Chapter 1: The Promise
Do you remember when we were children? The summers were long, our feelings were simple. Even our Dreams were innocent. They are some of my favorite memories. It was such a happy time.
Cullen took a deep breath of the humid air and repeated his attack.
This summer was proving to be one of the warmest he could remember in his twelve years and he paused to once again catch his breath, huffing when familiar hands covered his eyes.
‘Bonjour ma petite-copine’ a lilting childish voice spoke into his ear.
‘Kat!’ He grumbled, he’d never know how she always managed to sneak up on him the way she did.
‘Why are you speaking like that?’ Cullen stepped away from the hidden assailant and continued swinging his wooden practice sword with intent, the exposed posts at the end of the little jetty proving to be a perfect dummy for his self-imposed training.
‘Because I need to practice my Orlesian and dancing at every opportunity so I don’t get rusty, it’s just the same as you with your drills.’ She stuck her tongue out at him, her olive-green eyes twinkling with mischief as she stepped back to watch his swipes and parries.
He scoffed ‘That’s stupid, I’m doing this for my future. Your Mother is the only Orlesian for miles around’ he swept his sword in a wide arc, gesturing to the entirety of the Fereldan countryside about them.
‘I know, but it makes her happy’ she spoke in that quiet tone reserved for discussing her Mother before forcing her cheerfulness once more. ‘Plus it will help me marry well. Although Father is only the Mayor he thinks I might be able to be able to secure a match with a Knight or even a Baronet someday.’
A large gust of wind whipped up the air around them, Katherine’s paisley dress billowing comically while she shrieked. Her long loose ponytail all but flying free of its fastenings and Cullen couldn’t help but give a boyish chuckle as she sought to tame her long chestnut waves and unruly clothes.
‘Is that the same reason you keep your hair so long?’
She scowled at him while wrangling her tresses back into some order ‘no, not everything is for my future husband you know. I like my hair long, it’s pretty.’
‘And do you want to be married to some stuffy old man?’
‘Not really’ she tucked the last loose lock of her long reddish-brown hair behind her ear, the action distracting Cullen and he missed the chipped post completely, drawing a laugh from Katherine as his footwork faltered.
He scuffed at the moss covered plank beneath his boot; he’d been trying to get the courage to speak to her for some time about her future plans, now seemed a good a time as any.
Puffing his chest up, and pretending to be not at all interested in her actual answer he began. ‘Kat, when I become a Templar then, do you think… maybe your Father would let me marry you?’
She seemed to put some thought into her answer ‘Hmm, you would be a Knight so I suppose so.’
Cullen rubbed his neck as she offered him one of her radiant smiles; it was stupid for him to feel so embarrassed. ‘Well, good,’ he started swinging his sword once more ‘all the more reason to train hard then.’
He hoped she hadn’t noticed the flush on his cheeks. They had been best friends for as long as he could remember and often played house, being teased relentlessly by the older children in the village because of it. His elder sister was of course included in their ranks and was often the chief perpetrator. But recently Cullen had begun to feel something a little more than friendship towards her and with him going away… what did the adults say? He had to get his affairs in order.
‘Yes, and when you are a Knight I will be your Lady and dance and sing for you every day.’
As if to illustrate her point she began prancing up and down the small pier, singing the Orlesian lullaby he had heard from her so many times before.
‘Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose’
‘Why don’t you go and practice with Annie?’ He complained, but it lacked his usual annoyance.
‘For the same reason you don’t go and practice with Rosalie’ she replied sweetly before continuing on with the next verse.
Their younger sisters had been born on the same day, and as she had alluded to, six year olds did not make the best study partners. Although he envied Kat in that at least she only had the one sibling to contend with as opposed to his three.
Still he knew he would miss them when he left for Templar training in the next two months, just after his thirteenth name day. He was going to miss everyone, Katherine most of all. And although she had been adamant about him following his dreams, as the date for his departure approached he began to regret being so eager to leave everyone he knew and loved.
‘Il me dit des mots d'amour-‘
‘Must you sing in Orlesian?’ he snapped.
She clicked her tongue ‘fine, grumpy-puss. I hope you won’t be so cross when we are married’ she teased. Still it was a victory as she continued on in common.
‘When you kiss me heaven sighs
And though I close my eyes
I see La Vie En Rose’
He supposed he could allow the last line to be sung in Orlesian.
Still, as a proud Fereldan Cullen knew he already hated Orlais. It was a silly pompous country where they wore masks all the time, even in bed! Or so he had been told. He hated Orlesian’s too, except for Katherine’s mother. She was always kind and generous to the poor in the township; apparently she had left behind a life of luxury to marry her husband for love, it had made her somewhat of a folk hero among the local population. People loved a romantic story. Plus her uncertain health meant that she was often housebound for long periods and so had been able to perfect the art of baking cookies, much to the delight of Cullen and his siblings who were always welcome in their home.
He hated the Orlesian language too, apart from the song Kat was currently reciting. It was almost as familiar to him as the Chant of light, not that he would ever admit it to the local Chantry mother.
‘Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be
La Vie En Rose’
The wooden boards creaked under their combined weight as she practiced her somewhat informal ballet. ‘Can you stop jiggling about, it’s annoying’ he huffed after being disturbed from his self-reflection.
She ‘hmphed’ and put her hand on her narrow hip, mirroring a posture she had seen Mia give recently. Her look of annoyance transformed into one of mischief ‘only if you can tag me!’
She gave a playful giggle and spun on her heel, her long hair flying out behind her as she sprinted off away from him. Cullen felt the grin on his face and discarded his wooden sword in exchange for a long bull-rush reed which he tugged from the boggy perimeter of the small lake.
Their own version of ‘Tag’ was a game they had played hundreds of times before. Katherine had invented it when he first decided he wanted to become a Templar at the tender age of eight.
Cullen would use his best form learned from his years of watching the local Templars train to try and strike at Katherine while she danced away from him and dodged his attacks.
They were evenly matched, running and laughing as they completed multiple circuits of their hidden pond.
They fell onto the grass to rest for a while, chatting away as the light started to fade. Finally they heard the Chantry bell toll seven times in the distance and stood to make their way back to the village.
‘When would you become a full Templar?’ She asked as the looming stone Golem situated on the central green came into sight.
‘When I take my vigil on my eighteenth birthday’ he replied confidently, he had already memorized the milestones he would need to reach to achieve his ultimate goal.
‘So I’ll be sixteen and a half. Yes I think I can wait that long, once you have completed your training you can come back and ask my Father for my hand’ she said assuredly as they approached her door. The messenger pigeons that were part and parcel of her Father’s Mayor-ship cooing as their favorite person neared and slipped a few sprinklings of seeds into the cages.
‘Ok, it’s a promise’ Cullen stooped and picked out a long blade of grass from the ground. He took hold of her left hand, ignoring her confused expression and wrapped the foliage a few times around her ring finger before tying the two ends in a knot. Katherine’s cheeks blushed red at the gesture, after Cullen released her hand she studied the little grass band with a look of pleasant surprise.
She cleared her throat ‘Well then, goodnight Cullen’ she leaned up and kissed his cheek before heading inside her home.
Cullen headed back to his own home, trying to ignore the tingly feeling her lips had left behind.
He was leaving tomorrow and so of course his family had decided throw him a small going away party. All his friends and local relations had been invited and his mother had cooked his favorite Druffalo and stuffing pie. So far he had had three slices washed down with several glasses of a Lemon Shandy they had prepared especially for the children.
Still with all the bustle and well-wishers Cullen’s love of calm and quiet was under severe threat and so after a toast to his safe travels he snuck away. His peace didn’t last long however when Katherine strode up to join him under the large Oak he had sought refuge.
‘I’ve changed my mind, I want to go with you!’ she said resolutely, pulling off the Lavender and Elderflower crown she had been wearing.
Cullen laughed and shook his head ‘Kat, You will be sixteen before you know it, plus you are far too scrawny to be a Templar’ he playfully pushed her shoulder making her stumble back a few steps.
‘Arse’ she complained while coming to stand back at his side, rubbing her arms in an effort to keep warm.
‘I’ll never know how a little Lady like you learned so many curse words’ he teased but she just rolled her mossy eyes.
A companionable silence rose between them, neither feeling the need to interrupt their stolen moment of peace with small talk. It was another reason he preferred her company over that of his siblings, another reason he was going to miss her.
Her arms brushed against his once she released them from her self-hug and he took the chance to discreetly take hold of her free hand. She didn’t pull away and so, after looking about himself to make sure none of his siblings or parents were trying to sneak up on them; he shuffled a little closer towards her. Their joined hands now sandwiched between them along with her discarded flowers.
‘Are you going to live in the Circle?’ She asked quietly, her earlier ire having receded quickly.
‘Yes once I’ve passed my training.’
She looked thoughtful ‘What about if I become a mage then?’ She turned to look at him, her pretty face full of hope.
Cullen smiled at her determination ‘Yeah that could work. Although I don’t think you can choose to become a mage.’
He was leaving tomorrow and so feeling emboldened Cullen pulled her forwards into a hug, releasing her hands in order to wrap his arms around her.
‘But if you were a mage you could live in the Circle too, and that way I could always protect you.’ He felt his nerves recede as she relaxed into his hug, resting her head onto his shoulder.
‘I don’t need protecting’ she complained, but there was no ill will in her words.
‘I know, but I should like to all the same’ her head rose and she looked intently into his eyes; he saw just how scarlet her own cheeks had become at his fumbling attempt at a confession and just how closely he was hugging her.
‘Oh, I – yes that would be nice. Plus it would be incredible to be able to do magic’ she tripped over her words while trying to shrug off her own embarrassment, her eyes dipping.
It’s now or never ‘Kat?’
‘Yes Cullen’ her eyes flicked up once more, full of uncertainty.
‘I, want to…erm’ he stammered before decidedly pressing his lips to hers in a chaste, sweet kiss.
It only lasted a few seconds before they both parted. He knew he was smirking and was pleased to see a shy smile on her face.
His hand rubbed at the back of his neck ‘that was, um, really nice’ he said feebly.
‘Yes’ she agreed, her smile widening as she failed to mask her rising delight.
‘Could I kiss you again?’ he really was very impressed with his self-confidence tonight.
‘That would be lovely’ she said and Cullen leaned forward once more.
‘Cullen and Katherine sitting in a tree…’
A familiar voice echoed up from the house, the sing-song rhyme filtering out into the night and the couple jumped apart at the intrusion.
‘MIA!’ he shouted at his sister’s untimely interruption while Katherine slumped to the ground, trying to hide from her embarrassment by holding her flower crown over her face.
Cullen heard his sister’s peal of laughter carry over the otherwise silent night and swore violent revenge upon her.
Once he was certain the interloper had retreated he sat down beside Katherine ‘Your sister will never let us live this down will she?’ she groaned even if her eyes sparkled with amusement.
She gave an exasperated laugh and Cullen joined in, threading their hands together once more.
‘I don’t think I’ll be able to come to see you depart tomorrow, I hope you don’t mind’ she squeezed his hand in apology.
He looked at her, surprised ‘Why?’
‘Because you silly oaf. I’ll cry. And a Lady should never be seen to cry in public.’
That saddened him a little, but he supposed nothing could be better than the kiss, his first kiss, that he had just stolen from her.
‘I understand. I don’t much want you to see me cry either; it will ruin my stoic-Knightly reputation’ he said in understanding. She giggled and their conversation carried on as normal. She asked him about the minutiae of his travel plans, what he was most looking forward to and when he was likely to get leave to visit home.
Eventually his Father called them back to the house and they parted with a small hug. Katherine’s eyes shining as she fought back her tears.
‘You will remember me won’t you Cullen?’
‘I promise, my Lady.’
Chapter 2: The Letters
Buckle up, this is the start of several angsty chapters. But I promise you the fluff will be worth the wait xxx
It was a happy time. A time before death and disappointment before I first felt the sting of abandonment and sorrow.
Katherine sat up by their little lake and hastily tore open the envelope. It was his first time of writing to her since his departure. He’d only been gone a few months but already she missed him so much more than she had anticipated. She had tried her best to keep busy, helping her Mother and Father with their duties in the town. Teaching Annie how to read more advanced books and taking a decided interest in baking, much to the delight of the remaining Rutherford siblings who were her constant guinea pigs.
She had kept her promise to herself not to cry in public, even if some nights she still sniffled silently into her pillow. It’s natural to feel sad at losing one’s best friend; She reminded herself and pushing aside her melancholy she finally studied her letter. The familiar handwriting alone was already enough to bring a smile to her face.
Thank you for your letter, I’m glad you are doing well.
I have so much I want to tell you, I don’t know where to start.
The Templar academy is enormous, much bigger than Honnoleath. There are so many people here all at various stages of training, their swords and armor are so cool. I won’t get a full set of Silverite till I take my vigil so for now I’ve just got a simple steel breast plate but it’s still so shiny, I wish you could see it.
I sleep in the junior barracks with all the other recruits aged up to fifteen, it’s very noisy on a night, such a change from sharing a room with only Branson. How is he? The night of the party Mia had already told everyone we kissed and he seemed very jealous. I can’t say I’m sorry even if he did sulk about it.
At the moment I spend a lot of my free time studying to try and catch up to my peers, foundlings and the minor nobles or third sons who have been promised to the order their whole lives. It’s a lot to take in but my instructors say I’m showing real promise especially in my physical training (I think I should thank you for that) and are certain if I keep focused I will become an excellent Templar one day.
How are your own studies going? If you want to practice writing out your Orlesian I won’t mind trying to translate it (all of the Original Chantry texts are in Orlesian so I have started taking lessons in it myself, your Mother would be so proud)
I must go, my next lesson starts soon. I will try to stick to our agreement and write to you every three months.
Give my best to your family.
Knight-Recruit Cullen Rutherford
She read the letter three times over, committing each line to memory before neatly refolding the parchment and tucking it safely into its envelope. She clutched it to her chest this little piece of paper was now her most prized possession and it wouldn’t do for it to be getting dirty.
Still, such a lovely letter deserved a swift reply and so she set back out for home at once. She would ask her Mother if she could send some cookies over too, her latest batch had turned out very well.
How is your training going? It’s been a while since your last letter so I’m sure you have lot’s to tell me. Are you still practicing your Orlesian? If so… Tu me manques chaque seconde, chaque jour.
I’ve been trying really hard to set fire to things or freeze over the water in the animal’s trough but I’m not having much luck yet. I wonder when I’m supposed to come into my magic? I’m thirteen next week so it can’t be too much longer. Annie tries to help too, she has found me a nice stick which I am using as a makeshift staff.
My practice is at least proving a pleasant distraction from home, my mother is ill again, but forgive me I won’t worry you with the details. I think Branson has finally gotten over his little crush on me; he seems quite sweet on the Blacksmith’s Daughter (Ellie) and has started shadowing her papa to try and impress him. Mia still pretends she isn’t interested in boys but I see her ogling the few guardsmen that come through, mark my words you will probably receive a wedding invite before long.
I suppose you will have to come home to be a groomsman, I’ll look forward to that. I always wondered how you would look in formal clothes.
Take care of yourself Cullen.
p.s I have included a dried sprig of Elderflower. I can only imagine how smelly a dormitory filled with boys is so at least you will have something sweet smelling to remind you of home
Sorry for the late reply, how was your birthday? You will be 14 now I think. Training is very busy as I’m sure you can imagine, but forgive me this is probably quite boring for you to hear.
A few of the older recruits have taken me under their wing and we are going into the city today to celebrate their completed vigils at the town’s Tavern. I quite enjoy it although I do seem to get a lot of attention when I go; the local girls are always teasing me about my curls and height, at least I think they are teasing.
Another two years and I shall be able celebrate in a similar fashion when I finally achieve my dream.
As was her little ritual Katherine neatly folded the letter and tucked it with the few others he had sent her. It was by far his shortest correspondence and the tone and content gave her unease, she didn’t think she would be re-reading over the note anytime soon.
Looking through her little tin which she stored her treasures in she noted the date of his last response, a year… had it really been over a year since he had taken the time to write to her.
She didn’t want to feel bitter or envious; he was working towards his dream just as she was. Although it was clear she was never going to be a mage she had to take comfort in her other accomplishments. Her Orlesian was flawless, she could dance and sing as well as any minstrel that passed through the town, her manners were impeccable and she had had more than one compliment at the last solstice that she was blooming into a beautiful young lady. She didn’t think so herself, her hair didn’t have the brilliance of her Mothers or Sisters, her nose was too big, she had one too many beauty marks and was too tanned from all her time spent outside to be considered a true beauty.
But she didn’t care about any of that at all, not really. It was all just the trimmings around what was her ultimate hearts-desire. I never wanted to be a Lady, I wanted to be his Lady she thought bitterly.
She heard Annie and Rosalie giggling under her window and gave a fleeting smile at the happy noise. She had just shown them both how to string daisies together to make a chain and they were currently scouring the gardens in an effort to make one long enough to drape of the town’s odd central statue. Cullen and she had done the same when they were that age, the thought made her sigh wistfully.
Pushing aside her disappointment she dutifully took up her pen and parchment. Forcing a cheerful reply proved difficult. But she managed, just as she had every other time.
Although this time, to show her displeasure, she didn’t bother sending him any cookies.
I hope this letter finds you well.
Please forgive the shoddy penmanship, in truth I am writing to you today in very low spirits.
My Mother passed away last month and I find I am struggling with the pain of it, and yearning for happier times past and happier ones to come.
Things here are hard. Annie doesn’t understand why we couldn’t do more to save Mother and has thrown herself into studying Herbology and nursing. She has become so serious all of a sudden, much too severe for a nine year old, I hardly recognize her.
My Father has surrendered up his Mayor-ship and spends his days praying in the Chantry for Mothers soul. It’s like he has just given up on living, abandoning us and leaving me and Annie to fend for ourselves. I feel awful complaining; it’s not fair of me. I can’t imagine his heartbreak;
at least I still have you and our future to look forward to.
Your parents have been teaching me how to tend the land around our house and provide us with their extra eggs and spare milk so we aren’t going hungry. But it’s difficult, part of me wishes now I had spent my time learning useful skills instead of those of a Lady. I find I don’t have the heart to perform on an empty stomach.
I know you are busy doing the Maker’s work but I really need to hear from you, I hope you find time to reply.
I am still yours aren’t I?
p.s Or if you are too busy to write to me directly perhaps include a line for me when you next write to your own parents. Even a word would be a comfort.
She set her pen down and re-read over the letter. The ink had blotted in places where her tears had landed. Her cursive was scrawling and not at all as neat as it should be. She had redacted some of her more forward sentiments or pressing questions, just because he had been a little uncommunicative didn’t mean she should doubt him. And now, when a real tragedy had befallen her she was certain he would find the time to comfort her. Although not his own Mother he had always been close with hers, he may even use the bereavement as a chance to visit. His family would love that, they all missed him terribly.
She sealed and kissed the envelope. She wouldn’t misuse the town’s pigeons entrusted to her care but she did choose to send the letter by express, a response couldn’t come soon enough.
I took my vigil a couple of months ago I am now a full member of the Templar order and have moved into the Circle at Lake Calenhad. It’s my dream come true.
Speaking of dreams, I’m sure by now you had already realized how foolish our ideas were as children. The idea of me swooping in after you had turned sixteen to be married; surely you must laugh about the childish notion.
And, the truth is I think I’m in love with someone. I know you will be happy for me; you were always the most supportive person I knew.
Katherine threw the letter onto the small fire in their otherwise dark living room.
The words were expected, but it didn’t stop them from hurting any less. Cullen’s lack of communication or even of condolence over the past five years had been far more eloquent than he could have anticipated.
But still, as she watched the words glow orange and then disintegrate into ash she couldn’t help but feel her own wants and desires burning along with those broken promises. The last sliver of hope she had held on to despite his growing distance, despite his hollow sentiments, was now falling away. Feeling her heart harden she quickly strode into her shared room; Annie was sleeping so she was quiet when she withdrew her small tin of precious correspondence, false treasures she though angrily.
Her hand shook as she pried open the lid, seeing the evidence of her love in all its entirety, so few letters…
She carefully removed and unfolded the smallest scrap of paper. A dried out narrow loop of grass fell into her palm, it didn’t even fit over her ring finger anymore. She knew. She had tried it on more often than she could count till it became too fragile to warrant the frequent handling. Dropping the grass back into the tin she stood back before the fire and upturned the scant contents out and over the embers. The parchment caught quickly and within ten seconds there was no longer any evidence of her doomed dreams.
She stared at the remnants for a little while. Katherine never let herself cry in public, but in the late hours, alone as she was; she had no reason to hide the tears and loud fractured sobs which poured forth.
She stayed by the dimming flames, unmoving, till her fatigue caught up with her. She decided to not douse the fire, just in case her Father came home, although he rarely did.
Chapter 3: The Blight
*testing microphone* we are still in the angst people. Hang on in there xxx
TW: Horror, character death (off screen)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When we were young we used to play War Games, afternoons spent reveling in the glamour of Heroes and Villains, of Knights and Damsels. No more, not now we both know what true war is like. Not now I’ve lost everything again.
The first sign that trouble was coming was when a band of Chasind refugees passed through the village. Traders from the Koccari wilds, although uncommon weren’t a wholly unusual occurrence. But these weren’t traders who traipsed through their small town; these were the women, children and elderly, those who rarely left their homesteads even during the most trying of winters. The Chasind were hardy people and used to living a lean life, but their current hardships were evident on their tired faces and carried in hushed whispers, Maker but the details of the horrors that have encroached upon the wilds.
The folk made a small camp on the far side of the village with a promise of moving on after an evening’s rest. Katherine watched sad procession feeling subdued. Their parents had always teased her generation that they didn’t know true hardship, having been born after the Orlesian occupation was over. So now, seeing destitution and displacement for the first time, she felt the distress of the refugees acutely.
Her empathetic nature rallied her into action and at once she took stock of what she could do to help. Their Father had long since abandoned any kind of responsibility in that regard, he rarely spoke unless it was the Chant of Light.
My mother might be dead she thought gloomily but she wouldn’t want me to shrink from my duties as a Mayors daughter and a Lady. Kat would always try to consider herself as such to honor her mother’s memory, although she no longer practiced her pleasing arts and she had long abandoned wearing her pretty paisley dresses in favor of leggings and over-sized shirts. Annie still wore all her old gowns, but men’s clothes were cheaper and easier to repair, the soft muslins and embroidered collars of her childhood now just another of her rose tinted memories.
Pushing aside her own negative thoughts in the presence of those who knew true suffering she rolled up her smock sleeves and set to work. She was an awful cook, but she could bake and so she did, spending half the day, preparing bundles of rye loaves to hand out to the weary travelers before they continued on with their journey. Annie provided the refugees with whatever medicinal herbs she could spare and Katherine made sure that the children each got a sweet bun.
The second sign of their impending ruin was when the King Maric’s men came through the village. They were raising a grand army to fight back the horde; it was to be a magnificent battle with victory all but assured with the famous Grey Wardens as their allies.
Most of the young men joined the ranks at once eager for glory and gold. Several of the skilled traders joined the fighting force too; the town’s healer and Blacksmith were eagerly welcomed, the latter leaving Branson as his short term replacement.
The recruiting officers began to ask around town for the levies that should have been raised in times of war, their inquiries lead them to Katherine and she in turn told them where her Father was.
The leading Knight came back out of the Chantry after an interview of only a minute at most, he shook his head and then they were gone.
Although most of the able bodied men were on their way to Ostagar Mia’s Father had decided to remain behind. He had been a very young man during the Orlesian revolt and although a farmer at heart he still possessed a small amount of skill and experience with weaponry. And so he began to teach the eldest children, Katherine included, just as a precaution. He said it was more to deter any bandits who may see the town as defenseless now there were mainly just juveniles and the elderly left behind.
‘This is easy!’ Branson boasted during the middle of their first lesson ‘Don’t know why Cul made such a big deal of practicing every day.’
‘Anyone can swipe a sword without skill’ Kat spoke up to defend his elder brother out of habit rather than feeling. Branson and Mia had both been supporters of Cullen joining the Templars, but as the years had rolled by Katherine wasn’t the only one who had stopped receiving letters. For the most part she had stopped even mentioning him in a bid to try and stem her bitterly disappointed feelings which rose every-time she heard his name. Mia and his parents were the only ones who spoke about him now with any kind of warmth or regard, the only ones who still wrote to him.
‘Speak for yourself!’ Branson teased as Katherine dropped the heavy weapon on to her foot. A string of curses, not at all becoming of her Lady’s education flying from her as she hopped around. The other assembled trainees all laughed, even Papa Rutherford giving a hidden chuckle behind his hand.
‘Back to work Branson, don’t give up Katie’ he eventually said once the laughter had quieted.
Katherine tried again, but although she had been working her family’s small plot of land hard the past three years, she was never going to be especially strong. The following day she tried the bow but similarly found she couldn’t hold the draw for long enough, or retract it far enough to make any progress in the target practice.
‘Gah! It’s hopeless’ she sulked by the end of the third day after failing to master the Halberd.
‘It’s not hopeless; we just have to find the right weapon for you’ the burly farmer tried to comfort her, but she still went to bed that evening feeling dejected.
On the fourth day she was presented with a pair of small rusty daggers. Papa Rutherford explained that they hadn’t been used in a decade and she would need to get them sharpened as soon as possible, but maybe they would suit her.
‘I was never a rogue myself, but I remember talking to Scouts in Loghain’s rebel army, they said to wield daggers was akin to dancing. You used to dance all the time, so try to remember that’ he gave her an encouraging smile and stepped back.
Kat took a steadying breath, trying to ignore the surreptitious glances from the other students. Dancing, dancing? What type? I don’t think a Waltz, certainly not a Ceildh hmm… She thought of the fast and fiery Antivan dances, maybe something like a Tango she began to quietly hum a rhythm audible to her ears only.
She circled, the daggers light in her hands, her arms already moving to the beat Ta Ta Taa, tata.
As she started to attack the propped up hay bale that was acting as a makeshift dummy Katherine felt something click. Her long years of prancing about and natural agility were definitely paying off as she began to move efficiently and decisively, striking with a rapid one-two rhythm.
‘Kill the straw bastard!’ Mia shouted, urging her on, her face cracking into a grin at the heckling.
She quickly sidestepped around the dummy, grazing it with shallow cuts from top to base, the song in her mind speeding up and driving her to attack faster, harder. The other teenagers whooped in encouragement as she continued her assault. She spun, swiped and rolled, strands of straw flying up into the air with each stab and slash. This was working! She wanted a last dramatic flourish for her audience, she could visualize herself vaulting over the bale, spinning in mid-air and sinking both daggers firmly into the top of target. It would be spectacular!
In reality just as she was about to enact her finale her ankle twisted on a stray pebble and she fell, possibly equally dramatically, onto the flat of her back.
Her panting was the only noise in the prevailing silence as her song ended, the stray bits of straw and dried grass finally settling around her.
Well, I’m not a combat prodigy. Despite her newest humiliation Katherine couldn’t help but beam with pride as her friends all clapped and hollered praise for her efforts. And, not forgetting her manners, she gave a very pristine curtsy in return; pleased she had been able to entertain them at least.
Mia came and gave her a hug, Branson patted her on the back and for the first time in months she laughed.
With a few more weeks of practice she knew that should it ever be needed she could defend herself. So she smiled as her feeling of helplessness receded, just a little.
News of Ostagar soon eradicated any feeling of confidence or hope that the Blight was to be short lived. The King had been betrayed by his general, abandoned to the Darkspawn when the Cavalry should have charged. Although a minority claimed Loghain’s actions were just, those who shared that opinion quickly learned to keep it to themselves and a prevailing sense of unease at the actions of the ruling classes swelled among those displaced. In fighting and assassinations kept the Lord’s focused on themselves and not on the common-population whom they were sworn to protect. What was more was that the man who was now King-Maker had banished all Grey Wardens from Fereldan’s borders.
The rumors coming from the now masses of refugees were horrifying, all hope seemed lost.
‘It’s madness’ she overheard a conversation from some new fleeing folk who were stopping by on their way to South Reach.
‘What of the Chantry? Couldn’t they defend us, perhaps send in the Orlesian Wardens or Templars to keep the creatures at bay?’
‘Loghain would never allow Orlesian’s into Fereldan and the Chantry cares nothing for our physical bodies, well unless you’re a Mage.’
‘Aye true, what I wouldn’t give to be a Mage now safely locked away in that island tower. The Darkspawn won’t be getting in there’
Cullen and his love will be safe then. She supposed she should be grateful of the fact but instead felt regret that she never did manifest any magic. Maybe if I was there he wouldn’t have strayed… no he never cared for me that way at all it was just a pretty lie, a false promise.
The town of Honnleath got no third warning. A month after Ostagar, the horde reached their borders.
Katherine had been sleeping lightly when she heard the alarm horn. She roused Annie at once, charging her with collecting their ready-made packs and then to make her way over to the Rutherford’s as a precaution.
This wasn’t the first time the alarm had sounded; usually it was a stray Genlock that had gotten lost in its bid to follow the Archdemon’s calling. Such lone creatures were quickly dispatched by an archer before they got too close.
Still, it was the towns agreed upon routine that someone would check in with the sentries. Being one of the more agile of the towns remaining habitants Katherine sped over to their post around a short distance outside the town, her long braid flying behind her.
She heard a muffled scream before she reached her destination, her blood running cold as she slowed to a stop right where the scouts should have been posted. She panted to catch her breath as she looked about, her eyes straining to see much of anything in the darkness. There was another scream, this time accompanied by a man’s shout. Kat edged towards the tree line, withdrawing her daggers on instinct and treading quietly.
She remembered that it was a couple on duty, Sarah and Jack had been courting for six months, she hoped she wasn’t about witness their illicit coupling.
There were two torches laying on the ground, providing just enough light for Katherine to see Jack desperately fighting off a swarm of attackers while Sarah pulled her strewn dress back up around her shoulders. There were too many shadows, Kat covered her mouth to stifle a cry as she saw Jack’s body cut down and hacked to pieces where it fell.
Sarah wailed at the sight and started to flee with one of the torches. Kat readied herself, preparing to cover the retreat should her friend make it away from the horde.
But she stumbled on her loosened gown and instead of helping her get to safety Katherine instead watched with horror as a Hurlock grabbed her by her hair, cutting her flight short and used it to pull her flailing and screaming into the dark.
As the sobbing woman was dragged backwards, still waving the torch above her head in a futile attempt to escape, Kat could finally see into the inky black darkness.
There were eyes, hundreds of pairs of eyes, all reflecting light in the same eerie fashion as animals.
They were out of time. The Blight had arrived.
Katherine sprinted back to their abode, seeing Annie had already moved to the farmstead at the far side of town she didn’t hesitate to abandon her once home. She opened the animal pens as she fled, freed the birds from their cages and noticing a pair of sheers on the stable work table quickly grabbed hold of them. There was no hesitation as she cut her braid off at the nape of her neck, dropping the heavy bundle of hair to the floor without ceremony. If I survive this, I might regret that she thought before bolting back into the night.
‘They’re here. Everybody run, run now!’ She shouted during her sprint. Trying her best to wake as many of the village dwellers up as possible, she didn’t have time to go door to door.
‘We need to leave at once!’ She stated as soon as she stormed her way into to the Rutherford’s homestead, panting and breathless.
‘Katie, what happened to your hair?’ Annie questioned.
‘I cut it, come on get your things we need to go.’
‘Why?’ Rosalie chimed. A dark look crossing the elder children’s faces and a cautionary shake of the head was thrown her way by Mrs Rutherford.
‘It’s not important’ she answered quickly, pushing aside the mental image of Sarah being dragged away to her miserable fate. The house was a flurry of activity as supplies were strapped to backs, bags stuffed with whatever could be easily carried and wouldn’t spoil.
‘Dad hasn’t come over from the Chantry yet. Should I go and fetch him?‘ Annie asked just as another bell rang out in warning, closer this time.
She glanced nervously from the open window towards the Chantry ‘No you stay here, I’ll go. Promise me you will stick close to Rosalie and the others alright?’
‘Alright, come back soon.’
The Chantry was deserted, even the most faithful followers having heeded the warning bells and making their escape, all but for one man kneeling up by the statue of Andraste.
Kat wasted no time, striding up to the front of the little chapel and pulling him firmly by his shoulder. It had been a couple of weeks since he had last been home, she had only seen him at the weekly main services, now standing close and touching him for the first time in years she felt how frail he had become, how wasted the muscles in his shoulder were.
‘Father, we must leave. The Darkspawn have come.’
‘..the Maker shall be my guide.’
Please please, don’t do this ‘Dad, your prayers can wait, we need to go. Now’ she pleaded, trying to catch his eyes.
He heard the desperation in her voice and turned his face slowly, offering her a small sad smile. ‘Katherine’ he said quietly whilst shaking his head.
‘Don’t you dare sit here and wallow.’ She snapped, angry at his continued kneeling and lack of urgency. ‘You must come with me. Annie and I need you!’
‘You look so much like your Mother, she would have been so proud of you’ Kat bit her lip to stifle her whimper at his tone of resignation. Her eyes welling up as the man who raised her once again chose the dead over the living.
‘Daddy, please!’ she begged, her voice faltering.
‘Look after your sister’ he said with a note of finality, turning his gaze once more onto the prophetess’ visage.
Another shrill scream ripped through the silence, closer this time.
She quickly threw her arms around his shoulders, offering him one last hug before turning and fleeing. I love you Dad
She ran from the Chantry, her tears falling quicker than she could wipe them away.
Katherine saw Annie waiting expectantly by the Rutherford’s door, peering out into the night for any sign of her long absent parent. She would always love her father, but at that moment she cursed him for making her do this alone.
‘Katie, where’s Father?’
‘We need to go now’ she spoke calmly, ignoring her sister’s panicked question. The family were readying the farm horses in preparation for their imminent departure.
Annie grabbed her arm ‘Where is Dad?’
The lie came quickly ‘He wants to stay and fight, to give us time to escape.’
Her sisters eyes widened as the implication sunk in ‘Wh- no. NO! We can’t leave him’ she tore away from the group, breaking into a run to try and head back to the Chantry. But Katherine caught her round the waist before she could get more than a few paces. Annie shouted and kicked, both sisters crying through their struggle.
‘Let me go! Katie let me go to him!’
‘I can’t, Annie please we need to go.’ I can’t lose you too.
Finally papa Rutherford scooped the flailing girl up into his arms. ‘Branson, help me get her up’ he said, the two men securing Annie on a horse with Mia and Rosealie.
‘NOOO DADDY!’ She cried in defeat, Mia keeping a firm hold of her young charge to prevent her trying to slide from the saddle.
Branson vaulted up onto the second animal, heavily laden with their belongings and gave Kat a hand up.
The horses were used to being made to plough so both animals snorted and stomped uncomfortably under the added weight of riders and packs. Their ears twitching as the shouts and cries from the village began to swell in volume.
‘Mia, Branson. Ride fast now, we’ll follow behind you on foot’ Papa Rutherford said at once
‘We can make room-’ Mia started to protest but was shushed by her mother.
‘We’ll be right behind you. Get your siblings to safety first.’
Their Father gave both animals a tap on their rump, and they began cantering off towards the East, away from the creeping danger.
Katherine glanced behind her and saw the glassy but determined stare of the Rutherford parents. She swallowed the lump in her throat as they armed themselves and turned to face the darkness together.
They waited for two days at the cross-roads with the other fleeing civilians.
Mia kept up a brave face for the younger children, but even she gave to despair when no more survivors trickled in from Honnleath.
Their ragged group were just another handful of many new refugees and orphans, displaced, homeless and without hope. The lay sisters did what they could, but resources were stretched so thin that to stay amongst the swell of injured, sick and elderly would have been a death sentence.
So they moved on after a few days.
Mia, wise beyond her twenty-one years cared for them all like a mother.
Branson sulked and lashed out in anger.
Annie and Rosalie cried every night.
Katherine’s heart was already hardened from her own losses and so she took it upon herself to hold the young girls when their emotions became too great. She bore the burden well, after all a Lady never cries in public.
PSA: if you ever find yourself in a horror film situation then do.not.bone.
The couple that have sex are always among the first to die.
Next time: we see what Cullen has been up to and guess what, more angst.
Chapter 4: The Tower
Last angst Chapter guys, you've done so well but this is the Blight and not even the circle was left unscathed.
TW: Horror and Sexual Assault, borderline Rape. Not very explicit but please take care.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I tried to stop thinking of you after we parted, sometimes I succeeded. But you were always there, lingering in the back of my mind. Waiting to remind me of everything I had lost. Did you ever think of me at all?
Cullen had spent the morning on his kneels praying for his parents souls.
Knight-Commander Greagoir had handed him the opened letter with a grim look, a look he had seen a few times as news of the ongoing Blight filtered in from the countryside. He wasn’t the only Templar or Mage to receive such a letter.
Around a month ago the Blight reached our town. Despite our preparations we were overrun. Mother and Father stayed behind to cover our escape, they gave our lives for us. I’m so sorry you have to find out this way brother. Know that we grieve deeply and hope you are safe from this cursed invasion.
Cullen scrubbed at his face in anguish. He knew he hadn’t been a diligent son these past years, his pride at being accepted into Templar training had blinkered his thoughts and consumed his time. The Order was everything to him and passing his vigil been his driving force, his soul reason to exist.
He had always wanted to write more, always wanted to visit home after his vigil, always remembered his childhood fondly. Now, knowing his home no longer existed he wept. A pit of self-loathing made him feel like he had abandoned them all, perhaps if I’d been there the outcome could have been different. He needed to apologize to them, to his siblings. He would, once the Blight would over he would apply for leave. He would find out where they were staying and help the start their life anew. There should be room in his life for duty and family.
We have relocated to South Reach and are currently camping amongst the other refugees till we can find accommodation. Katherine and Annie managed to escape with us although they too are now Orphans; they are staying with us for the time being and helping more than we could hope.
Kat, he couldn’t even remember the last time he’d thought about her.
He knew the last time he had written to her to end their childhood betrothal hadn’t been well received even if for Cullen himself it had been a forgone conclusion.
Enchanter Surana was beautiful and talented. Her warm umber skin and brilliant dark eyes had furnished many a daydream and unchaste evening reflection. Yet despite his rather obvious attraction and the open proposition she had made to him after her Harrowing it never went further than, and never could have become, anything more than casual flirting.
Still when Cullen wrote to Kat he was sure he had been in the early stages of a deep love, foolishly believing that she would be happy for him and provide encouragement as she had always done in all things.
Up until that point in his service even if his own correspondence had been inconsistent at best he had a new letter from Kat every three months, but after he confessed his simpering feelings in the somewhat abrupt note, her replies had stopped.
Cullen was first shocked and then increasingly disappointed when four, then five, then six months rolled by without a response. Part of him wished he had kept his council about his now long absent, long diminished infatuation, knowing the cost had been his only contact with his best friend.
For not long after he sent the letter Surana left to become a Warden, later he heard she had died at Ostagar. Cullen had been saddened at first, the Tower seemed more dull without her teasing laugh echoing through the Library. Although it had a stung a little he had been able to console himself and felt that he hadn’t experienced the heartbreak he had assumed would belong to the separation of a true love at her departure.
He could still eat, still perform his duty with care and attention and as the months rolled on he found himself cursing his own coarseness of language. He missed Kat’s enthusiastic letters and positive messages far more that Surana’s inviting smile. Kat used to have the most radiant smile…huh perhaps I think about out her more often than I realize.
Cullen shook his head at the disquieting revelation. Surely Kat had moved on too, had had similar experiences to him? Being truthful with himself there hadn’t just been Surana that had caught his eye before now. A few of the female Templar recruits had been more than willing to help him experiment in his youth. And Cullen burned with shame as he recalled his own post vigil experience in the local town. The women who had often fawned over him had turned out to be ‘working’ girls, and the tradition of newly minted Templars being bought a complimentary hour of entertainment by their seniors was not to be refused.
It was fumbling and awkward and although no longer a virgin Cullen felt he would probably need a lot more practice before he could please a woman the way in which the older men had boasted.
He hadn’t seen Kat in over five years, never as a woman, but he was certain she would be beautiful and would have many admirers. If he had hurt her, which seemed a certainty, he knew she would find happiness again. Not that he could think of anyone who would be worthy of her.
We know you are unable to abandon your post but please pray for our parents’ souls, they will need help to pass over to the Makers side as we were unable to burn their bodies. It is all I ask of you.
Pray Cullen did. He knelt in the small Chantry for hours ruminating on his letter, mourning for his family, his once home, his old life. It shouldn’t matter; he had the Order and new purpose now. But Maker help him, as the tears continued to fall long into the night he found that it did.
Cullen was on duty in the Library when he first suspected something was wrong. Knight Lieutenant’s David and Caleb asked him to escort the few mages milling about back to their dorms and then to seek out Knight Commander Greagoir on the lower floors for more orders.
He did so at once, simply suspecting some spell had gone awry in a class room or that one of the senior enchanters had set their assistants robes on fire again. Yet when he found Greagoir, the grim look adorning his brow at once indicated that something far more serious had occurred.
‘They’ve taken Irving. Maker’s Breath if they are able to corrupt him…’
Cullen caught the end of the conversation with the Knight Captain and remaining lieutenants.
The senior officers hatched a plan; they would seal the door temporarily to contain any threats while the Templars conducted a full sweep. Once Greagoir was recovered the doors would be reopened and only then.
The Knight-Commander turned to him ‘Ser Cullen, you are one of the youngest here, would you prefer to stay behind and guard the door?’
‘No Ser’ he replied without hesitation ‘I will go with the others.’ Cullen had already lost one home, he couldn’t stand to lose this one too.
‘Very well, form up all of you! Be vigilant, be thorough, be safe. Andraste preserve you.’
The moment the barrier was sealed over the heavy wooden doors Cullen heard the first scream. It was coming from the apprentice dormitory.
Battered and bruised, beaten and bloodied. Cullen couldn’t remember how long he has been made to suffer.
They lost two men to the rage demon that had been summoned in the apprentice rooms; he couldn’t count how many of the young Mages had already been burned before they got there and managed to subdue the demonic inferno. He regretted now that Kinloch’s weapons protocol meant that they usually only carried their Greatswords, if they had had their shields there may have been fewer casualties. Cullen didn’t think he would ever forget the smell of burning bodies.
More Templars gave their lives as they fought their way through the tower, falling to abominations that had risen when the Mages, loosened without oversight had fallen into panic or tried to escape. He thought he could see the twisted faces of Enchanters he had respected warped into the hulking fleshy atrocities. Was that Amell? The young man had taken his Harrowing with Surana and had been the best of friends with her; he was disgusted that one of her cohort had been so easily corrupted.
Still they fought on, room by room.
They thought they had all but quelled the demons, their confidence rising as they made their way up and up towards the Harrowing Chamber. When they entered the ancient room Irving was in sight, it is over! He had thought… It was not over. The First Enchanter tried to shout a warning, but their overconfidence had been their downfall. They had not accounted for the sheer number of demons Uldred could summon, could not comprehend that he could reach into their minds to turn Brother against Brother. His combined and unleashed Spirit and Primal magic powered by blood proved impossible to counter.
After the end of a vicious and violent battle the handful of Templars not yet killed were dragged into an adjoining room and there they remained.
The Senior Templars were the first to break. Cullen knew the thirst for Lyrium was potent, the constant song calling him ever since his first draught. But he still expected his superiors to last more than 36 hours before they began to barter away their lives for the drug, was that his future? Willingly giving himself over to a vile creature of the Fade for one more drop of his powerful addiction. No I won’t let it consume me.
The physical torture came next. Uldred’s band of blood mages using their bodies for sport, enticing demons into his friends forms, whippings, beatings and all manner of corporal punishment. The Mages proved to be vindictive and eager in their revenge against those who had sworn to protect them.
All of the Templars, every last one, eventually succumbed to temptation or expired from their injuries…Till only Cullen remained.
The torture was resumed in earnest but he could endure. The Chant had so far provided him with a safe harbor to care for his mind while his physical being was torn to shreds, only to be healed and have the whole process start over. If that was the best his captors could do, then he would die before they would break him. Indeed after days, weeks? The Blood Mages either gave into possession themselves, or wandered off in the hope of more entertaining prey.
He had hope.
A teasing laugh, a streak of long dark hair. Could it be? Cullen thought she was dead; she must have survived and tried to come home.
Maker no, ‘Surana, Surana you need to get away from here!’ he shouted out a warning. She gasped when she saw him in his pitiful state; the barrier must have not affected mages as she passed through it with ease, kneeling down beside him.
‘Cullen? Oh Maker, Cullen what have they done to you?’
‘Y- you need to get away.’ He pleaded, his throat was hoarse from dehydration, his lips parched and chapped. She was wearing only her enchanter robes, and carried no staff, perhaps he could find her one and she could fight her way out of this void.
Surana held a water skein up to his mouth, he drunk greedily though it quenched only one of the thirsts currently consuming him.
‘It’s ok Cullen. You’re safe now, I’m here to help, we can get out of this together.’
‘Help?’ he said the word like a prayer, his eyes refusing to leave her face as he looked upon her as if she were the prophetess reborn.
‘Yes’ the smile she gave him was still as inviting as it always had been, her hands warm against his cheeks. Cullen’s eyes slid closed in relief and joy. How often he dreamt of her touching him like this? Pity that it had taken this madness for them to see that; worse still that he didn’t realize that his torment had only just begun.
‘I’ll always stay with you Cullen, no one will come between us now’ she spoke into his ear. Her voice sounded a little odd, it almost echoed despite being a whisper and her cadence had changed since she had been away. And her eyes, her eyes were yellow!
Cullen pushed her away from his body, he didn’t have the strength to move her far and he was unable to retreat due to the static cage behind him.
‘What-What are you!?’ Cullen hissed as Surana continued to look over him with a seductive smile.
‘I’m what you’ve always wanted Cullen’ she moved back to him with unusual speed, pressing her lips to his. She moaned into him and at first he responded eagerly. Her hands began to stroke his hair, his aching back and trailing down, down. He felt himself harden through his skirts, shame flooding him considering the life or death situation they were still in, but he had wanted her for so long.
Then he noticed that her hands were no longer warm, cold chilling him where she touched. He balked at her taste and scent, putrid and cloying like sulfur. He remembered that Surana had died at Ostagar. DEMON! This time he pushed her back with more force, drawing another dark chuckle from Surana, the laugh he once found attractive now a repugnant grating, her kiss was poison.
‘Begone Demon!’ he commanded though his voice faltered and shook, his resolve not at all as strong as it should be in the face of the one he had pined over this past year and a half.
Desire revealed her true form, laughing as she floated around him, gleefully eyeing her prize.
‘Oh little Templar, we will have such fun before I claim you.’
His tormentor took delight in delving into his mind, providing him with lurid fantasies, touching him when he could no longer fight, edging him and toying with him till time ceased to pass.
Surana, stripping away her robes to reveal her lithe Elven body. Pleasuring herself in front of him, begging him to take her. ‘Oh Cullen, can you see how much I want you?’ She held her glistening nectar up to his face, Cullen retching at the act as he had no food or fluid left to vomit. ‘Come to me husband, let’s consummate our marriage.’
‘No!’ he shouted.
Surana, belly swollen and full, cooing and smiling over her bump. She was wearing a long green dress, her hair flowing around her in dark black curls. ‘Oh Cullen, I think I felt the baby kick. Come and touch me and we can be a family.’
‘No.’ He sobbed.
Surana, kneeling in front of him. Using all her wiles, her lips, her tongue to bring him pleasure he did not want. ‘Cullen, give in to me Cullen. I will make you feel so good’ she purred before closing her hot wet mouth over his length once more.
‘Please stop!’ he cried. Trying to step away but falling when the lightning from the cage alighted his nervous system once more.
He lay there on the floor and felt his mind cracking, crying though he had no water to even produce tears. There was no one coming to save him, no one cared. He’d already let everybody down his comrades, his charges, his family. What reason did he have to fight… maybe he should just stop fighting.
‘You will remember me won’t you Cullen?’
Cullen drew a ragged breath as he heard the too familiar voice. Katherine?
This was too cruel. Cullen squeezed his eyes shut; he refused to see what abominable demon now wanted their pound of flesh. Couldn’t they see there was only the husk of a man left.
‘What is the meaning of this!’ Surana-Demon shrieked. Cullen’s eyes snapping open at her tone of outrage.
She was there. Standing as she had all those years ago, a flower crown in her hand. Her cheeks flushed from their earlier kiss, tears in her eyes as they said their goodbyes… And there she remained, just looking at him. Patiently waiting for his response.
Katherine. Innocent, pure, kind, joyous Katherine.
For the first time in years he let himself really remember her as he studied her form with his tired red rimmed eyes. He was fully prepared to see her cut down the moment Desire reached her but for those few heartbeats he drank his fill, unusual for a balm to be offered when he was so close to breaking. It had to be some new game Surana was playing.
The girl began to hum her familiar lullaby and Cullen was filled with memories of his youth. Of his constant complaining, of her patience and stubbornness. Of her wild long hair, neither straight nor curly but unruly waves that she constantly battled. Of their games, their shared adventures, her singing, her scent. Lavender and Elderflower. Elderflower! He still had a sprig of dried blossom in his chest back at the barracks, he liked the way it made his clothes smell. Like home.
‘P-please, don’t hurt her. I’ll do anything you ask’ he pleaded as the violet demon stalked towards her. That was how they were going to finally tempt him, Andraste forgive his weakness but he could not watch her be mutilated and twisted.
Desire raised her claws. Kat still just standing there waiting for his answer, she wouldn’t even defend herself. Cullen stretched out his arm, he was too weak to do more, he couldn’t protect her ‘NO!’
The blow passed through her body, a slight shimmering covering her form before she was once again whole and humming her song. What is happening?
The desire demon stalked and swiped at the apparition again and again. Cullen bracing himself every time, expecting one of the attacks to finally land and cut short the life of his first love.
But the connecting strike never came Desire shrieking with rage at being thwarted by this interloper when her victory had been all but assured.
A quiet chuckle escaped him and Surana-Demon fixed her evil gaze upon him once more.
‘She isn’t yours is she? Haha! Oh Kat…’ he laughed again although it pained him to do so, the demon whipping her tail and snarling in anger. ‘I’ve finally gone mad, and there is nothing you can do about it!’
With the sound of her song in his ears he slipped into a deep dreamless, sleep. His first reprieve in days.
His relief was of short duration. When he woke he was still trapped, still craved Lyrium till he was scratching at his skin with an unrelenting itch for the blue.
Katherine was gone. Desire remained. Taunting him and tempting him once more.
But when the torture got very bad, when he was about to give in to Desire’s foul seductions she would come to him. The visions varied. Sometimes she was just smiling and laughing as she lay her head down beside his, pointing up at the none existent clouds overhead.
Other times she would sing her lullaby granting him much needed rest.
The visions were always chaste, always pure. There was no attempt to touch him, or to offer him solace other than what was imparted with her memory. Desire couldn’t imitate her, couldn’t beat her, Kat offered him something that was incorruptible.
Every time his encounters with her ended the same way. ‘You will remember me won’t you Cullen?’ The apparition asked again. Reaffirming the promise, the commitment he made all those years ago and that he very nearly betrayed.
‘Yes’ he whispered ‘I promise.’
Cullen’s eyes slid shut for rest once more, he had his promise, his purpose, he would carry on fighting.
His rescue came during one of his darker moments. He raged at Warden Surana thinking she was another ploy to win his submission. Even once released he was mistrustful of the Warden’s intentions, railing against their decision to not annul the circle. How could they let a single mage loose was beyond him. They were all weak, all corrupted by power, all deviants looking for their chance to fight against the Makers will. Never again would he be fooled by their apparent proficiency or personability. Never again would he stray from his righteous path.
Cullen may have been physically saved by Surana, but he knew that Katherine had been his salvation.
The Veil is thin in the circle. If there are a lot of demons there are spirits too. I'm headcannoning that 'Kat' is a spirit here, maybe of purpose or love, you can decide.
Cullen hasn't gone crazy, well anymore than usual DAO Cullen x
Chapter 5: The Beginning
Thank you all so much for sticking with this through the angsty chapters.
Things are looking up xxx
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The dreams, our childhood plans. None of it mattered of course, we both had to adapt to survive.
I hardly recognized myself, not for a long time.
South Reach was the perfect new start for the Rutherford children.
Mia had found love in the form of one the local Farmer’s sons; they were engaged within a few months of courting.
Branson was apprenticed to the Blacksmith in the nearby town. The current incumbent was nearing retirement and so would leave the shop to the young man in the near future. This would provide Branson with financial security and also an outlet for his anger.
Rosalie, since accepting the loss of her parents became the most outwardly cheerful of all. She was the one to rally their spirits and talk of good times to come and the happy times past.
Katherine worked on the local farms as a laborer. She had to provide for Annie alone although Mia did try to help her when she was able, a relief as some weeks the money could run short. The work was back breaking and she was not strong. Also she was terrified that when winter came, that coupled with the long days of toil would lead to her to weaken and catch a chill as her mother had done. And then Annie would be alone… I will never abandon her, not like everyone else.
Annie’s spirits were little better than her older sisters. Having been refused the position of assistant at the only healers for thirty miles she retained her seriousness, spending her days reading and acquiring knowledge; practicing her art to any who would give time to a thirteen year old. Kat never fell ill and she attributed that wholly to her sister’s skill, she was a prodigy and deserved the chance to use her gift.
So, after more than a year of striving and failing to find their place they felt it was time to leave.
The farewells to the Rutherford clan were emotional. They were the only family they had left, their only connection to their childhood and warming youthful memories.
Mia provided them with huge packs of food although handed them over with regret and her typical mother-hen chastisement when they didn’t heed her request to settle close by.
Branson shouted a lot when they told him they were leaving, but eventually conceded that they possibly could be happier elsewhere. It was no secret that the young sisters had been struggling.
Rosalie kissed them both, made them promise to write once a week and tell her all the wonderful things they would see. Her exuberance meant that when they departed, to join up with the trader that was to take them north up to the harbor towns, they did so with smiles on their faces and with hope for a brighter future.
From South Reach they traveled up through Drakonfork, past the Calder hills before eventually reaching the small port of Harpers Ford. Annie had wanted to sail from Highever and take the chance to see the sights of that great city, but the merchant they were travelling with assured them that boats from this port were cheaper, and they were not rich in funds.
When they arrived they made quick enquiries regarding the ships currently docked and their onward destinations. Of the several boats going to Kirkwall one, a large galleon with pristine white sails, was out of their price range. The other a military vessel refused to allow women on board. Bloody superstitious lot! That left them with a mid-sized cargo vessel who’s Captain, a shrewd but experienced Starkhaven sailor eyed them disapprovingly.
‘Passage will cost you ten gold a piece’ he said folding his arms.
That was more than half their savings and they knew they would need bribes to get through the docks at the other side.
Katherine scoffed and standing in a likewise unimpressed manner retorted at once ‘Look at us! We are tiny girls ten gold for the pair and I promise you won’t even notice we’re on-board!’
The man was unmoved ‘I’m not running a ferry service here, ten gold each and you get your meals and own bunks.’
Kat kept her polite smile fixed. She had learned to barter well these past few years; it had been a necessity as their coin had dried up. She had wanted to keep these as a memento of Papa Rutherford but memories wouldn’t pay for passage.
‘What about these Daggers?’ She placed them down with care, they had been well looked after since she’d inherited them. They were sharp, the handles not long rebound. She knew they could fetch a few gold on their own.
The Captain appraised them with an expert eye. ‘Hmmm…old military stock, sturdy, functional. Yeah they will do.’
‘Then we have a deal’ Kat put out her hand to shake and swiped the daggers back ‘You get this half of your payment after we get there.’
The hoary man looked like he was about to protest but Kat added sweetly ‘You can’t expect to young Ladies to travel without any protection!’
That drew a loud guffawing laugh from their new ship mate ‘Aye, get on then. You Lassie drive a harder bargain than a Dwarf!’
The days at sea were a little boring, especially when the crossing became rough and they were forced to retreat into the mess deep in the bowels of the ship, but the sisters made the best of it. For Annie she seconded herself in with the ships surgeon getting a very practical education in all kinds of unpleasant diseases and also a crash course in how to keep tools clean in a less than sterile environment.
Kat spent her time mooching about, learning how to play cards with the sailors… learning how to cheat at cards like the sailors and generally throwing herself into the ships life. Her mother would have been appalled at the language she picked up, but she found it, along with her still short hair and men’s clothing, helped her to be easily accepted by the crew. Consequently she was made privy to a few more of the little tricks and cons that the men used to make coin when ashore.
The ‘traders’ they were travelling with were smugglers…she was almost certain of it. They weren’t allowed to go down to the cargo hold although she did peak at some of the barrels through the lattice air vent. ‘Tethras Bros’ the worn label stated, she hadn’t heard of them.
The Cabin Boy was a young Orlesian orphan named Frederic, although everyone called him Fred. He was around the same age as Annie and had taken quite a shine to the younger sister. He approached Katherine hesitantly one day asking questions about what her sibling liked and whether or not they planned on sailing again soon. He puffed up his chest and told her quite confidently that one day he would return to his homeland a wealthy man and that he thought Annie would fit in well in Orlais because of her hair.
‘Not that your hair isn’t a pretty color of course’ he backtracked ‘but your sister’s is very red.’ Almost as red as your face she thought with a grin. It was young love and it was adorable. Kat listened patiently to his proud plans for the future, she encouraged his diligence but urged him not to make promises he couldn’t keep. Her own bittersweet remembrance clouding what was otherwise a sunny day.
The voyage was on its final evening. And as the weather was calm and the going was smooth the Captain ordered them all above deck for an impromptu celebration of a sea crossing well done. Salted meat was roasting on the spit, the smell was divine and Kat’s mouth watered when she took the first bite. Dried lemons and oranges were passed around like candy; the sharp-sweet flavor was surprisingly moreish. She tried some of the barreled hooch they had opened, but found it a little too strong for her and had to sit down when she fell a little dizzy. Annie next to her was giggling and clapping along to the accordion that was being played, the sailors jigging about and singing exceptionally rude songs that made Kat blush.
A wrought Iron brazier was lit in the center of their gathering, crackling noisily and whooshing up with a bright orange flame whenever one of the crew poured on some of the strong rum they were happily chugging.
At a break in the music the Captain approached the seated girls, addressing Kat directly ‘Do you know any ditties Lassie?’
Katherine panicked, when had she last sung or performed? ‘I don’t know many lively ones; I should think you’d find my singing boring.’
‘Now now, we gave you passage for a song so it’s only fair you return the favor. Come on-’ he ordered and shushed his men ‘Bore us to tears!’
Shaking and still feeling a little buzzed from the alcohol she stood close the brazier, the heat from it warming her already scalding cheeks further. She looked up, the two moons were bright in the clear skies. She took a deep breath, heard the waves crashing against the bow of their ship… and sang.
Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing
Onward the sailors cry.
Carry the lad that’s born to be king
Over the sea to Skye.
It was a good song choice, at once silence fell over the deck. Any muttering conversations muted as her voice, high and lilting rang out. All enraptured with the unexpected performance.
Loud the wind howls
Loud the waves roar
Thunderclaps rend the air
Her eyes slipped closed. When had she last allowed herself to sing, to feel?
Baffled our foes
Stand by the shore
Follow they will not dare
Kat swayed slightly with her song, long forgotten grace moving her body unconsciously, her face a picture of serenity. She’d missed this.
Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing
Onward the sailors cry.
Carry the lad that’s born to be king
Over the sea to Skye
Kat swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat, her vision becoming blurry with unshed emotion. No one spoke, no one clapped. Had it been that awful? She looked at once to Annie with alarm and found her sisters face among the crowd. There was a mirroring sadness in her eyes, a few tears fell and were hastily wiped away despite her otherwise encouraging smile.
‘By the Maker Lassie’ The Captain stood and threw a copper down at her feet ‘I said bore us to tears not break our hearts!’ He started to clap followed by all the now standing sailors who filled the once silence with a rapturous applause, more coins were thrown in favor and she just stood there fighting the rising tide of joy that threatened to overwhelm her.
Annie clapped and whooped and Katherine, feeling a little silly due to her men’s clothes, still felt obliged to give a pristine curtsy in thanks. Then felt even more foolish for doing so and tried to hide her blushed cheeks and grateful smile behind her too short hair.
As they were about to step onto the gangplank the following morning and start their new lives Kat, as promised offered her daggers up as payment.
The Captain slapped her roughly on the back ‘Nah, you keep them. After all I can’t expect two Ladies to live in this Maker-forsaken hole without any protection!’
Kirkwall was crowded, humid and the ancient walls and enormous statues were looming and threatening. And this was just the harbor. They chatted to the few food vendors who approached them while they were waiting in a long queue to be processed. Apparently it was far worse a few months ago, back then they closed the gate to all but Kirkwall nationals, the Viscount eventually relenting when the docks became the site of a humanitarian disaster.
When it was their turn they bribed the guards and took directions to the cheapest accommodation they could find in what was really just a now lived in sewer called Darktown.
Whoever named the place Darktown was certainly very literal she mused as they approached the place they were to call home. It was little more than a one bedroom hovel carved out of the foundations of whatever building was above them. The siblings were long familiar with poverty and hardship since the blight, but even they found that absolute destitution which surrounded them somewhat upsetting.
Kat was about to announce that they had made a terrible mistake, that they should return to the docks and try and beg passage back to Fereldan when someone was stabbed right outside their front door.
The sight of blood in the darkened clearing instantly brought back memories of that fateful night, of seeing her friend violently cut down while the other was dragged away screaming. For the first time in her life Katherine froze.
Instead of dragging Annie right back inside, fearing they could be targeted in whatever organised crime attack this was she instead watched uselessly and in awe as her baby sister sprang into action.
Working with deft hands she bundled up spare rags in order to slow the bleeding, shouting at those folk standing and gawking at the display to go and find help. She checked for other injuries and took the time to learn the victim’s name and calm him with reassuring words.
A few minutes later they were rapidly approached by someone who proclaimed to be a Healer; they had no choice but to trust him on sight.
A few of their neighbors helped move the young man to the Healer’s place of work and the sisters retired to their single room dwelling, the elder shaking, the younger lamenting that she didn’t tag along to assist and vowed to find out where he had been taken tomorrow to check in.
Annie made her some tea on their small stove ‘Are you ok Katie? I’ve never seen you panic like that before.’ Katherine wasn’t scared of blood, she wasn’t scared of the dark but some combination of the two…‘Ah, oh yes I’m sorry to worry you’ she forced a smile, relieved when Annie turned away and missed the shudder that shook her frame.
The Healer turned out to be a Grey Warden Apostate who returned to their home a few hours after the injured man had been treated. Anders offered Annie a position providing she had no issues with him using magic when the need arose.
‘If we’d had magic my mother may not have died’ Annie spoke a little bitterly.
Katherine had tried, several times to explain that their mother had never been very well. She was always prone to illness and infection and in truth although magic may have cured that particular chill which cost the young mother her life, she didn’t think it could have treated the underlying sickness.
‘She accepts!’ Kat spoke quickly, shocking her sister from her brooding.
‘Katherine, are you sure?’
‘Yes! This is why we came to Kirkwall’ she insisted grasping her sister’s hands. ‘Learn your craft, learn from Anders. Help people it’s what you were made for.’ She had never been more certain of anything in her life. Except for one thing… Doesn’t matter, he’s dead she thought grimly.
‘Oh thank you!’ Annie pulled her into a hug, distracting her from her sinking mood and she returned the embrace eagerly.
‘All I ask is that you let me walk you to and from work, at least till you’re a little older ok?’
‘Yes of course.’
‘Wonderful!’ Anders clapped ‘Oh one quick question, you aren’t allergic to Cats are you?’
Annie’s new position didn’t come with a regular wage. Their patients gave what they could, often in the form of clothing, food or favors, rarely coin. As a result it was up to Katherine to find employment again, to support them financially and eventually pay their way out of the slums.
She spent weeks searching. Trying first to find regular work, asking around in the markets and docks but the prejudice against Fereldans was severe. She had lost count of the times someone had called her a dog fucker.
There was a nearby mine nicknamed the ‘bone pit’ partially due to the number of workplace accidents that had taken place. The owners took one look at her thin arms and laughed her away saying ‘even if they paid her half she still wouldn’t be able to move enough of the ores to make it worth their while.’
That was frustrating. It wasn’t her fault she was currently rather skinny, she had had more curves as a fourteen year old than she did now. Her Mother, when well, had always had a beautifully voluptuous figure. But the years since her teenage growth spurt had been hard on her body. First in Honnleath when she had to learn a new set of skills from nothing, then South Reach when the food shortages associated with war were ever present and now.
Their savings had dried up in those first couple of months in Kirkwall so Kat started going the odd day without eating, telling Annie she would get something later when the younger sister questioned her lack of appetite over breakfast and dinner. It wouldn’t be forever, she was resilient.
Katherine didn’t want to resort to thievery, the risk was too high. If she was caught then Annie would be alone and she would never let that happen. She still had enough pride remaining, battered though it was, to refuse the odd suggestion that she begin ‘working’ I’d rather starve she thought angrily.
Feeling dejected as she sat near the market, waiting for inspiration she noted several gaming tables set up not far from her. Gambling was risky; she knew enough to win in fair game. Or rather cheat her way to victory, her ‘Trading’ friends on their boat trip had taught her well. But that was no guarantee against an equally skilled player or one that had stacked the odds.
What if it was my game…
Kat sprinted to the toy stall and spent her handful of remaining coppers on a deck of cards. She would need to be careful, to make sure she lost just enough to make her winnings seem incidental, but the prospect of regular meals and some new clothes proved too strong.
It was time for the gamesters of Kirkwall to find the Lady.
‘You filthy wretch, give me back my money!’
Kat sighed as she heard the usual complaint; all but rolling her eyes at the man who was as tall as he was broad loudly berate her. ‘Serrah, you mustn’t be a sore loser.’
‘You cheated!’ his fists shook with his indignation. His friends who had been standing nearby coming to see what the disturbance was, they were all large, all armed. It was time to go.
Katherine quickly collected her days ‘winnings’ and tucked them into a small cloth purse. ‘If I had been cheating then I would have won that large round earlier don’t you think?’
She abandoned her table and started walking away briskly; they were following her Andraste’s knickers not this again. Her disappointed customers were becoming more frequent and increasingly vocal. She had been changing the game up from time to time and practicing her sleight-of-hand skills in her downtime. But she may have to rethink her hustling strategy, or consider paying for protection if this kept up.
Just as she reached the mouth of the ally that lead away from the market square she spun and addressed the four following thugs directly, although she really hoped to catch the attention of passers-by, which usually was a deterrent enough. ‘Are you really going to attack an unarmed individual in front of all these people and the city guard?’ Kat pointed over their shoulders indicating the law enforcers.
They looked behind them ‘Guards, what there’s no-‘
Phew that was too close.
She flung the money pouch up in the air and caught it. Still it was not a bad day’s work. Kat was no longer missing meals now, and although she was still wearing men’s clothes they were at least new, or as close to new as she was likely to afford on her budget. Another year or so of this and they might be able to afford somewhere in low-town. With a more reputable address she could find some safer and steadier work and hopefully be able to help Annie set up her own clinic.
The general fear of magic and the tightly controlled presence of Mages meant that mundane healing was always going to be a necessity.
Maybe we could have an apartment above Annie’s clinic? It was something to think about for the future, she whistled as she turned a corner, whelping in fright as she saw the men in front of her.
‘THERE’S THE BITCH!’
Shit! Katherine broke out into a sprint without looking back.
She flew around corners and slipped her way along ever more deserted roads, winding and twisting past increasingly unfamiliar landmarks, inns and homes. She thought she knew Kirkwall’s streets fairly well by now. But in truth apart from her daily walk to the central market and back she hadn’t much ventured around the wider city.
Now, beginning to pant and feel faint from her sudden exertions she began to regret her decision to run blindly, a small whimper betraying her real alarm when she found herself at a dead end.
Even over her ragged breaths she could hear multiple footsteps approaching.
Kat had decided to stop carrying her daggers when she first came to Kirkwall. This wasn’t the first time she had riled up the wrong marks however usually the sight of her unarmed and offering whatever scant coin she had made that day made most would-be attackers back down. Waving a weapon in front of someone’s face only ever got people killed around here.
Katherine held her hands up and threw down the small purse expecting the same series of events to happen again. She might miss one meal, but they had enough saved behind a loose brick at home for them to make ends meet for a couple of weeks if she had to go into hiding for a while.
The thugs stepped over the purse, cracking their knuckles and fixing her with a look of pure violence.
‘Serrah please, I don’t want any trouble.’ Her back hit the wall behind her, still they approached.
‘You should have thought of that before you tried to scam me, now you need to learn.’ They had her cornered, she couldn’t slip past the four of them, had no hope of winning in a fight.
She begged once her hands shaking in fear ‘Take the money, leave me be, Please!’
How miserable she thought I’ve survived the Blight only to end up dead in some alleyway.
Thank you to everyone who has subscribed, left Kudos or commented so far. You are giving me such motivation, I can't wait to share the next chapter with you all (hint: they reunite)
And then you were back, like the Knight you had always sworn to me you would become. If I had the greatest mind in the world I couldn’t adequately express how that made me feel, but I will try, for the sake of honesty.
Cullen was in a foul mood as he rode from the Gallows on the small swaying ferry. The reason owning was that he was currently making his way towards Kirkwall’s most reputable whorehouse and it was not a pleasure call. He had two junior Knights accompanying him, Knox and James, they looked as anxious as he and were no doubt equally worried about their friends and peers going missing. Neither of the men attempted to make small talk with the stoic Knight-Captain and in truth Cullen preferred it that way.
Maker’s Breath what a day. He was not long returned from the wounded coast having tracked one of his disappeared soldiers there and watching with disgust as a man he had trained himself was twisted into an abomination before his very eyes. He may have had difficulty defeating the monster on its own but for the assistance of some passing mercenaries.
Still it had given him a lead and although the destination was not ideal he would take any and all opportunities to get out of the prison-like Gallows. Cullen drew in a deep breath of cloying salted air and pushed his curls back from his face, the humidity in Kirkwall always made his hair unmanageable the moment it grew longer than an inch so he appreciated the timid breeze that cooled him in the late evening sun.
He ruminated on how to approach this predicament; the brothel was notoriously secretive so hopefully the small purse of gold he had brought would help loosen tongues before he lost more men. Recruits were his responsibility; it had been his insistence upon taking over the role of Knight-Captain. And though there had been some complaints about his training being severe, about his personality being cold, Cullen would not deviate from his plan. He wasn’t there to make friends, his rapid promotion through the ranks had all but rendered him peerless anyways, better he used his new authority responsibly and diligently.
Their circle would produce the finest Templars in Thedas, they would be prepared for anything and be considered the finest examples of the Order. Cullen was determined that he would not see a repeat of Fereldan on his watch.
And he took pride in their development; the younger Knights he had trained himself were firm but fair. They didn’t have the blinded affections or excessive sympathies of Ser Thrask and his ilk yet at the same time they were just in their duties. Mages were in the circle for protection and he would not permit men under his command to commit abuses upon their charges, the recruits knew his expectations and learned this lesson from day one. He was a little worried about the heavy handed tactics that some of the older Knights employed, he had brought such matters to the Knight-Commanders notice but Meredith assured him the force had been adequate where used and he relied upon her judgement. She was a Knight-Commander who took Cullen’s concerns seriously; she knew of his history of his ill-fated experience at Kinloch and convinced him it was a strength, not a weakness to be swept away. She entrusted him with the Knight-Captaincy and he trusted her in turn.
For now he would concentrate on this pressing matter and over time replace the malcontents with his own skilled men, those he had trained, those he could trust…
He pinched the bridge of his nose at the first dull pressure of a headache starting to bloom. He would need to take his Lyrium draught soon; perhaps it’s time to finally reduce my dosage back down.
Unlike the rest of the Templars Cullen had taken to consuming his Lyrium on an evening. In Grenfell, the lay sisters who attended him found it to be the only way his Nightmares could be actively managed; the only way his screams didn’t disturb the other residents of the quiet place of rest. They also chose to increase his daily dose so that he now had double what the other Knights were given, as a result towards the end of his days the perpetual, lingering and ever growing thirst was often accompanied with other subtle symptoms. Headaches, a short temper nothing he couldn’t manage but he knew the drug didn’t affect him so deeply in Fereldan, it was necessary for his function but was also a leverage which a demon could exploit and he would not succumb as his seniors had back then.
As they neared the port side he looked over across the mass of boats bobbing on the dock, Cullen idly wondered if any of them were preparing for a trip to Fereldan. Before the fall, he had promised himself he would visit South Reach. Go and see his sibling’s new home and offer them whatever support and condolence had been lacking in the almost eight years he had been away. Could he?
No, they were better off without him. Let them hold onto the memory of the optimistic thirteen year old boy rather than have to deal with the broken man he had become. He wouldn’t want any of them, especially Mia and maker especially Kat to see what had become of him.
He was cold, numb. It was better this way.
The ferry dropped them off at the lowest point of the city. There wasn’t a very long walk ahead of them and he had patrolled enough to know the quickest route through the labyrinth like streets, the sooner he could get this over with the better. They set off briskly, their armor glinting in slowly receding sunlight, the general populace scurrying out of their way as they progressed deep into Lowtown.
A ways before their destination Cullen heard raised voices and fast footsteps one street over, there was no doubt it was a disturbance. ‘We could leave it to the City guard?’ Ser James volunteered. It was their jurisdiction Cullen supposed ‘Serrah please, I don’t want any trouble’ the fearful accent was distinctly Fereldan. That made the decision easy. Cullen may not be able to help his own family, but he could aid whichever of his countrymen had found themselves in this cursed city.
‘The Templars protect’ he told the junior Knights, his pace hastening towards the confrontation.
Cullen could now hear the sounds of a scuffle and fists hitting flesh, he rounded the corner with urgency, his anger rising as he saw four burly men all standing over a much smaller huddling figure.
‘STAND DOWN’ Cullen ordered. He drew his shield from his back and unsheathed his blade. The two Knights that were accompanying him followed suit and stood in formation to his left and right, they were a formidable sight.
‘Shit, it’s the Templars’ one of the attackers muttered, the group halting their assault and parting to allow their presumed leader to approach. Cullen looked past the huge man, he could just make out the figure of a thin and bloodied boy prone and unmoving on the ground, he may be hardened but the sight still made his blood boil with the injustice of it.
‘Go about your business Templar. There are no Mages here, just a thieving piece of shit that needs to be taught their manners.’
Cullen’s steel gaze snapped to the offending man, he swore he saw him flinch ‘If he has committed a crime then you report him. All I can see is four grown men attacking an unarmed and defenseless boy and that will not stand.’
The brute scoffed ‘barely touched’em. And they deserved it, been conning decent people for months that one.’
‘My point stands.’
At the apparent impasse the leader glanced back over his shoulder, looking for support and weighing the odds of their victory, his hand brushed against the hilt of a dagger at his hip.
Cullen brought his blade up high, his grip sure and strong, the threat clear. ‘I wouldn’t if I were you. You may not be an apostate but that will not stop me cutting through you like butter if you so much as raise one finger against me or my men.’
The offending handle was released and the man stepped away, scooping up a coin purse that Cullen hadn’t noticed was on the floor and shouting at his lackeys to follow.
Once the alleyway was clear Cullen re-sheathed his blade and stowed his shield on his back. ‘You two stand watch, I don’t want them coming back with more friends.’
Now Cullen turned his attention to the crumpled figure on the floor. He heard wheezing breaths and a few quiet sniffs as he approached slowly, a few bruises were forming on the forearms where the lad had obviously tried to shield himself from the blows.
Cullen winced in sympathy as he saw a bloodied lip just peeking out from under his cropped hair, he may have been a criminal but he still deserved pity and aid so Cullen withdrew a healing potion from his belt.
‘Here boy, drink this’ the hand that reached forward was pale, hesitant and quivered lightly as the deep scarlet vial was grasped. He knew how much a good restorative could cost, looking at the well worn clothes it would certainly be out of this recipient’s price range. Fortunately the Tranquil in the Gallows were not only excellent at their craft but always ensured every Templar was well stocked, it wouldn’t be difficult for him to procure a replacement.
A small hiss of pain meant the restorative was working to soothe the worst of the injuries, a stifled grunt of discomfort given as Cullen helped him stand with his shoulder under his scrawny arm, noting that the lad weighed almost nothing.
They limped towards the mouth of the alley, the victim walked a little taller as they progressed, his limbs regaining their strength. ‘Now young man, do I need to report this to the City guard or should I assume your assailants did in fact have due cause for their displeasure?’
They huffed in irritation. Cullen taking that as an acknowledgement of the dubious legality, but then he said something that surprised him ‘I’m not a man, Arse.’
Cullen dropped her arm at once feeling somewhat the fool for addressing her so improperly. ‘Forgive me, from your clothing I assumed-’ Cullen laughed and shook his head, he playfully pushed her shoulder making her stumble back a few steps.
‘Arse’ she complained while coming to stand back at his side.
Cullen’s long dormant memory crashed into his waking thoughts like a sledgehammer. He gaped at the back of the young woman who had continued walking despite his sudden halt. Her hair…The color was right it reminded him of Autumn, maybe a little darker but the length! Where were the tangled waves? It couldn’t be her, she would never have cut her hair, she loved it long. Cullen still couldn’t move as he looked at every minuscule detail of her gait, her dress. No, she was a Lady he consoled himself. The memory was just a coincidence, the cadence of her voice just happened to sound like hers. She would never come here.
The girl turned and frowned after finally noticing that her rescuer was no longer following, she swept her tousled locks aside revealing the dried flecks of blood on her face, the swelling that had yet to recede and her hauntingly familiar features.
Cullen inhaled sharply; there was no mistaking her eyes. He knew them better than his own, the nights the had spent fixated on them in a bid to try and drive away his horrors, trying to remember the exact shade of green, trying to remember how they would sparkle when she laughed or roll when he would make her cross.
‘Look, I’m okay you don’t need to-‘ her words faltered as she saw the stunned look on his face.
She instantly paled as her name was spoken, her lips parting in a silent gasp and her body freezing as if it had been trapped in ice.
There they stood, time slowed, the seconds drawing out into eons as they looked over each other. Cullen saw her chest was rising and falling rapidly, her eyes flitting over his face, his armor, trying to comprehend the sight before her. He knew he must be doing the same, drinking in every detail of her features like some depraved voyeur. Why was she here? She couldn’t be here; she was supposed to be safe in Fereldan. Maker she’s so thin.
‘You, you’re –‘ she whispered. Her feet pulled her towards him without thought and shaking like a leaf she raised her hand towards his face, it was millimeters from his cheek when she withdrew it as if it had been burned.
‘No no no’ she whimpered, stifling the sound with her fingers over her lips. He saw her eyes become glassy, her breath hitching as they stared across the tiny space that felt like a void between them.
‘I, we thought you were dead!’ she whispered and turned her back on him. Cullen watched in pain as she tugged at the short strands of her hair, reeling from the revelation of his continued existence and sniffing quietly as she tried to compose herself. Andraste preserve him but he had never regretted the decision to keep his whereabouts a secret quite so much, not now he could see the agony etched into every line and movement of her battered body. No amount of Lyrium could numb him enough to be insensitive to her pain.
‘You’re not dead?’ she asked once she had mastered her emotions, turning back to him once more.
‘I’m not dead’ he confirmed, speaking more softly than he had in years, fearing he would somehow startle her more than he already had. As it happened he needn’t have worried about alarming her as with her next breath she barreled into him.
‘Cullen!’ She cried as she threw her arms around his waist and crushed her face into the sharp cold metal of his pauldrons. He stood there in shock not returning the embrace, maybe he had forgotten how.
She pulled away far too quickly, before his mind had caught up with his desires and his own arms had risen to hold her as he longed to do. Wiping at her eyes to stop any tears from falling she stepped back. Her dazed happiness darkening before him, a small furrow appearing on her brow as the reality of his survival set in.
‘Why, how?’ Kat stood silently, patiently waiting for the answer to her question. It was a cruel contrast to the innocent girl he had envisioned in his mind for months. The question, the promise that had saved him during that darkest of times was so much simpler than the loaded one now poised to him. How could he answer without warping her otherwise happy memories of him, without revealing his shame, without making it seem like anything other than an abandonment of their shared family?
Cullen saw her fists ball and quake the longer the silence dragged. He had to speak, he had to explain… He could not, he swallowed down the lump in his throat and looked away from her.
That was the wrong thing to do. Stepping up to him she shoved him hard in his chest causing her to wince in pain from her still tender injuries as she did so.
‘Why didn’t you let us know you were alive you selfish bastard!’ She shouted, her voice echoing against the high stone walls and alerting his men who drew near at the assault.
‘Stand down’ he ordered calmly before returning his attention back to Kat. Surprised at her narrowed glare and thinned lips. When did she get so angry?
Cullen shook his head, he couldn’t deal with this today. His piercing headache was only getting worse, there was no doubt his dreams would be violent tonight; he still had to finish his inquiries regarding his men.
Katherine raised her hands in exasperation at his ongoing silence, unaware of the battle raging within him. ‘Do you know how heartbroken Mia was, how devastated I – we all were when we heard about the Circle falling?’
What could he say, he tried to explain his rationale albeit feebly ‘I-I had hoped, with my long absence that-‘
‘What, that because you had been away that we just wouldn’t care? Do you not remember what it’s like to have a family?’
‘Of course I do!’ He snapped in irritation only too well. A letter detailing the death of his parents, his friends and wards butchered before his eyes. Family was... for every happiness a sadness, for every fond memory a violent and bloody nightmare. He was right to now keep his distance from the other members from the Order and if needs be from her.
‘Why didn’t you write?’ she spoke so softly he could hardly hear her over the sound of blood rushing in his own ears.
‘I couldn’t– I just couldn’t.’
‘Bullshit…’she snapped, her coarse language shocking him and his men who were not used to seeing their Knight-Captain thus spoken to.
She continued angrily, spilling all her hurt into her words and shaming him in the process. He folded his arms defensively, he had tried to give her answers and she didn’t listen. His patience wearing thin as she continued to upbraid him in front of his men. He owed her nothing, not when he had only just saved her life.
‘Cullen what happened to you, why won’t you speak to me!’
Cullen’s anger finally peaked and he lashed out spitefully ‘Never mind me, what happened to you?’
She gave bitter bark of laughter ‘The Blight‘.
That gave him a moment’s pause, the fire not extinguished but no longer sparking ‘The Blight was hard on us all’ he conceded.
She scoffed and folded her arms mirroring his posture ‘what would you know!’
Cullen clenched his jaw as she poured more fuel onto the rage bubbling inside him ‘You obviously weren’t in the tower when it fell. So where were you while Fereldan burned around you? Had you already left, is that why you didn’t write?’
He spoke through clenched teeth ‘No, I was there.’
Kat snorted in disgust ‘That makes it worse. You send not one word to Mia when she writes to you about your own parent’s death. Have you even told her you’re here?’
Cullen didn’t answer.
‘You haven’t have you…’ she shook her head in disbelief.
‘Cullen Rutherford, shining Knight of the Templar Order’ she spoke mockingly, each word adding more weight to his guilt. ‘Too proud to associate with his family, too duty driven to even mourn his parents death, too-’
The angry twisting lump in his gut spiked at her meanness, his voice a hiss as he snapped in response ‘Don’t you dare judge me, not when from the looks of things you are living as vermin.’
The girl he once knew would have recognized his outburst for the defensive retort that it was. She would have clicked her tongue at his grumpiness and chastised him for raising his voice at a Lady. But that girl no longer existed; his heart gave a painful lurch at the realization and instead of rolling her eyes at him she narrowed them in fury.
‘How dare you! I’m doing what I have to do to survive.’ She prodded at his breast plate snarling with raw animosity. It wasn’t just her appearance that had changed, she was hardened and bitter. Cullen couldn’t believe this was his Kat, not his sweet friend who would dance and sing at any opportunity. The difference was too jarring, too severe, it had to be a nightmare and he was sure he would wake any moment.
Only he didn’t, still she continued her scathing assessment. ‘You aren’t the only one whose parents are dead, the only difference between us is that I still give a shit about my sibling and I will support her however I must.’ Annie was here then, she’d been six when he left the same age as Rosalie, he would never want his youngest sister to come to this awful city.
Cullen’s mortification was acute, but as he looked more closely at his once best friend he felt shame rise within him. She was thin, too thin. Her cheeks a little sunken, the luster gone from her skin and eyes. Her clothes ragged and ill-fitting, she was poverty stricken and he had just compared her to vermin.
Maker what’s wrong with me.
He became contrite at once ‘Forgive me, I didn’t mean to imply that – ah please forgive me.’ It was feeble and not enough, he could never do enough. ‘But if what you are doing is illegal-‘ she shot him and unimpressed glare ‘I mean to say there are other ways to make money.’
She noticed the change in his tone but her earlier goodwill had completely expired ‘what would you rather Cullen?’ The question was rhetorical she had no interest in hearing from him any longer ‘Tell me, what profession do you think I could possibly obtain that you wouldn’t find unsavory?’
There were jobs, although he himself had at times received some prejudice because of his Fereldan background, he realized how much worse that would be for a traveler who had almost nothing.
‘I’m not strong enough to be a warrior or guardsman, not burly enough to be a laborer. Yet my scamming is unpalatable to you… perhaps you would you rather I stole from people in the dead of night, become true thief?
‘No? Would you have me turn myself over to a Madame to whore myself out?’
This was too much, the image of her innocent and kind. Her flower crown clasped in her hand, cheeks flushed from their kiss, it was all being torn to shreds before him, his memory, his salvation was crumbling to dust.
‘Let’s be honest a refugee like me, I’d be lucky to be in a brothel at all. I’d be down the docks sucking sailor’s cocks for pennies!’
‘Don’t say that’ he begged. She was destroying his one purest thought, the one he turned to when not even the Chant could provide solace. Couldn’t she tell how her words were hurting him?
‘Why not? It’s true. Look at me!’ She challenged and he did indeed raise his eyes to hers once more, but Cullen couldn’t speak. He could offer her no comfort but Maker he wished he could. Katherine’s shoulders sagged in defeat, her eyes finally leaving his ‘Even you thought I looked like a boy…’ He saw her clench her jaw, fighting the tears that threatened to spill. She never did allow herself to cry in public.
Straightening her back, raising her head with pride that she dragged up from some deep well of strength she gave a slight incline of her head ‘Goodbye Cullen.’
She strode away past his men without looking back and Cullen, like a puppy fearing abandonment gave chase.
‘Kat please wait!’
‘Knight-Captain, do you need us to maintain the perimeter?’ He noticed her expression of surprise at his title. ‘Ah no Ser Knox, please stand down. I’ll just be a few moments longer.’
When he looked back over at her the vulnerability was gone. Her shock, her sadness, the pain, it was all hidden. The woman now standing before him was not the same one he had just rescued and reunited with after far too many years apart. What he saw now was just her performance, and it pained him more than he could express that she no longer felt comfortable enough to share her emotions with him. ‘I’m glad you are doing well Cullen, really. But don’t hold me in contempt just because my life hasn’t turned out quite as well as I had hoped.’
Rubbed the back of his neck at her chastisement ‘I know, I’m sorry I implied that you had turned to crime willingly and I’m not unfeeling.’ Had she ever thought much of his words? Cullen wasn’t so eloquent as she, it was why he had always chosen to show how he felt through actions.
Actions, an idea struck ‘Here take this’ he withdrew the coin purse from his belt. ‘I don’t want your charity!’ she started walking away again but he caught her by the wrist. ‘Please, for Annie.’ He placed the purse in her hands. ‘I was only taking it to the Blooming Rose –‘
Her eyebrows shot up in surprise at his admission, making him recoil from his own idiocy.
’Makers breath, not for that!’ He stammered out at once, feeling a fool. Was he trying to sabotage every good opinion she had ever held for him.
She gave a tiny chuckle, his gaze snapping to her at the unexpected sound ‘I’m not judging! Not sure what you will say at your next confession but that’s between you and the Maker.’ She shrugged, now she was talking he felt compelled to encourage her even if it was at his expense and probable humiliation.
’It’s just a bribe. For information. On Templar business’ he clarified, turning red as he did so.
’I’m sure it is...’ she added sweetly as she weighed the money pouch in her hand. Was she offended, amused? Cullen used to think they could read each other’s minds when they were children but whereas his emotions were locked away under a muffling blanket of blue, hers were masked through years of practice and now all but imperceptible to him.
‘Maker Cullen just how much sex were you planning to have? There is more in here than I’d make in months’ Cullen spluttered out a stammering negative to her assertion.
The tiniest flicker of a smile at his discomfort gave him a much needed glimmer of hope, although he’d rather she not find his fumbling so amusing. But he’d take her teasing over her anger always. And while she had softened, while her hurt was hidden he may be able to reach her.
‘Kat, please. Use this to find or fund another occupation. You were lucky tonight; next time there might be no one to help you.’
This time she did roll her eyes ‘Would you even care?’
‘I would, and think of Annie’ that seemed to be the first right thing he said, she sighed and nodded solemnly.
‘I always do’
‘Are you far from your residence?’ He inquired casually.
Looking at this particular area of the city Cullen gave a scowl ‘But we’re so close to Darktown’
‘I’m aware’ she shrugged.
‘Take care of yourself Cullen’ she said with a note of finality. He watched as she loosened the strings on the purse just enough to slip one of the sovereigns out, pushing it into his hand and squeezing perhaps a little tighter than she had to as she closed his fist around it ‘and write to Mia.’
I was so nervous about posting this. I hope you aren't dissapointed with their initial reunion x
Chapter 7: The Re-awakening
Thanks to Jacklyn Flynn for the chapter title.
I was stumped!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I had been a stranger in my own body, at least till I met you again in Kirkwall. Somehow it was comforting to see that you had changed too that you carried your own pain. I confess that after that first meeting I vowed to never see you again.
Kat walked as briskly as she dared through Darktown, she didn’t want to draw attention to herself yet at the same time needed to get the heavy purse hidden as soon as possible. She had known people killed for less money than she now carried, you almost were yourself she chastised before steering her thoughts distinctly away from anything to do with him.
Clenching her jaw firmly was the only way she could stop her lower lip from quivering from her pent up emotions, the dam of tumultuous feelings threatening to burst forth should one more drop of sadness or anger fall onto her already fractured mind.
Nearly back, nearly safe, she just had to walk a little further and she would be alone. Still as she sped towards her home he could already feel the first tears starting to fall.
She closed and bolted their rickety wooden door, her limbs trembling from the pain of her assault and her emotions running rampant. In a little while she would need to go for Annie she wouldn’t have time to remove the brick and hide the money properly so panicking slightly she stuffed the purse under their thin shared mattress.
On shaking legs she crossed back to the door there wasn’t time for this now.
That was the final blow to her psyche and she slid onto the floor in a messy heap of bruised limbs and shattered remembrance. A dark bubble of laughter escaped her lips as she considered the absurdity of her situation. The attack and his rescue. Her vocal abuse of him and his fumbling embarrassment. Her brief flicker of joy at seeing him healthy and hale, followed by her utter mortification and humiliation at his thinking she was a boy and calling her vermin.
It was too much. Within seconds she was sobbing, loud wretched tears falling unabashed while her body heaved as she struggled to draw enough air through her panic and choked cries.
Andraste preserve her, she hadn’t cried like this since news had spread about his circle being overrun. There hadn’t been anything between them since childhood, they had been little more than acquaintances for years while he had been away. Yet the thought of his death had affected her far more deeply than even her own Father’s. She’d cried for days whenever she had any privacy, but they had turned out to be wasted tears. He’s alive the thought rang again, she couldn’t determine if the fact pained her or brought her solace.
Cullen, she had refused to look back even though she felt his eyes on her back till she disappeared from sight. If she had done, well she would either have tried to hug him again which clearly hadn’t been well received or would’ve attempted to run him through with his own sword. Neither venture would have been successful seeing as he was wearing so much metal, Maker only knew how he was able to move in it all.
Cullen, despite his armor and title. Despite his impressive stature and commanding voice she had been able to humble him with a few well-placed words. He had the city at his feet and yet still fumbled and flushed as if her were a child. It was too confusing.
Cullen, he wasn’t just alive, he was thriving. He was the Knight Captain of the Gallows, his men clearly respected him and he had just given her a purse full of more gold than she had ever seen. Kat wanted to be happy for him, wanted to feel gratitude but how could she.
As she looked around the one roomed dwelling that she and Annie shared, noticing the scant amount of food on the shelves and her own grumbling stomach all she felt was bitterness and an ugly seed of jealousy taking root.
She wouldn’t be grateful, she crushed down any happiness that threatened to bubble to the surface. He deserved nothing but her anger and contempt and he called me Kat.
Her anger dissipated just as soon as she had resolved upon hating him forever. She hadn’t been called that in nearly eight years, he had always been the only one to shorten her name that way. It was like a piece of her had finally been returned after too long apart.
Despite it all, despite all her worst feelings and loud lamentations about their re-introduction that one humanizing name made her feel so content. She was still Kat to him.
Maker but she was so relieved that he had made it out of Kinloch, the reports must have been exaggerated. She was proud he seemed to be doing so well for himself, a Knight Captain at such a young age. Her best friend still lived and had escaped the Blight, no doubt with his sweetheart and if he could find love, then one day she might too. His existence gave her sense of hope that she hadn’t felt in a long time.
Her tears subsided, she stood and dusted herself off.
Despite her fluctuating feelings. Her back and forth, there was one certain conclusion she had made. Under no circumstances did she ever want to see him again.
Kat was able to console herself enough to make it over to the Darktown clinic where Annie was working and she hoped it wasn’t obvious she had been crying.
She slipped inside and waited till her sister had seen out the last of Anders patients for the day. Annie’s face darkening as she saw her disheveled clothes and dried blood.
‘Sweet Andraste what happened to you?’ Annie huffed as she brought over a little cloth and some disinfectant.
‘I’m ok, I got into a bit of a scuffle’ Kat didn’t even wince as Annie tended to her wounds, the health potion having already had time to seal her cuts and abrasions. Her sister must have noticed that the blood on her face and arms had no source, but wisely detected the elder’s underlying nervousness and decided not to mention it.
Instead she complained about her gaming. ‘Katie’ she sighed ‘You need to stop this. One time you are going to get yourself killed.’
Kat almost laughed that’s not the first time someone has said that to me today. ‘I’ll be fine.’
Annie rolled her eyes; she knew where her sister had picked up that un-ladylike habit ‘Please, You always look out for me so let me take care of you too…’
She set aside the bowl of disinfectant and started dabbing some unknown paste on her still forming bruises. ‘I’ve been asking around and Anders says he might be able to get a job for you at their friends’ favorite tavern. You know he’s going on expedition soon with those Dwarves, this could be a good opportunity to have a steady income as while he is away as I doubt I’ll be able to treat as many people, I’m no spirit healer.’
‘I-‘ Kat tried to interject, to possibly protest but her sister continued on, choosing not hear her.
‘It would be nights to begin with, but that would mean you can still walk me to and from work seeing as you insist. So I see it as a win-win!’
Annie looked at her hopefully; she wondered how long the younger girl had been planning this speech. Kat thought seriously about the offer. At the moment her priority was to get Annie out of Darktown and to avoid seeing Cullen Rutherford. A stable wage would certainly help with the prior and as for the latter…Anders was vocally ‘anti-establishment’ and she couldn’t imagine any haven for him and his friends’ would be frequented by Templars. Especially not such a high ranking one.
Annie was right, it was a win-win.
‘Ok’ she agreed
‘But it c- wait, what. You agree?’
‘YES!’ She squealed and gave her sister a quick hug ‘That is great news. ANDERS SHE SAID YES!’
Kat heard an answering chuckle from the back room and almost giggled herself at Annie’s rarely seen exuberance. It was a nice change from her often serious demeanor.
‘Now’ she asked feeling emboldened ‘Are you going to tell me what happened?’
Katherine remembered their company. Anders was a sweet heart most of the time, but she had heard his anti-Chantry tirades, his scathing assessment of the Circle system. She didn’t think mentioning her literal knight in shining armor would go down well here.
Sensibly she opted to delay the conversation ‘When we get back home. Come on we can pick up some dinner on the way.’
Annie spat out her tea ‘Cullen’s alive?!’
‘And he saved you?’
‘And he thought you were a boy?’
A small furrow appeared on her sister’s brow ‘I don’t know if I want to kick him or kiss him.’
Kat could only agree as she brushed out her still damp hair ‘my predicament exactly.’
They had stopped by the public baths after eating. The ancient Magisters may have been the root of all evil in Thedas, but she couldn’t fault their plumbing. The Kirkwall bathhouse was free, hot and just what was needed after the day she had had. Annies long hair always took hours to dry so they had taken to bathing on an evening shortly after arriving in the city, now they took their bedtime tea in their nightgowns as had become their little ritual.
Her sister was thoughtful as she pondered this new information ‘Well could you speak to him about getting a job in the Circle? It would be better paid than the tavern.’
‘No! No, I-‘ she hadn’t meant to snap, but she didn’t think she could find the words to vocalize her hurt. For all she was glad he was alive there was still a tiny lingering lump of resentment wedged in her gut, being in his presence would only help that negativity further take root. Better she be happy at a distance than risk more hurt.
Annie rubbed her arm in understanding and didn’t press any further.
‘There’s more’ Katherine sighed, pulling the coin purse out from under the mattress where she had been sat.
Annie’s eyes widened at the sight of so much gold. ‘Knicker weasels, he gave you this?’
‘Yes, well he said it was for you’ she added as a quick afterthought and ignored the skeptical eyebrow her sister raised.
‘As much as it would do some good down at the clinic. I can’t believe he meant this all for me…’
Kat chose to ignore the leading comment ‘You should take it –‘
‘Katherine, this money would be a drop in the ocean compared to what we really need at the clinic. But it could help us put a deposit down on somewhere out of Darktown-‘
Unbidden feelings of failure assaulted her, they had been nearly six months in Kirkwall and her sister was still living in a hovel, what kind of guardian was she. Swallowing the lump in her throat she spoke ‘I will get you out of here Annie. Just give me some time; I don’t need his charity for that.’
‘Makers Breath Stop it!’
Kat looked up in shock as her usually serious sister raised her voice.
‘Did you think I didn’t notice when you were cutting out your meals? Or that I was happy when you started to risk yourself everyday just to provide for us?’
She couldn’t hold her sisters glare and for the first time in a decade felt very much like a child being scolded.
‘For once in your life let someone else take care of you!’
Kat studied her feet intently ‘But- he abandoned us all, lied by omission. I thought, I thought he was-’
‘And no amount of coin can buy your forgiveness, I understand. But it can buy food, it can by safety. It might not make you happy but it can make amends.’
Annie sat by her on the little bed and shuffled closer to her sister, her tone no longer accusatory but sympathetic.
‘I barely remember him, but I can’t imagine…for all your years apart, for whatever promises he may have broken I can’t believe he would be happy to see his best friend destitute.’
He had seemed remorseful she supposed. It would take her a long time to save the amount of money he had gifted them and this would help her get Annie safe sooner, that mattered more than her pride.
‘When did you get so smart?’ she teased nudging her sibling.
Annie shrugged ‘I’ve had the best teacher for quite some time.’
They moved out of Darktown. It wasn’t quite the idyllic little shop with the apartment above that Kat had planned. But it had separate bedrooms, not that she could afford a bed quite yet, still it was a start.
The landlord was skeptical when they first came to view the property, and seemed a most unhelpful and dismissive person, at least till they paid the bond and three month’s rent in full. As she handed over the gold pieces she wondered just how fantastic the whores were at that brothel that he would need so much money. It wasn’t like Cullen would even need to pay, he had grown up very tall and was not at all bad looking. Then she remembered how easily he had become flustered, how quickly he had dropped her arm the moment she announced she was female and laughed at the thoughts as the puzzle pieces clicked. He may be handsome and admirable but he was still an awkward twelve year old in her eyes.
Katherine settled into her new routine as well as she could have hoped. She always made time to drop Annie off to and from the clinic, her sister still attending despite Anders current absence. Her new wage and tips more than covered the rent meaning she could put a little aside each month. She may have still dabbled with the occasional card game, but no one in the Hanged Man played fair so her winnings were incidental and more likely attributed to luck than skill.
Now instead of hanging around the town square all day trying to tempt people into her borderline illegal card games she instead spent most of the daylight hours sleeping, ensuring she was rested enough to make it through her night shift at the Hanged Man.
The tavern was a little rough, but the patrons knew she was there to work and for the most part left her be. Some of the regulars were colorful to say the least. Almost all of Anders friends’ had gone on an expedition with him but the few who remained kept an eye on her. Isabella had a permanent room and was always on hand to help her deal with any guests who became a little handsy after their drinks. The Rivaini, when not otherwise engaged also loved spending the dull early morning hours regaling Kat with explicitly detailed tales about her conquests.
The stories made Katherine blush something terrible but also made her rather curious and she found herself not so subtly eyeing up some of the younger men that came in. Would she like to kiss someone with a beard or without? Would they mind that she was wearing men’s clothes? Would it feel good to go further than kissing? For the first time in her life she had leisure enough to ruminate on these thoughts, sometimes at great length.
She never acted on any of her ideas or the suggestive proposals that were thrown her way, but it was enough to make her feel a little pretty at least and for now the odd admiring glance was flattery enough.
After several weeks pay she finally felt financially secure enough to spend some of her well-earned coin. And so, with her recent wages in hand she headed over to the market and seeing no Templars about spent a good hour perusing the stalls. She bought some flat simple slippers to wear after the long nights on her feet; even her well-worn boots became uncomfortable after a while. The bejeweled combs and expensive accessories were looked over longingly but she didn’t even tempt herself by asking after the price. Several silvers were spent purchasing some pleasant smelling soaps and oils, Annie will be over the moons the next time we go to the baths together.
The merchant also sold all kinds of beautiful ribbons and fabrics. Kat didn’t need a ribbon, not yet anyways. She had finally started growing her hair out again, it almost reached her shoulders now but it would never again be the waist length waves of her youth. Then, tucked in behind the busy table, was a rack of old dresses. She assumed they were meant for rags but one of them, a pretty greenish-grey with simple embroidery around the collar stood out to her. It was probably an apprentice piece from a local dressmaker. The hem would need to be let out a little for her height, and she would need to carry on eating regularly if she was going to fill it out properly but the price was good, and it was too well crafted to be shredded.
She bought it at once.
A new dress! She almost giggled as she rushed home. The second she got through the door all other purchases were cast aside along with her pants and shirt and she slipped the dress on over her head, her slippers were retrieved and added to the ensemble. They may not have owned a mirror but she didn’t need one to look down at herself and spin around somewhat childishly.
It didn’t matter that it was a little baggy or a couple of inches too short, it was her first new dress since before her mother had died and it was enough to make her feel like a princess.
I bet he wouldn’t think I looked like a boy wearing this. Kat scolded herself and felt foolish for even thinking about Cullen.
She hadn’t seen him since that day months ago. She never saw him patrolling and he never came to her place of work…at least until the night he did.
I feel like Kat is saying 'I'm back bitches!'
Chapter 8: The Night
We're slowly dragging this story back into fluffy territory
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
But that wasn’t to be. We were both scarred and bitter from the Blight. I couldn’t have predicted that we would heal each other. You were certainly persistent at the start.
The scream was still on his lips as he bolted upright in bed.
Cullen didn’t cry over his nightmares anymore. The horrors conjured up in the fade were now almost as familiar to him as the waking world. However it still took several seconds for his mind to realize that it’s not real and for his breathing to begin to slow. Standing on shaking legs he moved to his slit of a window for air, judging by Satina’s position it could only be a little after midnight meaning he’d not even had two hours sleep. Yet for all his exhaustion he couldn’t bear the thought of trying to rest once more.
Carding his fingers through his damp curls he gave a pitiful groan before proceeding to dress in his simple shirt and pants, lighting a candle to chase away some of the shadows and lingering impressions of Desires’ torture.
Will it never end? Cullen lamented and recounted all the different kinds of fixes and supposed cures he had attempted for his broken mind.
He had tried increasing his Lyrium dosage hoping the trauma would pass with time, tonight’s dreams were still vivid and his heart rate was not yet steady so that seemed to be another failure. Cullen had suspected his nightmares would worsen when he dropped his dosage down but he hadn’t quite anticipated for the revival to be quite so bad. He couldn’t lament the decision too much, he needed to get his addiction back under control; he should not be taking more than the other men. He’d seen what out of control or progressed dependence on Lyrium could do and shuddered at the thought of those elderly Templars glassy unseeing eyes.
He had tried prayer. At Grenfell he knelt for days in the Chantry, begging for succor from Andraste till his throat was hoarse with effort and his knees collapsed from under him as he tried to stand.
Such faith, such devotion, he was praised by the Lay Sisters who had recommended prayer as the only solution to his troubles. Their praise meant nothing when the nightmares still came.
He had tried physical activity. Exhausting his body with extra rotations and night patrols. Exhausting his mind with extensive study of Chantry texts and detailed histories. Volunteering, even before he became Knight-Captain, to lead morning drills. All in the hopes that when he eventually came to rest it would be fitful, it rarely was.
He had tried the more coarse methods of relief, drinking and women. While he was on leave before his departure to Kirkwall he spent many a night in the surplus taverns of Jader. The alcohol had cost him a small fortune, in a way he was lucky his looks meant he didn’t have to pay for the meaningless physical comfort too. But any relief was temporary and in truth left him with more memories of awkward mornings than pleasant evenings. Since coming to the Gallows, with his new position he hadn’t had the time or inclination to seek company again.
Who would want you? He thought as he studied his reflection by the dim candlelight. He looked perpetually tired and cross, the proof etched in his permanent scowl and dark purple circles. His temper although a little short as a boy was now always ready to snap at the slightest provocation or frustration. He felt it rising now as he paced around his small room, the itching for more blue, the thirst that could never be quenched, the feeling of the walls closing in around him. He slammed his hands down loudly on the dresser, just to hear something beyond his own ragged breathing and taunting thoughts.
The fear of isolation, the claustrophobia…There was a reason he spent his days standing guard in the Gallows courtyard when a junior knight could quite adequately fill the role. Or taking on missions to the city or wounded coast when as an officer he should be more concerned with the comings and goings inside the circle. When he was younger he loved nothing more than peace, quiet and near solitude. Now he despised the loneliness his position and his history had led him to.
Cullen couldn’t stay in his room a moment longer.
Leaving his plate and shield by the door he fastened his sword to his hip, grabbed his cloak and stepped out into the dark corridor.
The Gallows had a small officer’s mess hall that had some alcohol. It was close by should he, in the very unlikely event, decide that he’d be able to take further rest. But he could almost imagine the silence that would prevail the moment he would enter the hall. His men would be skittish, frustrated at their stoic seniors presence. Just because he was miserable didn’t mean he wanted to project that sorrow onto others or spoil their well-earned leisure time.
In truth he craved anonymity and so deciding against remaining in the Circle headed over to the docks. The ferry service ran constantly, the young lad operating it tonight was bleary eyed and clearly didn’t pay him even the slightest bit of attention.
The breeze as he made the quick crossing cooled his face, already making him feel a little better; it was the right decision to come outside he thought as he studied the stars overhead. The stars always helped him feel small again, that his troubles really were so very tiny in the grand scheme of things. They were steady, safe, dancing their way across the sky night after night for anyone who happened to glance up. They were the same whether you had everything or nothing, were happy or sad. Unbidden he wondered if perhaps she was looking up at this same sky.
Kat, not a day had gone by when he hadn’t thought of her since their accidental meeting. It had been months and yet the sight of her having obviously endured so much, yet still full of pride and strength both shamed and awed him. Maker but he wanted to apologize to her, to somehow make amends for all his time away, his failure as a friend, for his cross words that day. If only he could find her.
He stepped off at the harbor side and seeing the nearest local inn still lit up and bustling with patrons made his way towards it at once. No one would know him there; it was busy enough that an unarmored, unremarkable individual like himself would be able to blend in.
It’s certainly lively he thought as he made his way over to the bar. He perched on a stool there and signaled for a beer without raising his eyes. Later, perhaps when he paid his bill he could ask the barkeep if the two sisters had ever made their way through here. Though he wasn’t hopeful he had exhausted almost every other avenue of investigation.
Despite searching while on patrols during the day and making discrete inquiries around Darktown he could find no trace of his long lost friend. Perhaps she had decided to return to Fereldan with the coin he had gifted her or perhaps she had been captured by the slavers that seemed to infest the city. His mind swerved from one extreme to the next. Safe and in danger. Happy and hurting.
He just wished he could be certain either way.
In truth he had started to think he may have imagined her existence. It wouldn’t be the first time he had done so as he was still haunted by the memory of her appearing before him in Fereldan. Madness, from his captivity, from his addiction really didn’t seem like such an unreasonable notion. It wouldn’t do to ruminate; tonight he just wanted the quiet buzz of alcohol and white noise to drown his thoughts.
Cullen’s beer was nicely chilled and not at all watered down. I can see why this place is so popular, he sipped it thoughtfully and let the hum of the bar anchor his thoughts.
No, he wasn’t yet mad. She had been real, her plight, her words, her scathing assessment of his value of a brother had all been real. And he knew so because of the irate looking mercenary now striding angrily towards him. So much for anonymity.
Marion. It had been a mistake to bring her into Templar business but without the bribe he had given to Kat he’d had little choice. He could only hope she had made good use of it seeing as he now had to deal with frustrating Fereldan.
‘How dare you show your face here Knight-Captain!’ Cullen barely looked up from his drink as she came to stand in front of him, could she not tell that he was not in the mood for her trivial arguments today.
‘Messere Hawke, I had heard you were back. I’m not here to fight with you about mage rights…again.’
‘You took my brother from me’ she hissed.
The younger Hawke sibling had warned him that his sister would be unhappy when she heard the news, judging from the hand now gripping his shirt he could consider than an understatement. At least the Dwarf standing beside her had the gall to look sheepish as his friend threatened him.
Cullen was unimpressed at her bluster ‘Ser Carver asked me for the position. He is a skilled warrior.’ Silently adding that he had promised himself to try and help more of his displaced countrymen after seeing how Katherine and her sister must have struggled.
‘He’s too young!’ She snapped back.
Ignoring the tugging at his shirt he replied calmly ‘I joined the Templars when I was thirteen and I was considered old.’
‘You’ve turned him into a Zealot.’
He had to refrain from rolling his eyes at Hawkes’ naivety, to her all Templars were evil but she didn’t know, so few people would ever truly understand the risk magic posed. Finally a small trickle of frustration seeped into his tone. ‘I have given him employment when none would. If you were so concerned about his well-being you should have used your contacts in the Carta, Chantry or City guard to secure his livelihood before you went gallivanting off for months.’
The grip on his shirt tightened at his goading ‘you smug bastard-’
‘Hawke’ a pale hand came to rest on the Marion’s fist.
Cullen’s eyes snapped up at the lilting Fereldan voice he’d been longing, no desperate to hear again. She’s here, Katherine… An Abomination could have crawled its way into the inn and it wouldn’t have been able to draw his attention away from the young woman stood before him. A faint blush painting her cheeks despite her otherwise appearance of calm.
Hawke looked almost as shocked as he at the sudden interloper ‘Kitty? You don’t normally intervene with the bar fights’ she noticed Cullen’s awestruck expression. ‘Are you friends with this one? I thought you had better taste’ she spat, her steely blue eyes once again studying him, but Cullen only had eyes for his gentle advocate.
Kat shrugged but her hand didn’t move ‘I’m not his friend. I’m his sister’s friend. And I can promise you that if you hurt her baby brother she will swim over the waking sea and crush every last bone in your body frying pan.’
Hawke’s eyebrows raised and she looked once more between Kat and Cullen her gaze calculating.
He didn’t know whether Katherine had said the words intentionally or if it was pure chance but the hand on his shirt loosened and all the fight fell out of the brash warrior. It was possibly the only thing that could have been said in that instant to make the mercenary back down.
Somewhat surprisingly a wry grin broke out on the Hawke’s face and she gently tapped his cheek giving a small laugh at his startled expression.
She stepped back and shook her head in amusement ‘Little brothers. Annoying pricks the lot of you. See you next time Curly.’ She winked and strode out with her odd collective in tow.
An unimaginably awkward silence now hung between the two remaining parties. Kat was studying her feet and Cullen’s eyes were rooted to her face as he silently begged her to speak.
Finally she cleared her throat and glanced up through her tousled hair, it was a little longer than when he last saw her ‘Curly?’
Cullen saw the faintest smile touch her lips and so replied in turn, his half smirk poorly concealed ‘Kitty?’
Her nose scrunched up and she let out an endearing groan of annoyance. Well at least she hated her nickname as much as he hated his own. However that was the end of their conversation as she moved away to tend to the queue that had built up in her short absence from the bar.
An hour passed. Cullen had studiously avoided looking at his newly rediscovered friend and had failed miserably in his endeavor. Every time she felt his eyes on her she would scowl and turn her back to him or move out of his line of sight entirely to attend a table. I should leave the loneliness of his position was still wedged firmly in his heart. She was clearly uncomfortable with his presence and it wasn’t fair on him to impose on her anymore then he would his own men. His drink had long been empty but as if to signal his intentions he drained the dregs of his cup once more.
As soon as his tankard hit the stained wooden bar in front of him she was before him. Standing with her arms crossed and clearly unhappy that she would need to speak to him in order to either refill his drink or settle his tab.
If only there was something he could say to break the tension, to restart their awkward albeit long overdue conversation.
‘I wrote to Mia!’
‘Did you write M-‘
Her eyes widened at their crossing of words and Cullen unconsciously rubbed at the back of his neck in embarrassment.
‘So, you know. That’s done’ he said feebly. Maker’s Breath but he really wished he was a better orator of his feelings.
She looked at his nervous gesture at his downcast eyes and without asking drew him another beer. No more words were said before she moved away but he supposed that was an invitation to stay a little longer, so he did.
When she next approached him whilst wiping down the spilled alcohol and foam from the bar he felt emboldened or perhaps his two beers had loosened his tongue enough to speak first.
‘You look better.’ It was supposed to be a statement but his hesitancy made it sound like a question.
She didn’t glance up from her work ‘Last time you saw me I had just been beaten bloody by a group of four thugs, so that’s not exactly a compliment.’
‘I mean, ah.’ Andraste help him what did he mean? She no longer looked like a half-starved urchin, her clothes looked a little newer she looked healthier. He cleared his throat ‘Your hair –‘ he said feebly.
This time she did snap her eyes up to his and grasped at her still short tresses, embarrassment clouding her face and immediately on the defensive ‘You mean I don’t look like a boy anymore?’ She snarled in irritation.
Cullen raised his hands to protest ‘N-No, no I just- Maker’s Breath!‘ he hadn’t meant to offend her; he was so bad at this.
Obviously she found his discomfort humorous as she gave a quiet snort in amusement ‘For a Knight you are terribly unchivalrous.’
And then she walked away again.
Cullen slipped down on his stool and pinched the bridge of his nose. He’d tried to comment on her well-being and only ended up offending her more. Unchivalrous was a most polite way of describing how much of a fool he had just been.
He resolved he wouldn’t speak to her again. At least not unless she spoke to him first. Or if it was in greeting, or to inquire after Annie…yes never again.
‘Why are you here?’ He almost sighed with relief as her voice once again drifted up over the din. She was standing far enough away for their conversation to seem incidental and was busy cleaning some glasses.
He eyed her hesitantly; she still looked annoyed that he was here and wondered why she was bothering to speak to him at all. Of course with the beer loosening his tongue he said as much ‘Do you really want to know or are you just making small talk to hopefully get a bigger tip?’
At his complaint she let out a tinkling laugh, covering her mouth as she did so and tilting her head as she replied.
‘Can’t both be true?’
He was thoughtful in his response ‘Forgive me, I do not always trust motives upon first glance.’
Katherine arched a brow at his almost somber reply ‘You’ve gotten bitter in your old age.’
Cullen couldn’t mask the scoff of irony ‘It must be like looking in a mirror?’
‘Yes, I suppose that is hypocritical of me’ her reply was quiet.
She poured him another drink.
And so the evening carried on into early morning. Each avoiding glancing at each other at least till they thought the other was distracted, Kat eventually breaking her self-imposed distance and coming to ask him a terse question or two before returning to work. The other patrons in the tavern unawares of the protracted conversation playing out before them as they either departed to their beds or passed out drunk on the tables.
‘Why didn’t you come to the South Reach after the Blight?’
Cullen looked sadly into his drink; he had switched to water a little while ago. He owed her an answer almost as much as anyone and yet he couldn’t provide one. Not now, probably not ever.
Besides what could she imagine that was worse than the truth? She left to begin cleaning up the tables when he remained silent, sighing as she did so.
He idly wondered if she still sang in her free time, especially her lullaby. Would it be rude to ask?
Cullen watched as she rubbed at her eyes tiredly, the bar now pristine and ready for the new day to begin. At least now he knew why he hadn’t seen her around during the daytime.
‘Sun’s almost up, don’t you have a job to do oh powerful Knight-Captain’ she stood before him with her arms crossed defensively.
Yes, he did have a job, he had his dream. All he had ever wanted to do was protect people and he was. Cullen knew the wider public were safe from the dangers of magic because of the work the Templars did. It was trying at times especially with the ever rising tensions in the Circle but it was the life he had chosen for himself.
Yet Kat was here, working nights in a Tavern when she was born to be a Lady. That didn’t feel fair to him, not as he sensed the hint of vulnerability in her question or her renewed embarrassment about her appearance. Katherine, despite her men’s clothes did not look like a boy. She looked… He’d fumbled it earlier but she did look better, a lot better. She looked like she belonged in higher society, probably on the arm of a Bann, not to be here with him and the sleeping drunkards.
‘Kat, can I come back?’ He said suddenly, feeling emboldened after his reflections.
He’d made the whole evening awkward for the both of them, he had no right to demand her time, not after he’d given nothing in return but he wanted to be here for her, he wanted to -
‘I’d rather you didn’t.’
Oh his shoulders sagged. But he saw the way she chewed at her lower lip, how she was looking at anything but him and he knew that if she was anything like her childhood self she was deflecting.
‘Please?’ he asked again softly ‘Not often, I won’t pester you. I won’t even talk to you if that’s what you would prefer.’
Still no answer, that’s actually a hopeful sign.
‘You see Mia, well after I got past the first three pages of expletives she did mention you were in Kirkwall and asked me to check in on you from time to time…’
This time her jaw clenched as he invoked his sisters name just as she had done earlier ‘And well, you know her better than me…’
‘And whose fault is that?!’ Cullen looked up at her sudden outburst. She stepped out from behind the bar and stood before him, studying him as if he were a puzzle.
After she was seemingly satisfied with her scrutiny of his motives she gave a terse nod ‘Ok, but I don’t want any more pity from you, or charity handouts.’
Cullen readily agreed ‘Of course’
‘And you’d better tip well!’
He felt himself smirk and at that prompt handed over all the coin on his person, it would have covered several more drinks than he had consumed but he’d have given her the shirt from his back if she asked for it. ‘Absolutely’ he agreed. Anything he thought.
She gave him a coy smile in return; it was highly disarming ‘Can I call you Curly?’
He laughed, her smile wasn’t quite pretty enough to get him to agree to that ‘Only if I can start calling you Kitty?’
She rolled her eyes at him and laughed ‘Touché.’
She opened the door for him, the first rays of the new day flooded into the previously dark space.
‘Well then. I’ll bid you good morning Cullen.’
He felt lighter than he had in years as he took his leave ‘Good morning Kat.’
Thank you to everyone who has shown your support so far. Your comments keep me motivated :)
Next time: more loveliness!
Chapter 9: The Hanged Man
More fluff to see you through the weekend x
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Persistent, like a dog with a bone as our parents used to say. You unearthed my long dormant emotions, made me remember that it was ok to have dreams and to want more from life than merely survival.
Katherine walked briskly home after her rather odd night. It was a little later in the morning than she usually made the journey, the market traders were already arriving to set out their stalls for the day hopefully Annie wouldn’t be too worried or set off to work without her.
Cullen, he had found her completely by chance it seemed and for whatever reason had decided to remain the whole night at the tavern. The first time she gave him a refill was just good business. If he was going to sit there and sulk at least let him be paying for the privilege, the second was a little out of pity. Out of his armor and remorseful he hadn’t appeared like the stern Knight-Captain who had rescued her all those months ago. Maybe work was proving difficult, maybe he had had a falling out with his sweetheart, whatever the reason the short bursts of conversation they exchanged throughout the night seemed to ease his tension. By the end of the night she may have even confessed to finding his company pleasant. Shewwould never admit it but she had enjoyed his mostly silent presence so much that when he started to ask for water instead of more alcohol she'd turned a blind eye. Fortunately they hefty tip he left more than made up for his inexpensive tastes.
What had happened to him? The way he just sat there when Hawke was threatening... She was certain that he wouldn’t have defended himself.
It was not self-destructive behavior but was undoubtedly indicative of self-loathing but why? He had his dream, he had respect. Katherine shook her head; it was stupid of her to dwell on his mood;
It was even more stupid of her to have intervened in the fight. It had been months since she had practiced with her daggers. And she knew Hawke was a quick with her fists as she was with her words.
He just seemed so defeated, a crueler mind may have deemed it some kind of justice for his abandonment, but Kat knew the thousand yard stare, she’d seen it on her own face often enough. She may still be angry and more than a little resentful at his treatment of her, but she wouldn’t wish suffering upon him. Besides, Mia would have had her head if she had ever found out she’d let him knowingly hurt himself.
She gave a quiet snort of amusement, at the absurdity of it all.
Maker knew she had been purposefully thorny towards him, she still wasn’t sure if he even deserved her time or attention. But he’d persisted in his visitation despite her all but ignoring him for the first few hours of his patronage. She had dawdled in her clean up, giving him ample opportunity to slip out of the door undetected and without the need of an awkward goodbye. But he’d waited to take his leave properly, like a gentleman.
‘Good morning Kat’ he had said, a warmth fondness filling her limbs at the recollection. Usually when she closed up she received either indecent propositions from men twice her age and who she was certain were married, or was bade farewell with the grunts of drunkards she had needed to help outside. So it was rather nice to be bade farewell in such a manner.
At least he has written to Mia that was a blessed relief. Her own scant correspondence back to Fereldan had been notably absent of any mention of the long lost brother. Kat had been determined to not share his whereabouts till he himself had given up his cowardice and reconnected with his family. Now he had done so she would be able to send Mia fresher information, it would be nice to be able to write with full honesty again.
All in all it had been an enjoyable evening’s work. Yet for all his assurances Kat honestly didn’t expect to ever see him again.
So a month later, when she was halfway through a round of diamond back, she almost spat out her lemon shandy when he once again made his way to the Hanged Man.
His golden eyes clearly sought her out a the bar, a small scowl on his face as he noted her absence till he eventually spotted her sitting down to the game with Hawke and her friends. Seeing her own no doubt shocked stare he quickly looked away sheepishly and sat with his back to her at the bar.
At the end of the hand she excused herself and tended to her patrons, saving Cullen for last as she assumed he wanted to pick up their strained but not entirely unwelcome conversation from his last visit.
‘Just an ale please’ he said when she approached hardly even raising his eyes.
No conversation then she thought at his abrupt tone.
As she set his drink in front of him he murmured his thanks, suddenly there were a few loud hoots from the card table. Cullen’s eyes flicked over to the noisy group before returning to study the drink in his hands.
‘Do you play?’ She asked, shocking the both of them with her, for once, un-hostile question.
He gave a small shake of his head ‘Ah, a little but not well.’ Kat was somewhat surprised. She remembered how combative he used to get with their own game of Templar and Apostate and the running feud he had with Mia over chess. Perhaps it was for the best he didn’t play cards, not one soul in this establishment played fair, herself included, if he was still the same competitive boy from her youth then he would lose a small fortune.
‘Let me know if I can get you anything else’ she said leadingly as he had yet to venture a return question.
‘I will, thank you Kat’ not even a small smile today? She thought at his polite but cool thanks.
Ah well, he was a grown man, if he wasn’t forthcoming with conversation she was under no obligation to speak for him, at least he remembered the manners his parents taught him. And in truth she didn’t care enough to press the subject instead returning to the card table for a few more hands.
Katherine hated to admit it but the level of cheating almost made the games no longer fun. Fortunately her company was good and that more than made up for her few lost coins. Returning to her post she began preparing Cullen a fresh drink ‘Another?’
He stood as he spoke ‘No, thank you. I won’t take up your time.’ Her eyebrows raised and she stopped pouring the pint. You could take up a little she thought gloomily. He must have noticed her confusion at his sudden wish to depart as he pinched the bridge of his nose and muttered a curse under his breath. ‘Forgive me, I just wanted to check in as I promised. Are you are Annie in need of anything?’
‘Not at present’ she replied a little on guard, her brow furrowing as he gave a small inclination of his head in farewell.
‘Very well, I will leave you to your work. Good night.’
He left as abruptly as he had arrived; he also left a excessively large tip considering he only had one drink and despite her teasing during his last visit she did feel a little uncomfortable as she scooped up the coins. Should she run after him to return it? Makers breath she didn’t actually want to guilt trip him into visiting, this almost felt like blackmail.
She sighed as she studied the now closed door. Maybe she had been a bit snappy with him last time. Cullen surely must not have taken any pleasure from their re-connection as he now seemed so eager to be out of her sight. This time his visit had been a surprise, if he ever turned up again she would think it a miracle.
Feeling slightly less guilty now she was convinced he would try to avoid coming to see her again she pocketed her coins, keeping a couple out and flipping them across her fingers with dexterity as she sauntered back over to the card table.
‘Curly not staying?’ Varric questioned as she retook her seat.
She shrugged her shoulders and spoke in a clipped tone ‘apparently not.’
Hawke didn’t miss the small glance Kat sent over to the door again. ‘Don’t worry about him; he’s probably just got his panties in a twist after a few of his charges managed to escape.’
‘Mages?’ Kat swallowed. While she wasn’t overly fearful of magic she had been brought up Andrastian. She knew why Mages were supposed to be in circles, for their own protection and the safety of the community at large. Although the details were still sketchy surely the fall of the Kinloch hold had proved that to an extent? Then again Anders was here, and apart from one rant she had witnessed where his eyes had flashed blue she had never feared for her safety around him. He was a healer, who knows how many lives he had saved not mention he had given Annie her employment.
Hawke snorted in amusement ‘No doubt Meredith has chewed his ear off.’
The mercenary leaned over conspiratorially towards Katherine ‘You know. Word has it that you dabbled a bit as a rogue, we could always use another skilled fighter to champion our cause.’
Annie has been talking again Kat thought while fixing her face with a flattered but uninterested smile ‘Oh no, I am staying well out of politics thank you!’
‘Ah well worth a shot’ the game continued.
A while later, after even more drinks had been consumed Isabella spoke up ‘Bit of a pity the pretty Knight-Captain left. I wouldn’t mind trialing some of that Templar stamina.’ Kat had to bite her tongue and hoped no one noticed her flush. Cullen is spoken for she painfully recalled.
‘You wouldn’t?’ Hawke laughed, Anders looked faintly annoyed and Fenris seemed as uninterested as always.
Brazen as always the Rivaini continued ‘I would! They wear all that metal all day, every day. I bet he’s built like ox under those skirts of his.’
Kat choked slightly on her drink, making her cough and no doubt further reddening her already scalding face. She wished she was allowed to drink alcohol on the job, the thought of Cullen and Isabella together would much better be forgotten.
‘Now now’ Varric intervened ‘you’ve nearly killed Kitty with your bawdiness.’
The pirate just laughed and tapped Kat affectionately on her hand ‘Nonsense! Listen my lovely, don’t you bother with that one he’ll be trouble mark my words.’
‘I wasn’t intending on-‘
She was interrupted with a wink ‘There’s plenty to go around here if you are looking for someone to warm your bed.’
This was safer territory, flirting she could deal with much better than teasing about her childhood sweetheart. 'Bella as lovely as you are I’m afraid you just don’t have the right parts for me’ Kat replied sweetly.
She heard an answering scoff ‘Not with that attitude. Tell me have you ever heard of pegging?’
By the end of the card game Kat had resolutely decided upon one thing I must be the worlds most experienced virgin.
Although at times humiliating, for all her associates teasing she did come to learn a lot from them, becoming worldlier and not just in regards to her sexuality. Varric and Anders often talked politics, Fenris and Isabella were well traveled, Aveline and Sebasitan were always thoughtful and measured in their responses. And Merril reminded her so much of Rosealie she found herself missing her most optimistic of friends.
Hawke was like her, in that she was originally a Fereldan refugee and big sister, but so unlike her in every other way they were as night and day.
She watched the older woman intently, seeing how she could command the attention of the whole tavern, how she could flirt or wittily talk her way into any desired outcome. She had a natural magnetism that Kat certainly didn’t possess but she could possibly imitate…
At first it was simple things, projecting her voice differently during the call for last orders, faking authority she felt she didn’t naturally exude. Just like acting really she thought as her patrons started to respect her more and heed her words more intently.
Next she tried flirting a little more with her regulars, that certainly got her more tips and more than one proposition. That in turn got her thinking about maybe taking a lover for the first time. With the constant talk of sex around her she couldn’t help but find herself increasingly curious.
There was Micha he was an absolute sweetheart, but closer to fifty than forty, she supposed some age gap was expected but she didn’t want her first time to be with a man old enough to be her Father.
Julian was a good choice; he was tanned and tall… and tried his luck with just about any woman who came into the Hanged Man. She wanted to feel special and not to just be a notch on someone’s bedpost.
At least they had shown a genuine interest, each offering their bed on more than one occasion and Maker forgive her but she wanted to be wanted, to be pursued and desired. She was certain even Annie had some romantic involvement after catching her hastily hiding letters one morning when she got off a little early, the tell-tale pink of embarrassment on her younger sisters cheeks. This job, for all that the pay was good just didn’t bring her any real satisfaction. It was fine for now but was it so wrong to dream of something more?
‘That is a rather large sigh’ her eyes snapped up to the new customer as he slid into his now regular seat.
‘Cullen!’ She smiled before checking her enthusiasm, coughing lightly to mask the lightness in her voice and ignoring his returning smirk. ‘You were in such a hurry last time I assume I’d offended you’ she sulked, pouring him an ale before he had the chance to run away again.
‘Forgive me, I was preoccupied. You could never offend me.’
Well at least he’s acknowledging his rudeness she thought as she placed his drink in front of him, hearing as he quietly added ‘although Maker knows I am always putting my foot in my mouth around you.’
‘If you are planning on staying I’ll have less of that Rutherford grumpiness!’
He looked a little shocked at her outburst ‘I’m not grumpy’ he protested, the roll of her eyes at his assertion making him chuckle into his glove ‘Perhaps a little.’
Satisfied he wasn’t going to bolt through the door she left him to his refreshment and went to clear the tables. If he was here then she wouldn’t mind speaking to him a little more. Only for Mia’s sake of course. She had heard from her friend recently and as expected despite not writing in over three years the letter Cullen had sent his sister was uncommunicative at best. So she agreed to check on him just as he was for her and no doubt each report back to Mia in their own time.
Work done for now she turned her attention back to her elusive guest. She’d had a lot of time to think this past month, about him, about his years away and in truth she had so many questions she was somewhat eager that he seemed to be in a talkative mood.
‘Kitty!’ Julian slurred as he approached where she was stood behind the bar. Kat was able to mask her shudder, the nickname was catching on… she hated it.
‘Cards? I’m feeling lucky’ he insisted.
‘Oh really?’ she arched a brow at his request, usually his was somewhat more forthright. Cullen looked a little bemused as he pretended to study his ale at the interloper's demanding request. Seeing her old friend somewhat entertained she readily agreed despite the interruption. ‘Sure, I can play a hand. Ladies deal of course.’
‘If I win you will give me a kiss’ her opponent said. Apparently there was no room for debate on the matter. Kat found his presumption trying, it took all her years of masking her emotions to stop her from throwing the man out there and then.
‘How bold of you, and what will I get if I win?’ she asked controlling her irritation, just because he was attractive didn’t mean she would tolerate his boorishness.
‘Ah….’ Julian pulled some coins from his pocket, counting them unbelievably slowly ‘Three sovereigns?’
‘Deal’ she said quickly. Katherine didn’t want to rob a drunken man, but he would definitely need a deterrent to stop him from pulling this stunt again. Three sovereigns seemed like a fair price. She withdrew her cards and shuffled them expertly and quickly. Feeling playful she made them jump between her hands, putting on a show and giving her opponent ample time to withdraw as she not so subtly illustrated that in no way was he going to win this game.
Cullen watched on with unconcealed amusement as the hand played out. The man boasting about his inevitable victory and then cursing the prophetess as he lost, slinking out of the Tavern thoroughly humiliated and a little poorer.
‘He had a good hand’ Cullen spoke once they were alone again, his eyes trying to read her expression but she’d had years of practice in schooling her emotions.
‘He did didn’t he’ Kat replied nonchalantly
‘I’m very surprised you were able to beat him’ her eyes twinkled at his insinuation.
‘Were you now?’ she shrugged innocently and wiped at the already clean bar top. Seeing his eyes narrow slightly at her playfulness.
Katherine could see the wheels turning in his mind, any minute she was expecting him to ask her how she did it, not that she’d ever tell. A girl had to have her secrets.
‘Play me’ it was not a question.
Kat gave a bark of laughter at his sudden demand ‘feeling confident?’
‘Yes, I rather think I am’ he said smugly.
Oh she was so looking forward to wiping that smirk from his face. ‘Three sovereigns then, Ladies deal.’
Cullen scowled at his cards, then her own hand ‘How? I was so sure…’
‘What a pity’ she laughed and prepared to gather her winnings.
Her eyebrows raised, looks like he’s still competitive after all ‘Are you sure-‘
‘Yes’ he slammed another three coins down on the table.
He did know she wasn’t playing fair right? Right? It was highly implied, if he was foolish enough to not read between the lines then she wouldn’t spell it out for him ‘Very well.’
‘Again’ he commanded.
This was getting ridiculous ‘No.’
‘Because you are already nine sovereigns down’ she said with a sigh, at this point it was just getting uncomfortable.
A look of absolute confidence and certainty crossed his face ‘And I’ve finally figured out how you are cheating, it is only fair you give me the chance to win my money back.’
‘Are you sure I'm not just excessively lucky?’ she challenged, only a little insulted that he would so openly question her honesty, I suppose he’s not wrong.
The smirk was back ‘Certainly not, one more hand.’
Kat thought on it. She did feel guilty about all the coin he left last time. And if he didn’t lose several weeks wages this time maybe he would beiinclined to play again… She dealt the cards.
‘Ha!’ he clapped and scooped his winnings up. His ever present smirk was triumphant, his eyes sparkled with humor, pride and a little relief at his victory.
‘Now don’t be a poor winner, it doesn’t suit you’ she chastised as she packed away her cards.
He looked so happy, the happiest she had seen of him since he had found his way back into her life.
She was glad she had decided to let him win.
A week or so later she was thinking about the card game at home. Annie had a rare day off and so they were spending some time together before Kat had to head over to her shift at the Inn.
‘Andraste preserve me was that a smile?’ Annie teased as she brought two cups of tea over to the newly acquired kitchen table.
Katherine actually touched her lips at the question, shocking herself ‘What? No-‘
Her sister sounded thoughtful ‘I was sure you’d forgotten.’
‘Maker save me from teenagers’ Kat muttered. Sipping on her tea while it was still too hot just for something to do and trying to ignore the glare that Annie was fixing her with.
‘What?’ she asked with sigh.
‘I’m being serious’ Annie replied
‘Oh’ had she really been so miserable? She was beginning to think she was not as good an actress as she had hoped.
Annie perched on the table next to where Kat was sat ‘Why aren’t you happy? We have a home, we have friends and are comfortable. Many folk lost more than us in the Blight.’
How could she answer such a question without detailing her long hidden hurts? Without explaining how although their life was relatively safe she was restless, eager for more fulfillment both professionally and personally. Would saying those things not inadvertently hurt Annie who had undoubtedly found her calling in Kirkwall?
‘I’m content’ that was true but the scowl her sister gave her signified it was not right.
She folded her arms ‘The last time I saw you happy was when we were on the boat’
Kat did enjoy the crossing ‘So are you are suggesting I become a sailor?’
That drew a small smile from her sister ‘Although I’m certain the Captain would have given you a job if you had asked I was referring to when you performed.’
‘That was nice’ she conceded ‘but I’m not the best singer.’
Annie gave a signature eye roll ‘We’ll have to disagree on that.’
She loved singing but didn’t think she could perform ‘I can’t sing in public, it brings up too many emotions for me. I barely made it through that one song on the boat without falling to pieces!’
Annie remembered her own shed tears from that day ‘Well, maybe there’s something else you can do. You should be in front of people Katie.’
Her sister left her to her tea and her thoughts. As usual her much wiser sibling was right, she was looking for fulfillment the wrong way. Before now she had thought maybe she was missing a romantic connection, but taking a man to bed was only going to provide her temporary satisfaction and even then only if it is as good as Marion and Isabella boasted.
Kat didn’t want temporary. She wanted to be more than content, she wanted to be happy, she wanted love and she didn’t need a man for any of those things.
Grabbing a scrap of paper and some charcoal she set to work. She started with one word, joy.
Next time: the idea comes together and Cullen and Kat talk more about the past.
Chapter 10: The Idea
Kat's plan is coming together!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
That it was right to pursue joy and fulfillment, that there was space in my heart for passion. I just never expected or intended to find those things with you.
Kat’s job as a bartender had long stretches of downtime. And after 3am there were normally just a few regulars or residents who remained, most of whom were usually too well into their drink to be any kind of trouble. So she found she had ample time to practice her card skills and sleight of hand. She spent hours perfecting her new art, her dexterity improved; her creativity helped her to build on the few tricks she had been shown on the sea crossing.
Within a few weeks she could make cards and coins disappear, could switch one out for the other only to have the original reappear somewhere unusual. Could misdirect and confuse and how in the Makers name did ye do that? became a nightly turn of phrase as she ‘performed’ for some of the more inebriated patrons.
It was perfect…if she intended to walk up to perform for everyone in Kirkwall individually. She needed something more visual, something bigger and more dramatic.
And so she planned, idly spinning and flicking her cards around and over in her hands till it was almost as easy as breathing.
‘That’s impressive’ Kat didn’t need to look up to see who had sat down beside her, a small smile tugged at her lips and she folded her deck back together.
‘I see how it is, you win one card game and now you are back to try and fleece me out of more hard earned coin.’
The now familiar chuckle reverberated and warmed her toes ‘Your coin is safe, I prefer chess’ yes, I remember she thought.
Cullen took a hold of her cards and studied them while she was drawing him his ale. While he was engrossed she took the opportunity to look him over. He looks better Mia would be pleased to hear it when she next wrote. His eyes seemed a little less tired, his shoulders not quite so hunched. Or maybe it was just because he was more confident in his visits now; she decided it was probably a combination of the two. ‘You’re a couple of days early this month’ she commented as she placed his tankard in front of him.
‘I can leave if you’d prefer?’ He wanted it to be a teasing statement but there was still a tiny bit of hesitancy in his question.
‘No, you’re right where you should be’ she patted his hand genially and he sat up a little taller ‘I could do with the company’ she gestured around the almost deserted bar. ‘Besides I consider you a regular now.’
‘I am aren’t I’ he sounded a little pleased at the notion before fixing a smirk on his face ‘Does that make you my world-weary bartender?’
‘World-weary!’ She scoffed with her hands on her hips ‘How rude, have you forgotten that I’m younger than you.’
They both laughed quietly at her mock indignation, Katherine humming with good humor as she saw Cullen take a satisfying gulp of his drink. She was glad he had come, clearly letting him win at cards had been the right decision. It was good of him to venture out of the Gallows, she was sure that as the Knight-Captain he could spend his time among much higher society than hers. For Kat it was just pleasant to have someone talk to her who wasn’t trying to find their way into her bed.
‘I jest of course’ he added a little quietly ‘it is nice to have company.’ And there it was again, he was unintentionally alluding to his loneliness and she couldn’t make sense of it. Surely he must have friends, peers not to mention his sweetheart?
Well whatever his reasons he was stuck with her, and she wouldn’t have him moping without due cause. A small scowl appeared on her face ‘Cullen, does this mean we are going to have to make small talk?’
At first he seemed alarmed at her change in tone before noticing the twinkle in her eye and replying equally somberly ‘I am afraid it is inevitable.’
‘The horror’ she gasped, and hearing a small snigger from her companion took her seat opposite him, settling down to talk about everything and nothing.
Kat knew she had changed almost beyond recognition, she was angry and mistrustful. Her confidence had been shattered and it had taken years to put it back together but she’d had good reason. Yet as she saw his sad downcast eyes, the small smile she had only just pulled from him already disappearing from view it seemed that her metamorphosis was nothing compared to the change experienced by her once best friend. Gone was the energetic yet thoughtful boy, the one who had been a beacon of strong will and determination, the one who was playful and yet also loved his peace and quiet. His family didn’t know why he was here; he hadn’t been forthcoming in his letters at all. If Kat was going to get the answers that were owed she would need to ask him directly.
Taking an already clean glass she began to wipe it down in front of him, putting on a show and hopefully making him feel at ease.
‘So then Knight-Captain. Tell me about yourself?’
‘Wha- what do you want to know?’ He sounded on guard at once; oh you definitely have secrets she thought and felt herself give an eye roll. Honestly, he’d been absent for nearly ten years he must have a trove of stories to share. Clearly more prompting would be needed so she started small ‘How did you come to Kirkwall?’
Focused on her cleaning she missed the small smirk which tugged at his lips ‘by boat.’
Her eyes widened and snapped up to his face, he was trying very hard not to laugh at her annoyance. ‘So help me Cullen Rutherford!’
His shoulders shook as he chuckled into his hand, Katherine’s own answering laugh accompanied by playful swat on his arm.
Once their mutual laughter had died down he continued ‘Ah-’ a cloud darkened his features ‘What did you hear of Fereldan’s circle?’ he spoke quietly.
‘Just rumors that it had been overrun’ by abominations, demons and blood-mages she added silently hoping he would provide the detail she sought.
He looked at her searchingly, his eyes fixed on hers till he shook his head and cleared whatever dark thought had just fleetingly been recalled. ‘Yes that’s true. And so I after I had recovered from my injuries-‘
‘You were hurt?’ she interrupted.
He ignored her question ‘- I was transferred. A fresh start they said. The Knight Commander here is stern, but I believe she takes the dangers of magic seriously. I trust her.’
Again he locked his eyes onto hers, his golden brown gaze almost pleading for her to understand. She could not, not yet. There was a lot hidden in his answer which she felt she would need time to unpack, it could come later, for now she was just relieved he was talking.
‘I’m glad you’ve got someone you can trust’ she replied with a smile.
His eyes dropped from her face ‘Yes, I suppose I do’ he rubbed the back of his neck.
‘Look at you being all optimistic. We’ll have to be careful, wouldn’t want word spreading that the Knight-Captain is going soft now would we.’
‘Kat…’ he complained at her friendly teasing again. For all his differences, for how much colder and harder he now seemed she was happy that one thing hadn’t changed with Cullen, he still blushed at the slightest provocation.
‘Bird seed, check!’ she muttered to herself as she wandered through the bustling market square. It would take time to develop some of the more complex elements of her show, she would need to start small at first but while work was good and she was flush with coin she could afford these purchases in advance.
She still had to call at the alchemist stall for some new vanishing powders, still had do find some suitable clothing to wear, still need a name!
Katherine still only owned the one dress that she wore on her days off at home, it was her most prized possession. They were her favorite days when she practiced her singing and dancing while no one was watching and when, if they had been able to buy the right ingredients, she dabbled once again in baking.
For this act she would need something much more theatrical than her simple grey embroidered dress. So far she had acquired some truly garish patchwork leggings; they were constructed of red and blue diamonds of fabric sewn together with visible stitching. They were certainly eye catching and had been a little long even for her legs so she had trimmed off some of the excess fabric to make matching cuffs. Stopping off at her favorite dress stall she once again sought the rack which contained the cast-offs, she hoped she could find something suitable.
Annie had suggested that she ask Cullen for some Mage’s robes. But not only did she think her friend was too straight laced to steal from his employer, the general populace were still wary around magic, even her performance would be a risky venture till people saw how harmless it was.
‘Dog-loving scum the lot of them!’
‘Aye, wish the viscount would put them all back on their boats. But he won’t, not while he’s dealing with the Qunari.
‘Honestly Kirkwall is going to the Void, mark my words’
She sighed at the too familiar slights and insults hurled towards her fellow countrymen. It was becoming apparent that if anyone was going to take her seriously she would need to not be Fereldan.
Annie held up the very short ruffled dress and looked at the matching half mask that was laying on the kitchen table ‘Katie, where on Thedas-‘
‘The Blooming Rose’ her sister gave a peal of laughter at the confession ‘I had to pay for it of course it was the only ‘Orlesian’ costume they had in stock.’
‘I see-‘ the younger sibling looked a little unconvinced at the lingerie she intended to wear as a dress, they wore more than that for sleeping.
‘I will have those leggings on underneath, and a shirt to cover my arms although I might wear if off the shoulder and the mask’ it would restrict her vision but anonymity was going to be essential ’well you know why the mask is needed.’
Annie nodded; still thoughtful in her assessment of the costume ‘It’s missing something… Oh I know!’ she disappeared into her room and came back with her sewing kit and a handful of tinkling little spheres.
‘Where on earth did you get so many bells from?’ Kat asked as her sister began pinning them at equal points around her skirt.
‘Anders’ she replied ‘He tried to order one bell for Ser Pounce’s collar but accidentally ordered one dozen. I asked for the spares thinking I could make a Satalina decoration with them but this will work.’
She watched on as her sister quickly sewed the adornments onto the frills, chewing her lip nervously as the gown neared completion. ‘Do you think this is all a terrible idea?’
She received a sympathetic smile to her question ‘No not at all, it’s nice seeing you this excited about something. How is your Orlesian?’
‘Rusty but I know enough to fool other non-speakers, my accent is convincing.’
‘That’s good, Mother would be not be happy if you forgot it all.’
Katherine readily agreed ‘Now I just need a name. What about the name of a flower. The Magical Rose or Lilac, something like that?’
Annie scrunched her nose up ‘It’s a little clichéd… how about you talk out loud about why you want this while I finish sewing and I’m sure something will come to us.’
So Kat thought while she sipped her tea. Why did she want to do this?
‘I’m doing this for me, mostly. Because I miss dancing and singing and being looked as something more than a barkeep or refugee.’ She gave a small scoff at her own honesty ‘I sound like such an attention seeker. But it’s more than that, I like making people happy. Like the Sailor’s when I sang, Like Cullen when I distract him from his brooding, you when I bake that citrus cake you love…’
Annie set her needle aside and shook the dress out, it jingled as she swished it about drawing a little laugh from both girls.
‘I just feel an overwhelming urge to do something creative and beautiful and to bring people joy.’
Annie was thoughtful ‘What about The Beautiful Joy, but in Orlesian?’
‘La Belle Joie?’
‘Yes!’ Annie pulled Kat up by her hands and held the dress in front of her ‘Can you imagine all your adoring fans cheering you on Joie, Joie! I think it sounds uplifting and hopeful’
Katherine pulled her costume close to her and gave a small twirl. If there was one thing she had come to learn it was that Annie was always right, La Belle Joie it is.
Keeping her plans a secret was driving Kat to distraction. She had been rehearsing almost constantly, had been acquiring more materials, make-up and refining her technique. Her sleep had been the victim of her endeavors and so even though she was currently drinking a coffee she still didn’t notice when Cullen came and sat next to her at work.
‘Are you well Kat?’ She almost jumped out of her seat at being addressed.
‘I’m going to start performing again!’ she suddenly blurted out surprising the pair of them.
It was her turn to flush with embarrassment ‘Ah, I mean hello Cullen. A drink yes?’
He chuckled into his hand ‘Yes, thank you.’
She stood to prepare him an ale ‘Singing?’ he asked a little hopefully.
‘No, I don’t really sing anymore’ at least not in public.
His reply was quiet and a little sad ‘That is a shame, your singing is one of my happiest memories.’
If Katherine’s face was already pink from her earlier confession, upon hearing his praise she blushed scarlet. Fortunately Cullen didn’t seem to notice as his own reddened face was downcast.
He coughed to cover up their shared embarrassment. ‘What will you be doing?’ He asked after a painful silence.
‘I suppose the closest description I can give you is street theater’
‘You won’t be conning the public again will you?’ Kat’s olive green eyes snapped up to meet his own narrowed orbs as he questioned her using his ‘Knight-Captain’ voice, he usually reserved for when she was being particularly belligerent.
‘Not… exactly’ she replied feebly.
‘Kat!’ He sounded exasperated and it quickly chased away her earlier mortification.
She held her hands up in surrender ‘I will not be tricking the public into handing over any money.’
He sighed at her response ‘Good.’
‘Unless they want to’ she added quickly.
‘Maker’s Breath’ Cullen shot an irritable scowl her way which only added to her amusement. She couldn’t stop the laugh which bubbled up at his discomfort; he was such a mother-hen when he was worried.
Wiping her humorous tears away, the unexpected happiness stirred pleasant memories and bid her to ask ‘Do you?’
Cullen looked confused ‘What, hand over money to you? Not intentionally but you do keep cheating at cards.’
She felt a little silly asking now ‘No, I mean sing?’
‘No’ he responded quietly but not unkindly.
‘Oh’ that was a shame; she sat back down next to him. ‘My mother used to say you had a voice for hymns.’
Kat felt his eyes on her as she sipped her own drink ‘Yes, Mia always told me that the lay sisters wanted to castrate me so that my voice remained high.’
She spat the contents of her mouth out and descended into a coughing fit. Cullen patted her on the back till she could once again breathe ‘Sweet Maker, were they serious?’
He deadpanned ‘The sisters were always serious. I was terrified. I think that’s why I began telling everyone I was to be a Templar, that way they couldn’t keep me for their choir.’
She shook her head at the absurdity of their youth ‘Well, the Templar’s are lucky to have you.’
She was about to attempt another sip when Cullen’s hand came to rest over her wrist, she almost flinched at the gentle touch ‘I’m sorry about your Mother Kat.’
The statement floored her; she bit down on the inside of her cheek to control the surging emotions which threatened to over spill. Her eyes were watering but she had had years of holding back her tears. She was angry at him for saying this to her now and elated that he was finally offering her condolences albeit years too late. After warring within herself she replied as neutrally as she was able ‘It was a long time ago.’ His hand gave a small squeeze of pressure and then was withdrawn; she let out the breath she was holding.
‘How did she die?’ he asked softly.
Kat sighed and looked up to study the dusty chandeliers overhead ‘She got a chill, you know how she was…’
Cullen’s whisky eyes dropped to the bar in front of him ‘Maker, I have been the worst friend-‘
‘Yes’ she agreed ‘you really have.’
His hands came up to cover his face but she pried the fingers nearest to her away, threading them with hers and squeezing them firmly.
‘But I’m giving you the chance to make it up to me’ she said with a small smile.
Cullen’s posture relaxed once more, a flicker of a returning smile on his face as he used his free hand to scoop up his tankard.
‘To the future then?’ he offered as a toast.
She released her hold on his hand in order to meet him with her own cup ‘To the future.’
It was noon. The square was bustling with traders, laborers and folks from all echelons of society. The high-born nobles were taking turns to parade around the space stopping to chat to each other or admire new trinkets. Children were running amok between them shouting and giggling as they went.
Kat’s heart was racing, she didn’t dare touch her face with her sweating palms in case it smudged her rouged lips and kohl lined eyes. Checking all her pockets and pouches one last time she reached up to affix her mask to her face. Her hair was just long enough to be kept out of the way with two small ribbons near the nape of her neck, a matching one round her throat.
She knew Annie would be somewhere in the crowd, waiting and willing her on. You can do this she rallied herself.
She took one more steadying breath then stepped out into the light. Her odd dress and mask already catching the attention of onlookers as she strode confidently towards a pedestal at the center of the square. She vaulted it with ease and long practiced grace. Her movements exaggerated and dramatic as began to speak.
‘Madames et Monsieurs, boys and girls. Please grant me a moment of your time, for I have such wonders to share with you all!’.
She fanned her tarot cards out in each hand, and gave an alluring smile. It’s Showtime.
We're finally at the Magic!
Thank you all for your ongoing support and kudos. It's keeping me very motivated x
It was almost magical the way you made me feel. You made me happy despite how very different our lives had turned out from that childish ideal.
Cullen pinched the bridge of his nose. This was the third time such a report had reached them and although it sounded beyond belief he could no longer leave the matter un-investigated.
The very notion that a Mage would ever consider revealing themselves in broad daylight to perform… even if that fact made him uneasy the other reports soon drove away his anxiety in their sheer absurdity.
He quickly scanned the eye-witness reports from the previous ‘sightings’. They only appeared for an hour at a time, around noon once a week and always vanished without a trace. They had so far avoided traditional schools of Magic and identification had proved difficult as they chose to wear a mask. They had pulled a Nug out of a hat. They pulled a Nug out of a hat?! Maker’s Breath was he reading that correctly?
Part of him assumed this was all just some prank, the runner who brought him the urgent note regarding the in progress display shifted nervously by the door. No, he couldn’t let this go ignored, not when there were civilians unaware of the dangers and defenceless.
Kat he suddenly remembered. She had said she was going to start performing from time to time and he couldn’t stand the thought of her being caught up in this Mage’s foolishness. He’d already lost so much because of Magic, he wouldn’t risk losing her too.
He issued the command without hesitation ‘Ask Ser Carver to meet me by the Gallows docks with a representative from the Loyalist Mages in five minutes.’ The runner saluted and sprinted away to complete his urgent task.
Cullen was always armed while on duty so he only needed to grab his shield before heading out. He took the curved Silverite down from the rack by the door and, although he hoped it wouldn’t be needed, attached an extra vial of Lyrium to his belt.
It had been his idea to begin taking a Mage with them when investigating reports of an Apostate or a child that had just come into their Magic. The initiative coming about after he’d reviewed the statistics for returning newly minted or escaped Mages back to the Gallows. So often the Mages in question resorted to blood magic or became susceptible to possession. Cullen had hypothesised that by taking a senior representative to talk with the often frightened individuals they could speak for the benefits of the Circle directly, try to dispel some of the incorrect assumptions about the system and show that it was possible to thrive in their new environment.
Ser Carver too had proven to have a level head when participating in such missions and as a result the number of recoveries that turned violent was greatly decreased. Once again some of the older Knights let the Order down with their unimproved methods but despite his complaints to the Knight-Commander she was overall too impressed by the progress to worry about the few failures.
That irritated him. No Mage should be harmed, or should have to resort to blood Magic when being recovered. The difference between his success and the poor improvements seen elsewhere felt like a constant thorn in his side, it was more failures for him to bear.
More evidence of the system he believed in failing. Cullen knew the Circle wasn’t perfect; every week a new report crossed his desk about alleged abuse. He investigated but none of the Mages would testify. No one would trust him to be impartial fearing the brand should they speak out. He’d tried reassurance the procedure is only for unharrowed or dangerous Mages but then that had never been case in Kirkwall. Decisions regarding Tranquillity were left to the Knight Commander, he could advise but Meredith had full agency to do as she saw fit and often he found he disagreed with her.
As he stepped onto the ferry boat with Ser Carver and Senior Enchanter Vincent he consoled himself.
She, they, were keeping people safe, and that was all that mattered.
With his mission in mind they strode briskly through the busy streets of Kirkwall, the square wasn’t too far away and their progress had been quick. If the mystery Mage always appeared for a full hour at a time then they should just be able to catch the ending of her ‘performance.’ He hoped to be able to assess the danger she posed without drawing too much attention to their work. The rising tide of anti-Templar sentiment - another headache for another day he grimaced, it was only a little past noon and already his thirst for more Lyrium was pulsing in his veins.
They saw the crowds first. It was large, four deep in places and yet was strangely quiet for such a mass of people.
Cullen noted some idle city guardsmen watching the display from the steps of the Viscount’s residence. Although he didn’t expect them to be tackle an Apostate on their own he couldn’t comprehend why they would permit this level of disruption to the city, especially for one that was encouraging such a dangerous fascination. Clearly he would need to be having words with the Guard Captain again.
Over the murmurs and scattered applause, loud commanding words could be heard, lilting and descriptive in their delivery. Although the accent was Orlesian Cullen had to concede that her voice pleasing on the ear. It reminded him a little of how Kat spoke when she was calling for last orders or trying to calm a rowdy gr - oh…oh no.
He pushed his way through the throng of people with more urgency now; ignoring the grunts of disapproval or the little complaints that were hurled his way as the onlookers views were restricted by his broad armoured shoulders. Not Kat, It can’t be Kat, she told me she wasn’t a Mage, Maker please let it not be her plea-
The prayer dyed on his lips when he saw short dark auburn waves pulled into two short bunches with brightly coloured ribbon, it may only be the back of her head but it was no doubt that it was her. Katherine, impossible!
He inhaled sharply when she spun and he finally set eyes on her, any words she was saying were drowned out by the sound of blood rushing in his ears, the adrenaline and confusion ricocheting throughout his body.
Despite being covered from head to toe he had never seen an outfit so demure and yet scandalous, it was loud and provocative and couldn’t help but draw his eyes. Her long sleeved white shirt was accompanied by silken gloves, cuffed with some diamond patterned fabric which also covered the expanse of her long and lean legs. They were on full display because the dress, Maker’s breath that dress, was so short it looked to be little more than a tailored chemise. Matching colourful patches and bells that tinkled as she walked somehow made the indecent item of clothing look whimsical.
He couldn’t see most of her face, a black and red Orlesian style mask was perched across the bridge of her nose and it covered all but her chin and red painted lips.
‘Something like street theatre’ she had told him without revealing the full details. And little wonder, the way she danced around the space delighting the onlookers with her cards flying and costume twinkling. How she commanded the attention of the audience with her graceful movements and words, it was mesmerizing and beautiful and dangerous.
Cullen thought about the little tricks she had shown him in his recent visits. She had assured him then that they were nothing more than a combination of dexterity and fooling ones observation. Indeed he had never felt any trace of Magic while she had demonstrated her skills before she is not a Mage he reassured himself, trying to plug the hole of gnawing and expanding worry that was in his gut.
As if to mock him she made her deck of cards, ones he had held himself, jump between her hands. They were a vibrating, buzzing river of colour and pattern. Springing and life like despite being inanimate objects.
Her nervousness when she had told him about her idea now made sense. What is she thinking? She must have known that Templars would need to investigate. Was that why she had tried to befriend him once more, in the hopes of clemency? No, No she wouldn’t use someone like that. Cullen had to remember that he had found her, he had sought her company and taken pains to rekindle their friendship not the other way round.
Cullen’s own frayed nerves were impacting his reason, his confidence and certainty spiralling and draining like water. He needed to focus, he needed his Lyrium.
‘For my finale I require a volunteer’ the show progressed while Cullen reached for his belt.
A wide eyed and shy looking lad was pushed forward Katherine smiled kindly at him. ‘You young monsieur’ she fanned the cards face down in front of him ‘Please, pick any card you feel drawn to, let the mystic spirits guide your hand.’
Mia would never forgive him if he let Kat get herself hurt or imprisoned with this misadventure, he needed a cool head and to quiet his emotions, to that end he lifted the blue song to his lips.
‘Ah a beautiful choice, it is the Peace card’ She showed the image to the assembly. The illustration was of a dove with an Olive branch in its beak, the gilding around the edge of the card catching the sunlight and glinting as she took the time to engage all her spectators.
Climbing back up onto a pedestal she waved her hand in front of the card once, twice and on the third pass the crowd aaahhed and clapped at the sight of the now blank white card. Cullen felt sick but the nausea was quickly quelled under the cool cobalt power that now trickled into his being.
‘Now I know what you are all thinking. Free Marcher folk are famed of their wit non?’ the locals laughed and nudged themselves at her statement, she had them eating out of the palm of her hand.
‘You are thinking of course where did the dove go?’
Cullen felt his trembling hands and nervousness subside. With his confusion calmed, his irrational thoughts quieted. Kat was not a Mage, it was just a show, an act designed to beguile and entertain. There is no magic here.
‘I shall tell you. It is here, in the air all around us’
Cullen’s Templar abilities were heightened from his fresh drug, but despite the Lyrium calling out to meet any magic he could sense nothing other than the muted reverberations in the fade from the Enchanter stood behind him.
‘Mon dieu! Such little faith, prove it I shall but I must beg silence of you all. The Arcane arts require my complete concentration.’ If Cullen hadn’t been numbed from the icy song in his veins he may have found that he agreed in good humour with her presumption. Magic was wild, uncontrollable; he had seen that, he had lived that. Her words trivialised it’s dangers and glorified it’s malpractice, she may not be a Mage but he would still need to speak to her about this folly.
For all its foolishness the crowd believed her, well over a hundred people instantly falling silent at once. For noon on Market day the prevailing moment of peace and whisper quiet was almost haunting.
Katherine held the blank card over her heart with both hands. She started humming.
‘Knight-Captain she is about to cast!’ Ser Carver hissed in his ear, spurring him to action despite not having the provocation to do so.
‘STOP! Apostasy is a crime. Mage, you will need to come with us to the Gallows.’
His command was excessively loud in the previously silent space and was met with boos from the spectators. Cullen didn’t care about the Templars image in the moment; he cared about getting Kat away from this shameful situation before one of his stricter, more violent brothers came across her.
Kat opened her eyes at his interruption, her darkly lined eyes widened in recognition. He half expected her to turn and run but she instead gave him a playful smirk. She’s happy to see me the thought gave him both pleasure and pain. He was happy to see her, always, even though the sight of her at that moment was splitting his own conscience in two. Loyalty to the Order, Loyalty to his friend.
‘I’m not a Mage’ she protested, throwing the card up into the air with both hands. Before his eyes it transformed into a dove and flew off towards the Chantry. The crowd clapped at her spectacular display and at once began throwing coins into the hat she had set out.
‘But you are doing magic?’ Cullen questioned dumbly, a little in awe, a little fearful.
‘I’m a Magician’ she smirked, wiggling her fingers for dramatic effect. Turning her back to him she gave several pristine curtseys to her adoring fans.
Magic... She has confessed. The sweat on his brow cooled, his breathing became a little ragged even though he had yet to exert himself.
Young children ran up to her without fear ‘Belle Joie, Belle Joie. Will you come back next week?’
‘But of course mon petites’ she answered with real affection.
Magic… It didn’t matter that he couldn’t feel the fade in her despite his heightened senses and years of experience. It didn’t matter that she had shown him her tricks beforehand or that she had denied being a Mage.
She gave a large sweeping bow ‘I shall be here at noon and I look forward to sharing more wonders and Magic with you all when the time comes.’
Magic, Magic, Magic, MAGE!
Days, weeks trapped in a cage. Tortured and twisted. His friends corrupted his own mind and body battered and broken beyond repair. Desire. Desire’s cruelty. Kat was there, she’s here too. Cullen drew his sword.
Cullen panted and looked around him at the sea of faces and above at the blinding sun, none of it anchored him. Was he back there, had he ever left? Had his saving apparition been nothing other than another wicked game at his expense? Which demon had gotten his claws into him now, fight, he wouldn’t go back there.
Holding the honed blade steady the ancient words of a Holy smite left his tongue with a snarl.
A ripple of power surged forth from his blessed weapon, a faint sheen of blue visible only for a moment and almost completely un-regarded by the unknowing audience. To them it would feel a little like their ears popping after climbing down a large hill.
But to a Mage… The senior enchanter they had brought with them crumpled to the ground with muffled whimper. Kat didn’t miss it, she looked over the prone form before snapping her eyes up to him and although she visibly flinched at the hardness she must see in his stance and expression she remained otherwise unharmed.
The smite didn’t affect her. She’s not…
‘Merci, Merci! Thank you all!’ she said sweetly as the last of her earnings were thrown into the hat.
She gathered it at once and shooting one more look in his direction suddenly threw a near invisible amount of powder onto the floor.
The crowd clapped and cheered again as she all but disappeared from their sights.
Cullen was trained against such paltry arts, he could see her blurred outline sprint away into an adjoining street. She wouldn’t need to use vanishing powders if she was a Mage. That fact, coupled with her lack of connection to the fade and her apparent in difference to the smite was evidence enough. He let out a shuddering sigh of relief and sheathed his sword.
‘Look after her’ he commanded to Carver who was tending to the slowly recovering Enchanter not waiting for any acknowledgement before he gave chase.
She was fast, running and jumping over obstacles that blocked her way in the narrow alleys which she led him down. For all her speed however she had no stamina, after a minute of chase she began to slow and Cullen gained on her quickly.
She darted down a side alley almost causing him to overshoot.
‘Wait! K-’ he stopped himself from calling out her name. There was a reason she’d chosen anonymity after all. What did he call her then?
‘Mage, I order you to stop!’ he shouted, pleased when she drew to an abrupt halt.
‘I have a name!’ She shrieked and ripped off her mask, turning and fixing him with a look of fury.
‘I- I know!’ He held his hands up in surrender ‘But I thought that you didn’t want anyone else to know‘ he added quietly.
Her hands were on her hips, her words breathless after the chase ‘What in the void Cullen. You tried to attack me back there didn’t you?’
He rubbed the back of his head, he would need careful tact to try and explain his reasoning. ‘I- You performed magic. You left me no choice’ it was a feeble response but it was the truth. He would never want to hurt her, surely she must know that.
She scoffed and turned to pull a well concealed cloak out from behind a crate. Slinging the long brown fabric around her shoulders and fastening it across her chest.
‘I’m not a Mage!’
She rolled her eyes ‘And yet you are such a bigot that you see Magic in a few card tricks now?’
‘No, the cards were…You turned one into a dove!’ He sounded like a slack-jawed dimwit not a Knight-Captain.
She scowled darkly at him, shaking her head with abject disappointment. He watched with mortification as she reached into her cloak and pulled out a small handful of, is that sand?
At once he was on guard, fearing she may attempt to flee again. Instead she held her palm out flat and gave a few melodic whistles. After a few moments a white pigeon lands close to their location on an overhead roof tile. ‘Coo Coo’ it flapped down to land in her hand and started to nibble at the seed contained there.
Andraste preserve me, I’m an idiot.
As she takes time to check the animal over for injury, the bird continues to coo happily. ‘So, what exactly were you planning on doing when you followed me. Are you going to take me to the Gallows?’ She questioned while encouraging the bird to into a concealed pocket on the ruffle of her skirt.
‘N-No, of course not. I made a mistake Kat, I’m so Sorry.’
She regarded him with caution and disappointment ‘But you would have done wouldn’t you? If I’d actually had Magic, if I was a Mage?’
He could not give her the answer she was undoubtedly seeking so he gave none and dropped his gaze to the floor.
‘Friendship means nothing to you’ she said bitterly.
‘That’s not true!’ he growled.
She gave a snort of disbelief and started to pace in front of him ‘You have all but admitted you would have taken me in. Me, your-’ she chokes on whatever word she was trying to say. Instead of it causing her embarrassment she uses the stunted emotion to fuel her anger, her words burning him with their volatility. ‘You would have left Annie without her only remaining family member. You would have gleefully locked me up and thrown away the key. Tell me would you have seen me branded hmm? For escaping you for so long? For being right under your nose the entire time?!’
‘Kat, no that’s not what we do’ he pleaded.
‘No? What then? I’ve heard some awful stories about the Gallows Cullen, would you want me there to be abused, bound and assaulted by power mad Templars?’
‘It’s not like that!’
‘It is like that!’ she hissed.
Cullen dragged his fingers through his curls, frustration rising ‘I know you are friends with Hawke but you must realise that she has a very narrow and misguided view.’ Kat snorted with derision but otherwise remained quiet. He continued softly, trying to answer the accusations she had thrown. ‘The circle is not ideal but it has served its purpose for countless Ages. ‘Magic exists to serve man’ you know this, you’re Andrastian. And while I confess that some reform is needed you must know that anything I do is only to protect. To protect you, to protect the wider population. If I didn’t believe that I would never have given my oath to the Order.’
She quieted at his impassioned speech, considering his words carefully. Cullen begged she would see reason; that she wouldn’t take his earlier transgression against her as an attack but as an inevitable side effect of his Templar duty, one born out of a need to protect.
Kat swallowed and drew her arms around herself; her reply was a little calmer than her earlier rant. ‘You wanted to protect the Mages too or have you forgotten that part?’
‘You don't know what they are capable of!’ He snapped and instantly regretted it. The flicker of kindness and understanding he had only just repaired between them fractured.
'Yes I do!’ She retorted ‘Like the healer in low town, Hawkes friend Anders. Maker only knows how many lives he’s saved, I’m sure if he hadn’t been a Grey Warden you would have brought him into your little prison by now.’
Cullen clenched his jaw at the mention of the ‘Healer’ who flagrantly disregarded the Chantry’s laws.
'What about the Hero of Fereldan? She was a Mage at your Circle, you must have known her.’
‘Don't talk to me about Kinloch, you weren’t there!’ His spike of animosity and raised voice caused Kat’s body to jolt in surprise. He could see how her pale green eyes hardened, her pupils narrowing as the anger she had mostly kept in check crashed through her need for civility.
‘You’re right.’ She took a step towards him, accusation in her expression ‘I wasn’t there in your precious tower with your beloved Order’ each word was laced with venom.
‘Just like you weren’t there when you broke my heart via letter’ she prodded him angrily in the chest, he couldn’t feel it through his plate, but it did feel like he’d been punched at her confession. I broke her heart?
‘Or when you weren’t there when I was running from Darkspawn, when I saw my friend being dragged away by her hair screaming for her life.’ She flicked her own still short waves, that was why she had cut it then. Cullen’s shame rose when he recalled how he’d first mistook her for a boy.
‘When I saw war and hunger and sickness and all the horrors of the Blight first hand.’
Cullen’s head hung in defeat as her tirade continued.
‘Or when I had to hold your family together when their parents were killed all the while working myself to the bone to care for my baby sister.’
What could he say to such a speech, he hadn’t meant to diminish her own suffering by reminiscing about his own. For all he had endured he had chosen the life of a Templar, Kat had never asked, nor deserved any of her suffering.
‘You weren’t there’ she whispered, the pain etched in her voice.
Straightening her shoulders she drew on that hidden strength he had found he admired in her ‘I’m not unintelligent Cullen. I know something has happened to change you from the hopeful and kind boy I knew into the self-pitying, hateful man before me. But don’t you dare assume you are the only one who has faced horrors.’ She gave one last tired shake of her head ‘Goodbye.’
No! He couldn’t lose her again; he’d only just got her back.
He grabbed hold of her wrist as she moved past him ‘Kat, please-’
‘No!’ She ripped her hand from his; she was shaking from holding her tears back. ‘I gave you your chance’ her voice was a whimper.
He reached for her again but she stepped away from him ‘I never wanted to hurt you.’
‘Well you did' she said with a note of finality 'If I ever see your face at the Tavern again I will have you thrown out.’
Kat disappeared around the corner and Cullen found that he was alone again. I always end up alone.
I'd been feeling a bit frustrated with the pacing of this story but we are into the juciy bits now.
I hope you enjoyed that chapter xxx
Chapter 12: The Reflections
This is the first of two or three fluffy chapters, I told you good times were coming!
There will only be one update this week as I have a job interview I need to prepare for and attend. So I hope this will tie you over till next time x
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Even if at times we fought like cat and dog you never gave up on me. You always came back no matter how many times I pushed you away. I admired your resilience, among other things.
Katherine had been performing for the third time. She was so happy to see that the crowd was a little larger this time round; clearly word had been spreading about her Magic show, she was sure to make a good amount of coin again. And as per her earlier performances it was all going extraordinarily well.
The young boy had selected the Peace card from her deck, she had made sure of that of course, it was to be the first time she was to make use of her pigeon.
It had taken a few weeks to tame and train the ‘dove’, just like the old postmaster had shown her back in Honnleath. She had loved those messenger birds and in a way was glad she was making use of some of the skills her Lady’s education had provided her with after years of hard toil. Her dancing, her Orlesian, her love of the arts, becoming La Belle Joie meant her childhood didn’t feel like quite so much of a waste.
Kat wasn’t naïve. She knew the Templars would investigate at some point but she had nothing to hide, so although briefly startled when she saw the approaching silver soldiers she didn’t let it disrupt her work. Then when she saw it was Cullen who had interrupted she had been more than a little relieved. He knew she wasn’t a Mage, she’d told him in their letters. He’d previously watched her demonstrate the card skills and misdirection of her trade. If there was one person in Kirkwall who should not have been surprised by her act it should have been him. Her heart had given a traitorous little flutter of excitement at the realization that he was going to see her for the first time as she wanted to be seen. Not a half starved ragged boy, not a weary and ill-tempered tavern worker but as Kat.
Her happiness was short lived. He tried to attack me.
Something changed towards the end of her show. She heard the quiet, muffled slump of the Enchanter as he fell to the floor, she instantly sought out her friend with alarm, having to stifle a gasp at his narrowed eyes and aggressive stance.
The look of hate she’d seen on his face made her flinch and it had taken all her skills as a performer to accept her praise and the audiences’ gratitude with the warmth and attention they deserved. Thank the Maker she had been wearing a mask or her confusion would have been evident.
Prior to today she had spent many an hour wondering what had happened in Fereldan to make him so fearful of magic. He had confessed to being injured, but his reticence when it came to discussing any other details about the event and his sweetheart lead her to believe that the two were interlinked somehow. It felt useless to speculate with so few facts and whatever had happened didn’t give him leave to treat her as he had done.
He tried to subdue me. Kat had swallowed down her rage and waved to the crowd with a tight smile, the show still had to go on till she was out of sight. When she had turned back to look at him just before her vanishing act the hatred was gone, replaced by a look of relief and a little embarrassment. And that irked her.
He caught up to her with alarming speed. Cullen had tried to apologize and to his credit he was contrite as she raised her concerns about Templar prejudice and the stories circulating about the Gallows. She had seen a flicker of the boy who was devoted to his ideals, who cared for honor and truth.
‘You weren’t there’ he had snapped and that was the end of what little patience she had with him. The fight that followed was vicious and mostly of my own doing she recognized. She’d unloaded ten years’ worth of frustrations and anger onto him, refusing further apology and ordering him to never again seek her out.
Now she was sat at home with her head slumped in her hands, the kettle was whistling on the stove, the happy pigeon cooing from its cage but neither could drown out the sound of her inner turmoil. Between his prejudice and her short temper they had managed in ten minutes to utterly decimate their rekindled relationship of ten months. She wished that thought didn’t affect her so. After all, she had only given him the chance because of some long dormant and lingering sentiment from her childhood; they shouldn’t be much more than occasional acquaintances to each other. But somewhere between his monthly, now near weekly visits to her place of work they had found the time to develop a close friendship once more.
Katherine stood with a sigh and took the kettle from the heat, pouring herself a much needed tea. Whatever was between them was over. Maybe now was a good time to consider joining Hawke and her little troop of helpers. They were great company and had invited her along on their outings often enough. Something always held her back however, she never quite felt like she belonged with them as if they were their own little family and she was just a member of the supporting cast.
Her only family now barreled through the door, the worn wood nearly flying off the hinges from the force.
‘Katie, oh thank the Maker!’ Annie rushed inside and gave her strong squeeze around her middle. ‘You’re home!’ She said breathlessly and sat herself down in Kat’s now vacant chair ‘Word got round that the Templars interrupted your show and I was so worried.’
Katherine stroked her sisters long red hair ‘Only briefly’ she consoled.
‘Well are you ok? They didn’t need to question you at all or take you to the Gallows? Anders put all kinds of terrible ideas in my head and I admit I was quite scared.’
Her usually serious and unflappable sister was almost shaking, and so Kat set a cup of tea down in front of her to help calm her nerves. She felt herself frown at Annie’s panicked state. Anders has better things to be doing than terrifying teenage girls with his angry protests she thought with annoyance. Honestly she was starting to worry he was doing more harm than good with his often violent rhetoric. Reform was needed, but all this talk of revolution wouldn’t end well.
‘I’m fine, it was actually Cullen who came along to investigate.’
‘Oh’ that brightened her sister up at once ‘that’s good, did he like your show?’
Katherine bit her tongue. In truth he had seemed happy to see her at first at least till she had made the ‘dove’ appear. She sat down opposite her sister.
‘He, did not’ she confessed. ‘He was terrified when I conjured up birdy. He tried to smite me, it had no effect of course because I’m not a Mage but it still hurt’ she added sadly.
Annie gaped ‘What happened?’
Kat shrugged ‘Then he chased after me and tried to apologize.’
Annie laughed ‘Well, Mia wouldn’t be surprised to hear that. She always said that it was an odd day when you didn’t fall and make up three times before noon. At least some things never change.’
Kat gave a small smile at the thought of Mia having to be the go between on those occasions, eventually she learned that they would fight and reconcile regardless of anyone else’s involvement and left them to it.
‘And, did you make up?’
Kat studied her tea feeling a little sheepish ‘No. I yelled at him, a lot. I didn’t accept his apology and asked him never to contact me again.’
‘He tried to quell me!’
Annie gave a long suffering sigh ‘And that was very wrong of him but think of it from his perspective. He is a high-ranking member of the Order, one who witnesses Magic performed right in front of him. If he hadn’t acted at all then I’d think he were a piss-poor Templar!’
Katherine was going to protest but she wasn’t given the chance.
‘He was just doing his job.’
Kat scowled feeling a little defensive in light of the criticism ‘You’re taking his side?’
‘Never. You are my sister and I will always have your incorrigible back.’
That consoled her enough to resume drinking her tea in an increasingly awkward silence. Annie kept trying to make eye contact and she resolutely ignored her, till she couldn’t stand the sideways glances a moment longer.
‘Just say it!’ She snapped earning a chuckle of amusement from Annie.
‘Do I have to?’
Katherine groaned and she rested her head on the table ‘No I suppose you don’t.’
She felt Annie pat her head sympathetically ‘Well just so we’re on the same page I’ll say it anyway. Cullen makes you happy, the happiest I’ve seen you in too long. Don’t cut him out of your life unless he is beyond redemption.’
She looked over to the Tavern door as another windswept patron made their way inside. It was no one of note and so she cursed herself when she realised that she was looking for him, again. It had only been two days. Besides she’d told him not to come back and there was no reason to expect he would ignore her wishes.
She sighed as one of her regulars flagged her down to take an order for another drink. It was hard to concentrate on being personable and pleasant when her thoughts were frequently turned towards her other regular who was notably absent. Still she managed to force a smile as she returned to the barrels overhearing a conversation as she poured a pint.
‘I heard that they’re all descendant from dragons. That’s why they’ve got them horns.’
‘Do you think? Maybe someone should ask that Mage about it, the one who knows all about the mystic secrets.’ Kat often overheard her stage persona being mentioned in the Tavern, the verdict to her show had been overwhelmingly positive and it gave her such pride she couldn’t help but listen in more closely.
‘La Belle Joie… Yes, I wonder if anyone knows who she is? She would know for sure, probably has all kinds of spells and a Grimoire containing secret knowledge’ She had to bite her lip to stop herself from giggling at the presumption.
‘Good of her to share some of it with us really, them other Mages are all so secluded.’
‘t’is, Our Suzy loves it, and wee Graham. They go every week. I think they’ll be gutted when she eventually moves on.’
‘Aye, Still, it won’t matter if the Qunari get their way. Have you seen the way they treat their Mages?’
‘Joie isn’t a Mage though, she’s a Magician. Even the Templars have continued to let her perform.‘
‘True true, the Templars for the most part seem alright really. They might be brutes but at least they let us have our fun. Here’s hoping the Qunari don’t get their chance to ruin it for the rest of us.’ A glass was raised.
‘Here’s to that’ the clink as the drinks were brought together put an end to the conversation. Kat wasn’t too concerned about the Qunari, her anonymity gave her some protection and as her drunken guests had so kindly just pointed out she was not a Mage. Still, might be an act there she thought, the idea of them being descendant from dragons certainly gave her some creative options and it would be good to do something topical.
The door swung open, Kat studiously avoided turning her head to glance in the direction but heard the calls of ‘Varric’ from Hawkes table. She found herself somewhat surprised when the Dwarf approached her before heading to his friends.
‘Kitty!’ She wished there was a way to stop people calling her that, forcing cheerfulness she did not at present feel she greeted her guest with a smile ‘Varric, what can I get you?’
She scowled as he withdrew a small notebook and writing charcoal ‘what’s all this?’
‘Notes for a story’ he said assuredly and she clenched her jaw in annoyance. She had told them in confidence about her alter ego a few days ago, now Anders was busy upsetting Annie and Varric was jeopardizing her secret with his thirst for gossip.
She folded her arms defensively ‘Surely you have more than enough inspiration with Hawke? 'she deflected.
‘I do, I do, this is for a little side project I’m working on.’
‘I’m certain you already know exactly what happened’ Doing her best to ignore his questions she took a nonchalant sip from her drink.
‘I know the facts, but not the emotion… tell me when he caught up to you did he bundle you into his arms and vowed that he would love you regardless of your Magic?’
She nearly choked ‘What? No-‘
‘Oh I see, were going for more of a smutty novel, let me guess, he had to ask you to remove your clothes to check for any hidden magical artefacts?’
‘Varric!’ She squeaked angrily.
‘He pressed his lips to yours to silence you, stopping you from casting further enchantments and spells?’
The glare she sent his way made him hold his hands up in apology. ‘First, keep your voice down I don’t want Annie in danger or myself for that matter because of your indiscrestion.’
Varric did look a little scolded by that and nodded dutifully.
‘Secondly, it’s not like that’ she sighed and her anger dissipated, her eyes drifting over to the door again.
Varric saw the action and seemed sympathetic ‘Okay kid. I’m sorry for overstepping, I’ll just take an Ale and be on my way.’
Kat cleaned up angrily that night. Wiping the wooden tables and sweeping the floors with more vigor than was required in the dingy watering hole. It’s not like that; it can never be like that. Varrics needling had made her sulk for most of the evening, her tips were pitiful. Of course she liked him, he was a gentleman both kind and generous. He made her laugh with his awkward fumbling predisposition for becoming flustered. She admired him. For all she had her doubts about the Order he did seem to work hard at keeping people safe and his position of authority demanded respect. And of course he was handsome, she wasn’t blind.
Stupid girl. Cullen had already made his sentiments clear years ago. She wouldn’t open her heart up to pain once more, and she cared about him too much to ever consider anything more casual. She pushed away the thought of the odd butterflies that had started to flit about in her stomach whenever he came to visit. Or how warming his laugh was or the ease to which she could converse with him above any other.
They were friends. She was possibly his only friend and she’d pushed him away. Closing up the Tavern that night she looked out over the Harbor. The Gallows. If he was going to stay away then she would go to him, she would just need to be prepared first.
It was only seven am and yet she was already covered in flour, along with large swathes of the work surfaces. The oven was heated and ready to be filled with her creation.
‘What are your plans for today?’ Annie asked over her morning toast.
‘Im going to bake a cake’ she replied folding the sivved flour into the egg, butter and sugar mixture.
‘You made one yesterday’
‘That was practice’ she poured the creamy mixture into a cake tin.
‘Is this one more practice?’
‘No, this is the apology cake’ She didn’t need to say who it was for.
‘Good. I was starting to think I’d have to head over the Gallows myself to start asking after him, you’ve been awful company.’
Kat clicked her tongue at her sister’s teasing, typically she would have shot back with a retort but was otherwise occupied as she carefully moved the filled cake tin into the oven.
‘Do you think I’d recognize him?’ Annie asked.
‘Yeah’ now Kat was sure he meant no harm and had seemed genuine in his desire to reconnect she should consider re-introducing them. Assuming he wants to see me anymore she thought while preparing a bowl for the frosting. She realized Annie was waiting for further response and so tapped her chin thoughtfully ‘Yes, I think you would. He has the Rutherford curls and very lovely eyes, same shade as honey.’ She added quietly while spooning some of the golden liquid into the bowl, Katherine missed her sisters eyebrows raising at the latter half of her statement as the younger girl retired to dress for the day.
After the cake was cooled she began the decoration. Annie chirped up from behind her ‘I’m going to head out now. ’
‘Ok be safe’ she shouted back, focusing on her task once more.
She found herself humming as she piped the delicate roses. The song she used to sing years ago coming to the forefront of her mind as she worked at the task she used to do with her Mother.
‘When you kiss me heaven sighs’
She unconsciously began to mouth the words while delicately piping, the roses weren’t as neat as they could have been but she doubted he would mind too much, growing up any sweet items were devoured promptly with little notice of the decoration.
‘And though I close my eyes’
Even if the apology cake ‘worked’ she didn’t know where they would stand. She was right to chastise him about his behaviour and although she was sure he was enough of a man to accept the criticism, she didn’t know if he could be friends with the one who had so vocally admonished him.
‘I see La Vie En -’
She paused at the noise, wiping her hands on her apron and turning. ‘What’s wrong do you want me to walk yo – oh’
Cullen. She was sure her heart skipped a beat. Cullen was standing in the doorway out of uniform, rubbing the back of his neck in that all too endearing manner and are those flowers! Her mind blanked and she gawked dumbly at his presence.
‘I – I, Annie let me in.’ He said by way of explanation and noticing how her eyes flicked down to bunch of foliage in his hand added ‘I brought you flowers because you used to like them.’
She had to speak, why couldn’t she speak?
‘They are to say sorry…again’ his shoulders sagged at her ongoing silence, no doubt interpreting it as a rejection of his peace offering.
‘I’ll just leave them and go, I didn’t mean to-‘
‘I MADE A CAKE!’ She blurted out and with shaking hands set the completed desert down in front of him ‘because you used to like them too, cakes that is.’ Maker but her cheeks were burning; this was ridiculous they were both adults yet they were communicating little better than ten-year olds.
‘I was going to say sorry too and this was-’ she gestured wildly in front of her in an effort to explain while her tongue tied itself in knots in an effort to further her humiliation.
‘An apology cake?’ his lip twitched with the tiniest hint of a smirk.
‘Yes! Exactly’ she replied a smile coloring her own expression, her relief palpable at his understanding.
‘Would you like some tea? If you can stay a while that is?’ Cullen seemed a little taken aback by her gentle request but nodded gratefully
‘I’d be delighted.’
Thank you for all your ongoing comments and support. And welcome to any new readers, I hope you're enjoying the story xxx
Chapter 13: The Revelations
I got the job guys! *happy dance*
Anyways please enjoy the second part of a trilogy of fluffy chapters to brighten up any and all holiday blues.
Love you all xxx
And you became so much more to me than a renewed acquaintance, more even than a friend. For the longest time I didn’t want to put a name to that feeling.
Cullen didn’t think he had ever been so filled with shame. Even in Kinloch, when he had begged for Desire to end his suffering, or ranted at Surana about her decision to withhold the annulment. Even after, when he would wake hard and weeping after reliving his torture or bedding another faceless woman in a bid to drive the demons away. Even at his worst he had never felt quite so ashamed as he did now after attacking Kat earlier in the day.
He’d tried to smite her. His paranoia and delusion of being back in that awful place had lead him to attack his only friend. If that injury hadn’t been enough she had rightly taken the opportunity to call him out on all his negligence over the years. He’d abandoned her, he’d broken her heart. Maker I broke her heart. Her confession had been like swallowing liquid lead, a heavy and though molten at first a rapidly solidifying wedge of guilt that lodged firmly in his stomach and weighed him down. His oversight and ignorance knew no bounds. Back then he’d assumed that the years spent away would have lessened her feelings as they had done his. That their ‘betrothal’ had been nothing more than a childish pipe-dream and so he’d shrugged her aside without any thought to the consequences and no sensitivity or tact. There was no wonder she had been hesitant to trust him again, that it had taken countless visits and months of his time and attention for her to open up to him once more.
And in a few foolish minutes he’d thrown it all away.
Cullen groaned and slumped forwards till his head rested in his hands. He’d long since shed his armor and retired for the evening but sleep wouldn’t come to him. Her angry words swirled and circled in his mind, relentlessly reminding him of the multitude of his failures. Even the light of the new day couldn’t chase away the dark cloud which he now carried with him.
Three days. Three long soulless days. He wished she hadn’t banned him from the tavern; he would gladly take her ire over the awful, irritable void he now found himself in.
As a boy, and even as a man, Cullen knew he was prone to sulking or brooding as some of his occasional admirers called it. In his youth he would run and hideaway to that little lake, with its clear water tinged with green and hazel from the surrounding countryside to wallow in silence. At least till Mia, or more often Kat would come and rouse him from his stupor with the promise of food, or games or relentless cheerfulness. As an adult he hadn’t had that luxury and so when another Mage fled the Circle, or Meredith pardoned a Templar for their unjust actions his irritability and dour mood could last for days. Weeks even.
Cullen had never been good at making friends. His early advancement in Kirkwall had made it all but impossible for him anyways, yet even if that hadn’t been the case he doubted anyone would be tempted to try and approach or make light-hearted conversation with the Knight Captain whose glare would have recruits occasionally whimpering and even, once, soil themselves.
The Templars under his command, that is to say all of them except Meredith, avoided Cullen with extreme prejudice. The one sliver of positive in this whole mire of misery he found himself in was that he had been able to catch up on weeks’ worth of paperwork without interruption.
Well almost no interruption. Cullen thought as his door was pushed open and a Templar came to stand before him
Cullen’s eyes briefly flicked up towards his guest ‘Ser Carver, How is Enchanter Vincent doing?’ He quickly found the appropriate report, his account of the encounter with ‘The Magician’ La Belle Joie and pushed the document in front of the younger Knight to sign.
‘He is fully recovered Ser, although I will say that was the strongest Smite I’ve ever felt. Rumor has it even some of the Mages in the Gallows felt a little sick’
Cullen just grunted and dropped his eyes back to the note he had been reading before his overly chatty subordinate arrived. His focus was once again interrupted as Ser Carver cleared his throat
‘What?’ he growled.
‘The Mage I mean Magician Ser, was she ok?’
‘She was unaffected as you saw’ Carver shifted a little nervously and not waiting for permission gently closed the office door.
‘May I speak freely?’ Cullen arched a brow, he was eager to have his office to himself again and so nodded hoping to get the interview over with.
Carver spoke quietly ‘I know you’re friends with her, that’s why her name has been left off the report... I don’t speak to my sister very often but she does keep me in the loop and well, just here!’
‘What’s this?’ Cullen studied a street name and directions for a holding in Low Town.
‘Her address, Varric made me swear to give it to you and Merril thought it was a good idea so there, I’ve done my part.’ The young night puffed his chest up when he mentioned ‘Merril’.
‘You may leave now’ Cullen snapped, refusing to look at the note set before him.
‘S-Ser!’ Carver looked a little deflated but left at once, the door had not even clicked shut before Cullen snatched the address up in his hands.
His request for leave was of course approved. The Templars were supposed to only work six days a week yet Cullen couldn’t remember the last time he had taken a day off. Meredith seemed surprised but actually a little relieved and offered encouragement, it was as if she wanted him out of the Gallows.
So now he was stood in his casual attire which rarely saw the light of day. Red shirt, fawn colored vest and matching breeches. He had passed by a flower girl on the way and before he had time to talk himself out of it bought a bunch gladioli scattered with daisies and other greenery whose names Cullen had long forgot.
He was about to knock when the old wooden door opened from the inside.
Cullen’s eyes widened as a petite teenage girl gasped ‘It’s you!’
She looked so much like her Mother, the Orlesian red hair and intelligent blue eyes. ‘A-Annie?’
The girl looked at his shocked face, then down to flowers he was clutching in his hand before fixing him with a beaming smile.
‘Cullen’ she said unreservedly and hugged him round his waist. ‘What good timing’ she spoke as she stepped back to look over him once more.
Struggling for words he resorted to some long ingrained politeness ‘It’s good to see you too…Maker you were tiny when I left.’
Annie laughed ‘I’m still pretty short, but look at you. She said I’d recognize you and you do have lovely eyes’
‘My eyes?’ He asked a little confused but shrugged the comment aside, he was here for a reason after all. ‘I’m sorry for interrupting your morning but, could you tell me if Kat is home? I don’t know if she will want to see me b-‘
‘She would!’ Annie interrupted and then stepped aside ‘Go right in, she’s in the kitchen.
Cullen walked down a narrow hallway, made even more compact by the presence of a birdcage in which sat a rather recognizable white pigeon.
He heard humming; it was pleasant and stirred some long dormant memories of afternoons playing down by the jetty. Of a lullaby which he swore he hated but often found comfort and solace in the tune. As he entered the kitchen he was sure his heart briefly stopped, the sounds, the smells, they were too pleasant to be anything other than a dream.
Kat. She was a lovely sight in simple grey dress, swaying as she dusted away flour from the work surfaces. Her waves were a little wild as they brushed the tops of her shoulders, her eyes closed and face serene as she danced while she sang.
His mouth felt a little dry.
Perhaps it was just seeing Annie who reminded him so much of his own younger sister or the nostalgia of her Lullaby and the delicious smell of fresh baking. But for the first time, possibly since leaving home he felt longing. Longing, for most of his youth was about becoming a Knight so he could protect people. Nowadays he questioned what the Templars stood for; he doubted their cause and their sworn duty.
‘And though I close my eyes’
Seeing Kat seemingly content and happy, this, this he would gladly give his life for.
He really needed to announce himself, this was her private space and he was staring like a boor.
‘I see La Vie En –’
He cleared his throat and she paused at the noise, wiping her hands on her apron and turning. ‘What’s wrong do you want me to walk yo – oh’ she actually jumped at seeing his looming presence in the doorway as to her petite sister’s.
He rubbed at the back of his neck furiously, feeling feeble of mind in that he had yet to speak, Void take it I should have practiced my apology. Katherine though clearly startled made no move to speak, or throw him out and so at last his courage rallied.
‘I – I, Annie let me in!’ he said by way of explanation and noticing how her eyes flicked down to bunch of foliage in his hand added ‘I brought you flowers because you used to like them.’ Maker I’m an idiot. He was sure his face must be the color of his shirt.
‘They are to say sorry…again’ his shoulders sagged at her ongoing silence. What exactly did he expect? This was never going to be a happy reunion he sighed ‘I’ll just leave them and go, I didn’t mean to-‘
‘I MADE A CAKE!’ Kat suddenly spoke and he watched with renewed hope as with shaking hands she set the completed desert down in front of him on the Kitchen Table ‘because you used to like them too… cakes that is.’ Cullen took some comfort in the fact that she looked just as embarrassed as he.
‘I was going to say sorry too and this was-’ she gestured wildly in front of her in an effort to explain, words were clearly not one of their combined strengths.
‘An apology cake?’ he ventured with a trace of a smirk.
‘Yes! Exactly’ she replied her full and radiant smile setting him at ease. Their shared relief was palpable and so very welcome, cutting through the wall of lingering awkwardness.
After another short silence when Cullen was somewhat distracted by the way she was chewing on her lower lip Katherine asked hesitantly ‘Would you like some tea? If you can stay a while that is?’
He startled from whatever thoughts had been creeping in unbidden from his subconscious.
‘I’d be delighted’ he replied equally softly, taking a seat as she turned to set the already brewed kettle back onto the stove. While she filled a vase with water from the faucet Cullen looked around the small kitchen. It was dominated by the large table in the center and the stove at one end. Dried herbs, flowers and well scoured pans hung from hooks overhead and were lit up at present by light from an overhead small window. On an evening he could see how a few candle holders dotted around the walls no doubt provided a cozy warm light and additional heat. It was a pleasant and welcoming space made even more inviting by the scent of the warm spiced cake set before him and the familiar delicate fragrance of lavender.
‘This makes a change from me pouring you an ale I suppose’ Katherine said teasingly as she poured tea into the cup in front of him.
‘Yes, and the company is more pleasant too’
She seemed confused ‘There’s no one else here?’
‘Exactly’ he said with a smile, drawing a small chuckle from Kat. ‘Yes the Inn’s patrons are a loud and rowdy sort aren’t they?’
Annie shouted up from the kitchen doorway while wrapping a shawl across her shoulders ‘I’m going to work now, no more fighting children!’
‘I swear she’s more like my mother than I am hers’ Katherine muttered, once again reminding him that the sisters were all on their own in this busy and dangerous city. And I very nearly took her to the circle, Maker what was wrong with him.
He came here to apologize properly and without ceremony began ‘Kat, I’m so sorry about what I did-‘
His words faltered as he felt her hand come across the table to rest on top of his.
She looked sadly at him ‘You don’t need to-’
‘I do. You are owed an explanation…’ He pulled his hand away to run it through his short curls, readying his thoughts. ‘I am wary around Magic’ how much could he tell her without making her run away in fear? Not a lot. ‘In Fereldan, I was hurt not just physically-’
‘Cullen’ she said quietly and filled with pity.
‘And so when I saw your apparent conjuration I acted brashly and out of fear. It doesn’t excuse what I did, or how I’ve treated you in the past. Kat I am so, so very sorry. For everything. I should have been there for you; I should have had some bloody sense and considered your feelings before any of it. I won’t ask for your forgiveness, just the chance to make amends if you’ll let me.’
By the end of his plea Kat’s eyes were brimming with unshed tears. She blinked them away, even now fearful of showing too much emotion. She didn’t just rush in with an acceptance or refusal to his offer, but instead really considered his words and he appreciated that. It meant what she said next seem all the more genuine.
With a deep sigh she said ‘You were just doing your job and I’ she gave a small scoff of self-mirth ‘I unloaded a decade worth of pain onto you. That was unfair of me, my misfortune hasn’t been your doing. So I also won’t ask for forgiveness if you will return the favour and give me the chance to make amends too?’
There’s nothing you need to make amends for he wanted to say but instead he simply nodded and putting his hand back towards hers gave it a firm squeeze.
She looked so happy at the small action ‘Now then, let me slice this cake!’
And that was it. She had been furious before and always did get riled up quickly, but she forgave and moved on so easily and with renewed affection. The opposite to him in every way, he had patience… he would be a poor trainer if not. But once he was angry he would brood for days. Or be grumpy as Kat liked to say.
‘Did you like it?’ She asked while his mouth was full of the delicious cake.
‘th--- mnn cake?’ He tried to ask
She laughed ‘No, my performance, silly’ although she was trying to tease he could hear the hope laden in her question. Well it was fortunate he wouldn’t need to lie.
‘I did’ he said once he had cleared his throat. She looked up, pleased and then hid her happiness behind her teacup. At that moment he heard the little pigeon coo happily from its cage in the hallway.
‘That’s a nice dress’ he commented when he noticed the embroidery around her collar. Some of the floral designs looked new and he wondered if she had possibly been adding to it herself when she could find suitable thread.
‘Oh do you like it?!’ She stood and gave a small swish
‘Yes, it’s odd to see you in-’ he bit his tongue, cursing his idiocy.
She arched a brow, not missing his implication ‘In girls’ clothes?’ She teased.
Cullen blanched and quickly tried to backtrack. ‘No, I meant that, it’s a little different from the one I saw you in the other day.’ Good save he congratulated himself.
She gave a little giggle ‘pfft, that’s not a dress. It’s Lingerie.’
Cullen swallowed ‘What?’
‘I got it and my mask from the Blooming Rose’ Kat said shamelessly, Cullen felt himself flush at all the connotations which unhelpfully flooded his thoughts.
She saw his discomfort and her smile became devilish ‘You hadn’t seen it before had you. On the floor perhaps?’
He sputtered ‘No-No Kat. I’ve not, I’ve never!’
Her jibes continued ‘You’re a virgin?’
‘NO!’ Andraste preserve him, he just wanted to compliment her pretty dress now he was thinking all kinds of, enticing and entirety inappropriate things.
‘It’s nothing to be embarrassed about if you are. Isabella says it makes me more desirable’ she said nonchalantly.
‘You are! I mean I am…not. I’m not a virgin. But I’ve just not had to pay for the privilege that’s all.’ He gave a shuddering sigh and her peal of laughter would have warmed his soul if he hadn’t felt quite so uncomfortable ‘Maker’s breath can we talk about something else’ he groaned.
He returned to the Gallows a little after midday. Kat had to sleep before her shift at the Hanged Man and so he had bid her farewell with the promise that he would stop by again in a week. She also informed him that his ban from the Tavern was now no longer in effect so ‘if you find yourself wanting some company on an evening you know where to find me’ it was all completely innocent of course. Still, the gentle invitation had pleased him probably in more ways than he had realized.
Keran and Carver were stood on guard at the entrance to the circle
‘Is that a cake Ser?’ Keran asked with poorly hidden disbelief.
‘It is’ Cullen said.
‘It looks nice’ Carver replied leadingly
‘It does’ he agreed not taking the bait.
The youngest Hawke eyed up the desert once more and feeling confident said ‘Are you sharing?’
‘Absolutely not’ Cullen said with a smirk.
As promised Cullen started to visit her on his solitary day off from work, and on occasion if he happened to be passing by in the morning. Not to mention the one or two nights a week he would find himself at the Hanged Man.
On the rare days she had off he often arranged his time so he could spend the whole day with her. Staying till Annie returned from work, dining together and reminiscing about home. He enjoyed the found family, the sense of belonging and Katherine’s teasing of Annie about her secretive romantic correspondence.
Then when Annie had retired they sat at the kitchen table till long after dark. It’s on those cozy evenings that he recognizes his thirst for Lyrium isn’t quite as strong when she is around, usually by seven he would be itching for his next draught. But Lyrium is stored in his room in the Gallows and if that means having to leave her company even a moment earlier than necessary he finds he can do without the numbing liquid very well.
‘What are you doing?’ He asks as he takes his usual seat at the Hanged Man once evening. Usually she would jump up straight away to pour him a drink but he is pleased she is focusing on her own task first. He wasn’t really there to drink anyways, he just wanted to be around her.
‘I’m sewing fishing line in between the fingers of my gloves’ she replied thoughtfully, not looking up from her work.
Cullen recognizes the silken cuffed gloves from her performance ‘Dare I ask why?’
Finally she looks up with an enticing grin ‘If you come and watch my show in a few days then you’ll see.’
The show began as always, a few card tricks, some simple illusions. Then the audience held their breath as she withdrew her tarot deck. A young woman is given the honor today and she selects the Oracle card.
The card is turned white and then just like the crystal ball in the now absent image glass spheres appear in Kat’s hands. She glides two, three, four then half a dozen across her hands and fingers with fascinating dexterity. Cullen, and it seems the whole crowd can’t take their eyes from her.
The crystal balls vanish as quickly as they appeared and she hums as she summons her ‘magic.’
Cullen is awestruck as bubbles begin to fly from her fingertips. He stifles his own gasp of surprise but the audience are avid with their applause and disbelief.
As she dances and spins, more of the floating transparent pearls are produced. The gentle breeze and warm circulating air currents in Kirkwall mean that within a minute the whole marketplace is swimming with bubbles. The children run and laugh as they try to pop the multitude of little floating orbs. The grown-ups watch on with serenity and happiness, no doubt recalling their own exuberant youth.
Even Cullen puts out a gauntled hand as one of the bubbles floats towards him, he tries to catch it, of course it pops when it hits his palm making him smile with fond reflections. Cullen briefly catches her masked eyes, her red painted lips part briefly in surprise at his presence and then twist into a sultry smile. Her pale green eyes sparkling with unabashed joy. Hmm, he noted her eyes are the same color as the little lake back home. Then the baggy shirt she wore under her dress slipped from her shoulder, exposing the top of her toned arm. Cullen swallowed, conscious that he must be blushing and so forced his gaze away from the slither of exposed flesh and instead finds himself looking over her long limbs, admiring her beautiful curves and the scintillating shapes she creates as she dances. He really, truly doesn’t mean to fixate on her chest but Sweet Maker how did I ever think she looked like a boy?
His lust hits him like a lightning bolt. The longing. The one he thought he’d lost is back and this time it wasn’t just a desire to protect. He wanted her.
His serene smile falters and he forces his eyes away from Kat’s magical display. No, no, no. He couldn’t permit himself to want more than friendship or to think his depraved thoughts. Not about her. She was far too precious to him to sully with his debased ideas and marred past. He may have told her more than anyone of his recent history, he may trust her and care for her well-being and thrive with the affection she showed him... But he’d already broken her heart, there was no hope of her ever feeling the same, he had to bury these unwelcome feelings and quickly.
As he looked back up preparing to take his leave before her inevitable vanishing finale she caught his eye and shot him a playful wink. His heart thumped in his chest. It may already be too late.
Chapter 14: The audience
Happy New Year all!
I should be back on to two updates a week really soon, thank you for sticking with me over the madness of Christmas and New Years xxx
Trigger Warning: Implied sexual assault/rape
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I still don’t want to name it despite what I may have confessed back then. It was all a deception, an illusion, just like my Magic. It’s easier to think that you see…
It had been weeks since the ‘Oracle’ show. Cullen had been largely absent since then, she had run into him once and he’d looked away and made some verbal excuse about being busy with work. Kat hadn’t thought a whole lot of it so she was pleasantly surprised when this morning he had shown up unexpectedly.
‘How did you make the bubbles?’ Cullen asked as Kat fiddled with the stove lighter at the kitchen table. Her furrowed brow and dexterous fingers indicating her concentration as she tried to plan out her latest and undoubtedly most spectacular trick. The crossing over to Kirkwall had given her the idea; she remembered seeing the ships brazier whooshing up with flame when sailors spilled their drinks onto it, now she just had to recreate it in a controlled way.
She had acquired some Maker forsaken white rum that even her most un-discerning of customers from the Hanged Man refused to drink. Apparently the bottle had washed up ashore the same time as the Qunari so she assumed it was some variant of their native Marras-lok, the fabled drink that could even pickle a Dwarf’s liver. Now if I can just get the spark right.
Cullen seemed quite content to just sit and watch while she worked. She was happy he had stopped by, the past few months had she had felt more like her old self than she had in years and she knew it was his influence. Without knowing it Kat had found herself relying on his company more as Hawke and her companions always seemed to be off doing something and Annie was always busy at the clinic or with her letters. ‘If I told you how I did it then it would ruin the magic’ she replied without looking up, it wasn’t the first time he had pressed her for secrets.
‘No’ Cullen replied petulantly, Kat arching a brow at his assertion causing him to backtrack ‘Well it would, but it’s like a puzzle I can’t quite work out…I know it was something to do with the fishing wire I saw you sewing with.’
Kat huffed in amusement but didn’t respond; instead she snapped the fire-lighter in two the striker and the flint now separate maybe if I cut a hole in the gloves.
‘It was beautiful’ he said so quietly Kat almost didn’t hear him. But she did and had to fight the butterflies making her a little giddy at his praise. The task was made more difficult as he fixed her with an oddly earnest stare, his golden eyes piercing in their conviction.
Lovely eyes indeed. It was intense, molten, she had seen that look on him before now; She’d noticed it first when she was performing then again when he had bumped into her afterwards.
While in character as La Belle Joie it was easy for her to shoot a wink back or offer him a sultry red-lipped smile, the mask made her bold, more flirtatious. In person she could flirt with ease with her bar Patrons, a welcoming smile or affection pat on the shoulder could go a long way to securing her more tips yet with Cullen… Flirting was out of the question, it had to be. He was in love with someone else and she had an inkling they were a Mage, her feelings couldn’t have been more unrequited, after all he’d already cast her aside once. Not to mention in her mind that look could only mean one thing, coupled with his recent absence she was convinced he was scared of her ‘Magic.’
Cullen seemed to realize he had been caught and stammered out an apology, dropping his eyes to the tea in front of him. ‘S-sorry I’m distracting you.’
He pushed his hands through his sandy curls, Andraste preserve her now she was drinking in the sight of him. His deep red shirt exposed a tantalizing peak of his chest, covered with hairs a shade darker than his head. Without armor she couldn’t fail to notice how naturally broad his shoulders were, if his biceps were as toned as his forearms, well she could only imagine.
Makers Breath it didn’t matter whether he was looking at her as if he had never seen her before, or looking away somewhat embarrassed. The man was wholly unaware of how handsome he had become over their years apart… He was highly distracting! Just not in the way he presumed.
‘I-I’m glad you enjoy my performances’ she said shakily, drawing her eyes away from him and back to the tinkering in front of her.
‘I do’ he confessed. Trying to control the burning of her cheeks and to alleviate the charged atmosphere she changed the subject to something lighter and more teasing ‘not as much as my cakes I’m sure!’
Cullen chuckled into his hand. This was safe ground. They could throw barbs at each other, keep the other humble and in good spirits. Enjoy each other’s company, but it would never be more. At least not for him she thought a little sadly.
Now who is going to select the card today? She mused as she ran through some of her standard tricks. Making flowers appear from thin air, a few dramatic sleights of hand coupled with her dancing and the now infamous ‘is this your card?’ routine.
She spied a somewhat familiar young boy. Kat had seen him a few times at her shows, usually on his own although occasionally with a girl perhaps a year or so older than him. She had assumed they were street urchins; their disheveled clothes reminded her of her own when she first arrived in the city. But unlike her sorry state back then they looked well fed, the boy himself had a rather unusual and expensive looking necklace and he always left a gold sovereign in her hat.
As before he had an awestruck look on his face, filled with anticipation and excited for whatever her finale would be this time… well she had to please her most loyal fans.
As Kat withdrew her tarot deck a murmur of excitement rippled through the crowd, a few over eager audience members began waving or pointing to their friends at once, all clambering to be given the honor of ‘Prophet’ for this week’s show.
She paused in front of the young lad, his wide smile slightly shy and disbelieving at the important task being offered.
Kat kneeled before him and fanned her cards out face down ‘select any card mon petite’ she reassured him as his hand hovered over ornate deck. He pointed to a card which she promptly withdrew and displayed to the boy and the crowd craning their necks to see what miraculous fantasy would be acted out today.
‘The Dragon Card!’ she gasped theatrically her audience bubbling with excitement at the prospect of danger. She saw the observing Templars shift nervously from their position at the edge of the gathering. Cullen wasn’t among them which was probably for the best considering today’s show was to be her most spectacular and dangerous to date. It wouldn’t be wise to pour more fuel onto the fire that caused him to be afraid of her.
Forcing a mysterious smile to her face she prepared her speech, she couldn’t worry about Cullen’s state of mind now. The show must go on after all.
‘They say the Qunari are descendant from Dragons’ the audience nodded their agreement and some looked on with alarm. The Ox-Men’s ongoing presence in the city was starting to ruffle feathers and insight fear, which was why her performance today was so important.
‘Yet I tell you this cannot be so and today I shall show you why’ the crowd looked on filed with hope. Kat could have told them the sky was green and Lyrium was red in that instant and they would have believed her.
‘Non, non it is a lie designed to insight fear in your minds. You my wonderful patrons, you know the truth already, you know the Myths…Dragons breathe fire and I have never seen the Qunari so much as smoke a pipe!’ She said in her lilting Orlesian accent, the onlookers laughing at her joke and agreeing with her statement amongst themselves.
The Tarot card jumped between her hands as she paraded around the packed square. ‘Now it was said that the ancient warriors of Neverra used to drink the blood of Dragons, granting them their power temporarily. This I do believe and this is what I shall show you to ease your minds my dearest friends.’
As was the ritual Kat waved her hand in front of the image once, twice and on third pass the card transformed. Not into a white space as usual but into a small vial of reddish purple liquid.
‘DRAGONS BLOOD!’ She shouted, startling the onlookers.
She vaulted up onto her pedestal letting the crowd see the color as the light passed through the vial, refracting and casting an eerie liquid shadow. It was just a little beetroot juice added to the rum but they didn’t need to know that.
‘Please, madames et monsieurs. Boys and girls I ask you all to take two steps back now and to remember; Magic exists to serve man and although frightening I assure you my intent today is pure, you are all safe.’ That ought to please those dour Knights she thought scowling behind her mask at the imperious Templars who watched on with near furious expressions.
Kat span around with the vial one final time, her bells reflecting the sunlight and casting little twinkling flecks of light around her as she did so. Then flicking the stopper from the vial she pressed the glass to her lips and downed the whole. Showtime.
First Kat grabbed and clawed at her own throat, some fearful folk took an extra step back as she fell to her knees. Others ran forward thinking she had begun to choke.
‘Stay back!’ She commanded with one hand up though her words were a little garbled from the liquid still in her throat. She pulled herself back to standing and covered her mouth with both hands. Kat knew it looked like she was retching as if she was about to vomit, she had to make it visceral, believable and judging from the looks of horror the adults were showing, and the morbid fascination of the children she was succeeding.
Carefully she tested her gloves, clicking her fingers before her and seeing a tell-tale spark.
Pursing her lips she snapped her fingers again as she pulled both hands away from her mouth, a burst of yellow flame pouring from her throat as the Dragon’s Blood ignited in the air around her.
The crowd gasped and some shrieked. She spewed forth fire again and again, each time it looked as if she was merely blowing a kiss before the hot flames followed.
After her final fiery breath she gave a deep curtsy signalling the end of her performance and waited.
The silence was heavy as the crowd processed the miracle just performed. Then the applause started. Louder than ever before, cheering and hollering, the coins flying into her hat at apace. The urchin gaped at the air above her head that had so recently been ignited in flame, his eyes dropped to hers and they exchanged a smile. The young lad deposited his usual sovereign and waved and whooped with joy, till he was forcefully pushed aside by a band of four Templars who now made their way towards her.
‘Apostasy is a crime, you will need to come with us Mage’ one of them, a middle aged Knight snarled.
Kat rolled her eyes she had hoped, seeing as the Knight-Captain himself knew of her act, word would have gotten around the Gallows that she was in fact harmless.
‘Gentlemen, as I have explained to these good people many many times I am a Magician. The kind citizens of Kirkwall have nothing to fear from me’ at her words some of her more devoted fans began to jostle and shout at the Templars. But they pushed back and drew their swords.
‘You should all be ashamed of yourselves supporting this Heretic, back to your homes all of you!’
Kat panicked at the glinting Silverite blades, she couldn’t very well insight a riot and so at once approached the Templars with her hands held up in supplication. As they made a formation around her she shouted over the clanking armor ‘All will be well, I shall be back next week!’
There were boos and jeers as she was led away, none were aimed at her. She glanced over her shoulder and her dread rose, although a few of the audience had scattered she saw the majority watched her sad procession as she was dragged away. They looked angry. Maker what had she done?
Her shoulder was forcefully pushed by a heavy gauntleted fist ‘Ow!’
‘Shut up Mage’ the leading Knight commanded.
It was the only words spoken to her as she was marched her towards the docks and onto the Gallows ferry. ‘You’re making a mistake’ she snapped and folded her arms as she was shoved onto the boat.
‘The Knight Commander will be the judge of that, I have a feeling she will see things my way.’
Kat swallowed down her fear, there was no reason for her to fall foul of the Templars, it was ridiculous she was even being brought all this way; Annie will have a fit when she finds out.
‘No’ she held her chin up high refusing to be intimidated.
The front of her dress was roughly grabbed, she heard the seams ripping lightly as she was forcefully dragged forwards. The Knight’s breath was putrid; his pupils narrow as he yelled into her face ‘Mask OFF!’
Maybe she was a little scared. With shaking hands she complied but still refused to let this treatment go without admonishment ‘You can’t order me around like this. I’m not a Mage!’
A different Templar spoke this time not quite so unkindly ‘That’s what they all say but we’ve seen it girly, the bird, the bubbles and now the fire…’
Kat was exasperated ‘Are you listening to me, it’s all just trickery. I’m a Magician! The Knight-Captain himself has seen my performances and has investigated, surely you trust his judgement?’
The cruel Templar scoffed ‘Meaning you’ve bribed him, such a stickler for the rules that one. You must have been one pretty amazing fuck to get him to keep his trap shut.’
‘How dare you insinuate that I-‘
Her collar was pulled again ‘How dare I… What insinuate that you are a whore? Well we’ll see soon enough won’t we. We will see what you’ll do for special treatment just like all the good little mages do. And if you still run your lip I’ll make you Tranquil myself and then then we can have so much more fun.’
No no no. All the stories Anders had told her about the Gallows, she had dismissed them after a time as nothing more than propaganda. Cullen was a Templar; he wouldn’t let that kind of thing happen right? Yet there was no subtly in that Templar’s threat.
Kat felt sick she had to get away now!
Forget ruining her dress, they had seen her face but didn’t know her name she could still disappear. Kat launched herself upright and dove towards the edge of the ferry, she could swim well enough to make it back to shore she just needed to get away…
As she leapt she was caught round the waist, her flailing arms grasped in bruising tight grips as two Templars restrained her. A sword was unsheathed once more ‘If you make one more move I’ll run you through!’ Kat whimpered and her limbs turned to lead, her frantic breathing was making her chest rise up and down, the only inch of her body she dared move.
‘You are pretty but not worth my while if you are going to fight me every step of the way Mage.’
Kat’s eyes pooled with tears, she hadn’t been this scared since the Blight. But at least then she had been able to run. She stayed silent and still, even if she was armed there was no way she could fight off four men, even if she was able to use her vanishing powders there was no escape.
The ferry crossing was complete. Her eyes darted around frantically looking for any friendly faces. Hawke often came here for business or maybe Ser Carver would be on duty.
There, by the stairs leading up to the Gallows was a familiar halo of curls. Her heart briefly soared till she saw that he wasn’t looking her way and she was quickly dragged past his position. No, even if they chose to run her through where she stood she had to try and catch his attention. He had to know she was here.
‘CULLEN’ she screamed, almost sobbing with relief when golden brown eyes turned her way. Then an unseen thud to her head left her world dark.
And you thought it was all fluff and apology cakes from here on out :p
Chapter 15: The Order
A lot of introspection in this chapter, but sweetness too.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Easier to believe you lied than what was between us was real. That you actually
loved cared for me and would have left behind that life. Fool that I was, I know now that the Templars have and will always be your only true love.
Cullen had spent the last few weeks trying to keep a professional distance between himself and Kat, hoping to alleviate some of his foolish infatuation. He eventually called on her and had spent the time watching her tinker with tools of her trade. He knew she was dexterous; her card skills alone were evidence enough of that. But he noticed now how long and tactile her fingers were, how her lips pouted when she was concentrating and just how animated her green eyes looked when she was talking or teasing him about her ‘secrets’.
He cringed in remembrance at the way he stammered like his childhood self and then cursed his affection starved ego for letting un-requited emotions get in the way of the best friendship he had ever had. He had made her uncomfortable as was evident in her own flushed features and hastily dropped gaze.
Clearly he could still not be trusted in her presence and so had avoided going to see this week’s show, lamenting the loss of her unique and exciting Magic and her even more captivating persona.
‘It was beautiful’ he had confessed and it was, yet Cullen knew he wasn’t talking about her magicians act or Joie at the time.
How have I let this happen? He grimaced while adjusting his stance by the Gallows gate. His attraction to her had crept up on him so slowly, born of their friendship and shared past, built on now by her humor which so complimented his own and her willingness to trust him despite his previous transgressions. How the little playful nudges and supportive touches they had shared although innocent now made his heart beat a little faster.
Kat was beautiful inside and out, Cullen had only ever thought of one other person in that way and it had ended in disaster.
Romance was out of the question. Kinloch had taught him the painful truth; love was not compatible with his duty and even if it were what could he offer her?
He was addicted to Lyrium, his nightmares and breaking flashbacks during the day made him constantly on edge and fearful of anything that reminded him of that dark time. What’s more when the terror crept upon him his temper and reactive responses were often repulsive, you attacked her, called for the circle to be annulled. Maker, when he first arrived at Kirkwall he thought Mages were less than people and even boasted that attitude. His views had softened somewhat since then but it still made him incompatible with someone who practiced ‘Magic’ for a living.
That was why he must stay away.
And so he stayed away, even though she was performing that very day and his curiosity to observe what miracle she would now bestow upon the residents of Kirkwall was near clamorous. Not to mention the insatiable desire to just see her again… it was good he volunteered to stand guard today. The Order gave him purpose and structure and that he could cling to when his whole being was itching for him to head over to the Market Square.
Noon arrived and passed, the rising heat and humidity baking the sun-bleached stones of the Gallows. He was ruminating on the cold and how much he missed having four seasons, as opposed the almost arid climate mixed with odd thunder shower this side of the waking sea, when he heard a noise that made his blood turn to fire in his veins.
‘CULLEN’ the scream was desperate, laced with fear and his every sense was on alert at once. Kat? he turned, shocked and horrified as he saw her being manhandled by three Templars in full plate.
Their eye’s met and the flicker of relief on her face was so pronounced he could only imagine her terror. Without warning her eyes rolled back into her head and her body suddenly hung limp in his comrades arms as she fell, knocked unconscious by a fellow Knight who now was the sole focus of his wrath.
‘ALRIK!’ He shouted across the courtyard, the other Templars who were standing on duty immediately fell into line behind him. Cullen gripped the pommel of his sword tightly; it was all he could do to control the shaking rage which now flooded him.
The Knight in question stood with his arms crossed in front of the little group, of all of them it had to be him.
‘What in the bloody void do you think you’re doing?’ Cullen spat fixing the party with a venomous glare, his entire being wound like a cobra about to strike.
‘Bringing in an apostate’ Alrik sneered ‘She did say she knew you but I’m sure Meredith’s prized dog wouldn’t permit a Mage to roam the streets now would he? Even if she is a pretty one.’
Alrik looked smug and unrepentant. Since Cullen’s promotion to Knight-Captain the elder Knight and he had constantly butted heads. Alrik questioned his authority, and constantly pushed at the boundaries and regulations Cullen had set, but this was beyond the pale.
He spoke out through near gritted teeth ‘Hand her over.’
‘An apostate running around for years… I think not. She must be dangerous, the men and I will see to her well-being, we’ll make sure she is made comfortable don’t you worry.’ The threat was clearly implied and only served to pour more fuel on his fury, his self-control was now thread away from snapping.
‘That is an order.’
‘Enthralling the Knight-Captain, she must be a blood mage we should have her made tranquil at on-’
Cullen’s gauntled fist slammed into Alrik’s jaw with a sickening crunch, the elder man falling to the floor in a crumple of plate.
No one dared move to assist him; no one dared question the Knight-Captain’s authority when his anger prevailed. Alrik huffed and wheezed through his shattered face and still no one made a move.
Cullen spoke to all in the courtyard with deathly cool ‘Insubordination will not be tolerated.’
He turned his attention on the two Templars propping Katherine’s lifeless body up between them. ‘Do I need to ask again?’
‘N-no Ser!’ They pushed Kat towards him and he scooped her up into his arms, noting with relief that her eyelids fluttered as she was jostled.
He spoke quietly and ever so slightly shook her frame cradled as it was ‘Kat. Kat, please wake up.’
‘Mnnhmm’ a pitiful whimper escaped her throat as her head lolled over to one side. Cullen cursed under his breath.
‘Knox, Carver take her to the infirmary have one of the Healers attend her and let me know the extent of her injuries at once.’
‘Ser’ the men saluted before maneuvering the unconscious Magician between them. He hated leaving her in an injured state but he had his duty that had to be dealt with.
Alrik was spitting out blood beside him ‘Knight-Captain this is blasphemy!’ ignoring the irate miscreant he turned to the other complicit Templars who were assembled.
‘Ser Thrask? I thought you better than this’ the middle aged Knight looked ashamed ‘tell me what happened.’
He looked sheepish but spoke quickly ‘It is as Alrik said the Mage was performing -’
‘She is not a Mage!’ Cullen corrected with surprising passion.
Alrik voiced his complaint from his kneeling position ‘Say what you want Knight-Captain but we all saw it, she breathed fire.’
Kat what have you done? That gave Cullen pause but he knew she could do the seemingly impossible; he’d witnessed himself countless times. There was no doubt in his soul.
‘Not one more word from you’ he threatened and the combative Alrik for once held his tongue.
‘And the rest of you, did none of you think to try a silence or to smite this apparent fire breathing menace before she could hurt the public?’
None of them answered.
‘If, as you say, this dangerous apostate was running rampant in the streets did you not try to ensure the safety of the people?!’
‘DID YOU?’ Cullen shouted at the mute Templars before him, they were poor excuses for men.
‘N-No Ser’ the mumbled responses finally came.
‘Of course not, because if you had done as you had been trained you would have realized that there is not a trace of Magic in her. Maker’s Breath the precedent you have set is a dangerous one.’
Cullen began to pace as he considered the implications of their assault not only on a personal level but in context of the changing attitudes towards the Templars as a whole. Men, with more than a decade of experience over him, arresting someone without first establishing the truth. A disgrace to the Order.
‘You three to your rooms at once, you are confided till I send for you. And you-‘
Alrik looked smug and unrepentant, Cullen snarled ‘with me.’
The walk was brisk and silent, other Templars and Mages scurrying away from the stormy looking Knight-Captain. He had spent years trying to work on his rage, to foster fair and productive relationships with his comrades and charges but they all knew… they all remembered the angry young man who had first stepped off that boat. When Cullen was enraged it was best not be in his vicinity.
‘Ser Cullen’ the Knight-Commander spoke up from her desk, her eyes flicking over to the man who trailed him into the office noting his bloodied lip and rapidly swelling face ‘and Ser Alrik to what do I owe this visit?’
Cullen growled at Alrik ‘Talk, I will be back momentarily after I have retrieved something from my office.’
Cullen took the chance away from prying eyes to let out a shaking breath, calming the fury which demanded retribution upon anyone who had ever dared hurt her.
He had to fight the wave of nausea that had hit him at the thought of Katherine, of his Kat as a Tranquil. Cullen was uncomfortable enough with Tranquility when it was required by Chantry law, in the case of dangerous Maleficar or those unfit for their harrowing. But the prevalence of the Rite’s usage in Kirkwall was a constant source of unease. The final decision was not his and despite his calls for leniency, his recommendations of observation before taking that most final of step was almost always over-ruled. Maker-forbid Meredith didn’t believe him and considered implementing it here… no that wouldn’t happen. His Knight-Commander was stern but just, her judgement could not err, he had to believe that.
But if she doesn’t believe you? It didn’t bear thinking about, but Cullen knew he would die before letting anyone lay a hand on her ever again. He wanted to be with her, to swiftly carry her from this most claustrophobic and oppressive of places, but knew he could trust the men he had trained with watching her till he had dealt with this malcontent. She was safe for the present and with that his breathing finally slowed, his surety returning.
Meredith had always shown Alrik leniency in the past, but Cullen would not permit him to escape punishment this time. Retrieving the months old report from his meticulous filing he crossed back into his superiors’ office.
‘Knight Captain, Ser Alrik has said this Mage was performing dangerous magic. And when he has sought to bring her to the Circle for questioning you have struck him’ he rounded the desk and slammed the months old report down in front of his commanding officer, then went and stood back to attention.
Meredith read the document while Cullen talked; knowing the evidence was overwhelmingly in his favor.
Holy Smite used at full force. Zero effect on target: conclusion, La Belle Joie is not a Mage… Accompanying Mage escort incapacitated in the blast, given Lyrium for recovery… Co-signed by Ser Carver and Enchanter Vincent.
‘Ser Alrik disobeyed a direct order twice. I have done far worse to recruits for insubordination, he should be glad to only have a broken tooth and not a flogged back.‘
Meredith’s lips pursed as she neared the end of the document then a knock was heard at the office door.
It was Ser Carver who saluted at once ‘Forgive me for the intrusion Knight-Commander, Knight-Captain. I just wanted to let you know that the Mage attending the invalid has confirmed that she will make a full recovery. We also found this on her person; the Healer examined it and laughed, said it was what she used to make the fire.’ He held up a small vial, it was almost empty but for a few dregs of purple liquid.
‘Give it to me’ Meredith commanded. Ser Carver took his leave while Meredith removed the stopper and sniffed the contents. Setting the vial and report back on her desk she looked briefly irritated.
‘Ser Alrik it seems you have made a mistake, consider this a formal reprimand and be on your way.’
That was it?! ‘Knight-Commander I must protest’ Cullen spoke up.
Meredith gave him leave to speak his mind as she always had done for him.
‘This is not the first time Ser Alrik has resorted to violence. It is bad enough that I have had reports of him using excessive force against our charges but to now have wrongly arrested a member of the public… Forgive me for speaking plainly but there is growing Anti-Templar sentiment in the city. We have been accused of inaction against the growing Qunari threat by the political class and by the common-folk we are accused of heavy handedness. It would send a reassuring message to both parties if this latest transgression was dealt with sternly.
‘Cullen.’ Meredith said soothingly in the same almost motherly tone she had always reserved for his outbursts of sour temper.
‘I believe this girl is a friend of yours and perhaps your judgement is clouded in this matter. Ser Alrik will have a note put on his record and you may of course apologize to this ‘Magician’ on behalf of the Order but as far as I can see there has been little harm don-‘
‘What now!’ Meredith snapped at the second intrusion.
‘S-Sorry Knight-Commander but there is a mass of people flooding into the Gallows. They are with some of the Viscounts own guard!’
Meredith betrayed a small flicker of alarm ‘Why is the Viscount busying himself with a street-performer?’
‘I- I don’t know about that Ma’am but the guards are saying that the Templars acted violently against the crowd just now, the civilians themselves are demanding Belle-Joie be released.’
Meredith’s hard blue eyes found Alrik’s ‘You drew your swords on the public?’
Now the malcontent paled and stammered his response ‘T-They were interfering in Templar businesses.’
Cullen could see the calculation behind Meredith’s icy stare. It was no secret she had political ambitions of her own perhaps that was the way to encourage her to act more kindly going forward.
Her fingers tented and when she spoke it brooked no further argument.
‘Cullen, please go and reassure the crowd. The Magician will be released as soon as she is fit and well, I shall deal with Alrik.’
‘Yes Ma’am’ he saluted and made his way from the office, not sparing a glance to the now uneasy looking Veteran.
As Cullen descended the ancient stairs he was approached by one of the Viscount’s guards directly, he half recognized the man who gave his own nod of recollection.
‘Knight-Captain, your men have gone too far this time’ he shook his head in obvious frustration and continued on in a quieter tone ‘I thought you had already investigated the girl? The Viscount is livid, he always watches the show from the Seneschal’s window.’
That explained the guard’s rapid response Cullen thought. It seemed as everyone in Kirkwall now knew of the famous Magician, even if her true identity was shared with only a trusted few. Which reminded him, he would have to sneak her out of here eventually otherwise her fans may mob her with their enthusiasm.
‘The Knight-Commander apologizes for the disruption today. The Magician sustained a small injury during her questioning’ Cullen nearly choked on the word ‘and is currently being attended by one of our healers. She is of course free to go as soon as she is able.’
An angry eavesdropper shouted up from the crowd ‘Liar, you’ll make her tranquil!’
Cullen raised his voice further; it wouldn’t do to have misinformation spreading. ‘I will personally ensure that is not the case and will escort her away from the Gallows myself as soon as she is recovered. The Templars who mistakenly arrested her are all now subject to disciplinary proceedings.’
That seemed to ease some of the bubbling tension, the tight throng of people began to dissipate and the on duty Templars coupled with the placated guards encouraged the crowd back on to the ferry boats. Once he was satisfied that there was to be no further disturbance he all but sprinted over to the Infirmary.
Katherine, she was awake and sitting on one of the Infirmary cots by a small arrow slit window.
As he entered the noise of his armor clanking made her flinch and she drew her knees up into her body in a defensive ball.
‘It’s just me’ he said, her relief evident when she saw no one else was following into the room.
Her shoulders sagged and hands fell into her lap, her alarmed poise retreating into one of sadness.
Cullen had been too angry before and too concerned with checking her breathing to take in her state as a whole. She was pale and looked more fearful than he had ever seen; skittish he would never have thought of that word to describe her before now.
The front of her dress had been ripped and where her undershirt had slipped from her shoulders he could see the tell-tale start of bruising, it looked like fingertips. He felt his fists clench in renewed fury. I should have run Alrik through where he stood, whatever punishment Meredith deemed suitable would never be enough for the wrath Cullen now wished to inflict upon the man.
Moving slowly and as noiselessly as he could in so much metal he collected a restorative from the apothecary’s cabinet and sitting next to her on the cot and pressed her to drink it.
Her hands shook a little as she did.
‘How are you feeling?’ he asked softly.
Kat’s eyes dropped to her lap and she fidgeted with the thin cotton sheet tangled around her legs. ‘Oh I’m fine, there’s no need to worry really, I just don’t want to be here any longer than necessary especially with those other Templars about.’
Her voice was timid and she nervously kept glancing up at the door ‘They aren’t kind.’
‘Kat, I am so sorry you’ve been treated this way. I want you to know those responsible have been punished.’
That did little to alleviate her unhappy countenance and so feeling the overwhelming urge to comfort her he took hold of her hands, he wished he wasn’t wearing gloves. It seemed a crime to touch her, so soft and delicate, with his armored and hardened gauntlets, the same which had only just struck her assailant.
‘The things they said Cullen-’ As her mind was processed the grim possibilities, her breathing became more irregular, her green eyes shining glassy with unshed tears.
She met his gaze and her look of fear and worry almost broke his heart. ‘I- I’m scared’ she confessed.
Cullen’s thumb brushed over her knuckles in what he hoped was a soothing manner but her panic only increased till, in a surprise to him, she forced her way onto his lap and regardless of the Silverite surrounding him, pressed herself into the crook of his arms; She was quaking with fear and spoke muffled words into his neck ‘He said he would make me Tranquil so that I behaved, so that I wouldn’t fight back when he-‘
Katherine’s words descended into sobbing and Cullen was dumb struck with the full understanding of Alriks threat. That animal, I’ll see him expelled for this.
While he silently plotted revenge he did his best to stem the flow of tears which dampened his skin. ‘Shh, nothing like that will happen to you I swear it.’ He pulled her closer, rubbing her back in calming circles and shushing when a new wave of emotion wracked her frame.
It was true; he would never let Kat be tormented or touched against her will. After his display in the courtyard today every Templar in the Gallows must now know she was under his protection. But what shamed him into silence, why he couldn’t offer more condolence was that he wasn’t able to extend that offer to everyone.
He should be able to, he was the Knight-Captain and Maker knows he had tried to make improvements with Mage-Templar relations, to treat reports of abuse seriously and investigate thoroughly. But nothing seemed to help. He held Kat a little tighter as she whimpered in his arms.
The Circle was failing before his eyes. Alrik was the most prominent and flagrant abuser of the system but he knew there must be others who slipped under his radar or Mages who were too terrified to come and speak to him fearing retribution.
How many Kat’s had there been who he had already failed, who he continued to fail. Who just like she had done flinched when they heard the grind of metal armor approaching.
She cried her heart out and he was there to comfort her. How many others had cried without any support or even a sympathetic ear? He whispered reassuring words ‘You’re safe. No one is going to hurt you. I promise.’
The Templars needed to be better, he needed to do better. And he would start by making sure Kat never cried like this and never had to be scared again.
Obscene levels of fluff coming up!
Chapter 16: The Turmoil
FLUFF with a generous side helping of sexual tension
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
And that’s why I tried to fight it, to justify why it could never be allowed to happen between us. That I was setting myself up for inevitable disappointment and future pain.
So much for never crying Kat thought with self-reproach as Cullen held her through the last of her subsiding tears. She was grateful for his presence. It was solid, grounding and she appreciated the feeling of safety even if the rest of her surroundings filled her with a disquieting unease, the whole Circle did, it was little wonder Cullen had struggled to sleep here.
And so she clung on to him as if he were a steadfast rock in a stormy sea, she should have let go of him five minutes ago but the circles he was drawing aimlessly on her back were soothing her spirits hmm he’s warm even through all that metal. It was nice to be held, she couldn’t remember the last time someone had comforted her this way. And he smells nice, a little like armor polish and Elderflower. She missed that scent: remembering how she used to weave the white blossom into her flower crowns back home. Maker knows why she could smell it now but between that familiarity and the solidness of his arms calmness prevailed.
Eventually the shadows grew longer in the room and she could not justify holding him any longer, he was the Knight-Captain he had duties to attend to. Sighing, Kat dropped her arms, Cullen stood and ever the gentleman offered his hand to help her stand. He moved to rummage through a clothes chest that was set at the foot of the now vacant cot and found an old robe for her to wear to hide her disguise. She wiped away the tear streaked khol from around her eyes and what remained of her scarlet lipstick, sniffling as she said ‘Ugh, I bet I look awful.’
‘Never’ came the instant response while he draped the brown cloth over her shoulders. Kat didn’t believe him and her arched brow must have indicated so as Cullen gently guided her to stand in front of a mirror she hadn’t seen on one of the infirmary’s corners.
‘There you see’ he said a little smugly causing her to scoff and roll her eyes.
At his urging she did briefly glance up at her own reflection. Familiar green eyes were still rimmed a little red from crying, her cheeks over-flushed, her dress…Kat scowled as she noticed the tear down the front, it would need repairing before it could be worn again and she sighed once more. The cloak covered her bruised shoulders and the rest of her costume; and without her mask she would be able to return home undetected, she hoped.
Kat’s eyes flicked over her shoulder to where Cullen was also appraising her image. His eyes radiating worry as he saw her hands twist in the fabric of the borrowed cloak in an unconscious nervous gesture.
Their eyes met, only for both of them to quickly look away. Kat felt a fool; it was absurd the way her heart was fluttering in her chest, it was the very definition of ill-timed. She should still be tearful and weeping and instead she was fussing about her appearance, cursing the void that she was so very plain and lamenting that he still seemed a little fearful of her even now, always looking away whenever she caught him staring.
Cullen cleared his throat to try and dispel the sudden awkwardness ‘We should get you home, Annie will be worried.’ Kat didn’t feel like correcting him, Annie would be working till late but the sooner she could be away from this place the better.
As they stepped out of the infirmary and into the courtyard a few heads turned their way, Kat saw Ser Carver give a little reassuring wave but most of the other faces were stony if not outright hostile. What if the Templars all hate me now for getting their friends in trouble, my identity is at least partially public, they could find me, could come and make me Tranquil in my sleep!
‘Hey-‘ Cullen interjected after noticing her rising unease. He spoke in a similar tone to when they were just chatting away at the Hanged Man trying his best to distract her with, what on the surface at least, seemed like a light-hearted question.
‘So er... apart from this miserable affair did your show go well?’ He asked as he handed her onto the ferry. It may have been well intentioned but his query made her a little nervous, what have those men told him? She panicked, he was already fearful of her, would this latest Magical act be the one that finally drove him away. ‘It was fine’ she said quickly hoping to dispel his worries and not noticing how her foot had become entangled in one of the rigging ropes.
Kat gave an alarmed whelp as she part tripped, part slipped on the damp wooden pier; her eyes squeezed shut in preparation for her fall face first onto the deck. But the impact never came. Instead Cullen’s strong arms caught her around her waist and pulled her up flush to his armored chest.
He had to be able to hear her heart she was sure of it, her giddiness at his proximity almost made her feel dizzy, or maybe it was the swaying from the barge as the ferryman pushed them off from the jetty.
‘Just fine?’ He teased at her uncharacteristic clumsiness. Maker what was wrong with her!
Kat felt her color rising and quickly righted herself ‘Y-Yes why?’
They found their seats and made quick progress on the short trip over to the docks, their idle conversation continuing as they did so. ‘The men told everyone you were a fire breathing menace’ Cullen’s smirk pulled at the corner of his lips and she gave a hidden sigh of relief. Now, free of the shadow of the Gallows she could appreciate the absurdity of her situation and could start to reminisce without excessive trepidation.
Kat hummed as if deep in thought before answering with a wry grin of her own ‘Well, I’m afraid your men are correct. I was pretending to be a Dragon you see.’
A warming chuckle greeted her response and she couldn’t help but smile in turn.
‘Of course you were’ he said dryly but his eyes spoke of no annoyance or fear, only affection. Kat gulped.
Once they reached the far side of the harbor Kat was feeling suitably recovered from her ordeal and so hopped off the boat herself, falling into step alongside Cullen’s slightly longer strides.
Seeing him still at ease she felt brave enough to ask her own question ‘You aren’t annoyed? As the Knight-Captain you don’t think I went too far?’
Cullen shook his head ‘Not at all, I wish I had been able to see it.’ He suddenly looked thoughtful; a cloud passed overhead casting their progress in shadow. ‘In truth you are doing far more good when it comes to overturning peoples prejudice against Magic than all of Anders Sabre-rattling.’
Something was weighing on Cullen’s mind that much was clear and his preoccupation made her own reflections on her performance more somber. ‘That wasn’t my intention’ she said softly. ‘After my mother died everything I did was for other people and I just wanted to do something for me again. Now I don’t know if I’ll ever feel safe enough to –‘ her words were silenced as she noted a young boy sat on her doorstep, he sprung to his feet when they approached.
Kat studied the young lad, it was the boy from her show earlier in the day but why ‘You know who I am?’
He shook his head ‘I didn’t but my Master told me where to find you, I’m a big fan.’
Kat was shocked but she had a duty to her fans and roused her cheerfulness ‘Yes I remember you from my shows, did you enjoy today’s performance?’
‘Did I? It was so cool! First all the card tricks like woosh woosh and then the fire was all Rooarrrrrr’ the lad hopped around and gestured wildly. Kat failed to hide her smile at such an enthusiastic display and beside her she heard Cullen’s quiet huff of amusement.
‘Oh and I saved this for you.’ The Urchin rummaged around in his satchel bag and withdrew her hat, still filled to the brim with her days’ earnings.
Her eyes widened ‘Thank you so much.’ It would have been relief enough to just have the hat back but still with the coins, it was unprecedented in Kirkwall. ‘Can I give you a silver in return for your honesty?’
The boy beamed at her praise ‘No need’ he said in a sing-song voice that reminded her of the summer games of her childhood. ‘In fact I have something else for you too.’
Once again the lad rifled through his bag, out came some wrapped sandwiches, a hammer, a money pouch, a few wax-sealed scrolls and leather stitched ball. Kat curiously wondered how he managed to fit so much into what seemed to be a little bag, but thought the better of asking too many questions of her mysterious benefactor. At last a large old leather bound book was thrust into her hands.
‘My Master is a big fan, you aren’t his usual clientele so he regrets that you will not be able to visit his Emporium in person but he has had this book for many and Age and feels you would benefit from its contents.’
Many an Age? She looked at Cullen skeptically but he just shrugged. The tome was old and dusty but she noticed the fine leather binding had once been richly decorated in now flaked gold-leaf. This was precious to someone at one point and it wouldn’t do her to be disrespecting such a once well-loved belonging.
Kat gave the boy a grateful smile ‘Thank you, I’ll treasure it. Please send your Master my kindest regards.’
‘I will, I loved your show today Belle-Joie please don’t stop performing.’
A sudden lump formed in her throat ‘I – I won’t’ the lad waved and scuttled away into a nearby alley, her nausea from the infirmary once again returning. Feeling a little shaken she sat down on her now vacated doorstep to collect her thoughts.
‘Aren’t you going inside?’
‘Not yet, I just need a bit of air.’
‘Okay’ Cullen sat down next to her on the little bricked step. It can’t have been easy in so much metal and those ridiculous skirts, but he didn’t complain. She was beginning to find it very difficult not to depend on this man when he insisted on being present and helping her when she was at her lowest, he seemed to have a knack for companionship for all he seemed to spurn the friendship of others.
After a comfortable silence of a few minutes Kat finally spoke. Her words were quiet and laden with remorse ‘I’ve just lied to that boy.’
‘Why?’ Cullen asked tentatively although he couldn’t hide his obvious confusion.
She gave him a sad sideways smile ‘How can I possibly continue to perform? I can’t protect myself. It was the Templars today, If you hadn’t intervened-’ she gave a slight shudder. ‘Next time it could be robbers or slavers or the Qunari and if anything happened to me Annie would be alone! I just can’t take that risk.’ She felt her tears welling up once more but this time she had the strength to hold them at bay.
Cullen’s brow furrowed and he seemed at war with himself ‘I was thinking on the way over here. Although I wouldn’t want to impose if it is not something you wish…’ he glanced at her with those pleading puppy eyes. There was no expectation or demand in his expression just concern and a righteous desire to protect and Kat knew that whatever he was about to ask or offer she had already accepted.
‘What if I came by tomorrow? I could show you some simple techniques designed to incapacitate an attacker or multiple… just enough so you would be able to make an escape should anyone try to hurt you again.’
That was not at all what she had been expecting. ‘You would?’ he nodded resolutely and Kat could feel some of her leaded worry start to dissipate.
Maybe it was time she tried fighting again; she wasn’t a lanky teenager anymore and apart from her humiliating trip today she was usually quite graceful and quick. Not to mention it would mean more time with him, she schooled her traitorous thoughts. ‘Are you sure? I’ve not practiced in years and I wasn’t the best student when your Father tried to teach me.’
‘Of course I will’ his smile was a little bittersweet at the mention of the late papa Rutherford. Then he nudged her with his shoulder ‘And I’m used to dealing with rowdy recruits remember, I’m sure I can manage your temper for one morning.’
Kat giggled, her enthusiasm for the idea building ‘You won’t be so calm once I inadvertently stab you!’ They laughed again; it was always so easy with him. Katherine had many smiles, one for performing, one when she humored Annie, one that was flirtatious. But the one she shared with Cullen and only with him, it felt like the rarest of all and she cherished the radiating glow that bloomed every time she gave it.
It was doing so now, filling her up with warmth like hot-cocoa, overriding her reason and so before she could second guess herself she leaned over to kiss his cheek.
She didn’t mean to, but she found herself pausing just before she pulled away, her breath hitching when he turned his face slightly towards her. Their eyes met just as they had in the infirmary but this time he didn’t look away. Instead his gaze dropped to her lips and the intensity, the sudden spark of energy which coursed through her veins as his hand came to rest on top of hers took her breath away.
‘Katherine –‘ his voice was deep and thick with emotion causing her riotous heart to thump wildly in her rib cage. This close she could see the faint lines of worry starting to form on his brow from his stressful position, how his soft brown eyes were ringed with gold and rapidly darkening as his pupils dilated, she felt she could see into his very soul. Kat was frozen in anticipation. But Cullen didn’t close the distance and that millisecond hesitation allowed the Magician to remember why she had so far ignored her deepening attraction.
Gasping she pulled away and stood at once, the blood rushing from her head to her legs making her a little dizzy ‘I-I’m so sorry!’ She stammered out through her rising humiliation ‘I swear I would never come between you and your love!’
Cullen looked dumbfounded. Of course her attentions would come as a complete surprise to him; she had scarcely allowed her changing feelings for him to be self-acknowledged, never-mind vocalized.
Now he looked away, his cheeks red no doubt from her unsolicited attention. ‘It’s okay’ he mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck in the familiar gesture he gave when he was uncomfortable. Kat scrubbed her face with her hands. Andraste preserve her what was she doing? This was Cullen, her best friend! Her thoughts spiraled, he was going out of his way to make her feel safe and she was taking advantage of his kindness. What am I thinking!
‘No! No it’s not okay I-‘ Cullen stood and patiently waited for her to explain, his look still one of confusion. ‘My head is just a little scrambled that’s all from all of the confusion of today…Forgive me please. Can we just forget that happened?’
‘If that is what you want?’
‘Yes, yes. That’s for the best.’ She bit back her disappointment when he gave a slow nod in agreement.
‘A-Apologies for taking up so much of your time today and for your kind offer, you don’t need to if-‘
‘Kat-‘ he sounded exasperated ‘I will see you tomorrow.’
‘Yes, tomorrow. T-Thank you. Goodnight!’ Not waiting for him to take his leave she launched herself through her doorway and closed it with a thud.
Still fraught with shame her back spun till it came into contact with the wood dividing her from the street. She heard him give a large sigh and then move away, his armor clinking till it became faint and then was lost to the rest of the noises from the city at twilight. Oh Cullen she lamented. She stayed by the door for ten full minutes till her flamed cheeks had cooled and her confused thoughts had returned to normal.
When they did she allowed her head to thump painfully behind her. Maker please don’t let me have messed this up. I’ll be better I swear, I would never make him choose. Please...
Kat did not sleep well. It took hours for her to drift off as she chastised herself for her shameful actions. Cullen was in love. She knew he must be parted from them whoever they are as he had never once mentioned them since that letter but that didn’t make it any less real. And she, weak-hearted fool that she was mistook his brotherly concern for real affection. Never mind his obvious fear of magic, of her magic! Idiot girl
Then when she did sleep she found her mind occupied by pleasant reflections of golden eyes before veering wildly into the hard stares of the other Templars. Caring morphing into callous, kind becoming cruel, healing warmth suddenly stripped away and she was left with a horrifying chill. She woke with a start a little before dawn and gave up trying to get more rest. She decided to wear her favorite dress, but it did little to cheer her as she noticed the dark circles under her eyes. Huffing she covered her small table mirror with a nearby muslin and went to prepare an unnecessarily large and complicated breakfast for her and her sister.
Annie hadn’t been pre-informed of her misadventure in the Circle and she was pleased not to have to relive her awful experience in order to set the younger girl’s mind at ease. It seemed the telling off she gave Hawke and her friends last time they panicked her sister had hit home at least for now. So Kat was able to pass the whole thing off as just a big misunderstanding and played down the ripped costume. She thought she had done a fair job of easing her sister’s worries, till she saw her siblings concerned stare when she rose for another busy day at the clinic.
‘Will you stay with her today?’ Kat heard Annie say quietly when Cullen came to the door about an hour after dawn. Annie was speaking quietly so she thought it best to pretended not to listen, instead she furiously scrubbed away at the breakfast dishes. ‘She never admits when she needs help but she was so out of sorts last night and I heard her crying out in her sleep, what little she must have got of it.’
That upset her to hear. So much for protecting Annie from my troubles, she thought darkly, lamenting that Cullen would now be worried too.
‘Of course I will.’ Of course he would, because he is kind and she is taking advantage of him. Using his friendship as a crutch for that something more which she longed for but wouldn’t give name to.
Kat had resolved months ago on not taking a lover but found her body was heartily disagreeing with her resolution, at least when it came to him. Stupid handsome man with his stupid sexy face-
She heard his throat clear behind her and turned with a smile of forced sweetness. He glanced up and down over her body, no doubt taking in her tired eyes and haggard appearance. Kat did the same to him, noticing his well-fitting brown leathers and fetching navy blue shirt which was left open at the neckline. Recognizing that her eyes were lingering on his broad shoulders she turned back to the sink and irritated with herself started to dry the now clean pots just for something to do with her hands.
‘Cullen, good morning. Could I get you some tea?’ She asked kindly without turning back to him, starting to fill up the kettle with water before even waiting for his reply.
‘Actually Kat, we should talk about yesterday-’
A cup she was drying clattered noisily onto the worktop. He’s going to end our friendship, I pushed too hard, blurred the lines.
‘About Ser Alrik and the others?’
‘Oh’ That chased away her nervousness and with a confidence she didn’t feel she turned to respond, crossing her arms defensively as she did ‘What will happen to them?’
Cullen sighed and slightly shook his head ‘Well if I had my way Alrik would have been discharged, he would have been discharged years ago for a whole number of transgressions. But in actual fact he and the others have all been put on reduced Lyrium for a month’s duration.’
That meant little to her. She knew Cullen took Lyrium to power his anti-magic abilities but beyond that ‘reducing your Lyrium is a punishment?’ she questioned trying to understand.
‘Yes’ he answered gravely.
‘Have you ever gone without it?’
Cullen gave a slow nod ‘When the circle fell. It is not pleasant’
‘I’m sorry to hear that’ she saw him pinch the bridge of his nose almost as if trying to chase away the memory. And although those Templars had hurt her, she didn’t feel comfortable with an ‘eye for an eye’ kind of punishment.
‘Is it, painful?’ She asked out of worry.
‘All consuming’ he replied earnestly while fixing her with that entreating stare again. The one that looked like he was trying to see through her, see past her current appearance to something that was no longer there.
Her quiet concern seemed to shake away whatever he was seeing. ‘The Templars will be fine, we are reducing their rations not cutting them off. They will be grouchy and tired is all.’
Although she was relieved to hear she hadn’t inadvertently inflicted corporal punishment upon another soul she couldn’t shake the feeling that Cullen was still hiding the truth from her when it came to his time as a captive. A month ago she would have pressed him, would have thrived on the renewed childhood intimacy they now shared but she needed to step away from that, needed to curtail the unwelcome romantic feelings that were simmering beneath her skin.
Recovered Cullen shot her a somewhat cocky smile ‘Now that is not why I am here!’ He rolled up his sleeves and started to push the large heavy kitchen table to one side. ‘You go get your daggers’ she happily complied.
‘I recognize these’ he said wistfully turning the simple blades over in his hands.
‘They were your Fathers; he gave them to me when the Blight broke out. I’m sorry they are so blunt, I should have taken better care of them.’
‘Blunt weapons are best for today, especially if you are planning on tripping over again’ he mocked her fall from yesterday and Kat flushed scarlet. At his teasing a little ball of defiance filled her gut, normally she would give a wry reply or tease him back in turn but before a suitably witty comeback could form in her mind her instruction began.
They practiced for hours. Running through scenarios, testing her instincts and speed. Cullen was a patient teacher, she could see why he was in charge of training. It did seem as if he had found his calling with the Templars after all. Kat should have been enjoying his time and attention, but instead she found herself burning up with lust as the morning progressed.
Every time his hand came to correct her stance his hand felt warm against her body. Every time he drew her close in a disarming move she could smell his Elderflower and masculine scent. Every time he showed the slightest hint of his prowess she felt close to fainting like some virginal maid from one of Isabella’s novels.
Is he touching me more? No it was just her imagination. They had always had innocent little touches it was just that now, to her desire-fueled mind they didn’t feel so innocent.
Her distraction cost her as at the next parry Cullen’s disarm sent her spinning, she found herself falling with Cullen very nearly landing on top of her. ‘Ah!’ she exclaimed.
Cullen laughed 'what did i say about falling hmm?' Kat almost couldn't hear him past the sound of blood in her ears. Their legs were tangled, keeping his body close even if he held most of his weight up with his strong, muscular arms. Prophetess forgive her unchaste thoughts.
‘Are you ok?’
‘N-no just a little surprised!’ They were both panting and as he did yesterday his eyes dropped to her lips. Maker was he trying to make her combust?
For all Kat was trying to withdraw from physical contact Cullen seemed to be doing the opposite, it was infuriating, intoxicating and she prayed he attributed the flush on her cheeks to their exertions rather than her flowering desire. He rolled off her and Kat sat up, squeezing her thighs together while he took her daggers from the floor and re-sheathed them. Even that innocent action made her groan with its blatant innuendo.
Of course he noticed and so loomed over with his solid presence and damnable chivalry ‘Are you ok?’
‘Hot, so h- hot yes. I’m just a little warm, Kirkwall heat right haha!’ Kat grimaced as he offered her his hand, even that touch sent the sparks flying straight to her core ‘Shall I make us some lunch?’ She squeaked and busied herself in food preparation, anything to avoid looking at him.
After they had eaten Kat felt her eyelids start to droop. The stress of yesterday coupled with lack of sleep and physical activity today had left her utterly exhausted.
‘Kat don’t you have work tonight?’
‘Yes’ she replied tiredly.
‘You should try to get some sleep’
‘mmnhhmm’ she agreed before letting out an un-ladylike yawn.
‘Come on’ he commanded and taking her hand tugged her upright.
He half-dragged, half-coaxed her to move to her bedroom door ‘This one is your’s yes?’
She knew what he was doing but it was hopeless ‘I won’t be able to sleep’ she complained and, as if mocking her usual gesture Cullen rolled his eyes.
He opened the door, strode inside and pulled back her woolen coverlet on the bed. ‘Get in’ he said simply.
Kat looked at him dumbly ‘But-‘ he smiled warmly.
‘Maker you’re a stubborn woman’ her room was small, he only had to take one step and he was once again tugging her gently by the hand till her legs nudged the bed.
‘Please no, I don’t want to be alone’ she whimpered as he made to leave. Pathetic she thought, slipping her eyes closed, half asleep where she stood.
A strong hand rested on her shoulder, unlike yesterday this grip was reassuring and gentle as she was coerced down onto the mattress. Feeling defeated she immediately rolled onto her side and formed a little ball, weariness creeping into her bones. The mattress dipped behind her and suddenly she felt alert and awake ‘W-What are you doing?’
‘Annie told me to stay with you, so that’s what I’m going to do’ he said simply as his body wrapped around hers. One of his arms was cushioned under his head the other laid along his side. Although they weren’t touching Kat could feel his body next to hers, the heat he radiated was inviting and ignoring the little part of her that felt ashamed for her neediness she scooted back, sighing as his warmth soaked into her aching body.
‘Plus I could use a nap myself’ he said tiredly and draped his free arm over her waist ‘Now get some sleep.’
‘I’ll disturb you’ she said quietly, and he answered likewise, squeezing her lightly as he did ‘You aren’t the only one who has nightmares, don’t worry.’
And it was that easy. They were in bed together and there was no awkwardness just sweetness and that familiarity and domesticy they had been fostering first a the Bar and then at his frequent home visits.
‘Kat, about what happened yesterday… on your doorstep’
Her heart thudded, the fleeting happiness she had been feeling chased away by her fear of losing him even as a friend ‘Cullen, please I’m so sorry. It won’t happen again’
‘No, it’s… who do you think I love? Did you mean the Order?’
Kat felt like crying, was he being cruel? She didn’t think Cullen had a vindictive bone in her body and after all he had done for her today she owed him an answer ‘No, I mean her. Whoever she is.’
‘The one you told me you were in love with in your letter. The one you keep secret. She must be a Mage I think…’
Cullen didn’t reply, he didn’t pull away but also didn’t draw her closer. He was protecting her or a secret and that was okay. He wasn’t offended and he was here.
Her exhaustion quickly caught up with her, her breathing leveled out as her body hovered on the precipice of sleep. She was sure she imagined a whispered ‘You’re wrong’ before feeling the pressure of lips on the top of her head.
I'm so happy we are getting closer to the saucy bits XD