The smutty chibi-chapter The Lion’s Loft (NSFW!) would fall about here. Just FYI.
“You want to make Kate our Inquisitor?”
Cullen thought he’d spoken clearly. But Josephine and Cassandra looked confused. Perhaps they regarded his words as some kind of heresy. Leliana merely looked irritated. It was a common expression for the spymaster.
“We thought you would approve, commander,” Leliana told Cullen. “But if you have some objection to Lady’s Trevelyan’s qualifications…”
She let the sentence trail off there - like a rope she expected Cullen to hang himself with. Cullen frowned and shook his head.
“Of course I have no objection,” Cullen returned. “Kate has proven herself more than capable. After all, we’re here, aren’t we?”
“So we are,” Cassandra agreed.
Instead of remaining stranded on some freezing mountain, Cullen and the others presently stood within a fortress of stone. Kate and Solas had found this abandoned stronghold just days ago:
‘Skyhold,’ Solas had called it.
It was a silly name, but Cullen could let that pass. He supposed it was a bad translation of some rambling elven title. Solas had said that the place had been built by ancient elves - enchanted by those elves as well. Cullen could well believe it. Though wintry mountain peaks surrounded the castle, the grounds of Skyhold remained locked in a perpetual autumn. Cullen found it a bit unnerving, to be honest. But being a practical man, he wouldn’t quibble with sanctuary. The place might be enchanted, but it also boasted a single-path approach, a drawbridge, a reliable water source, and thick outer walls. Even as a ruin, this place was defensible. Once they finished repairs upon it, Skyhold would be nigh unassailable. Even Corypheus and his blighted dragon wouldn’t be able to reach them in here.
To that end, Cullen had been at his worktable in the courtyard, going over the latest plans with the Inquisition’s one surviving stone mason. Then Cassandra, Josephine, and Leliana had arrived and pulled Cullen aside from his work. It seemed they wanted to appoint an Inquisitor, after months of making do without one. Naturally, they had already conferred upon the matter. They had their proposed leader picked out and everything. All that remained was for Cullen to approve.
And Cullen did approve.
Sort of. It was just that, well…
“It is because Kate is a mage and you are a former templar,” Cassandra said, startling Cullen out of his thoughts. “That is why you hesitate.”
“It’s not that,” Cullen told her.
And it wasn’t. Cullen distrusted magic, it was true. Any sane person would. Magic had torn the sky open. Magic had placed a mark upon Kate’s hand - a mark that had the power to open and close the very Veil itself. Magic was the weapon Corypheus had wielded at Haven. But Kate wielded magic as well, and thank the Maker that she did. Kate probably wouldn’t have survived that attack without her powers to aid her.
No, Cullen thought, it wasn’t Kate’s magic that troubled him.
“Is it because Lady Trevelyan is a member of the nobility?” Josephine wanted to know. “I understand you are not enamored of the Grand Game, but the Herald is not at all like the rest of the Ostwick aristocracy. She is the Trevelyan who…”
“I have no reasonable objection to Kate,” Cullen said, cutting off whatever defense Josephine was about to undertake.
“You have an unreasonable objection then?” Leliana asked.
Cullen couldn’t tell if the spymaster was smiling under that hood or not. The noon-day sun was directly overhead, casting odd shadows upon Leliana’s face.
“What is the trouble, Cullen?” Cassandra wanted to know. “I thought you had warmed to Katerina in the past few months.”
More than warmed to her, Cullen thought.
But he couldn’t say that. Instead he said:
“If you recall, Corypheus corrupted the entire Templar Order with red lyrium. I had to fight against my former brethren at Haven. If I seem a bit out of sorts, that’s the reason why.”
There, he thought. Better to offer up a fraction of his frustration, rather than letting them guess the whole of it.
Josephine shook her head in confusion. “But what has red lyrium that got to do with… Oh my! Are you saying that because Kate recruited the mage rebellion, you think she is to blame for what happened to the templars?”
“What?” Cullen snorted. “How did you come to that conclusion? Of course not.”
“That is what you said, Cullen,” Leliana chided.
“I most certainly did not. I’m only saying that I’m preoccupied by the templars’ downfall. But I don’t blame Kate for it. ‘General’ Samson is to blame.”
“And Corypheus,” Cassandra added. “But you are right. It has nothing to do with Katerina. And I, for one, welcome her as our leader. Even if she is a mage.”
The Seeker said this far too loudly, causing a nearby enchanter to look up and stare. Cassandra seemed to forget that this was supposed to be a private conference - in a crowded courtyard. Not the best place for a meeting, really.
“I welcome her as well,” Josephine said more quietly. “The Herald has a good grasp of diplomacy. It would take me a lifetime to teach the etiquette that she has had bred into her from birth. And do recall that we are in a precarious situation here. We are the last of Divine Justinia’s faithful among the Chantry. Yet the mage rebellion has become our allies. As Herald of Andraste, Lady Trevelyan serves as our best bridge between these disparate two groups.”
“Not the most comfortable place for Kate, I imagine,” Cullen muttered.
“We must also consider,” Leliana said, “that Corypheus will strike again. He plans to amass an army of demons. We must gather our forces to meet him. I believe it would be best for Kate to stand against him, as she did before. She would send a message to that monster. She would send a message to the whole world.”
She would, Cullen thought. But also…
“It puts her in a great deal of danger.”
Cullen was a bit surprised to find he’d spoken aloud. Leliana cocked her head. For a moment, she looked a like one of her pet messenger ravens, gawking at something shiny. Cassandra waved a hand dismissively.
“Katerina is always in danger,” the Seeker said. “This has not changed from the moment she dropped out of the Fade. But we have soldiers enough to guard her. She is not much of a warrior, after all.”
“She is getting better…” Cullen tried say in Kate’s defense, but Leliana cut over him with a laugh.
“Josie isn’t much of a warrior either,” the spymaster said, “and yet our ambassador is deadlier than most trained assassins. We don’t need a battlemaster to lead our Inquisition.”
“True enough,” Cullen said, having already considered this several times himself. “What we need is someone who can run missions in the field, but who also has a clear view of what the Inquisition looks like from the top down. We need someone who can listen to all the options and make informed decisions. And it would be helpful if that person could inspire the troops - make speeches, that sort of thing. Organization would be a plus as well. Most of all,” he added, casually resting his hands on the hilt of his sword, “We need someone who’s politically neutral: someone who won’t raise too many eyebrows among the nobility or the remaining Chantry loyalists or the common people in either Ferelden or Orlais.”
The three women stared at him.
“I think you just described our Herald, commander,” Josephine said, raising a brow.
“I…” Cullen blinked. “Well, yes. I suppose I did.” He cleared his throat and looked away.
“Let us not forget the most important recommendation of all,” Leliana said. “The people believe that she is the Maker’s chosen.”
The women all nodded solemnly at that. Cullen, however, just frowned.
“Yes, and how much of that is your doing, Leliana?” Cullen wanted to know. “Everyone is talking about how Andraste shielded Kate in a pillar of flame. The story gets wilder with every re-telling.”
“You saw her that night as clearly as I did, Cullen,” Leliana replied. “You saw the manner in which she returned to us.”
“I did,” Cullen admitted. But it wasn’t the fire-spell that he remembered most. He remembered how he’d felt when Kate had stumbled out of the storm, looking frail and broken. Cullen shuddered at the thought.
“It still feels like we’re turning faith into propaganda if we let such rumors fester,” he said.
“But they sang to her, Cullen,” Josephine said. “When she woke the next morning, as the sun was rising. They sang to her. Not because of what we said, but because she gives them hope.”
“They were singing to Andraste,” Cullen replied, crossly. “I was singing to Andraste anyhow. Felt rather thankful we’d all lived, that’s all. And surely I wasn’t the only one on the safe side of blasphemy.” He looked around at the others, then frowned. “Well you weren’t singing praises to Kate, were you?”
“Of course not,” Josephine replied, as Cassandra flatly said, “I was not. But again we are losing sight of our goal. We need a leader for the Inquisition. We have been in need of one for months. Leliana and I searched for Hawke, but she could not be found.”
Cullen snorted. “I still can’t believe that was your original plan. Brigid Hawke would have been a disaster. She would have set fire to Haven long before Corypheus ever showed up.”
“She had her followers,” Cassandra returned.
“I know,” Cullen said, folding his arms over his chest. “I’ve met them. They would have helped her light the fuse.”
“Two months is a long time to decide things by committee,” Josephine put in. “And yet we have been trying to do just that. We need a leader - an official one. After all, we four always end up talking circles around each other.”
“We don’t always do that,” Cullen scoffed.
“Sometimes we do,” Cassandra pointed out.
“Only when Cullen is being stubborn,” Leliana said, arching a brow.
“I believe you’ve just proved my point,” Josephine said, glaring at each of them in turn.
“Then we are agreed,” Cassandra said. “We will appoint Katerina as our Inquisitor.”
“She will do well,” Leliana said. “I only wish Divine Justinia could have met…” She stopped there, her smile faltering. An uncomfortable pause followed. Josephine sniffed. Cassandra looked at the ground, her stern expression exchanged for one of sorrow.
“Are we in agreement, then?” Leliana asked, her voice more subdued now. Cassandra and Josephine both nodded. Cullen opened his mouth, but for one moment, he did not speak. In that brief moment, as he drew a breath, Cullen allowed himself to admit the truth. The reason he hesitated was this:
Somewhere in the past two months, Cullen had developed feelings for Lady Kate Trevleyan.
Cullen did not like that word: ‘feelings.’ But that was the best word he had for the complex sensations that rattled around inside of him these days. Most of the time, Cullen’s feelings for Kate were fairly innocent: friendly and chivalrous and perhaps a little tender. Cullen would spot Kate across the crowded courtyard and his shoulders would relax. He’d think, Ah, there she is, and he would find himself smiling. But other times, Cullen’s feelings grew hot and hungry. Then his ribcage would feel too tight and his hands would feel too large. And just last night, as he’d been falling asleep…
Best not to consider it, Cullen thought. This entire realm of feeling was like enemy territory - or at least no-man’s-land. Dangers lurked throughout this uncharted place, and Cullen longed for a return to the safer paths of friendship and duty. But he wasn’t certain how to make his way back to higher ground.
He had thought he was past this sort of infautaional stumbling - a decade past it, to be exact. For many years now, Cullen had managed to work perfectly well with a number of attractive females. None of them had affected him with ‘feelings.’ Take Cassandra and Josephine and Leliana, for example. His fellow advisors were all lovely, and yet Cullen had no designs upon any of them. Admittedly, they were beautiful the way that cliffs were beautiful: each woman afforded an excellent view, but a man would be wise to keep his distance.
Yet with Kate, there had been no sharp edge, no warning drop. Cullen had noticed that she was pretty in the same way that he’d noticed she was red-haired, freckled, and tall. It was a fact he’d acknowledged, then ignored. But then, as Cullen worked with Kate, he had allowed himself a second look - and a third, and then a fourth. And somewhere along the way, Cullen had spotted it: that strange combination of quiet passion and wry humor that burned at the heart of Kate. It had left him wanting more.
‘More’ was another dangerous word, Cullen thought. ‘More’ and ‘feelings’ had no place in his life. Because right now, Cullen’s mind was being made up for him:
Kate would become the Inquisitor, and Cullen could not harbor feelings towards his superior officer.
He could not harbor feelings for any member of the ranks, Cullen reminded himself. Then again, he mused, the Inquisition had no official rules about fraternization. There was a de facto understanding that soldiers and scouts were to comport themselves with honor and decorum. But generally, Cullen and Leliana had allowed the troops to do what they liked, so long as it was consensual and happened in off-duty hours. The system was a touch lax, Cullen had to admit. But as Leliana had argued, the Chantry’s strictures had caused all sorts of unnecessary trouble. ‘Let’s not enforce chastity at the expense of sanity,” she had said.
Cullen agreed. He didn’t want to waste his time knocking on tent flaps anyway.
But while Cullen didn’t care what his soldiers did on furlough, he could hardly take up such an attitude himself. It would set a terrible example with the troops. And if he were to pursue the Inquisitor herself? It would be unseemly at best, a dangerous conflict of interest at worst. Cullen felt his face heat at the very thought.
Maker’s breath. Why was he allowing himself to think like this? He couldn’t entertain such hopes, even in passing. Even if he had an inclination to explore the landscape that lay between friendship and desire…
No, Cullen thought sharply. There could be no such explorations - not for him. Besides, Kate could not possibly feel the same way. Oh, she had been perfectly polite to Cullen as always. On the journey here, she had checked in with Cullen daily. She’d asked after his soldiers and his injuries and so on. But Cullen hadn’t noticed any special interest on her part. Kate had likewise checked in with Leliana and Cassandra and Iron Bull and everyone. She probably had a list written out, reminding her whom she ought to chat with.
Actually, now that Cullen thought of it, Kate probably did have such a list.
Yes, Cullen mused, Kate was efficient like that. She was also determined and discerning, clever and conscientious. In short, she was about as perfect a candidate for Inquisitor as Skyhold was a fortress for the Inquisition. If Cullen hadn’t been so confused by his feelings for her, he might have suggested the promotion himself. But as he was confused…
Well, that couldn’t matter, now could it? Certainly not. These inclinations would fade in time - at least, Cullen hoped they would. Meanwhile, leaders like Kate did not fall out of the Fade every day. Cullen would not be so selfish as to deny his friend the honor of advancement, nor would he deprive the Inquisition of so fitting a captain.
Cullen looked up to find the others were all staring at him. Hoping that all these uncomfortable self-revelations had registered as nothing more than a momentary pause, Cullen cleared his throat and asked:
“Do you think she’ll accept?”
Kate stood in the guardhouse armory, looking out of the doorway at the courtyard before her. The refugees and soldiers were gathered there among the tents. It seemed like a lot of people when they were all together like that. Yet there had been a lot more people in Haven, Kate thought. They had lost far too many in that fight. Still, they had made it here, and that had to count for something.
Kate stood there on the threshold, caught once again between grief and hope.
She wanted to remember the dead. She also wanted to move on. She wanted to rebuild Skyhold, yet every day, she woke expecting to see Haven.
But most of all, Kate wanted to believe that things were going to get better from here on out. She knew she had absolutely no practical reason to believe that. Corypheus could attack them here. The walls might crumble, and Solas’ wards might fail.
Yet when Kate looked up at the sky, she felt reassured. Survival was a miracle. Survival had to mean something, didn’t it? There must have been a reason that she was spared to fight another day.
Kate had pondered this time and again over the past few days. It might be that the Maker had no plan for the world. It might be that history had no purpose, that the world was defined by chaos and death and a struggle for dominance. But maybe, Kate thought, maybe wanting there to be some sort of meaning to it all was the truest proof that such meaning existed. Or maybe it was the job of people like Kate to make meaning out of the loss. They had lost so many - Keran and Lydia among them. Surely the survivors had to make the world better in repayment of that debt.
Kate stood taller at the thought. Then she winced as her legs twinged with the movement. Oh bother Iron Bull and his training, Kate thought. The qunari had made Kate run stairs for her morning exercise. And Skyhold had a lot of stairs. She would be feeling this all week.
“Ugggh.” Kate groaned and rubbed her aching backside.
“Oh. Well, hello then Katie,” someone said with a laugh.
Kate jumped at the voice, then turned to find Robert standing behind her. Her cousin looked a great deal better than he had after the battle, Kate thought. His bruised eye was nearly healed, and his arm was no longer in a sling.
“I’m just sore from training is all,” Kate said, letting her hand drop.
“You? Training?” Robert looked at her in disbelief.
“It’s true,” Kate told him. “They’ve got me using weapons and everything.”
“Maker save us all,” Robert said, his eyes glinting with humor. “No, don’t glare at me. I’m tempted to join you, actually. Might as well stay fighting fit when I…” He trailed off suddenly, looking her up and down.
“Kate,” he said, in a very disapproving tone.
“What?” Kate asked, confused.
“What in the Void are you wearing?” Robert wanted to know.
Kate looked down at the outfit with a frown. She hadn’t thought it was that bad.
“It’s something Josephine found for me,” Kate replied, feeling a bit defensive.
“She dressed you in pajamas? In the middle of the day?”
“Yes well, they’re clothes, obviously.”
“Not so obviously,” Robert returned. “And they’re beige. You look terrible in beige.”
“Why thank you, Robert.”
“Not your fault,” her cousin said, as if this made it better. “Pale as you are, you need something richer. The lower half of your face just seems to slough away in that.” He placed his hand over his own chin to demonstrate.
“They are clean,” Kate said, determined to see a bright side to the outfit. “Most of the refugees are wearing rags.”
“Green,” Robert told her. “Or that sort of wine-red color. What do they call it? Burgundy. As for me, I could use something in a brilliant red or a rich amber gold. Blue works, but…” He grimaced at the shirt he wore. It was an old-fashioned tunic and it was a tad too snug for him. His pectoral muscles were straining the fabric, causing the neck opening to gape wide.
“We could trade,” Kate suggested. “I’ll take that shirt and you can walk about in nothing at all. Can’t be more scandalous than what you’re wearing.”
“Hmm. That might help my cause,” Robert mused. “Hard to know.” With this, he gazed out into the courtyard. Kate followed his stare. Cassandra stood a short distance away, talking with Leliana and Josephine.
Cullen was with them as well, Kate saw. At the sight of Cullen’s handsome profile, Kate’s heart skipped a beat.
There it was, Kate thought - that fluttery, bubbly feeling that she got every time she glanced at Cullen. It might have made her smile - if it wasn’t so completely hopeless.
She must be out of her mind, Kate thought. If she had met Cullen over a year ago, he would have locked her in the Gallows prison without a thought. If she had met him a month ago, he would have dismissed her as just another trouble-making mage out looking for a rebellion. But because Kate was the Herald, Cullen had spoken to her and fought by her side.
And Kate, foolish girl, had fallen for him.
She ought to have disliked him on principle, Kate thought. She ought to have kept her distance, at the very least. But instead, she had come to see that the commander was a lot more complex a person than she would have guessed. She’d realized that Cullen might be gruff and difficult, but he was also principled and honest. More than that, Cullen was just as well-read as Kate, just as stubborn, and just as quietly observant about the troubles and the follies of the world.
In other words, Cullen was the last person Kate would have expected to find kinship with in the Inquisition. And yet, Kate found herself liking him better and better every day. She knew it was silly. She knew that Cullen would never think of her in the same way. Even if she was beautiful or charismatic or brave, it would do her no good. She was, after all, a mage.
Kate sighed. Why was she tormenting herself like this, anyway? She had completely forgotten why she’d come into the armory in the first place.
“Maker, she’s a stiff one,” Robert muttered.
Kate had almost forgotten that Robert was standing beside her. She jumped at the sound of his voice. “What’s that?” she asked.
“Cassandra,” Robert said.
The way he said the Seeker’s name was enough. But then there was also the way that Robert looked at Cassandra. It was a sort of wicked, wanting stare that left nothing to Kate’s imagination. She could nearly see the fantasies unfolding in his mind.
“Oh, Robert, really?”
“Yes,” Robert nodded, his eyes narrowing. “Definitely yes.”
Maker save the boy, Kate thought. Was there any way to discourage him from making a dangerous error? Probably not, but Kate felt she ought to at least offer a fair warning.
“Robert, do you even know Cassandra?”
“Yes,” Robert said, looking affronted. “Well, sort of. We met before the Conclave explosion. Before I got captured and…”
Robert stopped there and frowned. Kate frowned, too. Her cousin had said little about his imprisonment in Therinfal Redoubt. He’d said little in general, which was not at all like him. So if Robert wanted to talk now, Kate was eager to listen.
“Cassandra seemed pleased to see you alive,” Kate ventured. Translation: she didn’t stab you on the spot for kissing her and calling her ‘Cassie’.
Robert just sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. “Whatever happened then, it doesn’t seem to be happening now.“
“What do you mean?”
“We fought together,” Robert said. “It was just like before. Without the kidnapping, of course. But there in the battle, Cassie was right at my back. She knew exactly where to strike, just how to give me an opening. It was… It was amazing.”
Kate had not found the battle ‘amazing’ so much as horrifying. But she said nothing as her cousin continued.
“Then I got wounded trying to block a blade for her. Stupid move on my part. She could have handled that knight much better than me. Anyhow, she helped me to the healer’s tents, stayed with me as they patched me up. One of the healers said she even watched over me as I slept.”
Kate was surprised to hear it. Maybe this infatuation wasn’t so one-sided after all.
“Then I got well,” Robert went on. “And everything went to the Void. She disappeared for three whole days. Off hunting or scouting or something or other. I caught up with her at last, asked if she was alright. ‘Fine,’ she said. In that sort of voice, you know? The one where you know it’s not fine. So I asked if I’d offended her. ‘Not at all,’ she said. Then I asked what was wrong. ‘Nothing,’ she said. Well, now I was sure something was wrong, so I asked her if she wanted me to back off? ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ she said. And then I said - jokingly, mind - did she want to shack up with me in my tent and check all my wounds for me? I told her I’d make it worth her while.”
Kate slapped a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing. “Oh Robert, you didn’t.”
“I did. Of course I did. Just wanted to get some reaction out of her.”
“What did she say?”
“Oh, you know. Stammered that she couldn’t possibly and why would I ask her that and was I trying to mock her again? I told her I would never mock her. But she didn’t seem to believe me at that point. So I told her that I’m very serious about seducing her…”
“Maker’s breath, Robert,” Kate groaned. “Did you actually use the word ‘seduce’?”
“Of course I did,” Robert replied. “I’m not going to apologize for liking the woman. I told her she’s remarkable and I plan to pursue her.”
“You…? What? Pursue?” Kate blinked rapidly as she sputtered these words.
“That’s what she said,” Robert nodded. “So I told her it was her choice. I’m not going to bother her if she doesn’t want me. But if she was interested, I’d show her a wonderful time once I got back to full strength. Then she said ‘We’ll see.’ Her actual words. Then her eyes narrowed, but I couldn’t tell if she was wanting to rip my head off, or trying to see through my clothes. But she’s avoided me since we got to Skyhold. I’d give it up for a lost cause, only…”
Robert shook his head and sighed, and Kate took a moment to try and compose a fitting answer.
“Well,” she said. “Cassandra once told me she broke a suitor’s arm when he wouldn’t leave her alone. Considering that she seems both amused and exasperated by you, I’d say that’s a resounding ‘maybe.’”
“Great. I’m a maybe,” Robert snorted.
“What I mean is that Cassandra grew up in the Chantry. She’s likely a bit inhibited. You, on the other hand, came by your understanding of relationships from an intersection of the taproom and the ballroom.”
Robert frowned. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just that Cassandra probably isn’t used to men like you. You can come off as rather flippant and sarcastic, you know.”
“I am flippant and sarcastic,” Robert said, shrugging. His shirt squeaked a bit with the movement. “No,” he said. “Maybe it’s simpler than all that. Maybe she just doesn’t find me attractive.” He frowned at the thought.
Kate resisted the urge to roll her eyes at her cousin. Robert stood there in the doorway, the noonday sun turning his skin a dark bronze and his eyes a glittering gold. He was tall, muscled and handsome. In that skin-tight shirt, he could have posed for the cover of a Portia Plume novel. No, Kate thought, Robert was not lacking in looks.
“Maybe if you just gave her some time…” Kate began.
“And how much time have I got?” Robert wanted to know. “I nearly died the last time I didn’t keep up with her.” Robert looked older as he said this - and sadder than Kate had seen him in a long while.
Kate opened her mouth, but found nothing to say at first. It was very strange for Robert to be so serious about a woman. Typically, Robert would cast his flirtations out upon a crowd as if they were so many gold coins. Then he’d just stand back and see what lady came trotting up to him for a good time. Those relationships never lasted, though neither Robert nor his paramours seemed to care. Kate did not understand it, but neither did she judge him for it. Robert never hurt anyone so far as she knew, and if it made him happy… Well, it didn’t make him happy, but it was the way he’d chosen to cope with the gilded cage of Ostwick. Kate couldn’t blame him for that, any more than she help him break free of that life.
But now, when Robert gazed at Cassandra with that wondering expression, Kate found that something about him had changed. Her cousin was staring at the Seeker in the strangest way, almost as if…
It was the expression he wore when he was reading poetry, Kate realized with a start. When Robert read his books, his lips would move slightly, as if caressing the words. In those moments, he wore this same look of hungry reverence. Robert stood there in the doorway - silent and awestruck, and Kate felt as if she’d stumbled in on someone’s confession to a priestess. She looked at the ground, if only to avoid intruding on Robert’s privacy.
“She’s lovely,” Robert said, mostly to himself.
“She is,” Kate agreed, and because he’d left her an opening, she added: “Cassandra also strikes me as very– She’s very intense, Robert.”
“That’s sort of the appeal, really.”
“As in, she’s the type who hates games and tricks. She won’t like insincerity.”
“Are you calling me insincere?” Robert asked, looking away from Cassandra at last.
“No,” Kate said. “I’m well aware that you’re the Trevelyan who gets weepy at the opera…”
“Hey, keep your voice down, will you?” Robert hissed.
“Look, Robert,” Kate tried again. “You know I trust you. And I know you’re loyal to a fault. But my point is that Lady Cassandra isn’t your usual viper of a fine lady.”
“Are you trying to warn me off or encourage me?” Robert wanted to know.
“I’m just saying that I highly doubt anyone has ever offered to seduce Cassandra in a tent.”
“The world is full of blind fools,” Robert agreed.
Kate ignored this as she continued: “Cassandra will likely take a long time to warm up to you. I mean a really long time, Robert,” she added, when her cousin didn’t seem to hear her. “Nearly a month passed before Cassandra began to trust me, and I was fighting by her side every day. So you might want to decide if you’re serious about…”
“Fighting!” Robert said, snapping his fingers. “That’s it! Katie, you’re a genius!”
“What now?” Kate asked weakly.
“I’ll arrange for Cassie to train with me. This afternoon, maybe. Or right now, perhaps.”
Kate closed her eyes and let out a sigh. It seemed Robert was missing the point.
“Robert, what I meant was…”
“And if I just chanced to fall underneath her…” Robert went on, tapping his finger to his lips. “Yes, yes. This could work. Because once she has me pinned to the ground…”
With this, Robert strode out into the courtyard, headed for the empty space by the barn. They had been using it as a training ground, so Kate could only assume he was off to make arrangements for a practice bout. Kate watched him saunter away, his shirt straining as he swung his arms. A pair of mage-girls stared at him, then giggled when Robert gave them a jaunty salute.
“Maker help him,” Kate murmured, sending up a weary prayer to whatever deity was in charge of love affairs. She doubted it was Andraste. To date, she couldn’t think of a single person that had found romance through the Chant.
Oh well, Kate thought. She’d offered Robert her advice. She couldn’t force him to take it. Kate sighed, then headed out into the courtyard. She was on her way toward the healers tents when someone shouted, “Inquisitor!”
Kate kept walking, of course. That word meant nothing to her, especially not when a breeze picked up, bringing with it the smell of apples from the trees in the courtyard…
Kate blinked, and turned to find Cassandra, Leliana, Josephine and Cullen all looking in her direction. Leliana and Josephine were laughing. Cullen had turned red about the ears. Cassandra, however, waved a hand at Kate.
Well this was odd, Kate thought. She turned on her heel and crossed the courtyard to meet them.
“Yes?” Kate asked, but even as she drew near, Cullen hurried away into a crowd of gathered soldiers. Kate’s steps slowed. Well then. Was Cullen trying to avoid her? Now she knew how Robert felt. But no, Leliana and Josephine walked away as well, whispering as they went. Only Cassandra stood her ground, her arms rigid behind her back and a serene smile upon her face. Kate glanced around. Robert was nowhere to be seen. He was gathering practice swords, no doubt.
“There is something that needs to be done,” Cassandra told Kate, before Kate could even ask for an explanation.
Kate laughed at that understatement. “Besides stopping a Siderial Magister from assassinating the Empress of Orlais and plunging all the world into darkness, you mean?” she asked.
“Yes,” Cassandra said, all seriousness.
“Oh,” Kate said. “Alright. What can I help you with?”
Cassandra gave her a mysterious smile. “You’ll see.”
That, Kate decided, was a very odd thing to say. Kate hadn’t thought of Cassandra as having a coy side. But maybe the Seeker did.
“Come with me,” Cassandra said, waving to the steps before her. Kate followed, climbing after Cassandra into the upper courtyard.
At first, Kate didn’t think anything of it. Instead, she allowed herself to admire the curtain of ivy that grew along the wall to her right as she climbed the stairs. It looked like a rustling tapestry of golds and reds. Kate’s legs ached with every step. She really ought to have a talk with Bull about trading out some physical training for magical training. As nervous as she was about testing out the mark’s new powers…
It was then that Kate noticed the quiet. The upper courtyard was deserted. She heard no one talking, no carts creaking, no hammers pounding on some building project or other. Kate was about to ask, “Where is everyone?” but Cassandra continued up the steps that led into Skyhold’s crumbling great hall. Kate hurried after. Just as she reached the landing, Kate saw them:
Every person in Skyhold was gathered in the courtyard below.
Well, every person except Cassandra, who stood beside her, and Leliana, who now stood before Kate. The spymaster held an elaborate sword across her outstretched hands, offered like a gift. Kate slunk back a step, expecting Cassandra to take the sword. Swords were Cassandra’s milieu, after all. But Cassandra turned to look at Kate. So did Leliana. In fact, everyone was looking at Kate.
And she was wearing pajamas. Beige pajamas. Oh dear.
That completely absurd, self-conscious thought was the first to register in Kate’s mind. It was followed by a perfectly reasonable explanation for this gathering. This must be some kind of award ceremony for her actions at Haven, Kate reasoned. Of course it must be. It was a thoughtful gesture, but Kate wished they could have told her beforehand. And what was with the sword? Did they plan to knight her with it? Did the Chantry even do that sort of thing? Maker, she hated surprise parties.
“Um,” Kate ventured in an undertone, “What are we doing here?”
“We are making you our Inquisitor,” Cassandra announced, loud enough for everyone to hear.
A surprise party would have been better. As it was, Kate barely kept from squealing with shock. She felt as if her stomach had dropped through her feet and tumbled into the courtyard below. Now she really wished they had told her about this. Kate had wondered what her new duties would be now that the breach was closed. She had thought they might make her a liaison to the mage rebellion, or a member of the magic-dispelling units - the ones that still needed an official name.
Inquisitor, Kate thought. As in, the person in charge of the Inquisition. As in, the leader of the faithful of the Chantry. As in the person who would be in charge of the Inquisition itself - it’s missions, it’s people’s, it’s alliances and treaties.
So, you know, no big thing.
Kate nearly gave a spurt of hysterical laughter. How could they possibly think she was qualified to do this? Yes, she had the mark, but besides that, she had no leadership training at all. When she thought about the responsibilities entailed with the job, Kate thought she might be sick.
“Are you both insane?” she managed, her voice hoarse. “I’m a mage!”
“Not so loud,” Leliana murmured. “Vivienne’s frowning now.”
Kate paused at that. She didn’t want to disappoint Vivienne - or anyone. But she really, really did not think this was a good idea.
“The people of the Inquisition need someone to lead them,” Cassandra said. “The one who has already been leading them.”
Yes, but Kate’s leadership had been an accident. She didn’t want to become the official Inquisitor. The first incarnation of the Inquisition had ended up creating the Chantry, after all. And the Chantry had created the Templar Order and the Circles. Kate didn’t want that kind of thing to be her life legacy. And besides, hadn’t first Inquisitor died or something? Or no, he’d gone missing. Kate could not remember the full story, but she was fairly certain it did not end with that first Inquisitor growing old and reading books in a quiet library until the end of his days.
Than again, Kate realized suddenly, her story wouldn’t end in a library either if Corypheus had his way. That monster had targeted Kate personally, and tried to kill all the people in his way. So maybe Cassandra had a point. As long as Kate was already in the line of fire, as long as she was already burdened with the mark, maybe she should lead.
But there was a great deal of difference between helping out and leading.
Yet even as she thought that, Kate looked down into the crowd. Her eyes fell upon Cullen, and he smiled at her. He gave her a slight nod, as if to say: Accept it.
Really? she wanted to call down to him. But she didn’t, of course. Instead, Kate let out a long breath. She tried to think rationally, in spite of the panic bouncing around inside of her.
If she did this, Kate thought, she would not do this alone. Cullen would still act the Inquisition’s general, as he had before. The armies would answer to him. Leliana would keep Kate informed of every rumor in Thedas and Josephine would manage the paperwork and the treaties and finances and Cassandra would do… Whatever Cassandra had been doing lately. Hitting practice dummies with a sword, mostly. And Kate would work with them as she had before. This wouldn’t be that big a change from they way they already decided things by committee.
Oh, alright, this was a huge change and Kate knew it. She felt sick once again.
“They’re watching, Inquisitor,” Leliana whispered. “Please give them an answer.”
Kate slanted a glance at the woman. It was rather sly, the way Leliana and Cassandra had cornered Kate like this. But there was something in Leliana’s eyes that gave Kate pause. The unflappable spymaster looked worried. And it occurred to Kate that everyone down there in the courtyard was worried. They were frightened and leaderless and as much as Kate did not want this responsibility, someone had to take it.
She would die to protect these people, Kate thought. So why not live to lead them? For Keran - for all the fallen - she would do this. One step at a time, she would do this. And her friends would help her out: Cullen and Cassandra and the rest. That thought comforted her, gave her the strength to nod her head.
Right then, she thought. I’ll just… go and become the Inquisitor.
Kate straightened, and her training in etiquette snapped into place. She adjusted her posture instantly, drew her shoulders out and down, as if she was being strung up from a string attached to her scalp. Though her hands shook, Kate placed her arms at her sides, adjusted her feet slightly and made sure not to lock her knees. No fainting off of the staircase, Kate told herself. In less than a second, a familiar persona fell over Kate. She placed a more confident version of herself on display for the crowd.
“This is an honor,” Kate said. She pitched her voice in a more ringing tone than she usually used. She tried to sound confident and humbled, tried to look peaceful and assured. Kate supposed she must have faked something in that vicinity, because Leliana gave Kate a slight nod of approval.
“Now take the sword,” Leliana said, murmuring in a way so that her lips did not move.
“Uh, wait,” Kate faltered, “I’m not sure if…”
“You will make a fine Inquisitor,” Cassandra said, speaking at normal volume.
“Yes, but…” Kate began.
“Quickly now,” Leliana hissed, nodding to the blade.
“I heard you,” Kate said, shooting Leliana a look, “But I’m not sure I can lift that thing.”
“It’s not a real sword,” Leliana whispered back. “It’s just a decoration I found on the wall.”
“Oh,” Kate blinked. “Okay then.”
Nervously, she placed on hand on the hilt and lifted it straight off of Leliana’s hands. The spymaster was right. It weighed no more than a yardstick. She drew it before her, trying to remember everything she’d ever been told about how to handle swords. It wasn’t much. Bull was probably down there in the courtyard somewhere, smacking his forehead in disgust. No doubt she’d be training with blades next. Kate did her best to look confident as she turned and addressed the crowd.
“Corypheus must be stopped,” she said, speaking loud enough to make her voice echo off of the fortress walls. “He started this war, but we will finish it. It may take time, but our hunt begins today.”
Kate paused there, trying to think of what else she ought to say. That seemed sufficient. Were they done now? It seemed not, for Cassandra said, loudly:
“Commander? Are our people ready?”
Probably not, Kate thought. The Inquisition was not ready today, but maybe someday soon they would be. Still, Kate kept her stern, confident expression in place as Cullen shouted something at the crowd. Kate didn’t entirely register his words - something spirited and short. The crowd heard him however, and cheered in triumph.
Well, Kate thought. Cullen could certainly get a crowd riled up. She felt quite grateful for the vote of confidence, because she felt like a total impostor standing up here.
Cullen said something more and drew his sword. He stuck it up into the air, pointing the tip of it to the sky above. At this, everyone below erupted in one final cheer. Cullen looked up at Kate and their eyes met. Kate felt her heart skip a beat.
It then occurred to Kate that perhaps she was supposed to do that sky-stabbing thing as well. It looked like a good move. Very dramatic and all that. Best to imitate the commander on this, Kate reasoned. He knew battlecries far better than she.
Thankfully, the sword was light as a feather, so Kate thrust it upward. The crowd cheered again. Kate even heard Josephine shout ‘huzzah!’ over the noise. Leliana laughed, and Cassandra smiled widely. Kate kept her eyes focused on the tip of the sword. It probably wouldn’t be very inspiring if she let it droop. Out of the corner of her mouth, Kate said:
“You did this on purpose, didn’t you Leliana? You knew I couldn’t say no in front of all these people.”
Leliana smirked. “That was the idea, yes.”
Kate shook her head as the crowd shouted yet again.
“Let’s hope your idea was a good one,” she said.
The crowd went wild, shouting and cheering and making a great deal of noise for only one-hundred-odd people. The noise was deafening.
It was excellent, Cullen thought. He was rarely a part of crowds, but had been trained to observe them - to disperse them, direct them, command them if he must. And Kate could command a crowd as well. He could see these people’s hope, almost as if it was a physical thing. It was like a golden glow that shone upon the courtyard. Even Josephine threw a fist into the air and shouted in his ear. Cullen looked at her in amusement. A few feet away, Kate’s cousin, Robert, grinned broadly. Varric shook his head as if to say, ‘Can you believe this?’ Colleen Lavellen, Kate’s elvish friend, cheered at the top of her voice. It seemed she and Sera were locked in a competition for volume. Vivienne smiled politely as she clapped her hands and Solas…
Where was Solas anyhow? Typical of him to miss the celebrations. Still, Cullen thought, these people were inspired. By the Void, he felt inspired himself, and Cullen thought he’d developed a kind of immunity to these sorts of rallies.
It was Kate’s doing, Cullen thought. She had a knack for this sort of thing. He had noticed the exact moment that Kate had snapped into that battle-ready mode of hers. It was the same focus that she used when fighting. Cullen found her confidence quite arouse…
But as he looked up at Kate, Cullen couldn’t help but notice how tight her leather pants were, nor how perfectly they clung to her shapely legs. He could see every curve of her backside. As his body responded to that sight, another thought struck Cullen right out of the blue:
Kate now stood on a pedestal far above him, completely out of reach.
Cullen’s smile faded. Maker’s breath, not a minute past coronation and he was feeling again. This would not do. The best cure for emotion was action. To that end, he needed to get back to his work table. He needed to compile a list of soldiers best suited for promotion, to replace the officers they lost when Haven fell. He needed to look over that draft of proposed changes to the road system in and out of Skyhold’s valley, and most of all…
Most of all, he needed to get moving, Cullen realized. Hadn’t Leliana said something about conferring with Kate in the Great Hall? Yes, she had. Now the ceremony had ended, and everyone was milling about, smiling and laughing and heading back to their business. Someone slapped Cullen on the back and he didn’t see who it was. Josephine was already halfway up the stairs to the upper courtyard.
And Cullen was running late for his first meeting with the Inquisitor. Wonderful.
“Excuse me,” Cullen said, trying to push his way through the crowd. Cullen wound is way through the knots chatting mages and soldiers and scouts, then took the stairs to the upper courtyard three at a time. But once he reached the top of the stairs, Cullen found his way blocked yet again. Robert Trevelyan stood in a stone archway that let to the upper courtyard, right in Cullen’s path.
“Beg your pardon, Trevelyan,” Cullen said. But Robert didn’t notice Cullen or move an inch. Instead, the younger Trevelyan stood stiffly, looking as though he was being squeezed by his too-tight tunic.
“Hey! I know you!” a voice cried. Cullen edged to one side of the archway, only to see a young man and a young woman standing in the courtyard beyond. The pair of them were blocking Robert as effectively as Robert was blocking Cullen.
“If I may…” Cullen tried again, attempting to edge by Robert. But Cullen’s words were drowned out by the enthusiastic young man.
“You’re Robert Trevelyan!” the fellow said. “I’m Bobby Hanes. We met at the Grinning Gremlin two years ago. Hey Fran!” he went on, turning to the girl at his side, “You remember Robert Trevelyan, right?”
Fran said nothing. Her eyes just narrowed. Cullen wasn’t the best judge of such things, but he was willing to bet the woman had ‘known’ Robert rather well.
“Oh,” Robert said, cringing. “Um, did we? I mean, do I? Know you, that is?”
“Evidently not,” Fran said, folding her arms over her chest.
“Eh, er, yes,” Robert said, looking ever more pinched by his shirt.
Cullen checked the distance between himself and the courtyard. This was the shortest path to the Great Hall, but it was presently blocked by this uncomfortable encounter. Perhaps if he went the other way around, through the kitchens?
“That night in the Gremlin was sure fun,” young Bobby went on, oblivious to Robert’s distress. “You bought enough ale to drown the pub. I heard a lot of stories about you after that. Aren’t you the Trevelyan who drank two bottles of wine and then pleasured five women at the same time in Lord Smythe’s library during the Sennight Ball?”
“Uhhh…” Robert faltered.
Cullen was so shocked that he stopped and stared. Robert had pleasured five women at the same time? How did one manage such a thing? A man only had two hands.
Then again, if one used one’s mouth… Cullen knew it was wrong to imagine it, but his tactical mind was fascinated by the logistics. He could not quite get the variables to add up.
“Yes Robert.” A steely voice cut across the scene. “Are you that Trevelyan?”
That was Cassandra’s voice, Cullen realized. She was standing just behind Fran and Bobby. When she spoke, Robert’s expression went from sheepish to horrified.
“Er, that’s not quite accurate,” Robert said, tugging at his collar. “It was, um, the other way round. Five bottles of wine and only two women.”
Ah, Cullen thought. That person-to-apendage ratio made more sense. Still, he couldn’t imagine drinking five bottles of wine without getting sick.
Bobby whooped with laughter. “Still impressive,” the young soldier said. “I heard the screams of pleasure could be heard all through the gardens.”
“Uh, I didn’t hear that part,” Robert said. “Er, I mean I heard the, um… But I hadn’t heard the story about it. That is, I’m not sure…”
Fran glared at Robert as he spoke. The young lady did not seem nearly so impressed with this tale as her friend was. Either she had been in the library with Robert and didn’t like the recounting of this tale, or she was angry that she hadn’t been invited to the orgy.
“Stories about me tend to get exaggerated,” Robert said, squinting one eye shut.
Maybe so, Cullen thought. Still, there was usually some truth to rumor. And to think that this Robert fellow was Kate’s cousin - Kate, who always seemed so reserved and proper. Though actually, Cullen mused, Kate’s prim demeanor might be an act. Cullen realized he knew very little about Kate’s private life. Perhaps she was just as causal about libraries and bottles of wine as her cousin was. It was entirely possible that Kate, too, had once slipped away from a raucous party, unbuttoned her shirt and…
Absolutely not, Cullen, he told himself sharply. He was not about to allow himself to wonder about Kate’s unbuttoning or her past love affairs. He certainly wasn’t going to imagine such things. Well, not any further than he already had.
“Excuse me,” Cullen said, trying to push past this awkward scene. At the same time, Cassandra came snarling into view, a murderous expression upon her face. She tried to shove past Robert just as Cullen did. For a moment, they all collided in a tangle of arms and shoulders in the archway. Then Cassandra punched past the two men with a growl of fury. Cullen popped through the arch as well. He found himself in the courtyard with Fran and Bobby - and Varric Tethras, who stood nearby, staring.
“Er, Cassie…” Robert began, but Cassandra was already stomping away down the stairs.
“Cassandra?” Cullen called after her. He did not really wanting to get involved, but felt he must point out: “We have a meeting with the Inquisitor is in the Great Hall, if you recall.”
From somewhere further down the stairs, Cassandra gave a disgusted snarl. Robert hurried down the stairs after Cassandra, shouting, “Cassie? Cassie! Hey!”
“I’ll give Kate your regrets then,” Cullen called after her. There was no reply. Fran and Bobby stood there, gaping. Varric scratched his chin.
“Ya know,” he said. “I’ve never seen the Seeker turn that shade of pink before. I wonder if I should nickname that kid ‘Librarian’ or ‘Death Wish’.”
“Or you could call him by his name,” Cullen suggested, though he didn’t care much either way. He hurried on toward the great hall.
“Nah, I’ll stick to ‘Ostwick,’” Varric said, climbing the steps alongside Cullen. Cullen shot the dwarf a warning look.
“This is going to be a private meeting, Varric,” he said, curtly.
”‘Course it is,” Varric replied. “I don’t plan to crash it. I just need to see Sister Leliana about borrowing a bird.”
“Borrowing a bird?” Cullen repeated with a frown. “Varric, your fights with the merchant’s guild are to be resolved on your own sovereign. I won’t have Inquisition ravens carrying your business papers to every corner of Thedas.”
“Okay, first of all, the creepy winged mail carriers are Leliana’s pets and not yours. Secondly, it’s just this one letter. Won’t take me more than a few days to settle this out.”
“Hey look, Curly, the Inquisitor is waiting on you.”
It was a blatant ploy to distract him, but damn it if Cullen didn’t fall for it anyway. Kate came walking down the steps, and though that outfit of hers was the color of dishwater, it showed every curve. In that moment, Cullen forgot all about his resolutions of honor and duty and staying out of the no-man’s-land of desire. Instead, he just stared.
“You gonna answer the Inquisitor, Curly?”
Cullen blinked at Varric, then he blinked at Kate.
“I’m sorry?” he asked.
“I asked if you were ready for the meeting,” Kate said.
“Er-y-yes,” Cullen said. It was not the most eloquent reply. Varric looked as though he was watching a comedy unfolding. Cullen had half a mind to roll the dwarf off the stairs.
“I’m fine,” Cullen said. He ignored Varric and tried for an assured, commmanderly grin. “Perfectly fine now that you’re Inquisitor, Lady Trevelyan.”
Maybe he’d overdone it, Cullen thought. For Kate’s brows furrowed, and she swallowed hard. But all she said was “Thank you,” in a small sort of voice.
“Oooh,” Varric chuckled. “Nice save, Curly.” With a wink, the dwarf disappeared through the doorway. That left Kate and Cullen alone.
“To work?” Cullen asked, gesturing at the door.
“Of course,” Kate replied. Her voice squeaked, and she walked into the Great Hall before him. Cullen followed after, trying not to watch her backside as he did so.
It could have been worse, Cullen told himself. At least no one was telling Kate stories about Cullen that involved bottles of wine and darkened libraries. And perhaps it was unkind of him, but the thought of poor Robert’s misfortune made Cullen feel just a little bit better.