Roughly three weeks after everything had been settled in the Chantry, he watched her ride out of Haven under her own power again with Cassandra and Varric alone at her back – because they dared not take Solas with them to Val Royeaux as an open apostate. And Cullen still didn’t know what word to put to what’s spawned between them since she arrived in Haven three months ago.
It’s a friendship but…it’s more than that.
During those first few weeks of her being in Haven after their initial conversation, they’d had drinks several times after she’d coaxed him into the first. He’d learned the crude (but never cruel ) tint to her sense of humor over Ferelden ales and Anders whiskey during that time and become comfortable enough to gift her with a few comments that showed his own. Tales of her company – but never of her past except in the vaguest of terms – had spilled from her lips and he’d even told a few of his own stories from the rare happy moments he’d had within the Order. She’d given him a handful of recommendations one night on an alternate method of handling some matters with his men, things she’d learned the hard way in her first years with her company she’d said, and he’d taken them to heart since not all of those under his command now were templars . They had talked and talked and talked and sometimes just sat in companionable silence in the tavern, drinking whatever they chose that night while watching the other patrons mill about in their own little worlds.
Then she’d disappeared for a month with little between other than the curse filled reports she sent back in – he’d often had a laugh at those with her notations about fuck this merchant, he’s a twat or why are there so many damned fucking bears in these woods . And he’d missed her with a fierceness that stole his breath the night he’d realized he was expecting her at his tent, teasing him out for another drink with her, and known a moment later that it wasn’t coming.
It wasn’t just blind attraction was what he had realized in that moment. Not just the idle infatuation he’d started to believe it was, like that he’d held for Kath Surana before his whole world had dissolved into flames and death and nightmares all those years ago. That was perhaps what had terrified him a little in the darkest hours of the night, that he’d thought of her like Surana who had haunted his dreams for so many years before the last dregs of youthful attraction had burned away against the heat of his rage.
Meryell wasn’t anything like Surana anyway.
Kath had been pale and lithe, a tiny little thing with big solemn gray eyes and pale golden hair that fell in long waves down her shoulders who he probably could have lifted with one hand. His nineteen year-old self had thought once that she would break under too much pressure but he’d never known the truth of that except in his nightmares, where he tried again and again to strangle the memory of the demon that had worn her face and failed, because she’d been one of the first mages to die. Recalling finding her broken body in the library curled around an apprentice she’d tried to protect had been the only thing that had saved him during those days.
Meryell, on the other hand, was short but she wasn’t tiny . A decade and some with a blade in either hand had turned her into a coil of muscle under sun-darkened skin, a bit of controlled fury and storm that lived behind a wicked smile and a sharp tongue. Her eyes, a copper flecked green that reminded him of the trees that had surrounded his parents home when the leaves began to turn for winter, were always sparking with that fire that was her own. She wore her dark brown, nearly black hair short, in a shaggy mop of hair that bore the distinctive signs of being cut with the blade of a dagger. And the him of now, all thirty years and too much blood and death that felt sometimes like it coated his lungs, was certain that he could never break her. It was more likely she’d break him first.
And then she’d come back from the Hinterlands, unconscious and bloody and broken in the back of a wagon with Cassanda in a full fury that was focused on Meryell , Solas nearly wrung out at the end of his magical capability from keeping her alive, and Varric with so many shadows in his eyes that for one moment he thought he was back in Kirkwall. Cullen hadn’t even asked Cassandra what was wrong then. He’d shrugged off the shadows the dwarf brought, snapped something at Solas about lyrium and sleep, and then he’d carefully picked Meryell up and headed to her cabin.
All he’d had in his head then was that she was injured, his friend, his whatever she was , was hurt and he didn’t know for certain if the rest of those around them were going to keep her safe at that moment.
He’d seen her sorted into her bed himself, pointed Adan in her direction to see what little he could do since he was the only healer they had, and then stormed into the Chantry to find out what had happened since that was where Cassandra had headed. What had ensued after that between the four of them could only be described as a bloody row and he’d been honestly surprised that it didn’t come down to blows. In the end Cullen had said his piece about the matter (which consisted of her past being her business) and then left the women to whatever they wanted. His focus in the days after that had been solely on Meryell and her recovery.
When she’d finally woken up, it had been a huge weight lifted off of his chest – even with the brief argument with Cassandra and the subsequent longer argument about what to do with the new information they knew about her that he’d gotten dragged into while trying to get Meryell something to eat. He’d stayed with her as often as he could while she recovered, usually just in the evenings when he was working on the day’s paperwork, sharing various anecdotes about the day between reading sections from the Adventures of the Black Fox after he was done. It wasn’t until after she was up and around again, when they were heading to the tavern after the rather confrontational conversation in the Chantry that he realized how their relationship had changed in that time.
They were still in that zone that was designated as friendship but they were very comfortable with each other for a pair that had only known each other for just past two months. Him offering her his hand that first night when she’d woken up and her taking it had changed something. Suddenly she’d started reaching out to him at random moments and he found himself doing the same. After so many years of avoiding touch, he found himself craving it from her. And it had been the most natural thing in the world to drop his arm around her shoulders when she’d leaned back against him in the tavern, all warm and safe and decidedly not broken .
In the three weeks after that conversation, they’d fallen back into their pattern of drinking together in the tavern on most nights. There were also other nights that he’d find her in his tent with a bottle she’d plundered from the tavern – usually Ferelden ale – and two of the tin cups that his soldiers used. Those nights were spent sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on his rug covered floor with their backs against his desk, quietly talking through the night in the darkness where few would disturb them. And there had been the bare handful of occasions where he had been the one to procure their choice of drink for the night as well as the cups, waiting outside her cabin for her to arrive.
The talk he’d commented on happening was in full swing around Haven by the end of the first week but, as she’d noted, they knew what they were and the opinion of others mattered little in the grand scheme of things. Despite a lot of their behavior saying otherwise, they were just friends. Very close friends but friends nonetheless.
No matter what he felt personally , he wasn’t going to allow that to scar that relationship.
And, as her friend, he was worried about her safety. It would take them six days to ride from Haven to Jader where they would be able to take ship, which would be roughly another four days for their arrival in Val Royeaux. None of that amount of travel was counting the possibility of bandits, the condition of Gherlen’s Pass, the state of the Waking Sea at the time of year, or any other number of possible issues that could rise up. Not to mention the very people she was going to reluctantly talk to were calling for her head as a heretic.
Shaking his head, Cullen sighed and watched her little group until they had disappeared after taking a bend in the road that led out of Haven. He could do nothing now except pray for her safe return. It was harder than he’d expected, though, to turn away from the last place he’d seen her and to get back to work training their latest group of recruits.
Not even an hour later, he heard the sound of hoof beats on the road.
For a split second he thought it was them coming back but that was quickly cast aside because there was far too much noise. Three horses, even at full gallop, wouldn’t make as much noise coming down the roadway as whoever was coming along now.
Orders were on the tip of his tongue, ready to snap out to his men for them to organize against a possible attack, when one of Leliana’s scouts abruptly appeared at his elbow. “Ser!”
“Report,” he growled. “Who’s on the road?”
“Fairly large force, Commander, mostly horses with a few wagons – though those are further back. No banner but most of them are wearing badges of a tan field with what looks like a black crescent on it. We couldn’t get too close with the trees so thin at the edge of the roadway to see much detail.”
“Black crescent?” repeated Cullen. He then asked, “Upright, larger at the top and narrows to the bottom?”
“Go find Leliana and Josephine and tell them I need them on the field. Or, if they can’t make that in time, in the Chantry in thirty minutes,” he ordered. “Tell them the Fangs are here.” When the scout hesitated, he bellowed, “ Now! ”
As the young man bolted, Cullen sighed and lifted a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. How ridiculous was it that an hour after Meryell had rode out of Haven, her company would come riding into town? Shaking his head, he waved at one of his lieutenants, Joane, who was standing nearby to take over the training. As soon as she stepped into place, he gripped the hilt of his sword and headed away from the training grounds to stand in the center of the road at the edge of what was ostensibly his domain.
The first of the company came around the turn in the road at an easy lope and as they approached, one of the riders in the lead held up a hand that had the rest slowing their mounts to a stop. That rider and three others continued forward from the group, heading towards him at a sedate pace. Cullen sensed someone stepping up into his personal space just behind his left shoulder and waited until they spoke to know who it was, preferring not to take his eyes off their newcomers.
“Figured since they have four coming, you should at least have someone behind you, old man,” came Rylen’s rakish voice from over his shoulder. “Your Herald would knife me in the night if I let anything happen to her favorite drinking partner.”
Cullen snorted quietly at that, asking, “She tell you that herself?” Then he realized what Rylen had called her and fought against narrowing his eyes in outrage. “And she isn’t mine , you sod.”
He could practically feel his friend’s grin and sighed before focusing his attention away from the man standing at his back to those approaching, three of whom had dismounted a respectable distance away and left their mounts with the fourth while they moved forward. Now that they were closer he could make out a bit about their appearance and had a decent guess as to who they were. The man in the lead was older, perhaps in his early fifties judging by the silver in his short black hair, but obviously still fit by the shape of the well-used chainmail that he wore. He had the facial features that even Cullen recognized spoke of noble breeding and wore on his face what he vaguely recalled Leliana explaining once as a servant’s mask, just enough to cover his eyes and the top part of his cheeks. This then was Arnald Seraine, leader of the Fangs of Vimmark and once a Lieutenant in the Imperial Army.
Meryell’s commentary about the man painted him as the sort he’d like to know. Arnald had led the company since she’d joined it and it was his efforts that had turned it into what she knew of the Fangs of Vimmark. He was a man who insisted a job be done well, she’d told him, with no bloodshed unless necessary and no harm done to anyone uninvolved. Leliana, on the other hand, gave him a report of a cold man who ran his mercenary company with an iron fist. He’d also learned that the Seraines were an old minor noble family in Orlais but that Arnald, the second son of the previous generation, had been discharged from the Army after being accused of raping the daughter of a Comte during said noble’s party. Of course, he’d asked Meryell about that particular incident and she’d gone into an angry spiel about the spymaster having to have her finger in everything before explaining that the spoiled daughter had wanted Arnald’s attention, going to her father with a story of rape when he’d spurned her. So Arnald had been discharged from the Army and, despite believing his son, his father had disavowed him of his inheritance but had let him keep his name and the mark of his kin.
The woman on Arnald’s right side was undoubtedly Dogtooth Zarru, his second in command. She was a tall, broad woman of undeterminable age who towered over both of her fellow mercenaries and would probably be close to Cullen’s own height with her hair hanging in thick strands festooned with bright beads. Close-fitting armor of heavy iron hid most of her skin from sight but what he could see was marked with a myriad of tattoos in dark ink that just barely stood out from the dark color of her reddish-brown flesh. Even after Meryell had explained it, he still wasn’t sure why she was called Dogtooth by the company.
And it was Cullen’s guess that the man on Arnald’s left, who wore very light leathers with what was obviously a dusky blue mage’s coat thrown over them, was Folke . The man looked to be in his forties (which made Cullen feel a little wrong for his interest in Meryell simply given her relationship with the man, despite the fact that she was only younger by four years) and had his thick black hair pulled back into a low tail at the base of his neck. There was an x-shaped scar across the man’s right cheek, the lines badly puckered in the way that he knew told of a wound made with magebane on a blade and allowed to let fester. He’d seen it used to torture a mage once in Kirkwall just after the Qunari uprising and had forbidden its use after that – though few had actually obeyed that order since Meredith had promptly overridden him. It was a curious wound and made him wonder who exactly Folke had tangled with to receive it.
The trio stopped a full sword lunge length away from him and Arnald inclined his head respectfully before asking, “Commander Rutherford, I am to assume?” His accent was not as strongly Orlesian as it might have been in his youth, now scattered with different influences from all of the variety of people in his company, but it still had the even politeness of a noble education.
“I am,” replied Cullen.
“Excellent. We were hoping it would be you we’d see first and not this Ambassador Montilyet who wrote to us with your offer of work.” The man grinned rakishly before continuing, “I never had much love for nobles even when I was one. Now I’m certain you know my name already but manners are manners…and I dare say I don’t want my mother, Maker rest her soul, rolling in her grave. I am Arnald Seraine, Captain of the Fangs of Vimmark. This lovely lady is Zarru, my second-in-command, and the grumpy looking gentleman trying to peer over your shoulder is Folke.”
The man in question abruptly stopped arching up onto his toes, which brought a low chuckle from Rylen, and then Folke pointedly growled, “I’m sure he knows who I’m looking for.”
“I do.” Cullen then sighed and said, “Unfortunately, you’ve arrived just after she left. Meryell has gone to see to something of importance to the Inquisition in Val Royeaux and will be gone for at least a few weeks.”
As Folke started to open his mouth, Cullen hurriedly continued with a slight smirk, “She bid me give you something in particular, ser, when you arrived. A letter.”
“Oh?” growled Folke. “Poppet has something so important to say to me that she can’t even say it to my face? Well, come on then, boy , let’s have it.”
Rylen made a distinctly un-Knight-Captain like noise from behind him and Cullen let his mouth twist into a full smirk as he did as requested, handing Folke the letter. He, of course, hadn’t read the letter despite her leaving it unsealed because he respected her privacy but he could take an easy guess that whatever she wrote to Folke would be laden with curses.
The man immediately barked out a laugh as he flipped open the letter and shook his head, his expression going from grumpy to a more jovial one in an instant. He flicked the letter at Arnald and the man gave an imperious sigh before he read it, snorting before he folded it up and gave it back to the mage.
“That’s certainly our girl,” commented Folke with a smile. “No doubting that tongue.”
“Indeed,” agreed Arnald. He then looked at Cullen and said, “The Fangs are nearly one hundred and twenty men strong, Commander, and we have all our own tents and gear that we brought with us to serve. Tell us where to set up and we’ll fall in line with your men.”
Nodding respectfully, Cullen gestured at Rylen, saying, “My second, Rylen, can show your men the area we’ve cordoned off for you. After that, I can take you up the hill and introduce you to the Ambassador and our Spymaster.” Obviously the two women had chosen the second option he’d given Leliana’s scout since neither had yet to appear on the field.
“Spymaster?” repeated Arnald, his dark eyes gleaming from behind his mask, which Cullen noticed bore tiny green vines along the edges with just the hint of purple dotting them against the tan leather the mask was made of. Grapes, he guessed? Leliana hadn’t detailed what the Seraine crest was in her report but she had…ah, now he remembered. They were known for their vineyards because they supplied a particular type of grape for winemakers so the decoration was likely the symbol of his house. “I do love talking to a good spymaster.”
“That is because you are a good spymaster,” Zarru commented dryly, the first thing she’d said through the entire conversation. Her accent was stronger but still reminiscent of that Rivaini pirate that had followed Hawke around Kirkwall for a time. Her eyes, which were a dark blue that spoke of something besides Rivaini in her bloodline, flicked to Cullen then she inclined her head towards Arnald. “I can see the camp to order, Captain, if the heathen here will assist. Since his little girl is not present, he has no reason to be wandering about without a leash.”
For a moment he thought she was serious but judging by the way Folke just flipped his middle finger at her, this was her usual way of talking to the hedge mage. Arnald seemed to be resisting rolling his eyes at the pair of them.
“See it done, Tooth. Folke, try and be good.”
“Fuck you, Captain,” snapped the mage even as he saluted and turned to follow the woman back towards their mounts and the fourth figure who held them. Rylen arched an eyebrow at Cullen then followed them, immediately striking up a conversation with Zarru about exactly what supplies and men they had that needed settled.
Arnald rolled his eyes skyward and muttered, “Andraste give me strength. The man is going to be even more insufferable than usual.” He then looked at Cullen and asked, “I’m going to hope you have somewhere for the men to drink. It’s the only way we’ll survive Folke’s sulking until his girl comes back.”
“We do,” he replied, “and I already told it’s proprietor, Flissa, to be ready to handle an influx of patrons.” Cullen then grinned as he added, “I also have two bottles of Antivan brandy in my quarters that have Folke’s name on them, courtesy of Meryell. She said that he would require them to get over his first round of sulking since she wasn’t going to be here when the company arrived.”
The man threw back his head in a broad laugh at that, shaking his head and dabbing at his eyes after a moment. “Oh, that girl,” he said fondly, “she knows the man well.” He then cocked his head to the side and peered up at Cullen. “Seems she knows you well too, Commander.”
“We’ve become friends,” he replied simply before gesturing towards Haven’s front gate. “Shall we walk? I will answer any questions you have as we go.”
“ Any? ”
Perhaps any was not the right word he should have said, suddenly recalling the man’s second saying he was a spymaster, but it was too late to take it back now. So he just nodded and said, “So long as it would not compromise the Inquisition or Meryell.”
Arnald hummed loudly at that and they walked for a moment in silence, taking the first steps up into Haven proper, before the man said anything.
“You call her by her name and not this Herald of Andraste business that everyone else seems to have taken to,” was the first thing that came out of the man’s mouth and Cullen found himself liking the man more if the question went where he thought it would. “Why do you do such?”
He respected a leader who sought to protect those beneath them.
“Originally because she asked me to,” he replied matter-of-factly. “At that time I still called her Herald to others but that changed as we became friends. Now I call her only by her name, to remind those who might think otherwise that she is a person and not a tool to be used. She is no sword to be sharpened and then cast aside when she has gone dull.”
Vehemence had crept into his words at the end and Cullen found Arnald watching him closely, the man’s eyes narrowed behind his mask. After a moment the Captain said quietly, “I respect a man who can see the worth of a woman. Even more so a man who is aware that he was a weapon and has broken with that, refusing to let those under and around him be viewed as he once was. I have been that man.” Arnald then held out a hand, adding, “I believe we are well alike, Commander Rutherford.”
“Cullen,” he insisted as he grasped the man’s hand wrist-to-wrist in the more common grip of warriors and gave one firm shake.
“Arnald then.” The Captain then frowned and asked, “This business in Val Royeaux…is it dangerous?”
Sighing, Cullen replied, “Not outwardly. She left with the intent to reach the city by the time the remaining clerics meet to try and talk with them, to get them to see that the Inquisition isn’t the enemy of the Chantry they seem very willing to paint us as.”
“A diplomatic mission is not the sort one sends Meryell on.”
“Oh, I am all too aware but she is, despite how she hates the title, the Herald. She accepts the men and women who serve using it only because, as she stated, they need something to believe in.”
“And yet,” Arnald commented with a small smile, “you sent her anyway.”
Cullen grinned as he replied, “Perhaps I’m hoping that she’ll come back with the news that the clerics won’t dare take her on for fear of her wicked tongue.”
The man laughed heartily in response to that comment, nodding several times before he spoke again. “Oh, the girl might do just that. But, back to serious questions, how is she?”
Now there was a loaded question that he still felt was prodding a little at just how close a relationship he had with Meryell.
Staying silent for a long moment, they were passing where Threnn had set herself up outside the Chantry when Cullen finally replied, “She misses her company. Our soldiers remind her of all of you but they aren’t the same. There’s no close camaraderie with them. It’s not an easy thing to garner when you’ve been placed so seemingly far above those who would have once been your equals. I’ve experienced the same with a few other templars that I served with since taking over here.”
“She’s misses her family ,” he added quickly a moment later.
“Aye,” Arnald said quietly. “Meryell has always been a soft-heart about the company like that. Folke too. Fuck, I suppose even I am a bit like that. It is all we have, so we hold to it tight.”
Cullen just nodded, feeling guilty suddenly that he still hadn’t written back in response to Mia’s last letter. It was just sitting on his desk, pinned in place by a hefty rock that was also holding down several other documents underneath the letter. Family had once been as important to him as it was to Meryell but Kinloch…what he’d gone through there had wounded a great many parts of his self. A higher lyrium ration numbing his senses and Kirkwall hadn’t helped either in the years after that. What was his excuse now?
Shaking off the thought for later, he moved a few steps ahead and pushed open the Chantry door, motioning for the older man to precede him inside. The captain’s mouth quirked up into a smile and, as Cullen followed him inside, he asked, “What do you think of her?”
“Have we spoken of any other?”
“No,” replied Cullen with a slight smile as they walked towards the door that led to their war room. He noticed that Mother Giselle was watching him and the other man curiously before he looked at the state of the door ahead of them. It was standing half open, which was the indication that someone was inside but was still open for interruption. Then he shook his head and answered the question in full. “She is…well, you perhaps know better than me that there are many word to describe Meryell.”
“True,” agreed Arnald. He then stopped just before the door and turned to frown up at Cullen as he folded his arms across his chest. “That was not the question I asked, however.”
Nodding, he said, “No. No, it wasn’t.”
The man arched an eyebrow and Cullen sighed, lifting a hand to nervously rub at the back of his neck before he could catch the gesture.
“I think she is far more than many here think of her. She is more than the Herald of Andraste, more than a mere sellsword, more than just an elven woman with a sharp tongue. She is…” He searched for a word to describe her but there was, in the end, only one thing that did her justice. “She is Meryell .”
Arnald hummed low in his throat, dark eyes lidded beneath his mask in what might be heavy thought, then smiled broadly.
“She is Meryell indeed,” he said before moving on into the war room and Cullen suddenly let out a breath he hadn’t been aware he’d been holding. Suspicion tickled the back of his mind as he followed the man, realizing that he felt like he’d revealed more than he’d intended. He then heard Arnald greet Leliana and Josephine with a simple My ladies and turned his attention to the man in time to watch him right himself from a deep, formal bow.
Josephine was smiling at least. Leliana, on the other hand, was stone-faced.
He was constantly surprised at how long she was holding on to her grudge at Meryell for managing to keep her in the dark so long. Even Cassandra, who hadn’t been pleased when the truth had come out, had reconciled with the other woman before they’d left for Val Royeaux. Leliana held onto it like a mabari in full battle lust.
“Captain Arnald Seraine,” said Cullen, figuring that introductions were up to him since he’d brought the man in, “meet our Ambassador, Josephine Montilyet, and our Spymaster, Leliana.”
“ Enchanté ,” said the man with a smile as he folded his arms behind his back with the fingers of one hand clasped over his other wrist, standing with his feet shoulders-width apart and his back straight. “The Fangs of Vimmark are at the disposal of the Inquisition.”
Josephine inclined her head slightly before saying, “We are delighted to have you, Captain Seraine.”
Arnald held up a hand quickly, saying, “Just Arnald or Captain, if you will, my lady. Or both, if you’ve the mind. I may still hold my family name and wear the colors but I try not to make overt use of it.”
“Understood, Captain. May I ask how many men came with you?”
“The company is at one hundred and twenty-four men strong,” replied the man as he settled back into his stance. “One twenty-five if we count Meryell amongst our ranks but I imagine that is well over with…”
“I see no reason why it should be,” Cullen interrupted. He then narrowed his eyes at Leliana over the man’s shoulder as she started to open her mouth and gave a sharp jerk of his head. Now was not the time to argue the semantics of Meryell’s position between her company and the Inquisition, particularly with the person in question not present . Thankfully she seemed inclined to listen but her lips pursed into a firm line that went white with pressure.
He was no doubt going to get an earful after this meeting.
Arnald nodded towards him respectfully then turned his attention back to Josephine.
“We have with us a full compliment of mounts – horses mostly with a few others thrown in – as well as tents, equipment, and other supplies. I can have my second, Zarru, and our quartermaster, Conlin, compile a complete list for your perusal in under a week.”
“Oh, that isn’t necessary, Captain…”
Leliana held up a hand to still Josephine’s words and smiled, saying, “That would be greatly appreciated, Captain Arnald. May I request a list of your members as well?”
Cullen narrowed his eyes at the request, wondering what exactly she was up to, but Arnald just nodded his head as he said, “Of course, my dear espionne .” He wasn’t certain what the Orlesian word meant but it was the first thing that had brought a smile to the redhead’s face in some time.
“I may perhaps enjoy working with you more than I expected, Captain,” she said in a suddenly more pleasant tone. “I was unaware that you were so…observant.”
“Indeed, my lady,” Arnald replied with a slow smile. “There are many things about me that cannot be found out except from the members of my company…and the Fangs are not easily bought or threatened into giving up our secrets.”
“I will keep that in mind.”
Cullen darted a glance at Josephine, suddenly feeling like he was on the outside of a very intricate dance, and her pleasant smile didn’t reassure him at all. He liked the man but he was very uncomfortable with the way that he and Leliana were talking to each other. It made the hair rise on the back of his neck and his palms itch to grasp the hilt of his sword, like the feel of a place on the edge of descending into a fight. Like Kirkwall during that last year.
The Captain nodded and swept into another bow, saying, “Well, I merely wished to make my introductions. If you ladies will excuse me, I should be getting back to my men. Ambassador, Spymaster, Commander…good day.” His eyes caught Cullen’s as he left and he read the warning there. Tread carefully , the man’s gaze said and he nearly stated aloud that he already knew that.
But perhaps he didn’t know just how carefully he should be treading.
As the door closed behind the man, Cullen rested his hands on the pommel of his sword and said, “He seems an honest man.”
“He is a mercenary captain, Commander,” reminded Josephine.
“Meryell trusts him.”
“And we are to trust her?” asked Leliana. “Especially about a man that my sources say the exact opposite of what she speaks of him?”
“ I trust her,” growled Cullen.
She narrowed her eyes at that before saying sharply, “You trust too easily, Commander.”
“Mayhaps,” he acknowledged, merely because he had trusted too easily in the past. He’d trusted his Commanders to do right, trusted his charges to do right, trusted his brothers and sisters to do right, and had all of them blow back in his face with equally horrendous consequences that had scarred his soul. Cullen then leaned towards her as he clenched his hand on his sword and growled, “But better to trust easily and be scarred by betrayal than doubt and find yourself alone because you trusted no one.”
Leliana bristled in anger, her eyes flashing underneath her hood, and he knew he’d struck a nerve.
“And yet,” she said firmly, “you are more likely to be alive with the latter. I thought with your particular experiences, Commander, you’d have learned that lesson.”
Cullen gritted his teeth at that and spat back, “Apparently I’m more hard-headed than you thought.”
“Enough!” snapped Josephine suddenly, looking between the two of them in exasperation. “We are better than this…this… infighting! What sort of example do we make to our followers acting like this? You are both above this sort of childish behavior. Act like it. ”
The fact that they’d made the normally unflappable Ambassador snap at them made Cullen realize just how far the ridiculousness had gone and that he had two choices: continue on his current path or retreat. He’d been in enough battles in his life to know when he should take which.
“You’re right, Josephine,” he said stiffly as he straightened. “I apologize for my behavior.”
Josephine just shook her head and replied, “I need no apology, Commander. Simply endeavour to act better. Both of you. ”
“Josie,” began Leliana but the other woman held up a hand sharply.
“No . I have not said anything in the hope that you would get over this ire you have with the Herald but obviously given that it has begun to spread to others I cannot continue to take that path. You are angry that she was able to keep secrets from you, I understand that.” The Ambassador’s stern voice softened then as she finished, “But, my friend, she is the only person who can do something to save us, to close these rifts. We know what she kept secret now. Make peace with it.”
“Or?” asked Leliana archly.
Cullen raised his brows at her tone and looked at Josephine, who’s face had fallen at that response. She bowed her head over her ever present writing board before replying quietly in a steely tone, “Or I shall have to take matters into my own hands and find the Inquisition a Spymaster who can work with the Herald.”
Leliana took a step back at that, shock in her eyes, then she recovered her composure enough to pull her aloof mask back around herself. “I see. I will…think…upon it, Josie.” She turned and walked out then, striding right past Cullen and onward towards the doors of the Chantry. He watched her go, more than a little shocked by how things had turned.
As Josephine’s board clattered onto the table, he shifted his attention back to her and found the Ambassador standing with one arm wrapped around her waist and her other hand shakily folding over her lips. Concerned, he moved around the table and reached out to gently grasp her elbows, feeling her shaking. “Are you alright?” he asked softly.
“Hmm?” she replied, her unfocused eyes clearing and blinking up at him. “Oh. Yes, Commander. I’m fine.”
“One doesn’t square off against Leliana and come out fine , Josephine. Not even if you win the bout. I should know.”
She chuckled softly at that and nodded.
“Yes, I suppose you do. I merely…I did not expect her to continue like this. She is…she is much darker than she was when we originally met years ago. When she asked me to join the Inquisition, I did not glimpse this part of her.”
Cullen just nodded and let his hands fall from her elbows now that she seemed steadier as he said quietly, “We try to hide the darkest parts of ourselves from those we care about.” As Josephine’s dark eyes tilted up at him, he shrugged slightly. “I struggle with the same thing.”
“You and she are more alike than you know, Commander.”
He snorted then changed the subject, not wanting to veer down that path. The Inquisition was his chance to be better , not to be reminded of all he’d done wrong. “You can call me by my name, you know,” he commented lightly.
Josephine just smiled at that and reached to pick up her writing board, setting it back into it’s usual place before she said, “Perhaps one day, Commander.”
Nodding, Cullen tipped his head forward slightly and said, “Good day, Ambassador.” He knew a dismissal when he heard one. And the silent asking for privacy.
“And to you, Commander.”
He turned and left the war room then, striding straight out of the Chantry and back down towards his domain. As he reached the field, the tenseness that had gathered in his shoulders and back started to relax, and he breathed a heavy sigh before turning his eyes back to the road leading out of Haven.
The next three to four weeks until Meryell returned were going to be long . He could feel it in his bones.
espionne : spy (French)