It had taken a day after she’d woken up to the pleasant surprise of a mostly naked Cullen crammed into a cot with her (followed by the fucking annoying realization that she was too hurt to do fuck all about it) to convince everyone that they had to have a meeting. She’d actually tried to do so in the first hours after she’d woken up but exhaustion from both her long walk in the snow and what her healing body was taking out of her had conspired to coax her back into sleep.
Cullen’s sleepy kisses to the back of her neck coupled with the warmth of him and the strong, secure, safe loop of his arms around her waist had been a good incentive too.
Now, after spending several hours awake arguing with Folke, Cullen, Cassandra, and everyone else who’d come into the tent to see her, she’d finally convinced them to have a meeting. Mostly by trying to get out of bed (which would have been much harder if Cullen hadn’t been kicked out by Gil after she’d been deemed back in a safe zone temperature wise) and walk despite the fact that her feet were still five kinds of fucked up from frostbite. That and Gil had threatened bodily harm to the next person that made Meryell nearly fuck up what healing she’d already gotten, herself included.
Which is what led to a trestle table being carried into the isolated side of the healer’s tent that she occupied with camp chairs or crates scavenged from other parts of the camp for anyone who wanted one. Meryell herself had been carefully slid down to the end of her cot and propped up with two pillows behind her back after being carefully bundled into a long-sleeved tunic that smelled like Folke and a hideous fur lined coat that someone had found in the assorted belongings that had made it out of Haven.
She also had Cullen perched behind her on a crate he’d moved right up against the head of the cot. His knees sat on either side of the wooden bars supporting it and he had both arms looped around her waist as he rested his chin on her good shoulder. A precaution, he’d muttered in her ear after he had settled there.
She half blamed Gil. The other half of the equation was him being him.
What she hated was the fact that the position made her all too aware of the fine shakes plaguing his hands and she was unable to do anything to help him. Meryell did make a mental note to tell him to ask Folke if there were supplies in camp for the tea. Or, given the scolding she’d gotten earlier from her baba about making him fear losing her for good, ask Gil if any of her potions made it out of camp in the chaos.
Everyone invited to the meeting – which was the whole of the inner circle with an extended invitation to Arnald and Zarru (since they led the Fangs), Folke (purely because he was her father), and Krem (since he was Bull’s second) – slowly trickled into the tent and she traced nonsense patterns over the backs of Cullen’s hands underneath the furs until the space filled up. He stilled her movement himself and pressed a brief kiss to her cheek before he straightened, though his arms never ceased encircling her. It was enough to keep contact (and keep his tremors from being seen) but still give the separation of Herald and Commander that they at least attempted to maintain in the war room.
“All here?” asked Meryell as she flicked her eyes over the group. Varric, Josephine, and Dorian had taken up seats around the table and the rest had scattered around the area. Cassandra and Leliana stood at either side of the invisible boundary line that seemed to lay between her space and the rest of the tent, two almost starkly silent sentinels that seemed to be back to the strangers they’d been in those first hours in Haven. The Iron Bull stood between the former Right and Left Hands, as it was the only place he could without his horns puncturing the top of the tent, and Krem had settled next to the Qunari in the easy, loose stance of a warrior at rest.
Blackwall stood against the tent wall to her left, just down from Cassandra, and had an empty camp chair standing ready at his feet in case he wanted it. Solas had seated himself just down of the Warden, closer to her but not too close, and Meryell wasn’t certain she wanted to decipher the look on his face.
On her right, Sera sat on a crate tapping one foot against the ground, idly spinning a small knife back and forth around her fingers. Immediately next to her Arnald took up one of the last chairs, leaning on his elbows towards her, his brow creased with worry over the top of his mask. Zarru stood silently behind him, dressed in simple dark clothes meant for warmth instead of her normal armor.
Folke, of course, had the very last camp chair and he’d pulled it up right next to her cot on her right side. She could see his knee butting against Cullen’s but neither man seemed to mind, which confirmed to her a little more that Folke’s earlier comment in the day about not having hard feelings against the man for his actions in Haven was truth.
“It would seem we are,” commented Josephine. Then she looked around, frowning as she asked, “Though…was there not a boy?”
“Cole?” Varric queried and Meryell stiffened slightly as she felt weight press against the side of her leg just above her knee. Looking down, she found the strange boy sitting on the floor there, his hat no longer present to hide the veritable bird’s nest that was his fine blond hair. He blinked those big blue eyes at her and smiled childishly.
“Savhalla, as’ehn’rajast,” he uttered softly and she blinked at him for a moment before tearing her eyes away from him. She was no mage but he sure as shit wasn’t human.
“Accounted for,” announced Meryell, though by the looks on most everyone else’s faces they didn’t see him. Solas did – he was looking right at the boy – as did Dorian by the sudden tensing of his shoulders. Folke’s hand gripped hers underneath the blanket then and she glanced over at him as Cullen hissed in surprise behind her, starting to move before she clapped her left hand over his. “He’s not a threat,” she announced, drawing confused looks from those who were unaware of Cole and surprise from those that actually noticed him.
Solas leaned forward at that, his fingers folded together, and asked, “Have you some magical power you haven’t disclosed, da’len?”
That made Folke snort and she felt his hand relax in hers. Cullen’s hand was still tense under hers and she squeezed it tightly as her father commented, “Only her good sense of people. S’how she knew she needed to save mine and Tobik’s asses when we met.”
“I did tell you not to trust Old Karlan,” reminded Meryell as she stroked her thumb across the inside curve of Cullen’s hand. As he finally relaxed, expelling a breath hard enough to tickle her ear, she added, “That fucker was always looking for an excuse to make money.”
Before they could get caught up in the past, she quickly went on, “Now…we need to go over Haven. Everything.”
“We have yet to gather all of the names of the lost,” Cullen noted from behind her. “Until we get better organized or find somewhere else to go, we likely won’t know the full counts for the Inquisition forces.”
“Chargers lost five so far that we know of,” chimed in Krem.
Zarru dipped her head slightly, her eyes flicking down at the back of Arnald’s head, before she uttered thickly, “Twenty-three confirmed amongst the Fangs. Folke confirmed this morning that their charms no longer sing to him. Though given we thought our Meryell dead once too, there may still be hope for some of them. Six more are unaccounted for but still sing.”
“Sing?” repeated Sera, eying Folke from where she sat. “Whot’s that mean?”
“It means,” her father replied as he lifted his free hand to grasp the old coin that hung around his own neck, “that that’s how the magic works. Templars track mages through blood magic; I track each member of the Fangs with my own magic. It’s significantly more complicated, of course, and is one of the two specializations that I actually have.”
“Impressive for a da’erelan,” commented Solas.
Folke just smiled at that and inclined his head respectfully to the other mage. Thankfully that comment didn’t segue into a magical theory conversation and Meryell smiled at her father for that small mercy before steering the conversation back to the main topic.
“As important as the names of the dead are,” she began, “there’s a lot more going on than any of us know. That thing on the hill, the Elder One…he claims to be one of the Magisters who went into the Fade.”
Cassandra and Leliana stiffened at the same time while Dorian exclaimed, “One of the first darkspawn? Are you certain?”
Meryell looked right at the mage and replied, “That was his claim while he fucking had me dangling off the ground.”
“That’s what happened to your shoulder?” asked Cullen.
“Yeah. I’m probably not going to be using my daggers in both hands for a while.” If ever, she added silently to herself but quickly pushed the thought away. Gil kept telling her that the damage wasn’t irreparable and she trusted her. Meryell then coughed to distract herself from those thoughts and said to everyone, “Fuck. Let me start at the beginning of that grand conversation. Right after the dragon came swooping down at the last trebuchet and I yelled at everyone to run, a fire pot exploded and threw me off my feet. Next thing I know, that thing is walking up to me out of what’s now basically a damned fireball without a scratch on him and hauls me up into the air like it’s nothing. That’s when the fucking dragon came down and blocked the path.”
Varric grimaced at that before saying, “We were turning to come back for you when it came down, Swears. I think the Seeker was about half-convinced to take it on by herself if the whole damned town hadn’t been burning around us.”
Smiling at him, she said reassuringly, “As much as I would have liked to see Cassandra take on a dragon – don’t give me that look, Seeker, you could stare a dragon fucking down and I’ll have no argument on that – I’m glad you all got out safely.”
Cassandra snorted from her spot in the room. “While I disagree with your assessment of my abilities,” she said softly in the tone Meryell had started to learn was the warrior’s version of amused, “I will not argue. I am merely glad that you also managed to get out of Haven.”
“By luck,” muttered Meryell and felt the fingers of one of Cullen’s hands curl into the fabric of her borrowed coat. Sliding her hand over his, she continued, “Anyway, while this fucker has me up in the air he starts what’s basically a damned soliloquy. I’m pretty sure he was only talking to me about half the time.”
“Does our supposed Magister have a name?” queried Dorian.
Sera snorted and Meryell smiled at her as the other elf said, “Cory-what? What a shite name!” The blonde then leaned forward with a broad grin that belied the fear still lingering in her eyes. “Don’t you worry, Glowy Bits, I’ll come up with some right proper names to call this tit.”
“I have every bit of trust in your ability to do just that, Sera.”
Meryell then released Cullen’s hand and lifted her left hand out from under the furs. The Mark – the Anchor – sparked, flaring bright green light across the whole of the tent and she clenched her teeth against the brief jolt of pain that flickered through her nerves. She heard Folke hiss and turned her head to look at him as he narrowed his eyes at her hand.
“It’s,” he began, his voice low and cautious, “different…”
“Fucker did something to it,” she replied with a snarl. “Felt like my damn arm was going to sear off. Like…” As she trailed off, Meryell locked eyes with Dorian and finished, “It felt like it did when we fell into that future. And then it got worse.”
As Dorian muttered a Tevene curse that she didn’t quite catch, she heard Solas say, “It is different from when I examined it originally.”
“Has it become dangerous?” asked Cassandra.
“No,” replied Folke before he released her right hand and reached for her left. Meryell let him have it and watched him as he cradled her hand in both of his much larger, callused thumbs pressing in on her palm in several spots. As the gash of green light flickered before going dormant again, once more becoming a slightly off-color slash across her hand, he said, “It’s like it…grew? Not physically but in power. Like it…”
“Unlocked potential,” supplied Solas and she whipped her head around towards him as her father made an affirmative noise.
Folke nodded, saying, “Yes. Did it do anything strange, ara vherain?”
Grimacing at the question, Meryell replied, “That’s a later part of the story, baba. There’s another one that comes before that.” Gently pulling her hand from his, she clenched her fist for a moment then reopened it. As she did, the Anchor burst into light again and she looked up, seeking out Cassandra and Leliana’s eyes in turn as she growled, “He did this. That fucking thing was responsible for the Conclave, for the rifts, for this shit on my hand, for stealing my damned life…all of it.”
She hadn’t meant to say the ‘stealing my life’ part, had meant to keep those words behind her teeth but apparently her mouth had decided to betray her. It wasn’t untrue, however.
Every other person around her had chosen to join the Inquisition.
She’d come into it with chains on her wrists and at the point of a sword.
Meryell shook her head fiercely and reached out with her right hand for Cullen’s. Their fingers tangled as they pressed palms together and she wanted to tell him that she hadn’t meant the abruptly spoken words…not entirely. Getting the Mark had also brought them together on the same path. That was a thing that she could never regret, even if nothing ever happened between them beyond the kiss they’d shared as Haven was collapsing around them.
“He wants to be a god,” she spat a moment later.
“Tevinter’s always do,” commented the Iron Bull, his amused tone changing the meaning behind the words. Beside him, Krem let out a loud snort while Dorian grumbled a quiet protest.
She couldn’t find the energy to smile at the jibe. Not when she’d been at that monster’s mercy, had heard the madness spilling from his cracked lips. She didn’t want to laugh at the experience.
She wanted to curl up in a corner despite her still sore ribs (which Gil had informed her had been cracked) and fucking cry because this wasn’t just some noble with a grudge they were up against. This was a man (or dare she even call it that) who claimed to have been one of the Magister’s who’d become the first darkspawn. A being who could fucking wear red lyrium like it was nothing and wield control over a dragon. Who had gathered an army of templars twisted by that damned same lyrium to attack them. And who, in a future that no longer existed except in her own memories and Dorian’s, had brought the whole of Thedas to it’s knees in a feat of destruction over a year that would have been impressive given the time frame it was executed in if it hadn’t been so Maker damned terrifying.
Meryell could feel herself starting to breathe harder as panic swept over her.
Fighting demons and closing rifts, that was easy.
How the fuck were they supposed to fight something that claimed it was a god?
How could she keep the ones she cared for and loved safe from that?
She faintly registered Cullen’s voice in her ear, followed by Folke’s, but couldn’t focus on them. There was, instead, only the hammering of her own heart in her ears, drowning out everything around her.
Then cold, half-frozen feeling fingers grabbed onto her left hand and Meryell startled, her eyes darting downward to meet the wide blue eyes of the boy. Cole frowned and clasped his other hand around hers as he said, “Hurting, panic, fear. How do I keep them safe? How do we fight a god?” It was like the words echoed through her skull even as she knew that he was pulling them from her.
Andraste’s dripping cunt, what was this boy?
“Help,” replied that voice in her head, low and soothing. Distantly she registered that she had been bundled close to someone and they were rocking her, muttering a rapid stream of Elven under their breath. Folke, not Cullen, then in that case. That was probably Cullen that she could faintly hear shouting for a healer then.
Cole still gripped her hand between his own and Meryell tore her gaze away from him, burying her face against Folke’s throat as she closed her eyes and choked out a ragged, broken sound. His grip around her hand tightened as his voice echoed through her head again.
“They fear too, choking, tugging downward, threatening to drag them under. What if we can’t? Our forces are broken but we live. The Herald is broken but she lives. My daughter is wounded but she fucking lives. But what do we do now? Where do we go from here?”
And, abruptly, the answer is there.
Old words, half remembered, lingering in the back of her mind, an echo of her mother. A memory of skinned knees and tears softened by soothing words and warm hands bearing the calluses of alienage life. Now, now, my Merry, no more tears. What have I told you about facing problems?
Meryell opened her eyes and found herself clutching at Folke’s shoulder, one eye seeing only the skin of his throat, but the other seeing the worried faces of everyone else around her. And there is the boy Cole, a bright smile on his face as he nods and she hears his voice say, “Yes,” in her mind.
“One foot…in…front of…the…other,” she managed to gasp through clenched teeth against her father’s throat as she felt her body continue to shake.
Then Gil was there, her hands glowing with magic and her eyes full of fury because her patient is not well, and Meryell feels herself falling despite knowing that she really isn’t…but she does so with a smile. It’s not a plan – oh, Maker’s aching cock, it’s not even a shred of a plan – but it’s a direction.
It’s a way forward.
And that’s all she needs.
savhalla – hello
as – she
ehn – who
raja – to lead ( rajast – leads )
da’erelan – small mage
I went with the assumption that the vast majority of spirits are capable of speaking Elven/Elvhen, hence why Cole does so in this instance. It will not happen frequently where he himself speaks it, if at all again (though there may be moments where Meryell will say something and he will make a comment implying that he understands what she said).