“Hey, Yeller, wanna celebrate making it out of Haven? For old times sake?”
Cullen frowned, turning away from observing his lieutenants working recruits in the training yard, as he heard the shout from Skyhold’s upper courtyard. He didn’t register it’s target until a moment later when Meryell snapped back at the man.
“I’d rather suck bronto dick , Camden! And you’re almost five fucking months late to celebrate anything involving Haven, masvian !”
“Oh come on , Yeller. We had fun didn’t we? Certainly seemed like you were when you were riding my cock years back.”
As his ears burned because they were having this conversation in front of the whole Inquisition, Cullen angrily ignored the few pitying looks being directed towards him. Did they suddenly think that just because she’d been with another man years ago meant that whatever they had was squandered? Or that Meryell was going to just up and give in ?
He didn’t particularly care who was in her past nor did he think she cared about his. The most important people to each of them right now was each other.
“ Years?! ” he heard Meryell snarl then. “Try a decade , Camden. I wouldn’t touch your cock now with a fucking polearm. Then again I might not be able to find that miserable excuse of a thing even if I tried to cut it off with my belt knife .”
“You think you can talk to me like that just because you’re suddenly some big shot ? Just ‘cause you got a worthless title? Or ‘cause you’re fucking the Commander? I remember you when you was nothing , Yeller. Just some scared, angry little shit of a knife-ear that Folke brought back for us to play with.”
Now that was more than enough.
Turning to his closest runner, Cullen growled, “Get down to the lower camps, take my horse if Dennet won’t loan you anything else. Find Captain Arnald and Folke and tell them I need their presence in the upper courtyard immediately. Got that?”
“Ser!” replied the runner, snapping off a sharp salute as he took off running towards the stable. Cullen didn’t pay the young man any mind after that, as he was already jogging up the stairs from the lower yard, jaw set hard in preparation for what he would find. As he peaked the top of the stairs, he found Sera leaning against the wall underneath the arch of the keep’s main stairs.
The little elf blew a raspberry at him before asking, “Come to rescue your lady love, jackboot?”
“Come to do something ,” he growled in response, not even slowing as he continued on past her. He stepped out into the upper courtyard from under the stairs and narrowed his eyes at the utter spectacle that it had become since the shouting had started. Anyone who’d been in the yard had fled to the outer parts of it, away from the two figures standing directly in front of the armory. From the tavern and the upper floors of the armory and parts of the keep, however, windows had been thrown wide and were crammed with curious faces.
The Iron Bull stood with his over-sized mug in hand by the door of the tavern, Krem and another Charger he didn’t recognize (an elf with what looked like a bow on her back), just seemingly watching the show. One glance around, however, revealed that there were the familiar faces of several Chargers that he did recognize amongst the crowd, as well as a few Fangs now that he actually looked. Cullen couldn’t help but silently applaud the Bull’s good sense at that move because he’d surely ordered his men into the crowd given that a few of the faces he knew were spaced evenly apart.
Cassandra was also present but she was practically in the middle of the action herself. She was standing not all that far away from Meryell and Camden, a short enough distance that she could easily run him through with the naked sword in her hand. Furious didn’t quite describe the expression on her face and Cullen was certain that his own probably echoed hers. He pitied their training dummies later.
He flicked his eyes over Meryell to assess her state other than pissed off and found the answer to be fine . As he started to turn his attention to the man that she was snarling something to that he couldn’t hear, a voice drawled from behind and above him, “Well, well…look what the Twins dragged in.”
Resisting the urge to roll his eyes skyward, he grumbled, “Hello, Hawke. Come to watch the show?”
“Actually the show came to me. I was just sitting here with the kid before everything got entertaining when that blowhard there starting shoving his boot down his throat.”
He turned to look at her at that and found Hawke sitting on the lower tier of the stairs, one leg hanging over the side while she had the other up where she could prop an elbow on it. Varric was seated next to her on the stairs and he seemed to have taken over entertaining Mathis as the boy was draped over the dwarf’s broad shoulders to look at what he was writing on a board propped against his thigh.
Oh Maker only knew what new ideas this was giving the dwarf.
“So,” Hawke drawled with a smile, “I hear tell that you’re moving up in the world, Curly.”
“How is that?” asked Cullen distractedly as he turned his attention back towards the center of the yard. Camden was saying something now, his voice low enough that it didn’t carry over the sound of the crowd. Part of him wanted to step in and break this up now before it turned into even more of a circus than it already was but another wanted to give Folke and Arnald enough time to make it up from the camp to witness what was going on.
“Varric tells me you’re fucking the Inquisitor.”
Instantly his whole neck heated up with embarrassment and as he started to open his mouth to protest that, Sera said from next to him, “Oh, they ain’t fucking yet. Maybe playing ‘round beneath the sheets but Cully’s still to wound up to have gotten some.”
He just clenched his jaw because how could they be having with conversation when that bastard had just called Meryell that slur. He then heard Hawke belt out one of those raucous laughs of hers before saying, “Oh, sweet, I think I like you.” Instead of focusing on them, he started to press forward into the crowd and dimly registered that the two women were following him by a sharp Cully Wully, where ya going and the sound of Hawke’s boots hitting the ground as she huffed out Fuck all, Curly.
The pair squared off in the center of the yard were still snarling at each other, Meryell spitting something out that he couldn’t hear clearly over the murmurings of the crowd around him. He noted that her eyes were narrowed into hard slits and her ears were twitching in time with the angry shaking of her clenched fists at her side. Cullen then turned his eyes to the man himself again, who was sneering down at the elf in a way that made a prickle of fear flare up his spine.
It was so similar to the way some of the templars under Meredith had looked at the mages. Looks he’d once ignored for a variety of reasons over the years in Kirkwall.
As his stomach wrenched sickly, he mechanically noted that Camden was broad-shouldered but he was a wiry sort of man with only the vaguest hint of musculature. Definitely not one that regularly held sword and shield or had spent the last eleven years wearing heavy plate like Cullen had. A second-line fighting sort like Meryell then, at least, the sort that struck from either behind the heavy lines or in the cover of shadow. He was also taller than Meryell by about the same average as Cullen was with wiry brown hair that looked like it was starting to go sparse early around the crown.
For some reason he had the brief, ridiculous thought of I could take him when Camden abruptly spat loudly, “Looks like your new toy came to save you , princess.” It took a moment to realize that he was the toy in that sentence and Cullen immediately fixed the other man with a hard stare as his hand reflexively closed around the hilt of his sword. He started to take a step forward and push forward through the last of the crowd that separated him from the open circle when he felt hands latch onto each of his arms.
“Ya think Quiz can’t put a shithead like that in his place, Cully?” questioned Sera from his right.
At the same time, Hawke gripped his left bracer tight and hissed, “Let her handle this, Curly.”
Out of the two of them he chose to turn and glare at Hawke, initially judging the woman’s abrupt jump when he did to be in reaction to how he looked as a reminder to the early days of Kirkwall. Instead her next words floored him.
“Andraste’s knicker weasels,” Hawke breathed, “you love her .”
Flinching back like he’d been shocked, Cullen started to hiss, “I…”
“ Curly ,” hissed Hawke. “No man looks that furious unless it’s his sister, mother, or the woman he loves in trouble. And I’m pretty damned sure she isn’t either of the first two.”
Pressing his lips shut, he just stared down at Hawke in silent reply. She was right, he loved her. He’d as good as admitted it several times without using the actual word. Had almost feared using it.
There had been that moment during his talk with Arnald when he’d thought about that he loved her but wasn’t entirely certain it was the romantic sort, the kind that lasted forever, that he was certain his parents had had before the Blight had taken their lives. Being directly confronted with it made him look at it again, however. Made him think of how she made him feel, of how he had been certain he wouldn’t have been whole without her. How the thought of losing her, accidentally or through his own actions, had made him almost physically ill.
Oh Maker, he loved her .
“Then why should I let her handle this alone?” he finally growled when he found his voice again.
Hawke just smirked back up at him in reply.
“Because a wise man knows when to pick the right battles to fight for his lady,” she said with a wise air that the apostate hadn’t had the last time they’d actually had a normal conversation. Then she smirked as she looked over his shoulder and added, “And I think she’s more than equipped to handle that jackass.”
As if her comment summoned the heavy sound of a body hitting the hard-packed dirt of the upper courtyard that was followed by a short shriek of pain, Cullen turned back around. Camden was now face down on the ground, his right arm wrenched backwards at a painful angle while his left was pinned under Meryell’s knee. She crouched on the man’s back with her other knee pressed against the small of his back right up against his spine. Her teeth were bared as she bent low to bear all of her weight down on that spot. He took another step forward, Hawke and Sera’s hands falling away from his arm, as he realized from the angered looks on the faces of the crowd that she hadn’t been the one to instigate whatever he’d missed in that instant.
“You don’t fucking touch me ,” she snarled, her voice carrying through the air despite her speaking at a normal volume thanks to the silence that had fallen across the crowd. “And I don’t need saving from fuckwhat by nobody .”
Camden grunted into the ground in response and replied in a pained voice, “Didn’t look like that when your new toy carried you in from that pisser of a fight at Haven. Though you’re right, Yeller. You never wantedsaving and you always did fine fucking things up on your own. Bet old Vard went down cursing your name from the shit you brought down on us.”
Meryell’s face went white at that and she jerked upright so her weight was no longer centered on the man’s back but instead was now focused more towards his hips. That gave him more leverage to move and Camden used it to twist his upper body up and around, throwing her off of him. He started to lunge after her where she sat stunned on the ground but Cullen was quicker than him or even Cassandra, who had started to move forward as well.
In three long steps, he crossed the space between the edge of the crowd and where they were. He drew his sword at the start of the second and had it fully extended by the time he planted his feet in front of Meryell at the end of the third. His sharp “ Hold! ” snapped through the air as luckily (or unluckily depending upon how one looked at it) Camden had the capability to stop himself from being skewered on the point of his sword, though the tip of the blade did dig into his shoulder right at the joint enough to bring blood welling to the surface.
“You will hold,” growled Cullen, glaring down at the man. It had been bad enough when Camden had called her that damnable slur. To lay Harvard’s death and the twenty six other members of the Fangs who had died at Haven at her feet, as if she had summoned Corypheus herself to do the deed…that was unforgivable . Particularly from someone who was supposed to be a part of that family. And, not to mention, the secondary thing that had driven him forward.
He had attacked the Inquisitor.
This was no longer Cullen stepping in to protect the woman he loved.
This was the Inquisition’s Commander stepping in to protect the Inquisitor.
“You going to protect her, pretty boy?” sneered Camden as he pulled back with a little grunt, slapping a hand over the wound in his shoulder as the tip of the blade slid free. He jerked his chin past Cullen where Meryell must be, though he didn’t dare turn his head to follow the motion. One of the main rules of combat he’d been taught was never take eyes off your opponent, whether they be templar or mage, and he wasn’t about to start changing that now. “She ain’t worth it. Just another knife-eared slut who thinks they’re better than us shamlen.”
His blood boiled at the fresh insult and if he didn’t have as much control over himself as he did, Cullen would have run him through then and there. This prick wasn’t worthy of a quick end, though.
“Gustav!” he barked instead, dragging his eyes away from Camden just long enough to register that there were two Inquisition soldiers in close range. “Morgan!” The two men obeyed his unspoken order without even a pause, stepping forward to grab the crouching man’s shoulders. Camden immediately sneered and tipped his chin up before letting out a harsh laugh.
“I’m not Inquisition ,” he sneered. “You can’t do shit to me.”
Cullen scowled at that and leaned down to say firmly, “I’m not certain where you came under that impression but the Fangs of Vimmark were hired by the Inquisition. You are officially working for coin on the paperwork, which I know full well managed to make it out of Haven in the hands of Lady Josephine. And, as the Inquisition’s Commander, it is fully within my rights to keep order within any holding of the Inquisition as I see fit. ”
“Load of fucking crock !”
As soon as the last word was out of the other man’s mouth, Cullen heard two sets of boots finish pounding up the last of the stairs and Folke’s voice bellowed out, “ Fangs, stand down! Captain’s on the field!” Instantly, every member of the company that he could see scattered throughout the crowd dropped to a knee as Arnald stopped in a wide-legged stance at the top of the stairs. The Captain was breathing hard, his chest heaving underneath the battered training leathers he wore, a sure sign that he’d been dragged away from some sort of practice maneuvers down in their encampment. Folke had obviously recovered faster or had taken the run better but he seemed far closer to teetering off the edge given that the sleeves of his coat and shirt sleeves underneath were both rolled up to the elbow to make way for the flames that engulfed his hands to the wrist.
Cullen took a step back then, trusting that Gustav and Morgan had Camden under control, and lifted his sword as he spun in a slow circle around the area. “All of you!” he shouted, absently taking in the fact that Cassandra had gotten Meryell to her feet and ushered her off to the side near the stairs, where Sera and Hawke had set themselves down as a living wall of steely-eyed fury between them and everyone else. “Clear the courtyard! Get back to your stations and lives, this matter is under control.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Bull give a sharp gesture and the Chargers amongst the crowd melted away with them as they began to slowly disperse. A respectful move, he knew, from one leader of a mercenary company to another, now that Arnald was on the field to have his men at hand. The big Qunari lifted his tankard in a salute toward Cullen and he returned the gesture with a sharp nod of his head as Bull retreated into the tavern before pointing his sword at the bright faces crammed in the tavern windows.
“And I want those windows shut !”
Shutters instantly snapped closed in response to his shout and Cullen turned back to face Arnald with a scowl.
“Captain,” he growled.
“Commander,” replied the older man sternly. Nothing in his face was of the man Cullen had met in every other instance. There was no easy amusement here, no turn into amicable conversation or quiet drinks in a tent. No, this was the iron-handed Captain of the Fangs of Vimmark that Leliana had found information on. “Are you arresting my man?”
Cullen brought his sword down to hang even with his leg, unthreatening but ready if need be, and replied, “Were it only his words at fault, Captain, I would give him over to the law of the company. However , he physically assaulted the Inquisitor and attempted to do it a second time after knocking her prone.”
Arnald’s eyebrows went up very briefly in mild surprise behind his mask but the expression was there and gone in an instant. He turned his head to look at Camden – still under the combined grip of Cullen’s men, though he’d now shifted to a knee himself – then shifted around to look at Meryell, who still looked pale and more than a little jittery. The man’s eyes narrowed and he asked, “What exactly happened?”
“I wasn’t here for the whole of it,” replied Cullen honestly, biting his tongue on every foul thing he wanted to say about Camden’s words. He then tipped his head in a half circle towards some of the kneeling Fangs before saying, “Some of your men, Seeker Cassandra, or Hawke could give you a better impression of things than I. At least for the first part of the incident.”
“Seeker Cassandra then.”
“ What? ” exploded Camden, causing both of them to turn and stare hard at him for the interruption. The man started to try to rise but Gustav and Morgan held tight to him, forcing him back down hard enough that he grunted in pain. “She’s Inquisition, Captain! She licks the ground that bitch walks on! You really think she’s going to give you a fair answer?”
“I think, boy ,” Arnald replied in a clipped, hard tone that carried as much cold in it as the avalanche that had swallowed Haven, “that you should actually heed good sense and shut that fucking hole in your face before it gets you into more trouble.”
Camden’s eyes bulged in response as he shouted, “You can’t listen to ‘em, Captain! They’re gonna lie … furrrrk! ” He was cut off abruptly as Folke took a set of shuffling steps forward, his teeth bared in an expression that Cullen could only compare to a death’s head smile, and kicked the younger man squarely in the crotch. As Camden slowly sagged with a groan as the only thing keeping him upright now were the two soldiers holding him up, the hedge mage took a step back to aim another kick at him.
“Folke!” barked Arnald. “ Enough! ”
“Captain,” growled the mage but the older man cut him off with a dark glare. Folke huffed out an annoyed breath and took a pair of long steps away from Camden in response instead, but didn’t turn his attention away from him. And the flames licking around his hands hungrily didn’t dissipate one inch.
The hum of magic itched in the back of Cullen’s mind but he focused past it, calling out Cassandra’s name before things could go anymore off the rails than they already were. She jerked her head around towards him, her dark eyes narrowed and fierce with a protectiveness he didn’t think he’d ever seen from her. As he tilted his head to indicate she join them, she said something softly to Meryell, who replied in kind, before looping her arm protectively around the elf’s waist. They stepped forward together and Sera and Hawke fell into step behind them as if they belonged there.
“Commander,” greeted Cassandra as they stopped in front of them, planting herself directly on a line between Meryell and Camden, “Captain. How may I aid you?”
Arnald frowned and gestured briefly in a vague manner with his hands as he replied, “You can aid myself and the Commander in filling us in on exactly what went on before either of us arrived on the field. As a Seeker of Truth, your word is perhaps the most trusted here.”
The dark-haired woman turning a burning gaze towards Camden, who was still slumped over in pain, silently reminding them of the man’s statements – particularly the one he’d made about her only a moment ago. “I don’t control what my men say, Seeker,” Arnald began. “Fully admit to being aware that my man there is an asshole…but he’s the company’s asshole.” The Captain narrowed his eyes behind his mask as he finished, “So I’d like to know what he said as to know when he crossed the line.”
Cassandra blinked slowly in return before giving a slight bob of her head. Cullen let out a breath he hadn’t been aware he’d been holding then and shifted half of his attention to Meryell. She was just standing there silently, her head bowed so the long locks her hair had grown into fell over her face, hiding her expression from him. He could read her body language though, the folded arms, sloped shoulders, bowed head, and the way her hip was locked against Cassandra’s said everything that she didn’t.
Cullen wanted nothing more in than moment than to pick her up and take her away from all of this nonsense. Or, even better, to turn back time and step in before Camden had made that damnable comment that had hit her so hard. He couldn’t though, not now, not when Camden had laid hands on her and had the intent to do Maker only knew what.
Even if he’d never known an inkling of caring for her, he would not have let someone handling the Inquisitor like that stand.
Cassandra slowly laid out the scene that preceded what he had heard from the lower yard. She and Meryell had been merely walking across the yard, discussing a new novel that Cassandra blushed at the mention of (he wasn’t certain he wanted to know what that was about). They had been doing nothing but minding their own business when Camden, sitting amongst a group of Fangs in front of the armory, had shouted out that first sentence at Meryell. Cassandra quoted it in a clipped, angry tone then relayed Meryell’s reaction.
Shock. Disgust. Anger.
She went on that she herself hadn’t realized what Camden’s initial comment had been eluding to until Meryell had shouted back at him. The shouting had attracted the crowd, including the Bull and his Chargers and any Fangs in the keep, but she hadn’t drawn her sword until Camden’s last comment before Cullen had started up the stairs. Cassandra had apparently drawn her blade as soon as the man’s first words were out but Meryell had given her a signal to stand down, that she had it under control. And she had trusted that and stepped back.
“That,” finished the warrior, “is when the Commander arrived on the field.”
Arnald nodded slightly in acknowledgment, his expression like stone, and flicked his fingers in a little go on gesture. Cassandra turned to look at him but Cullen just shrugged.
“I couldn’t hear what was said after they stopped shouting,” he explained and frowned when Cassandra’s expression turned somehow darker.
“Perhaps that was for the best at the time,” she intoned sternly as she squeezed Meryell’s waist lightly. “Shall I say?” asked Cassandra, her voice gentling as she turned her head towards the younger woman.
Meryell shook her head in response, finally lifting it a moment later. The guilt in her eyes hammered into Cullen with the force of the Bull’s war maul and knocked the air out of his chest just as neatly as that beast of a weapon had once. In all of their talks, he’d never come to the impression that she actually might blame herself a little for the deaths of those they’d lost in Haven.
Suddenly he regretted his sword not digging deeper into the man’s shoulder.
“No,” Meryell replied firmly. She straightened up then and looked at the back of Folke’s head as she said, “He made the comment about me being some fucking big shot and I promptly reminded him that we hadn’t had anything in ten years, so me suddenly getting a shitpiss of a title hadn’t been what prompted me refusing his cock. Then he made the bright comment that he should have done a better job at taming me when he had the chance. If he had, maybe I wouldn’t be such a fucking bitch and would actually give him what he was due.”
There was a long silence in response to that then Folke twisted his heel viciously into the dirt while the presence of his magic grew heavy and thick on the air, Sera reached for a bow and arrow that weren’t at her side with a scowl, Hawke made an angry hissing noise while glaring at Camden, and Arnald stood still as stone in silence in a way that was terrifying.
Cullen stared at Camden for a long moment after that before sheathing his sword lest he do something well and truly foolish with it. Though taking Camden’s head seemed more and more like a prospect thateveryone could agree on.
After a moment the Captain cleared his throat and asked in a low voice, “The first attack, girl?”
“Deflected,” replied Meryell flatly.
“But he reached first.”
Cassandra nodded sharply and answered, “He made an attempt to grab her with the comment Perhaps I can teach you your place now. ”
“Let me shoot ‘em full of arrows, Quiz!” piped Sera, her voice as vicious and wild as the gleam in her eyes. “It’s the least this shithead deserves!”
Meryell just shook her head in response and the younger elf spat a curse, stomping in a circle before she stormed back towards the stairs to sit down with an angry huff of breath. Cullen eyed her for a moment before he said, “Meryell.” When she just barely shifted her head towards him, her eyes still focused on Folke, he intoned seriously, “This isn’t a company matter. It can’t just disappear. Too many saw him reach for you and you put him down. They heard his words and saw him throw you then try to get at you again before I stepped in.”
“Assault on the Inquisitor,” she said softly, her voice barely more than a whisper. When he just nodded, she bowed her head again and asked, “As my advisor, what is your recommendation, Commander?”
Not Cullen .
It was a reminder that this was not a decision to make as the man who cared for her but as the man who advised her and kept what were now her forces at strength. He was learning how to make that step in the war room after his talk with Arnald, learning how to be one person there and another elsewhere. And vengeance for wrongs done to her as Inquisitor, he reminded himself, were the solely hers to mete out by her hands and order alone.
Gripping the hilt of his sword, Cullen inclined his head slightly and replied, “I would advise, Inquisitor, that he be taken into custody and held. Let him cool his heels in the cells over the course of your trip to Crestwood and make a decision upon his fate when you return from Val Royeaux.” He then turned his attention to Arnald, who was nodding in agreement, and added, “And I would ask if the Captain of his company would strip him of his commission.”
Meryell started to open her mouth but Arnald beat her to it, saying quickly, “ Done , Commander. You are correct that this is far beyond anything we could handle within the bounds of the company and I won’t have the Inquisition thinking that we’d attack one of our own. I’ll have his badge before we return to camp.”
“Captain,” breathed Meryell, her ears drooping slightly in a way that Cullen had never seen before. “I’m sor…”
The older man whipped his hand up, palm extended towards her in a gesture of stop , and as her voice trailed off, he said, “I won’t hear it, my girl, not one word of that. You protected him enough a decade ago when he deserved to get what he got for his deeds against you.” He then snapped into a Ferelden salute, one hand clasped over his heart, and bowed just slightly towards her. “The Fangs of Vimmark serve the Inquisition and will do so until we or it deems that our contract is done. You understand me, girl?”
There were tears in Meryell’s eyes and Cullen’s hands twitched as he resisted the urge to reach out and take her from Cassandra into his arms and wipe those tears away. Even if they were ones at being touched by Arnald’s gesture.
“Yes, Captain,” she replied softly.
Arnald nodded sharply then and turned on a heel, the gesture as sharp as it had probably been when he was still in the Imperial Army. They then watched him stride over to stand next to Folke, resting a hand on the hedge mage’s shoulder as they looked down at the slowly recovering Camden.
“ Captain ,” groaned the man between bared teeth, his voice still reedy and thin from the swift attack on his most sensitive area. “They’re lyin’ . Whatever they was saying, she wanted it. Little knife-ear wanted everyinch .”
Cullen tensed and he felt more than saw Cassandra do the same right before Folke and Hawke’s magic collided against his fragmented senses in a clash that made him see stars – though much of that was from the sudden influx of sensation given that the apostate was so much more powerful than the hedge mage. As soon as that cleared, he realized that the Captain had shouted, “ Enough! ” as the last bits of the sound managed to reach his ears.
“I have handled every report made against you, son, so don’t give me that shite of a story that you’re the victim here. You were lucky before in that most of them were forgiven by those that brought them forward and the rest were settled in the fighting ring. This is different. ”
“Captain, you can’t,” began Camden, only to be cut off as the older Orlesian stepped forward and leaned down so he was nose-to-nose with the younger man, who couldn’t lean back at all as Gustav and Morgan held him firmly in place.
“ What is the first rule of the company? ”
Arnald’s voice snapped across the upper courtyard, sharp as a banner caught in high winds, and then in the silence that followed all that could be heard was Camden’s abruptly ragged sounding breaths. When no answer came from the man, someone from the company (it sounded like Astrid) practically howled, “ Fangs! ” An instant later every man and woman of the company who was there, including Meryell and Folke, shouted with one staggering voice.
“ This is the Captain and his word is law! ”
It was rather terrifying in that moment to witness what every single members of the Fangs had admitted was a severely disorganized company come together in such singular unison.
Cullen merely settled back to watch as Arnald straightened and gave a sharp nod to the gathered before he said sharply in a ringing tone, “Camden Bowfort, you are hereby stripped of your commission in the Fangs of Vimmark. Any claim you had to us and any we had to you is now null and void.” He then squeezed Folke’s shoulder and said, “Remind me, old friend, what this lad’s charm is.”
The presence of Folke’s magic stuttered and slipped out from underneath Hawke’s more blindingly bright presence as the flames around his hands finally dissipated. A wide grin split the mage’s face as he replied, “I believe, Captain, that this i’tel’gon’lan had me make his out of his belt buckle. May I do the honors?”
Arnald merely gestured for him to go ahead and as Folke crouched, Camden laughed hoarsely before saying loudly, “Why don’t you just kill me, Folke? You know what I did to her back then. And you’ve been bedding the high and mighty bitch, Evune. You know what all elf’s are good for.” He then leaned forward as much as he was allowed and hissed, “She’s a rabbit no matter how many times you call her your daughter, old man.”
Cullen saw the move coming a league away as Folke’s shoulders bunched and twisted, swinging his right fist up into a sharp punch that shattered Camden’s nose in a truly glorious shower of blood. There was a small cheer from the gathered Fangs and he saw Hawke grinning despite carefully touching her own nose, once painfully broken so badly it had never healed right, in sympathy.
“ Nuva mar’edhis banafelas i miol’en av ra ,” spat the hedge mage in Elven as he roughly kept Camden’s suddenly lolling head upright with one hand so he wouldn’t choke on his own blood and tugged at his belt with the other. As soon as the leather strap was free, he stood and said to Gustav, “Do make sure he doesn’t die. I really do want to see the son of a bitch get what’s coming to him.”
The swarthy skinned solder just nodded sharply as he took Folke’s position in steadying the man and Morgan grinned as he replied, “We’ll see he stays alive, ser. Wouldn’t be fair if he got away with insulting the Inquisitor like that.”
“Good lads!” chirped Folke with a grin before he turned away, holding up the belt by the buckle for all of the gathered to see. “Fangs! What do we do with those who betray us?”
“ Pitch ‘em to the Void! ” came the shouted reply and Cullen glanced over at Meryell to see her smiling just a little bit as she joined in with the yelling. Her expression brightened even further when her father took the buckle in both hands and it sparked with magic before the light guttered and died.
“So ends the career of Camden Bowfort,” intoned the mage as he rolled the belt up and tucked it away, presumably to get rid of it later. Arnald nodded then turned in a slow circle, regarding all of the gathered before he took a deep breath.
“Fangs!” he said loudly. “I want everyone down in camp – and I mean everyone – and we are going to have a discussion about this sort of shit never happening amongst our own ever again. You have until a glass before sunset to be in camp and you had better make sure everyone you’ve ever fucked, kissed, or bled alongside is there with you. We have an understanding?”
“ Dismissed! ”
As the Fangs rose to move out, Cullen flashed a hand signal at Gustav and Morgan – one of the ones meant for before battles where talking wasn’t the best course of action. The pair nodded in unison and hefted Camden up, hauling his limp arms over their shoulders. He could hear Morgan start up a running commentary as they walked off – mostly about how much of a dumb shit the man was for going after the Commander’s lass – while Gustav attempted to keep Camden’s head upright between snorts of laughter. And noted that as they carried the man off, his pants didn’t hold up the battle to stay around his waist without the belt and immediately fell to his ankles. Suddenly Cullen realized why Folke had wanted to do the unbelting honors.
When the upper courtyard cleared of the last man, Arnald turned to point at both Meryell and Folke as he said, “You two aren’t required for this meeting. I don’t expect to see you, don’t want to see you, and expect you both to respect that.”
“Arnald,” murmured Meryell, stepping away from Cassandra for the first time since the warrior had helped her to her feet. When the Captain held up hand, she stopped, and he gently reached out to turn her in Cullen’s direction while murmuring something in her ear that only she could hear. With a small smile, she turned to look at the older man and asked, “Is that an order?”
“Aye, whelp, we’ll call it an order,” replied the man warmly before giving her a light shove. He moved towards Folke as she stepped forward cautiously and Cullen held out his hands towards her. Meryell’s hands slid into his slowly, her fingers shaking minutely against his own, and he was extra cautious as he pulled her towards him.
It suddenly felt like dealing with a half-wild animal, ready to bolt at too swift a movement.
Bowing his head, Cullen asked softly, “Do you want to go to your place?” Not was she okay because he knew she wasn’t. And he knew that going somewhere where no one else could possibly find them would likely be what would make her feel best after what had just happened.
When her mouth tilted up at the corners into a smile, he’d knew he’d said the right thing.
“Yes, vhen’an’ara ,” she replied quietly. “You, me, and baba . No one else.”
Cullen just nodded and lifted her hands in his to press a soft kiss against her fingertips as he murmured, “As the thief wishes. You go to Folke and go ahead. I’ll finish up here and bring along the alcohol.”
Her smile shifted from wary into a bright flash that nearly blinded him with the abrupt intensity and she arched up onto her toes in order to kiss his cheek. Then she was moving towards Folke, who had been watching them quietly alone since Arnald had disappeared without a trace, and took his hand to drag him away. Cullen watched until they disappeared down the stairs to the lower courtyard then turned to regard those that were still standing there with him.
“Thank you,” he said firmly to Cassandra and Hawke. The former merely shook her head and he knew her answer without her saying it. She needed no thanks for defending someone who was a friend but Cullen gave it anyway.
The latter snorted a laugh and flapped a hand errantly at him as she said, “After all the shit you saved me from over the years, Curly, I owe you more than one or two favors.” She then swept up the stairs with a parting, “Don’t get into trouble, kids,” as she scooped up her son from Varric’s shoulders. The dwarf just sat there for a minute after she was gone, smiling and winking at Cullen, before he picked up his work and followed with a parting Later, Seeker, Curly, Buttercup .
Maker save him from whatever Varric had been jotting down that entire time.
Shaking that thought from his mind, Cullen clasped wrists with Cassandra as she moved past him, heading back towards her customary spot at the upper yard’s training dummies. Then he looked at Sera, still sitting sulking on the steps, and smiled. She glared at him for a moment before bounding up onto her feet.
“So that’s it, Cully?” she exploded. “No arrows, no taking that shitpiss out of his hide?”
Sighing, he replied, “That’s not how it works, Sera. Not in the Inquisition.”
“You lot are fucking mental,” spat Sera, throwing up her hands in disbelief. “Oh, this one insulted me, let’s just lock him up to let him think about it . Shitheads like that don’t change , Cully!”
“I don’t expect him to.”
“Then let me fill ‘im with arrows! That’ll teach a lesson!”
Cullen just arched an eyebrow as he asked, “That we kill someone outright instead of punishing them properly for the crime they’ve done?” Sera just blinked then a slow smile came over her face, setting her to bouncing on the balls of her feet and pointing at him.
“Oh! Oh! ” she squealed. “You’ve got a plan in that planny head of yours. Someplace good to send that shithead. Right, right?”
“I have ideas,” he replied honestly, “but the final decision lies with Meryell. And if she lets him go, Sera, we have to honor her decision.” When she wrinkled her nose, he added, “Even if we think it’s a bad decision.”
Shaking her head, the little elf said, “Bonkers all, you lot. Whatever . I’m going to go see if Beardy wants a drink. Least he makes sense.” As she stormed off, looping around him to head down the stairs towards the stable where Blackwall was usually working, she called back, “Go see your lady lo~ove, Cully Wully! I bet she needs some of that sword of yours right now.”
Knowing she wasn’t talking about his actual sword, Cullen sighed and headed for the tavern to buy a number of bottles off of Flissa as he’d said he would before heading down to join Meryell and Folke. “With herfather there?” he muttered to himself as he crossed the yard before opening the door. “No, thank you, Sera.”
Not moments later he was back out with six bottles in a basket as well as some sort of cheese, meat, and small crackers that Flissa had insisted on throwing in. And with not one coin having been spent out of his own purse as every man and woman in the tavern had been clamoring to buy the bottles for him as soon as they learned where he was taking them. He’d been so stunned by the gesture that he hadn’t even argued, not even when Bull had grinned and tossed a coin across the room from his seat via several of his Chargers before Krem slapped it onto the bar.
Cullen allowed himself a smile as he hefted the weight of the basket on his way down the stairs before sobering abruptly. There might be celebrating in the tavern…but he got the feeling that where he was heading wasn’t going to be half as cheerful.
I’tel’gon’lan – worthless person
Nuva mar’edhis banafelas i miol’en av ra – may your dick rot and the insects eat it
Just to note, Camden is not much older than Meryell. I haven’t figured out his exact age but I know he’s either younger than Cullen or the same age. That puts him at being 19 at most when they were together since Cullen is only four years older.
And, yes, he is as much of an asshole as I could make him (and some of these aren’t even the worst things I had him say in the first two drafts of this chapter).