The Sordid Tale of Meryell Verlen, Chapter 43

The long ride from Skyhold to Halamshiral felt like it took significantly longer than it actually had. That probably hadn’t been helped by the fact that, since it was Harvestmere, the Frostbacks were already seeing heavier snows. Though the environment they were travelling through was by far the least thing that made the whole trip feel longer.

They had made the decision during their planning to travel as if they were simply a group of Inquisition forces and not the Inquisitor and all of her advisors and main support – because that would have just been stupid. Which meant that, for the most part, everyone was dressed similar to the general population of their forces and not with their usual flair. Leliana, Sera, Varric, and Cole had all donned the garb of scouts, which also allowed the Nightingale to keep an eye on everyone as she liked. Cullen, Cassandra, and Blackwall were both in plain armor amongst the general soldiery. Bull was, well, Bull and quite obvious as he was currently the only qunari, so he remained himself amongst the whole of the Chargers that were accompanying them. Solas, Dorian, and Vivienne disappeared into the ranks of the mages, dressing to match their counterparts. Josephine, dressed down in a simple dress and cloak, had been going to just disappear wherever she could but Meryell had swiftly paired the ambassador with Sister Cecilia, Tyrrania, and Felie. It not only kept her well occupied with conversation, it also provided her with two possible protectors she wouldn’t have had if she’d just disappeared into the general contingent.

And Meryell had done what she’d wanted to do for ages and just disappeared back into the ranks of the Fangs.

They still moved around the group as they travelled, exchanging news and conversations up and down the lines. That, of course, was where the annoying part came in.

The annoyance, of course, had a name.

Vivienne.

“Slouching like that will only hurt you later on, my dear.”

Meryell rolled her eyes as she ignored the snickers from behind her, knowing that they were more aimed at the woman riding beside her than at herself. She then purposely slouched lower in the saddle of her Forder Elvar, who was sedately plodding along behind the rest of the horses, and said, “Not like I’m fucking looking to impress right now.”

The mage sniffed delicately before saying, “One should always look to impress, Inquisitor. Perhaps you should think of it as practice for dealing with Halamshiral.”

By the Maker’s left nut, she was going to strangle this damned woman before this trip was done. Why had they gone out of their way to Val Royeaux to recruit her again? Oh, right, because she was so fucking Orlesian and knew the court from once being the Empress’ Enchanter and played the Game incredibly well.

She’d just have to settle for proving her wrong at the Winter Palace.

“Well,” drawled Meryell, “it’s not like the tits at Halamshiral are going to even see me sitting a horse, so don’t see why it’d be a damned issue in the first place. Only ones who’re going to see are Gaspard’s lot when we arrive at…fuck, whatever the name of his shitting house is.”

“Manor,” piped Vivienne sternly. “I believe he calls it The Lion’s Den.”

“How fucking apt,” she grumbled in reply. Then Meryell had a thought and chuckled darkly as she added, “Though it’s not like we don’t have lions of our own.”

Her own Elven pet name from Folke came to mind first, not to mention the fact that someone had gotten it in their head apparently to start calling Cullen by the name the Lion of Skyhold. If she had to guess, the helmet that was now an almost constant fixture in his office and the furry mantle on his coat (which did quite resemble a mane) were part of the reason why that had come about.

That and he had a way of staring sometimes, like he was looking right through and into and seeing all that made up a person. It was that assessing look he got when he was looking for answers or judging a sword of being worthy. Probably helped as well that his eyes were the color they were. Meryell had had that look turned on her a time or two lately but that was…mmm, well…that was an entirely different litter of mabari.

Feeling her cheeks starting to flush at just the thought of the last time she’d had that particular stare focused on her before they’d left Skyhold, she coughed before tacking on, “Not that we need to particularly fear Gaspard.”

She could see Vivienne arch an eyebrow delicately out of the corner of her eye right before the Enchanter commented, “One should always fear even the lamest of lions, darling. After all, it only takes one wrong move for him to pin you under his paw.”

Meryell just grinned viciously at the woman before she replied, “That’s why you don’t beard the lion in his den. You draw him out. Weaken him from cover. Take him out from a distance.”

“You have hunted lions before?”

The mage sounded more than a little surprised and that made her smile.

“Got hired to take out a group of ‘em that was pestering some Orlesian lordling’s farmers six years back. Leader was this big old shit of a lion; mean thing with a dark mane and a skin full of scars. Red lions, to be specific, that crossed down into Orlais from their normal hunting grounds in the Frostbacks.”

“Oooh!” piped up Astrid abruptly from nearby. “Is that the lion story I hear?”

“I think it is!” commented Tyrrania cheerfully from where she rode nearby as well, smiling as Josephine leaned over to whisper What’s the lion story? to an equally confused Felie while Sister Cecilia just turned her face towards the sky.

“The lion story?!” came Pod’s shout from further back down the line, as the Fangs archers were scattered throughout the group as well as the rest of the Inquisition line. “Asa’ma’lin, you are not telling the lion story without me, are you?”

Fenedhis,” muttered Meryell before she turned in the saddle to shout back, “Yes, it’s the fucking lion story, you sorry shits! And you were there, Pod!”

“That’s why I have to be involved!” he called back. “Otherwise you won’t get it right!”

Won’t get it….why that shit.

Growling wordlessly, Meryell turned back around in the saddle before snarling under her breath, “Fucking shit ass, rotten cocked, shitbag. Not get it right my damned foot.”

Vivienne merely took all of the interaction in with several slow blinks and both her eyebrows arched. Then she gave a prim smile and commented dryly, “Your company is ever so…charming…my dear.”

Of course, her version of charming meant that they were uncultured heathens who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near polite society. Which was exactly how Meryell liked her company.

So she just turned to grin at the woman and say, “Wouldn’t have the shits any other way.”

“Mmm, yes, I can see that.”

There was some kind of judgement in that tone and a silent implication that she shouldn’t be proud of them. That they weren’t worthy of her. She wasn’t about to get proud and all high and mighty just because she’d been named Inquisitor. Not only because she wasn’t any better than anyone else but because it wouldn’t linger when she was eventually able to step down. People would forget that an elf saved them and she’d just become another knife-ear again.

She could maybe start things changing to make that view shift while she was Inquisitor but it wouldn’t change in her lifetime. She’d experienced enough racism against her in her twenty and seven years to know that much.

Lifting her chin high, Meryell said sharply, “You may dislike them for their uncouth behavior, Madame, but I’ll remind you that they’re my family. And the company gets the job done when they’re given one to do.”

“I will endeavor to remember that, darling,” commented Vivienne. She then inclined her head as she went on, “If you’ll excuse me, Inquisitor.”

“Don’t need to ask my permission.”

“Politeness, my dear. It would perhaps endeavor you to learn it.”

The Enchanter pulled her mount away then, weaving forward through the lines, and Meryell glared daggers at her back. Gritting her teeth, she let out a low growl before spitting, “What a fucking bitch.”

“Pff, leave her!” snapped Astrid as she swung her mount over. The big Anders woman whipped out a fist to punch Meryell lightly in the shoulder (lightly for Astrid anyway, it still nearly pitched her out of the saddle) and laughed. “She just one of those haughty magic types. Not to mention normal for an Orlesian noble.”

Excusez-moi!” exclaimed Felie, the former templar looking highly offended.

Tyrrania immediately reached out to touch Felie’s shoulder and said gently, “You are an exception to the rule.” She then tilted her head slightly towards Josephine, who was riding with pursed lips and staring at Vivienne’s retreating back. “Lady Josephine?”

The ambassador startled for a moment before resettling at a quick touch from Sister Cecilia. She then frowned and asked, “Does she always speak to you like that, Inquisitor?”

Meryell just shrugged and replied, “Mostly. Usual snide comments just barely hidden under politeness that I get from most Orlesians.” She then smiled and tipped her head towards Felie. “Minus our Orlesians, who are much more civilized people.”

Josephine smiled then asked, “Does that include our spymaster? You both still seem to disagree quite a lot.”

“Leliana,” Meryell intoned firmly, “doesn’t make snide comments to my face. And we…hmm…understand each other a bit better now. Never be fucking friends but we’re no longer trying to actively verbally stab the other in the back.”

“Not often,” commented Josephine with a small smile.

Laughing, she nodded and replied, “Well where would be the fun in stopping altogether? We just don’t do it honestly anymore.”

That made Josephine laugh lightly. “Yes,” she commented wryly, “it does seem more like that of late.” Her expression then went starkly serious as she added, “And I will speak with Enchanter Vivienne. There is no excuse for her taking that sort of tone with you or acting as if who you are is something you should not be.”

Meryell blinked several times at the woman before she said, “Josie, you’re going to make me get all fucking emotional over here.”

“I have learned quite well that you will not change unless you wish to, Inquisitor,” said the Antivan woman with a smile. “Any that so attempt to do so without your choice being involved will answer to me now.”

Tyrrania arched her eyebrows alongside Felie while Sister Cecilia smiled and Astrid let out a loud whoop of excitement.

“Now there’s a quiet threat!” crowed the warrior. “You hear that steel in it, Rani?”

“Like a good blade,” commented the Tevinter born rogue. She then formally bowed in the saddle, a thing she’d never been able to shake from her own noble upbringing despite her now ignoble life. “My deepest respect to you, Ambassador. I hope to never meet you on the field of battle, no matter what it may be.”

Josephine flushed slightly then returned the bow, saying, “Thank you, Lady Ilus.”

“Please, Ambassador, just Tyrrania. As a non-mage born to Altus parents, I was never meant to hold a noble rank.”

“Nobility,” said Sister Cecilia sagely, “is not always a thing that one is born into, dove. More often it is a thing learned.”

Tyrrania smiled at that and dipped her head in a brief nod, murmuring, “I am well corrected, Sister.”

“I meant it only to be respectful anyway,” Josephine began to defend and Meryell smiled and clucked to her Forder, moving away from them as her fellow rogue began to reassure the Antivan woman that no offense had been taken.

As she weaved her way forward through the lines, she heard Pod shout from behind her, “Oy! I thought we were going to tell the lion story! I was ready and everything!

The laughter that followed made Meryell smile, shaking her head as she pressed onward. There were, unfortunately, other people that she needed to talk to.

ornament

“M’lady Inquisitor?”

Meryell looked up from the rereading Adventures of the Black Fox while sitting in the sun outside of her tent and found one of the staff standing in front of her. The young woman, who barely looked more than twenty, was deathly pale looking despite the fact that Fereldens were a hardy looking lot. She was wringing her hands together so hard, as well, that it seemed like she might soon start to separate her skin from the muscle and bone underneath.

Tucking the scrap piece ribbon that she was using as a bookmark into the pages, Meryell quickly stood and sat it down in her chair. Reaching out, she clasped her hands around the young woman’s with a stern, “You’re going to fucking hurt yourself fretting like that. Take a breath.”

The woman’s eyes widened then she closed them, squeezing them tightly together as she took in a deep breath. She held it for so long that Meryell had to finally say, “You have to let it out.” Immediately the young woman expelled the breath in a gasp, looking even more flustered now and she just sighed. This was probably a lost cause at this point but she couldn’t have Inquisition staff fainting everywhere.

They were supposed to be her responsibility after all.

“Breathe again and let it out this time,” she pressed and waited until the woman had done it before she nodded. “Good. Now…what’s got you in such a damned tizzy that you were about to suffocate yourself right in front of me? You’re…” She paused to wrack her memory for the woman’s name. “…Tessa?”

“Yes, m’lady,” she replied with a slight curtsey. Then Tessa flushed bright red and stammered, “S-s-orry, Inquisitor!”

Meryell shook her head and squeezed the woman’s hands, finding a way for her fingers to delve in between them and pry them apart. As she held them, she said sternly, “I’m sure you’ve noticed that I really don’t fucking care about titles. So don’t you worry about offending me. Anyone gives you shit, you come tell me. Right?” Tessa nodded meekly in response and she smiled back at the woman.

“Good. Now…what was it that had you in a tizzy?”

Tessa’s face flushed a dark color but this time she didn’t have any overly dramatic reaction except for a slight added stammer when she replied. “Oh! M’lady…Inquisitor…I was s-supposed to go in and change out the Commander’s linens – orders o-of Mistress Kenna since it hasn’t been done the whole trip so far – but he was still in there! He was….”

She paused to take a breath and Meryell felt her heart clench for a moment in fear.

“He was on the floor, clinging to the c-cot as if it was the only thing holding him up,” continued Tessa. “Not even in his armor, m’lady, just his tunic and trousers! I asked him if he needed help and when he replied yes I was going to go find one of his staff. Before I could leave, he reached out and grabbed my skirts, moaning your name.”

Tessa then looked uneasy and asked quietly, “Did I…did I do right, Inquisitor? I didn’t tell any of his staff that he was ill.”

Not dying. Just normal withdrawal. Calm the fuck down.

At least it happened on the day we decided to take as a rest day in the middle of the trip.

Nodding, Meryell squeezed her hands again and said gently, “You did fine, Tessa. I’ll see to him. Can you do me a favor though?”

“Of course, Inquisitor! Anything!”

Smiling, she said, “I’m not going to ask you to streak in your smalls or go fight a dragon.” As Tessa flushed, Meryell went on, “Inform Lieutenant Joane that he’s going to be indisposed for the day. Tell her I said so if she questions you and that I’ll be in his tent if she wants to ask the why. Then if you could go find my father. Do you know what he looks like?”

“Not enough to recognize him, m’lady,” replied Tessa meekly.

“He’s usually never in the main part of the keep so that’s not fucking surprising. Just find any Fang by the badge and ask them to point you to Folke. Then you point him to me in the Commander’s tent.”

“Of course, Inquisitor.”

Meryell nodded and squeezed the younger woman’s hands again before she released them with a soft, “Thank you, Tessa.” As she turned, ready to bolt away towards where Cullen’s tent was, she heard the woman’s lips part.

“Inquisitor, he will…” began Tessa uneasily. “It isn’t anything serious, is it? I-I know he caught the sick from the camps a little while ago but he seemed to be getting better.”

“Travel,” deflected Meryell. “Travel and cold’s never good for getting over sick .”

The young woman blinked at her for a moment then murmured Of course before stammering out the combination of two titles again and taking off with her skirts held up in both hands. Meryell didn’t even watch her go for more than a moment before she finished her turn and ran for Cullen’s tent as quickly as she could without drawing too much attention. Suddenly she was regretting the insistence they’d put on not sleeping in the same tent while travelling.

As she reached it and went to the back door flap, which she knew would be only partially tied to help his claustrophobia, Cole abruptly appeared at her side.

“Aching, burning, spinning,” he intoned in that airy voice he got when he was reading thoughts, his volume pitched low, “Maker, it is worse this time. More blue would fix it, would soothe the hurt, tame the tangles. But more blue would also send him skittering sideways, tumbling, toppling, tipping over the edge. He will not fall. He will not.

She reached out for the spirit’s shoulder just as he smiled at her from underneath his hat and said, “He needed a bucket. I brought him one from the stable.”

“Thank you, da’lath’in,” she murmured before leaning in to kiss his cheek. She then ducked past Cole into the tent at the sound of retching and blinked as her eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light that penetrated the heavy canvas. That allowed her to see exactly what Tessa had described just ahead of her: Cullen slumped on the floor next to his cot in only a threadbare tunic and trousers, leaning on said cot as if it were his lifeline. There was now the addition of a bucket propped on his thigh and he had a white-knuckled grip on the edge of it as he brought it away from his face to drop to the floor of his tent between his knees.

He looked up, obviously having heard her enter, and she let out a breath at how utterly miserable her looked. His eyes were heavily bloodshot, his hair was a riot of curls that were half in their normal springiness and the other half weighed down by sweat, and he had remnants of whatever he’d retched up on his chin as well as what looked to be snot from an obviously running nose.

Cullen blinked slowly at her then that all-too-familiar look of someone about to be sick took over his face and he was abruptly hauling the bucket back up to his mouth. Meryell watched his shoulders shake for a moment as he retched again, wincing in sympathy, then turned with the intent to go find a cloth and a bowl of warm water.

As if he’d already known what she would want, Cole was standing at the back flap with both in hand and a gentle smile on his face.

‘Ma serannas,” she said softly as she took both from him. He just nodded and then vanished before she’d even turned to actually walk over to Cullen.

Cullen himself was coming back up from the next bout of retching as she sat the bowl down on the little camp table he kept near the head of his cot. He groaned, leaning his head on the edge of the cot as she dipped the cloth into the warm water, and mumbled, “I’m sorry.”

“Hush, vhen’an,” soothed Meryell as she wrung out the excess water then moved to crouch down in front of him. She wrinkled her nose at the strong smell coming from the bucket then reached out to touch his forehead, brushing a sweaty curl that was clinging to it away. “Do you think you’re going to be sick again?”

He frowned, his eyes closed now, but still leaned towards her touch as she brushed away the errant curl. For a long moment he was silent in reply before finally saying, “I don’t think so.” He then shifted a leg and grumbled noisily. “I don’t think I can sit up either.”

Baba is coming,” she said. “And I’m having someone inform Joane that you’re indisposed for the day.”

Cullen groaned in response and Meryell smiled before saying, “At least this happened on our rest day and not while actually riding. You would have been miserable riding in the back of a wagon like this.”

One bloodshot eye fluttered open to peer at her as he grumbled, “Your logic is unwelcome here, dear thief.”

“At least you still have your sense of humor intact, vhen’an.”

When he huffed in response, Meryell reached out to push the bucket underneath the cot out of the way before she shuffled forward with the warm, wet cloth coiled up in one hand. “Come on,” she said firmly, “straighten up at least a little. You’ve got sick all over your face.”

Cullen grimaced as he straightened up, both eyes narrowed, his eyebrows furrowed, and snarled, “I don’t need to be treated like a child!” She flinched a little at the tone but she remembered this part from dealing with templars in withdrawal. The anger could be a bitter thing to fight against and she hadn’t yet had to deal with Cullen’s.

Meryell didn’t back down, however, and stared at him sternly as she hissed back, “If I were treating you like a child, Commander, I wouldn’t be fucking you on a regular basis now.”

He jerked back at that, eyes wide, and sucked in a ragged breath before he groaned at the motion, feebly swiping at his temple with his one free hand. “Maker,” he moaned, “end my suffering now. I’m sorry, Meryell. Ir…ir abelas. I didn’t mean that.”

“I know you didn’t,” she soothed as she reached out to gently touch his cheek. Then she held up the cloth and asked, “May I?”

Nodding weakly in response, Cullen closed his eyes and sat there just breathing slightly ragged breaths as she wiped his face off. Meryell did have to get up to retrieve the bowl in order to rinse out the cloth as well as wet it several times more before she finally had all of the remnants brushed away. As she left the cloth to float idly in the now slightly murky water, Cullen reached out and caught her hand, his arm shaking as he brought it up to his mouth. He pressed a brief kiss against her knuckles and breathed, “Forgive me, vhen’an.”

Smiling, Meryell leaned forward and kissed his cheek, his skin still slightly carrying the faintest smell of sick since she’d only used plain water. “There is nothing to forgive,” she replied as she squeezed his fingers before shifting her hand around so they were holding onto each other.

“I…”

Whatever he was going to say was cut off by the sound of scratching at the front flap of the tent and then Folke called out, “Ara vherain? Isha’len?

“Aye, baba,” replied Meryell. Her father immediately freed the catches on the front of the tent and ducked inside, doing everything one-handed as he had some kind of cloth bundled underneath his arms. He tied the tent flap back shut securely then turned around to frown worriedly down at the both of them.

“Maker’s cock, it’s dark in here,” he muttered. When Cullen started to stammer something, he waved a hand and said, “No, no, I can guess that the light’s probably bothering you. My eyes will adjust.” Folke then held up the bundle of cloth and said, “Fresh linens courtesy of that pretty little girl you had fetch me. Keep staff?”

Nodding, she replied, “Yes. And she’s half your age, baba.”

Folke rolled his eyes and grumbled, “Why is it that whenever I comment on someone being remotely attractive, everyone assumes that I’m going to coax them into bed and utterly ravish them on the first opportunity?” When she just stared at him in response, he sighed. “Fine, don’t answer that question.”

He put the linens down on a camp chair that sat next to another little table which was piled high with various papers and little scraps of missives that were always being traded back and forth by Leliana’s birds. Then Folke rubbed his hands together and said, “Well then, let’s get to it. Gil’s occupied for the moment with a sudden fever case otherwise I would have brought her with me. So, move your ass, Poppet, and let me sit down in front of your Commander.”

“Rude,” she commented to him and he just laughed as they quickly changed about, though Meryell didn’t wait long to move behind Cullen. She rested her hands on his shoulders and, after his immediate flinch due to his current predicament went away, began to slowly knead her fingertips into the tensed muscles.

Her father watched her for a moment before nodding approvingly and held out his hands towards Cullen, his gray eyes starkly serious. “Headache?” he asked.

“Pounding,” replied Cullen. When Folke tilted his head to the side, he let out a breath before tacking on. “Severe headache, not a migraine. Just pounding and pressure at the temples and base of my skull. Not the piercing, needle jab.”

Nodding, the mage wrinkled his nose and leaned forward to glance underneath the cot at the bucket. “Stomach upset?”

“Four times. Not over a long period of time, probably not even a quarter of a glass. I…Cole got me the bucket?” The last was a question aimed towards Meryell as he tilted his head back to look up at her and she nodded in reply. “I’ll try and remember to thank him. It’s settling now.”

Folke turned his hands over so they were palm up and asked, “Is magic bothering you?”

Meryell couldn’t see Cullen’s frown but she knew it was there as he replied, “I…I’m not sure. There aren’t any mages tented in with the soldiery and Cole has never bothered me in that way.”

“Very well. I’m going to cast a small wisp. If it hurts, you tell me and I’ll stop immediately. If it doesn’t, then I’m going to make it more powerful one little bit at a time and try to get a gauge for what level bothers you, if any. I’d close your eyes as well if light’s bothering you.”

“Of course.”

Smiling, Meryell pressed her knuckles into a particularly stubborn muscle and heard Cullen let out a long, satisfied groan. Her father frowned at her and she ceased, returning to simply kneading her fingers into the tense muscles. Folke shook his head and then murmured a word, something guttural and Chasind, and there was abruptly a small golden light cupped in the palm of his right hand.

“Cullen?” he asked softly.

“S’fine,” Cullen replied, his voice slightly strained. When Folke scowled, he idly waved the arm that wasn’t holding him up on the cot. “It’s not the magic, I promise. Whatever Meryell did, I apparently needed. That muscle’s been stubborn for the past two weeks since I’ve finally been able to do some drills.”

Nodding, Folke said, “Then I’m going to increase it. If you feel discomfort, tell me. Don’t be some hard ass of a templar and hold it in because it might make you seem fucking weak.”

“I’m not a templar,” grumbled Cullen.

“Then this shouldn’t be a problem.”

That made the man grumbled something else, though it was so low that even Meryell was hard pressed to catch it. It did, however, sound distinctly like a not very polite word. Folke just chuckled before he sobered and the light in his palm slowly grew a little larger and brighter every few seconds. When it was about the same size as the palm of his hand, he nodded to himself and banished it with a flutter of his fingers and a smile.

“No issue with magic today,” he intoned cheerfully. “That’s good. If the nausea is going away along with the upset stomach, that means that all we’re dealing with is fatigue and a headache.” Then he added, “You can open your eyes back up, son.”

Meryell smiled and stopped her motions for a moment to just lean over Cullen’s shoulders and kiss his cheek. He hummed in reply and started to turn his head as if to kiss her before abruptly stopping, a grimace on his face. “I won’t subject you to the taste of my mouth right now,” he said. “The aftertaste of lyrium is one thing, the taste of sick is another.”

“I won’t disagree on that,” she replied as she kissed him again before straightening back up. “I’d hate to be put off fucking kissing you.”

Cullen chuckled at that and said, “So would I, vhen’an.”

Folke rolled his eyes and let out an over exaggerated groan before he said, “All right, love birds, enough.” He started to stand up then before he frowned and reached out to touch Cullen’s forehead, his frown deepening after a moment. “Slight fever as well. Let me guess, you woke up in sweats this morning?”

“That and the pain is what woke me,” replied Cullen and Meryell couldn’t help but smile. It was really quite astonishing just how quickly he’d become able to tell his aches and pains to Folke and Gil. Even with her he’d been a little hesitant to talk about some things at first but eventually they’d broken through whatever sort of damn had been keeping him from sharing it.

She’d even caught him actually keeping a little journal like Gil had suggested, jotting things down in it either on the fly or scrabbling with his barely ink filled quill in the dim light of morning on the fringes of a nightmare.

It made her so proud of him.

“All right,” Folke said then sharply, bringing her back to the now. “Let’s get you off of the cot then and we’ll change these right now. Then it’s out of those clothes and back into bed.”

Cullen made a disgruntled noise, obviously at the idea of having to get back into bed since he had already been spending a lot of time resting, but quieted when both of them frowned at him. He held up his free hand and muttered, “I’m not actually arguing not doing it. Just…complaining about it makes me feel better.”

The hedge mage burst out into a laugh at that and Meryell followed her father moments later. She smiled as she reached out to cup Cullen’s cheek and said, “Complain all you want, vhen’an.” Then she looked at her father and asked, “On three?”

“Two,” he replied contrarily, making her snort. The two of them then leaned over Cullen, who made a brief grumbling to the effect of I can move on my own, thank you very fucking much, as they both got their arms around his shoulders and lifted him up enough to move him far enough away to let them work. He let out an annoyed huff at them and tried to keep up crossing his arms as well as an irritated look but it quickly fell apart as the fatigue got to him.

Together, Meryell and Folke quickly stripped the cot of everything except for the heavy fur that Cullen kept on it and left the pile in the floor for the moment. They then replaced them and turned the covers back before they both looked back at him.

“Shall I leave or stay?” her father asked with a grin. He waggled his eyebrows when she turned to look at him and added, “Your Commander here once accused me of wanting to see him naked, you know.”

Shirtless,” exploded Cullen, slightly louder than he’d probably intended. “I was talking about being shirtless.”

“I distinctly recall you saying naked, darling,” drawled Folke before Meryell jabbed her elbow into his ribs. He coughed and hopped away from her, clutching at his side as he wheezed out a laugh. “Cocking shit, I can take a hint without the elbows, Poppet. You know I don’t actually want to see him naked.”

“No,” she replied with a smug smile, “but didn’t you always tell me that I had to protect what was mine?”

Laughing loudly in reply at that, Folke reached out to ruffle her hair fondly and dodged the fist she playfully swung at the same spot along his ribs on the opposite side. “That’s my girl!” he crowed. He then swooped over to pick up the dirty linens and darted across the tent to the still open flap at the back of the tent. “I’ll take these over to the staff while you get him all…situated. Maybe I’ll take just a little bit longer in coming back to help you get him in the cot too, just long enough for a little…well. You know.

Baba!

He waggled his eyebrows at them again before he ducked out of the tent with a cackle and Meryell rolled her eyes as she noticed that Cullen was bright red in embarrassment. As he lifted a hand to rub at the back of his neck and coughed slightly, she muttered, “I don’t even know why I put up with his shit anymore.”

Cullen coughed again and then smiled, letting his hand fall to rest in his lap as he said, “Because he’s your father.”

“Right, that pesky detail. Damn. And here I was plotting his demise for being such an utter ass.”

He laughed lightly at her sarcasm then held out a hand, only grimacing a little when he noticed how it was shaking. “Help me get changed, vhen’an?” he asked. There was still a bit of a blush in his cheeks after he posed the question and she couldn’t help it.

Smiling, Meryell took his hand and slowly moved forward, reaching out to touch his opposite shoulder as she closed the distance. “You’re certain you want me looking?” she teased lightly. “That’s an awfully strong blush for a man who’s gotten me naked multiple times now.”

If anything, that comment strengthened Cullen’s blush and she tilted her head to the side. In Skyhold up in her room, there hadn’t been half of this amount of blushing since they’d actually gone beyond the barrier of clothes to actual sex. Even in his office, where they were sometimes a little nervous of a guard wandering too close and hearing them the handful of times they’d been in there, hadn’t caused this much of a reaction.

“You’re blushing because we’re in the middle of camp,” she said softly as she realized what the issue was.

Cullen’s mouth dropped open for a moment, his eyes wide. After a moment he closed his mouth and nodded before mumbling, “Something like that.” He then let out a breath and gestured vaguely before going on, “I’ve never…you know there’s never been anyone like you for me. And certainly never like this where anyone could hear. It just…well…”

“You don’t want them to hear?” pressed Meryell.

The look he gave her in response to that was so abruptly fierce that it stole her breath and made her entire body go still. Then he growled and she shuddered, limbs quivering as he said in a low tone, “I may be slightly…jealous…of the thought of some other man hearing you while we’re together. When you’re calling out for me.”

I could catch on fire right here. Fuck, I’d screw him right here on the damned floor right now if he weren’t in the middle of a withdrawal.

“I think I like you jealous,” she managed to finally breathe. Cullen blinked at her and Meryell smiled slyly. “You get all growly and fierce. Very dominate. I like that if you hadn’t noticed.”

That started his blushing back up again and as he reached again for the back of his neck, she laughed. Leaning down, she kissed his cheek and murmured, “Enough, vhen’an. We’ll put this aside for later when you’re not sick.”

Cullen nodded vaguely and reached for the bottom of his tunic to pull it up over his head. As he did so, he suddenly peered at her and she frowned. “What?”

“We’re supposed to have our own rooms at Duke Gaspard’s, correct?” he asked curiously.

“So far as I can recall from what Josie’s told us about her communication with him, yes,” she replied as she moved over to his chest to dig out fresh clothes. As she picked up a tunic, Meryell looked back at him and asked, “Why?”

That bright blush was back again and he shyly looked at her as he ducked his head and muttered something she only just barely caught a few words of. What she did catch was enough to fully capture her interest and ask, “What was that, Cullen?”

He coughed in reply before muttering a little bit louder, “I wonder how well they’re sound proofed.”

Meryell bit her lip to cover her immediate response of Better be pretty damned fucking good and somehow managed a coy smile instead. “Well,” she drawled as she playfully batted her eyelashes at him, “I guess we’ll just have to test that ourselves, won’t we?”

As he flushed, the red travelling down his chest and arms, she tacked on, “I imagine it’ll be far better than what we get in this tent. Maybe even better than my room.” When his eyebrows went up in interest, eyes bright despite their bloodshot nature and the tiredness invading them, she smiled. “But, again, this is for later.”

Sighing, Cullen nodded and said, “All right, all right. Later.”

“Though I may think of it tonight when I’m in my own tent,” Meryell mused airily aloud as she fished through his chest for another pair of trousers. His immediate growl in response made her laugh and she straightened as she found a pair, tucking them alongside the tunic and smallclothes she’d already gathered into her free hand. “I tease, I tease.”

“You do,” he grumbled in a low growl. Then he laughed a little wearily and said, “We’ll see what comes I suppose, vhen’an. We may end up far too busy or too tired to do anything in the long run. What with stopping the possible assassination of the Empress and all.”

Meryell smiled and plucked his dirty tunic out of his hands before handing him the clean one.

“If we can’t manage to have a little fucking fun – ha! – while stopping an assassination, vhen’an, we obviously aren’t trying hard enough.”

That made him laugh and he reached up for her hand, bringing it to his mouth to kiss her knuckles again. “I’ll surrender to the thief’s greater expertise with things like foiling assassinations and other various nefarious plots,” he said warmly. “Now will the thief help me out of my pants?”

“Can you stay out of them?”

“I would if I could, love.”

“Promises, promises,” breathed Meryell before both of them broke down into laughter. She did end up helping him, of course, and by the time they were done with the last bit of lacing, Folke poked his head back in.

“Damn,” cursed the hedge mage. “I missed the show.” He then quickly went serious as he moved forward, saying, “All right, let’s get up and into the cot. Then you rest with no little bouts of play time between you two.”

Baba,” scolded Meryell, which he just waved off.

“I’ll leave you two alone after this for a while and come back later with something around lunch. That should definitely give enough time to let that last bit of possible nausea and upset fade away enough so you can hopefully eat something weak, isha’len.”

Cullen nodded in response then frowned up at the two of them and asked, “Are you two going to be able to get me back over there?”

“Well,” drawled Folke, “I would hope that your legs still work.”

Narrowing his eyes, Cullen growled, “I meant lifting me up in general. Since I’ve already tried to get up myself and wasn’t able to manage. Ass,” as Meryell giggled.

Shaking his head, her father replied, “It’s not like we have to raise you far.” He then crouched down, sliding one of Cullen’s arms across his shoulders, and then nodded to her. Meryell did the same on his other side, briefly squeezing her lover’s hand, and then they counted One, two! together as they stood up. Thankfully Cullen managed to get his feet underneath him and they hobbled over to the cot, where he immediately collapsed into it.

Folke frowned and flicked his hand in the familiar pattern that was an alarm spell similar to Gil’s, the ground underneath the cot briefly flickering with light before it quickly faded away. “On nydha,” he murmured with an easy smile before he left, briefly hugging Meryell about the shoulders.

Then they were alone in the tent and Cullen murmured, “You don’t have to stay.”

Meryell tilted her head as she looked down at him, already looking sleepy now that he was horizontal, his eyes half-lidded. She then shook her head and moved to grab the camp chair by the paper entrenched table, moving it over to where she could sit at the head of the bed.

“Seems like fair turnabout,” she said with a smile. “You sat with me while I was recovering.”

He chuckled lightly and replied, “I think you’re outnumbering me now on sitting next to sickbed instances.”

“Oh, is it a contest?” asked Meryell wryly. She then smiled and reached out to run her fingers through his hair, not caring if it was still slightly sweaty or even dirty. He groaned in response and curled up a little bit underneath the blankets in response, making a contented little noise at the end that was so very similar in the vaguest of senses to a cat’s purr.

Maybe there was more than the earlier reasons for the comparison to a lion. Though only she got to see this particular side to Cullen.

After a moment he huffed out a laugh and softly said, “You win.” Then he immediately yawned and Meryell leaned over to kiss his forehead.

“Sleep, vhen’an,” she murmured. “I’ll be here to keep watch.”

He blinked sleepily at her at that and smiled before mumbling a rather stumbling attempt at ‘ma serannas before he was abruptly and suddenly asleep. She ran her fingers through his hair for a few moments before she frowned, cursing the fact that she’d left her book behind at her tent. Having a little something to do while she was sitting would have been rather nice.

“Don’t lose again,” suddenly came Cole’s voice in her ear and Meryell jerked her head around, finding him nowhere in sight. When she looked down, however, her book was sitting in her lap.

Smiling, she called out softly, “Thank you, da’lath’in.”

Then Meryell carefully shifted around so she could sit with one hand running through Cullen’s curls and the other turning the pages in the book propped on her knee.

It wasn’t perfect given the current predicament of the man sleeping in the cot…but it was good enough.

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