The Chantry doors shut behind them and everyone walked on into the nave. Kate, however, trailed behind. She was not sure where the others were going with such purpose. For her part, she had half a mind to go lie down on her bed and rest. The speech had exhausted her, making her feel like she’d cast a massive spell - with her mouth.
More than that, Kate’s stomach rumbled, and it occurred to her that she hadn’t eaten in a long while. Considering how long she had been unconscious, her last meal must have have been the meat pies she’d bought at the Lake Calenhad docks. That barely passed as food. The Spoiled Princess, or whatever that inn had been called, was surely the grimiest establishment Kate had ever patronized. Robert had dubbed it “The Spoiled Larder”.
At the thought of Robert, Kate felt her mood sink. The growing ache in her heart made a painful counterpoint to the ache in her stomach.
“Come along,” Cassandra called back to her, interrupting Kate’s thoughts. “We must join the meeting in the war room.”
Kate looked up, realizing that everyone else had disappeared from sight. The door to the forward room of the Chantry stood open, so Kate supposed that was where they had all gone. With memories of Robert and of greasy meat pies running through her head, Kate followed Cassandra into this so-called ‘war room.’
It didn’t look like a war room, Kate thought, as she stepped inside. It resembled a study, complete with bookcases and statues of Andraste. And Kate wasn’t sure she liked the idea of being at war. Had they named the place before or after the Divine was killed, Kate wondered?
Kate glanced around the table - the ‘war table’, she supposed it was, to go with the ‘war room.’ The bear-soldier stood opposite Kate, flanked by Leliana and the dark-haired ambassador. With all these people staring at her, Kate felt as though she were an apprentice again, sent down to the First Enchanter’s office to be reprimanded for some infraction.
“This is Katerina Trevelyan,” Cassandra said abruptly, motioning to Kate.
And now they were doing formal introductions, Kate thought. It seemed a little late for it, considering she’d already fought demons alongside three of these people. Still, her Trevelyan-bred manners kicked in, in spite of her growling stomach. Kate straightened her shoulders and gave everyone a courteous smile.
“Hello,” she said. “Please call me…”
“This is Ambassador Josephine Montilyet, of Antiva City,” Cassandra said, cutting Kate off.
“Charmed, I’m sure,” the dark-haired woman said, smiling at Kate. “We met at your Great-aunt’s ball last summer, though we were not able to speak for long. Your admirers kept your dance card full, as I recall.”
Kate recalled no such thing - neither having admirers, nor meeting the ambassador. Kate did recall that Robert frequently bribed his friends into dancing with her. While the rest of the Trevelyans guarded Kate from social slights to protect their own reputation, Robert had genuinely tried to make Kate feel welcome.
And there was another thought of Robert, and another pang to the heart. Kate gave her head a little shake to clear it, then resumed her brittle smile.
“Of course,” she said. “Delighted, Lady Montilyet.”
“And you have already met Cullen,” Cassandra added, nodding at the bear-soldier.
Cullen, Kate thought to herself. Right. That was his name. As she turned her eyes to him, the fellow smiled at her - well, smirked, rather. The twist of his lips drew attention to his scar. Even distracted by hunger and thoughts of her cousin, Kate was again struck by how appealing that was.
Not as appealing as a sandwich would be right now, Kate told herself.
“Pleased to meet you, ser,” she said.
“Likewise,” the man replied. “I’m pleased to see you survived.”
What a curious thing to say. Kate let out a short laugh. Only a soldier could be so casual about demon slaying and breach closing.
“Why thank you,” she said, “I’m rather glad I survived, too.”
Before the man could respond, Cassandra cut in. She introduced Leliana - as ‘the spymaster’, of all things.
Oh, Kate thought, drawing back a bit. The Inquisition had a spymaster. That meant they had spies. As in, actual spies, who were out there now…spying.
Maker’s breath, Kate thought. What had she gotten into?
Ten minutes later, Kate felt even hungrier, and others showed no signs of stopping. She sighed and glanced around the table in frustration. And these were the leaders of the Inquisition, Kate thought. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe it was because they were all used to running things that they weren’t able to come to a compromise. At the moment, Cullen and Josephine were arguing about sleeping arrangements, or some such. Leliana wanted to return to the topic of Roderick. Cassandra seemed more comfortable with the role of bodyguard rather than chiming in. The Seeker stood silently at attention, looking on with an expression of disgust.
Oh, for the Maker’s sake, Kate thought, utterly at the end of her patience. How long was this going to take? She was hungry and hurting and before she could think better of it, Kate raised her voice and asked:
“What is the point of this meeting?”
Every eye in the room turned to her. Kate now felt rather foolish. What was she thinking, interrupting the servants of the Divine? But in for a penny, in for a sovereign and all that. So she pressed on:
“I mean, these are a lot of things to consider, but what needs to be taken care of right away?”
And what can wait until after I’ve had supper? Kate added silently.
“One thing we must address is that the nobility are not pleased with their lodgings…” Josephine began.
“Of course not,” Cullen cut in. “If they were simply grateful to be alive, they might be mistaken for peasants.”
“Does this matter?” Kate asked, causing Josephine to blink and Cullen to snort with amusement.
“What I mean is,” Kate said, trying to soften her tone, “Surely the nobles understand that the breach and the rifts are the priority. Maybe if we remind them of that…” She trailed off meaningfully.
Josephine tapped her chin thoughtfully. “With some shuffling, we could vacate the cabin by the healer’s hut,” she said. “The nobles won’t like it, but it’s clean and located close to the chantry.”
“Sounds good,” Kate nodded.
“If they continue to complain,” Cullen suggested, “hand them a tent and tell them to pitch it wherever they like.”
“Now that we have that settled,” Leliana said archly, “Perhaps we can deal with Chancellor Roderick. I still say we should have the man investigated.”
“That’ll only give him more fodder for his complaints,” Cullen said, while at the same time, Josephine cried, “Leliana! He is a Chantry cleric.”
“A troublesome one, Josie,” Leliana replied. “I can watch him - without letting him know he’s being watched.”
“Won’t he spot the scouts trailing him?” Cullen wanted to know.
“Have you spotted the scouts trailing you, commander?” Leliana replied with a grin.
“What?” Cullen blinked. He studied the spymaster as if trying to decide whether or not she was joking.
“Is there any harm in just watching him?” Kate asked.
“None,” Leliana said, as Cullen replied, “So long as he doesn’t notice.”
“Roderick doesn’t strike me as the most perceptive of persons,” Kate observed. “If Leliana has a spy to spare and it puts her mind at ease…”
“You take to this well, Lady Trevelyan,” Josephine said. Her eyes narrowed, but Kate thought she spotted the ghost of a smile on the woman’s lips.
“Er…thanks?,” Kate mumbled. Normally she would have blanched at having a man followed, but for Roderick, she’d make an exception. The man had twice threatened to have her executed.
“So much for the chancellor,” Kate said briskly, eager to move on. “Anything else?”
Everyone looked at her, then exchanged glances across the table. They were probably wondering why she was being so pushy. But really, Kate thought, if they took offense at her behavior, she could apologize for it later - after she’d eaten.
“We need to know how to address the Chantry,” Josephine told Kate, picking up a strange sort of writing board. It had parchment upon it, as well as an ink pot and a candle set into the upper rim. It looked like a mess or a fire just waiting to happen, but Josephine gracefully held it up and began to write.
“Address the Chantry?” Kate asked, frowning. She had no idea what that meant, so Josephine quickly laid out the very cheery situation. The remaining clerics had denounced the Inquisition and thought Kate was a heretic come to lead all the faithful astray.
Of course they did, Kate thought with a roll of her eyes.
“Was that before or after we stopped the demons pouring from the sky?” Kate asked, dryly. Cullen chuckled, but Josephine just frowned.
“Right,” Kate murmured. “And I’m a mage, so that doesn’t help at all.” Cullen shot her a strange look at that, but Leliana stepped in, drawing Kate’s attention.
“There are elements in the Chantry that may help us,” the spymaster said, slyly. She mentioned a few names, and Kate listened carefully to the plan the spymaster laid out.
“So you think I ought to talk to Mother Giselle,” Kate said. “And she’s in the Hinterlands. Is that…far away?” Kate looked at the map questioningly, realizing she had no clue.
“Practically our back door,” Cullen said, pointing at a spot just south of Haven, on the banks of Lake Calenhad. “A half a day’s ride will get you there - a full day trek on foot. My men are already on their way to secure the area.”
“And my scouts,” Leliana added.
“Half a day’s ride,” Kate mused. “Do we have horses?” She looked up eagerly.
“None,” Cullen sighed. “The stable at the base of the Penitent’s Path was, ah…”
“Demons ate them all,” Cassandra put in.
“Oh,” the Kate said. “How awful.”
The poor things. If she had been less hungry, she would have lost her appetite at that thought.
“There may be horses in the Hinterlands,” Leliana pointed out. “The farms there were known for the quality of their stables.”
“Excellent,” Kate nodded. “Hinterlands, Giselle, horses. Is that all?”
Was there something she needed to get to, Cullen wondered? Still, he was impressed with how efficiently she was moving the others through the meeting. Cullen could keep his soldiers on task easily enough, but meetings with Josephine and Leliana always seemed to take far longer than he expected. It was probably because the three of them could never quite agree on anything. It was useful to have a third - or rather, fourth - party along to chime in. Cassandra was little help, for the woman often said one thing, but meant something else entirely.
“One last thing,” Leliana said, “though it is the most important, by far. We need to discuss how we will permanently shut the breach.”
“With the mark, I thought,” the Herald said, giving the spymaster an odd look.
“Yes, but we need more magic,” Leliana said. “More mages.”
Cullen was certain he knew where she was going with this, and bristled before the words even left the woman’s mouth.
“The rebel mages are holed up in Redcliffe Village, in the Hinterlands,” the spymaster told the Herald.
“They are?” the Herald asked, blinking at the spymaster. “All of them?”
“Most of them,” Leliana returned. “They could help us. We must seek a meeting with them.”
“I didn’t realize they’d gotten organized,” the Herald murmured, turning her gaze to the map.
“They probably aren’t,” Cullen informed her, his mouth set in a grim line. He pitied those mages. Really, he did. But he had no desire to join with the poor fools. And yet, judging by the Herald’s reaction, she just might.
Blast it. Of course she would. She was a mage, after all. And yet, Cullen hadn’t really thought of her as a mage until now. He had known what she was, of course. That had become abundantly obvious the second time they’d met. But between the mark on her hand, the possibility of her guilt and the little matter of her falling out of the Fade, Cullen had overlooked her magic - her innate magic, that is. Now, he was reminded that she was part of that class of people who could summon the elements with a single thought.
Still, the Herald seemed a sensible sort of person. She had heeded the Divine’s summons and come to the Conclave, after all. That spoke well of her, as did her willingness to help the Inquisition. And yet, Cullen wondered where her loyalties truly lay. He had declared himself for the Inquisition, leaving his Order behind. Could they trust this mage to be just as devoted in her support? Or would she choose her fellows if forced to decide between the faithful and the rebels?
“The rebel mages can help us seal the breach,” Leliana was now telling the Herald. “They would be a powerful ally.”
And the mage looked quite pleased with that suggestion, Cullen thought with a frown. For his part, he could only imagine what chaos a camp full of mages would cause. With the Veil torn open and so few templars remaining, Haven would be drowned in abominations by the week’s end.
“That’s absurd,” Cullen said, hoping to get them all to see sense. “If the mages had magic enough to shut the Veil, then we wouldn’t be getting so many reports of rifts in the Hinterlands.”
“The mages could pour their power into the Herald’s mark,” Leliana explained. “Make it even stronger.”
“What?” the Herald balked, casting a doubtful glance at her left hand. “We don’t even know how this thing works, and now we want to make it stronger?”
“Preposterous,” Cullen agreed, relived the mage was seeing reason. “We should seek out the templars instead. They could suppress the breach.”
The Herald gave Cullen a dubious look. “And that’s less dangerous…how?”
Cullen let out a long breath. So much for her seeing reason.
“That would lessen the magic of the breach,” he explained.
“Wouldn’t a weakened breach just tear the Veil further?” the mage asked. “If the fabric of the worlds is frayed, would dispelling magic banish it back to the fade, or draw even more magic through?”
Cullen opened his mouth, then left it open without a saying anything. That was actually a fair question, he thought, but before he could form an answer, Leliana cut in again:
“You don’t even know that the templars could effectively weaken the breach, commander,” she said. “They might do nothing at all.”
“I do know something of templars and their effect on magic, Sister Nightingale,” Cullen said, “I was one, if you recall.”
“Wait,” the Herald’s gaze shot to him, her voice rising in alarm. “You’re a templar?”
Kate regretted her outburst the moment the words left her mouth. Every eye in the room swung to her. She cringed, realizing how shrill she had sounded. But Maker damn it, why had no one told her? Here, she’d been talking with the man, admiring his looks - in a purely aesthetic way, of course - and it turned out he was a templar.
Of course he was, some part of Kate’s mind chimed in. No doubt, that was why she had admired his looks in the first place. Templars were the consummate warriors: dedicated, athletic, well-trained and…Anyhow, the relevant point was that this bear-soldier was actually a bear-templar. And no one had warned her.
“I was a templar,” the man said, drawing Kate back to the present. “Will that be a problem?”
Kate was about to reply, ‘no, of course not’ and then pretend to be very interested in the map. That’s what she would have done if she were still in the tower, or back home with her parents. She would have been far too fearful of the templar in her midst, and too mindful of his authority to do anything else.
But instead, Kate stopped and actually thought about it. Maybe she had found courage in fighting demons - and winning against them. Maybe she had finally realized that as the Herald, these people needed her help as much as she needed their protection. Or maybe she was just too tired and hungry to care. Whatever the reason, Kate shrugged and looked the bear-templar right in the eye.
“I don’t think so,” she said, her tone cool, but firm. “Will it?”
He drew back ever so slightly, but repeated her words:
“I don’t think so.”
“Good,” Kate said, crisply.
“Good,” the man said, his tone as chilly as Kate felt.
Kate let out a breath as she realized she should probably say something more. She was a mage, and he a templar, but that didn’t mean they had to be at odds. If this man was with the Inquisition, he clearly wasn’t with the rest of his Order. He wasn’t out hunting down mages, or anything awful like that. Of course, Kate reflected, if he was a templar, he still took lyrium. That was enough to give her pause.
Still, Kate told herself, she was not some stammering apprentice, newly arrived at the tower. This would be just like when her templar cousins came to visit Trevelyan house, and they all sat around drinking tea and pretending to be friends. Kate would be polite to this Commander Cullen, and all the while, she’d keep her distance from him. The table between them was a good start.
“It won’t be a problem,” Kate assured him, pasting a smile upon her face as spoke. “All the same, maybe we could leave the question of mages and templars and powering up this mark for another time. At present, I’m a bit…”
Her stomach decided to speak for her, then. It growled so loudly that everyone in the room heard it. Kate flushed, placing a hand over her belly.
”…hungry,” she finished, sheepishly.
“It would seem so,” Josephine laughed, clearly pleased that the conversation had taken a more relaxed, if more gastronomical turn. “When was the last time you ate?”
“Four days ago?” Kate said. “Five?”
“Five days?” Leliana gasped. “Cassandra!”
“What?” the Seeker scowled. “I didn’t starve her.”
“You didn’t feed her either,” Josephine said. “Cassandra, we can’t expect the Herald to go without food for five days.”
“I thought the Dalish fed her,” Cassandra said, frowning. “She gave you water, I’m sure.”
As if to belie Cassandra’s words, Kate’s stomach growled again.
“Go on,” the templar said, shortly, waiving a hand at the door. “Get yourself something to eat. We can resume our discussion in the morning.”
“It sounded more like an argument than a discussion,” Josephine murmured with a frown.
“We leave for the Hinterlands in the morning,” Cassandra cut in. “There will be no time for meetings tomorrow.”
“So we’ll talk on the road, then?” Kate asked, glancing around the room. She didn’t much like the idea of marching with these people for hours, but she supposed it would give them time to work things through.
“We’re not going with you,” Leliana replied, indicating the templar, the ambassador and herself. “We have duties here.”
Well thank the Maker for that, Kate thought. Between the templar and the spymaster, Kate was already feeling nervous. Josephine seemed much nicer, but her frilly dress and slippers made Kate wonder just how good she’d be at marching in the wilderness. Probably even worse than Kate would be, she figured.
“I will accompany Trevelyan,” Cassandra replied. “We can discuss the question of how to close the breach when we return with Mother Giselle.” She addressed this statement primarily at the templar and the spymaster.
“Fine,” Cullen shrugged. “Maybe by then you’ll all see what madness it is to put that many mages that close to the breach.”
Kate slanted a glance at him, but said nothing. By now, Kate figured that the less she said, the quicker she got fed.
“Come with me, Trevelyan,” Cassandra said, waiving a hand at Kate. “Flissa will have sausages at the tavern.”
At the word ‘sausages,’ Kate’s stomach growled again, this time in anticipation of being filled. Kate gave a polite smile and nod to each person in the room - even the bear-templar.
Then she turned and followed Cassandra out of the room. After all, Kate told herself, sausages were far more compelling than war meetings and templar drama.
“Well, she’s…not what I expected,” Josephine said, the moment the door had closed behind the Herald.
Cullen rolled his eyes and shot her a speaking glance.
“She fell out of the Fade with a magical mark on her hand,” he said, dryly. “She’s not what anyone expected.”
“I know that,” Josephine replied, making a tisk-ing sort of sound as only an Antivan could. “But I met Lady Trevelyan before. She was very distinguished and charming, as I recall. But she was not so…”
“Jumpy?” Cullen suggested.
“I was going to say ‘bold,’” Josephine replied.
“She wasn’t jumpy until you said that you were a templar, Cullen,” Leliana pointed out.
“Had no one told her before this?” Josephine wanted to know.
Cullen frowned. Surely someone had told her. He had mentioned, it, hadn’t he? But Cullen realized he hadn’t. He was so used to everyone knowing his history that it never occurred to him to announce himself.
Of course, Cullen thought, when the Herald found out, she had withdrawn at once. She had given him that look - that wary expression that First Enchanters wore around their resident Knight-Commanders. She had been civil, of course. Cullen was beginning to realize that the Herald was always polite - perhaps a little too polite. Still, he suspected that under her frosty smiles, she had decided to dislike him on principle.
So be it, Cullen thought in annoyance. So long as they were working together, he didn’t care for her opinion. He hadn’t come to Ferelden to make friends, after all.
At that thought, Cullen remembered something an acquaintance had once said to him. He rested his hand on the map, and absently traced a finger over the city of Kirkwall.
“You heard the mage,” he said aloud. “It won’t be a problem.”
“Yes, I heard her,” Josephine said. Her wry tone suggested that she had heard something rather different than what Cullen had heard.
“What?” he asked, looking up.
“I heard a near argument break out between a mage and a templar - and during our first meeting, too,” Josephine said, her dark eyes narrowing at him.
“Former templar,” Cullen reminded her. “And it wasn’t an argument.”
“It wasn’t friendly,” Leliana replied. “We have work to do. We do not need mage-templar politics confusing things in our inner circle.”
“All the more reason not to invite the entire rebellion into the Inquisition,” Cullen told her.
“Oh, so we should side with the templars instead?” Leliana said, her thin brows drawing together angrily.
“Maker’s tears, you two!” Josephine exclaimed. “It was a good thing Lady Trevelyan was thinking with her stomach, or we might never have gotten through that meeting.”
What a funny way to put it, Cullen thought. And yet, in a way, it was true.
“All the same,” Josephine went on, tapping her quill pen in the air, as if putting a fine point on her words. “You may want to say something to her, Cullen.”
“Me? Say something to the Herald?”
“That’s a good thought, Josie,” Leliana nodded. “Assure her that we are all on the same side. We must be united in the days to come.”
“The woman said as much in that speech of hers,” Cullen told them. “Surely she doesn’t need me to remind her of that.”
“Say it anyway,” Josephine said, “Lady Trevelyan has no fewer than six templar cousins. I’m sure she has great respect for the Order.”
Cullen doubted that very much. In his experience, there was a gulf between mages and templars that even family ties could not quite overcome. Still, Josephine was probably right. It wouldn’t hurt to clear the air a bit.
“Fine,” Cullen said, placing his hand on the hilt of his sword. “I’ll speak to her later.”
But Cullen did not speak to the Herald that night. After talking with Leliana about the scouts and troops sent to the Hinterlands, he went to find Rylen. They had a long meeting, and then Cullen supposed he ought to see the requisitions officer about getting swords for the new recruits. By the time Cullen went to the tavern to grab a bite to eat, the Herald was long gone. He considered tracking her down, then decided against it. Surely the matter could be addressed in the morning easily enough. Besides, a certain amount of distance and coolness between him and the mage was acceptable - preferable, even.
So instead, Cullen grabbed a sandwich, then walked back to his frosted tent and settled in for what was likely to be a cold, sleepless night.