“Herald of fucking Andraste,” grumbled Meryell as she rested her elbows on her knees, perched high on one of Haven’s walls. “What utter shite. All of you poor sods, scuffling in the dirt for answers ’cause you’re too piss scared to think straight. Fuck all.”
She really needed to get a message out to Folke, let him know the shit storm she’d somehow gotten herself a part of, but she couldn’t do it with that fucking redhead handling the birds. Soon as she did that, the woman would have the in she needed to start digging into her actual past. And right now she wanted her stumbling about at a loss for information more than anything. Seemed like just the sort of thing the woman needed to keep her on her toes.
And her past wasn’t the business of anyone but her own fucking self.
Snorting a laugh at the thought of the cold spymaster in a right tiff, Meryell wondered if the usual message lines would be still active in the area. Normally when they did a mission and had members of the company out on their own or in pairs, someone would come in and set up either drop points or hire some poor sod to play message boy. There had been one at the Conclave, though he was probably dead now with everyone else and her last message confirming she’d obtained two of the items on the list might or might not have made it out. What she couldn’t remember was where the next available sod might be for her to slip a message through without the fucking spymaster being the wiser.
Redcliffe was probably her best bet since it was one of the more populous places in the immediate area. Unless one had crept into Haven with the destruction of the Temple but she doubted it. If there had been one, they had probably high-tailed it back to wherever they’d come from.
Whichever way she figured out how to get a letter through, she’d go ahead and start writing it as soon as she got hold of ink and paper. She could probably swindle both out of the Ambassador all easy like without any questions asked.
Jerking at the word that had been such an annoyance days ago in that long ago seeming conversation with what’s-his-name, she leaned forward to look down the wall. Varric stood beneath her, wearing only the half-open red tunic he’d worn underneath his coat despite the chill of the weather, and waved a deck of cards in one hand. “You up for a game of Wicked Grace?” he called up to her with a grin.
“Depends on what’s at stake!” Meryell replied, rocking idly back and forth atop the wall. “I don’t play without wagers, Varric. And don’t fucking call me ‘Mystery‘.”
“Alright, I’ll think up another nickname.”
“What about my favorite word?”
She could see Varric’s eyes twinkle and he hummed loud enough that she could hear, rubbing his chin in mock thoughtfulness before shaking his head. “No, no, Fuck is a terrible nickname even if it is your favorite word.”
Oh, yes, she could get to like the dwarf. He was probably the one decent person she’d met in this whole cock-up so far.
Barking out a laugh, Meryell said, “Fine, fine. But I have to approve the nickname.”
“I could just call you Merry…”
“And I’ll stab you in the kidney, dwarf.”
Varric held up his hands in defeat then waggled the deck of cards at her again. “Stakes are drinks in the tavern,” he said, finally answering her first comment to the question of playing. “Just us playing though.”
Grinning, Meryell turned and descended the wall, her fingers and bare toes easily finding again the little ledges of the stone that had allowed her to scale it in the first place. As she dropped to the ground, she commented, “That’s ’cause no one else around here seems to have a fucking fun bone in their body.”
He just shrugged then looked down at her feet and she wiggled her toes against the cold ground in response. Varric then shook his head, saying, “You and Chuckles are mad to walk around without shoes on in this weather.”
“Chuckles?” she queried.
She just frowned at him and tilted her head slightly to the side, the name not ringing a bell in her memory. Varric blinked at her then gestured at her left hand as he commented, “The elf that kept that thing from killing you?”
“Oh!” Meryell then burst out into full-on belly laugh before she leaned towards him to say, “I didn’t ever make note of it. His smarmy know-it-all act knocked his name right out my fucking brain ’cause I don’t deal with that shit. I’ve just been calling him what’s-his-name in my head but Chuckles is so much better.”
She then leaned against the wall and lifted one leg, bracing her shin above her other knee to show him the hard calloused soles of her feet. “And to answer your comment,” she noted with a wry smile, “I broke my feet in to major shit years ago. Not always enough money in the alienage for fucking shoes.”
Varric nodded at that – though there was that little tightness around his eyes that most folks had when she made a comment about how shite alienage life really was sometimes – then he grinned. “You can use it if you want. Seems like you get under his skin far more than anyone else around here.”
“I call assholes on their bullshit. S’part of my charm.”
“It’s part of your something, sweetheart, but I don’t know if it’s charm,” he replied as he gestured towards the tavern.
Meryell gasped theatrically and grabbed mockingly at her chest as they started walking in that direction. “You wound me, Varric! For that I’ll have to take everything of yours in this game.”
He laughed at that and grinned at her, saying, “You can try.”
Two hours later Meryell was victoriously perched on a barrel outside of Haven in the soldier’s encampment, her blood humming with all the Ferelden ale she’d consumed and Varric’s shirt draped voluminously about her shoulders. She laughed as she kicked her bare heels against the wood then lifted the bottle that she’d acquired while the barmaid had her back turned to her lips. Playing Wicked Grace with Varric and having the soldiers in the tavern egg them on had made her feel considerably more at home at Haven than she had only hours before.
Cassandra and the spymaster and the rest of that lot, they weren’t like her. They were all so damned other, like the humans in the higher parts of South Reach growing up. Varric and those soldiers, those were her people.
It made her feel like she was back with the company, if only for a moment.
Suddenly melancholy at that thought, Meryell lowered the bottle and wrapped both hands around it. As she tapped her fingernails idly against the glass, she became aware of a shape moving towards her out of the dark and narrowed her eyes to try and make out who it was. Even with all of the alcohol in her, her eyes were still plenty sharp.
She caught a tall silhouette, the glint of armor via the light of one of the nearby dying fires, and then the billowing ruff of fur. The Commander. There wasn’t any other person in Haven that wore fur that boldly.
“Evenin’, Commander,” she called out gaily, laughing lightly when he jumped and his hand went to the sword at his hip. Man always at the ready, even when he didn’t have to be. Spoke well of the way he handled himself and his men, to her. “S’only little ole me.”
She couldn’t see him blink in the dark but was certain he did in the instant before he quietly asked, “Herald?”
Snorting, Meryell lifted her right hand with the bottle still clutched in it to gesture towards him. “No,” she snapped sternly, “none of that shite. I’m not no fucking saviour.”
There was silence for a moment then the Commander chuckled, a low, rusty sort of sound that made her think of the oldest hands in the company who’d seen too much battle for any sane man but kept on fighting. “Our men,” he intoned in a gentle voice, “would argue with you on that, I dare say.” She saw him tilt his head then, dying light catching the blonde of his hair. “M’lady?”
“That’s ’cause soldiers need a thing to fight for in a fucking cock-up of a battle like this,” she said sternly in response. “Been around ’em since I was ten and five so I know how they work. They can view me like that if it gives ’em peace but ain’t fucking having that shite from you lot. You all know better than to look at me like that.” Meryell then grimaced and replied to his query of the title, “Fuck no.”
“Is that were you learned how to cuss better than some of my men?” he asked and she could feel the amusement oozing out of him.
Laughing, she replied, “Knew how to cuss before I was out of fucking swaddling cloths, Commander. South Reach’s alienage is a piss pot mess.” She then cocked her head up at him, felt her eyes swim, and closed them as she waved the bottle in his direction. “Sit fucking down. Yer too damned tall and I’m sloppy.”
A leather gloved hand closed over hers abruptly, the material chilled from the weather but she could feel the warmth blazing underneath despite it. Man was a fucking furnace. She glared at him at the touch and he inclined his head slightly before saying kindly, “In that case, shouldn’t you be abed?”
“Ain’t done with the night yet,” replied Meryell with her toothiest grin. She slapped her free hand down on the barrel next to her and continued, “Sit! Need to sober up before I do shit.”
“I dare say this will not help,” he pointed out as he squeezed her fingers lightly around the neck of the bottle. The Commander then released her hand and settled onto the barrel next to her with a smile as he added, “Though I think if I tried to take it from you, I’d have a knife somewhere I didn’t want it.”
She flashed another grin at him and lifted the bottle to her lips. “Thigh,” she said as she lowered it. “Easiest place from my height.”
“Contemplating my demise already, Her…m’la…sorry.”
Taking a little pity on the man since he had been nice enough since she’d woken up in Haven – he’d even showed a little smirk when she’d said a jab at Cassandra and the spymaster’s expense during one of their little meetings – she said, “Meryell. Never Merry. I will fucking knife you for sure then.”
“Meryell,” he said and she couldn’t help the little shiver that ran up her spine in response. Maker’s balls, if she weren’t sloppy drunk and trying to get out of this whole cock-up as fast as she could, she’d probably try to coax him back to her cabin for a bit of fun. Then again, the Commander didn’t seem like the sort for a simple roll in the hay.
He’d tried calling her m’lady for fuck’s sake. That was a gentleman if anything.
And gentlemen didn’t fuck rude knife-eared girls from alienages.
His voice saying something brought her out of her thoughts and she focused on it enough to catch the end of him saying, “…ou should call me Cullen.”
“Cullen,” repeated Meryell, letting the syllables roll off her tongue slowly. Good name. Good man. She’d actually deign to remember his for good reasons.
He nodded then said, “May I ask a question, Meryell?”
“Am I under orders to answer, Cullen?” she shot back with a wicked smile.
He blushed – fucking blushed – before answering, “You aren’t under my command so no. The…ah…conditions of answering are up to the discretion of the lady.” His eyes gleamed a little wickedly in the dark as he added, “Should we find a lady somewhere about, of course.”
Meryell felt a grin – a true, honest grin – stretching her mouth and she leaned towards him to purr, “Oh, I could like you, Cullen. Varric was totally wrong when he said you had no sense of humor.” She then straightened and gave a mocking half bow towards him, just low enough to count but not enough to make her head start to spin. “Ask your question, good sir.”
Cullen smiled and leaned back against Haven’s outer wall before asking, “I wasn’t told much about you other than the fact that you weren’t actually Dalish as Leliana had first thought. Can I inquire as to the truth?”
“Question for a question!” she crowed as she jabbed a finger at his upper arm, her fingernail catching the very edge of the spaulder that covered most of that area. Smiling up at him, she said in a softer tone, “Seems only fair.”
“I’m probably going to regret this but…agreed.”
Well. She hadn’t honestly expected him to take her up on the offer.
Shaking her head, Meryell said, “Well then. In answer to your question, the truth is fucking complicated. And I ain’t telling the whole of it ’cause I don’t want anybody mucking about in my past, ‘specially not that woman.”
“Your secrets remain your own with me, Meryell.”
She blinked at him, more than a little surprised by the honesty in his voice because she was perfectly used to people like the spymaster, who used secrets to get things done. Fuck, she’d been that person once or twice. Anyone in her world that normally told her they’d keep her secrets, was lying in order to get them for a future backstab.
The Commander wasn’t a part of that world though. Didn’t mean she was going to spill everything.
“Thank you,” she softly said before lifting the bottle to her lips. Then she let out a slow breath and said, “South Reach was home once. Years ago, before…well, before lots of things went to shit.”
“Before you were ten and five?” he queried gently.
“Was in a gang then. Did some odd jobs for a mercenary company pulling some shite around the Arling,” Meryell continued even as she nodded in confirmation to his query. “Got some of their people out of a right fucking mess and then got an invitation. Wasn’t anything left for me there ‘cept alienage life and possibly ending up in a noose ’cause of my choices. So I joined ’em and a job led me here.”
Cullen blinked and shifted slightly as he asked, “You were at the Conclave for a job? What..” He then paused as she smiled at him and laughed, sheepishly lifted a hand to rub at the back of his neck. “My apologies. It’s your turn for a question, isn’t it?”
“Technically you’re ahead two because of that ‘ten and five’ question but I’ll give you a pass for now,” she said with a wink. Laughing, Meryell asked, “Since we’re going with origin stories, how’d you get here, Cullen?”
“Ah. Well. I was born in Honnleath, it’s southeast of here just a little more than six days of riding at a decent pace. At least it was years ago, that all may have changed since the Blight.” He paused, brow furrowed slightly, then shook his head. “I wanted to be a Templar from very young, wanted to help people, and I was taken into formal training at thirteen. After that…well. Suffice to say that I’ve served at two Circles and neither turned out to be what I thought they would. Cassandra recruited me from Kirkwall a few months ago and after everything that had happened I felt that it was the better course to help people than to remain with the Order.”
Andraste’s flaming tits, good as a word didn’t cover the man.
She had no chance of coaxing him into bed. None.
Shaking her head, she said, “I wasn’t aware that Templars could just leave the Order. Thought the Chantry assholes kept a pretty tight leash on their dogs. No offense meant.”
“None taken,” he replied with a tight smile. “I’m well aware of how the Order is viewed, especially now since a large portion has broken with the Chantry, as well as our own…their…abuses of authority.”
Suddenly feeling starkly more sober than she had only a few minutes ago, Meryell flicked her eyes down to the vambraces he wore on his arms that were currently resting on his thighs. He noticed her gaze and turned them slightly, revealing the Sword of Mercy stamped into the steel, before chuckling.
“A reminder,” Cullen intoned in a low voice. She decided to let it lie. Folke had always said that she didn’t know when to stop pushing for answers but she certainly did. It was just that most of the time she didn’t fucking care enough to stop.
“We were hired to retrieve a list of items,” she said, changing the subject and answering his second question. “Mostly rare books kept in the Temple’s library but also magical items that were supposed to have been brought by several of those attending..”
“So,” he said slowly, “you’re a thief.”
Meryell shrugged at that and replied, “When a job calls for it. I’m not fucking ashamed of what I am, Cullen. There are some shitty company’s out there but not mine. We never take jobs just to do harm, never shed blood unless it is absolutely necessary, and never harm innocents. So if you’ve got something against that go ahead and fucking say it.”
“I just…what…Maker’s breath, that’s not what I meant at all, Meryell!” exclaimed Cullen breathlessly. “I don’t…Maker.” She watched him, eyes narrowed, as he bit his lip nervously before he finally seemed to steady. “I’m just trying to understand you. Not judge.”
She just stared at him, more than a little ashamed that her sudden burst of anger had gotten away from her and now sat in a heavy, choking knot in the center of her chest. Usually when people said thief it meant they thought the worst of her and the company. And she had to defend them against that sort of shit. They were her family, the only family she had left.
“I,” she began then stopped as the heavy height of the shame threatened to choke her. After a moment she wrenched control back and whispered, “I’m sorry, Cullen. I’m not…fuck, I’m not used to people being nice.”
He nodded slowly and after a moment said softly, “Tell me about them.”
Meryell choked on a laugh because how could she tell such a good man about the former murderers and thieves and really bad (but still somehow good) men and women that were all she had in the whole of Thedas? Then she remembered the bottle in her hand and drained the rest of it, bringing back the burn of the alcohol in her blood, before she let the now empty container slip from her fingers to the ground. A moment later the stories were tripping from her lips and he listened, really listened, and the hours slipped away from her until she was stone cold fucking sober and dawn was creeping over the horizon.
“Oh Maker’s soggy asshole,” she groaned as she realized the time. Then she shifted slightly on the barrel and whined at the pins and needles that lanced through the whole of her lower half. “Fuck. I can’t feel my ass.”
Cullen laughed despite the fact that he seemed to be in the very same predicament as her and she got caught up in the sound, an honest dorky little bray of a laugh that made her want to join in almost immediately. Maybe it was how tired she was or the fact that he listened or just being able to get a little of the stress of being away from the company off her chest by talking about them but she gave in. They ended up collapsing against each other, giggling like a pair of fools, and she was certain she saw a pair of soldiers doing a morning patrol looking at them like they were mad.
Finally they managed to get a hold of themselves and shakily stood, working out the stiff muscles of their bodies. She shivered in the chill of the morning air after a moment and pulled Varric’s shirt a little more tightly about herself, which wasn’t hard as the dwarf was more than twice as broad as she was. The shirt itself just wasn’t all that thick of fabric and even doubling it up didn’t help stave off the cold.
“Well,” she heard Cullen say and focused her attention on him, narrowing her eyes at his somehow sunny grin. “Would the thief do me the honor of allowing me to escort her back to her cabin?”
Meryell blinked at him then found her own mouth stretching to match that grin. It was the question of a gentleman, to be uttered towards a lady, but he said it to her and he called her thief.
“Not sure just how much of an honor it is,” she replied, “but the thief will allow it.”
His smile seemed to widen as he offered his arm and she willingly locked her arm into his – mostly because otherwise she might fall down. And partly because fuck she wanted to. She could at least appreciate him even if she could never coax him into her bed.
As they walked slowly through Haven in the light of dawn, he bent his head just enough and whispered in the very tip of her ear, “It is enough of an honor for me.” She felt her ears twitch in response, felt molten heat jolt to life between her thighs, and very nearly said fuck propriety and fuck decency too. All she wanted was to drag him into that cabin and ride him until their thighs were raw and their breath coming in hard gasps that dispelled all efforts at talking.
She needed to fuck something now, even if it was her own bloody fingers.
Biting her lip, Meryell somehow managed to say a decent goodbye to the man and threw the bolt once she was inside her cabin. She stripped in record time and flung herself into bed, the fingers of her right hand already sliding inside her wet cunt before she was even entirely under the covers. All it took was a few thrusts and the thought of him above her with all the weight of his heavier human form bearing down on her, of his breath ghosting along the shell of her ear, of his face buried between the crux of her thighs, and she was writhing in orgasm. It was fucking bliss for a matter of moments.
Then reality came crashing back down as she lay panting in the aftermath.
No one wanted a dirty alienage whelp like her for a partner. Maybe for the occasional tumble but never for more than that. She never expected more, never sought it, because it was surely never to be.
No one wanted a knife-eared bitch.
Meryell closed her eyes against the thoughts, refusing to acknowledge the tears pricking at the corners of her eyes, and curled up underneath the covers to try and get some sleep without thinking about good men who didn’t deserve to be dragged down into the muck with her.