“You want to make Kate our Inquisitor?”
Cullen spoke quietly, for he did not want any of the nearby soldiers or refugees to overhear his question. But the three women standing before Cullen heard him. Perhaps they heard more than Cullen intended to say, for Leliana and Josephine exchanged a look of surprise. Cassandra simply frowned.
“We thought you would approve, commander,” Josephine said, speaking low. “But if–” She glanced around, then spoke even more softly. “If you have some objection to Lady’s Trevelyan’s qualifications…”
“Of course not,” Cullen returned, his voice just as quiet. “She’s proven herself more than capable. After all, we’re here, aren’t we?”
“So we are,” Leliana 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. Kate, of course, had sworn up and down the Solas deserved full credit for the discovery. The elf, however, refused such regard. All he had asked for was the honor of naming their new headquarters:
‘Skyhold,’ he’d called it.
It was a silly name, but Cullen could let that pass. He supposed it was a bad translation of some long, confusing elven moniker. Solas had suggested 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, even of the enchanted sort - especially not when said sanctuary boasted a single-path approach, a drawbridge, a reliable water source, and ten foot 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 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 all 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, naturally. 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. And magic was the weapon Corypheus had wielded at Haven.
But Kate wielded magic as well, Cullen reminded himself. Thank the Maker that she did. Kate probably wouldn’t have survived that attack without her powers to aid her. In fact, Cullen had come to regard Kate as proof that magic could be used for good purposes as well as ill. No, it wasn’t her magic that troubled him.
“Is it because she is a member of the nobility?” Josephine wanted to know. “I understand you are not enamored of the Grand Game, but she 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?” Josephine wanted to know. “I thought you had warmed to Lady Trevelyan in the past few months.”
More than warmed to her, Cullen thought.
But of course he couldn’t say that. So instead, he decided to offer up a fraction of his frustration, rather than letting them guess the whole of it:
“The trouble,” he said, “is that Corypheus corrupted the entire Templar Order with red lyrium. If I seem a bit out of sorts, that’s the reason why. I had to fight against my former brethren at Haven. It was…monstrous.”
Cullen did not have to feign his disgust, for it rose within him whenever he thought on 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,” Cassandra told him.
“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. He’s the one who persuaded the templars to take that stuff, or so that Ser Barris said. You remember Ser Barris, that templar who escaped the Redoubt with Kate’s cousin? At any rate, I find it all deeply troubling.”
“I find it troubling as well,” Cassandra agreed. “But this has nothing to do with Katerina. I, for one, welcome her as our leader, even if she is a mage.”
The Seeker said this far too loudly, causing a nearby healer to look up and stare. Leliana shushed Cassandra, but Cassandra did not seem to notice.
“I welcome her as well,” Josephine said at a quieter volume. “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 to take over the world. We must gather an army to meet him. I believe it would be best for Kate to stand at the front of that army. 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. I think it would be best to appoint her the Inquisitor. There, she would be clearly visible to all. 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 on down. We need someone organized, 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. Most of all,” he added, casually resting his hands on the hilt of his sword, “We need someone who’s a relatively neutral player: 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 let out a long sigh.
“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. Rather, he remembered how astonished he’d been when Kate had stumbled out of the storm and into their make-shift camp. Then her spell had dimmed and she’d fallen into the snow, looking frail and broken.
Cullen shuddered and shook off that 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. If you’d just listened to Varric’s stories, you’d know that Brigid Hawke is the last person to lead anyone. 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. My argument stands.”
“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. Cullen cleared his throat. 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 dully. 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 it. The reason he hesitated was this:
Somewhere in the past two months, Cullen had developed a most unwise infatuation for Kate Trevelyan.
He hadn’t meant for it to happen. He still wasn’t sure when it had happened. In the past, Cullen had been more of a fancy-at-first sight sort of person. He would be standing there, minding his own business, and then desire would hit him with all the delicacy of a falling rock. He would find himself obsessed with some woman or other, and the malady would last for years. It had been embarrassing, really. A trained soldier like him, brought low by irrational inclinations.
Of course, that didn’t happen with every pretty woman, and thank the Maker for that. Cullen had managed to work perfectly well with a number of attractive females - like 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.
With Kate, however, 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 ginger-haired, freckled, tall, and slim. It was a fact he’d acknowledged, then tried to ignore. Yet as Cullen worked with Kate, he had allowed himself a second look - and then a third, and a fourth. In the course of conversation, Cullen had found that Kate’s voice was pleasing and cultured. He came to enjoy the gleam in her eyes whenever they shared a private joke. And when he fought beside her, Cullen knew that Kate’s full lips would set into a determined expression - the only outward show of her quiet bravery. In time, Cullen had found himself staring at Kate a great deal. Hers was a subtle beauty, made all the more alluring for it’s elusiveness.
Then again, there had been nothing subtle about the time Cullen spotted Kate half-naked, wearing an elaborate qunari breast-binding getup that left nothing to the imagination. Truthfully, Cullen’s infatuation probably began on that very morning. A bit coarse of him, perhaps, but he was only human.
The point was, Cullen had not anticipated any of this. He had not thought it possible to desire someone that he counted as a friend. That was, after all, the distinction between friendship and desire, was it not? Friendship required honor and esteem, but lust trampled those nobler feelings underfoot. Lust led a man to selfish, thoughtless acts, while respect took a different road. So far as Cullen knew, there was no middle path.
Yet with Kate, Cullen found himself in unfamiliar territory. And now, before he could properly consider his options, before he could orient himself or determine where to go from here, his mind was being made up for him:
Kate would become the Inquisitor, and Cullen couldn’t possibly harbor such desires for his superior.
He could not harbor such desires for any member of the ranks, Cullen reminded himself. Therein lay the dangerous loophole that had allowed Cullen to get this far gone in the first place: up until today, Kate had no formal rank within the Inquisition. As a result, Cullen hadn’t been as guarded around her as he ought to have been.
Then again, some errant part of his mind whispered, 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 had quite 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 for the troops. And with his own superior? It would be unseemly at best, a rather 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 this way? He couldn’t entertain these fantasies, even in passing. Even if there was some unexplored landscape between desire and friendship…
No, he thought sharply. There was no third way. Besides, even if there was, Kate could not possibly feel the same. 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 down somewhere, 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 blinded by his feelings for her, he might have suggested the promotion himself. But as he did have feelings for her…
Well, that couldn’t matter, now could it? Certainly not. These lustful feelings would fade in time, and then Cullen would scout his way out of this tangled landscape. 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. He shook his head and schooled his features into what he hoped was a confident, bland expression. It was the expression that he wore whenever he needed to hide his doubts behind a mask of certainty. Hoping that all his 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, his arms folded over his chest. At the sight of Cullen’s handsome profile, Kate’s heart skipped a bit faster.
And there it was, Kate thought - that fluttery, tugging sensation in the pit of her stomach that occurred whenever she glanced at Cullen these days.
At first, Kate had wondered if she’d lost her mind, fancying the former Knight-Captain of Kirkwall as she did. After all, if Kate had met Cullen a year ago, he would have locked her in the Gallows without a thought. She ought to have disliked him on principle. She ought to have kept her distance, at the very least. But instead, Kate had been forced to work with Cullen, and the oddest thing had happened:
Kate had learned that the commander was a lot more complex a person than she would have guessed from reading ‘The Tale of the Champion.’ Through the course of missions, battles, and even painful arguments with one another, Kate had come to find that Cullen was principled, honest, and - if her vision in Redcliffe Castle was any proof - passionately committed to atoning for his past mistakes. More than that, Cullen proved 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 had come to consider him a friend.
Cullen was far from perfect, however, Kate had to admit. Cullen often greeted her warmly one morning, only to snarl at her the next as if her mere presence was giving him a headache. And while he was getting better about magic and working with mages, there were still times he spouted pro-templar rhetoric as if it were a lost speech of Andraste’s. Having heard the Chant a good many times herself, Kate found his interpretations of the text were vastly more conservative than hers. But Kate had resolved to patiently, politely push back at her new friend’s assumptions, even as he challenged her biases in return. They might never entirely understand one another, but Kate believe their friendship made them better, more open-minded people. It was probably good for the Inquisition as well, to see a mage and a former templar working together. And if Kate occasionally found herself fantasizing about Cullen and what he might look like out of his armor - well, no one needed to know that but Kate herself.
Kate blinked, suddenly realizing that somewhere in her previous train of thought, she had actually begun undressing Cullen in her mind. She’d been looking at him in the courtyard there, admiring the way the sunlight threaded through his golden hair. Then he had rolled his shoulders back and stretched his neck to one side. In that moment, Kate had somehow removed his mantle and leather jacket, picturing him once again in his undershirt, soaked by rain. She’d seen him dressed like that just once, and often wondered if she’d ever see that sight again.
Probably not, Kate told herself. Not if she wanted to stay sane. And really, why was she even tormenting herself like this? Things would never progress in such a manner with Cullen - nor with anyone, really. Kate had learned long ago that she was not one for casual affairs, and as for anything more lasting…
Honestly, Kate wasn’t even certain what a ‘more lasting’ affair looked like. She had read countless books on the subject of romance: both lurid novels and inch-thick philosophical tomes alike. And while love was a fantasy that Kate studied with fascination, she had little experience with it first-hand. She certainly had never observed romantic love blossoming in the Circles or among the higher reaches of the nobility. Kate doubted she’d see it here in the Inquisition either, what with war raging all around. Love was too rare and wild a thing to survive captivity or bloodshed. Thus, nothing of the sort would ever happen her. She was, after all, a mage.
Kate sighed, then imagined herself underlining the words several times: Not going to happen. Then she went back to the sad business of gathering up her thoughts into neat little rows. 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. For a moment, she thought Robert was talking about her. But then Kate looked up to find that her cousin was staring at Cassandra. The Seeker stood at attention in the sunlight, her armor gleaming.
“Uh, Robert?” Kate asked, cautiously. “Are you actually thinking…”
“Ohhh yes,” Robert nodded, his eyes narrowing. “I am most definitely thinking.”
Well, Kate thought. There was one person who still had faith in love - or casual affairs, at least. Kate envied Robert that confidence. Still…
“Robert, do you even know her?”
“Yes,” Robert said, looking affronted. “Well, sort of. We met before the Conclave explosion. Then when the sky burst open, we fought up the hill together. Only I fell behind and got captured by that bastard, Freddy Stanhope.”
Robert stopped there and frowned. Kate frowned, too, wondering how to ask Robert to continue. Her cousin had said very little about his imprisonment in Therinfal Redoubt. He’d described the Envy demon and his ‘interrogations’ in the briefest, most matter-of-fact sort of way. Then Robert had brushed off Kate’s attempts at comfort. Kate had been quite worried about her cousin. Under any other circumstances, she’d take his interest in flirting as a good sign.
However, Robert could not have chosen a worse candidate for flirtation than Cassandra. Kate tried to think of a diplomatic way to warn him about the danger ahead.
“She seemed pleased to see you alive,” Kate ventured.
Translation: she didn’t stab you on the spot for kissing her on the forehead and calling her ‘Cassie’. But this was not good enough for Robert, it seemed, for he sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face.
“Whatever happened then, it doesn’t seem to be happening now,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“We fought together,” Robert said. “It was just like before. Without the kidnapping part, 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.”
“She did?” Kate was surprised to hear it. Maybe this flirtation 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 pass for a hero on 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 - 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 also recalled how sore her legs were, for she had to push down on the with every step. She really ought to have a talk to Bull about trading out some physical training for magical training. Since the battle at Haven, Kate’s powers had grown stronger, but slippery somehow. When Corypheus had tried to take the mark, he instead had locked it into place more fully upon her hand. It allowed her to cast old spells, but they seemed to shoot out of control now. If only Kate could figure out how to channel that power more effectively…
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 of the entry staircase - 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 slowly descended the steps from above. 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. Part of one of the new magical-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.
Oh, 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 insider of her.
If she did this, Kate thought - if - 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 strength to nod her head.
Right then, she thought. I’ll just… go and become the Inquisitor.
It sounded strange in her head, but Kate thought it all the same. She then straightened, and her long years of etiquette training snapped into place. She adjusted her posture instantly, drew her shoulders out and down, as if she was being strung up from a string inside her head. Though her hands shook, Kate placed her arms at her sides, adjusted her feet slightly and make sure not to lock her knees. No fainting off of the staircase, Kate told herself. Thus, in less than a second, a familiar persona fell over Kate. She placed a more confident version of herself on display for the crowd. It seemed she was always on display or in hiding, Kate mused. There was no in between.
“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.
“Yeah,” Kate murmured, 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, so that she kept it straight and tall. It probably wouldn’t be very inspiring if it drooped. 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 like a sun. 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 was grinning broadly. Varric was shaking his head and smiling, as if to say, ‘Can you believe this?’ Colleen Lavellen, Kate’s elvish friend, was screaming at the top of her voice. It seemed she and Sera were 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 essentially the same focus that she used when fighting. Cullen found her confidence quite arouse…
Cullen cleared his throat. Path of friendship, he reminded himself.
Yet as he looked up at her, Cullen couldn’t help but notice how tight Kate’s leather pants were, or how perfectly they clung to her shapely legs. He could see every curve of her backside, frankly. And then another thought occurred to Cullen as well: Kate now stood on a pedestal far above him, completely out of reach.
Cullen’s smile faded and he looked down at the ground. Maker’s breath, he thought. This was a poor start. Not a minute in and already he was forgetting his resolution to serve the Inquisitor without selfishness. He needed to keep his lusts on a short leash around Kate. He needed to recall his place and his vows. And most of all, he needed…
He needed to get up there to the upper courtyard, Cullen realized. The ceremony had ended and he hadn’t even noticed it. Now 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 had gone up the stairs to the upper courtyard, and Cullen was now running late to his first meeting with the Inquisitor. Wonderful.
Cullen cursed to himself and pushed his way through the crowd.
“Excuse me,” he tried saying, but it seemed everyone else had somewhere else to go. It took him a while to wend his way through the crowd and up the staircase. Then as he reached the top of the stairs, Cullen found himself blocked yet again.
Robert Trevelyan stood in a stone archway into the courtyard, looking rather uncomfortable. At first, Cullen thought the young man was pained by his shirt, which appeared far too tight for him. But then Cullen saw that Robert was staring at something in the courtyard. Cullen could not see what it was.
“I…um, excuse me,” Robert began, trying to push past two scouts who stood in his way. But one of the scouts pointed at Robert in surprise and delight.
“Hey! I know you!” the young man said. “You’re Robert Trevelyan! I’m Bobby Hanes. We met at the Grinning Gremlin two years ago. You bought me a pint. Remember that? Hey Fran!” he said, turning to the young woman at his side, “You remember Robert Trevelyan, right?”
“Oh yes,” the young woman said, eyes narrowing.
Cullen wasn’t the best a judging such things, but he was willing to bet the young 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. There was an answering ‘ugh,’ but Cullen didn’t see who had spoken.
“Eh, er, yes,” Robert said, looking ever more pinched by his shirt.
“That was a fun night,” the young man said, grinning broadly and completely oblivious to the distress of his friend and Robert both. “You bought enough ale to drown the pub. And I heard a lot of stories about you after that. Aren’t you the Trevelyan who once drank two bottles of wine and then pleasured four women at the same time in Lord Smythe’s library during the Sennight Ball?”
“Uhhh…” Robert began.
“Yes Robert,” a steely voice said, from further within the courtyard. “Are you that Trevelyan?”
That was Cassandra’s voice, Cullen realized. So that’s who Robert was looking at with such a horrified expression.
“Er, that’s not exactly what happened,” Robert said, tugging at his collar. “It was, um, the other way round. Four bottles of wine and only two women.”
“Only two women?” the soldier in front of Robert whooped. “Still impressive. 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 back room 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, fighting an embarrassed laugh on the young man’s behalf. 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 the two young soldiers - and Varric Tethras, who stood at a distance, 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. The two scouts stood there, gaping. Varric scratched his chin.
“Ya know,” he said. “I’ve never seen the Seeker turn that shade of pink before. I’m wondering 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, mouth set in a quizzical expression, her hips swaying slightly with each step. Cullen forgot to worry about whatever it was Varric was plotting. He forgot all about his resolutions about professionalism and selflessness and finding better paths. He just stared.
Then Cullen quite suddenly remembered himself.
Inquisitor and commander, he thought, hastily. They were just friends.
“Is everything okay?” Kate asked.
It would be, Cullen thought. He was determined to make this work.
“Everything’s fine,” he replied.
Kate gave him a strange look, but then she smiled and jerked her head toward the doorway. “Shall we get to it?”
Cullen gave her a short, respectful nod.
“As you like, Inquisitor,” he said.