages and the letters were imprecise; smudged worms on the sheets of paper she had been too ashamed to send to anyone. By and by, the right hand grew faster and more sure, even if the letters remained somewhat angular, clumsy and foreign, as if they were written in someone else's hand.
It took her all afternoon to write everyone back. Long shadows were covering almost the entire carpet when someone knocked on her door.
"Enter," Trevelyan called, expecting dinner.
It was Josephine.
"Do you have a moment, Inquisitor?"
"Of course." She leant out from behind the desk. Josephine was barely visible from behind the balustrade. "What is the matter?"
"We wanted to talk to you. Cassandra, Erasmus and I."
"Cassandra, Erasmus and you? Why is that...?"
"Come on in." Josephine nodded at someone standing behind her and took the stairs. "It will be but a moment, Trevelyan."
"If it's about Emprise du Aur, I'm not about to let you talk me out of anything," Trevelyan warned them, pushing herself off the desk with her healthy hand.
"No, no, it's something completely different."
Cassandra and Erasmus emerged from behind Josephine: the former with a stony expression, the latter bearing his usual soft smile; they joked sometimes that his face looked like this even in his sleep. A carefully combed fringe hid the fading tattoo on his forehead.
"Sit, please." Trevelyan pointed at the seats, dragging over an armchair for herself. Cassandra twitched as usual, but finally took her place on the sofa in a dignified manner, Josephine squatting down next to her. Erasmus took a few steps back and forth, as if it was his first time being in Trevelyan's quarters, and finally fell onto the chaise lounge.
"So, what is it that brings you here?"
"We... have noticed how much of a burden it is to you... your condition after the accident," said Josephine.
Trevelyan glanced at her useless stump and shrugged. "I think we've come to the stage when we can call a spade a spade."
"The loss of your left hand," Josephine supplied, clearly struggling. "We would like to—"
"Not tell me that it interferes with my carrying out my responsibilities, I hope? Because it doesn't."
"Trevelyan." Cassandra cleared her throat. "Let her finish."
"We would like to help you," Josephine carried on. "For a while now we were wondering about the best course of action and we have an offer we want to make you."
"What you're struggling with is called phantom pain," Cassandra added. "And believe me, you are not the only person suffering from it. In my order, there was a brother who lost his entire arm in a fight. He was in a lot of pain from losing the limb in the accident, the kind of pain that grew even stronger when someone would touch the left side of his face or torso. Judging by your behaviour, I would assume you're pained by the same condition."
"That may be," said Trevelyan cautiously. "I need you to realise that I am being supervised by a healer."
"Is the therapy doing any good?" asked Erasmus.
"Sometimes it is, sometimes it's not."
"I have a strong suspicion that you're helping yourself more than he actually helps you."
"That I can't agree with." Trevelyan cleared her throat. "He was of great help to me at the beginning, when it hurt the most."
She opened her mouth to say something else and closed it. When she raised her eyes, she noticed the change on Cassandra's face. The vertical, dangerous wrinkles on her forehead disappeared, and her usually steely eyes turned a shade warmer.
"Trevelyan," she said. "It doesn't have to hurt so much. I know you're strong and you can endure it, but why should you suffer?"
It stroked her ego pleasantly, knowing that Cassandra thought she was strong; after all Cassandra knew all about strength. She swallowed audibly and glanced at Erasmus: his smile wasn't pitiful, but kind, while Josephine looked as if she was on the verge of tears.
"What do you have in mind?" Trevelyan asked.
"We could go to Rivain," Josephine said. "Erasmus says the mages there are different and know magic our mages could only dream of..."
"Like what? They will make my arm grow back?"
Erasmus shook his head. "That they probably can't do," he said. "But they will be able to soothe the pain of the nonexistent limb. And to enchant—"
"Hold on," Cassandra interrupted. "I wrote to Dagna. She said she could design an... alternative hand for you. Such designs already exist, made of metal or wood. The project Dagna came up with could even have joints that could bend, be able to grasp bigger objects. I was very impressed by her plans."
"And our mages would be able to breathe life into this design," Erasmus supplied, sounding excited.
Josephine gave him a stern look. "You went a bit too far with that."
"The Inquisitor used to wield a spirit blade. Such a hand would be but a different sort of an extension of her arm... We would probably need to wait for the right moment, and the thaumaturgic conjugation would be of great importance, but I have no doubts that lyrium could serve as catalyst for ascending and descending forces..."
"Shh." Cassandra raised her hand. "Give her some time to think."
"It all sounds amazing," Trevelyan said, crossing her legs. "But you have to—we have to take into account the possibility that it will all be for nothing. What's done can't be undone. No one can nor will give me back this arm, regardless of how much I miss it."
Normally, she would just fold her arms, but the left one just hung uselessly down her torso, while the right one lay on her thigh. It wasn't until she’d lost her left hand that she finally realised how much the hands really missed the touch of one another.
Cassandra braced her elbows on her knees and leant forward. She had nice hands, strong and capable, used to gesticulating. "Think about it, Trevelyan. Even if half of it proves to be true, it will give you some relief, make things easier for you. All we want to do is help you."
"I'd sooner expect you to still be angry with me," Trevelyan said.
"Who's saying I'm not?" Cassandra unfolded her arms. "But my being angry is about dogmas, mindsets. The fact that I don't agree with you doesn't mean I won't respect your decision. I will... eventually. It also doesn't change the fact that I want to help you."
"So what? I should just up and leave to Rivain?"
"We'll go with you," said Josephine. "We still don't have any diplomatic relations with Rivain, as there are no chantries or monasteries there and they never turned to us for help. And their support will count for something, won't it? Not to mention, knowing where their sympathies lie, they'd sooner look kindly to the Inquisitor than anybody else."
"I have family there," said Erasmus. "I haven't seen them ever since I was a child, since we moved to Antiva, but we exchange letters and would love to finally meet. Especially after what's happened."
"His aunt is a highly respected seer there," Josephine added. "A good person to start our dealings with."
"And who would serve in my place? Cassandra?"
"I will go with you," said Cassandra, the tone of her voice peremptory. "If only to ensure your safety. You'll leave your orders to Cullen and scout Harding will take over the daily command of the hold. The prospective mail you can collect in Dairsmuid."
"It really is a good idea," said Josephine. Erasmus offered a smile.
Trevelyan glanced at her sad stump again and nodded. "Very well then. Let's try."
Maferat's betrayal serves not only as a cautionary tale for the fairer sex, a warning against men’s wickedness. It is also, if not above all, a lesson for us all: that in every man's heart a vile snake can hide. Such a snake, nourished in one's bosom, can live in our neighbour, whose harvest was worse than ours; or in our sister, who cannot bear children; we alone can be too proud, lewd, greedy and jealous in Maferat's image, the same Maferat that begrudged the favours Maker had bestowed upon his Sacred Bride.
Divine bull "If Every Sinner"
"... and it turned out the margrave hanged himself," finished Josephine in a mysterious whisper. "In that very bedroom."
Erasmus arranged his cloak tighter around his shoulders, and Trevelyan twitched even though the night was warm. Ever since they left the mountains, the climate was gradually shifting, starting with shivery evenings in the meadows under the mountains and ending with charming yet brisk summer nights in the north of Ferelden. That day, they stopped by the seaside just outside of Jader, waiting for the ship that was already late. The city was full of merchants coming for the annual horse market, which made camping on the beach seem like a much better idea.
"I am truly a little shaken by this," said Erasmus, turning his head to look over his shoulder. The sea murmured and rippled in the dark of the night.
"Is that a real story?" asked Cassandra, suspicious, the whites of her eyes flashing in the dark.
"What can I tell you? My cousin swore on his life and death that he spent a couple of nights in that manor."
Trevelyan probed at the branches in the fire, sending some sparks flying high in the air. "Who's next, then?"
"I have one, but it may be too scary to tell," said Cassandra, as usual not bothered by modesty. Every one of them immediately protested. "Fine, but do not think I will hold you at night when you're too scared to sleep alone.
"Back in Nevarra, when I was still a little girl, one of our hunters told us a story that made our hair stand on end. It was autumn, late afternoon, and he was following the trail of a wounded deer, deep into the forest. He knew these woods well because he hunted there every day, but that time, the farther he went, the more uneasy it made him feel..."
The way Cassandra was telling the story made Trevelyan think she was repeating it after someone else – her older brother, maybe, or her uncle.
"Finally, he realised that every single bird and bug fell silent, that he was surrounded by thick silence. He went cold from terror, that sort of fear that he had never before felt in his whole life. It was primal and overpowering. As he stood there, in that gradually darkening forest, unable to move because of the fear, he heard the sound of a snapping twig somewhere nearby. Nothing happened for a while, but then, at some distance, he spotted a blurry silhouette. It wasn't the deer though, it looked like a human being, but something was wrong with it."
Cassandra stopped abruptly, her timing unusually right.
"The hunter thought that maybe he ventured too far into somebody else's lands and the owner just wanted to scare him off. So he called out, 'Hello?', because he couldn't think of anything better. And that thing—because with each and every moment he believed less and less that it was a person—called back. He heard the repeated 'hello', just the way he said it, like a question, but uttered in a creaky and scratchy voice, as if it was coming from a throat that didn't belong to a living human being. It broke his paralysis: he turned on his heel and began to run. He ran and ran, until finally, through the trees, he saw a village; much later he swore that for a long time he could hear the crack of broken twigs and dry leaves behind him, and that the next morning he spotted peculiar tracks around his cottage."
"Well… what was it?" asked Erasmus, who could barely stand the suspense anymore.
Cassandra shrugged. "No one knows."
"You were right, I am afraid," admitted Josephine, which caused overall joy.
Before they went to sleep, Trevelyan wrapped her mantle around her and approached the seashore. The waves gently lapped at the beach and somewhere in the distance, the ominous Kirkwall rose high above the surface of the water.
The sand crunched under somebody's shoes. Cassandra appeared next to her. "How do you feel?" she asked, matter-of-factly.
"Depends on what you mean. If it's my frame of mind you're asking about, it's good. If you want to know if the pain subsided, it hasn't."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
Trevelyan glanced at Cassandra. She wasn't wearing her usual armour crafted of rare metals, adorned with the all-seeing eye of the Inquisition, but a simple knight's dress, even lacking the chainmail. They agreed that they should travel in a way that would attract the least attention. The person most difficult to talk out of impractical, expensive outfits was, of course, Josephine.
"Was the story real?" asked Trevelyan, breaking the silence that was about to go on for too long.
"It was for the one who told it."
"Obviously. And for you?"
"It doesn't matter."
"On the contrary," she said with emphasis. "It matters the most. It's a story, by believing in it, you make it real."
"No." Cassandra looked at her as if she was dealing with someone a little dumb. "It either happened, or he made it up. Whatever we think about it doesn't matter."
Trevelyan bravely faced that look head on and raised her eyebrows tellingly, which must have been visible in the dark because Cassandra snorted.
"I really am most impressed that you always manage to have a different opinion than I do, and on any given subject, Inquisitor. Maybe even the water isn't wet if I think it is?"
"I'm sure you could've chosen a less obvious example."
Cassandra offered a short laugh. "All that time I was gone made me forget what you're like."
"Did you miss it?"
Even though the question was meant to be flippant, Cassandra gave it some real thought. "I realised I do better if there's someone to stand up to me. They... the novitiates... were somewhat scared to resist me."
"I'm not really surprised."
"Really? You’ve never had a problem with that."
Cassandra looked at her and Trevelyan went back to that moment in the tavern; it was a fleeting, vague thought, so distant that it only took an unusually loud wave crashing against the shore for it to disappear.
They waited two more days for the ship to come, and another two to transport the goods and replenish their supplies. The journey alone was supposed to take two weeks, which gave Trevelyan a lot of time to think about her plight with no way to distract herself with work. She did send a few letters from Jader, some addressed to the people currently acting in her stead and one to Leliana, but as soon as they left the shore, they lost all contact with the world, literally swimming away from the reforms, opposing parties and Chantry property. Trevelyan was left alone with her loss.
Well, maybe that last part wasn't exactly true. The carrack they rented out had only one cabin to offer to the travellers, and big though it was, it was also common. Sharing that space made Trevelyan realise just how much she had distanced herself from everyone in her quarters atop the tower, reminding her both of the things she liked about her companions and of those she could very well stand to forget, like Josephine's snoring, Cassandra's heavy stomping or Erasmus's chattiness, who simply couldn't refrain from sharing something he had just read. Outside the cabin, Trevelyan was the focus of the crew’s inquisitive looks. They were paid extra not to tell anyone they had the Inquisitor on board, but no amount of money could stop them from looking.
The weather was turning hotter as they passed subsequent city-states of the Marches, and then those of Antiva: Hercynia, Wycome, Salle, Rialto and finally Antiva herself, lit with a thousand lights at night. The carrack stopped in Afsaana to exchange some goods and then turned east towards its goal: Dairsmuid. Trevelyan had never before been so far north; when she was a child, her mother took her on a trip to Antiva – a consolation prize for a girl who was supposed to be sent off to a Circle for the rest of her life and never achieve anything. Contrary to all expectations and promises, Trevelyan was never again allowed to visit her family, and when she finally collected the Order of Saint Hessarian from Divine Victoria, she had been consistently ignoring all letters her relatives kept sending her.
Dairsmuid was located on a shore of white rocks and dark beaches, its harbour swarmed with ships of many different banners. Josephine paid the captain the last lot and sailors carried their luggage to the jetty, which was swarming with deck hands, shellfish vendors, porters and other people whose profession was difficult to guess. It was very loud and hot, much hotter than at sea. Even though everyone had by then reduced their clothing to the absolute minimum, Trevelyan immediately felt her shirt and pants get stuck to her skin. When she looked at Cassandra, the woman was wiping the sweat off her forehead, looking aggravated because of the heat.
Their liaison was waiting for them in a tavern by the clichéd name of 'The Wind Rose'. It was a girl with long straight black hair and almond-shaped eyes. She bore a burn mark on her cheek. Trevelyan could have sworn she had seen her before.
"Inquisitor." She didn't even bow, only nodded slightly. "Esteemed guests. Let me take you to the meeting place. Please follow me, there is a mule waiting outside."
Relieved, they loaded their luggage onto the poor animal and followed the girl through the noisy and incandescent city forged from the same white rock that lurked in the waters just outside the harbour. Erasmus wasted no time in drowning their guide in a flood of questions, reasonably excited because of their journey into the land of his ancestors. Trevelyan mostly listened, overwhelmed by the heat and the flamboyance of everyone around them: the people were either clad head to toe in colourful clothes or, just the opposite, almost naked but covered in tattoos; everyone was dripping with various adornments, ranging from ordinary beads to heavy gold chains around their necks.
The girl led them out of the city and when asked where they were heading, said only, "To the Circle."
Trevelyan shuddered, suddenly realising just what type of attraction the Rivaini seers had prepared for their sake. Judging by Cassandra's stone white face, she had also figured it out. Erasmus' and Josephine's faces didn’t fall until an abandoned, ruined village emerged from behind a hill. It was the annulled Dairsmuid Circle.
Outside the city it was quiet, save for crickets working incessantly in the blinding sun. White walls of dilapidated houses reflected the light in a bone-like fashion; frayed curtains, rags that once used to be laundry hung still in the heat. Even Erasmus fell silent, transfixed with the view of molten walls resembling hardening cake frosting, and holes burnt out in the solid rock, still smoke-black.
In the central square of the village waited two women: one elderly, the other one roughly a couple of years Cassandra's senior. Her striking beauty, so very similar to that of their guide, made her stand out, and Trevelyan realised she must be the girl's mother.
"Erasmo!" she called out upon seeing Erasmus. Right then and there, Trevelyan finally noticed the family resemblance between the two of them.
"It's my aunt Maresol," said Erasmus, spreading his arms. "And my grandmother Brade. I can hardly believe my eyes!"
"Neither can we," said the older one. She had her hair arranged in a long, white braid and wore a simple, navy blue tunic. She was leaning on her staff. "And you brought some interesting guests, too."
"As announced! This here is Inquisitor Trevelyan, Seeker Cassandra and Ambassador Montilyet, here on a diplomatic mission and not only that."
"It's an honour to meet you." Trevelyan gave a deep bow, noticing with the corner of her eye how every Rivaini woman twitched slightly at the word 'seeker'.
"It is for us as well, Inquisitor," said Maresol, the first one to get her bearing back. "Do tell, wouldn't you happen to have some Rivaini ancestors? These looks of yours aren't exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Free Marches."
"It's not the first time I'm hearing this." Trevelyan smiled. "My family neither confirms nor denies, so there may be someone."
"Thank you for the invitation and the reception," said Josephine, sounding excited. "Even though I am from the nearby Antiva, never before have I had the chance to visit this beautiful land."
"Right." Cassandra cleared her throat. "Allow me to ask just why exactly we are starting our tour of this beautiful land in this particular spot?"
"Allow me to answer." Brade took a step forward. "It is because, my dear, this particular spot is the second place we think of when someone mentions the Chantry, and the first one when someone mentions the Seekers. We wanted you to realise just why it is so."
Cassandra lowered her head. "I am well aware of that," she said. "I can only tell you that the last two Lords Seekers ruined my once magnificent order. I witnessed that destruction myself, and am now doing everything in my power to stop it from ever happening again."
Trevelyan was deeply impressed with the restraint Cassandra was showing, and apparently so was Josephine, because she closed her mouth shut and lowered the hand she had just raised. Brade observed them wordlessly, and Erasmus's kept glancing from his relatives to his companions until he finally couldn't take it anymore. "Seeker Cassandra is the noblest person I have ever met in my entire life," he said, placing his hand on his chest. "She took me under her wing back when I was still wandering the world aimlessly, a Tranquil that no one would even look twice at... She helped bring me back. She truly is a mentor, an example to follow. She had nothing to do with the annulment—"
Brade raised her hand and Erasmus fell silent.
"I heard rumours about Seeker Cassandra, and about Inquisitor Trevelyan for that matter. Only, when I heard that the Inquisition now acts under the auspices of the Chantry, I wanted to know the true nature of your intentions and motivations. I suppose it is understandable that, considering what has happened here, we do not think these matters insignificant."
"I completely understand," said Trevelyan. "I would be glad to share our intentions and motivations with you. Sadly, this here... It's not my first time seeing such a place, but it's undoubtedly the worst in terms of the damage done. I am truly sorry it happened to you."
Their guide came over to Maresol and leant into her side. Maresol put an arm about her and ruffled her hair. "Our healers’ help will be given to you regardless," she said. "If only in recognition of your actions for the whole of Thedas."
Josephine let out a breath. Cassandra raised her head – it was difficult to say whether it was anger that made her go red in the face, or the heat.
"For obvious reasons we didn't settle in this place again," Maresol continued. "If you look to the west, over there, you will see two hills just above the coastline. It's Benadolid, our new settlement. Not far from here. Let us head out, you will have some time to yourselves to freshen up after the journey, and afterwards you're all invited to dinner. There are two more mules waiting at the foot of the hill."
As they were leaving the depressing ruins of the Circle, Trevelyan turned her head at the last moment. She supposed that the Rivainis could have probably dealt with the Templars, but they didn't stand a chance when the Seekers came to their aid.
Cassandra was waiting for her at the beginning of the trail. "Trevelyan?"
"Coming." She sighed and started walking towards her. "You took it all surprisingly well."
"I do not share that impression," said Cassandra, her voice dry.
"Did you really think they wouldn't broach the subject?"
"I knew they would, but it didn't cross my mind that they would take us here."
"Maybe it was for the best."
"For the best?" Cassandra stopped and looked at Trevelyan over her shoulder. "What do you mean?
"It gives some things certain perspective," Trevelyan said and squinted, because the sun blinded her temporarily.
Cassandra nodded, but Trevelyan wasn't entirely sure she got it. For someone usually so observant, Cassandra could be very unperceptive, and downright resistant when it came to beliefs distant from the ones she herself held.
There were some weathered stairs engraved in the stone in the steepest part of the trail and Cassandra reached out to her there. Trevelyan automatically outstretched her arm as well, but their hands didn't meet, short of a forearm's length. Luckily, Cassandra was looking the other way at the time.
you can find us on tumblr! pentasassed & blowen-chantren :)
The Canticle of Benedictions praises the champions of the just – and in our mind's eye, doesn’t that infallibly make us see warriors, their swords blazing, facing the corruption and filth? However, one could stand to think whether it is really possible to bring forth peace with a sword. Instead, could we not use the torch of enlightenment to illuminate the dark? Is it truly the warriors resisting the darkness that are the true champions of the just? Or is it a travelling healer, her life devoted to eradicating the filthy sickness that falls upon the common folk?
Sister Flavinia of Avila
"Meditations on the Chant"
"Apart from regular mages, Rivain also has seers," Josephine was saying as she braided her hair. "As far as I'm aware, they only train women. Their communities are usually just big families, clans, most often also with women in charge."
"Like in our Chantry." Cassandra leant against the ledge and looked out the window. "That makes sense."
Trevelyan was struggling with her shoes – it was incredibly difficult to fasten the sandal straps with just one hand. "It is also nothing we didn't already know," she said. "Josie, you must know about other things that may stop us from offending them."
"Hmm... They often serve sweet appetizers and savoury desserts? Their cuisine is a bit different..."
"Oh, I know! Here, they shake their heads for 'yes' and nod for 'no', opposite of what we do."
"And you're telling us this only after the mages and the appetizers?"
"This piece of information does seem crucial," Trevelyan agreed in a strained voice, yanking at her sandals.
"How about you just let me help you?" asked Cassandra, irritated. "I'm sure everyone is waiting for us."
"You'll be of most help if you stop trying to hurry me up all the time."
Cassandra raised her arms defensively. "Fine, fine."
Trevelyan only needed another moment to get it done. Then she stood up gracefully, brushed off her dress – a thin, almost see-through thing she would never ever wear in Ferelden – and shot Cassandra a defiant look. "Done. Lead the way if you're so eager."
She was hoping Cassandra would get lost, but she must have memorised the way, because she led them through the corridors of the palace with ease. The ancient manor stood atop one of the hills overlooking Benadolid, a village perched at the rocky coast of the Rialto Bay. The hill was connected to its twin with a thin and questionably secure suspension bridge, and covered with bushes and olive groves giving way to a few crumbled arches and walls, the remains of a construction bearing distinctive marks of the Tevene architectural design. The amazing, fairy-tale like view from up there made Ostwick and Frostback Mountains seem completely unremarkable.
Every one of them was given a separate, small room equipped with a bed, a cabinet and a folding chair, but just before the dinner they met in Trevelyan's quarters to work out their strategy and get all their information about Rivain in order. What worried Trevelyan the most was how Cassandra would perform, as time and again she had shown a certain deficit in terms of diplomatic skills and thought it a sign of weakness to look for a consensus.
The sumptuous dinner was held in the courtyard, under the stars. Lanterns hanging between the olive trees served as their primary source of light, and the tables, bursting with northern delicacies, were full of Rivaini mages: there was about a dozen women of all ages, bejewelled and dressed in colourful clothes, and only a couple of men, whose outfits made guessing their position rather difficult. Children were running among the trees and the bushes, but all it took was one word from Brade to calm them down and make them sit at the table.
Having exchanged greetings, Trevelyan, Josephine and Cassandra were seated opposite of Erasmus' relatives. Erasmus himself, sitting at the corner of the second table, was sporting a goofy grin.
The feast began with a spicy, tasty soup served cold. Maresol kept asking about their journey and the weather, soon the initial awkwardness gave way to a much homier atmosphere. At some point Brade, who was clearly the spiritual leader of the community, turned her cool gaze towards Trevelyan.
"My dear Inquisitor, if you don't mind, I would like us to return to our previous conversation. We will gladly supply the help of our healers and we are most grateful for bringing our Erasmo back, but the fact that you have just now come here with your advisors is nothing else but an attempt to establish the Inquisition's control over our peninsula."
"If you ask me, that assumption is far-reaching," said Trevelyan, her voice light. "We would like to establish social and, if possible, diplomatic relations, obviously, but the extent of it is completely dependent on you. We make no secret of the fact that we could use some allies."
"Allies?" asked Maresol, putting the spoon away. She sounded surprised. "One could think you have already found your greatest ally. A powerful, monotheistic religion, if you will."
Trevelyan decided to ignore the sarcastic undertone. "The Chantry is both our ally and adversary, a nuisance even," she went on. "Believe me when I say that they mostly put obstacles in our way now that the new Divine was chosen and the reforms – announced."
"It doesn't surprise me that a lot of parties would see it fit to limit the Chantry's influence. Even so, you cannot claim it is limited."
"Or rather, you cannot claim that this is the nature of the problem. What we're dealing with is mostly reluctance regarding the reforms we want to implement."
"Which would be? Little news reaches us here in the north, but I think everyone would find it helpful if you elaborated on that."
"Congregations and convents will open their doors to all races," began Trevelyan, frustrated as always when she had to sum up years of hard work in a few sentences. "The conservative part of the Chantry isn't taking it very well. They think that if the Maker chose Andraste for his Bride, his Chant should be for humankind's ears only. Furthermore, mages are to become fully-fledged members of the community. They will no longer be dependent on the Chantry, and will be granted the same freedom in terms of rights and responsibilities that every faithful enjoys."
"That sounds wonderful, Inquisitor," spoke one of the younger women. "But there's one more thing I'd like to know. Does all this mean you won't bring back the Circles?"
Cassandra twitched, raising her eyes from the bowl of soup. "A new College was founded in Cumberland," she said calmly, "meant to be a place where they could study. No one will obligated to do that, though."
"Does this mean that the Chantry is giving up its control over the people who use magic?"
"Control, yes. But they will offer help. That is why a new congregation was brought to life, and Erasmus is one of its first brothers. To keep it from being associated with the Seekers, we decided to choose Justinia V for our patron—"
"But, if I understand correctly, it will still be an order whose job will be to punish unruly mages? Just as its predecessors did?"
"It is a big and unfair simplification of the Seekers' duties," said Cassandra, her voice steely. "Nevertheless, the Justinians will monitor every possible instance of power abuse, as well as look after the mages."
Maresol nodded and Trevelyan thought back to what Josephine had said just before dinner.
"It makes sense," said Erasmus, who was trying to weigh in for some time now. "I understand you have your reasons to feel suspicious, but I myself am an example that not everyone can manage on their own. I didn't. I couldn't sleep, kept hallucinating, struggling. They made me Tranquil because that was what they did to people who couldn't function properly, and that made me ask myself a question: what else could we do? How to help these people, how to bring them back onto the right track?"
"How many of those Justinians do you have at the moment?"
"That have already taken the vows? Ten. Thrice as much are currently mid-training."
"All of them Andrastians?" asked Maresol innocently.
Cassandra shrugged condescendingly. "Naturally," she said.
"It is time for the main course," said Brade, breaking the ominous silence that followed that exchange. "I am sure our guests haven't satisfied their hunger yet. Idoya, Zena – could you please step into the kitchen?"
A few young women and teenagers stood up together with the girls. Trevelyan watched them with interest for a while, and then looked over at her companions: Josephine had started a conversation with the woman on her right, while Cassandra was staring at her plate, her jaw locked and knee twitching nervously under the table.
"I know you don't like this kind of gatherings," whispered Trevelyan, "but right now everyone else sees it as well."
Cassandra swallowed audibly and closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them again, she was calm.
"I hate it," she mouthed.
"But you have the unique opportunity to change their convictions. This must count for something."
Cassandra didn't look convinced. Josephine leant in from the other side, completely unaware of their exchange. "I think it's going well so far, don't you?"
A moment later tables were bending under the new dishes: thin crumpets seasoned with olive oil, white cheese resembling brined cheese from Ostwick, and some foreign-looking vegetables and fruit. All conversations stopped because everyone started eating. Trevelyan thanked Idoya, who poured her some wine, and took a little sip, thinking about what else she could say and how exactly she should say it.
Just as she expected, Brade spoke up. "I would like us to return to what we've discussed before," she said. "I think our Maresol had her reasons to ask whether everyone in your congregation was Andrastian. It was a simple ploy and one that – I mean no offence – one that Seeker Cassandra easily fell for. It is natural to her that everyone is Andrastian and it is just the sort of approach that really narrows down one's field of vision."
"We were talking about a congregation that serves as the military arm of the Chantry," Cassandra said, calmly putting more bread on her plate. "It should come as no surprise that the knights would be recruited from among the faithful."
"That I do not undermine. I was talking about a wider perspective." Brade looked over the entire length of the table, making it clear that she was encouraging everyone present to weigh in. Trevelyan was impressed. "Our distrust when it comes to the Inquisition stems not only from what had happened to our people in Dairsmuid, but also from the... innate resistance towards all sacral institutions. In other words, we do not wish to change our faith nor do we want any missions. Gods of all faiths know that Tevinter has tried that, as did hoards of Andrastians, and as does the Qun to this day – and we stand, as we always have, by the faith of our ancestors."
"And I respect that greatly," said Trevelyan and meant it. "I act in the interest of all mages, even if under the Chantry's auspices. I have been a member of the Libertarian fraction for a long time, and during the secession, which unfortunately led to war, I voted for disbanding the Circles... Looking at you, here, I—I am somewhat jealous to realise just what my companions’ and my life could have been were we not shackled to begin with."
"Why, then, the Chantry?"
Trevelyan cleared her throat and took a sip of wine, trying to ignore the tingly sensation in her missing arm. "It's a powerful institution," she began, "one that impacts the lives of a lot of people in the South, people like you or me. One that dramatically needs to be reformed if it's to function at all in this brave new world."
"I hate to interrupt, dear friends," said one of the older women, "but the Inquisitor sounds like someone observing the Chantry from afar... an outsider... Not a worried believer, if you know what I mean."
"Your observation is correct," said Trevelyan, aware that she was treading on thin ice now. "Living in the Circle usually leads to losing faith in its very essence, even if it's the system that's mostly to blame. I quickly realised that it is, in fact, faulty, and the only way you can change it is from the inside. To weaken it from the outside, like they tried in Kirkwall, can only result in tragedy. And I really do think that my perspective is highly objective, being a person who doesn't participate in religious practices."
The Rivainis needed a few moments to mull over that statement. Next to Trevelyan, Cassandra was radiating disapproval.
"Touching honesty and a diplomatic answer." The older Rivaini woman smiled with gratitude. "The Inquisitor seems to know what she's doing. If only—"
"If you don't mind, I would like to say something as a person who does participate in such practices," said Cassandra, angrily piercing slices of cucumber with her fork. "I understand all reservations, and, to some extent, even the Inquisitor's aloof approach, but we mustn't forget that the Chantry isn't just a terrifying monstrosity that oppresses freethinking individuals, and looks for heresy everywhere. It's a source of timeless values and a way of life for countless people; it looks after the orphans, the poor and the sick, it helps the weak who need guidance in their lives."
Trevelyan just sat there frozen in place with a polite mask on her face. The tingling sensation in the stump was getting worse with each minute, and now she had a feeling that the aching missing hand was trying to make a fist.
"It isn't just that," said Maresol. "But it was your people who burned that scar into my daughter's face, acting with the Chantry's full support."
Josephine let out a surprised sound and covered her mouth with her hand. Trevelyan found it difficult to avert her gaze from the young Idoya's cheek.
"Not in its full support," said Cassandra through gnashed teeth. "It happened after the Nevarran Accord was declared null, when the Seekers and the Templars seceded from the Chantry. It was an act deserving the highest condemnation, and one that showed why the reforms are necessary. Still, I wouldn't want to call it an evil institution. It is individuals that are corrupted, like Lord Seeker Lucius, and it's individuals who can right that wrong."
In her mind's eye, Trevelyan saw Lucius' head rolling across the courtyard in Caer Oswin. She shivered.
Cassandra's declaration caused no small commotion. Silently, Trevelyan kept her eyes fixed on Brade, who folded her arms and seemed to be considering the situation.
"It is not going that well after all," whispered Josephine on Trevelyan's left. "What do you think?"
"Hold on." Trevelyan put her right hand on Cassandra's forearm, to stop her from going even further into the discussion about Lord Seeker Lambert van Reeves.
At last, Brade raised her eyes to look at Trevelyan. The wrinkles on her face made her look kind, but Trevelyan was somewhat doubtful as to whether the verdict would be made in their favour.
"Easy! We're not vendors in the market, girls. There you go," said Brade. Silence followed after that and she raised her glass. "I would like to raise a toast for our guests and their stay in Benadolid. I do hope it will result in our cooperation. Inquisitor, we will share everything we have during your stay here, but the issue of any other support will need to be discussed further."
"It's understandable." Trevelyan joined the toast. "Thank you. We would be happy to host you on our grounds in the foreseeable future."
When the desserts were served – savoury, just like Josephine told them – she excused herself and left the table. Both the absent arm and the stump went completely numb and Trevelyan retreated into the palace to find a quiet spot where she could catch her breath.
Somehow, Cassandra found her there.
"Is everything all right?" she asked, stopping by the bench where Trevelyan sat.
"Yes, it's nothing to worry about. Today tired me out and I feel like— we didn't even achieve that much. What is it that they are so afraid of?"
She was asking rhetorically, but Cassandra decided to answer the question anyway. "What do you mean? They are afraid that we will invade them. And you gave them a reason for it."
"I did?" Trevelyan snorted and stood up. "And not your ingenious Lord Seeker who wanted to put them in their place?"
"It was a separate incident, and one that is in the past," said Cassandra coolly. "But now that you are here, they are well aware that we can start occupying their lands within a week."
"Why would I want to occupy their lands? That makes no sense."
"And why do you want to invade Emprise du Aur?"
Trevelyan gritted her teeth angrily, to which Cassandra smiled triumphantly and it was exactly that – seeing that smug smirk – that pushed Trevelyan over the edge.
"I do not want to invade Emprise du Aur," she hissed. "I want to break their resistance!"
"It's the same thing, Trevelyan. You would go to war with them because they wouldn't comply with Leliana's will. And yours!"
"I don't get it. Don’t you want the reforms to be implemented? Just a moment ago you were saying they are necessary!"
"They are, but not at any price, and certainly not if it means going to war! Do you know one thing that violence breeds? More violence. It's a vicious circle where no one can win! They can only lose! It's madness!"
When the last word left Cassandra's mouth, Trevelyan realised that they were standing face to face – or rather, forehead to chin in their case – and screaming at one another. She took a deep breath and then a step back.
"I'm far too tired to discuss it now all over again. Think about what you've just said, and we can resume tomorrow."
She marched off, holding the stump with her healthy hand. She had to go back to the table to thank for the dinner and bid goodbye before she retired, but after that the only plans she had included lying in bed and sleeping till morning.
When she was walking through the courtyard back to her quarters, with the corner of her eye she noticed a dark silhouette. Tall, back hunched angrily, hair tossed – it must have been Cassandra, waiting there to get even more of a rise out of her. Trevelyan wasn't planning on giving her the satisfaction and sped up.
The corridor was lit with candelabras. Her own room was located opposite of Cassandra's, so, whether she wanted or not, she could look right inside it when she was closing the door. There, barefoot, stood Cassandra, trying to get out of the doublet she wore to dinner despite the warm evening.
It wasn't until she shut the door that Trevelyan realised that Cassandra could not have possibly reached her room quicker than Trevelyan did. As far as she was aware, there was no other route leading to the living quarters, too. Who could it have been, standing in that entryway – she had no idea.
The dark night of the soul is but the greatest test of every sinner: just as our Lady, the Exalted Andraste, spent her last night in an olive garden, pondering the purpose of spreading the Chant, so do we face our moments of doubt. To live without the Chant seems simple and alluring, but the Maker's absence fills the soul with regret; after all, there is but one way in the darkness and but one purpose of the flame - to burn bright.
Saint John of Churneau
The next morning, young Idoya brought them breakfast and news from the town below.
"Healer Candelaria will be waiting for you in her clinic after breakfast. It's the second house on the right, starting at the foot of the hill."
"Thank you," Trevelyan said, peeking into the basket. Inside, there was bread and a paste smelling strongly of spices. "Could you also point the way to the rookery? I need to write some letters."
"That will be easiest done from the courtyard. Follow me, please."
Trevelyan memorised how to get to the most important places and was about to let her go, when her eyes landed on the burn mark on the girl's cheek. "You were in the Circle too, right?" she asked on an impulse. "You don't have to answer of course, if you don't want to."
"Grandmother says I should get used to it." Idoya looked away. "Yes, I was there with mum. We fought, at first, but when the killing started we hid in the pantry under the floor. They couldn't find us, so they set the whole house on fire and suddenly everything started collapsing— we didn't run because mum said that it's certain death out there. She was right, no one made it except for us."
Trevelyan wanted to make some compassionate gesture, but couldn't settle for any, so eventually she just nodded. Idoya shifted from one leg to the other and walked – or rather, ran – away, and Trevelyan carried the basket to one of the tables standing in the courtyard, having decided that she can eat and write simultaneously. At night she found herself unable to fall asleep, thinking about everything that was happening in the world during her absence, so the letters had to leave Benadolid as soon as they could.
She was so preoccupied by her task, she didn't even notice Cassandra approaching.
"Good morning, Trevelyan." Cassandra sat down next to her, not like a decent human being would, but rather straddling the bench. "Could I have a moment of your time?"
"As soon as I'm done, all right? Help yourself to breakfast, it's for everyone."
Cassandra huffed, discontent, but didn't say anything. Her presence reminded Trevelyan of what she had seen the night before. With the corner of her eye she glanced at her, but promptly came to regret it: Cassandra was dressed for the weather, her sleeveless outfit doing wonders for her bare arms. It made focusing on the letter Trevelyan was writing to Cullen really difficult.
"What is it?" she asked, putting the quill aside. "I assume it's about yesterday?"
"I got carried away for no good reason," Cassandra admitted, leaning forward on her hands. "For that, I apologise."
"I also didn't like it when you suggested that I'm being driven by some authoritarian desire to make everyone do as I wish. It's not that. I calculate and try to choose the option that seems most appropriate."
Cassandra nodded, as apologetic as someone of her kind could get.
"And in that case moving the troops seemed like the best solution. Actually using them is one of the worst and I'm doing all I can to avoid that. These forces are only meant to serve as a bogeyman for the disobedient."
"Did it occur to you that they could take that bogeyman seriously?"
"There are other methods of applying pressure. I suppose you are familiar with all of them."
"Yes." Cassandra nodded, her expression still a bit disgruntled, although she seemed slightly more convinced. "Fair enough."
"I don't want to fight you all the time," said Trevelyan.
Cassandra held her gaze. Trevelyan could hardly believe that people really thought she was cold and distant; there was a fire inside of her, that kind of heat that made one think of a forge. Why did she seem so different here? It had to be the clothes, because until now she had always been completely buttoned up, clad in layers, and now – a constellation of moles on her neckline.
When silence stretched beyond the appropriate, Josephine made a flashy entrance onto the courtyard, grasping dramatically at the walls.
"Looks like someone had fun yesterday." Trevelyan turned away from Cassandra, folding the letter to Cullen. "How are you, Josie?"
Josephine sat down on the opposite side of the table. She kept squinting. "I won't lie," she said, "it is bad. I need to tell you that Erasmus simply cannot be trusted."
"Why is that?" asked Cassandra anxiously.
"He told me everything would be fine, and then he got me drunk with his aunt and uncle present," said Josephine wistfully. "I found out a lot about Rivain, but I'm not sure whether it was worth it."
"It surely was! It was a tactical drunkenness, with the people in charge of this place."
"At least Maresol will like you," added Cassandra, her tone petulant.
"Eat some breakfast and have a glass of juice, you'll feel better soon. I've got to go. Let's meet this afternoon."
Trevelyan gathered her letters and headed for the gate. Cassandra and Josephine started at breakfast; their voices were soon drowned out by crickets and birds inhabiting the hillside. At the bottom of the hill, gentler slopes bloomed with white cottages with colourful roofs and flowery terraces. Kids were running in the narrow streets. The residents recognised Trevelyan for a foreign guest and kept greeting her; she also saw some people from the yesterday's feast.
The healer's house stood in the shadows cast by enormous citrus trees. Trevelyan pushed the door open and stepped inside. There were some herbs and flowers drying in the corridor, and it looked as if no one was home.
"Hello?" she called stupidly, peeking into the first room.
The woman that turned to face her must have been very old because her hair was completely white. Her face, though, didn't bear any signs of ageing.
"The Inquisitor! Please, enter away." Her accent was even more peculiar than that of most of the Rivainis. "I have been told you paid us a visit to get some help. My name is Candelaria and I've been healing ever since I outgrew this table here."
"Thank you, Candelaria. Just to make things clear, I've been looked after by various surgeons and healers, but none of them really knew how to help me."
"Sit down." Candelaria led her to a chair and looked her over. "Please show me your arm. Cut off below the elbow... The shoulder seems alright, I see you can move it. Does the stump hurt?"
"Rarely. The surgeon cut out the tissues that hurt the most and the healer helped to heal the wound. But I can feel this arm all the time and most of the time it hurts horribly."
Candelaria touched her left cheek. Trevelyan hissed.
"The entire left side of the body, yes?"
"Not always. Mostly tender spots, like my cheek or the skin on my neck."
"Just as I thought, your problem is in your head." Candelaria let go of her mutilated arm. "A body is, after all, a unit governed by the head. Not to mention, every human being has a dominating hand and leg, and yours, I take it, is the left one?"
"Yes, I am—I was left-handed."
"Your head doesn't fully comprehend that you lost that arm," continued Candelaria. "So it's telling you that something is amiss. What the eyes see and what the body feels are two different things – and in many ways, too. Close your eyes now and tell me where I'm touching you."
Trevelyan closed her eyes obediently. The workshop smelled strongly of herbs, reminding her of the place the spirit healer from her Circle worked in.
"Right thigh. Left foot... Top of my head. Right thumb. The small of my back. Left hand."
She realised what she had just said and opened her eyes. The healer shook her head. "You feel that, don't you? Our task will be to stop you from thinking that you have two hands. Once your head realises that, the pain will subside. But this is only one thing."
She stopped. Trevelyan tilted her head to the side. "What's the other thing?"
"It is our way to heal completely: both the body and the soul. We assume that even the best healer won't be of much help if the patient's miserable or unstable."
"Maybe that was my problem and the reason why no one could help me?
"Perhaps. Not necessarily. Every person reacts differently to losing their dominant hand. Before we start the treatment, we must establish whether you're not affected by other afflictions. You shouldn't worry, nothing you say here will leave this room – we healers take these matters very seriously!"
When she smiled at her, Trevelyan offered a smile of her own in return without thinking. It was only the beginning: Candelaria conducted a very thorough examination, asking her questions about the way her body behaved, the injuries she suffered and any past illnesses. Trevelyan was both impressed by her professionalism and put at ease by the homey atmosphere of a grandma's house, so much in fact that she almost missed the moment when the healer started asking questions about her sex life.
"How long has it been since your last intercourse?"
"Hmm..." She was so surprised and embarrassed she really had to put some thought into it. "I don't remember. Back in the Circle, I think, before the war."
"Isn't there anyone you fancy? Carnal relations are very healthy, healing even, especially if we're troubled by some reactions of our bodies."
"Somehow nothing's worked out." Trevelyan averted her gaze. Many little jars and pots stood on the counters in the workshop. "I didn't even have time to think about it."
"Then maybe there's someone here that caught your eye? We have a few gentlemen in town that would be glad to keep you company."
"What? No, I don't think so. It's not that I'm embarrassed," she added quickly. "Young men—men in general—don't really interest me that way."
"I'm entirely sure we would manage to find some ladies too." Candelaria seemed completely unfazed. "Here, such friendship is something they could take pride in."
"I'll give it some thought, thank you."
"If you're not interested in casual relationships, I recommend finding some relief on your own." The healer reached inside one of the trunks that were under the table and took out a little sack tied with a red ribbon. "It's also nothing to be ashamed of. Being a woman of the world, I'm sure you've seen such instruments."
A round object made of leather has emerged from the sack. After a momentary consternation, Trevelyan realised she was looking at a phallus. At its base were little handles where straps could be attached; and yes, she did in fact see something like this once in Orlais. The people of Free Marches called that type of sex 'Orlesian love'.
The healer put the phallus back in the bag and handed it to Trevelyan, who smiled, mortified.
"Keep it in mind. A lot will depend on your frame of mind."
"Alright. What's next?"
"The baths, salt springs and a massage – every day for as long as you're here. Come here tomorrow, we'll start exercises with the mirror."
Trevelyan was instructed how to get to the baths and headed out. The sun was high in the sky by then, resulting in enormous heat that caused most of the inhabitants to hide in their homes, and so she waded alone through the streets. She finally realised what it was that seemed so different here than in any other town in Thedas – there was no chantry towering over the rest of the buildings. She raised her head and shielded her eyes – the ruins on the top of the neighbouring hill were almost unnoticeable from down there.
In the baths she met a lot of women from yesterday's feast: they appeared to be the very core of the community of Benadolid, some of them seers that avoided the slaughter, others serving the city in many different ways. All of them, however, were naked as the day they were born and clearly expected Trevelyan to get just as naked, so she quickly complied, leaving her dress by the entrance. At first she wondered why they were gathering in the baths this time of the day, but not anymore – despite the hot water, it was much cooler here than it was outside.
The woman in charge of the baths massaged her thoroughly: first with hot stones, then with her hands and afterwards with some kind of mud that smelled like a damp cellar but was supposed to work wonders on her skin. Beside the massage room, there was also a steam room and pools with saline water that came from the springs located below the twin hills overlooking Benadolid.
Massaged, soaked and rubbed with oil, Trevelyan felt as if it was she, not Erasmus, that came to visit long lost, very hospitable relatives.
Afterwards, the women invited her to dinner, so tasty and sumptuous she barely managed to walk up the hill later. In the courtyard Erasmus was conversing animatedly with Josephine, who looked much better than in the morning.
"—and it wasn't until then that they told me that you have to swim the entire length of the bay. The entire length! If someone throws me into water I'll probably make it to shore, but this is just too much..."
"What happened? Did someone try to drown Erasmus?"
"Turns out local competitions are approaching," explained Josephine, covering herself from the sun with the help of her wide-brimmed hat. "The locals decided to invite the guests so they could test themselves."
"But they forgot to mention it's just… plain madness," added Erasmus, sounding outraged. His face and shoulders were visibly darker from the sun. "First, just imagine, you have to run up a hill on one side and run down the same hill on the other, then run some more into the forest, and all that in that hilly terrain! I didn't even make it to the second hill."
"I take it that's not the end yet."
"It's not. After that, you swim for miles. And during holidays they make a public competition out of it, they measure the time and everything."
Trevelyan looked around. "And where's Cassandra?"
"Still swimming, I think," said Erasmus with a mix of pride and jealousy. "Unless she's finished already. Everyone was very impressed with how fit she is. She wasn't even a bit out of breath in those hills."
Trevelyan couldn't really focus on what he was saying, because she thought she could hear someone singing nearby. "Do you also hear that?"
They both nodded.
"Brade's talking to the spirits," said Josephine. "Call it local folklore."
"I didn't think that was what she meant when she told me she had to consult the others."
They spent the rest of the afternoon discussing cultural barriers and doing a little consulting on their own. Cassandra joined them after some time, wet and steaming with the water of the bay, her hair tousled, damp towel draped across her shoulders. She was very pleased with herself because she managed to make some new connections among the Rivainis training for the upcoming competition.
That evening, back in her quarters, Trevelyan took the little sack out of her bag. The leather penis looked a bit funny, pathetic even, but when she imagined a person she would like to go to bed with wearing it... A shiver went down her spine.
She bolted the door, pulled up her skirt and lay down on the bed. Her imaginary lover had quickly gained a specific face and specific hands that wandered all over Trevelyan's body... paying the most attention to a certain place between her thighs. She got excited quickly, much quicker than usual in such situations. Imagining Cassandra kneeling between her spread knees with that instrument hanging off her hips, she pushed it swiftly inside. Oh yes, Cassandra would take her smoothly and effectively, the way she did everything else, she would be so good at it, as fierce as she was in a fight, she'd fuck her so hard Trevelyan would forget her own name and where she was; she'd make her leave her own body for a moment and stand next to it, just to see how she's clenching her fist on the bed sheet and digging her heels into Cassandra's back.
She came with a loud, shameless moan and took a deep breath. The healer was right. It was relaxing.
Just like a terrified child runs towards her mother to hide beneath her skirt tails, a believer might, too, in a moment of terror, look for consolation in the Chantry. Therefore remember, Mothers and Sisters: doors to the cathedrals must always stay open, for those who doubt, look, and need alike. A closed chantry is but a cold stone, and an empty cathedral is but a silent statue. Remember, it is you who are the flame of enlightenment that rises high in the air, it is you who are water for this barren land: by keeping silent, you close yourselves to the faithful, you close your heart to the unavoidable change. The Chantry must move with the times and keep pace with its supporters.
Encyclical "The Truth and the Light"
The manor the inhabitants of Benadolid hosted their guests in bore evident signs of Tevene technical thought: the baths were not only equipped with bathtubs made of stone, but also showers. Clear water spouted from the fountain standing in the courtyard, brought in by pipes from the very heart of the hill. However, ancient Tevinters that chose this place for their summer residence must have been small in posture, because Cassandra kept complaining that she had to seriously slouch in the shower to actually get wet.
The building, by day charming – its quaint nooks and crannies, and Rivaini floral ornaments a real feast for the eyes – by night turned into a terrifying place full of ominous shadows. The company of enchanted ruins where the seers conjured up the spirits, just on the other side of the bridge, didn't help at all. Josephine must have noticed all that, because she sported the same unsure, miserable expression every evening just before closing the door to her quarters. Trevelyan usually tried to put off the moment of retiring alone, but when it finally came, she took comfort in knowing that Cassandra, known to be a light sleeper, was just across the corridor. It didn't always help, and when it didn't, she would just conjure a magic light and read until she was so tired she fell asleep immediately.
Erasmus quickly moved into Maresol's house at the foot of the hill and Trevelyan suspected that each and every one of them was a bit jealous of that. After a couple of days they were invited there on the occasion of some Rivaini holiday, the name of which didn't ring any bells, and eagerly accepted the invitation. Cassandra seemed a bit nervous, but Trevelyan put it down to her feud with Maresol.
"I'm afraid I won't have anywhere to lay you down," said the hostess right after the greetings were made. Trevelyan tried not to let her disappointment show. "If you don't want to go back at night, I can offer you a place to sleep on the terrace. The nights are warm, and you could look at the stars—"
"Yes, wonderful, thank you," said Trevelyan and Josephine in unison. Cassandra kept the well-practiced, noble, stuck-up expression on her face.
The rest of the night was, luckily, quite uneventful: because it was a holiday, no one dared talk politics, Brade spent a considerable part of the evening letting the guests from the South in on the symbolism behind Rivaini tattoos, while Cassandra enjoyed her popularity among past and present participants in the competition.
"I only ever saw one person who swims like you do," said Costo at some point. He was Maresol's husband, a bald, broad-shouldered fisherman. "It was the Admiral of the pirate fleet in Llewellyn."
The awkward expression on Cassandra's face met with a joyous reaction from the rest of the company.
"Thank you... I guess," she said, her eyes searching for Trevelyan, as if for help.
After the feast, Erasmus and Costo arranged the sleeping mats and blankets on the floor of the terrace. Josephine helped Trevelyan unclasp and take off the jewellery she received as a gift from Antiva, and together they snuggled down on the bedding. Even though they often found themselves sleeping under the open sky, this time there was something different about it: foreign northern stars shone bright over Benadolid, and a distant sound of exotic music could be heard, coming from some homestead by the sea. The amazing smell of the night flowers was overpowering.
"I decided it was a good decision to come here," said Cassandra out of the blue.
"When you became popular with the local strongmen?" asked Trevelyan. "And some pirates?"
"I'm almost certain most of them either used to be or still are pirates," said Cassandra, sounding slightly worried. "Not exactly something you’d call respectable company."
"I'm sure you'll set a good example," said Josephine, trying to untangle the covers she was buried under. "I need to excuse you for a moment. Nature calls."
As soon as the patter of her feet died away, Trevelyan realised just how the atmosphere had changed. It was as if Josephine's presence sanctioned their being together, but with her gone, another mysterious dimension appeared. She glanced at Cassandra out of the corner of her eye. She lay on her back, her hands intertwined on her belly and brows furrowed, eyes fixed somewhere ahead of her.
Whether she wanted it or not, Trevelyan went back to that moment in the tavern. It had been a few days after they had celebrated their success, after numerous banquets, feasts, congratulatory letters, squeezing countless hands and hugging way too many backs for Trevelyan's taste. They had gathered together just to drink some beer and listen to the bard, and after some time it just so happened that only she and Cassandra remained, quite unusually, too, because Cassandra wasn't the type to hit the bottle and was always the first to leave, claiming she had an early morning ahead of her. Meanwhile, it was well after midnight and she was still there, sitting with her arm outstretched across the backrest of the bench, so casual that Trevelyan could feel her fingers brush her shoulder from time to time. Sitting there, so enclosed in Cassandra's personal space, was surprisingly pleasant, and when the bard started singing about sharing warmth on a cold night, it was the easiest thing in the world to imagine that Cassandra could probably supply a great deal of that warmth. It was just as easy to secretly glance at her noble features, the straight line of her jaw and chin, the mole on her neck.
Trevelyan remembered the moment when Cassandra's gaze turned to her face as if it had happened yesterday. In the warm candlelight her hazel eyes seemed warmer and – Trevelyan was sure of that – promising. She felt a lump in her throat and warmth gathering in her underbelly.
After a moment, so eventful and not eventful at all at the same time, Cassandra shook her head minimally and averted her gaze. It was the most subtle rejection that had ever happened to Trevelyan, but hurtful all the same. She grabbed her coat and left, leaving behind her warm place within the reach of Cassandra's arm.
"I'm back!" Josephine's voice interrupted her line of thought. "Did I miss anything?"
"Not at all." Trevelyan moved to stand up, supporting herself clumsily with her right hand. "I need to go, too."
The way to the toilet was horribly dark. Maresol and Costo were fortunately still up, she could hear their muffled voices. Trevelyan decided to follow them and soon made it to her destination.
Her eyes were slowly getting used to the darkness on her way back. In the entryway she almost ran into Cassandra.
"Nature's calling you too?"
Cassandra didn't answer. Instead of the expected feeling of excitement, Trevelyan suddenly felt terrified. "Cassandra?" she asked, her voice uncertain.
Cassandra tilted her head and Trevelyan realised she was looking at someone only vaguely similar: the figure was of a similar height and build, its shoulders broad and legs long, but there was something wrong with its face.
Trevelyan closed her eyes and shook her head, convinced that her mind was playing tricks on her, and when she opened them again, she was alone, the false Cassandra gone. Trevelyan didn't wait for her to reappear – with her only hand she pulled up her skirt and jumped onto the stairs, taking two at a time, which, with her height and in the dark, was no small feat. Panting, she finally reached the terrace. Cassandra and Josephine lay obediently on their respective beddings, talking in hushed voices.
Cassandra, the right one this time, rose on her elbow. "What happened?"
"Nothing. I slipped, that's all." Trevelyan snuggled back down on her sleeping mat. A gentle wind was rocking the blooming branches of the bushes overlooking the terrace. "Whew, it's good to be back."
They didn't sleep long because the sun rose early, but the rhythm of the day in Rivaini climate was different, too: the Rivainis liked to stay up long into the night and nap on hot afternoons. Trevelyan was starting to see the appeal of this idea.
That day, Dagna finally arrived in Benadolid, causing overall curiosity among the locals, who had never before seen a dwarf wearing an Orlesian outfit.
"What an exhausting journey!" she gasped, taking a seat on a bench in the courtyard. "Is it always so hot here?"
"All the time," said Josephine. "We weren't prepared for that either."
"Inquisitor! You look fabulous in that outfit..." Dagna, clearly flustered, was searching for a safe spot to fix her gaze on. Rivaini clothes didn't leave too much to the imagination, so finally she settled for Trevelyan's face. "And you too, Josephine... It's all very flattering."
"We paid the local tailor a visit. It's good to see you, Dagna. We were waiting for you to get that project started."
"Ah. Yes!" Dagna reached into one of her bags. "I already made something. I started working on it right after I saw the Inquisitor after the Exalted Council. I was so upset."
Trevelyan smiled and sat down next to her. "What do you have here?" she asked.
Dagna took an arm out of her bag, or, to be more precise, its equivalent made of metal, a bit angular and clumsy, but leaving no doubt as to the purpose of its existence. Josephine let out a strange sound, and Trevelyan exhaled sharply.
"It's just a prototype," said Dagna quickly. "That's why it's so ugly. I made it during breaks between the classes, of course it will look completely different when it's ready, I already have some ideas how to make it, I just wanted to have some basic model to test them on. Look here, it bends in the wrist and fingers, maybe not on their own but you can grip something with that, a handle or reins for example—"
"And put a glove on," finished Trevelyan, putting the prototype aside. When everyone shot her a questioning look, she added, "To stop people from staring when I go out to buy some bread."
"Won't such an arm be too heavy for the Inquisitor?"
"Like I said, I have something else in mind, more of an openwork design. But such arms are used by knights who lost their limbs in a fight, for example. I studied some drawings—"
"Such an arm could most certainly be used in a fight," said Trevelyan. "To parry. Or to hit someone. You could knock out a lot of teeth with that thing."
"I didn't think about that." Dagna frowned. "But yes, certainly. You attach it with these straps and belts, but it's uncomfortable and irritates the skin. I came up with something else, would be glad to show it to you—"
Josephine nipped that idea in the bud. "How about after dinner? We need to introduce you to everyone and ask for access to a good forge."
"It would be best." Trevelyan moved to stand up and brushed off her skirt. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to finish something."
She went back to her room, where letters from Cullen and Leliana lay open. They arrived yesterday and she spent all afternoon hunched over them.
She had managed to forget that the goal of this trip was, after all, to make that artificial limb for her, and not only to relieve her from pain, which, by the way, was going very well. She looked at her stump as she sat down. It was hard to imagine that it would ever again end with a hand grasping something as fragile as a quill, but she would be happy to at least have that metal fist, if only to open the doors with it or bang it against the table in moments that called for it.
That last thing she felt like doing very much, because both Leliana and Cullen wrote about resistance they met in Emprise du Aur. In my estimation there is no chance to reach an agreement – announced Cullen, while the Divine wrote about reluctance to change stemming from the actions of some conservative organisation, a sect even, because her spies claimed the resistance was organised. Trevelyan's arm itched just thinking about it, no, her whole body itched as she imagined all these mutinous clerics and templars preaching hatred towards mages and contempt for the new Divine, but Cassandra was, sadly, right. It wasn't a black-and-white issue with a simple solution of sending troops to put fear into some people.
She raised her head to look out the window into the courtyard. Josephine was showing Dagna around, pointing out the most important places in the neighbourhood; after a moment they disappeared from her line of sight, but entered into her earshot: Josephine directed Dagna towards a room next to her own, skilfully evading the subject of the eerie transformation the manor underwent each night.
Thinking about night made Trevelyan go back to the incidents she had experienced. The first one she could dismiss as a mere illusion in foreign surroundings courtesy of her tired eyes, but the second, and in a different place at that, had given it all a kind of ominous significance. If one of the local mages wanted to scare Cassandra using her doppelganger, they had already failed twice – or maybe the doppelganger was dumb and mistakenly haunted Trevelyan instead of her? On the other hand, even if Cassandra experienced such haunting, she wouldn't have admitted that to anyone, anyway. She spent a lot of time meticulously cultivating her image of a down-to-earth person in possession of great common sense.
As if from thin air, Cassandra appeared in the courtyard – she marched across its length, her fists clenched and a towel thrown across her shoulders. A moment later, the door to her room slammed so hard it made the old walls shake.
Trevelyan carefully folded and hid the letters. She needed to sleep on it, to get rid of that anger before she could do anything more about it.
"Inquisitor!" Josephine peeked inside her room. "We're heading to the beach before dinner, would you like to join us?"
"Why not. Let me just grab my hat."
The seaside was so beautiful, it made it easy to forget about political schemes in distant lands. Dagna was the first to take off her shoes and go into the sea, but all it took was a single wave to almost completely drench her in water. Josephine hitched up her skirts to avoid getting them wet and, giggling, followed into Dagna's footsteps. Trevelyan sat down on the black sand and looked at the sky. The sunset was overwhelming, pinkish and frayed as an old pillow. It had been a long time since she last saw something like this.
Dinner went well: Trevelyan proudly mentioned the progress Candelaria and she made in the healing process, taking the time to also praise the beauty treatments she was being subjected to, to which Josephine could attest as well. Erasmus went on a bit too long about his discoveries into magical practices, while Cassandra mostly sat silently with her eyes fixed on the table. Finally, everyone went their separate ways.
Just when Erasmus's relatives were about to leave, Maresol pulled Trevelyan aside.
"Please, don't take it the wrong way," she said in a tone older enchanters used to scare the adepts, "but I would like you to talk to Seeker Cassandra."
Various horrible scenes appeared before Trevelyan's eyes. "What happened?"
"Nothing that can't be undone." Maresol fixed her hair, probably to make the conversation seem more noncommittal. "She was talking to Idoya and Costo about the Chant of Light, which in itself isn't wrong, but I got the impression that it wasn't really... an academic discussion, but rather—"
"Preaching," finished Trevelyan. She sighed deeply. "I'll talk to her. Forgive me."
"That's okay. Surely though, you understand why this isn't exactly appropriate for my daughter. All that burning at the stake and sword stabbing..."
"I do, I do. We're used to it because we've been fed this ever since we were kids. Thank you for telling me. Your friendship is very dear to me and I wouldn't have something like this come between us."
"Think nothing of it, Inquisitor. Thank you."
Before she left to head for the guest wing, Trevelyan nodded respectfully to everyone to bid them goodbye. Josephine and Dagna stayed back to finish off their wine, but that actually worked in her favour.
She entered the corridor and knocked on Cassandra's door. It was ajar.
Cassandra sat on the bed with her back against the wall, reading a letter. She folded it upon seeing Trevelyan.
"I wanted to have a word with you," said Trevelyan, taking a seat opposite of her, by the desk.
Cassandra frowned. "What is it?"
"It's Maresol. She told me you talked to her daughter and husband about the Chant of Light."
"What of it?"
Trevelyan felt the first sting of anger, but didn't let it surface. She smiled.
"She told me she didn't appreciate it. They have their own religion and we need to respect that."
"Religion? Somehow I see no chantries here."
"They don't meet in the chantries, you're right, but they celebrate their holidays and believe in the higher order. It doesn't mean they are lacking something, or that they should hear about Andraste."
"Quite the contrary. They should hear about Andraste if they haven't had the chance yet."
Trevelyan shook her head. "I know that you were probably thinking you'd erase their bad experiences with the Chantry with the help of the Chant. But I don't think that is going to happen. To them, it has some nasty connotations, and for a reason."
"I wanted to replace those connotations with good ones." Cassandra straightened up, her expression resentful. "Surely that's not a sin?"
"It surely isn't. But it is a faux pas. That's why I wanted to ask you not to do it anymore."
Trevelyan nodded, patted her knee and stood up to leave, but Cassandra's hurt, anguished tone didn't let her. She turned around, one hand braced on her hip.
"It won't kill you to, for once in your life, do something you don't want to do."
She regretted it when she saw Cassandra's fleeting offended expression, the kind that suggested it wasn't a mere blow to her pride, but something personal, delicate.
"It probably won't. But it's a matter of values, something you probably wouldn't understand."
"Quite the contrary," protested Trevelyan. "I do understand. But sometimes you need to adapt. And this is one of those situations."
"When did you become so cynical?"
"Become?" The question took Trevelyan by surprise. "I’ve always been cynical. It's hard, for a person like myself, to go through life with your delusions and convictions intact. All the more reason why I need someone like you, someone guided by their values."
"And delusions," added Cassandra, somewhat ironically.
"That too. Contrary to what you may think because of our occasional quarrels... I respect your sense of ethics very much, Cassandra."
She meet her gaze. It was strange to look at Cassandra, so tall, from above, but satisfying, too, as if she had just beaten her.
She must have let something appear on her face, because Cassandra lowered her eyes, not in a gesture of submission though, but to slide them down Trevelyan's entire body, with particular focus on her cleavage and the slit in her dress, the latest Rivaini fashion, that showed off her thigh.
It was hard to take it for anything else than the obvious thing it suggested, and Trevelyan felt a wave of heat come over her. Before she could say anything, however, Cassandra turned to her side.
"We should both get some rest. Good night, Laura."
"Good night, Cassandra."
She stepped out into the corridor and leant against the cold wall, letting out the air she'd been holding in that whole time.
We tend to dismiss matters of the heart as trivial, favouring over them the issues of faith, riches, crafts or war – whichever is our domain. However, the Chant of Light teaches us something else: that the Exalted Andraste taking Maferat for her husband was the ultimate choice, and the love they shared – a matter so private, one could think – played an inalienable part in our saviour's dramatic fate. If it had not been Maferat who succumbed to his weakness and betrayed Our Lady, another man would have come to fulfil the role designed by the Maker, but from a broader perspective this does not seem coincidental. Those closest to us are those who hurt us the most, and love is but a thing of utmost importance in our lives.
Sister Theohilda of Mathes, thinker of the Chantry
"Is she doing that again?" Josephine looked out the window cautiously.
"I think so." Wild singing and cries could be heard from the other hill, accompanied by other strange noises, as if someone was throwing pots around. "Though sometimes it's hard to say. Brade never invited me to a séance, and I don't want to seem nosy."
"Naturally." Josephine shut the window. "Are you almost ready?"
"Yes." Trevelyan fastened the last strap of her sandal. "Let's go."
She was sluggish and sleepy after her afternoon nap and a morning visit to the beach in the blazing sun. If it wasn't for a message Dagna sent, she would have probably stayed in the comfort of her relatively cool room, but here they were, about to leave on a hot, humid evening. Sunset lay in a pink line above the surface of the sea, overlooked by the dark blue dome of the sky.
"It's so beautiful here," Josephine said aloud what Trevelyan had only just thought. "A perfect place to fall in love!"
"Josie." Trevelyan took her by the arm. "Are you thinking of someone in particular?"
"I saw that young sailor at Maresol's party. He saw you too."
"He's much younger than me," admitted Josephine.
"It's not an issue, is it? By the way, it looks like we're in luck."
They reached the main square of Benadolid, which offered view of the Rialto Bay. Male voices and sloshing sounds coming from the beach echoed through the air as dark silhouettes were coming out of the sea, wrestling and nudging each other.
"They were practicing before tomorrow. How about you go there to wish him luck?" Trevelyan nudged Josephine subtly in the direction of the beach. "I'll find my way."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course. Go, go. An evening like this..."
Josephine hitched up her skirts and ran towards the sea. She slowed down a bit and wobbled when her feet first stepped onto the sand, but soon regained her balance. Trevelyan turned back and slowly went on her way. The town's main street had palm trees planted on both sides, swaying gently with the wind. A lot of lights were lit, as people were either sitting down to have supper or preparing for tomorrow's celebration.
A tall shadow emerged from between the palm trees and Trevelyan froze.
"Good evening," said Cassandra, as it was she. "What are you doing here alone, Inquisitor?"
"Going to visit Dagna." Trevelyan exhaled with relief, but felt a chill run down her spine all the same. "I'm supposed to try on some prototype. She insisted, supposedly it can't wait until morning."
"Let me walk with you." Cassandra matched her steps to Trevelyan's. Her hair was wet and she smelled of the sea. She was barefoot, but walked as if wearing a pair of boots. "Admiring my web foot?"
"No?" Trevelyan tore her eyes away from Cassandra's feet. "What web foot?"
"I'm kidding. My brother had that," said Cassandra lightly. "We used to call him 'Merman', but he was no swimmer. Amazing equestrian, though."
Cassandra rarely spoke of her brother, and if she did, it was never that casual. Trevelyan made sure for the last time that there really was no web foot, and raised her gaze to look Cassandra in the eyes.
"Are you going to win this competition?"
"Do you think so? They might have some respect for me, but they never stop testing me." Cassandra folded her arms. "They know that I am neither the strongest nor the fastest one among them. They keep outrunning me, leaving me behind. That one time, imagine, we were running in the dark and suddenly the whole group started passing me. They left me completely alone on those rocks just outside the city. I think they wanted to frighten me."
"What did you do?"
"When I concentrated, I heard a jingling noise. It was the fastenings of their sandals. I followed that sound."
Trevelyan smiled, thinking about cunning Cassandra running after a group of bumptious pirates in the dead of night.
"But you do stand a chance, don’t you?"
"I do. It's a test of endurance, and I'm good at enduring."
"Oh, that I don't doubt."
They stopped in front of the entrance to the forge courtyard. A blooming hibiscus bush hung over the gate.
"I like the way you wear your hair now." Cassandra cleared her throat. "I mean, you've always looked pretty, with those braids, for example, but this is something different."
"It is?" Trevelyan reflexively raised her hand to her hair. "I just simply stopped styling them. Mother always said it looked like a mop, but when I lost my hand... somehow I didn't feel like making an effort to control it anymore."
"You look wonderful, Inquisitor."
The 'Inquisitor' at the end seemed so forced, it took Trevelyan away from that evening under the blooming hibiscus to the previous one, and the one before that, all the way to that night in the tavern, when she had stood up and left, leaving Cassandra all alone. Trevelyan preferred facts over impressions, that one was true; she also didn't have problems with differentiating between the two and now, a new fact had emerged, clear as a day: Cassandra, whether consciously or not, was interested in her.
"Dagna is waiting," she said, purposely ignoring the compliment, and storing the fact safely for later.
Dagna established her workshop in the forge of a blacksmith who was taken by the sea a long time ago. His widow was clearly looking for a new husband and seemed surprised when the Inquisition's renowned crafter turned out to be a girl; still, she spared no expense in terms of hospitability. Despite the late hour, the widow's children were watching with interest as the Inquisition's agents worked.
"Inquisitor, Cassandra, I know it's late." Upon seeing them, Dagna jumped off the high chair that made it possible for her to work at the desk made with humans in mind. "But I have to, simply have to check if we're on the right track. Erasmus—"
Erasmus entered the kitchen, carrying a bowl full of clean water.
"Inquisitor, I am very excited with what we've done here." He put the bowl down and rubbed his hands together. "Sit, please, and let the first fitting commence."
Trevelyan tentatively sat on the chair. Dagna tightened something with one tool, made a creaking sound with another and finally took a complicated, openwork construction out of the vice. On one end it had a leather harness, on the other – a metal hand. The hand was clearly unfinished: its fingers lacked joints and wires stuck out of the wrist.
"It's silverite," explained Dagna. "Light but endurable. We wouldn't want that arm to weigh on you."
Dagna easily installed the prosthetic on the stump. It was quite comfortable to wear, but soon made it apparent just how weak Trevelyan's left arm had gotten, even despite the exercises recommended by the healer: she had to help herself with her right hand to raise the left above her head.
"How is it?"
"Good. Comfortable, even. But I'd have to get used to it."
"Of course, of course. It's not an easy change. The harness can be adjusted—"
Dagna began to fiddle with the clasps holding the prosthetic in place. Cassandra was watching them from a safe distance with an unreadable expression on her face.
"How about we try to move it?" suggested Erasmus.
"We may try, but I can't promise anything. Ever since it happened, nothing is the same when it comes to enchanting. Even my fireballs fly off course."
Dagna giggles, but Erasmus remained serious. "Well?"
"Fine, let's try."
"One more thing then." He unclasped a lyrium vial from his belt and poured its contents into a small valve located at the top of the prosthetic. "It will power our mechanism. Isolated cords run through its entire length. Truly remarkable, Dagna."
Dagna waved her hand dismissively. "My grandpa has been making these for ages."
"Alright then." Trevelyan stood up and loosened her shoulders. "Give me a moment. And some space, too."
She looked at the prosthetic hanging limply at her side, then took a step back and swung, just like the Grand Enchanter taught her. Nothing came out of it, because for the spell to work she had to make a fist, and her own arm ended just below the elbow. She did it again, trying to imagine she's using that metal, attached fist, but the lyrium only sparked briefly and went out.
"A little help?" Erasmus was immediately at her side, polite and eager to a fault. It made her want to grit her teeth. "The Veil will resist less if there are two people."
Cassandra rolled her eyes and made a face. Erasmus didn't pay her much attention: he breathed hot air onto his hands, rubbed them together and outstretched one towards Trevelyan. Dagna made the kids and herself back away to a safe distance.
They worked in tandem: a step back and a swing, except that a lucent blade shot out of Eramus's fist, while Trevelyan just punched her thigh painfully with the metal arm.
"Are you okay, Inquisitor?" Dagna immediately went to her side. "It had to hurt..."
"Nonsense." Trevelyan massaged the hurting spot with her other hand. "But, as you can see, it's all for nothing. I just can't do it."
"It's a matter of time," Erasmus assured her. "How about we try again together tomorrow, without the prosthetic and the unnecessary audience?"
"I don't know who you're calling unnecessary," said Cassandra from her corner and somehow, it made Trevelyan feel slightly less awful.
"We may. All right." Trevelyan yanked at the clasps. "I have no idea how effective it'll be, but let's try."
Dagna helped her take the prosthetic off. The failure had disappointed her, but she tried not to let it show. Trevelyan didn't feel like cheering her up – she left it to Erasmus, offered a curt goodbye and left.
Cassandra walked her back to the palace atop the hill, remaining silent in a way so stoic and unassuming as only she could.
"Thank you," said Trevelyan when they reached their destination. "I was afraid you would try to cheer me up and I really have had enough of it, that empty talk about how it'll all get better."
"I was only going to offer to become your Left Hand," said Cassandra in a tone so dry it must have been a joke. "But I refrained."
"Good one. Thank you. Still, I'd prefer to have my own. To not have to count on you to protect me, or while fighting some villains. You know."
Cassandra smiled warmly and took a step forward, which brought her much closer to Trevelyan. There it was again: that feeling of closeness, intimacy she clearly strived for.
"Do you think you'll ever do that again?" Cassandra asked, frowning. "Aren't the days of running after templars in the desert past us now?"
"I'd like to be ready if the situation arose. Like your knights. Like Erasmus. Does it bother you, him being a mage?"
"Bother me?" Cassandra sounded surprised. "No, I simply forget about it. Why do you ask?"
"I saw the face you made."
"It's because of the Veil magic. I get shivers going up my spine each time you mess with it."
"You're sensitive to the dissonance."
"I guess so." Cassandra shifted from one foot to the other. "You did it again."
"Changed the subject."
"I was just wondering, that's all."
It was funny how Cassandra could be an open book sometimes: like in that moment, nonplussed and suspicious at the same time, trying to guess what Trevelyan was getting at.
However, before the situation could evolve in any direction, the corridor was filled with pearly laughter, soon followed by Josephine, affected by alcohol and higher emotions.
"I see you had fun, Josie." Trevelyan took a step back to let her pass.
"Indeed I did." Josephine twirled around, her skirts swishing. "He invited me to tomorrow's celebration. Oh, Inquisitor, is it even appropriate to consort with Rivaini youths?"
"It definitely is." Trevelyan shrugged. "I'd even say it's advisable, here. What with establishing good relations and all."
"The time is late," muttered Cassandra. "If you'll excuse me, I'll go get some rest. Good night."
Trevelyan talked to Josie for a couple more minutes, after which she also retreated to her room. She took off her sandals and lay down on her bed to think. She had always found the horizontal position to be best when it came to thinking.
Cassandra had never seemed like a person openly interested in carnal relations of any kind... Except for that one moment, unanimously deemed an accident by both of them, nothing more than a mistake of two bodies yearning to be touched. Cassandra had left soon afterwards, depriving it of any further context.
Trevelyan didn't speak about it to anyone, even to her greatest confidant, Dorian Pavus. There was no reason to blow it out of proportion. Cassandra seemed to be completely above such things, even if, at the same time, she remained an inadvertently sensual person. She attracted attention, all buttoned up and clad in her armour, much more impressive than curvy Josie who, naked, looked like a woman taken straight out from Antivan paintings. It was, after all, Cassandra who, from time to time played the leading role in Trevelyan's innocent fantasies.
Thinking about Pavus reminded her of letters, and those – of Emprise du Aur. She stood up with a sigh and sat at her desk.
She stared dumbly at the piece of paper for a while, when it finally hit her.
About the situation in Emprise du Aur – why don't we make use of our presence in that region, she added under a paragraph about her health and the progress she was making with therapy. And I don't mean military–, but education–wise. Let's send out smartest people to cathedrals posing as faithful, let's make them spread the news about the reforms directly to the Sisters and the believers. If the Mothers are smart enough, they'll see which way the wind blows. The Chantry is, after all, something more than just buildings and Grand Clerics.
She put the final dot, set the quill aside and went to sleep.
The entire next day was spent celebrating the Sea Day, for which the Rivainis spared no expenses. It began with the grand opening and a fair, the guests' participation was absolutely mandatory, as they had to try every single delicacy Benadolid had to offer. After that, Trevelyan managed to run off to the rookery to send her letters. She got back just in time to see the competition start.
The starting line was marked out in the market square, and the beginning of the track ran through the crevice between the hills overlooking the town. The participants stood together in an anxious, sweaty crowd, all of them wearing the same white outfit, tightened in the waist by a belt. There were a few women present. Cassandra's height and stature made her stand out among the rest.
When Brade gave her mark, they rushed off, some running, others trotting. Josephine cheered for her young sailor who quickly took the lead. Cassandra was somewhere in the middle of the group, at least until she disappeared between the buildings.
The further part of the celebrations had them participating in a glamorous procession with flowery posts and branches, which later evolved into a bizarre performance during which feasters had to hit the target with turnips. The first ones to throw the turnip were of course Trevelyan and Josephine – the former clumsy with her only hand, the latter off-target with her right one. Even though the meaning of the tradition remained unclear, the Rivainis kept laughing until they could barely breathe.
After that particular element of the feast they bumped into Erasmus at the table with refreshments.
"How are you doing?" he called from the other side, trying to outshout the band playing lively Rivaini songs.
"I don't really know what this is about, but other than that all right." Trevelyan leant over the table. "You didn't want to participate in the competition?"
"As they say in Ferelden, I'm as weak as a kitten compared to that lot," he said. "It's all very exhausting," he added after a moment.
"Finally, someone said that," said Josephine, stealthily wiping the sweat off her forehead.
"Do you know how much longer it's going to last?" asked Trevelyan, hoping that not much.
"Long into the night," said Erasmus, also not really thrilled with that perspective. Being Maresol's nephew, he had to participate in both backstage preparations and the official celebration. "They still have to honour the winners of the competition and open this year's wine barrels."
Trevelyan had never thought that she would ever consider opening wine barrels unappealing, and one glance at Josephine revealed she was similarly conflicted. All that eating, noise, running around the town and turnip throwing in the heat was exhausting, so as soon as the locals stopped paying attention to them, they glanced at each other meaningfully and ran off to the beach, taking one of the palm tree umbrellas with them. There they napped, until they were woken up by the voices of the feasters coming to the beach to welcome the first contestants.
In the azure blue water of the bay the participants' heads could be seen, swimming steadily forward. It was hard to tell them apart from such distance, but each moment had them closer to the shore, and there were only a few of them in the vanguard.
The Rivainis had drawn the finish line in the sand and took their place behind it, some of them holding flower crowns and water pitchers. Trevelyan pushed through the crowd and stopped at the shore, steadily washed with gentle waves. She wanted to have a better vantage point, but the sun reflected in the waters of the bay blinded her temporarily.
The first swimmer reached the shallows, got out of the water with a splash and ran towards the finish line on all fours. Trevelyan didn't know him, but judging by the shouting, he must have been quite popular. Behind him, another contestant was clambering up in the waves and that one, Trevelyan knew: it was Cassandra, whose little braid slipped out from the crown it usually formed around her head and was now resting on her neck. She got out onto the shore and rushed towards the finish line with more dignity than her predecessor. The crowd surrounded her joyously, cheering and congratulating.
Trevelyan hitched up her wet dress and pushed her way through the crowd, looking for the winners. They were being rubbed with towels and given cool water to drink.
"Wasn't it supposed to be a real struggle to win this thing?" she asked when Cassandra stopped drinking.
"I never said that." Cassandra wiped her mouth with her hand. "Only that they're testing me."
"The second place. Very strategic of you."
"I have no idea what you mean," she said evasively, but Trevelyan knew how to read that voice.
"Really well played."
"Thank you. And now, let us go to that feast."
Cassandra offered Trevelyan her arm, and Trevelyan took it with levity and optimism of a person who had no idea just how long, difficult and eventful the upcoming night would prove to be.
The Chantry needs not wars, nor battles, nor enemies; the Chantry needs something else – to open itself to love, whether it's brotherly love or the love of virtue. As it is, for too long it has remained closed to that love – calling others nonhumans, apostates or abominations, depriving them of their freedom, dignity or rights – including the right to love. Indeed, mages were even told that they should abstain from forming relationships among themselves, that they should avoid getting attached to each other, and specifically – that they should never even consider having children, as not to transfer their curse onto the next generations. What curse? Mages are, after all, those who protect us from the nightmares of the Fade, just like the Inquisitor saved us from Corypheus' terror. Where would we stand now had she never been born in the first place?
Divine Victoria's proclamation during the inaugural mass in the Grand Cathedral
If Trevelyan was right in her suspicion that Cassandra let that young Rivaini boy win in the last stage of the race, it truly was a tactical move on her part. It turned out that after dusk the champion had to carry Brade, the highest priestess, to the very top of the temple hill, marching, naturally, at the head of a long, colourful, loud and drunker-by-the-minute procession.
Trevelyan enjoyed an honourable place at the front of the cavalcade. When she entered the temple, everything that had troubled her until then disappeared: her disability, lack of physical and magical fitness, politics, the threat of a new war, the issue of reforms – all that went away, replaced by carelessness and pure awe. The hill was grown wild with a tropical, blooming garden surrounding the ruins of the old Tevene sanctuary. The Rivainis let plants topple over walls and grow into sidewalks; in the dark, the visitors had to be careful to avoid protruding roots and low hanging branches. Unlike the palace on the twin hill, the temple wasn't at all disturbing, even considering just how thin the Veil was over there: everything seemed warm and inviting, like a kitchen where a grandma had just taken a freshly baked pie out of the oven.
The Rivainis uncorked the last remaining wine barrels, and the musicians attuned their instruments and started playing. Trevelyan let herself go with the flow: there was dancing, a lot of incomprehensible toasts, unfamiliar songs, some more dancing, Cassandra's handsome face veiled in darkness, Rivaini sailors, Rivaini girls. She realised the celebrations were coming to an end when she was left practically alone with the musicians. Everyone wandered off into the darkness, holding on to bottles, pitchers or other people: Josephine sat in her sailor's embrace, Maresol sneaked past her with Costo, and she even saw a glimpse of Erasmus in the bushes, accompanied by a girl that had participated in the competition.
"Let me walk you back." Cassandra emerged from the shadows on her right. "We should go."
"Yes." Trevelyan staggered slightly and had to hold on to Cassandra's arm to regain her balance. "I think it's time."
Cassandra confidently started towards the bridge. Trevelyan, tired and drunk, followed in her footsteps; when she saw the delicate construction connecting the rocky slopes of the hills, she came to a halt.
"I don't know if I want to go this way."
"Come on, I'll give you a hand. We'll cross it together."
Pouting like a child, Trevelyan accepted the outstretched hand. The suspension bridge swayed in the wind coming from the sea, bending slightly when Cassandra stepped onto it. The darkness made it impossible to see the bottom, though perhaps it was for the best. Trevelyan gripped Cassandra's hand tight and, eyes fixed on her back, crossed to the other side – her heart in her mouth all that time.
The weather changed: a strong wind started to blow, causing the leaves of the palm trees to swish ominously, and the stars hid behind the clouds. Ahead of them, in an even, dark shape rose the palace. That day, no one came to lit the candelabras or torches.
"It was an interesting day," said Trevelyan, because she felt she had to say something. "We wouldn't have experienced something like this in Skyhold."
"You're right. I'm very impressed that such people have such interesting traditions."
"Such people?" asked Trevelyan, her voice dangerously low.
"Well, pagans," explained Cassandra, clearly not picking up on anything. "Simple folk. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I just didn't expect—"
"—them to live the way we do, or the people in Orlais, or in Antiva? Just because they didn't switch over to our religion?"
Cassandra furrowed her brows suspiciously. "You're making it personal for no reason and I, as usual, just can't find the proper words. I meant that this culture is foreign to us, and that while you could expect the Antivans to celebrate Saint Elianna—"
"—The Rivaini barbarians celebrate the Sea Day instead? Not to mention, in ways very similar to how it would be celebrated in the Orlesian country, maybe except for those turnips."
"Trevelyan, you know perfectly well what I meant," said Cassandra, crossing her arms on her chest. "It's not my fault that sometimes I phrase it wrong, and you go about adding a whole back story to that."
"I don't need to add anything, the way you talk about them is enough. No one came to enlighten them, and that makes it so strange, the fact that they have their own culture and outhouses. But, you know what? They didn't miss out on much."
"You're tired. Let's leave it at that."
"No." Trevelyan was already on edge and the offer only made her angrier. "You'll be exactly the same tomorrow!"
"I don't understand what it is that you want from me, Trevelyan."
"I want you to stop pretending that being Andrastian is the best thing that could ever happen to anyone. Because it's not, not for everyone. And these people here, they have learned that the hard way."
Her voice got stuck in her throat and she felt angry at herself for letting herself be goaded so quickly. Cassandra's expression turned stony.
"Ah, so we're back to that. For some reason you still think I had something to do with that. Well, I didn't. Whatever it is that's telling you to blame all the Chantry's sins on me... it is something inside you. And it's something ugly."
That was the final straw. Trevelyan took a small step back, just as if she was dancing gavotte, and swung with her right arm. Cassandra didn't have the slightest problem with anticipating that and calmly, nonchalantly even, caught Trevelyan’s hand by the wrist. Trevelyan didn't have another one to hit her from the other side, so she just fumbled desperately, but Cassandra's grip was firm. She was looking down on her with a mix of pity and defiance, and it made Trevelyan's blood boil.
"Leave me alone!"
"You leave me alone. Why do you always go on and on about it? Don't you know the answer already?"
"Maybe I'm hoping you'll finally get some sense knocked into that thick skull of yours!"
"It seems like someone else here could use some sense."
There was this element in Trevelyan that made her like doing things just to spite people, turning to definitive measures of the kind that everyone else shied away from. She wasn't particularly proud of it, but she couldn't deny it either. In that very moment, the most rebellious and unpredictable part of her decided to use that snippet of knowledge about Cassandra she normally wouldn't have even considered just a few days ago.
Standing on her toes, she pressed her lips against Cassandra's.
For a moment there nothing happened: Cassandra held on to her wrist, baffled, blowing hot air through her nostrils, but then a powerful shiver, a full body tremor, ran through her, completely changing the appearance of the whole scene. She grabbed Trevelyan by the waist, bent down just enough to angle them in a way that turned innocent lip contact into something excitingly new, and kissed her the way a prince would – or better even, the way a handsome rascal kissed princesses in Varric's naughtiest novels.
Trevelyan let herself get carried away and it was truly epic: a dark palace, a night in the garden, and the two of them in the centre of it all, Cassandra passionate and tense, Trevelyan's only hand finding her cheek, not a gesture of violence this time, but a caress; a storm announcing its arrival with a drawn-out growl.
Finally, their minds cleared and Trevelyan, frightened, opened her eyes just to see – way too close – Cassandra's surprised ones. They both jumped back and Trevelyan touched her fingers to her lips. They were wet and swollen.
Cassandra seemed completely dumbfounded, embarrassment making her red not only in the face but also on her neck, and Trevelyan did the only thing she could think of in that moment: she fled.
She turned on her heel and sprinted right ahead, as luck would have it, straight in the direction of the living quarters. First drops of rain fell. Trevelyan barged inside her room and shut the door. She would have to pack her things and leave, it's not like she could ever look Cassandra in the eyes again. She would tell Josephine that they had a big fight and simply couldn't work together anymore. Cassandra would probably head back into the mountains without speaking about it to anyone ever; it was Cassandra did, after all.
She stood there for a moment, trying to pull herself together, when someone knocked on the door.
It was Cassandra, panting and wet from the rain. "This is right," she said. "I feel it with my whole self. Don't you?"
Trevelyan just nodded, because she certainly felt something.
Cassandra stepped inside, her proximity and height suddenly overwhelming. The whites of her eyes flashed in the darkness; she bent down and Trevelyan threw her arm around her neck and kissed her in a single breath. Cassandra pulled her closer, her wet, strong hands pressing against the bare skin revealed by the deep neckline on Trevelyan's back. It was as if someone else was touching her, someone she never knew before, a stranger.
Cassandra picked Trevelyan up easily, and Trevelyan didn't really object, because it was easier to embrace her with her legs than arms. In her small room a wall was always close, so she wasn't exactly surprised when her back smashed into one. Cassandra pressed her wet lips eagerly to Trevelyan's neck. Her hair was wet and she still tasted of salt water, but beneath that was her own familiar smell, particularly prominent just below her ear and on her jaw line.
Trevelyan sighed deeply and arched her back, so Cassandra moved down from her neck to her clavicle and then the spot between her breasts, held up by the dress she wore. When she got a better hold on Trevelyan's ass, it became clear that no matter how revealing Rivaini outfits were, they couldn't go any further without getting rid of them. Trevelyan pushed herself off the wall with determination – Cassandra put her back on the ground – and yanked at the hooks with her only hand, tearing her dress off. She only had a pair of underpants on underneath, and that, too, quickly fell to the floor, her feet stepping out of them one by one.
Cassandra stepped back, hitting the back of her calves against the bed. Even in the dark Trevelyan could feel her eyes on her body. She never expected anyone to look at her like this ever again and it made warmth pool down in her belly.
"Undress," she said, or commanded, really, and Cassandra grabbed the hem of her tunic and took it off in one fluid motion. Her body had maintained its unambiguously athletic shape even in the dark, but her face was a blurred shadow, and Trevelyan went suddenly cold at the memory of the dark silhouette of Cassandra's doppelganger.
That one was, however, real. Trevelyan outstretched her arm and touched her shoulder.
"Trevelyan? Is everything alright?"
"Yes. It's nothing."
Trevelyan just wanted to be sure: she moved her hand up Cassandra's powerful thigh, continuing up her muscled abdomen, finally reaching a perky breast that almost fit into the palm of her hand. Cassandra sighed and put her arms around Trevelyan, pulling her closer. Trevelyan never assumed that someone like her would have skin so soft and pleasant to the touch, but that was the case: Cassandra possessed an exciting otherness, but that of a good, engaging kind, her physicality inviting, not repelling. When Trevelyan pushed, Cassandra yielded a little, their knees knocking together on the bed. There was no space to turn around as the beds were meant for only one person, and one that does not fidget, so Trevelyan just pressed Cassandra into the mattress, leaning on her elbows and grinding inelegantly against her hip. Eager as Cassandra's kisses were, her grip almost hurtful, she didn't really fight for dominance as much Trevelyan expected her to, seeming more content to just let go.
Trevelyan found it quite difficult to get control over the situation without that other, helpful hand; she also wasn't sure if Cassandra minded being touched with the stump, so she tried not to use it. Finally she pulled back a bit, sat firmly and grabbed Cassandra's leg in the knee to raise it. The position she had in mind allowed the lips to touch and – Trevelyan knew that from experience – sometimes even made it easy to climax together, and if not together, then it certainly made it easy for her, and quite quickly at that.
Cassandra's strained breath turned into low moans. Trevelyan put her leg over her own shoulder and set the rhythm. The bed protested slightly, but she didn't care about it; she didn't care about anything anymore.
Just as she started coming, Cassandra sat up, grabbed her neck and kissed her deeply. Trevelyan went completely soft in the knees. She collapsed, partially on the bed and partially on the sweaty body next to her, trying to catch her breath, but Cassandra surprised her: she grabbed Trevelyan's wrist and led her hand to the joint of her thighs, showing her wordlessly what it was that she wanted.
Trevelyan gave it to her and for someone who thought herself to be above carnal matters, Cassandra was exactly like other women: wet and soft on the inside, only much stronger, because she gripped Trevelyan's arm so tight that it made her hiss.
Afterwards they lay together in confounding silence. Trevelyan waited for Cassandra to jump off the bed and run away, but when that didn't happen she just put her head on Cassandra's shoulder, a spot she found to be very comfortable, even though they were both sweaty and sticky. When the afterglow had dimmed, it finally, in all its might occurred to her that she had just slept with Cassandra Pentaghast. The worst thing about that was that she couldn't really share that with anyone: she wasn't that close with Josephine, and she very well couldn't include something like that in a letter to the Divine. You will probably find it surprising, but I took Cassandra Pentaghast to bed. Everything went splendidly. I can attest as to the magnificence of her legs.
Cassandra sighed deeply and after a moment her breathing slowed down. She must have been exhausted: she had run many miles and swum the length of the bay, and then there were the celebrations and enthusiastic sex on a very small bed. Trevelyan sniffled, wriggled her toes and tried to follow into her footsteps, but the wine she drank so much of was pressing against her bladder. She stood up quietly, put on her dress, stepped into the corridor and lit a small light in her hand for courage. She knew the path to the baths well, and usually crossed it with her heart in her mouth, but that day she marched forward with the confidence of someone who had achieved great things.
She did what she came there to do and on her way back put out the light as not to wake Cassandra up. She opened the windows, filling her small room with the smell of night flowers and distant voices of the feasters. Cicadas sang incessantly in the grove.
Trevelyan turned away from the window, intent on going back to bed, when with the corner of her eye she noticed some movement in the darkness.
It was a dark figure, remarkably similar to Cassandra, even though the real Cassandra was lying in bed, moonlight reflecting off the arm she had over her eyes.
Trevelyan felt her throat go dry, but when the figure moved, a glimmer of a blade in its hand, she realised it wasn't the ominous doppelganger, but someone else entirely.
She darted to her side, outstretching her arm to grasp her staff, but managed to only bump her stump painfully into the table. That gave her opponent the time they needed to disappear in the darkness by the wardrobe. Panicked, she conjured fire, and the room was filled with light that froze everything in time, capturing the entire scene for a split second: the bed, Cassandra on it, the door ajar, a man with a knife sneaking up on Trevelyan, his clothes so dark they seemed to absorb light.
Trevelyan pushed the fire towards him. He held out his hand and somehow managed to quench the flame, and Trevelyan doubled over, suddenly in horrible pain. The flashes must have woken up Cassandra, who jumped off the bed like a spring. She dodged the first swing of the knife, then the second, caught the aggressor's wrist and punched him in the face. He recoiled and kicked her in the stomach, which sent her flying back onto the bed.
He jumped on it after her and swung again. The blade flashed. Cassandra blocked the blow, grabbed his arm and pushed sharply – he slammed into the floor next to Trevelyan, who eagerly kicked him in the head. Her bare foot slid off his cheek. He grabbed her ankle and moved to stand up, but before he could do anything, enraged Cassandra tackled him back to the floor. They wrestled for a while until she finally caught him in a chokehold and kept him like this until he stopped kicking around.
"Are you okay?" she asked, her voice hoarse.
"Yes." Trevelyan stood up, grabbing the table for support. "Who is that? What is he doing here?"
Cassandra took the hood off of his head. In the wobbly light Trevelyan had just lit appeared a pale face of a young man she had never before seen in her life.
As mentors for new generations of Sisters and Mothers, we are often met with accusations that the Chantry does not move with the times, that its teachings do not correspond to the age we live in. Such notions have to be firmly discarded: those who think that have simply not come upon good teachings, but met merely with their flat and lifeless interpretation. My darling daughters, it is true that the Exalted Andraste is a warrior and thus wields a sword, but it is not the Chantry's role to fight – only to carry the light of faith, love and wisdom. This is our sigil: the sun, not the flame of war and pyres.
Mother Caroberta's speech during the re-opening of the Val Royeaux Seminary
Cassandra tied the would-be assassin to a chair with the sash of Trevelyan's bathrobe, because she couldn't find anything to better suit that purpose. Since he had the ability to quell magic, she was the one to stay behind and watch him, while Trevelyan headed out to get help. She was currently crossing the suspension bridge without her underpants on, as she wasn’t able to find them in all that commotion.
Daybreak illuminated the ruins of the temple. The first person to be found was Costo, but no matter how loud she called or how much she yanked at him, he just wouldn't wake up, so she gave up and went on. In the courtyard, by the table, sat a solitary figure: it was Maresol, calmly eating grapes, surrounded by sleeping festers.
Together, they found Josephine, her makeup blurred and hair tousled, curled up in a little ball behind an overthrown table. Finding Erasmus took them a while longer – he was on his way to the town, wobbling on his unsteady feet while walking his companion home. Upon hearing the words 'assassin' and 'assault' every single one of them sobered up immediately, suddenly action ready.
"Where is he, Inquisitor?" asked Erasmus. Usually, he was no more threatening than a regular Circle adept, but at that moment it would be scary to come across him in a dark alley.
"Cassandra's watching him. In the palace."
"Let's not waste any more time then." Maresol stopped briefly to wake up a young man and task him with informing the guards of the situation, and then resumed walking, heading decisively in the direction of the bridge.
They met Cassandra at the scene. She sat on the bed in yesterday’s clothes, bared sword resting on her thighs. Despite the gravity of the situation, Trevelyan found the sight exciting.
Their assailant was still out cold. His head hung limply over his chest, so Cassandra stood up and lifted it by the hair, allowing them to look him in the face.
He could be Erasmus's age, with fair, sunburnt skin, dark hair, and the kind of features that made it hard to determine his place of origin. In the dark he was terrifying, but now Trevelyan wouldn't even look at him twice.
"Damnation! Who is that?" asked Maresol, so far seemingly the least moved by the whole situation.
"No idea," said Trevelyan. "I've never seen him before. Cassandra?"
"Neither have I. I searched him, and he didn't have anything on him. No marks, no tattoos, nothing. The way he fights suggests good training. He was probably trained by the Templars, too, because he knows how to dispel magic."
"He knows more than that," said Trevelyan and shuddered. "He did that thing only you can do. I could feel every single drop of lyrium in my veins."
"Only the Seekers are taught that ability." Erasmus sounded surprised. "I mean, the Justinians, now. And he certainly isn't one of the novitiates."
"Isn't there a possibility of a... leak?" asked Josephine.
"Absolutely not." Cassandra let go of the head, letting it fall back to the assailant's chest. "I have personally picked the novitiates and until today I have taught that skill to three people in total, including Erasmus. However, I do know when that skill could have been picked up by others: during the reign of Lord Seeker Lucius. We all know the many depravations he condoned—"
"Why don't we get back to the point for now," said Maresol, still looking intently at the assassin. "So he got in during the feast..."
"We don't know that. I didn't see him before—" Trevelyan stopped, because she did: it was, after all, the doppelganger, a warning she completely ignored. "Certainly not that night. I'm sure we were here alone."
Otherwise someone would come to check why Cassandra was screaming in the middle of the night. Trevelyan looked to the side and met Cassandra's eyes – she must have had the same thought, because she seemed flustered.
"Before falling sleep, I left the room to relieve myself," continued Trevelyan, feeling everyone's expectant eyes on her. "I came back—in the dark—stepped in and opened the windows to let in some air. When I turned back, he was standing in the entrance. He attacked me. I fought back"—she pointed at the singed wall and cabinet—"but I hate to admit that he bested me easily. Luckily, Cassandra came to my aid, so to speak."
"Are there only two paths leading to that hill – the one from the town and the other from the temple, across the bridge?" asked Cassandra.
"In the dark, yes." Maresol wiped the wall with her sleeve. The singed marks remained. "That’s why he must have waited for us to start the feast and stop hanging around the palace. Otherwise someone would have spotted him. Everyone knows everyone here, they would've noticed a stranger immediately. My apologies, Inquisitor, for not seeing to—"
"It's me who should be apologising for drawing someone like that here. I shudder to think what else he could have done with that knife. None of us paid much attention to security because no one was supposed to know we're here."
"I bribed everyone I could think of," said Josephine grimly. "Every single person."
"Sometimes that's not enough, and the Dairsmuid harbour is always buzzing with gossip," said Maresol. "You're a very remarkable person, Inquisitor. The Seeker and my dear nephew also stand out, even in a place like this, and then this dwarf came... If someone asked around in the harbour, it would be very easy for them to put it all together. Who are your enemies?"
Erasmus snorted. "Good question, auntie."
"I have a few and then some. Templar deserters, Tevinters, Orlesian rebels... We've fallen into disfavour with a lot of people, organisations and lands."
"But who would sink low enough to send an assassin?" snorted Cassandra. "Surely no one but Trevinters would dare to do something of that nature."
"Oh, they would dare," said Josephine with some disappointment.
"What can we do about him?" asked Trevelyan, who was beginning to get bored with looking at a man tied with her bathrobe sash.
"We can throw him into the oubliette." Maresol shook her head. "Then question him when he wakes up and when we've all had proper naps."
"You have an oubliette?" Cassandra frowned.
"Naturally. And this individual not only made an attempt on our honourable guest's life, but did it during one of our holidays. There you are," she said when guards appeared in the entrance. "Please throw this young man into the oubliette. Remember, not a cell, the oubliette. And don't let him out of your sight until I get there."
The guards untied the assailant with some difficulty – Cassandra tied a mean knot – and took him by the arms. All the yanking around brought him back for a moment – he glanced over them deliriously and sank back into unconsciousness.
"I'll send someone for you in the afternoon and we will question him together." Maresol gave them a curt bow. "We should get some rest now."
"That we should," Trevelyan agreed. "Until later."
Erasmus squeezed her arm reassuringly and Josephine hugged her tightly. Finally, she was left alone with Cassandra who didn't look like someone getting ready to leave.
"What are you going to do?"
"What do you mean, what?" Cassandra sat down in the chair, knees wide apart and arms folded over her chest. "I'm going to watch over you. Clearly it's necessary."
Trevelyan ran a hand through her hair and sat at the edge of the bed. A lot of people had made attempts on her life, but never in a way so devoid of honour, with an assassin sent in the middle of the night to attack her when she was on her way back from the outhouse.
Cassandra wasn't looking at her but at the window. Trevelyan realised it was the first time they were alone since that moment that had changed everything; she didn't feel like turning these thoughts into words, so she just lay down on her side. Just to be sure, every now and then she would open one eye to look at Cassandra who all that time sat still like a statue.
Later, when she woke up, Cassandra was sleeping in that chair, head thrown back and mouth open inelegantly. Trevelyan stood up and moved to pick new clothes to wear. The creaking sound the cabinet door made roused Cassandra – she woke up with a start.
"It’s just me," Trevelyan said. "I'll go freshen up."
She took a long, wonderful shower, washing off most of the previous day and was in the process of towelling herself dry when someone entered the room. It was Cassandra.
"My apologies." She tactfully turned her head away.
Trevelyan struggled briefly to cover herself with the towel using just one hand, but then gave up: after all, Cassandra had already seen her naked, and in detail. There was no need to cover anything.
She put the towel aside and reached for her underwear, all the time glancing at Cassandra furtively. She seemed to be in the midst of an internal struggle, constantly shifting from one foot to another and scratching her neck. Finally she turned around and looked openly at Trevelyan. "Maker’s breath," she blurted out. "You're beautiful."
If it was anyone else, Trevelyan probably wouldn't take it well, but Cassandra's smitten expression made her feel tight in the chest; she threw the underwear to the side and came over to Cassandra, somehow falling right into her arms and finding her mouth. Cassandra kissed her eagerly, deeply and with intent that could not be mistaken for anything else, and it if wasn't for the assassin sitting in the oubliette and waiting to be questioned, who knows how that would turned out.
Trevelyan pulled away, panting. "We have somewhere to be in a moment," she said. "Something to do."
"Yes." Cassandra slid her hand back from Trevelyan's hair and let it fall to the side, but her gaze did not move from the parts of Trevelyan's body that usually remained covered for decency's sake. "Yes. We should get dressed."
Trevelyan's choice of outfit for the day was quite modest: a simple tunic without revealing necklines or slits she usually wore under outer clothing in colder climate. Cassandra, for her part, left her room wearing full armour.
"Have you gone mad?" Trevelyan jumped up from the bench where she sat, waiting. "You'll have a stroke."
"I'll be alright." Cassandra waved her hand. "He needs to know who he's talking to. Let's go get Josephine."
It was easy for them to fall into step together. From up close, Trevelyan could see first beads of sweat appear on Cassandra's temple and forehead, but she didn't want to say anything; the situation was bizarre and awkward enough as it was.
Josephine had already been woken up by Idoya and was trying to make herself look presentable, although her hands kept shaking and her face was pale from the effort. Trevelyan went to the well to get some cold water and on her way back with a full pitcher spotted Cassandra talking to Idoya, or trying to, at least, because she seemed unable to get anything out of the girl.
"Cassandra." She tried to give her a sign, but Cassandra remained oblivious to her attempts. "For goodness—She's scared of you looking like that! Go give some water to Josie, I'll talk to her."
Cassandra, slightly offended, took the pitcher and walked away. Trevelyan wiped the sweat off her forehead – she, too, was still a bit hung-over after yesterday's drinking spree.
"Forgive me," she said to Idoya. "Seeker Cassandra expects danger anywhere now. Should we head out to the town?"
"Yes. I will take you to the cells. I also brought you some food." She took out two packages from the bag strapped across her shoulder. "Just bannocks and some cheese, but the bakers had a day off today..."
"Oh, thank you very much. I'm starving. You're wonderful hosts," Trevelyan said, breaking off a piece of hard ripe cheese. "You really are. Which reminds me: wouldn't you happen to know where our blacksmith, Dagna, is? I couldn't find her yesterday."
"She's in the forge," said Idoya, pleased to have been praised. "Turns out she went back there at night to get some more work done."
"Good. I was worried about her." She took a bite of the cheese and the bannock, effectively stopping all conversation.
Cassandra and Josephine joined them a few minutes later, the former hiding her face under the brim of her hat. In the meantime Cassandra had managed to strap a sword to her belt; in her armour of dark metal, buttoned up all the way to the neck, she seemed completely different from that relaxed, easy-going person who had just yesterday participated in a Rivaini competition and danced to cheerful music. Trevelyan knew that wearing a suit of armour required an upright posture and limited the range of movement, but the difference was striking.
The four of them descended into the town, eating breakfast and talking about the course of yesterday's celebration on their way. As it turned out, drunkenness and debauchery were its crucial elements and Idoya kept assuring Josephine that her behaviour was by all means welcome, appropriate even, during these festivities.
Benadolid's prison was located on the slope of the hill, in a cave enlarged and adjusted by human hand to holding prisoners. The corridor leading there was so narrow that it had to be walked in line, and Josephine kept holding on to Trevelyan's hand. It was followed by a big chamber with holding cells on each side, four of them in total. On the opposite end of the room there was a crate in the floor, Maresol, Erasmus and a man Trevelyan didn't know standing over it.
"You're here, good," said Maresol when she saw them. "He won't talk to us. Idoya, thank you for your help, but you don't have to be present for this."
When the girl disappeared into the corridor, the unknown man bent down and lifted the crate. Down there, in a hole the size of a furnace sat the assassin. He stood up immediately upon seeing them, allowing Trevelyan to finally look into the face of her would-be killer. The flickering light of the torch made the experience unsettling.
"Who are you?" she asked, crouching down at the edge of the crate.
He concentrated his gaze on her stump, visible due to the short sleeve of her tunic. Then his eyes skipped to her side.
"Seeker Cassandra," he said with an accent that was hard to pinpoint. "Ambassador Montilyet. And Brother Erasmus."
"That's right," said Trevelyan, trying not to let her anxiousness show, even when she saw Josephine twitch, and Cassandra – lock her jaw. "If you know us so well, it would only be proper to introduce yourself as well. The way you behave right now can very well dictate your whole future."
"I have no future. I failed to fulfil my mission, and anything and everything can happen to me now."
"Who gave you that mission?" Cassandra was growing impatient.
"It is a great pity that my brothers will never find out I fought Seeker Cassandra—"
"Fought and lost. You're lucky I didn't break your neck right then and there."
The assassin nodded his head, as if he appreciated the fact that it was still placed safely on top of his neck.
"I can't help but wonder just what sort of an order your new one is, considering that you jumped at me right out of the Inquisitor's bed."
His words made Trevelyan stand up and take a step back. Josephine covered her mouth with her hand, while Cassandra reddened visibly under her tan, but it was hard to say whether from embarrassment or from anger.
"Not the sort that trains assassins," she said through gritted teeth. "Unlike the congregation you belong to. The Order of Fiery Promise, is it?"
"What?" The assailant showed childish surprise. "Not that I've heard of it."
"In that case"—Cassandra bent down on one knee, looming threateningly over the hole—"if you don't want to tell us who sent you, you probably cannot wait to tell us why."
It was as if she had pressed a button – the assassin's eyes flashed and his expression changed completely. "Because the Inquisitor is destroying the Chantry," he recited. "And its magnificent timeless traditions. If we agree to the changes she and the anti-Divine want to implement—"
"The Anti-Divine!" snorted Josephine.
"Yes, because she was chosen unlawfully! Even Justinia V shouldn't have sat on the Sunburst Throne if she wanted to destroy the Chantry and lead to a civil war!"
"Justinia wanted to stop the war," said Cassandra, her tone disbelieving. "It was Lord Seeker Lucius who started it. It was the result of a particular turn of events—"
"Lord Seeker Lucius was the last of his kind," continued the assailant. "He could have saved the Chantry had Justinia not tied his hands."
"I can't listen to that rubbish anymore," said Maresol, stepping away from the crate. Trevelyan followed her, equally disgusted by that scene. "Who taught him that nonsense."
"He taught it to himself." Trevelyan leant against the cool wall of the cave. "There are plenty of people who believe that drivel to be true, only usually they don't resort to violence."
"I'm so sorry it happened to you." Maresol patted her arm reassuringly. "That whole degrading situation."
"These things are always happening to me," said Trevelyan gloomily. "But you had no part in it. It was us who created him, in the south. Because of the war and everything else that has happened since."
"Someone's coming," Maresol said. A short figure appeared in the corridor. Trevelyan thought it to be Idoya, but when the person stepped into the light cast by the torch it turned out to be Dagna. "There she is, your missing friend."
"Yeah, here to take a glimpse of the assassin," said Dagna as if it was something she did every day. "May I?"
"Of course." Maresol waved her hand at the crate where Cassandra was patiently trying to get something useful out of the prisoner.
Dagna bent over Cassandra's shoulder, tilted her head, nodded and came back to where Trevelyan and Maresol stood. "I know him," she said. "I had this gut feeling, and they are usually correct, and there you go."
"You know him?" asked Trevelyan, surprised. "How come?"
"I met him in the Hasmal Circle when I was studying the ethereal properties of lyrium. He was a Templar adept there – I mean, an ex-adept, because it was after the Nevarran Accords were annulled... He was also interested in lyrium, but from a practical side – he wanted to dig up information on how to use it against its users."
"It's a Seeker skill," said Trevelyan. "A strictly governed secret. Until recently."
"Exactly. And no one from in the Circle approved of his quest. He was expelled after a couple of weeks. He was always a bit odd and mages never really took to him... He was one of the 'radicals', you know. The kind that would gladly shackle everyone just to be on the safe side."
"It all makes sense."
"Not exactly," interrupted Erasmus, listening in on their conversation for a while. "If I may, Inquisitor, one thing doesn't make sense at all. We assumed that he must have found his way into the palace when everyone was celebrating in the temple, and then wait for your return there. But you left your room in the middle of the night to relieve yourself—pardon me..."
"Don't mind me." Trevelyan shrugged. "It's not like I have any privacy left."
"And you managed to come back and enter your room before he attacked you." Erasmus cleared his throat. "The same room Seeker Cassandra was in... It really turned his fate around. Why didn't he try anything when you were alone in the corridor or—you know—?”
"When I was relieving myself," finished Trevelyan. "In the dark, drunk, confused. That really is strange. I have no idea why."
"Maybe he got lost?" suggested Dagna, managing to lighten the mood a little.
Maresol invited them to dinner, which was met with warm gratitude from everyone. When they were gathering to leave, the crate was put down again and the assailant was left completely alone in his hole, but somehow Trevelyan didn't feel sorry for him. They spent their whole way back talking about the details of the attempt on her life, carefully evading the topic of Cassandra's presence in her bed, but when they reached their destination, Maresol forbade them from talking about the situation in the presence of her daughter. Whether they wanted it or not, they had to move on to more neutral topics.
Trevelyan was trying to maintain a good mood and participate in the conversation, but with each moment she felt herself slipping further and further away from reality. Finally, when the air turned too stuffy, she excused herself and stepped out onto the terrace where they once spent a night with Josephine.
Just as she expected, Cassandra followed her. She didn't dare come closer – she remained close to the entrance and didn't speak at all. At some point Trevelyan couldn't take it anymore.
"Why are you here if you're not going to say anything?"
Cassandra finally raised her eyes to meet Trevelyan's.
"Can I come to you tonight?"
If Trevelyan was to find a word to describe the tone she used, she would probably go with 'grave'. The weight she was trying to push away all the afternoon suddenly came crashing down onto her shoulders.
"Of course." She cleared her throat. "Come."
"Very well." Cassandra nodded and walked away.
Frustrated, Trevelyan clenched her right hand into a fist, but couldn't find a good spot to smash it against, so finally she gave it a rest and just leant against the railing. In the distance, the sun was slowly setting over the bay, painting the clouds and the sea an intense shade of red.
The Canticle of the Beloved without doubt refers not only to the love Andraste has for the Maker, but also to a physical love, intended by the author to be interpreted as either the love Andraste and Maferat shared, or perhaps the one the faithful in general share. Such an interpretation is not widely recognised amongst the most pious researchers, even if the plenitude of sensuous references makes it seem correct: the bride has, after all, 'breasts like two doves' and a 'fragrant olive garden', she rests on a 'bed of green' and cherishes the 'nearness’ of her beloved. It is without a doubt a description of a physical relationship, its presence in the anthology of sacred texts an obvious sign that such relations are, too, of a particular significance.
Mother Grunhilda of Weisshaupt
When Cassandra came, Trevelyan was sitting by the desk trying to make some sense of the events of this day and the previous night, but somehow nothing came of it, just as if she had completely distanced herself from this reality and was now dealing with its poor imitation. Luckily, the Cassandra issue she had dealt with earlier, and was now ready for her arrival, all set with a speech and everything.
At the beginning she said, "Sit, please," and when Cassandra, as could be predicted, remained standing in the middle of the room, Trevelyan continued, "I am aware that your convictions dictate a certain way of conduct and even though it's not always that obvious, I respect that, and wouldn't want you to compromise or to battle your conscience on my behalf, because that is completely pointless. For that reason, if you think that it was a mistake, a mere incident, we should just make our peace with it and forget all about it, and for my part I promise I will stop wearing revealing necklines and looking suggestively at your shoulders, and I won't speak a word of that to anyone, and I will stop thinking about that myself, too."
Cassandra raised her eyebrows, then frowned. For someone who was supposed to keep her emotions in check, she was an open book.
"This is not exactly what I had in mind," she said slowly. "But if that is your wish, we can do that, Inquisitor."
"I didn't say that it was my wish," retorted Trevelyan, narrowing her eyes. "And you? What did you have to say?"
"Ideally, nothing." Cassandra sighed and rubbed her forehead. "But seeing as you have an entirely different view on my motives, I guess I need to say something after all."
She had changed after dinner: she was now in an outfit usually worn under armour and gambeson, namely a shirt and hose that brought out the shape of her legs and ass. From Trevelyan's sitting perspective those legs seemed to go on forever, all the way up to the sky, which didn't really help her case at the moment.
"Go on," Trevelyan said encouragingly, not looking straight at her, but somewhere to the side.
"I—" Cassandra was clearly struggling. Trevelyan didn't feel like helping help at all, as something rebellious has awakened inside of her. "When I was running that novitiate I had a lot of time to think about many things. I realised then that searching for an ideal was a mistake. I'm not perfect myself, after all. And then I remembered that moment—though I’m not sure if you remember it—"
"That night in the tavern."
"Yes. You gave me that look then, different than usual. What was that? An accident?"
Cassandra looked straight at her. Whether she wanted it or not, Trevelyan met her gaze. "A harbinger, perhaps."
In the silence that followed they could hear the gentle whooshing sound of palm leaves in the courtyard.
"Back then, I did not think it proper," Cassandra went on, hands locked behind her back as if she was speaking to an assembly. "I didn't want to... come off as naive. You must understand that I am not overly experienced in these matters, which, incidentally, bothers me. To continue, afterwards I received the invitation to the Exalted Council, and when I got there, straight from the mountains, in my ragged, patched up boots—because I didn't even have the chance to buy a new pair—after months and months spent looking at my novitiates' spotty faces… Varric told me that you had gotten engaged. I wanted to break my competitor's neck. I wanted to challenge him to a duel and wipe the floor with him. I wanted—you get the idea."
"Varric was pulling your leg."
"Yes, as usual. But it made me realise something: I was furious that someone had beaten me to it."
"You didn't look it."
"Didn't I? I started paying attention to you... rather intently. I thought it was obvious."
"For a long time I didn't notice anyone but myself." Involuntarily, Trevelyan looked to the left, at her stump covered tightly with skin.
"It's understandable." Cassandra twitched as if she wanted to move, but decided against it. "You suffered a great loss. It's not for us to judge how we would have behaved in a situation like that."
"So what you do think?" asked Cassandra expressively.
"About all of this." She waved her hand around. "Isn't it stupid? It's stupid! We met so long ago during the Conclave, and now—"
"It's not stupid at all. To me, you were always breathtaking. When I first met you, I remember as if it was yesterday that I thought to myself, 'Maker’s breath, the Seeker can seek me through and through'."
Cassandra snorted. "I don't believe that."
"Maybe that wasn't the exact thing, but definitely something along these lines. After that, obviously, I stopped thinking about you in such terms, but you make quite the impression."
Cassandra shifted from one foot to the other, looking at her sideways, suspicious. "Would you believe me if I told you it was Erasmus who finally convinced me?"
"He came to a few days ago to talk, as he put it, about bedroom matters. I wasn't thrilled, but I knew that it was me he should come to with such issues, so we sat down and I let him talk. He said that he’d met a girl here and that there was something between them. That he knew he wouldn't be able to stay here and no one could tell when he would come back, but despite all that he would like to start a relationship with her... A carnal one, if you will."
"What did you tell him?"
"That according to his customs and culture it is most welcome and appropriate. But he wanted to know if by doing that he would go against his vows. And you know what, Trevelyan... I realised the answer is no. My whole life I was afraid to befoul myself somehow, to tarnish my reputation, and that made me give up on various things, and now I can see just how much I have missed. I don't want it to continue. Why are you looking at me like that?"
"I think I understand what you're saying."
"I didn't expect you to."
"Didn't you?" Trevelyan tilted her head to the side. "Then what did you expect, coming here?"
"I don't know. That you would tell me that it's not proper and to get out of here."
"I'm starting to think you're flirting with me, Cassandra." Trevelyan stood up from her chair, came over to where Cassandra stood and let herself touch her abdomen. It was hard and taut, even through the fabric. "I'm sure these aren't the signals I've been sending."
Cassandra caught her wrist before the hand was able to reach any interesting spot. "The signals are unambiguous, that much I have to admit. Trevelyan?"
Trevelyan raised her head hopefully. Cassandra was looking at her intently, her mouth half open, the dimmed evening light accentuating her sharp features.
"Tell me what to do."
"Take me to bed," commanded Trevelyan, breaking Cassandra’s hold and yanking her shirt out of her belt. Cassandra grabbed her firmly around the waist, sliding her hands down to grab Trevelyan's buttocks. Trevelyan offered her mouth, expectant, but Cassandra didn't kiss it, instead pressing her lips against her cheek, jaw, neck. Even though they were pressed so tight against one another, Trevelyan somehow managed to slide her hand onto Cassandra's stomach, touching the underside of her breast with the back of her hand.
Luckily, the door was locked.
Cassandra cradled Trevelyan's head in her hands and looked at her, her gaze questioning, as if she was checking if everything was all right. Then she kissed her passionately and pushed – or really, her body suggested that Trevelyan lay down, with which she complied eagerly, shamelessly hitching up her tunic to her thighs and spreading her legs. Cassandra tightened her jaw, her breathing getting more laboured with each second. She undressed quickly, throwing clothes over her shoulder, while Trevelyan raised her hand and lit the candelabras, because Cassandra was too wonderful not to look at in better light: her body was a collection of long, harmonious lines of musculature with some old scars here and there. It was thrilling to watch it in motion, as she got rid of her breast band and kneeled on the bed, and then to watch it leave Trevelyan's direct line of sight bit by bit when she slowly and deliberately covered Trevelyan's body with her own until Trevelyan almost couldn't breathe, as everything was so very close, so close.
Cassandra's skin was hot and pliant under her fingers, Cassandra herself arching her back to the touch like a cat. Trevelyan’s breath caught in her throat when she realised it must have been a long time since she had been touched like this. Cassandra took off Trevelyan's tunic, kissed a path down from her mouth to her clavicle, grasped her hips with her hands, pressed her face against her stomach. Her touch was firm but full of reverence, not leaving any doubt as to the uniqueness of the situation.
When she slipped two fingers inside her, Trevelyan's hips jumped on their own, her thighs clamping and effectively pulling Cassandra closer. She lost her balance and had to brace herself with the other hand, her hair a fleeting touch against Trevelyan's breasts.
"Bend your fingers upwards," said Trevelyan, grasping at that hair.
Cassandra complied and what followed was so incredible it made Trevelyan sigh, if the sound she made could even be called that; well, maybe it would be more accurate to say she moaned a few times. Cassandra raised her head. "Be quiet, or they'll hear us."
"I don't care," Trevelyan gasped out defiantly, but managed to stop herself from crying out loud, mostly so that Cassandra wouldn't be distracted.
Her body knew before her mind did: her muscles flexed one by one and, next thing she knew, she was arching her back and coming hard, pressing Cassandra against herself with her right hand, and with her left – looking for something to hold on to, in vain. She went soft and limp after a moment, which allowed Cassandra to break her hold and climb up her body to place a kiss on her neck.
"Have you any idea how long I have been thinking about this?" she whispered straight into Trevelyan's ear, blowing puffs of hot air onto her earlobe. "Longer than since that moment in the tavern. I had these dreams—I didn't know what to do about them."
Trevelyan let out a deep breath, tucked safely under Cassandra's body. She put her arms around her. Her heartbeat was slowing down, blood unhurriedly finding its way back to her head.
Cassandra kissed her neck for the last time and hoisted herself up on her elbows. Trevelyan looked at her, eyes half-lidded. They were so close she could see the length of Cassandra's lashes, the lines in the corners of her eyes, her own reflection in Cassandra’s pupils.
She never believed in those magical, life-changing kisses and that one wouldn't turn her life upside down as well, but she knew she would certainly remember it on cold, lonely nights: Cassandra kissed her as if the only thing she did in her spare time was wooing girls and women, and it was a good thing they were lying down because otherwise Trevelyan's knees would have gone soft.
That moment was somehow dangerous, so Trevelyan decided to act: she pulled Cassandra up eagerly and a moment later she was somewhere she never thought she would end up: between her muscled thighs, and upon raising her eyes – able to see Cassandra's flat abdomen and pert breasts.
They spent a long, long time in that bed, very close to each other, a thing of necessity born from lack of space, caressing one another's calves or shoulders distractedly, each part of their bodies equally covered in sweat. Trevelyan fell asleep, completely exhausted and empty, a stranger even to her own self, and slept till morning, waking up only twice during the course of the night: when Cassandra's body turned too hot to the touch and when she nudged Trevelyan with her shoulder, almost causing her to fall off the bed.
Knocking on the door woke her up the next day. She jerked her head from the pillow like a soldier upon hearing the reveille.
"Inquisitor!" called Erasmus from behind the door. "We we're supposed to practice... enchanting... I know it is early, please forgive me."
Trevelyan lay on her side, Cassandra's heavy arm thrown across her waist, slowly coming into realisation as to what day it was and what things she had to do.
"Would you mind waiting a moment?" she called out to Erasmus, while to Cassandra she whispered, "Someone's here."
Just as she expected, that open, incredible night-time Cassandra was immediately replaced by that strict and closed-off day-time one. She sat up and looked around, as if looking for an escape route, so Trevelyan decided to help her: she rolled off the bed and handed her the clothes they had thrown all over the room last evening, trying to get naked as soon as they could.
"No," said Cassandra a moment later, putting her pants on with dignity. "We don't have anything to hide."
She got dressed, fastened the last hook of her shirt and brushed off her sleeves. Trevelyan who until then was just staring at her numbly, dumbfounded and sitting naked at the edge of the bed, stood up and started looking for her own tunic. Cassandra bent down and retrieved it from behind the chair.
They both felt something in that moment, a spark, that sort of energy that had nothing to do with the proximity of the Veil. Suddenly, Trevelyan felt much more naked than she really was. She pressed yesterday's tunic tighter against her chest.
"You should get dressed," said Cassandra, her voice excitingly low.
Trevelyan reached into the cabinet, taking out the first article of clothing she touched. When she'd put it on, Cassandra threw her another look, all serious now, and opened the door. Erasmus, leaning nonchalantly against the wall on the other side of the corridor, went as red as a beet when he saw her, his mouth hanging open.
"Good day, Erasmus," said Cassandra and marched off in her distinctive, soldier-like gait.
"Be right there with you," added Trevelyan, walking off towards the baths. Erasmus, dumbstruck, just nodded.
She changed quickly and splashed some water onto her face, running her fingers through her hair. A tired face with smudged makeup around the eyes and a slightly wild expression was looking at her from the watery mirror in the sink, something like Trevelyan's weird cousin that fed stray cats and collected halla figurines in her spare time, not the ordinary Laura who thought herself a rational and down-to-earth person. She patted her cheeks with her right hand and pulled up her dress so as the neckline didn't seem provocative. By the time she went back to get Erasmus, he was back to his usual, composed self.
"Inquisitor." He bowed gallantly. "Ready?"
"Ready, although we have to get some breakfast afterwards, because I'm starving." She patted her belly, which rumbled in response. "Good thing you reminded me we were supposed to practice together. I completely forgot."
When they stepped onto the courtyard, that nervous excitement she felt since yesterday gave way to a strange sense of distance towards the world. Outside, one of those spectacular, clear days was starting, its heat cooled off by a gentle wind from the Rialto Bay, its course warm and glimmering in the sun of the kind one could never really experience in the Frostback Mountains, but there she was, pushing forward as if the only thing she had to do was get some extra scrolls from the chancellery. The smell of the orange groove was intoxicating as she conversed with Erasmus about nothing in particular.
They stopped, Erasmus rolled up his sleeves. She finally paid attention to the way his tan hid the faded tattoo on his forehead, and somehow that made her realise just how lucky she was to end up with companions such as Erasmus, Cassandra, Josephine or Dagna.
"Everything alright?" asked Erasmus, noticing the change on her face.
"Yes, yes. It's just hunger," she said, touching her stomach. "Let's begin. How about we start with spirit magic? It was always the most difficult for me."
Gradually, they had covered all figures and spells – Trevelyan was able to pull everything off no later than at her third try, that is, except for conjuring the spirit blade. There, she kept getting stuck.
"I think it is somehow connected to your missing left hand," said Erasmus, choosing the words carefully. "The connection seems more evident than in the case of elemental magic."
"I agree," said Trevelyan. "The lack of symmetry in the body... it's as if it's not letting me call it forth. As if the Fade didn't recognise me in that form."
"Only it's not a different form. It's the shape that's changed."
"Maybe it's one and the same thing."
They stood there for a while, deep in thought, until Trevelyan smelled freshly baked bread in the air and thoughts of breakfast broke her concentration. Erasmus must have noticed that, because he said, "Why don't we try one more time? And then again in the evening, after dinner?"
"Good idea. From the beginning?"
They got down to it and that time Trevelyan was doing much better. When all that was left was the spirit blade spell, instead of staring aimlessly at her unruly stump, Trevelyan fixed her eyes right ahead. Then something peculiar happened: she conjured that blade; it flared up in the hand she no longer had – Erasmus inhaled sharply at that – and in the thicket of the orange trees nearby a figure appeared.
It was the dark silhouette Trevelyan came to associate with danger. Without thinking she assumed a battle stance and looked around, but there was nothing more there than the gentle swishing sound of the leaves and a distant conversation about fresh rolls – no need to raise alarm.
As soon as she realised that, the sword was gone, her temporarily regained forearm with it.
"That was really something," said Erasmus, clearly impressed.
"Did you see anyone over there? Now, just a moment ago?"
"Over there? No, but I think Idoya brought breakfast. Do you think the assassin wasn't working alone, Inquisitor? Maresol put guard units everywhere..."
"No, it's not that. I was just seeing things."
"In any case, that was a success and certainly a big change from the last time..." Erasmus began one of his monologues about ascending and descending forces, but Trevelyan was already looking somewhere over his shoulder: Dagna, Josephine and Cassandra were approaching, accompanied by the pleasant smell of breakfast accompanying them. Trevelyan only had eyes for one of them.
Magic exists to serve man, never to rule over him – no other phrase in our history played such a crucial role in so many singular tragedies, so many lives broken by blind hate. As it is, what we are most afraid of is an intervention from the other side – from beyond the Veil. Demonic forces. Insane spirits. Nightmares turned real. It is thus my proposal to change this phrase to a different one: magic exists to serve man, but it can be dangerous. That is why today is history in the making: we are bringing to life a new Order, whose role will not be to watch over the mages, but to defend the weak and the innocent. The Justinian Order.
Divine Victoria during the inauguration of the Justinian Order in the Grand Cathedral
Tempting as it was, Trevelyan couldn't afford to indulge her single-track mind: there was an assassin sitting in the oubliette, his radical organisation was operating somewhere in secret, a spooky doppelganger was haunting her and every single person in Benadolid counted on Trevelyan and her miraculous recovery, while the rest of the Inquisition probably thought they were partaking in a wonderful vacation here in Rivain, going to the beach, drinking cocktails and resting under palm trees all day long.
As it was, Trevelyan was striding purposefully down the market street of Benadolid, headed for the rookery, if it was even possible to stride in the middle of the day, much less on a street so crowded with people. She passed the stands with vegetables and fruit without sparing so much as a glance in their direction, ignored the cloth hall and stalls with jewellery and accessories, ducked to avoid getting hit in the head with a pot being waved about by a woman selling ceramics, and finally made it to the harbour gate, which was completely jammed. Some genius let a flock of sheep into the market square; bleating desperately, the animals made it impossible to neither enter nor leave the street.
Someone shoved Trevelyan rudely while trying to push past her. She shot them an unimpressed look and it was then that she heard a theatrical whisper coming from behind her.
"It's that Inquisitor from the south," said a female voice.
"Pretty," said another one graciously. Trevelyan fought off the urge to turn around and see who it was. "I've heard she has an affair with her advisor."
"No! Which one? The ambassador or—"
"The one that almost won the competition," came the hissing reply. Trevelyan felt a smidge of indignation, but had to hand it to them – at least they got the facts right.
"Oh. Young love," said the first one dreamily and when Trevelyan finally pushed past the sheep, she couldn't help but look back: she saw two elderly fishwives with pitchers of milk braced on their heads.
The news about the attempt on the Inquisitor's life proved to be so sensational it spread quickly, some versions accompanied by details that weren't really necessary. There was, though, at least one advantage to it: the locals were now so cautious when it came to foreigners, that not only no one could slip by them to the palace, they couldn't even wander around the environs.
Still, for safety measures if nothing else, Trevelyan thought it good to apply some sort of camouflage: namely, Rivaini fashion. Everyone looking for the Inquisitor would be searching for a woman from the south, and Trevelyan was already successfully blending in.
Earlier, at night, Cassandra had touched her shoulder blade and asked, "What's that?"
"It's a tattoo," mumbled Trevelyan, her face buried in the pillow.
"I know that. But what does it mean?"
"It's a traditional pattern. The women from the baths did it."
Cassandra fell silent, stroking the spot where the geometrical ornament was under the skin.
"Is it permanent?"
Trevelyan laughed and turned to face her, as much as the limited space allowed. Cassandra was looking at her with curiosity.
"No, silly. Just for a couple of weeks."
"The women from the baths offered to do one for me, but I didn't want to."
"Why not? You should be more adventurous."
"I'm already more adventurous than I could ever expect," said Cassandra, bending down to Trevelyan's lips.
When Trevelyan burst into the rookery, the messages were already waiting for her. There was something from Cullen, Dorian, scout Harding and finally – a letter sealed with the Divine's yellow wax. Trevelyan broke the seal with her teeth before the birdkeeper had the chance to offer his help.
Laura, began the letter from Leliana, uncharacteristically personal, this evening I was the subject of an assassination attempt, one that I was lucky enough to stop. I have my reasons to suspect that you are also a target: before the assassin died from his wounds, he mentioned both the Inquisition and your name.
Trevelyan glanced at the date. The letter was posted three days ago, about a day before she was attacked in the palace, which meant that the one she had sent from Benadolid was probably still in the air on its way to Orlais.
She read the rest of the letter on her way to the meeting, the remaining messages stored safely under her shorter arm. This time they were supposed to meet on the terrace in Maresol's house, theoretically for a change, but in reality because no one felt like running up and down the hill in the heat.
Everyone was already present when she got there: Erasmus and Cassandra were dragging the chairs to a more secluded space, while Josephine was wiping her face with a lacy handkerchief. "A very hot day, isn't it?" she asked.
"It is, it is." Trevelyan was so preoccupied she paid the weather no mind. "Let's sit, read the correspondence, then we'll sum up what we know and all that."
She handed everyone their letters and they sat in a circle, hidden from the rest of the world by thick hibiscus bushes. Erasmus, having had the least to read, quickly started looking around and squirming in his seat. When Cassandra shot him a warning look, he went still and sat ramrod straight. Trevelyan felt familiar warmth spread all over her body.
"Very well." She cleared her throat when everyone was done with their letters. "I know that until now we thought that the opposition in Emprise du Aur and the assassin are two different and separate things, but the Divine informs me that's not the case: the same organisation stands behind it, the so called 'Children of Andraste'. They think themselves saviours of the Chantry, the return to its values and so on."
"Fundamentalists," summed up Josephine.
"Exactly. Human-only Chantry, celibacy for the clergy and the orders"—Trevelyan tried not to look at Cassandra as she was saying that, but she was still able to feel her embarrassment as it was—"and mages into the towers. Also, they're against the inventory of monastic properties."
Cassandra cleared her throat. "And despite the Inquisition's presence in the region they decided against public confrontation and sent an assassin instead. Pathetic cowards."
"Assassins," corrected Trevelyan. "Leliana was paid a visit as well..."
"Dear Maker." Josephine covered her mouth with her hands.
"She was able to defend herself, she's all right."
"She stabbed him to death," added Cassandra, who also received a letter from the Divine. "But before he died she was more successful in getting some information out of him than we ever were with ours."
"What else do we know about these Children of Andraste?" asked Erasmus.
"They consist mostly of ex-templars and radical sisters, and a few Revered Mothers as well. We don't know if they operate in different regions as well and what their actual support. It is surely big enough in Emprise to allow them to act out."
"They're definitely present in more places than just Orlais," said Josephine. "If they were able to smuggle an undercover assassin to Rivain... And find out about your stay here... They must have more working cells for that."
"We can't say we didn't expect that." Trevelyan sighed. "Leliana felt it in her bones even back at the conclave."
"Well." Cassandra shrugged. "Every sudden change has its adversaries."
Trevelyan ignored the remark and looked at everyone else. She saw expectant expressions and stiff postures.
"Back to the point," she continued, "I am afraid that Josephine's right and the Children indeed operate on a bigger scale than we think. With Dagna's help we managed to establish that the assassin's name is Gastignac and that he's an ex-templar from Hasmal. How he got here, how he knew where to look – that we don't know. I don't suppose he has any friends here, but even if he did, they probably wouldn't dare to try another attack too soon after the first attempt went wrong. The only thing we can do is decide what to do next."
"In my opinion we should first announce that the assassination attempt has failed," said Josephine. "It is a big setback for them, these Children. Both in the case of the Divine and yours. If they were to, Maker forbid it, spread any gossip about it, our people, no, all people, need to know that their attacks were unsuccessful."
Trevelyan nodded. "Yes, definitely. This will be your task, Josephine – to send messages to our commanders and to the Revered Mothers in order to disclaim these rumours and dispel any doubts. What's next?"
"I take it you are thinking about some moves against the opposition," said Cassandra cautiously.
Trevelyan, who would love to burn down a couple of chantries in retaliation, just shrugged. "It sounds logical. A move, a countermove."
"I realise that the final decision is yours," continued Cassandra, "but I would like to discourage you from taking brash action."
"How about we send them thank-you letters to express our gratitude for sending just one, clumsy assassin instead of a whole group?"
"It's a schism in the Chantry," retorted Cassandra, her tone gentler than could be expected. "The last time it happened it led to a war that proceeded to reap its horrifying harvest for three years."
Trevelyan felt a familiar pang of anger, but didn't let it unfurl into anything more. "There's one thing I'd like to remind you all of," she said, leaning forward. "After the Exalted Council we spent hours talking about the Inquisition and its mission. We all swore to act in the name of the greater good and the reformation of the Chantry with an emphasis on charity, openness, spreading peace and tolerance... It is, after all, Justinia V's legacy... And everything these Children of Andraste stand for stands in complete opposition to these values. If we parley with them, it will do nothing but demonstrate that their vision of the Chantry is equal to ours. Which is not the case."
Cassandra lowered her eyes. Her knees twitched a couple of times. Then she nodded, looking somewhere above Trevelyan's shoulder. "Thanks for the reminder," she said flatly.
"It is a conflict of values," agreed Erasmus, who until now was fiddling nervously with his thumbs. "That is correct. And the Justinians' place in this conflict is clear."
"I hope so," said Trevelyan. "To attack the Divine is punishable with excommunication. Leliana suggested to extend it to the whole organisation. I'd go even further: call them a sect, cut them off from the Chantry. Interdict the Mothers and sisters allied with the Children, threaten them with property confiscation if they won't return to us. It'll hurt, but it's not violent as such."
"It will hurt the most devout the most," said Cassandra. "Such an excommunication—"
"Should be enough to force them to return to the Chantry. If they're not willing to, they should be pushed off to the fringe with other sects, as far as I'm concerned."
"Is there something else up our sleeve, should this not work?" asked Josephine.
"Up mine, no," admitted Trevelyan. "Up Leliana's, certainly. What do you think?"
"I'm in favour," said Josephine quickly.
Cassandra sighed and nodded in agreement.
"If my opinion is of any value here," said Erasmus, "I also think this is a good solution."
"Well, you are here for something else, really," reminded him Trevelyan. "Tell them what we accomplished this morning."
"The Inquisitor was successful in summoning the spirit blade," announced Erasmus with pride. "I saw it with my own eyes."
"I never stopped believing in you, Trevelyan," said Cassandra and just for a moment, the two of them were completely alone among the hibiscus bushes.
"Thank you." Trevelyan quickly shook off that feeling. "Erasmus, Dagna should also know about it."
"I went ahead and informed her already. She's working on something with the sweat of her brow as we speak."
"Wonderful. I'm not one to count my chickens before they hatch, but it looks like we're getting what we came here for."
"I'm sorry to interrupt," said Idoya, stepping onto the terrace, "but my grandma would like to talk to the Inquisitor."
"Must be something important," said Josephine. "Go, we'll take care of sharing the rest of the load. We'll see you this evening up in the manor."
Trevelyan shot Cassandra a relatively discreet look and left. The street was almost empty during the siesta. It was quiet but for distant sounds of hard work coming from the forge. Someone was singing and playing an instrument in one of the houses.
Trevelyan followed the curvy path up the hill, panting in the humid heat of the afternoon. Luckily the temple was partially hidden in the shadow cast by the olive trees and ciders, so when she finally got there, she could take cover under the arch of the ancient gate. The top of the hill was completely quiet save for the swish of the leaves carried with a gentle breeze.
The place looked completely different now than it did at night, more ordinary. Trevelyan walked around the ruins looking for Brade, but couldn't find her for a long time – and finally spotted her in the place where she first stopped in the shadows.
"Inquisitor Trevelyan. Thank you for coming and let me explain the reason for my invitation: I would like you to join me for a séance."
"It's an honour. Thank you."
"Not an honour but a necessity. There is a spirit here that would like to contact you."
"A spirit?" asked Trevelyan foolishly.
"Indeed. I don't know what you southerners know about our séances, but they include getting in touch with spirits who for some reason seek contact with mortals. Follow me, Inquisitor."
Brade led her to a place Trevelyan could have sworn wasn't there just a few minutes ago: a nook behind a half collapsed colonnade. There was no greenery there, only a marble bench, its surface made smooth by years of sitting, and a basin with some remains of dry herbs and flowers. Brade took out a fresh bundle out of the pocket of her spacious red robes, rubbed it in her hands and threw it into the basin. She motioned at Trevelyan to sit.
"What kind of a spirit seeks contact with me?"
"That, I don't know. I'm but a humble middlewoman." Brade hitched up her robes and sat down next to Trevelyan. Having her sitting so close, Trevelyan finally understood why her face seemed so unsettling: Brade had light blue-grey eyes that stood out against her dark complexion. "Before we begin, I would like to cover some basic rules: first, do not speak to anyone that doesn't speak to you first. The spirits are everywhere around us and they have their own agendas. No point in starting something you won't be able to finish."
"Second, do not ask questions you don't want to know the answers for, like the date of someone's death, your death, your chances for survival and so on. It is possible you will be granted an answer you won't like."
"Third, do not make any deals. I won't be able to get you out of them later and more likely than not they will not prove profitable to you."
"Surely every mage knows that," said Trevelyan.
"Do they? Why, then, do you still struggle with blood magic?"
"Of course not. The spirits help us of their own free will and they are never rewarded for it. We don't take advantage of them nor do we let them take advantage of us."
"That sounds like something that should be taught in our colleges. I'll do my best to remember that."
"I'm glad." Brade clasped her hands together. "Very well, let's get down to it."
She snapped her fingers and a flame appeared, making a quick work of burning down the herbs and flowers in the basin. A strong smell followed. Brade closed her eyes and put her palms flat on her thighs, and for a moment nothing happened, when suddenly a strong sea breeze came over the top of the hill again, this time though carrying not the swish of the leaves, but whispers.
Trevelyan felt a chill running down her spine. She had an impression she could hear a conversation somewhere not far away, but muted, as if it was coming from behind a closed door.
"Laura," said someone straight into her ear, but when she turned, there was no one behind her.
"Don't panic," reminded her Brade in a low voice. "There's no need to. And you don't have to sit here all the time. You can take a walk."
She decided to do just that, but didn't want to wander too far away. When she looked out from behind the colonnade, she saw a silky shadow fly right in front of her eyes and disappear somewhere behind her back. Coming from the olive grove, she could clearly hear laughter and a rapping and snapping noise, as if someone was chopping wood or breaking furniture.
"I don't think that's a good idea," said someone on the other said of the wall, so Trevelyan took a step back. In theory, she was used to the idea of spirits, the Fade and all that, but she was usually asleep for that, or the contact was conditioned by her own spells, thus being something else entirely.
She circled back to Brade, who seemed to radiate some sort of positive energy. It was then that, with the corner of her eye, she spotted a dark, tall silhouette.
That time it didn't disappear when Trevelyan got a better look at it. It remained a contour with a dark filling, a shadow without features. Unmistakably, however, it was the doppelganger.
True to the first rule, Trevelyan waited in silence.
"Hello, Inquisitor," said the creature in a croaking, inhuman voice.
"Hello, whoever you are."
"We meet at last."
"I think I have met you before, and not in favourable circumstances."
"That is correct. It was not my goal to frighten you."
"I wouldn't have guessed." Trevelyan crossed her arms on her chest. "It was quite frightening."
"Such is the beauty of the travellers from the Fade. Inquisitor, to appease you as to the issue of my provenance, I will tell you that I am one of the spirits of this place: Benadolid, formerly Ath Berenis. I noticed you because you were different from the others. Namely, your spirit didn't match your form."
"So I've been told," said Trevelyan.
"I decided to get a closer look and finally to even cheer you on, as you are a person of great spirit that is about to face serious challenges. I like it when mortals are so zesty."
Trevelyan could have sworn she could her traces of laughter in that croaking voice.
"So it was you that whole time?" she asked.
"Yes. I wanted to explain that to stop you from being anxious, and also to inform you of something."
"Not so long ago you fell prey to an assassination attempt. I have to confess I played a role in that."
"I didn't see you that evening."
"You didn't. Aware of what was coming, I appeared to the assassin multiple times, finally scaring him so much he got lost on his way."
"Ah." Trevelyan's head cleared suddenly. "So that was why he didn't get to me on my way to the outhouse. Thank you. That would have been a disgraceful way to go."
"I agree. As it is, it is not your gratitude I seek by telling you about it. I merely wanted to warn you: you are not safe, Inquisitor. The failure didn't do much to discourage your enemies and they won't rest. You should expect them."
Trevelyan opened her mouth, ready to ask a lot of questions, but the dark silhouette raised its black arm. "That is it on my part. I could not tell you everything, as there would be no struggle then."
"There would be, but a short one. Still, thank you for the warning."
"At your service."
The dark silhouette disappeared into the shadow cast by the olive tree, and Trevelyan realised that she had forgotten to ask why for its current form it chose the shape of the person she knew so well.
The temple grew brighter and quieter as the strange noises dissipated slowly. Trevelyan shifted from one foot to another and ran a hand through her hair.
"For your first time that went quite well," said Brade.
The reason why the Chant of Light is a masterpiece is not because it brings us closer to Our Lady Andraste's fate, but because it puts that fate in terms understandable to us. Following the course of an ordinary life, Andraste loves and faces adultery, trusts and is betrayed, wins and fails. The whole truth of human condition is contained within that one story: that we are blinded and we make mistakes.
Mother Grunhilda of Weisshaupt
"The Journal of the End"
Letting out a sigh of relief, Trevelyan immersed herself in the salt spring. Antique arches met above her head, light coming in through the skylight reflecting off the surface of the water.
"I see our beauty treatments agree with you," said Maresol, lying down next to her with a splash.
"Oh, yes." Trevelyan stretched. "Everything here agrees with me."
"That's true." The masseuse came to a halt near them, wiping her hands on a cloth. "When I touched the Inquisitor's back for the first time, it was like a rock, like this wall here. Nothing but knots and pains. Now it's completely different."
"I'm dying to know what it was that made you so relaxed here, Laura," said Maresol slyly, wet hair cascading down her shoulders in thick glossy curls.
"I don't think it's one thing in particular," said Trevelyan, trying not to look at Maresol's slender body under the surface of the water. "I'd say it's your general, wonderful hospitality, healer Candelaria's work and visits to the baths."
"But surely there's something more to it." Maresol wouldn't give it a rest. "I can only imagine it's difficult to get your life back to what it was after the loss you endured, and that other people's company certainly helps..."
"For the sake of the higher order, Maresol," interrupted one of the older women sitting a bit farther down in the pool. "Stop pestering the Inquisitor. If she doesn't want to talk about what she's doing in the sack, she shouldn't have to."
"It's not that I'm ashamed," said Trevelyan, so ashamed she. "It's the privacy of the other person that stops me from talking about it. If you wish though, we could talk about my colourful past, however, I must warn you that those stories are more likely to make you blush from embarrassment rather than excitement."
Maresol giggled like a teenage girl and rubbed her nymph-like body with a dry brush.
"After that teaser I can hardly wait."
Soaking in the salt pool was followed by body and hair oiling and a scalp massage. With no small regret, Trevelyan realised the treatments were about to come to an end and was already planning how to get them started in Skyhold. Admittedly, the baths there were cold and unpleasant, but if someone were to heat them up on a regular basis, add a few more lanterns and import some aromatic oils, maybe it would be possible to at least partially recreate the atmosphere of this place to keep their spirits up during long dark evenings in the mountains.
After the baths, she went to pay a visit to the healer, who was also content with the progress they'd made.
"And the pain?" she asked, kneading Trevelyan's left shoulder. "Does it come back?"
"Well, sometimes. If I wake up suddenly. Or when I lose my temper. But it's neither as frequent nor as persistent as it used to be."
"I'm afraid it will remain that way, Inquisitor. After what has happened to you it's impossible to eliminate the pain completely. I'm sorry."
"No need to be sorry, Candelaria. You've helped me more than any other healer I've been to, and I've been to a fair share of them."
Next on her list was the forge, but on her way there Trevelyan decided to take a little detour to the oubliette. The young men standing guard recognised her, bowed politely and let her in. Trevelyan passed the regular cells – one of them held a local drunk slowly regaining his sobriety – and stopped over the grate at the end of the cave.
Gastignac sat inside, leaning against the wall. Next to him stood an empty bowl; in the opposite corner, a bucket.
"Gastignac." When she spoke, he opened his eyes. "How are you?"
Instead of answering he kept staring at her bleakly. Each day of the imprisonment had him looking worse for wear, but at least people were stopping by from time to time, if only to grace him with some snide remarks. It was far from isolation.
"I'm doing okay," continued Trevelyan, clearly enjoying herself. "In fact, I came to tell you we finally decided your fate."
At that, Gastignac couldn't help but react – he raised his head, interested.
"But I won't tell you more. You know why? Because not knowing your own fate is torture in itself." Trevelyan hitched up her dress and crouched down over the grate. "I know that because I used to be a mage in the Circle. Long before I became the Inquisitor and started telling others what they were to do, I was a mere punching bag for a whole lot of lunatics like you. No one ever told me what would happen to me and when. Out of the blue they would take us to a place no one knew for however long they wanted. You never knew if that was the day you were assigned an even worse 'caregiver' than before."
Gastignac kept looking at her in silence without so much as a blink.
"And that's what's going to happen to you," finished Trevelyan. "I thought it a fitting punishment. What, still got nothing to say?"
She held her breath in anticipation, hoping he would say something, give something away, but to no avail. In the meantime, another person entered the prison. By gait alone Trevelyan could tell it was Cassandra.
"Trevelyan? I was looking for you." She also approached the grate. She wore a tunic cinched at the waist with her sword belt and soft shoes, a telltale sign the heat was taking its toll on her. "You're talking to him?"
The look she gave the assassin would chill most of the people Trevelyan knew to the bone. Gastignac blinked and lowered his head.
"I wouldn't call it talking. Monologuing, more like it. But enough of that, let's go."
Cassandra gave her a hand and helped her up. They left the prison together, the sun blinding them temporarily after the time spent in the darkness of the cave.
"Do you think it's a good idea to just pass him back and forth between the Inquisition's posts?" asked Cassandra, gallantly letting Trevelyan go first in a narrow crossing.
"Yes. It's certainly better than dragging him along on our two-week journey back into the mountains. What would you do?"
"Behead him to set an example," said Cassandra gruffly.
Trevelyan flinched and glanced at her furtively. Confident, Cassandra marched step in step with her, expression sombre but vigilant, making Trevelyan realise just for how many people it was the last thing they saw in their lives.
That thought marred slightly the pride she felt at having someone like this at her side. How far had she come from those desperate adepts from her provincial Circle.
She expected their whole entourage to be in the forge, but only Dagna was there. The recently extinguished hearth was still radiating heat, and the forehead of the dwarven blacksmith was wet with sweat.
"Final touches," she said, taking the prosthetic out of the bucket where it was cooling. "I hope this time everything is perfect."
The final design resembled an arm much more than its predecessor: the fingers, though open-work, came equipped with three joints, and the big buckles disappeared, replaced by smaller clasps. The vent of the lyrium funnel was masked as an elfin ornament bringing to mind Orlesian moulding.
"It's beautiful," said Trevelyan appreciatively.
Dagna helped her put the prosthetic on. It was a simple task, designed in a way that allowed her to do it herself easily. The stump protested with a flash of pain at first, but it didn't last long as it was braced against a soft, suede handle. The hand also had the ability to grasp objects: its fingers had to be clenched with the help of the other hand, but once it was done, the grip was firm. Trevelyan, whose mutilated arm has grown significantly stronger recently, raised a hammer above her head with ease. It was the first time she did something like this ever since she'd lost her arm and the feeling was incredible: balancing somewhere on a thin line between magic and reality.
"...So?" asked Dagna, impatient and eager to get some feedback.
Trevelyan smiled, took a step back and conjured the spirit blade. Thin cords running through the length of the prosthetics started glowing blue as out-work fingers filled with a glimmering fist.
"This is the best gift I have ever received."
Come evening, a lot of wine bottles had been emptied to celebrate the occasion. Pleasantly relaxed, Trevelyan received an invitation from the captain of a ship that wanted to take them back to Ferelden. The owner of the ship was a well known Rivaini tradesman, the ship itself an impressive galleon, not a shabby carrack like the one they rented on their way here, so without further ado she decided to accept the offer.
Dinner had them telling scary stories all over again – Maresol's husband turned out to have some local ones from the sea, and Cassandra had a plethora of legends about the Nevarran necromancers. Trevelyan decided against telling the others about what she had experienced during the séance – it seemed too personal, too extraordinary, not to mention that Josephine was already properly scared and after they made their they way back to the palace, kept insisting that they didn't leave her alone. It thwarted certain plans Trevelyan had started making during dinner, looking at Cassandra's thigh next to hers. She was finding it difficult to hide her annoyance now.
While they were making themselves comfortable in Josephine's room, Cassandra procured a half-full bottle of Antivan brandy from somewhere.
"It will help you sleep, Josephine," she said, pouring a hearty amount into a cup. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"We are surprised by your mysterious habits," said Trevelyan.
"It seems like you don't know everything about me." Cassandra closed the bottle. Her raised eyebrows made her look comical.
"That we don't." Josephine hiccupped after taking a sip of the brandy, apparently unaware of the tension in the room. "Our Cassandra can be full of surprises."
Cassandra took a seat in the armchair, which creaked a little under her weight. Trevelyan had to forcibly make herself look away from her spread knees.
"Is that so? What else about me was so surprising?"
"Well..." said Josephine. "Those stories from Nevarra. You never talked so openly about home before."
"Perhaps." Cassandra tilted her head and met Trevelyan's gaze. "This place let me reassess my priorities."
The brandy worked its magic and soon Josephine was fast asleep. Trevelyan took the combs out of her hair, put a blanket over her feet and, with only one candle left burning, retreated to her own room. In the meantime, Cassandra went to the well to get some water, but she was gone for longer than expected, which got Trevelyan even more excited.
"Finally," she let out a breath as soon as Cassandra appeared in the entrance with the pitcher.
"Is it?" She set the pitcher down in a safe spot next to the wardrobe and backed Trevelyan against the wall. "Have you been waiting for me?"
"I have," Trevelyan gasped out. "I couldn't wait for Josie to fall asleep."
"Why is that?" Cassandra's voice was cool, matter-of-fact even.
"Because I wanted to be alone with you."
"Did you? What for?"
"Because I wanted you to take me from behind."
Cassandra closed her eyes and leant her forehead against the wall. Her breath quickened. Trevelyan caught her hand and led it under her dress, where there were already no underclothes. She had thoughtfully taken them off, knowing they would soon be getting rid of their clothing anyway.
Cassandra pulled her hand away to take off her own tunic. Trevelyan mulled her idea over for a couple more seconds and finally kneeled by the bed to get something from underneath it.
"What are you doing?" Cassandra took off and threw away her shoes. "What's that?"
Trevelyan showed it to her. Cassandra stared at the fake member for a moment until her face cleared in understanding. She squinted as if she was assessing the challenge and, expression determined, extended a hand to take it.
Trevelyan kneeled next to the bed as if she was going to pray and, truth be told, she wasn't about to rule that possibility out. In the back, Cassandra was huffing quietly while putting on the harness; then she kneeled behind Trevelyan and ran her hands caressingly across the length of her back, down from her neck to ass. Her palms were rough, covered in calluses. She leant forwards and kissed Trevelyan's neck. Trevelyan shivered in response. When Cassandra slipped two fingers inside her, she arched her back to feel more. She had been wet all evening.
Cassandra pulled away and when she came back, she was pressing against her with something more than just a hand. Trevelyan moaned and grabbed the sheets. Cassandra corrected her stance, grabbed Trevelyan's hips firmly, pushed once, twice, fell into rhythm.
It was completely quiet, as if they had ended up in some sort of bubble, completely separate from the rest of the world. Cassandra lost her breath and faltered, but quickly resumed the movements, steadier and more precise than before. Fleetingly, Trevelyan thought she was terrific for someone who had spent most of her life celibate.
The orgasm came over her in a wave obliterating all thought and awareness. She curled up in a ball next to the bed, gasping and desperately struggling for breath. Someone covered in a thin layer of sweat lifted her up and put her down on the mattress, made some creaking noises, took a few steps barefoot, sipped some cold water and finally lay down next to her, letting out a sigh.
She fell asleep, but in her sleep registered the loss of warmth when Cassandra got up.
The whole next day Trevelyan barely saw her, but she didn't think it too strange as she herself was busy since morning, paying everyone she met in Benadolid a farewell visit. Most of said visits had her presenting the abilities of her brand new arm, which was still a bit tiring. The saddest moment came when she had to say goodbye to Maresol's family, but it turned out that didn't apply to everyone.
"I have one request, Inquisitor," said Maresol after she had shoved a package of homemade cookies into Trevelyan's hands. "Take care of my wayward daughter. Who wants to go south with you."
"I was just as surprised. In the meantime she decided to join that, uh, new order of Cassandra’s and change the world." Maresol folded her arms on her chest. "Cassandra got her way after all."
"Did you talk to Idoya about it?"
"I did, she's delighted. I am less so, but I can see it is something she wants to do. Even if I forbade her, she would find her own way of doing it. I'd rather she was in your care from the beginning."
"I don't know what to say. I'm sorry, I guess?"
"You don't have to say anything, Inquisitor. Just one thing: should anything bad happen to her... I will find you. And you know that I'll find out sooner or later."
"I do," said Trevelyan. On an impulse, she reached out with her hand to grip Maresol's arm. The seer replied in kind.
They spent the whole evening packing, a task especially difficult for Josephine who had acquired many new dresses and shoes she didn't want to leave behind. Trevelyan had the same problem, which she resolved by getting rid of some of the warm clothing, hoping it wouldn't suddenly get very cold on their way south.
Cassandra had no such problems. When Trevelyan peeked inside her room on the opposite side of the corridor, she found her hunching over a piece of paper.
"Am I interrupting?"
"No. As a matter of fact, I wanted to have a word with you." Cassandra put the document aside to let it dry and turned around. The candle cast a shimmering light on her stern face Trevelyan came to think of as incredibly beautiful.
"What's the matter?"
"I don't know." Cassandra rubbed her face with her hand. "I'm not sure."
Trevelyan closed the door behind her and leant against the wall, full of ominous feelings. "So?"
"I—I have this alarming feeling that I've lost my compass," said Cassandra quietly. "The one that always pointed the way for me when I made my decisions. I think I've veered off my path."
"I don't think I understand," said Trevelyan. "How is this relevant?"
"It's my judgement," Cassandra continued. "It's not clear anymore. It's not like it used to be, when I always knew what to do. It's vexing."
"What can I tell you? The times are changing and we're changing with them."
"Only it never used to be like this. And we've lived through so many things."
Trevelyan straightened her back slowly, quite unexpectedly finding herself in one of those situations she never thought she'd be part of. "How about you pull yourself together?" she asked politely. "You know, there's this Fereldan proverb: only cows never change their views. Food for thought, if you will."
Cassandra stared at her, mouth hanging open. Then her expression shifted, all crinkled and gloomy, and a thought crossed Trevelyan's mind – that it could even be described as scary.
"I'm not telling you this so you could put me in my place," she said through greeted teeth and, good Maker, she was even more attractive than usual. "Not that you would let such an opportunity pass you by."
"Then why are you telling me this if not to know my opinion?"
Cassandra, angry and confused, didn't know what to say to that and after a moment of awkward silence they parted ways.
The night that followed, Trevelyan lay alone in her single bed, thinking about Cassandra who for a long time seemed uninterested and got interested so suddenly when they left the mountains to head north, and it looked like she was changing her mind now that they were about to head back. It wouldn't be the first time she had a lover whose affections were as short as their excursion. Cassandra's specific character had Trevelyan thinking that she had let herself go wilder than usual, but only temporarily, thus putting their affair into a similar category.
As usual, she found it hard to determine her own thoughts on the matter. She had some rational ones, but behind them – chaos. That was why she was always jealous of Cassandra, the clarity of her feelings, the strength of her convictions.
They were about to head out early in the morning, before dawn even, so after a couple of hours spent on idle lying in bed she got up and put on both her clothes for the journey and her new prosthetic. Despite the open-work design and all the innovative solutions it was heavy and alien.
They waited patiently, but Erasmus didn't make it to the meeting point.
"I think he could still be at that girl's place, the one he was saying goodbye to," said Maresol, who was there to see them out.
"'Saying goodbye'," said Dagna, her voice teasing.
"You'd best head out. He will catch up with you when we find him. You'll probably get stuck in harbour anyway, but at least this way you'll make it there before the worst heat."
Thinking back to the torture that was the road to Benadolid, Trevelyan agreed to that. The five of them headed out – herself, Cassandra, Josephine, Dagna, Idoya – only the last one truly excited with the journey that awaited them. As it was still early morning, the road to Dairsmuid was mostly covered in shadows, which actually made the experience pleasant, especially considering that the locals lent them mules to carry their luggage. Cassandra, stoic and silent, marched at the front, irritatingly unaffected even on the steeper slopes. It looked as if she'd gotten a decent night's sleep.
A spectacular dawn breaking over the bay made Trevelyan realise they were coming back to a place where there was neither so much sun nor blooming hibiscus bushes.
Having reached the harbour they stopped by a tavern. Trevelyan ordered a pitcher of table wine, attracting the attention of everyone gathered there. Cassandra, sat comfortably in her chair, kept looking at her as well, and in a way that didn't leave much to imagination. When Trevelyan sat down next to her, she discreetly put a hand on her knee.
"Very well then." Josephine took two sips and put the cup aside. "Since we are waiting for Erasmus anyway, I will go check the ship's cabins and work out the details of the trip."
It wasn't until an hour later, with neither Erasmus nor Josephine in sight, that Trevelyan started to worry.
And there came a voice from above: <<Pray. Do not lose time, for it will be too late. Thick darkness surrounds the earth while the enemy waits at the door!>> Bothered not, they feasted, indifferent to the prophet's warnings. And so it happened that the Second Blight came and every third Anders lost their life to it.
Sister Zenobia of Hossberg
Chronicles of the Divine Age
Cassandra came back with an expression that could not possibly mean anything good.
"I saw Josie," she said grimly, hooking her thumbs over her belt. "Two muscleheads were leading her under the deck of the ship we were supposed to board. It's the Children of Andraste."
"How can you be sure?" asked Trevelyan. They stood surrounded by their luggage, with a view of the harbour. People heading to the town or the port had to walk around them and did not seem too pleased with that.
"I'm sure. I recognised someone. It was..." Cassandra shook her head, trying to remember. Trevelyan knew she was bad with names. "That Knight Commander... I think"—she smacked her lips—"I don't remember his name. But he was the Knight Commander in Montsimmard before the war."
"Darn it," said Trevelyan.
"Is Josie okay?" asked Dagna. Her eyes were comically big.
"I was far away but it looked like it. I saw maybe ten people on that ship, hard to say how many of them were the crew."
"It's my fault." Trevelyan smashed her metal arm against a post that creaked ominously in response. "They took advantage of my naivety with that ship. And the spirit warned me..."
"What spirit?" asked Idoya.
"I thought it was more of a general warning," Trevelyan muttered in response. "Not for this exact moment! Damn it."
"It's no use looking for someone to blame now, Inquisitor," said Cassandra, that title on her lips suddenly taking Trevelyan back in time to when she had been only her condescending advisor with thick royal blood running through her veins. "We need to find a solution to the situation we're in now."
"I think someone's looking for us." Idoya, her eyes narrowed and locked at someone behind Trevelyan's back. "Luisa?"
Luisa was one of Idoya's teenage friends. She reached their group panting with exertion. "Inquisitor," she said, bracing her hands against her knees. Her wet, sweaty hair was sticking to her forehead. "They came from the bay. They captured... Erasmus and Maresol. They're saying they will exchange them... for you."
Trevelyan felt cold sweat trickle down her back. "F—for me?" she repeated.
"You... and Seeker Cassandra. They barricaded themselves... in the palace at the top of the hill."
Idoya gasped, as if she only just now understood what had transpired. Trevelyan spun around to look at the bay. Her head was annoyingly empty, the way it never ever was before, even during the worst battles of the war.
"Inquisitor?" Dagna gently touched her healthy shoulder. Trevelyan turned back to face them, ready to admit she had no idea what to do, when she met Cassandra's gaze. Her warm eyes looked at Trevelyan with unwavering belief that she would find a solution.
"We need to go and rescue Josie," Cassandra spoke finally, breaking Trevelyan's stupor for good.
"But... my Mum," protested Idoya.
"We're here. Josephine first," Cassandra insisted. "She must be scared to death. She's not used to violence and life threatening situations."
"No." Trevelyan shook her head. "We need to head back to Benadolid first. They're holding people hostage there. They hoping for us to come back and start to parley."
"They have Josie here!"
"But they're just covering their back. And we were kind enough to send Josie right into their hands."
"We cannot just leave her here!" Cassandra raised her hands in a gesture of outrage.
"We won't. Idoya, you must know where the harbour master is."
"He's usually in his office." Idoya pointed to a small building situated at the waterfront. "Why?"
"Trevelyan." Cassandra stomped her foot down. "I can't believe you want to leave Josie in the hands of these madmen!"
"I don't want to, but it's not like we have a lot of options!"
"We can split up..."
"Really? The two of us, a smith and two girls? I know you think highly of yourself, but let’s not stretch it."
Cassandra fell silent, expression glowering, but was clearly willing to think it through.
"Take this safe conduct pass your mother gave me," said Trevelyan to Idoya. "You'll go to the harbour master and tell him that ship cannot sail away until we get back. You need to make him take you seriously. Tell him they are holding the Ambassador of Inquisition, an Antivan noblewoman prisoner there, and that it would be best if they sent some guards, a patrolling unit or whoever is responsible for keeping peace there. Take Luisa with you."
Idoya shook her head in confirmation. "Does it mean I won't go with you to rescue Mum?"
"You won't. But you'll help Josephine. And we'll come back for you."
"Wait." Cassandra reached into her bags. "Do you have a weapon?"
"I can enchant," said Idoya with a spark in her eye.
"Good." Cassandra handed her a long knife. "But you can still use this."
Idoya gulped and strapped the knife to her belt. They sprinted away with Luisa, headed for the harbour. Trevelyan was left in the circle formed by their bags with Cassandra and Dagna.
"We need to double back," she repeated, as if she wanted to make sure it was the right decision.
"If they have half a brain, they will wait for us on the way." Cassandra tellingly touched the hilt of her sword. "But I know these hills. We'll take a different path. I must warn you though, the terrain won't be easy."
"We need to leave everything behind. Take only the essentials."
Cassandra strapped her shield to her back. Trevelyan, mindful of the weight of the prosthetic, didn't take anything but water and her staff. Dagna, stressed and sweaty because of it, spent a while running though her bags, collecting a set of small bottles.
"It can be used to make an explosive," she said, strapping it to her belt. "I know how to do it. Even though I never fought before."
"Maybe you won't have to," said Trevelyan, although even to her own ears it seemed unlikely. "I think they underestimated the Rivainis if they took Maresol and barricaded themselves in the palace. The whole town will turn against them."
"They don't care about that if they did as you say."
"If they're all like Gastignac, I'd go with the first option," said Dagna. "He was always very conceited."
"Let's hope so." Cassandra grabbed a hold of the bags. "I'll carry these to the tavern. You go buy something to eat. We cannot afford to lose our strength."
It wasn't the most difficult march in Trevelyan's life – she had, after all, escaped from Haven during a snowstorm, and forced her way into a jungle forest in humid heat – but it certainly was one for the short-legged Dagna. Cassandra set off at her own pace, stopping every now and then to wait for them and look around, and Trevelyan, somewhat relieved, slowed down from time to time to not leave the dwarf completely behind. They were alone in the hills, save for a couple of goats chewing grass with an air of pensiveness so typical for animals. The sun beat down on them relentlessly as if it wanted to take its revenge.
Trevelyan tried to go through different scenarios in her head, but was always getting stuck in the same moment, namely – getting the hostages out of the palace. Nothing seemed realistic. Everything ended in failure.
"Don't worry," said Cassandra, giving her a hand on a particularly rocky slope. "We'll think of something."
Trevelyan just snorted with disbelief.
"We've been in worse trouble and we’ve always gotten out of it," added Cassandra and embraced her. It was so easy to fall into her comforting arms, easier even than finding her mouth. Looking at the glimmering waters of the bay over her shoulder, Trevelyan wondered how on earth she had managed to survive so long without it.
Dagna reached them. "How much further?" she asked, flustered.
Cassandra stepped aside in a natural gesture. "Not much. But we should take a quick break and drink some water."
Relieved, Trevelyan crouched down on a stone and reached for her waterskin. Cassandra braced one foot against a rock and took a big gulp. Some of it trickled down her neck.
"As a matter of fact, I was thinking about something recently," she said, wiping her mouth off with the back of her hand. "How come everyone calls you 'Trevelyan', Inquisitor? We are all on first name basis after all, and your name is very nice. Not weird or anything."
"Is this really what you find interesting now?" asked Trevelyan in disbelief.
"It is quite curious," said Dagna.
"Let's move, and you, talk," commanded Cassandra.
"Well, okay. I'm afraid it's nothing mysterious though. It's my family name and the family that gave me away to the templars didn't even make an effort to send me anywhere far. I got stuck in Ostwick where everyone knew us and my surname became my main characteristic. I was ten."
"Ten," repeated Cassandra pensively.
"Yes, they wanted to get rid of me even sooner, but I guess a curious case of guilty conscience must have been involved. Then, they became too afraid that I'd act out, do something like setting a Revered Mother's robes on fire during a mass, so they decided to eliminate the threat."
Dagna kept silent, taking one careful step after another on a rocky path.
"And in the Circle you're left with your name only," continued Trevelyan. "In my case not even with my wealth, because you can't inherit anything. So all I had left was my surname, ironically enough, after a family so sickeningly pious they didn't want to have anything to do with me. And now they keep sending me letters, asking for audiences..."
She stopped for a brief moment, feeling the anger welling up inside her.
"Trevelyan?" called Cassandra from ahead. Her face was pinched against the blinding sun.
By the time they reached Benadolid that anger crystallised into ice cold rage. The town was busy as a beehive, so as not to risk it, they sneaked into Maresol's house through the back, crossing a vineyard and the property of a cloth tradesman on their way. The house was empty and gloomy. On the table in the kitchen there was half-eaten breakfast looking like someone had left it in a hurry.
"There's no one here," said Cassandra with disappointment, but in that exact moment a creaking sound came from the corridor. They looked out of the kitchen. A messy head emerged from the wardrobe, belonging to one of Idoya's many cousins.
"Everyone's in the temple, Inquisitor," said the little girl in a thin voice. "They left me here to be on the lookout, but I was too scared of the knights."
"You did good to hide," said Cassandra, unusually empathic. "And you better hide back in there and wait for us to come back. Okay?"
Dagna took a big cutlass off the wall. "Might come in handy," she said, grasping the hilt with both hands.
"Certainly better to have it than not. Let's go."
They made their exit through the garden as to avoid the main street. Cassandra gave Dagna and Trevelyan a boost, and then pulled herself up and jumped over the wall in one of those displays of fitness that Trevelyan had always found impressive. Having leapt over the second, shorter wall they found themselves on the path to the temple. Trevelyan got to the top of the hill in record time.
"Inquisitor!" Costo jumped from the rock he was sitting on. "We’ve been waiting for you!"
"I know. What’s the situation?"
"They locked themselves in with Maresol and Erasmus a few hours ago. They came from the neighbouring bay... No one saw it coming. They freed that prisoner from the oubliette and must have bumped into the two of them on their way from there... To think I let her go alone."
Costo wiped his face with his gigantic hand. Someone handed Trevelyan a bannock with olive oil and a cup of water, so she took a sip.
"How many are there?" asked Cassandra.
"Twenty, maybe. They sent that... Gastignac to talk to us. He gave us their conditions: we have until this evening to hand you two to them, or else they'll deal with the hostages. Can you believe that?"
Trevelyan took a bite of the bannock and looked around. She spotted the man responsible for maintaining order in Benadolid, a couple of seers with their sailor husbands and Brade, standing right next to the suspension bridge.
"Where are they holding the hostages?"
"I don't know." He rubbed his hands together, looking somewhere over Trevelyan's shoulder. "But we sent two guys over to spy on them."
"Good thinking," said Cassandra. She stood so close that Trevelyan could feel her breathing down her neck. "One more thing: is there a secret entrance to the palace? Somewhere in the back, in the cellars maybe?"
Costo frowned, thinking the question over. "Yes, there is one. You'd need to climb the slope and enter through a rift in the stone. It leads to the pantry and you exit just next to the kitchen. You want to sneak in from the back?"
"Maybe. I don't know yet."
"And where is my daughter?" He finally realised Idoya wasn't with them.
"She stayed behind in Dairsmuid," said Trevelyan. "They kidnapped Josephine... They took her on board of their ship. I sent her to the harbour master so he would stop them from sailing away."
"How were they able to take us so completely by surprise?" asked Costo, his tone baffled.
"I was wondering the same thing myself," said Trevelyan, but the truth was, she knew how. Everything here made them lazy: their success, the heat, wine, in her case also sex and Cassandra's attention. It was unacceptable. "I swear I will get Maresol and everyone else out of it, Costo. You have my word."
"Thank you, Inquisitor. Just tell us what to do."
"I don't know yet. Give me a moment, please." She took Cassandra aside. "Twenty, more or less," she said, the tone of her voice uncertain.
"We'll have to split up," said Cassandra. "You'll go first to parley with them. I'll take the secret entrance and surprise them."
"Alone? Out of the question."
"It wouldn't be the first time I did something like that."
"Yes, and you're usually accompanied by an armed unit."
"So I'll take some sailors with me. We'll need someone to divert their attention..."
"I can blow something up," said Dagna, reminding them of her presence. "I'm quite good at it, even if explosives lack certain finesse."
Cassandra looked like she was considering it. "Yes... a few well-timed explosions would certainly divert their attention from the prisoners."
"It is all very risky," said Trevelyan. A shiver ran down her spine. "Wait a second... do you feel that?"
"Yes. Something's wrong here. The Veil..."
Trevelyan was already heading for the bridge.
"There's a spirit here that wants to talk to you," said Brade without turning around. "I'm guessing it's the same one as the last time."
"Yes. Can we summon it without that lengthy ritual and all the other spirits showing up?"
"Yes, it is possible." Brade's wrinkled face bore the expression of disapproval. "For a short time though."
"I can work with that."
Such a summoning required the help of the remaining seers. They gathered around Brade and, their hands joined, sang in low voices, which made everyone's hair stand on end. The spirit was as eager to help as Cassandra was sceptical about the idea Trevelyan got in her head.
"It's a horrible idea," she said, giving her doppelganger a once-over. "Literally."
When they stood next to each other, it was easy to tell the real Cassandra apart from her copy: she resonated with warmth, and her face, even though stern, was open and kind. The doppelganger had blurred features, proportions that weren't quite right and gave off a creepy aura.
"Who are you, really?" asked Cassandra, not bothering to beat around the bush.
"I am the spirit of Ath Berenis," croaked the doppelganger. Everyone flinched. "A kind one, to make things clear. I cannot take a physical form, so the only way I can help you is with my appearance."
"I got that part, but I still do not entirely comprehend it, you know, as far as logic is concerned." Cassandra braced her hands on her ships and shifted from one foot to the other, which Trevelyan knew to be a more polite form of stomping her foot. "But fine."
"You don't have much time," called Brade from the inside of the seer circle. "You'd better hurry up!"
Cassandra put on her gauntlets and adjusted her belt. "Very well. Trevelyan..."
"I'll see you soon," said Trevelyan, trying to stop her voice from quivering.
Cassandra nodded, clearly struggling as well. She patted Trevelyan on her shoulder blade and called Costo and a few burly sailors. Together, they deftly headed down the slope, entering the thicket for cover. They had a longer road ahead of them, so Trevelyan had to give them a head start.
"Once again... why are you helping us?" she asked the spirit when they came to a halt before the suspension bridge.
"I like you." The doppelganger looked down to where Cassandra was already crossing over to the twin hill. "And that companion of yours... I must say I understand the nature of your interest, Inquisitor."
Trevelyan laughed with disbelief and embarrassment, completely taken aback.
"You breathed life into this place," continued the spirit. "For me, to be able to return here, even in a form so far from perfection... That is something."
"So it's... nostalgia?" summed up Trevelyan.
"In a sense. That is why I must ask – please, do not blow this place up."
"We'll try our best."
She adjusted the metal arm and the grip on her staff, then set off. The bridge creaked ominously under her feet, swaying with the wind. The spirit walked soundlessly, so every now and then she had to make sure it was still there.
The palace seemed abandoned when they finally made it to the other side. The first guards did not appear until after they passed the olive grove, blocking their way short of entering the courtyard. They were two youngsters, maybe twenty years old, clad in chain mail and sweating profusely. Their eyes went big upon seeing Trevelyan and the doppelganger.
"I am the Inquisitor," said Trevelyan. "And this is Cassandra Pentaghast. We're here for the hostages. Whom should I talk to about that?"
The first one couldn't utter a word, but his colleague motioned vaguely with his hand. "They are in the ball room."
When they were passing them by, he spat on the ground next to their feet. The doppelganger reacted with an expression that simply screamed Cassandra and even though the situation was grave, Trevelyan found it funny.
More guards waited in the courtyard and then at the entrance to the palace, but it wasn’t until they led them to the old ballroom that the accumulated hate thrown Trevelyan's way hit her with full force. It was easy to tell their leader apart: he was wearing a full suit of armour and a surcoat with the templars' flaming sword. At his side stood Gastignac, pale and sickly thin, but with a smug look on his face.
"Inquisitor." The leader spread his arms in a welcoming gesture. He seemed to be over forty, but his thick beard made it hard to determine his exact age. Trevelyan could have sworn she had seen him somewhere before, but when she looked to her side for confirmation she realised Cassandra wasn't with her to offer it. "And here I was, thinking you wouldn't do us the honour."
"And yet," said Trevelyan, refraining from voicing one of the many jokes about thinking that suddenly came to mind. "I am here in person, as you wished. I assume you didn't make me come all this way only to thank me."
"Quite the opposite. We would like to take you with us to Emprise du Aur and execute you in public."
"I'll grant you that, you don't beat around the bush," retorted Trevelyan, trying to do a headcount. Costo's spies' estimations seemed to be correct: there were five guards outside, and ten people inside, so the remaining four or five had to be somewhere else. "Before we begin our negotiations, I'd like to see Maresol and Erasmus. You will admit that that sounds like a fair deal, won't you?"
"Fair, yes, but is it a smart one? After all, we now have in our grasp not only you and your right hand, but also one of the knights of that false order, and a witch from the north."
"In theory, I know it's useless to expect you to act honourably, but, just maybe, you could do with some basic decency?"
"Decency?" The leader yanked at his beard and took a few steps forward. Trevelyan hoped he wouldn't approach close enough to notice that there was something off about Cassandra. "It's curious that this should be the term you mention. Do you think we could call it decent, the things mages did to my knights while they were ‘breaking out of their chains’?"
"I wouldn't know, it's not like I was there. I don't know the history of every Circle in Thedas. I don't even know who you are."
That statement caused a commotion among the Children of Andraste. Their leader's face changed.
"How dare you? I am Arnaud de Trauborg, the Knight Commander of Orlais!"
Trevelyan didn't even feel like telling him that he couldn't have been Knight Commander for at least five years now. She must have met him at some point, but he had no idea when; he certainly seemed to remember her.
"My regards." She didn't even bow. She cast a quick glance at the doppelganger who was making threatening faces at the Children, and turned back to Arnaud. "So what will it be with these hostages?"
"I don't think we'll take that deal," said Arnaud de Trauborg.
An excellently timed explosion shook the building. Next to Trevelyan, the spirit of the palace spread its arms in a questioning gesture of irritation.
There will come a time when the hostile billows will spill over, when heresy will be lauded as truth, and evil - as good. There will come a time when an enemy thought to be noble will face the believer. And though it is condemned by the saints to deal out death, you will strike the foe down with your sword, even though he sang the same psalms in the mornings and was to attend vespers in the evening. When in doubt, carry your prayers to the Maker and he will point the way, though full of thorns that way will be.
Sister Theohilda of Mathese, thinker of the Chantry
"Follow me!" commanded Arnaud du Trauborg, pointing his index finger at some of his supporters. "You, you and you! The rest, watch the Inquisitor!"
They promptly left the ballroom, heading in the direction of the explosion, which, if anyone cared to ask Trevelyan for her opinion, was a bad decision, as that was when she saw her opening.
"Cover me," she said to the doppelganger, turned on her heel and ran out of the room before those who stayed behind could realise what was happening.
With the corner of her eye she saw the spirit dissolve from Cassandra's tall figure into a dark mist; looking straight at it must have been terrifying, because she heard a few startled screams. She sprinted through the main corridor, wondering frantically where they were keeping Maresol and Erasmus, and burst into the guest wing. No one was there, their rooms exactly as they had left them, filled with nothing but distant voices that could be heard through open windows.
She ran to the courtyard where she stumbled upon two guardsmen, the youngsters she had seen earlier in the olive grove. They were as surprised to see her as she was to see them.
Without as much as a thought Trevelyan hit one of them in the face with her metal arm. She heard a crunch and the boy didn't even fall down, but rather collapsed with a resounding thud. The second one swung his sword at her, which Trevelyan automatically blocked with her staff. Despite the long hiatus, everything came back to her at once: just as Cassandra had taught her once, she released her hold and stepped aside, sending the boy flying forward. By the time he straightened up, Trevelyan was already holding a sword.
The boy's eyes widened and went from the lucent blade to Trevelyan's face and back. She stepped aside, tripped over the guard on the ground, almost lost her footing and took a few more panicked steps. The Children's knight charged at her; she regained her balance, jumped back, turned on one foot and cut him across the shoulder with her spirit blade. He cried out from pain and grabbed his arm just as she hit him in the head with her staff.
The Children of Andraste's knights both rendered harmless, Trevelyan wiped the sweat off her forehead and took a few deep breaths. She needed to find Erasmus and Maresol and she had a feeling the knights could be keeping them in the baths or in the washing room with its countless dark nooks, so she set off in that direction. She cautiously decided to get there from the outside, through the servant's porch, because the second wing of the palace resonated with screams and distinctive clatter of metal.
There was no one in the baths, nor in the washing room. Someone grabbed her by the hair just as she was leaving the latter.
"We meet again," said Gastignac in his flat voice right into Trevelyan's ear, holding her by the neck with his forearm. "Even if in slightly different circumstances, Inquisitor."
"Better ones," hissed Trevelyan. "At least I'm not on my way to relieve myself at night."
Gastignac began to drag her back into the direction of the ball room; she caught his arm with her healthy hand to keep him from suffocating her, but could only clumsily hit him with the other as the metal fingers did not bend on their own.
"You sad cripple. Keep still or else I'm going to have to hurt you," said Gastignac and something cold touched Trevelyan's side. It was a blade. Horrible, primal fear shot right through her, but she did her best to hide it. "Does it not bother Cassandra Pentaghast that you only have one hand to satiate her needs?"
"One's enough," said Trevelyan, humiliated and terrified.
They stopped at a spot where corridors intersected and she noticed someone standing in the entrance to the palace. She felt doubt give way to hope: even against the blinding sun, she could tell that the figures didn't look like knights in chainmail, but rather Rivaini women in summer clothes.
"Leave her alone!" shouted one of them, waving her staff about in a threatening manner. The second woman held a cutlass while the third, smallest one among them, stayed back. When they got closer, Trevelyan recognised two seers from Benadolid and Dagna. "You... barbarian!"
"Don't get any closer," said Gastignac warningly, pressing the blade against Trevelyan's ribs. She twisted painfully to minimise the contact. "If you value the Inquisitor's life."
"Let her go and we'll talk!"
"There's nothing to talk about. Don't try anything or else I'll take care of you too." He opened and closed his fist in a threatening gesture. The seers probably recognised it; Trevelyan remembered that day in the baths when she had told them about the assassins' skills. "Off you go, back home to do your pirates' laundry."
For a moment they looked as if they were considering it, but it was just a ploy: one Rivaini suddenly swung forward with her arm. A magical projectile swished right by Trevelyan's ear and got stuck in the wall, but must have at least grazed Gastignac, who loosened his grip. Trevelyan forcefully dug her heel into his foot, broke his hold and jumped to the side.
"Damn witches!" bellowed Gastignac and bound the lyrium.
Trevelyan fell down to her knees, her whole body on fire. The Rivaini women doubled over and fell to the floor, curled up, moaning and trashing. Gastignac was rubbing his eyes and shaking his head as if the ice had blinded him.
"If you think this will help you..." he mumbled, "you're just delaying—"
"What exactly?" asked Dagna, the only one among them completely unaffected by the binding.
Gastignac turned his head to her voice. Dagna jumped over the Rivainis but remained at a safe distance from him. The robes she was wearing made her look like a young Circle adept.
"You probably don't remember me," she continued, her voice shaky with emotions, "because you ignored everyone who seemed weaker than you. And you always liked to bully others. I remember that well."
"Who are you?" asked Gastignac, disoriented.
Trevelyan, who was regaining the feeling in her limbs, rose shakily to her feet. "Dagna, be careful—"
"Step back, Inquisitor." Dagna unclasped one of her bottles from her belt. "It's about to get nasty in here."
Dagna threw the bottle at Gastignac and whatever was inside exploded and went up in flames. Gastignac cried out, trying to drive away the fire, while Trevelyan watched it all in shock.
"Inquisitor!" called Dagna, helping one of the Rivainis up. "Let's get out of here! It spreads quickly!"
Trevelyan nodded and gave the other seer a hand. She got up with some difficulty and the four of them ran into the palace, passing the ball room, each step bringing them closer and closer to the source of the sounds of struggle. That particular wing was uninhabited and thus completely empty: their steps echoed off the walls as they walked, which made Trevelyan look around nervously the whole time.
When they burst into the spacious chamber at the end of the hallway, what they saw there was the very epitome of destruction: one wall was completely blown to pieces, the floor was ripped through with numerous tears and in the middle of it all stood Cassandra and Erasmus, back to back, fighting against four Children of Andraste who had them surrounded.
Trevelyan realised she didn't have her staff with her and looked around in a panic, when it dawned on her that she already had all the weapons she needed: she conjured the spirit arm, clenched both fists to gather more power, and shot out a stream of fire that enveloped two of the knights.
The rest came to a momentary halt, watching their burning friends. One of the knights jerked his cloak off and quickly began to put out the flames, while Cassandra dealt a powerful blow to the other one, toppling him over to the floor. Erasmus grabbed one of the swords lying around and suggestively put the blade to the first one's neck, who raised his hands in a gesture of surrender.
"Trevelyan." Cassandra wiped off her bleeding forehead. She was panting heavily. "Thanks for your help. We need to find Maresol. De Trauborg... he's chasing her outside."
"Yes. Let's go. And thank you for the help." Trevelyan nodded at the Rivaini women and Dagna. "I was a very close call. Will you watch them?"
"Of course, now go!"
Cassandra pointed the way – it led through the ruined wall, where Dagna's dwarven concoction could still be smelled in the smoking ruins. Erasmus helped Trevelyan get over the broken walls. Cassandra jumped over them on her own, but not as effortlessly as usual.
"Are you all right?" asked Trevelyan.
Cassandra nodded. "The explosion was bigger than we expected."
"And they fought back relentlessly," added Erasmus. "They barely managed to free us, that is, Cassandra and the Rivainis, when de Trauborg and ten more knights burst into the room. It was really bad for a moment in there, but then Maresol... I have never seen anything like that."
"I think they're in the grove." Cassandra led them along the slope the palace was built on. "I can hear—"
She turned the corner and stopped suddenly, causing Trevelyan to walk straight into her back. There, o the path, lay one of the sailors that helped Cassandra in the initial attack. His head was split in two.
"Damnation," said Cassandra, reaching for her sword.
The Children's knight was not far away. He jumped out at them from behind an olive tree, and Cassandra reacted so quickly Trevelyan hardly saw her blade move. He didn't even have the time to shield himself; she ran him through his side and he collapsed on her sword, limp like a puppet. Cassandra grimaced and kicked him off of it, back into the bushes.
Another came at them from behind; Erasmus barely managed to block his attack with his sword. Trevelyan, having shaken off her shock, attacked him with her spirit blade.
"Be careful," said Cassandra, wiping her sword off one of the knight's pants. "They can be anywhere."
They moved on in single file. Their own steps seemed to make enormous noise and all the screams sounded like they were coming from very nearby. When they exited the grove and stepped onto the path, it turned out that the fighting had moved from the courtyard to the bridge. At its entrance stood two of the Children's knights.
Cassandra darted forward, scaring one of them so badly that he took a step back and bumped into the other one.
"That coward should go first!" called Cassandra. "Maybe the other one will have time to run!"
Furious, they charged at them together. Cassandra took care of the first one, and Erasmus finished off the second with Trevelyan. She noticed that the way Erasmus fought showed signs of the techniques Cassandra taught to the mages, but he was also capable of wielding a regular sword.
Trevelyan was the first among them to approach the bridge. In about one-third of the way over stood Arnaud de Trauborg, somewhat worriedly looking over his shoulder at what had just happened to his rear guard; Maresol was in the middle, tousled and scorched all over, at the brink of fury.
"You will not hurt us anymore, whoresons!" She raised her arms to a spell with a flourish. "Dairsmuid... that was enough! Enough, I say!"
Arnaud de Trauborg raised his shield; the fireball bounced off of it, hitting the ropes holding the bridge in air. They made a creaking nose and one of them broke.
"Maresol, watch out!" cried Trevelyan, seeing the wooden platform twist.
Cassandra cast her shield aside, pushed Trevelyan back and barged onto the bridge which creaked ominously and swayed under her weight. Maresol raised her arms again and grey, flashing clouds began to gather above their heads.
"Cassandra!" Trevelyan darted forward, but in that exact moment Arnaud de Trauborg cut through the ropes on the other side.
Just like that the support holding the bridge in the air was gone. The deck rippled and tore off the precipice; Cassandra hit the planks, frantically grabbing at one of the spans. De Trauborg tried the same, but was slightly too late – he slid down and finally grabbed a span, but not before serving Cassandra a solid kick. Maresol managed to take hold of one of the ropes at the last second, when the spans, the planks and everything else plummeted into the chasm.
Trevelyan stopped at the edge of the precipice. "No! Cassandra!"
She set off running, back to the path leading down the hill. Whether Erasmus followed, she didn't know, even though she heard a distinct sound of footsteps behind her. She jumped onto the path and sprinted towards the courtyard, which was when she ran into Gastignac.
Wobbly on his feet, he was giving off a smell of burning flesh; judging by what was left of his face, he was blind in one eye, too.
"Inquisitor," he gurgled. "Long time no see."
Trevelyan couldn't help but come up with a few jokes regarding seeing, but ultimately didn't know which one to choose, so she just stopped. At the sight of Gastignac the anger she felt, originally awakened by the memories from the Circle, stirred anew. She could feel flames crawl up her arms.
Gastignac quenched the magic, and the fire she had thrust forward didn't even reach him.
"How about that, Inquisitor," he said sarcastically. "You're completely helpless without your enchanting, without your armed right hand. There's nothing you can do to me."
Trevelyan lost it completely. "Will you never accept the truth?" she snapped. "Never notice the world's moved on? That it doesn't need dogmatic templars anymore? That it won't have people chained out of fear, because they were born one way and not the other?"
"That’s the rhetoric of the weak—" Gastignac started to say, but Trevelyan came at him and punched him hard with her metal fist.
Gastignac raised his arm, but he was too late, too weak. The metal hand broke his jaw with a crunch. He fell to his back like a lifeless puppet. Trevelyan swung again, this time going for his knee. Gastignac screamed, cradling his hurting joint, and Trevelyan made use of the moment by hitting him in the ribs. Something crunched again.
"Don't get up," she commanded and moved to leave, but changed her mind in the last moment, stopped and pointed her finger at him. "And don't speak anymore."
She ran down the slope, slipping on protruding rocks and tree roots. At the foot of the hill she made a sharp turn, darted through the thicket and, panting, sprinted along the road between the hills. Never in her life had she run so much in one go.
What remained of the bridge lay among the rocks and bushes covering the gorge between the hills. Trevelyan, frenzied, looked around for bodies when she finally spotted Cassandra's dark hair in the distance.
She tripped over rocks twice as she ran there. Cassandra sat hunched over, straddling de Trauborg, who had a knife sticking from his neck. De Trauborg wasn't breathing. Cassandra was.
"Cass...!" Trevelyan's voice got stuck in her throat. Cassandra looked right at her. Her face was a mask of dirt and clotted blood, but it was the most beautiful face Trevelyan's had ever seen in her life.
"Laura," said Cassandra, extending her hand. Trevelyan grabbed her by the elbow and barely managed to help her up. Cassandra put her arm around her waist and leant on her. "Thank you."
"I thought I lost you," Trevelyan blurted out, not really controlling the words coming out of her mouth. "That it's all over, that you're lying somewhere here, all broken."
"I did break something." Cassandra pressed one arm against her ribs. "And de Trauborg roughed me up a little. I had to... eliminate him."
"They pulled her up. Before everything fell. And you?" She stopped and touched Trevelyan's face with a dirty hand. "Are you all right?"
"I am," said Trevelyan, just then realising that she had escaped relatively unscathed. "Can you believe that I knocked out two people with my prosthetic?"
Cassandra just stared at her in disbelief for a moment, but then her face lit up with a smile.
"Cassandra! Trevelyan!" Erasmus came running in their direction. "You're alive!"
"Looks like it," said Cassandra weakly. "We need to... look for everyone. People that helped us. We would not have made it without them."
"Agreed, but you won't be doing much of the looking." Trevelyan shook her head. Cassandra looked at her, outraged. "You need a healer. And some rest."
"Exactly," said Erasmus. "I'll take Costo and a few sailors and we'll scour the hill for the survivors."
Erasmus took off, vigorously at first and then slowing down to a trot as the road began to lead uphill. Cassandra made a weak attempt to go after him, but Trevelyan set a different course without hesitation.
Healer Candelaria, as it turned out, was stationed in the baths, full of both people injured by the Children of Andraste as well as concerned inhabitants of Benadolid. They immediately formed a circle around Trevelyan and Cassandra, but Candelaria shooed them away.
"There will be time for that yet! Now I need to look to the Seeker's health. Run along!"
Cassandra fell heavily onto the chair the healer pushed her way. It had been a while since Trevelyan last saw her in such a condition – almost as long a while as the last time she herself fought her opponents, instead of just moving the markers all over the map.
That thought brought forth the realisation that she could finally get some rest, and she spent some time sitting at the edge of the pool, thinking about nothing in particular. She had almost forgotten how exhausting it was to think tactically, run around and, most of all, trying to stay alive when other people were so set on not letting it happen.
It wasn't until a group of people burst into the baths that she finally snapped out of it. Maresol was marching at its forefront, her hair wild.
"Seeker," she said, spreading her arms and approaching Cassandra, who stood up as if on cue. "My dear friends, take a look: this here is a true knight, fearless Cassandra who, should such a need arise, will jump over a cliff for you."
She hugged Cassandra tightly. For her part, Cassandra was too bewildered to say or do anything, but finally hugged Maresol back with a slight grimace of pain.
"Careful," said Candelaria, wiping her hands on a cloth. "I only just put the Seeker back in one piece."
"I've never seen anything like this," said Maresol, letting go of Cassandra. "I owe you my life, Cassandra, and I take back everything I said about you behind your back. Those... prejudices..."
"Don't mention it," said Cassandra, embarrassed and quickly changed the subject. "I hope most of the people made it out alive. I know someone died..."
"Costo took care of it." Maresol lowered her voice. "The rest of them... because we found a few... he threw into the oubliette."
"Did you find Gastignac?" asked Trevelyan suddenly and got to her feet.
Erasmus shook his head. "He was nowhere to be found. I don't know what happened to him."
"It's good to see you up and about already." Maresol brushed her hair out of her face. The crazy spark in her eyes had dimmed down. "Costo prepared a schooner. We need to sail for Dairsmuid."
"I almost forgot." Cassandra grabbed the hilt of her sword. "We should set off as soon..."
"Seeker, you need to look out for yourself," warned her the healer. "You are not twenty years old anymore."
Cassandra started heading for the door with a grimace.
"I'll look out for her," said Trevelyan. "Let's go. There's no time to waste."
The schooner waited in the harbour, ready to sail away. As soon as they boarded it with Maresol and Erasmus, Rivaini sailors pushed it off the wharf and hoisted up the foresail with a tell-tale flap. The Rialto Bay glimmered in the sun as it reflected off the surface of big waves.
"Look alive, boys!" bellowed Costo. "Let's go get my girl back!"
"You think she's alright?" Trevelyan leant against the board next to Cassandra.
"Idoya? I'm sure she is. She's a smart, brave girl."
"No, Josie! You saw it for yourself what these brutes are like."
"We need to stay positive." Cassandra fell silent for a while, her eyes following the already distant bank and two hills no longer connected by a bridge. "And you—You won't hold it against me, what I did back there?"
"What? Back on that bridge?"
Cassandra nodded, distress clear on her face.
"Why would I? Because you did what could be expected of you?" Trevelyan couldn't help but snort. "You really do read too much of those trashy tearjerkers."
"Don't say that!" Cassandra looked around to make sure no one heard that, but they were at a safe distance.
Soon, a harbour full of masts emerged from behind a sandy slope, closely followed by a town, its houses and villas leisurely climbing up a Rivaini hill. The chain at the entrance to the harbour was raised, and behind it something dark floated on the surface of the water.
"It's that ship," said Cassandra, gifted with excellent eyesight. "The Children's ship. Costo... is it going down?"
"Yes," confirmed Costo, looking at it through a scope. "It's a wreck."
Trevelyan felt a shiver run down her spine. She met Maresol's eyes, seeing the sentiment reflected in them.
The sailors from Benadolid waved at the people waiting in the roadstead. Someone ran towards the harbour master and soon the chain was brought down, but by the time they actually managed to sail into the harbour Trevelyan almost flew off the handle.
She was the first to cross the gangplank and get to the deck, where she stopped and looked around. The harbour was crowded with Rivainis milling about, and a bit farther away, sitting on chests with ropes were Josephine and Idoya, soaking wet and sobbing, locked together in an embrace.
Oh, mystic generosity, oh, sacred sweetness! Oh divine Favour, you who descend from heavens to earth to grace the lowly lives of us mortals. Oh common celebration, oh joy, reverence, nourishment and delight of the world! I call upon you, our Holy Queen, Andraste: spread your almighty hands over your Chantry and your people, let them know peace, satiety, spiritual ecstasy and sinless carnal delight, for sinuous and uneven are the paths of life that lead to the Maker.
Sister Flavinia of Avila
"Meditations on the Chant"
The open window let in the relentless buzzing of the cicadas. The faded tabletop was covered with crumbs after a rushed supper.
"Boy, was I afraid," Josephine was saying, her voice thick with emotion. "I thought I was done with, that Mum and Dad would be receiving their letter of condolence, that they would be leaving our villa to cousin Margaret, that I was about to meet the Maker."
"Did you really think we'd be so eager to write you off?" asked Trevelyan, putting one more slice of cake on her plate. She was ravenous after a day so full of being active and stressed. "Please."
"I didn't... I knew that you couldn't just rescue me like that," said Josephine, but she did sound slightly disappointed. "That if you weren't there, you must have had a good reason."
"Well, if it were up to me, we would have immediately gone back for you," said Cassandra who was lying on a bench under the window, her hands resting together on her stomach. "If that makes you feel any better."
"What happened after they took you under the deck, Josephine?" asked Brade who, unlike the rest of them, hadn't heard that story before.
"They tied me up and left me in a cabin," Josephine continued. Idoya, who was walking around the living room with a pitcher of wine, poured some into her cup. "So I sat there obediently with those catastrophic thoughts I've already mentioned as company. For a while nothing was happening, but then, much to my horror, the ship suddenly set sail!"
"By then they must have realised we wouldn't be walking into their trap," added Trevelyan. "So they decided to sail to Benadolid to help their mates who were already all set in the palace."
"Probably." Josephine took a hearty sip from the cup. Her pale face made Trevelyan realise just how terrifying the experience must have been for her. "I admit, I panicked. I plastered myself to the door but couldn't hear anything. The ship was gaining speed... and then suddenly stopped altogether."
"They raised the chain at the entrance to the bay," explained Idoya, taking a seat next to Maresol who putan arm around her. "But it wasn't easy to convince harbour master Rodrigo to do that... It wasn't until I told him that Mum would be very angry with him that I finally managed to sway him."
"And then the ship started moving again!" said Josephine. "It creaked, rocked a little and forward it went... But then it suddenly hit something. It was that chain... Later I found out that they had taken the captain hostage and had the crew set sail anyway. Which in turn was a sign for the harbour that something was amiss. That galleon is there for a reason. It opened fire. Everything shook and I was beginning to regret I hadn't lived a more god-fearing life."
Trevelyan smiled despite the gravity of the described situation and started at the last piece of cake. Brade watched her with the approval familiar to anyone who was ever fed by their grandma.
"I heard a bang and terrible screams, and then the ship tipped dangerously to the side. I would've drowned... if it wasn't for someone from the crew who finally came to his senses. Suddenly, the door to the cabin opened and a boy dragged me out... Idoya's age, maybe slightly older. 'Go up,' he said to me, and, 'my lady'. We ran out and I saw that everything was on fire. I panicked... He told me to jump... So I jumped."
"You can swim, can't you?" asked Trevelyan, suspicious.
"I can... float... on the surface. As a matter of fact, it was my outfit that helped me," said Josephine. "That flouncy doublet ballooned in the water and I just drifted."
"How did you get out of it?" asked Brade, back to the point.
"Not by myself. Idoya came to help me. Everything was on fire. All of a sudden, I heard a hiss and I saw a big, floating board next to me go out. It was Idoya who put out the fire and helped me to the shore."
"I'm a good swimmer," said Idoya modestly. Maresol patted her head. "So when I saw what was going on, I jumped into the water to help the ambassador. I managed to put some of the fire out with ice and the smoke must have hid us from the others."
"When you got there it was already over," said Josephine. "I was rescued. Those Children’s knights that didn't drown were captured. And the ship went down."
Everyone fell silent. The crickets sang relentlessly and Trevelyan felt exhausted. She pushed the plate with the cake away.
"Is there a place we could lay our bones, Maresol? It's about time this day ended."
"Yes, yes, naturally." Maresol got to her feet. When she raised her arm, her sleeve slid down below her elbow, revealing countless bruises and scratches on her arm. "Josephine, I'll put you in our guest room if you don't mind. It's no big luxury, but—"
"As long as it's dry and lacking murderous knights," said Josephine with her usual charm. "It will be enough. Thank you, Maresol."
"Inquisitor, as I do not have anywhere to put you—"
"We can sleep on the terrace."
"No, you won't be able to get any rest there. My neighbour went to sea and his house is empty. I am sure he wouldn't mind having guests over. I have a spare key, I'll let you in."
Maresol went off to find the key while Brade stayed behind to bid goodbye. In all the commotion Trevelyan noticed that Cassandra went away and didn't reappear until after they left the living room; she was talking softly to Erasmus, who was getting ready to sleep.
"What was that?" asked Trevelyan.
"Nothing." Cassandra rubbed her face. "He needed to talk."
Maresol led them to the house: it was the same one they passed earlier the same day, when they were trying to stealthily make their way to the temple hill. The house was smaller than the one her family lived in, but it was also clean, well cared-for and richly – sumptuously, even – decorated.
"That neighbour of yours lives here alone?" asked Trevelyan, admiring an Orlesian porcelain set behind the glass of an etagere.
"He does." Maresol waved her hand about. "It's a long and tragic story. I can tell you tomorrow, my dear, because today the only thing I dream about is to lie down next to my snoring husband."
"Understandable. See you tomorrow than and thank you for thinking about us."
"How could I not, Laura."
Maresol bent down and they kissed the air next to each other’s cheeks. Over her shoulder Trevelyan could see Cassandra sighing heavily and sitting down on the bed to take off her shoes. She looked exactly like someone who barely lived through the day.
Trevelyan knew that feeling. She unclasped the straps and took off the metal arm after a day of using it in various ways. It didn't look damaged in any way, but the stump and the arm burned with pain. She raised and lowered it several times, looking at her measly bicep. When she raised her eyes, she saw Cassandra staring at her from the bed, hunched over and silent.
Trevelyan threw off her shoes and walked over barefoot, and then sat down next to her. Cassandra put an arm around her.
"He's a pirate, isn't he?" she asked suddenly.
"The owner of this house. He's a pirate."
"I guess so," admitted Trevelyan, looking at the golden-framed paintings hanging on the walls. "But at least his bed is comfortable. Almost as comfortable as mine in Skyhold."
Cassandra mumbled something in confirmation and undressed, unusually slow and careful. She folded everything meticulously. Trevelyan realised they never slept together in that bed in Skyhold and couldn't help but think it was a horrible waste.
She got up to open the windows and put out the candles; then she took off her tunic, threw it down on the armchair and lay down on her back on the other side of the bed. It was strange to lay there, next to Cassandra, naked without doing anything even remotely sexual, as if she had those breasts for nothing.
Tired as she was, she wasn't sleepy at all, so she just stared at the ceiling. Maresol's rich neighbour had it decorated with moulding, which brought to mind her own house and suddenly she imagined she was visiting there with Cassandra, and her mother was putting them in the guest bedroom where children weren't allowed to enter, and no one could say anything because after all they were the Inquisitor and Seeker Pentaghast.
She giggled with delight, thinking about her mother's eyes, wide as saucers, upon seeing Cassandra.
"Hmm?" Cassandra sleepily turned to her other side. "What's that?"
"Nothing. I'm just thinking." Trevelyan lay her arms on her chest. Would have probably interlocked her fingers if she could.
"Don't think, sleep," muttered Cassandra in an authoritative tone.
Trevelyan tried to, but it was going nowhere.
"Cass," she spoke after a while. "You think. They came here only to deal with me. They didn't even know me but wanted to kill me."
"De Trauborg knew you," mumbled Cassandra, rubbing her eyes. "Why are we talking about this?"
"Because I can't believe it. Rivain is so far away from everything... And they sailed here, with a plan and everything, prepared and all."
"Well, you became a symbol, so to speak. And In my experience it's always best to get rid of the symbol to destroy the enemy."
"Were we just lucky today, or did they underestimate us?"
Cassandra turned again and gave a disgruntled sigh. "Both. They certainly underestimated the Rivainis' support. It pains me to admit it, but you were entirely right in saying that we have to make friends with them."
"I can't believe you're saying that." Trevelyan giggled, but quickly turned serious. "But is that not a bad sign? That someone comes here from the other side of the world just to kill me?"
Cassandra put on one of her stoic expressions. Her eyes flashed mysteriously in the darkness. "It means they are afraid of you. It means you wield influence over the world."
"Can we sleep now?" Cassandra lay back and covered her eyes with her forearm.
Trevelyan lay in silence, and the more she tried not to think about things, the more she ended up thinking about them, when finally it overwhelmed her and she pressed herself against Cassandra's side, who embraced her with a murmur.
She didn't sleep well and at least once saw Gastignac in her dreams, chasing her in the labyrinth of distorted mirrors. She woke up in an unfamiliar room and bed, tense and action-ready, but after a moment realised where she was and sighed, relieved. The open windows let in fresh sea air and relentless morning light, which brought out every single imperfection in Cassandra's face: worry lines around her eyes, a frown on her forehead and scars on her cheeks.
Slowly, Trevelyan turned to the side and let herself look at Cassandra the way she had never had a chance before. Cassandra slept on her back, one arm under her head and the other resting on the linens, which in the course of the night slipped immodestly down her hips. The Rivaini sun tanned her arms and face to bronze, but even there her skin was lighter than Trevelyan's. Her chest, bruised here and there after yesterday's events, was raising and falling steadily. Even resting, her body radiated strength and Trevelyan let herself touch her abdomen, an action that met with Cassandra's breath quickening. Until recently, she always liked curvy, delicate women, but Cassandra's proximity divested her of all rational thought, more even, it provoked to different acts, ridding her of inhibitions.
Trevelyan outstretched one hand, observing its slow journey down and up Cassandra's body, with particular consideration for her breasts and the indentation at her hip. One nipple stiffened under her touch and Cassandra moved in her sleep, muscles flexing. Trevelyan scooted closer and blew softly into her ear, kissed the place where the neck and shoulder met. Cassandra mumbled something sleepily and leaned into the kiss, so Trevelyan didn't have a choice anymore – she had to go all in, her nose, mouth, cheek, and then she had to rise and straddle her. Her hair must have tickled Cassandra, because she suddenly woke up and, somewhat disoriented, looked at Trevelyan leaning over her. Before she could say anything, Trevelyan kissed her with determination.
At first it was slow, lazy, because Cassandra had a hard time letting go of sleep, but then it sped up: Cassandra put her hands on Trevelyan's back and tried to lift herself up to a sitting position, but Trevelyan pushed her back. Deliberately slow, she leant forward, her breasts a level with Cassandra's face; she had to brace herself on one arm when she felt she touch of Cassandra's lips there, an electric shiver running down her spine.
She spent a moment taking in the sight of Cassandra with a flush spreading down to her neckline, of her lips, wet and swollen, of her dilated pupils. Soon it wasn't enough and she tellingly moved her hips, rubbing against Cassandra's own, and Cassandra grabbed her at the waist and fell into rhythm. Trevelyan swallowed audibly when the heat in her abdomen turned pulsating, and she was so close – then Cassandra flipped her suddenly onto her back and shoved a knee between her thighs.
Trevelyan gasped when Cassandra bit her side lightly and moved down her body, hands never leaving Trevelyan's face and breasts. Trevelyan caught her wrist and slipped two fingers inside her mouth, but let go when she felt Cassandra spreading her legs apart.
"Wait," she gasped. "Flip us back."
Without hesitation, Cassandra put her arms around Trevelyan's waist andflipped them so that she lay on her back. Trevelyan ended up on her knees and, excited by the fact alone that Cassandra Pentaghast was so quick to obey her commands, slipped two fingers inside her. Cassandra set her jaw, threw one arm around Trevelyan's neck and fit the other into the space between their bodies. Her grip was so strong Trevelyan couldn't even raise her head, so finally she pressed her mouth against Cassandra's neck, struggling to match her thrusts to Cassandra's hips, to the tension in her body. The pace turned so quick it was hard to keep up.
Her own orgasm took her completely by surprise. She collapsed limply on Cassandra, both of them panting and exuding warmth in silence. And to think someone wanted to kill her before she had a chance to have sex like this. Unacceptable.
She got up after a while because she was starting to feel like she was sticking to both Cassandra and the sheets. Shamelessly she left the bedroom naked and took a tour around Maresol's neighbour's rich house. He had good taste for a pirate, though Trevelyan would have gotten rid of some of the seascapes: they seemed somewhat excessive in a place where nicer views were waiting just outside the window.
Unfortunately, rich though it was, it left something to be desired in terms of advancement: the privy was outside and so was the well. Trevelyan drew some water and washed herself in the laundry room. Her legs were still a bit soft in the knees after what just went down, her skin soft and hot to the touch.
In her luggage she found a breezy Rivaini dress and with it, she came back to the bedroom. Cassandra lay with her eyes closed, spread on the bed like a picture of debauchery. It was surprisingly fitting.
Trevelyan put on the dress over her head. When she finished sliding it down her body, Cassandra was watching her like a cat who stealthily got at the best bits in the pantry.
"How come you're so pleased?" asked Trevelyan, arranging the fabric on her body.
"I'm looking at the woman who is turning the Chantry upside down and, while doing that, also managed to get me completely wrapped around her finger," said Cassandra, unusually light-minded.
"I'm sure you have never done anything in your life that you didn't really want to do."
"That's true." Cassandra jumped out of the bed seeing Trevelyan reach for the prosthetic. "Let me."
She helped secure the device on the stump and clasp all the buckles. Trevelyan kept watching her, her eyes half-lidded. There was a big dark bruise blooming on the side of Cassandra’s neck, Trevelyan's mouth's work that would be visible to anyone lest Cassandra wore one of her doublets with a high collar.
Without thinking she reached out with her left hand to touch Cassandra’s face. Cassandra didn't flinch upon feeling the touch of the cold metal, only covered it with her own hand and pressed against her cheek.
"You should commission a portrait with this arm," she said like it was nothing. Trevelyan was head over heels for her. "And hang it in Skyhold. It'll look majestic."
"How could I." Cassandra turned and went over to their bags. A slight quiver to her voice gave her away. "Appearances hold their own power, and that arm is not your weakness but your strength."
"Hmm." Trevelyan looked at her prosthetic more kindly. "Perhaps. On the condition that you will pose with me."
Cassandra didn't comment on that. After a while, she walked into the bedroom wearing breeches and a shirt, the sleeves of which she was just then rolling above her elbows.
"Yes." Trevelyan ran a hand through her hair. "There's a lot to take care of. We have to write letters to everyone... Especially to Leliana. She needs to know what happened."
"I'll write to Cullen." Cassandra handed Trevelyan her sandals and bent down to retrieve her shoes from under the bed. "Knowing him he's panicking over us not being back for that long."
"He probably is. I hope you'll agree with me when I say we also need to delegalise the Children of Andraste."
"Definitely. Though when the news spreads that de Trauborg was killed, their enthusiasm will simmer down. Such organisations are usually weakened when you get rid of their most radical and known members."
Trevelyan somehow managed to forget that Cassandra, after all, had fought sects and crazy templars her whole life. What she had gone through yesterday was probably nothing new to her.
"Is something the matter?" asked Cassandra politely, trying to do something about her bed hair.
Trevelyan shook her head. When they stepped into the garden, the morning sun hit them with all its might. Cassandra noticed a couple of tangerine trees and walked over to pick some fruit, while Trevelyan shielded her eyes with her hand and looked up, at the palace. Even from the distance it was clear it was completely destroyed.
"We need to rebuild it," she sighed. "I promised that Ath Berenis spirit. It helped us a lot and I'm sure it's hurt that we wrecked the whole thing."
"Huh." Cassandra tossed a tangerine up and caught it. "How about we set up a post here? The only post of the Inquisition in Rivain."
At first Trevelyan just frowned, but then she nodded with approval. "If Maresol agrees to that, I don't see why not. Something tells me there will be a lot of volunteers to be stationed here."
"And it'll give us a reason to come back," said Cassandra.
Trevelyan stopped short of stepping onto the street. "How about we go to the beach first?"
"What?" asked Cassandra, ever vigilant. "We can't. I'm sure everyone is waiting for us."
"No one will miss us too much if we go just for a moment. You'll swim and I'll soak my feet."
Cassandra was clearly struggling against the temptation, but in the end her responsible side won. For Trevelyan it was the contrary, and that's why she was already heading in the opposite direction.
"Trevelyan, wait!" Cassandra caught up with her. "Fine, let's go, but let's make it quick. I hate it when someone's waiting for me."
"I know, I know." Trevelyan grabbed her hand and sped up.
I am so sorry for the wait, I am the worst. As promised, the epilogue to wrap things up. Again, so sorry, and thanks for sticking with me & that story. Both the author (le-mru) and I hope you enjoyed it.
Blessed are they who stand before
The corrupt and the wicked and do not falter.
Blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just.
Blessed are the righteous, the lights in the shadow.
Chant of Light, Canticle of Benedictions 4:10
Cassandra was waiting on the stairs outside of the Inquisitor's quarters. At first, she’d been leaning casually against the wall, but then she realised that the position was not really dignified enough for greeting the Divine, so she put one foot on a step up and braced her elbow against her knee.
She'd been waiting for a while now, but she didn't want to interrupt. She just stood there, deep in quiet reflexion that recently mostly revolved around how amazing Trevelyan looked when she moved steadily above her in bed. Once, thoughts of that kind would surely land her in a cold chapel for a long time; since then, though, she had realised that life was too short not to take delight in the finer things.
That had not occurred to her out of the blue, but on the day of her fortieth birthday a few weeks earlier. She didn't expect that date to carry any extraordinary importance and everything had been fine until the afternoon, but as the sun had begun to set, she found herself feeling more and more restless, finally ending up hiding on the battlements to avoid being seen so out of sorts. When she noticed the first signs of the incoming winter, the same ones she could also feel in her bones, her thoughts strayed distractedly to her own twenty- and thirty-year-old self. These Cassandras would have never thought they could end up where the current, mature Cassandra was now, in that particular hold, with these people and these duties. Even so, they seemed tethered to each other by a thread thick enough to be noticeable.
The door finally opened. Divine Victoria let out a very undistinguished squeal as she ran down the steps and threw her arms around Cassandra's neck.
"Cassandra." She grasped Cassandra's face with her hands. "Seeing you feels like homecoming."
"Nightingale." Even clad in the Divine's thick robes, Leliana seemed fragile like a bird. "I am also glad to finally see you."
Leliana smelled of familiar things, camomile and Orlesian perfume. When Cassandra let her out of her embrace, she noticed, still up close, that her face was paler and the lines on her face, deeper. It seemed Cassandra was not the only one being affected by that kind of autumn. The fact that she remembered their first meeting as if it had happened yesterday made that feeling all the more striking.
"Have the Inquisitor and you talked your fill?" she asked.
"Oh, yes, definitely. I am very glad you two have finally found each other." Leliana gave her a familiar clap on the shoulder as they started moving down the stairs. "Such a good match, too."
Cassandra put her hands together behind her back. "You should hear us fight."
"Oh, but I have, many times."
"Right." Cassandra frowned. Somehow she didn't make that connection. "You have."
"Still," continued Leliana gracefully, not missing a beat. "Trevelyan needs someone with steadfast opinions. If there ever was anything she lacked, considering the equilibristics her mind's so prone to, it was the way to crystallise some ideas. And seeing as your views are very strong—"
"—it's very convenient she can just bounce all her ideas off me."
Leliana gave her a hesitant look.
"It was a joke," Cassandra explained.
"I thought as much." Leliana huffed out a laugh. "Quite untypical for you, though. I can't help but notice that your relationship seems to be good for you, too. You look younger, healthier."
"It's just a Northern tan I'm still sporting," said Cassandra, even though she was pleased to hear the compliment.
When they entered the Great Hall, Leliana's attention was immediately drawn to the portrait. It was hard to miss it, too, because Trevelyan hung it on the wall opposite the entrance.
"Truly a masterpiece," she said politely.
"I hate it," said Cassandra through clenched teeth.
"Its artistic value is not that bad..."
"It hardly has any artistic value. Not to mention something looks off."
They stopped in front of the portrait. Leliana tilted her head to the side, causing her ceremonial coif of the Divine to wobble dangerously.
"You have a point. Something to do with proportions."
The portrait featured Trevelyan sitting on her throne in a red-and-gold outfit that did wonders to her complexion and hair. In her healthy hand she wielded her staff, while the silverite prosthesis rested on her knees. Cassandra stood to the right of the throne, clad in steel armour emblazoned with the Justinians' crest and an expression suggesting she wanted to murder someone.
"Good eye," said Cassandra. "Most of the time a squire posed for me because I didn't feel like wasting so much time standing still. Turned out the artist wasn't able to scale my proportions off of hers and here we are."
"You're a head shorter there," said Leliana.
"Correct. From now on, history will remember me as someone who never could reach the highest shelf."
Leliana burst out laughing and that silvery sound caught the attention of the guards, who immediately started bowing as if trying to outrun one another.
Cassandra shook her head and pointed the way to the garden. "I wish I hadn't given her that idea, but it's too late now."
Outside, cold air struck at their faces and uncovered skin. Cassandra put the collar of her doublet up, while Leliana donned white gloves. "It's gotten very peaceful here," she said, her eyes wandering over the empty alleys.
"Yes, due to the incoming winter. Most people have been sent away to outposts in friendlier countries, climate-wise. The only ones that stayed were the special operations recruits and the novitiates. Plus the Inquisition's permanent associates, of course."
Cassandra touched the small of Leliana's back gently, pointing her in the right direction. Her black, metal glove stood in stark contrast against the white of the Divine's robes, and for a brief moment she felt as if she was escorting Justinia again.
They dropped by the chapel. Inside, there were three novitiates praying: two of them in a traditional pose, braced on their swords and one standing, her head lowered.
"Who's that?" whispered Leliana, causing the impression to go away.
"Our newest addition." Cassandra sighed. "Daughter of our host from Rivain. The girl that fished Josephine out from the Rialto Bay."
"Ah. Is she not Andrastian...?"
"She is, in a way." That particular issue was still giving Cassandra headaches. "She's clearly fascinated with Andraste's warlike aspect, and the Maker's omnipresent one, but... what's the best way to put it... she's not one for rituals and she's particularly opposed to kneeling."
Leliana made a doubtful face. "Looking back, Cassandra, I too think we have kneeled enough. Too much, even."
"Shh!" Cassandra put her finger to her mouth. "Let them kneel. It shapes character."
"All that aside... Is she a good fit to be a Justinian?"
"Definitely. She's as good as they come. Maybe a touch short-tempered, but I think it's a Northern thing."
Leliana spent a few more moments watching the novitiates, and then backed up into the garden. There was nothing to admire there, as everything save for the evergreen trees was completely devoid of leaves.
"And you, Cassandra..." Leliana sat down on one of the benches. Cassandra stopped next to her. Standing seemed more natural in the company of the Divine. "Tell me: have you broken free of that dark night of the soul of yours?"
All that time, Cassandra dreaded that question and how she basically made Leliana ask it by sending all those solemn letters during spring, back when Trevelyan had been locked away in her tower, suffering in isolation, as if she was being punished for her random yet heroic deed. Cassandra had also been suffering, but in a different way, and automatically turned to Leliana for council, as if they were still in the same boat.
"I suppose so." She swallowed loudly, staring at the space between her boots. "I could not find an anchor... Maybe you were right in saying we've kneeled enough. Now, it's not enough to just go to the matins or think things through during psalms. The world's gotten too strange for that, too complicated."
Leliana turned her cool, unsettling eyes to Cassandra. "How did you do it then?"
Cassandra shrugged. "The only way I could. I followed someone's leadership."
Leliana's stern face lightened up. "I told you you're a good match."
"It really isn't that obvious," Cassandra snorted. A lot remained unsaid, while parts of it were often being yelled out during their fights, as Trevelyan was the only person completely unafraid of Cassandra's anger. "It's... I don't know."
"Trevelyan looks much better than the last time I saw her. That prosthesis... That hand is impressive."
"It is, but it's a poor replacement. Trevelyan was left-handed, her handwriting was beautiful, and now she's ashamed to write at all. She had to give all her clothes for refitting—"
"Naturally, but she got used to that, she’s changed. She's stronger. That seemed obvious."
"I can't take sole credit for that," said Cassandra. "I’m sorry, I have no idea how to talk about this."
That inability stemmed not from the fact that Cassandra didn't want to share, even though she did consider the events in question to be very private and personal; it had more to do with the area around which it revolved. Well-read as she was in romances, when it came to relationships with both men and women, she found herself unable to formulate a single thought. That talk with Trevelyan in the dark room in the Rivaini palace had been the most coherent and the longest she'd ever had on that subject. Yes, she realised looking for the ideal was a mistake. She couldn't tell how that happened, especially since all her life she was in that comfortable position of someone unavailable, destined for something far more grand than simple rutting against each other on a stack of hay or in a secluded alcove. There wasn't any single moment when everything had changed; just a series of afterimages of Trevelyan, hazy and dreamlike.
"I became my hat after all, haven’t I?" Leliana's voice broke her out of her reverie.
In lieu of answering, Leliana touched her Divine coif.
"It is difficult to miss, even though we're just talking."
"You shouldn't worry, I won't press for details. I can tell you're all tightly wound from embarrassment as it is—"Cassandra let out a relieved sigh"—and the Inquisitor told me everything anyway," said Leliana with a sly smile on her face.
Cassandra was spared any further distress by Erasmus, who came running into the garden, slowing down to a distinguished gait only after he saw the two of them. He approached the bench and, with a clank of his spurs, gave a deep bow.
Leliana waved a hand at him. "I’ve managed to ditch my tail, so be so kind as to spare me these formalities."
Erasmus offered a stiff bow in return. Cassandra have him an appraising look and fixed his collar. In general, Erasmus cleaned up rather well, but sometimes was too pre-occupied with something to button up or dress properly at all.
"Thank you. Excuse me, I rushed to get here after training. Are they in the chapel?"
"Yes, they seem very pious," said Leliana. "These Justinians, they surely do make a good first impression. I wonder, could that be thanks to their Grand Mistress...?"
"If I may, please note down my protest," said Cassandra, who, with the corner of her eye, saw Erasmus go red at that. "We are all sisters and brothers in the Order. There are so few of us there's no need for hierarchy."
"But we grow stronger with each passing day." Erasmus sounded enthusiastic. "With, for example, those three that Your Holiness is about to ordain. The same can be said for the Inquisition. We were even successful, strange as it may seem, in setting up an outpost in my homeland, Rivain."
"So I've heard," said Leliana graciously. "And it does seem strange. The Rivainis are known for their aversion towards the Chantry."
"Thanks to Erasmus it was easier," said Cassandra. "But you already know that story."
"Have any news regarding the Children of Andraste?" asked Erasmus, breaking off just in time before any Holiness or Excellence jumped in at the end of that sentence.
"Nothing entirely new. The blow you dealt them in Rivain made them scatter like rats all around Orlais and the Free Marches. It's a many headed monster, you cut off one head and five more spring up."
Cassandra flinched, suddenly flashing on how she had to break de Trauborg's hand to finish him off. Until the very end, he had held her by the throat, mumbling something about her time being over.
"We can cut them all off if need be," she said, her voice cool.
"It's the Maker's work," Erasmus nodded.
Leliana looked at Cassandra as if she wanted to verify something, but didn't reveal whatever that something was. It was a grand comeback to their old times.
"It's our work," said Cassandra with emphasis, loosening up her shoulders. It had been a long day.
For a moment they stayed silent, Leliana seated on the bench and the two of them, armoured and humble, flanking her on both sides, still against the autumn garden. It could pass for a pretty good painting depicting pious Chantry life if it wasn't for the fact that the Divine came there to escape the grandeur of her position, Erasmus the knight used to be a rebel mage, and Grand Mistress Cassandra was undergoing a mid-life crisis.
The hold was anything but silent though. The kitchen was busy as always, a shuffling noise could be heard from the library and, judging by the sound of incoming steps, two people were approaching.
Trevelyan and Josephine emerged from behind a bush. Trevelyan marched forward with confidence, the sun reflecting off of her metal arm and the aureole of her hair, a red cloak fluttering behind her, while Josephine scutterred behind her on high heels, in the midst of telling a story that clearly required a lot of gesticulation and multi-syllable words.
Trevelyan gave the three of them a satisfied look, nodded slightly at Erasmus and stopped next to Cassandra, nudging her with her arm.
"What respectable company we have here," she said. "And in our middle of nowhere, no less! In order to celebrate, I sent for a couple of things from the kitchen. We should eat before that undoubtedly long event the ordination will certainly prove to be."
"We still have a lot of issues to talk through, Inquisitor," said Josephine, kind but stern.
"I'm sure we can welcome our guest properly first." Cassandra gave Leliana a telling look. "Can't we?"
"Yes, naturally." Leliana rose and brushed off her pristine robe. "Let us have dinner readily. I'll be glad to finally eat in the company of fewer than twenty people."
Trevelyan hooked her right arm under Cassandra’s forearm and promptly began walking, in the vanguard as usual.