Kate stared at the markers and notes on the war table without really seeing them. She felt exhausted and cold, and little wonder. Kate had woken before dawn, traveled through rain and snow, and finally reached Haven just twenty minutes ago. Now, she stood in the war room, hair still damp with melting snow, limbs still shivering with cold. Around the war table, the leaders of the Inquisition were planning their next move.
No, Kate corrected herself, they were planning Kate’s next move. She felt like a war table marker, to be scooted around the map at a whim. The truly maddening part was this:
The only person defending Kate was Cullen.
“Are you out of your minds?” the former templar said, scowling at each of the other women in turn. “If we send Trevelyan to Val Royeaux, she’s likely to get lynched in the streets.”
He waved a gloved hand at Kate, and she tried not to flinch at the unpleasant image he suggested.
“The Herald is the one the clerics need to see,” Josephine argued. “They could discount any of us, but the mark on the Herald’s hand…”
“Is needed here,” Cullen said, cutting her off. “What if more rifts appear? How are we to close them without the mark?”
Strike that, Kate thought, continuing to stare blankly at the map. Cullen was treating her like a map marker as well. Only he wanted her to stay closer to Haven rather than sailing to Val Royeaux. That Cullen was more concerned about the mark than Kate herself really didn’t surprise her. In fact, Kate reasoned, she should view this as a welcome development. She had resolved the entire way here to think of Cullen in a distant, cool manner. Of course, she had nearly broken that resolution the moment she saw Cullen again.
Their meeting had been as awkward an encounter as Kate had ever experienced. Minutes ago, Kate had returned to Haven just in time to witness a fight break out on the very steps of the Chantry. A couple of mages and a handful of templars had started arguing about who had killed the Divine, and before Kate could reach the crowd, Cullen arrived. The man had strode up out of nowhere, looking like a hero out of legend. Cullen had ignored the drawn swords and gathered spells. His commanding presence had stopped both the mages and templars in their tracks. At the sight, Kate’s heart had foolishly skipped a beat.
Cullen had then threatened latrine-digging duty to anyone who remained to cause trouble. The crowd had dispersed in a twinkling - all except for Kate, who had let out a spurt of laughter at Cullen’s hilarious threat. Cullen’s eyes had shot right to her.
“Herald!” he had said. “I didn’t see you there. Welcome back.”
And with that, Kate had felt her face warm and her stomach flip. Cullen had seemed pleased to see her. And being welcomed was so rare an occurance that Kate had not known what to say.
But then she remembered what Varric had said, and her fingertips had gone cold.
A moment later, Chancellor Roderick had showed up out of nowhere, bringing with him a series of accusations and snide remarks. Kate had secretly hoped that Cullen would assign latrine duty to him. But no, Cullen had just said he’d deal with Roderick and told Kate to proceed to the war room. Kate had done so. She hadn’t known what else to do.
Now, she stood at the war table, still playing the role of the mild, compliant mage. And it chafed, Maker take it all. Before the Hinterlands, Kate might have been content to let the others push her around. But in the past few weeks, she had grown accustomed to being part of a team. She had even led a team from time to time. Returning to the role of ‘mage under orders’ sat ill with her. And this notion of going off to Val Royeaux to placate the Chantry? It struck Kate as pointless - not to mention, risky.
“Why don’t we send Cassandra?” Kate suggested, her eyes still resting on the map. “She was the Divine’s right hand, after all.”
And the grand clerics were highly unlikely to lynch her in the streets, Kate added silently. Cassandra was a princess or something. She was as safe in Val Royeaux as anywhere in Thedas.
“Cassandra?” Leliana laughed. “Ah…”
“I am no good at flattering the clerics,” Cassandra said with a sneer. “And we need to appeal to the Chantry.”
“And the heretic mage would be better at appealing to them…how?” Kate wanted to know.
“The mark on your hand proves you were chosen by Andraste,” Josephine said.
“Or that I’m the unwitting dupe in an elaborate magical prank,” Kate muttered, still staring at the map. Maker’s breath, was there no convincing these people? They were determined to see the mark as Andraste’s gift, and they were determined to send that gift right up the steps of the Grand Cathedral, danger be damned.
“If you do not go Val Royeaux soon,” Josephine went on, “then many of the supportive clerics will return to their own homes. We will lose all chance of securing the Chantry’s support.”
“Yes, and that would be a terrible tragedy,” Cullen said, sarcastically.
Kate bit back a snort of laughter. She might be filled with doubts about Cullen, but that didn’t stop her from agreeing with him on this. Funny how the templar was the least enthusiastic about speaking with clerics.
“Cullen,” Josephine chided, “We must try to reach out to them.”
“Why?” he said, unrepentant. “If Roderick’s welcome is any indication, then we already know how we’ll be received in Orlais.”
“What did he do?” Josephine asked, frowning.
Kate opened her mouth to explain, but Cullen beat her to it.
“The man told Trevelyan to ‘throw herself on the mercy of the grand clerics’.”
“In other words,” Cassandra said, flatly, “They plan to execute her.”
Kate flinched to hear it said so matter-of-factly. This entire scenario was most alarming. Across the table from her, Cullen nodded in agreement, oblivious to her distress.
“Exactly,” he said. “If we send her to Orlais, we might as well have tied the hangman’s noose around her neck and strung her up ourselves.”
By the Golden City, what an image, Kate thought. She gingerly reached up and touched her fingers to her throat. It was true, though. The noble honor of beheading would not be extended to a mage, and certainly not to the woman accused of murdering the Divine.
“Cullen, really!” Josephine said as Kate continued to fade away into her own thoughts. “The Chantry is not an institution that condones bloodshed.”
Care to bet on that? Kate mused, distantly.
“Roderick would condone bloodshed if it meant reasserting his power in the Chantry,” Cullen returned, irritably. “He just wants his job back, hole in the sky notwithstanding.”
“I have been monitoring the situation from the moment Mother Giselle arrived with her lists,” Leliana said from the other end of the table. “We know which clerics we can trust, and they outnumber the hostile ones. My scouts are in place, and they will be ready. If I did not think the Herald would be perfectly fine, I would not risk sending her.”
Well, Kate thought. At least someone was planning ahead. Good to know.
“Can you trust your scouts though?” Cullen wanted to know. “Val Royeaux is a big place. In a city like that, you wander off down one wrong alley and suddenly you’re in the hands of blood mages or bandits or Maker knows what.”
“This is Val Royeaux, commander,” Josephine said.
“And your point is?” Cullen countered. “This entire…whatever this is…”
“Diplomatic salvo,” Josephine supplied.
“It’s absurd,” Cullen said. “It only makes it look like we care what the Chantry thinks.”
“We ought to care what the Chantry thinks,” Josephine replied. “If we have to fight popular opinion and the breach as well…”
“So you’d send the key to closing the breach halfway across the world?” Cullen asked. Kate felt the air from his waved had, rather than actually seeing that he’d gestured at her. She was mentally fading away now, feeling ever chillier and more remote.
“She’s traveling to Orlais, commander,” Leliana snorted. “Not the Anderfells.”
“It’s still a week and a half journey,” Cullen said. “If she’s murdered or captured, even the raven would take days.”
How cheery, Kate thought. So her dangling body would be pecked at by city crows while the Inquisition ravens carried the news to Haven. What a lovely thought.
“It’s three days sailing from West Hill,” Josephine said. “Two, if the wind is fair. If the Herald leaves this evening, she can sail across Lake Calenhad tonight and…”
“This evening?” Cassandra interrupted sharply. “But we just returned.”
“Then you won’t have to unpack,” Leliana said with false cheer. Cassandra grunted with disgust.
“So three days there, three days back, and several days in the city,” Cullen said. “Like I said: A week and a half. She should be closing rifts in that time.”
“The Herald closed every rift in the Hinterlands,” Cassandra said. “Our next focus must be closing the breach, and to that end, we need the…”
“The mages,” Leliana said just as Cullen responded with, “The templars.”
“Well, one of the two,” Josephine said. “And favor with the Chantry would help in that endeavor.”
“How?” Kate murmured. “The Chantry doesn’t have control of either.” But it seemed no one was listening to her.
“However,” Cullen said, his voice turning thoughtful. “The loyal templars are all at the White Spire.”
And just like that, Kate knew what his next words would be. Even before Cullen spoke, Kate found herself growing angry.
“Perhaps we should go to Val Royeaux after all,” Cullen said, confirming Kate’s suspicion. “If we can secure the help of the templars, we can deal with the Chantry and get assistance with the breach all at once.”
“An excellent suggestion,” Josephine agreed. “They will listen to the Herald, surely. I will write to…”
Kate felt as if the rest of the conversation was blocked from her ears by a kind of cold roaring in her mind. So now Cullen was willing to send her to Val Royeaux, too, and for what? To collect his precious templar allies. Never mind that those fools had ignored the Divine’s summons to the Conclave. Never mind that the so-called ‘loyal’ templars had stood idly by while mages were murdered and innocent people had died in this conflict.
Kate felt fury fill her veins, cold and white and biting. She now felt angry, hurt, and angry that she felt hurt, which was probably worst of all.
“Maker’s breath! Trevelyan!”
Kate looked up to find Cullen staring at her in astonishment. Beside him, Josephine had backed into the corner and was likewise looking at Kate in absolute shock. Cassandra was wide-eyed and wary. Only Leliana’s face was impassive, but Kate saw that her hand was behind her back in a most suspicious manner - resting on a knife, no doubt.
“What?” Kate said, feeling as startled as they all looked.
“Y-you…” Josephine pointed at the table. Kate glanced down, then drew back her hands at once. The entire tabletop was covered with a layer of frost, patterned like fine lace. Ice encased the map markers and only two spots on the table remained bare. Kate’s hand prints remained from where she had rested against the table.
“Oh,” Kate said, her tone stiff and formal as she tried to hide her embarrassment. “I do beg your pardon.”
Well, Kate thought, that would explain the chill she’d felt. Andraste have mercy, she hadn’t cast unconsciously like this since…since before her Harrowing, surely. Kate wasn’t sure if that was just a lack of control in her emotions or if the mark was making her revert very badly indeed. She supposed it didn’t matter, really. The others were shocked, regardless of the reason for her spell.
As calmly as she could, Kate swept her hands out wide. The frost melted at once, rising up toward her fingers in little droplets. Soon she had a small sphere of water under each outstretched palm. Kate turned her hands upward, drawing the water along with her. When she flicked her fingers to the floor, the water fell around her boots. Everything else was dry, though the map remained a little wrinkled. Kate let out a sigh, then raised her eyes. As she expected, everyone was staring at her.
“Apologies,” Kate said, lifting her chin.
“Did you mean to do that?” Cullen demanded at once.
“No,” Kate snapped, a bit more sharply than she meant to. “That only happens when I’m upset.”
“You are upset, Lady Trevelyan?” Josephine asked, looking genuinely confused by that possibility.
Kate couldn’t help it. She laughed in disbelief and waved a hand at the table. Everyone flinched a little, no doubt expecting her to cast again.
“Am I upset?” she repeated. “Ambassador, for the past quarter hour, you all have done nothing but discuss the various ways in which the grand clerics plan to kill me. And yet you’re still planning to send me to Orlais, because supposedly, we need templars.”
She gave Cullen a pointed look, and his brows furrowed in response.
“Yes, well, obviously we wouldn’t send you if there was a real danger,” he said.
“Oh, obviously,” Kate said, rolling her eyes.
“Lady Herald,” Josephine said, in a precise tone that just set Kate’s nerves on edge, “I know it is a challenging prospect to speak with the grand clerics…”
“That’s not the point,” Kate said, frowning at her.
“The point is,” Leliana put in, “We need the Chantry clerics to be divided amongst themselves so they won’t cause trouble…”
“We need the Chantry to join us,” Josephine protested, while Cullen cut in, saying, “We need the Chantry’s templars, not the Chantry itself.”
Kate glared at all of them, fighting the urge to frost the entire table again. Deliberately, this time.
“We need the Chantry,” Cassandra said. “We can all agree on that.”
“You can agree on that,” Kate said. “You can agree on that, because all of you want to restore what was. I thought the point of the Inquisition was to close the breach, find the Divine’s killers, and restore the peace. But giving power back to the Chantry? That’s more than I signed on for.”
“Well,” Josephine said, nervously. “The Chantry is the unifying force in most of Thedas.”
“You want to restore the old order because you had a place in it,” Kate said to her. “You all did. But what about the people who had no place? What about them?”
“If you’re speaking about the mages,” Leliana said, “We did try to reach them…”
“No!” Kate snapped, slapping her open hand on the table. A palm-print of ice remained behind as Kate pointed a finger at the door to the Chantry nave.
“I’m talking about everyone the Chantry betrayed,” she snapped. “I’m talking about everyone they left behind. That they continue to leave behind. The Chantry is the reason we’re in the mess. It’s their fault.”
She glared at all the rest of them, allowing her disgust to show. But then Kate paused as she considered the full weight of blame. The room was silent as she let out a weary sigh.
“No,” she said, softly. “That’s not right. It’s our fault.”
“Ours?” Josephine blinked.
“The nobles,” Kate now glowered at Josephine, “have done nothing but protect their own selfish interests, even as the world fell apart. The Seekers,” Kate added, nodding at Cassandra, “were the ones who lost control of the templars in the first place. The Divine,” here Kate glanced at Leliana, “was ready to declare an Exalted March on the Kirkwall mages, rather listen to them, and the templars…”
Kate glared at Cullen, feeling every bit of her fury run hot and cold in her veins. She had so much to say on that score that she hardly knew where to begin. As for Cullen, he just gazed back at her with a troubled expression.
“Let us not forget the mages were no help in this either,” Cassandra interrupted, flatly.
“Cassandra, please,” Josephine said, obviously trying to calm everyone down.
“Yes, the mages.” Kate agreed, feeling suddenly weary. “Because we allowed it. We did nothing.”
I did nothing, Kate thought. She had allowed herself to be frightened and ashamed of her magic. She had believed that she was being wise, being safe, and doing her duty as an Andrastian and as a Trevelyan. But now, she realized that it had been an excuse to hide away and let someone else take the lead. She had let the Chantry tell her who she was and how things ought to be.
Well, Kate decided, no more. She wasn’t sure what she ought to do next. After following orders her entire life, it felt strange to even think about forging her own path. But she couldn’t continue trailing after this foolish devotion to the Chantry’s mistakes. She wouldn’t.
“I will go to Val Royeaux,” Kate promised them all. “But I won’t act as your Herald or ‘Worship’ or whatever else it is that the Inquisition wants to call me. If I go, I go as myself.”
Kate shoved back from the table, then turned on her heel and snapped her hand out to one side. She sent the puddle on the floor arcing up the wall in a spray of icicles. It was was probably childish to end the meeting with a gesture like that, but Kate didn’t care. She marched out of the door, leaving silence behind her.
“They’re sending you to Val Royeaux? Tonight? What in the everlastin’ feck?”
Kate leaned against the wall in Adan’s apothecary and folded her arms over her chest.
“No,” Kate said, decisively. “They’re not sending me anywhere. I’m going because I have a thing or two to say to the grand clerics.”
“Oh?” Coll said, perking up at that. “That sounds promisin’. You gonna go all rebel on me, Kate? Didn’t think you had it in you.”
“I’m not sure I do,” Kate sighed and shook her head. “But I’ve got to find something else to fight for.”
Kate rubbed her hands on her arms to try and get warm again. In spite of the fire, Kate still felt the frost. She had almost told Coll about what had happened at the war table, but then decided against it. Kate still wasn’t quite clear about what had happened herself. She needed a bit more time to think this through before saying something to Coll about it. Coll was wonderful in many regards, but thinking things through rationally was not one of them.
“Something else to fight for,” Coll repeated. “The sky ain’t enough?”
“No,” Kate said, cocking her head to one side. “The sky isn’t enough. There has to be a better way for mages to live in this world. I just wish I knew what it was.”
“Yeh gonna go savin’ the world from yer desk again, Kate?” Coll chuckled. “Trouble with you is, you always see two sides of anythin’, and then yeh never do either.”
“Not anymore,” Kate said.
“Well, whatever yeh do in Val Royeaux,” Coll said, taking up a mortar and a pestle in her hands, “Do it quick and come on back soon, will yeah? I’m bored without yeh.”
“You could come with me,” Kate suggested, but Coll wasn’t listening.
“First you go off to the woods, then Lysette up and joins the Inquisition. She’s off to some swamp to fight the walkin’ dead. Not my particular glass o’ brandy, if yeh get me. So I was left here, patchin’ up all the soldiers what was hurt.”
“You’ve done good work, Coll,” Kate said. “They were lucky to have you.”
“Sure, they was lucky,” Coll frowned. “But what about me? After ‘twas all done, that’s still a heap o’ bodies with their guts hangin’ out that I couldn’t put back together. I still see ‘em in my mind when I walk about this place.” Coll absently grabbed a fistful of elfroot from a jar and then laid it on the table with a sigh.
“I need to get out of here, Kate,” she said.
“Oh,” Kate said, taken aback by that. “Maker’s breath, Coll. I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize…”
“It’s alright,” Coll said, waving a hand. “I don’t want to think on that. I just want somethin’ other to do than mash up elfroot and look at that hole in the sky.”
As if to emphasize her words, Coll picked the the elfroot back up, dumped it into her mortar and started mashing it furiously.
“And the company around here, Kate! They’re all Chantry buggers, every last blessed one of ‘em. Did you know that the furry commander was once the knight-captain of Kirkwall?”
“Cullen? Er…yes, I heard that.”
“I gives him the stink eye every time he walks by,” Coll said, curling her lip and holding up her pestle angrily. “Just like this I do.”
She demonstrated for Kate’s benefit, and Kate drew back.
“That’s…that’s actually kind of terrifying, Coll,” Kate said.
“I know, right?” Coll said, suddenly grinning. “I works on it in the mirror when I gets the chance of it.
“If you’re bored, Coll,” Kate said, “Then come with me to Val Royeaux. It would be good to have you with me.”
“Oh feck no,” Coll said, mashing her elfroot with renewed vigor. “Anywhere but there. Take your new friends to that shining shite pile of a city, why don’t yeh?”
“Coll,” Kate said. “You’re not jealous of Solas and Varric are you?”
“Of the egg-headed elf and the carpet-chested dwarf? Not a chance. I know you’d never find anyone as amazin’ as me.”
Kate chuckled. No one could touch Coll’s enormous sense of self-regard. It was comforting, really.
“But Val Royeaux? Kate-lass. I’m Dalish.“
“You always say that you’re not Dalish anymore.”
“Aye, well, I change me mind about that dependin’ on the weather. Right now, the weather’s lookin’ like the Orlesians are feckers what have pissed on my people since before the blights…”
“Orlais didn’t exist before the blights, Coll…”
”…and yet they’re still feckers,” Coll said, by way of concluding her argument. She raised the pestle in the air as if it were a beacon, lighting the truth of her statements.
”‘Sides,” Coll added, going back to her mashing. “There’s no proper herbs in a city.”
“You’d get to sail there,” Kate pointed out. “You’d see the sea again.”
“Aye,” Coll sighed, slowing her movements to a full stop and staring off into space. “I’d see the sea. There is that. Ah, shite. I hate boats, but love the water. How did I manage that?”
Kate was about to reply that she had no idea, when someone stuck their head into the healer’s hut.
A new voice spoke, and Kate turned to see a very tanned soldier with short, brown hair standing in the doorway.
“Yes?” Kate asked, politely. Across the room, Kate heard something clatter loudly. She turned her head to see Coll go lunging for her dropped pestle as it rolled across the floor.
“I’m looking for…” the soldier began, eyes narrowing at Kate, and then at Coll in turn. “Well, I’m looking for one of you.”
“Mythal, let it be me,” Kate thought she heard Coll mutter.
“I’m looking for the Herald,” the soldier said.
“Ah, feck it,” Coll snapped. Kate’s brows furrowed as she watched Coll snag the pestle and then stand up straight. Coll hid the tool behind her back and shot the soldier a very bright smile. “Sure you don’t need a healer?” she asked.
“Uh, not at the moment, thankfully,” the soldier replied. “I was looking for the Herald of Andraste. Someone said she, well, that you…”
Kate took mercy on the soldier’s confusion. She pushed away from the wall and held out her right hand politely.
“I’m Kate,” she said. “Or ‘the Herald,’ if you must. What can I do for you?”
“My name’s Cremisius Aclassi,” the soldier said, shaking Kate’s hand. “Well, Krem, rather.”
“And I’m Coll,” Coll said, wiping her hands on her apron before offering a hand to Krem. “Colleen Lavellen, that is. Should you ever need a healer.”
“Hello,” Krem said, shaking Coll’s hand as well. If the soldier was surprised to be so bluntly greeted by a Dalish elf, it didn’t show. Kate took that as a mark in Krem’s favor. Many humans got awfully snobby around elves, especially elves with tattoos.
“I’m glad I found you, Herald,” the soldier went on, turning back to Kate. “I kept trying to get someone to talk to me, but they all said they don’t want latrine duty and went back to their work.”
“What is it you need?” Kate asked him.
“I’m from the Bull’s Chargers,” Krem said. This was accompanied by a pause, as if this should mean something.
“Oh,” Kate said, politely. “How nice.”
“Yer with the Chargers?” Coll said, her eyes twinkling. “Yer shittin’ me.”
“Uh, no,” Krem replied. “That’s who I work for.”
“Blessed Andruil,” Coll chuckled, shaking her head.
“I think I missed something,” Kate said.
“They’re mercs,” Coll exclaimed, beaming now. “The feckin’ best. Loony as bollocks, too. Sure, you’ve never heard of ‘em, Kate?”
“Loony?” Krem repeated, frowning. “Who said we’re loony?”
“Coming from Coll, that’s a compliment,” Kate said, quickly stepping in to avoid offending the soldier. Beside her, Coll gave a great grin.
“I read about your company in a broadside,” she said. “Sure you read it, too, Kate. It was the one where…” Coll broke off, then snapped her fingers. “Ach, no. ‘Twas I what shelved ‘em. You was off in the arcane energies section of the library.”
“Right,” Krem said, unfazed by Coll’s rambling. “I was sent here to invite the Herald to come out to the Storm Coast and watch the Chargers work. Uh, to invite you, that is.”
“The Storm Coast?” Kate repeated, her brows drawing together. “But isn’t that… That’s a long way off, isn’t it?”
“Well, yes,” the soldier hedged. “From West Hill’s docks it’s a two day hike along the coast to where we’re camped.”
Kate didn’t know the Storm Coast, but she knew the other side of the Waking Sea well enough. On the Wounded Coast, a ‘two-day hike’ could easily become a five-day slog of camping out in caves and waiting for the storms to pass.
“Bollocks, that is,” Coll snorted. “What, you just think your contracts will come find you in the arse end of nowhere?”
“They do find us in the arse end of nowhere,” Krem replied, with such complete confidence that Kate believed it. “We’re the best. You won’t regret hiring us. Iron Bull - that’s our boss - he’s one of them qunari. You know, the big folk with the horns? Anyhow, he’s a first rate bodyguard. And the rest of us can handle pretty much whatever you throw at us.”
“Can you now?” Coll murmured, but Kate didn’t think Krem heard it.
“You won’t regret coming out to see us work,” Krem assured them.
“The Inquisition can use whatever help we can get,” Kate agreed. “But I don’t really have time to hike out to the Storm Coast just now. I need to head to…um, elsewhere.”
Kate caught herself at the last minute, not sure if she should speak of her travel plans to complete strangers.
“Perhaps if you spoke to Cullen,” Kate suggested.
“Already did this morning,” Krem said. “He said it was your call when you returned.”
“He did?” Kate asked, surprised that Cullen would leave such a decision to her. “But why…”
“Oh, sure, check it out, Kate,” Coll said, elbowing Kate in the ribs. “The more the merrier, right? ‘Sides, you hire a qunari, and the Chantry will shite itself.”
“Annoying the Chantry is not a good reason to hire mercs, Coll,” Kate said, rubbing her side.
”‘It’s not a bad reason, either,” Coll returned. “The Storm Coast, is it?” she added, jerking her chin at the soldier.
“That’s right,” Krem replied. “We’ve set up camp down the coast a ways. Shouldn’t be any Vints out there, but there are.”
“Vints?” Kate repeated.
“Tevinter mages,” Krem replied. “We ran into them on the last job, stayed on the coast to clean ‘em out.”
“Oh,” Kate said, frowning. So these Chargers were out hunting mages, were they? That was unnerving. And yet, Kate now wondered what Tevinter mages were doing on the Storm Coast. That was awfully far from home.
“I suppose that is worth looking into,” Kate mused.
“I’ll go for yeh,” Coll piped up.
“Go for me?” Kate repeated. “Go where?”
“Out to see ‘em kill us some ‘Vints,” Coll said, waving a tattooed hand at Krem. “Yeh can’t be in two places at once, so send me with Krem here. I’ll go check out these mercs for yeh.”
“Oh…” Krem blinked. “Well, the chief - Bull, that is - he wanted the Herald to come see for herself.”
“She’s got other places to be,” Coll said. “But I don’t. I’ll come see if he’s any good.”
Krem gave Coll a doubtful look, as did Kate.
“Coll, you hate being outdoors,” Kate reminded her.
“Haven’s as good as outdoors for all the fresh air up here,” Coll sniffed. “‘Sides,” Coll went on, “You don’t know the first thing about hirin’ mercs, do yeh Kate?”
“Well, no,” Kate admitted.
Neither did Coll, however. At least, Kate didn’t think Coll had been in the business of hiring mercenaries before she arrived at the tower.
“Huh,” the brown-haired soldier said, frowning at them both. “I suppose it would be alright if Mistress, uh…Coll, was it?”
“That’s right,” Coll grinned at the honorific.
“If Mistress Coll is authorized to speak for the Inquisition, I suppose I could take her instead.”
Kate’s brows shot up. Coll speaking for the Inquisition? Maker save them all. But then again, Kate thought, if she was the Inquisition’s Herald, then why not?
“Of course I’m authorized,” Coll lied easily, waving one of her tattooed hands. “I’m Kate’s assistant in all things. Ain’t that right, Kate-lass?”
Kate shot Coll a wary look. ‘Ain’t that right, Kate-lass?’ was unmistakable Coll-speak for ‘agree with whatever I just said and don’t ask questions.’ As in, ‘Settin’ a pin on the First Enchanter’s chair? I was standin’ here the whole time, ain’t that right, Kate-lass?’ or ‘Sure I’d never replace all the prayer books in the chapel with erotic Antivan poetry, ain’t that right Kate-lass?’
“Coll…” Kate began, doubtfully.
And yet, she thought, why not? If Cullen left the hiring of the Changers up to Kate, then he couldn’t complain about how she did it. In the same way, if the leaders of the Inquisition made Kate their Herald, then they couldn’t much complain about how she spoke to the Chantry on their behalf. So why not send the wild Dalish to recruit the mercenaries? It just about made sense, really.
“Sure,” Kate said. “You go check out the qunari, Coll.”
“Right-o!” Coll said brightly.
“There’s more to the Chargers than just the qunari,” Krem grumbled.
”‘Course there is, love,” Coll smiled. “There’s you.”
“Right.” The soldier glanced at Kate hesitantly. “You sure about this, Herald?”
“Yes,” Kate said, decisively. “I need to go elsewhere and Coll is a good judge of character. I can set you as far as West Hill if you’re able to leave at once.”
“I am,” Krem said. “I’ll meet you by the stables then.” A head of brown hair nodded at Kate, and then at Coll.
“Ta!” Coll said, waving a hand. She came to join Kate in the doorway as Krem walked away. “We’re right behind yeh, we are!”
And now, suddenly, Kate spotted it. There was an unmistakable gleam in Coll’s eyes as she stared after Krem’s backside. Kate turned to her friend with a groan.
“Really Coll?” she said, exasperated now. “I thought this was about wanting to get away from here, but you’d go halfway up the coast just to chase that fellow around?”
“Shut it,” Coll hissed back. “He might hear you.”
“And Lavellen?” Kate asked. “That’s new.”
”‘Tis my birth-clan,” Coll shrugged. “I use it when I want to sound respectable-like.”
“Clearly you’ve never cared to sound respectable before,” Kate observed dryly. She paused, then added, “He’s handsome. I’ll grant you that. Or… wait…” Kate trailed off as realization dawned. “Wait, she’s handsome? Was that…?” Kate pointed a finger after the brown-haired soldier and her face scrunched up in confusion. “I didn’t realize…”
Coll sighed heavily. “For all your Circle learning, there are so many things you don’t understand. Lan him lin, Kate.”
“Oh,” Kate said. Her elvish was rather poor, but she thought she understood what Coll meant. “So that’s… Oh. Alright then.”
“He’s a very lovely shem,” Coll said, sighing as Krem disappeared from view. “And that’s how I like ‘em. Pretty and earthy and not likely teh mess with yer heart.”
Kate heard a small snort. For a moment, she thought it had come from Coll. Her friend was now scowling, her eyes fixed on a spot across the yard in front of the healer’s hut.
“Feckin’ chancer,” Coll grumbled. “Not natural, the way he watches a body. Always listenin’ with those long ears o’ his.”
“Who?” Kate asked. “Do you mean Solas?” For Kate saw no one there but the bald elf, and he was gazing off at the hills. It didn’t seem he was paying attention to either of them.
“Never mind him,” Coll said, waving a tattooed hand.
“Just please tell me that sleeping with Krem is not the only reason you wanted to go off to the Storm Coast,” Kate urged Coll. “If you’re speaking for me - for the Inquisition…” Kate trailed off there. If Cullen was leaving this decision up to her, then he couldn’t complain about how Kate chose to deal with it.
“You know what Coll?” she said. “Speak for the Inquisition. Have fun on the Storm Coast. I hope you get your earthy lover, and if the mercs give you trouble, don’t hold back on them.”
“An’ that’s me friend talkin’!” Coll laughed. “Sure but I think I can handle goin’ to watch a couple of mercs pick a fight in the rain. How hard can it be?” She waved a hand as if there was a fight going on right in front of the cabin. “‘Oh, aye, look, yeh can kill shite!’” Coll clapped her hands in approval at the empty air. “‘Good on you, horn head. Now get in the boat and let’s go on back to Kate.’ Real simple, right? I think I can manage it.”
“Real simple,” Kate said, dryly.
“Oh look now,” Coll said, patting Kate on the shoulder. “I heard yer speech same as everyone else. Good speech, by the by, never did tell you that. And I understand what we’re to do. We shut that breach, we prove we’re on the right side and the Chantry shems don’t kill us. I got the plan. And I won’t embarrass you, I promise.”
“You never embarrass me, Coll,” Kate said. “Exasperate me, maybe, but not embarrass.”
“Ah, creators love you for your bullshite,” Coll laughed. “But… Ooch! Look at me talkin! I’d better pack me bags. And me potions. Oh! And I’ll bring some empty bags with me, too. There’s black lotus on the coast, and more spindleweed there than around these parts. Alright then, ta, Kate. Off yeh get! See you at the stables, love!”
Kate was on her way down the stables when she heard him. She knew that voice, and had rather hoped to avoid hearing it again before leaving. With her bag on her shoulder, Kate turned very slowly and saw Cullen approaching. Behind him walked a rather nondescript soldier in scout gear.
Just like that, Kate went from relaxed to desperately self-conscious. She recalled every angry word she’d said in the Chantry, and the state in which she’d left the war room.
“Oh,” Kate said, taking refuge in reserve, lest her nervousness show, “Commander. I was just…”
“Trevelyan,” Cullen said again, reaching her and offering her a short bow. “You forgot your letters of recommendation.”
He held out a folded parchment, and Kate stared at it in confusion.
“I don’t…” she began.
“Josephine apologizes profusely,” Cullen told her, as Kate took the letters. “She would be doing so to your face, but some dignitary or other needed her attention right away. Leliana would not want me to say it, but I think your display of power impressed her a great deal. So few people are a threat to her, I think she likes you better now that she believes you’re unpredictable and dangerous.”
“I’m neither unpredictable nor dangerous,” Kate said, frowning at him. Cullen just looked at her doubtfully.
“I’m not,” Kate said, pointedly.
“Well,” he coughed, “Cassandra said, ‘your condemnation of the Chantry was harsh, but well deserved,’ and she approves of your taking charge. She’s waiting for you at the stables, by the way,” he added, before Kate could protest that she wasn’t taking charge, not exactly.
“And as for me…”
Kate sucked in a breath, not sure if she wanted to hear this or not. It seemed very unfair that Cullen would judge her, when Kate was still in the process of silently judging him.
“Commander, I…” she began.
“I hope the templars didn’t…” he caught himself and shook his head. “No, that’s not… That’s not my…” He cleared his throat and tried again.
“What you said just now,” Cullen told her. “You have a point.”
Kate hadn’t been expecting that. She stared at him as he went on.
“The Chantry caused this mess,” Cullen said, looking down at his large boots. “The rest of us, we’re just trying to fix it. However, I can see that I - that we - haven’t been very good about communicating the Inquisition’s goals with you.”
“Oh, I understand them quite well…” Kate began.
“But you don’t,” Cullen said, cutting her off. “We don’t expect you to - what? Put the Chantry back in power? Maker’s breath, that would solve nothing.”
That caught Kate off guard. Wasn’t that exactly what Cullen wanted to do?
“But you want me to recruit the templars,” she said, scowling at him.
“Of course I do,” he agreed, stoutly. “I know good men and women in the Order: people who have devoted their lives to serving others.”
Serving others? Kate thought. Was that what the templars were calling the Circles these days? But she said nothing as Cullen went on:
“Many of the templars would be honored to join us, if only we can convince the officers. They could help us seal the breach and bolster our ranks all at once.”
“And the rebel mages couldn’t do either, I suppose,” Kate said, drawing her folded arms even more closely to her chest.
“The mages hid themselves behind walls the first chance they got,” Cullen said with a snort and a wave of his hand. “They’re little better than…” he trailed off, as if realizing who he was speaking to.
“Little better than what, commander?” Kate asked, her eyes narrowing.
“I know you won’t like to hear this,” Cullen said, and his gentle tone annoyed Kate even more than his dismissive one, “but most mages don’t know how to deal with day-to-day life, sheltered as they are. Don’t get me wrong,” he added, over her squeak of outrage. “They have brilliant minds. They are some of the best educated people in Thedas. But they’re not ready for the rigors of the outside world, let alone the rigors of war. It’s not their fault,” he added, when Kate opened her mouth to protest. “The fault lies with the Chantry, surely. But there it is all the same.”
The fact that there was truth to his words did nothing to improve Kate’s temper.
“The Chantry clips our wings, then you complain when we cannot fly,” Kate said, angrily. “How are mages to learn anything but captivity if you don’t give them the chance?”
“Right under the breach? Where’s the sense in that? I’ve seen no fewer than six mages get possessed since that thing opened.” Cullen drew back with a shudder, his eyes going slightly unfocused. “It was horrible every time. No one wants that to happen again - least of all the mages.”
“That isn’t…,” Kate sputtered, “You can’t know…ugh!” She felt frost on her fingers again, but clutched her hands tightly to her sides.
“Please excuse me, commander,” she said, in clipped tones. “But I’m afraid I don’t have time to argue this anymore. This helpless mage has a boat to catch.”
“Oh, come now,” Cullen said reaching out as if to stop her from walking past him. Kate drew back so that he couldn’t touch her, but she came to a stop all the same.
“We’re on the same side here, you and I,” Cullen said. “And while I’d rather not involve the Chantry if we can help it, Josephine may be right. It may be the best way to fix things.”
“If they see reason,” Kate said.
“It does seem like a long shot,” Cullen agreed. “But if they don’t, we’ll find a way. Look,” he added, ducking his head a little to try and catch her eye. “You needn’t go to Val Royeaux if you don’t want to. We can send Cassandra, I suppose.”
Kate glanced over at him doubtfully.
“I know,” he agreed to what she had not said. “Cassandra’s as likely to alienate the Chantry forever as to win them to our side. But we aren’t forcing you to make the journey. The risk is yours, and so must the choice be.”
“Oh, I’m going,” Kate said, firmly. “We need the breach closed and the only place to find allies is in Orlais. I understand the stakes, commander. I’ll carry out this mission. But I’m going to do it my way.”
Kate had thought this might alarm Cullen, but instead, he seemed pleased. The corner of his lips quirked up and he said:
“Good. Very good. That’s… Well.” He cleared his throat. “In that case, I wish you luck in Orlais. It’s a self-indulgent, worthless country, but important people live there. Why, they live there, I couldn’t say. But they do.”
In spite of her anger, this statement nearly made Kate laugh. It seemed that disdain for the pomp of Val Royeaux was something that she and the commander had in common.
The trouble was, Kate realized, she and Cullen actually had several things in common - distrust of the Chantry being just one of them. But they had been raised on opposite sides of the Circle, and that made for a great divide between them.
“I suppose I should be going then,” Kate said, feeling deflated again. She had resolved nothing, she realized - not where the Chantry was concerned, nor where Cullen was concerned. He was treating her with respect and consideration and that just made her feel wildly confused.
“If you are to go to Val Royeaux,” Cullen went on, “I want to offer you additional protection.”
“Protection?” Kate said, drawing back warily. “Wait. You’re not going with me, are you?”
“What? No! I can’t, but…” Cullen leaned forward a bit as he asked, “Did you want me to come with you?”
“No! I mean, no, thank you. I mean, surely you have duties here.”
“I do,” Cullen said, frowning. “We have a great number of new recruits from the Hinterlands, and very few officers to train them. I need to be here in these early stages. But I thought it would be good to send a bodyguard with you. Besides Cassandra, that is. She’ll do well, but I thought perhaps… Well, one of my men…”
For some reason, Cullen now looked a bit flustered, though Kate could not imagine why.
“He might seem a bit…” Cullen began. “Oh blast, you’ll see. But know that he is there to help.”
He cleared his throat, then turned to the man behind him. The soldier was crouched on his haunches, poking at a weed that had popped through the snow. In spite of the greatsword on his back, the man’s movements and posture were like that of a giant child.
“Trevelyan, this is Morris.”
“Hello Ser Morris,” Kate said politely. The man did not respond.
“No, not ‘ser,’” Cullen explained. “He never officially joined the templars or took lyrium. Probably just as well. The lyrium might have sent him completely round the bend, since he was already a bit…well… Maybe this wasn’t the best idea.”
Kate wasn’t sure it was a good idea either. It appeared that Morris was ‘the dim one’ that Varric had spoken of.
“Morris is from Kirkwall?” Kate asked, before she could think better of it.
“Ah, yes,” Cullen said absently. “I know he doesn’t look like much, but allow me to demonstrate.”
With that odd statement, Cullen turned and drew his sword. Kate watched, fascinated. Cullen was so smooth and silent in his movements, it was like he was a bear-shadow creeping over the ground. She wouldn’t have thought someone so large could be so sneaky.
Then, just as he reached Morris, Cullen struck. His sword slashed downward, but at the same moment, Morris shot to his feet with a spin, moving so quickly that Kate saw nothing but a blur. The next second, he was standing, at guard, with Cullen stumbling back from the force of Morris’ parry. The fellow paused there, then returned his sword to its holder with a smile.
“Good one, ser!” he said, cheerfully. “You almost got me that time.”
Not even close, Kate thought. Cullen was quite impressive - she didn’t know a lot about fighting, but she could see he was very talented. But this Morris was so skilled that his movements almost looked like magic. Morris turned then, and noticed Kate.
“Oh, look,” he said to Cullen, pointing right at her. “It’s the pretty mage, ser.”
“Er, yes.” Cullen sheathed his sword without looking at Kate.
“Pretty mage?” Kate repeated, feeling absurdly flattered.
“That’s what I called you,” Morris explained. “The commander didn’t agree.”
Cullen made a strange sort of choking sound. “That’s not what I… Maker’s breath, Morris.”
“Oh,” Kate said.
Fair enough, she thought acidly. It wasn’t as if she wanted or needed Cullen’s approval. Still, it was rude of him to gossip about her looks in front of the troops.
“I didn’t disagree. I just never said…” Cullen made a sound of frustration.
“You look quite healthy,” he told Kate. His tone remained blunt and practical as ever, though he would not meet her eyes. “Fresh air and travel is quite becoming on you. You look very…” he coughed here, so Kate almost missed his next words: “Very fit. Anyhow, this is Morris, and Morris is my best fighter.” Cullen waved a hand at the man beside him. “He’ll watch your back in Val Royeaux.”
“The commander doesn’t know what to do with me here,” Morris said. “I get in the way.”
“I never said that either,” Cullen frowned at him.
Oh, Kate thought, her heart going out to the odd fellow. How sad. He was like a tall puppy. A puppy with a greatsword and the speed of a griffon.
“Well then, Messere Morris,” Kate said with a smile, “that makes a pair of us. The entire world doesn’t know what to do with me, and I’ve gotten in the way of a great number of people.”
“I heard about that,” the fellow said, nodding. “They don’t like that you’re the Herald.” He paused, then added, “I don’t like the name ‘Harold’. It sounds like an old man.”
“So it does,” Kate said, her lips quirking in a smile. “Please call me ‘Kate.’”
“Alright, Pretty Mage Kate.”
Kate could not help but chuckle. even as Cullen gave an embarrassed sort of sigh.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Morris,” she said. Kate held her hand out to him, but Morris just stared at it blankly. He then abruptly turned and walked away.
“See you at the stables Pretty Mage Kate,” he called over his shoulder.
Kate would have laughed again, only she realized that Morris had effectively left her alone with Cullen. That wiped the smile right off of her face. But if he noticed the changed in her demeanor, Cullen did not comment on it.
“His sword arm will be more use to you than his tact, I’m afraid,” Cullen said.
“Much like Cassandra, then,” Kate quipped, before she could think better of it.
Cullen chuckled and cast her a sidelong glance that made her blush. Kate felt like they were sharing a private joke again, some subtle connection that no one else was privy to. She wanted to enjoy it, but she couldn’t quite. Likely, Kate thought, she never would feel entirely comfortable around Cullen again. Not, she added, that she’d ever felt entirely comfortable around him before now.
Just then, Coll came striding up with a massive pack on her back.
“What are yeh standin’ here for?” the elf demanded. “We need to… Oh.”
Coll drew up short when she saw Cullen standing there.
“Mistress Colleen,” Cullen said politely.
“Yeah?” Coll said, accompanying this eloquence with a sneer. Her lip curled, and just as she had demonstrated before, she cast Cullen ‘teh stink eye.’
“Ah, nothing,” Cullen said, drawing back from the short elf. “Have a good journey, both of you.”
“Hmpf,” Coll snorted. She looped her free arm in Kate’s arm and began to draw Kate away. And Kate probably would have left in a very regal show of silence and reserve, had not her manners kicked in at the last moment.
“Goodbye, Cullen,” she called to him, over her shoulder. But Coll pulled her around sharply, and so Kate missed Cullen’s hesitant wave in return.