“Herald, may I speak with you?”
“Well,” Meryell drawled in response, not looking up from carefully re-wrapping the hilt of one of her daggers, “technically we’re already talking but I suppose we can continue.” As soon as Cassandra let out an annoyed huff of breath in response, she sighed and lifted her eyes enough that she could glance briefly at the other woman’s face. “Seeker, you are seriously going to have to get used to sarcasm if you’re going to keep hanging around with me and Varric.”
Cassandra scoffed, saying, “We do not hang out, as you say. And perhaps you and he would do better to be more serious.”
“Being serious just makes you fucking boring.” Meryell tugged the leather around the hilt tight and held it with her thumb while she stretched out her legs. This freed up her other hand to move the pile of various sized bits of leather she’d been working with off of the step in front of her cabin door where she’d sat to work. “Take a load off, Seeker. I get the distinct feeling that whatever conversation you want to have is going to be a long one.”
For a moment she didn’t think the other woman was going to take the offer but she finally sighed and sat. When she didn’t immediately speak, Meryell turned her attention back to her dagger, giving the woman a moment she obviously needed.
“There are,” Cassandra finally began, “some rumors going around Haven. Normally I do not listen to such things but it is…a popular topic.”
Snorting, Meryell noted, “The Seekers can’t be all that different from any other military type organization. You should know as well as I fucking do that soldiers like to gossip. So whatever you’re worried about I wouldn’t sweat it.”
“Even if it is you and the Commander?”
Suddenly regretting where this conversation was possibly going, she growled, “Especially if it’s me and Cullen.”
“Then you are not together.”
Depends upon your definition of together, Meryell thought wryly. They certainly weren’t together in the traditional sense but she had no intention of taking another man to bed. And Cullen had literally said he was hers. They just…each had things they had to work out before anything could be officially stated. Though they’d been taking daring chances lately with their friendship, touching much more intimately than they’d dared before but never venturing across the line that made it something more.
That probably hadn’t helped the rumor mill.
“No,” she replied honestly. “We’re not together.”
“And why not?”
“Because…wait,” Meryell blinked, pausing in her work to turn and look at the other woman. Cassandra wore her disappointment openly on her face and she almost couldn’t believe that the hard-line trotting Seeker might just be a damned closet romantic. “You actually fucking want us together?”
Sighing in response, Cassandra leaned forward so her elbows rested on her knees. “While we have not gotten along these months…”
“I’m going to call that the understatement of 9:41.”
The other woman’s lips twitched before she continued, “I have found that I respect you. You have a…tenacity…that I have seen in few people and you are always the first to help those in need.”
“I’ve been the person in need for a lot of my life,” Meryell pointed out. “I know where most of them are coming from.”
“You did not have to yell at those clerics in Val Royeaux to help or to hunt down those templars in the Hinterlands who had killed that woman’s husband. Nor any of the other things I have seen you do.”
Her jaw clenched as she said in return, “I just do the decent thing, Seeker. My babae taught me that.”
Cassandra just nodded and said, “That decency is what Thedas needs.” She then smiled – a real, honest smile – as she added, “That it comes from a foul-mouthed Elven woman who had no reason to stay with us but did makes it even more astounding.”
Narrowing her eyes, Meryell pointed out, “You as good as blackmailed me, remember?”
“You said that once before.”
“You don’t remember you and our shivdark spymaster telling me pretty much that without the dubious protection of the Inquisition I would have fuck knows who or what darkening my doorstep?”
Cassandra had the good grace to look ashamed at the reminder. Which was good because she damned well should feel bad about it. Then she asked quietly, “Would you have stayed if we had not?”
Meryell’s temper flared and she turned her attention back to her dagger, focusing again on carefully wrapping the leather around the hilt. “I guess we’ll never know now,” she growled in reply.
“I did not mean…”
“Doesn’t fucking matter anymore,” interrupted Meryell. “I’m here and I’m sure as shit not running. Not while folk are getting hurt.”
“It matters between us,” Cassandra noted softly. When she looked at the woman curiously, she just shrugged casually. “If we are to work together and do so well, it does matter.”
Sighing heavily, she came to a stop in her work again and leaned back on the step so her shoulders were resting against the closed door. Meryell pursed her lips for a moment, considering what to say to the woman next to her. A lot of her initial anger towards Cassandra had faded since she’d gotten into this piss pot of a mess. She liked her well enough and certainly respected her skill in a fight. That tiny bit of her that hated being backed into a corner though still chomped at the bit and held on tight to that bridle of anger, trying desperately sometimes to fight for its head.
Like right now.
“I don’t take kindly to threats or ultimatums,” she finally said as she closed her eyes. “Maybe it’s the Dalish in me.”
“I was under the impression that you were not Dalish.”
Meryell tensed, silently cursing her own slip of the tongue. Then she just sighed before replying, “Rule one of working a job: lie your ass off if need be to get off safe. Plus my own personal rule of don’t tell strangers what’s my own damned business.”
Cassandra scoffed and asked, “Herald, how are we to trust you if you show no trust in return?”
Cracking open an eye, she answered, “You’ve gotta show some trust first. So far I haven’t seen a lot of it directed towards me except from Cullen, Varric, and the soldiers.”
“You think I do not trust you?”
Meryell nodded and the older woman sighed before saying, “I do not trust easily, Herald. We perhaps have that in common. I will note, however, that I will not turn my back in a fight on those I think I cannot trust.”
Blinking at the other woman for a moment, Meryell thought of their recent fights, where Cassandra relied on her blades, Varric’s arrows, and Solas’ spells to keep her back protected. Then she thought back further to those first days in the Hinterlands (and before while fighting their way to the Breach that first time) that Cassandra had deliberately fought either beside her or facing her. It was a fighter’s trust, a warrior’s trust, but it was trust nonetheless.
“Well,” Meryell began slowly, “it’s not exactly what I was talking about but…I suppose it’s a place we can start from.”
“Then we shall start now,” Cassandra said firmly. “I never meant you staying with the Inquisition to be blackmail, Herald. Leliana I cannot speak for but to back you into a corner was never my intention.”
Smirking, Meryell fiddled with the end of the strip of leather before asking, “Not even when you thought me guilty?”
“I wanted the truth. I have learned that it cannot be gained through means of force yet sometimes I forget that lesson.”
“Varric?” she queried.
“Varric,” agreed the other woman in a tightly clipped tone. Cassandra then said, “You are good for him.””
“Varric?” asked Meryell even though she knew full well that wasn’t what was meant. And Cassandra knew she knew too by the smile trying hard to play about the other woman’s mouth. Sighing, she asked, “Going back to the original topic…why does it matter so much to you? Other than you being a closet romantic.”
“Keep that to yourself,” snapped the woman. Cassandra then softened her voice as she asked, “What has Cullen told you of his past?”
“It determines my answer.”
Sighing, Meryell replied, “He barely touched Kinloch. One of the mages who joined the company during my third year with them was at the Tower during its fall. I related the basics and he confirmed them. I didn’t…I didn’t ask him to go into greater detail. I’ve heard what demons will do to people if let loose. I don’t need help imagining how they might have tortured him. As for Kirkwall, he told me everything.”
Cassandra’s eyes widened in surprise then she recovered herself, saying “Before the Mage – Templar War, Kinloch was one of the greater examples amongst both Seekers and templars for why we must be vigilant. That Cullen survived it when so many others – many of whom had served the Order for far longer – did not speaks to his strength. And if he told you all of what happened in Kirkwall, you know how the city forged him into the man he is today.”
“Break,” corrected Meryell. “I know how that city and that fucking crazy bitch he had to serve under tried to break him.”
“There are many ways to break a person, Seeker,” she replied. “Sometimes all you have to do is start the cracks.” Turning her head to look at the other woman, she added, “I know about the lyrium too.”
Cassandra looked surprised by the statement but she covered it decently well as she nodded before saying, “I believed he could do it in Kirkwall and I believe he can now. He has a chance to prove to himself – and others – that it can be done.” She paused as she looked away, off to the right where the halls of Haven stood between them and the field were Cullen had already been running the Inquisition soldiers through drills for hours. “Mages have always made their suffering known, but templars never have. They are bound to the Order, mind and soul, with someone always holding their lyrium leash. Cullen can perhaps change that for others of the Order.”
“He’s not the first to succeed,” commented Meryell quietly, drawing the Seeker’s gaze back to her. She jerked her chin towards Haven’s wall but further towards the left of where Cassandra had been looking, where the Fangs had their camp set up. “There are four former templars in the Fangs right now and we’ve had at least thirty since I’ve been with them. We’ve had them come to us, stumbled across them on the road, and even had one in the full throes of withdrawl sold to us by this blackguard of a merchant that the Captain very happily knifed in the back.”
Pursing her lips, she continued, “I’ve seen them come to us still full to the brim with lyrium and lost to madness. Some recover, most don’t. Those that do serve the company out of thanks, either until the effects of so many years on that shit catch up or they decide to leave after the five years of service that the Captain asks of them. If they keep sober after that or go back to the Chantry, I don’t know. By and large, though, they’re lower ranking members of the Order, not the sort that’d be much of an example. Not to mention most of them have been kicked or forced out for one stupid damned reason or another.”
Cassandra blinked at her before saying, “You and your company continue to surprise me, Herald.”
Meryell just grinned at that.
“One day we’re going to teach you that mercenary doesn’t necessarily mean bad, Seeker.”
“I think perhaps I may be beginning to look forward to that day.”
“Good,” she chirped brightly. Then Meryell sobered and lowered her voice to say, “I care for him, Seeker, more than I’ve done for a man in a long while. Even if nothing comes of what’s between us, that won’t change.” If they were going to trust each other, she might as well start with something starkly honest.
Smiling, Cassandra inclined her head just slightly before saying, “I am glad to hear that, Herald. Now…I believe I interrupted your work.” Standing up, she finished, “Thank you for taking the time to speak to me.”
“It’s what friends are supposed to do, yeah?” asked Meryell.
“Friends?” repeated the Seeker, sounding surprised by the word.
Shrugging, she answered, “Well, I figure if we’re going to try and trust each other, we might as well try to be friends as well. I tend to trust my friends the most.”
A slow smile spread across Cassandra’s mouth, making the scar on that side of her face curl, and then the Seeker nodded slowly.
“I have few I would call such but…I believe I would be honored to call you ‘friend’, Herald.”
“And maybe one day you’ll actually call me by my name?” chided Meryell with an arched eyebrow.
“Perhaps,” replied the Seeker in an unreadable tone before she turned away. The smile that had stayed on her face as she said that, however, gave Meryell hope that perhaps one day she’d be done with this fucking Herald nonsense.
Friends with Cassandra Pentaghast…would wonders never cease?
Snorting to herself, she bent her head back to her work, intent on getting all of her various blades back to fit shape before they headed out again.