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The Golden Halla

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Truthfully, this wasn’t the strangest thing the inquisition had been sent in way of thanks so far, but he found it difficult to figure out the reasoning either way. 

“Uh...we are grateful? Is it for...err...riding? Or perhaps eating? I’m sorry. I’m not familiar with the custom for this.” 

Cullen rubbed the back of his neck nervously as he addressed the party before, wondering for the hundredth time why he was the one sent to deal with this. Surely Josephine would make more sense. Or even Cassandra. The Nightingale? Anyone but him, at least. 

The elven man before him appeared horrified at the mention of eating the creature, so he supposed that was out. 

“No! She is Hanal'ghilan, a Golden Halla that appears in times of need. And this one is...especially sacred.” Cullen thought the man had been a little too careful with that wording. “Our keeper thought it best to send her here for safekeeping, along with the wish that the blessing Hanal'ghilan brings shows our thanks for assisting our clan.” 

Cullen looks at the creature in question who was standing calmly next to the elven man. It appeared...not much different from regular halla, honestly. Perhaps a bit more of a yellow tint to its coat then normal, and bronze horns instead of the usual silver. However, he knew “sacred” meant that this creature was just going to spend its days in the stable doing absolutely nothing, growing fat on Haven’s precious resources. They couldn’t ride it or eat it, so now he supposed the Inquisition has gained its first pet. 

“Very well. We accept your...offering. Thank you...err…” 

“Loranil, Commander. The Inquisitor himself worked with my clan to bring me here. He said to report to you.” 

Of course he did. The Qunari was becoming overly fond of the phrase ‘speak to the Commander.’ 

“Oh, a soldier recruit then. Alright, welcome aboard Loranil. Report to that man over there in blue and he’ll get you set up,” he nodded briskly. With another nod at a nearby soldier, he silently ordered him to lead the halla to the stables. Surprisingly, the creature seemed to follow direction well without the need for a lead, following the soldier obediently.

The elven man bellowed what he assumed was a farewell to the animal then started walking towards Rylan, as ordered. 

“Wait! Loranil, was it? Make sure to stop by the stables and let them know how to care for the halla, if you please.” 

Loranil bowed his head in acknowledgment and was lost in the sea of bodies crowding the courtyard soon after. Cullen sighed wearily and rubbed his forehead, the beginnings of a headache beginning to make itself known. At least with that bit of ridiculous business done he could escape to his tent for a time. With a quick glance around to assure no one was coming for him, he strode quickly towards his temporary home, only breathing freely again once he tied the cloth shut. He settled into his desk and attacked the evergrowing pile of reports, hoping that losing himself in busy work would distract him from the throbbing in his head. 

***

The headache only grew worse. He’d known that quitting the lyrium wouldn’t be easy, but he hadn’t quite been prepared for the pain. He’d been without for an entire week now and his body was protesting the sudden lack greatly. It was getting hard to hide the increasing number of symptoms as his hands began to shake or his head throbbed to the point he couldn’t focus his eyes. Or the incredibly embarrassing occasion three days ago wherein one of his lieutenants barged in on him expelling his breakfast into a chamberpot. 

It was now late in the evening, nearing the midnight hour bells he would imagine. The air seemed somewhat crisp and he decided a stroll outside might help him cool off and wind down enough to attempt some sleep tonight. 

He dared to leave off his breastplate, not wanting anything restricting his chest right now but pulled on his cloak. Despite his desire to cool off his overheating body, he wasn’t fool enough to stride out with barely anything and risk taking truly ill. As he left his tent, he was pleased to see that most people had already retired for the evening, leaving only those assigned to night watch and various workers too busy to pay him any mind. 

He roamed about the grounds, hoping he appeared more like he was inspecting for strategic weakness or something else more impressive than taking a midnight stroll. Because he just couldn’t help it, he still took a mental tally of things that would need fixing or refilled. The healer’s area needed more tents. That elderly couple near a cooking fire needed more blankets. The shoes on that soldier’s horse needed replacing. 

That, of course, led him to wonder when the last time was he checked on his own mount. He’s been rather bound to Haven of late with little time to ride. She was surely feeling neglected. He switched his path to head towards the stables. He could at least give her a brush and an apple before seeking his bed. 

Haven’s stables were small and not very sturdy, but seemed comfortable enough for now. If they were here for much longer he was probably going to have them fixed up, but any weather was kept away beyond a slight chill. His horse has been through worse and handled it well. She was Feraldan, after all. 

He stopped by the crate of apples kept near the wooden door and grabbed a large one, clicking his tongue as he sauntered towards her stall. 

“Grace? Have a treat for you, girl.” 

The horse whinnied in welcome, shaking her mane as she popped her head over the gate. The bay mare looked like her upkeep has been being taken care of, despite his preoccupation. She nuzzled his shoulder, nipping a bit no doubt to protest his negligence. 

“Sorry, girl. This nasty business has been pulling my mind all over the place. I’ll take you out for a ride soon, I promise. Perhaps we can go around and check the surrounding area for weakness tomorrow, give you a chance to work some of this building fat off, eh?” 

Cullen chuckled as she quickly chomped the apple from his hand, giving him a side-eyed look as though to say, ‘What fat?’ 

There was an...unearthly bray in the stall next to hers. Cullen cringed at the sound, suddenly remembering why he’d never been very fond of halla. Their cries sounded like a wailing child to him. Cullen sighed and peeked into the other stall, finding the golden halla watching him expectantly. 

“I suppose you saw Grace get an apple and now you want one? Can you even eat them? I don’t see why not, I suppose.” 

He walked back to the crate and grabbed another apple and brought it to the halla. 

“Here you go Hana...err...gilie? I don’t suppose you’d settle for Hana, would you? I’m afraid I don’t have the tongue for languages.” 

The halla brayed it’s awful sound again, which he took as an agreement. She accepted the apple with much more impressive manners than his mount had, delicately nibbling the offering. 

The headache that he’d been trying so hard to ignore chose that exact moment to reach a level worse than he had ever experienced. The pain was so sharp and he could feel his head throbbing so mightily he wouldn’t be surprised if it would burst. He groaned and clutched at his head, dropping to one knee. He clenched his teeth, willing himself to tough it out. 

The halla brayed again, making him almost want to sob. The sound was horrible during a normal time. Currently, it was painful enough it felt as though it was piercing his ears. 

Suddenly, there was a bright golden light shining from the halla’s stall. He shaded his eyes with his hand, more worried about the discomfort the light brought with it than the source at the moment. 

“You are hurt! Here, let me help you.”

The voice was lovely - soft and calming, with an almost musical quality to it. 

His other knee dropped to the floor as his body weakened further. As his vision darkened, he caught a single glimpse of the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in his entire life. Her modesty was only saved by the curtain of snowy white hair covering her bare breasts as she leaned over his falling form. Her amber eyes filled with concern as she reached towards him with a glowing hand - skin bronzed and shimmering as though dusted in gold. 

“Sleep now,” she whispered, bringing the hand to his forehead. 

And then he knew no more, fainting on the straw-covered wood floors of Haven’s stable. 

Chapter Text

Cullen stood in the middle of the training grounds, barking out orders while keeping one eye on the stables not far away. When he had awoken this morning, there had been nothing out of the ordinary - besides him waking up on the stable floor covered in straw and dirt but feeling more refreshed than he had in he didn’t know how long. 

The halla had been napping comfortably in her stall and there was no sign of the woman he’d caught a glimpse of before he’d passed out. He decided she was most likely just a product of his hallucinations. Or perhaps he’d been so out of it a demon had appeared when he’d been most vulnerable. He didn’t know, but with no sign of her again he’d gone about his day, all the while keeping a suspicious eye on the stables. 

His stomach grumbled violently and he realized he was hungry. Really, truly, voraciously hungry. It had been so long since he could stomach more than a bit of broth and bread. 

He cast one last furtive glance towards the stables before dismissing his men to other duties and strode towards the tavern. He found an open table near the back of the building, one that had a wall to his back and gave him a full view of the room. He could feel the eyes as people tried to be sneaky about watching him, since he was a bit of an oddity in here. He normally took his meals in his tent in case he felt sick. 

When the tavern maid came for his order, he let his stomach do the talking. One big bowl of stew with a possible need for seconds, buttered bread, a generous chunk of cheese, and whatever sweet they had prepared for after. 

He got comfortable while he waited, tearing off his gloves and coat, allowing himself to drop his shoulders and relax...and apparently too soon as he was soon joined by a couple of the Inquisition stragglers, plopping their own bowls onto his table with unapologetic grins. 

“Hey, Curly. Glad to see you feeling better,” Varric greeted, sliding in next to him and sliding a tankard towards him. 

“Was I ill?” Cullen grumbles, though he still accepts the mug and takes a small sip. It wouldn’t do for his men to see their commander getting sloshed, but he figured a tiny bit wouldn’t hurt. 

“Ah, it was a secret. Gotcha,” the tiresome dwarf winked.

Cullen rolls his eyes and quietly thanks the maid as she sets his feast before him. He tears into the stew, closing his eyes with a content sigh as he’s able to hold it down without belly fighting him. 

“Why do you call him Curly? He walks as straight as the rest of you,” the young man (questionable) who came with Varric questions. What was his name again? Cole? 

“It’s the hair, kid. He used to let it fly about in its natural state. These days he’s gotten it rather tamed, so now it’s ironic. Understand?” 

“Yes?” 

The dwarf snorts and waves his hand for another drink for himself. 

Cullen is thankful that for the most part, the two seem willing to simply sit there and let him enjoy his food. It’s not until his belly begins to settle as he’s tearing into his dessert that he realizes that slighting scratching sound he’d been hearing was the dwarf writing next to him, only pausing on occasion to answer Cole’s persistent questions.  

He must have felt Cullen’s curious glance because he looked up and shrugged. 

“Thinking of writing about...all this shit.” 

Cullen nods, hardly surprised.

He observes the dwarf write a few more lines before he stops, looking up thoughtfully. 

“Hey, Commander. Describe the most beautiful skin you’ve ever seen.” 

Cullen sputters, nearly choking on the bite of the berry dessert he’d been savoring. 

“Maker’s breath. What? Why?” 

He waves his quill around, “Having a blockage. I doubt you could do worse than me. I said ‘Bronzed.” 

Cullen quirks an eyebrow, wondering what was wrong with that. In fact, he remembered thinking that about the woman he’d seen last night. But...he supposed that wasn’t the correct coloring anyway. 

“Sand...y?” 

“Sand is a decent color, I guess. Hardly flattering though.” 

Cullen thought back to his vision. Sand wasn’t right. No, it was beautiful...shimmering...the color of honey…

“Skin like wildflower honey, dark and rich. He wonders if she tastes as sweet...why would he want to eat her?” 

Cullen blushes madly as the creature stares at him curiously from under that hideous hat. 

Varric chuckles lowly, the knowing tone grating on Cullen’s nerves. 

“Well, well. The Commander has the soul of a poet. Mind if I borrow that?” 

Cullen sighs and pushes up from the table. 

“Do as you will, dwarf. Tell your...friend there to stay out of my head.” 

He turned and stomped from the Tavern and pretended he wasn’t trying to escape to his tent due to embarrassment. He was a grown man and a soldier, after all. He was simply taking the time to look over reports. 

***

He reemerged several hours later, needing a break. He recalled he was going to take Grace out for a ride and decided now was as good a time as any. One of the men assigned to the stables asked if he wanted him to prepare her for his ride, but he liked to do things himself. Gave him a chance to look over his gear for safety and gave Grace a little extra attention. 

He strode into the stables, still keeping a slight eye out. For what, he didn’t know. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. A few horses, a single Hart, and that golden Halla were it’s only occupants. One of the reports he’d looked over earlier had mentioned a noble sending some livestock to help care for the refugees here, so he would have to allocate some space for cows and sheep since he wasn’t sure how many there were. Surely more than could fit in here. 

He shrugged, trying to banish thoughts of reports and hallucinations from his mind. He spared a glance towards the Halla as she popped her head over the gate, watching him move around the stables. Thankfully, she stayed quiet. He gave her a quick pet on her snout to thank her, and she nuzzled into his hand. She was sweet and well-behaved at least. Though a bit spoiled, if the instructions left by their latest elven recruit was anything to go by. Three meals a day, as well as snacks to be made available in the stables. One of those meals was a warm oatmeal mash with berries and honey for breakfast! She ate better than he did...though he supposed that was mostly his own fault. 

He saddled Grace, checking over his gear for any repair needs as he did so. The poor thing was practically quivering with excitement. 

“Almost, sweetheart.” 

When he finally got the lead on her and started pulling her from the stables, you could practically feel Grace’s relief. He sighed, internally promising to take her out more. 

As he led her past the stalls, the Halla nickered in a way that sounded almost sad.  

He pauses, remembering that he’d heard Halla were extremely intelligent and knew she was probably trying to tell him something. 

“Are you wanting out, too?” 

She shook her whole head, ears flapping. He snorted, taking that as an agreement. 

“The Commander of the Inquisition can’t be seen wandering around with pets, Hana, and that’s pretty much all you are. I’ll tell the stable boys to let you out to graze later.” 

Her ears flatten and she settles her chin on the top of her stall gate. Maker’s breath, she was pouting? Was he seeing things or was this Halla really smart enough to pull such a trick? 

His heart melted a little, thinking that it was probably hard for the creature to go from the open wilderness to being shut up in a box all day. He sighed and grabbed another lead from the wall. 

“Fine. You walk behind Grace. No pulling or stopping every few seconds. The moment you start to act up, I will untie you and let the demons have at you.” 

The beast perked up immediately, prancing as he started towards her with the lead and opened her gate. He brought the lead towards her face and she turned away, backing up slightly. 

“You can’t go running free. Not everyone knows or cares that you’re “sacred.” To everyone here, you’re just a roast waiting for a fire.” 

The Halla snorted and bit the lead right out of his hand before butting him with her head. She herded him straight to Grace like she was waiting for him to lead the way already. 

Cullen sighed, saying a silent prayer to give him the patience to deal with...well, everything he has to deal with. 

“Of course you’d turn out to be just as bossy as all the other women surrounding me. Very well. Don’t wander.” 

Once they were outside, he quickly mounted his horse and began a light trot, checking behind him every few moments to see if the Halla was still there. She always was, seemingly happy to follow as long as she got to be outside. Cullen shook his head, amused with the creature. 

He made sure to nod at everyone that greeted him during his ride around the area outside Haven, holding his head high as he met the curious stares. Perhaps if he acted like having the Halla trail around behind him wasn’t strange, no one would question it. 

As they neared the lake, he slowed his horse. 

“Thirsty, ladies?” 

He jumped down and grabbed Grace’s lead, taking her towards the water. She bent over quickly, lapping at the cool water. The Halla soon trotted up and after a quick glance towards Grace, bent over to follow suit. 

“Good evening, Commander.” 

Cullen turned at the greeting, watching as the apostate Solas strode up to him. The mage usually avoided interacting with him if he could help it, understandably, so he was curious why the man would be coming to him now. 

“Good evening, Solas. Is there something I can help you with?” 

“I do not wish to bother you in what seems to be your personal time, Commander, I was simply curious about your companion there. It has been some time since I’ve seen a Halla with such distinctive markings.” 

Cullen chuckled, scratching his chin as he turned to watch the creature in question shake the water from her face and trot over to him. She nuzzled into his shoulder while she stared at the elf. 

“Ah, yes. A gift from the Dalish, although I’m fairly certain they mostly just wanted her away from the fighting in the plains. Apparently, she’s sacred. Ah, but of course you’d know more than I do.” 

The elf merely hummed, cocking his head as he continued studying the Halla. Cullen didn’t think she was that different to warrant such a stare. 

“There is...something different about her.” 

Cullen quirked an eyebrow, turning from Solas to look at Hana. She continued quietly staring at the elf, all while nudging herself closer and closer to Cullen. If she was Mabari, this would be standard behavior if they sensed a threat. 

“What do you mean?” 

Solas narrowed his eyes, studying Hana. Finally, he shrugged, turning to Cullen with a very slight smile. 

“I am not certain. She seems strongly connected to the fade. Perhaps that is why the Dalish consider her sacred. Either way, she seems very attached to you, Commander. I’ve heard that Halla pick their people, much like Mabari do.” 

“I believe in this case she merely thinks she’s found the biggest pushover, considering how I’m letting her ride along with us,” Cullen huffs a self-deprecating laugh. 

“Even normal Halla are very intelligent, Commander. She considers you worthy.” 

Cullen blinked in surprise, glancing down at the Halla. Hana finally looked away from the elf long enough to meet his gaze, nickering in what must be agreement. Or a demand for treats. 

“Huh.” 

Solas actually chuckled quietly, turning to leave. 

“Enjoy your evening, Commander.” 

Once Solas was once again out of sight, disappearing into Haven’s gates, Hana finally stepped away from his side. 

“You’re not fond of the mage, eh girl? He seems alright, for an apostate. Keeps to himself. But I know animals are usually smarter than me, so I’ll try to remember your warning,” Cullen murmured quietly, scratching the top of her head as he walked back over to Grace. 

She snorted, likely in agreement that she was indeed a far superior being to him. He shook his head fondly as he mounted Grace once more. Hana watched, waiting quietly for Grace to settle before they both settled into a comfortable trot back towards the stables. 

Both creatures seemed tired out enough that they went into their stalls without protest. He brushed down Grace and gave her some oats and an apple, and after dealing with Hana’s expectant gaze the whole time, did the same for her. 

“Alright, ladies. I’ll leave you to your rest. Grace, I promise to take you out again tomorrow. Hana, you can even come along again if you continue to behave yourself.” 

Maker, he was conversing more with the animals than he did with anyone else. He sighed and shook his head, striding out of the stables without a backward glance, thoughts of training schedules and requisitions back to take over his mind. 

***

The nightmare was here. Some tiny part of him knew it was a nightmare, but it didn’t stop the remembered pain and agony. The fingers ripping his skin, laughing at his misery. The feeling of mouths and heat in places he didn’t want them. He felt the excruciating sharp sting as chain ripped into the skin at his back and he screamed. Screamed for mercy, for deliverance, for death even…

The nightmare fled as his mind was coated with a golden light, easing him into a state of half-awareness. His exhausted eyes cracked open enough to catch the glimpse of the one that had been on the edge of his mind since the night before. The waterfall of snow-white hair, the honey-tinted shimmering bare skin, kind amber eyes boring into him as she calmly stroked his face. 

“Shhh, I am here. You are safe. Hamin elvyr, ma' enansal.” 

Cullen could do nothing more than let the beautiful voice calm him into a deep sleep, empty of the ghosts of the past that haunted him. 

Chapter Text

He was fighting desperately to stay asleep despite the pull to awareness he could feel clawing at him. He was at peace here in the fields with his mystery woman. She’d prepared them a picnic and he lounged on the blanket as he watched her dance around merrily, the skirts of her simple blue dress rippling about her bare feet, her snowy hair floating behind her like a waterfall. He smiled when she caught his eye and laughed, her joy contagious. She had claimed she was dancing his demons away, so there was no reason to be afraid of them or that she was one herself. 

“Won’t you tell me your name?”

She skipped towards him, dropping onto the blanket gracefully. 

Shrugging, she picked up a pastry and took a small nibble. Her features were somewhat hazy in this place, but her lips were still clear enough to keep him captivated. Thin, but not harsh. Soft-looking. He watched transfixed as her tongue appears to flick away some crumbs on the side of her mouth.

“You can call me Hana,” she finally answers with a teasing grin, her lovely amber eyes sparkling with mirth. 

Cullen snorts, amused. “The name of the halla? Well, if I wasn’t so certain this was a dream before, it would be clear now. That creature is taking over my life,” he sighed. 

Her laugh was a gentle thing, as lovely as her. 

“Perhaps.” 

She pauses, cocking her head thoughtfully like she was listening to something only she could hear. 

“It’s time to wake up, Cullen.” 

He loved the way she said his name. Everyone else began his name like they had something stuck in their throat. With her, it sounded like a song - one that she loved to sing. 

“Will I see you again?”

“Sooner than you think,” she chuckled, fading right before him. 

He groaned as he came to awareness, her wave of farewell still branded behind his eyes. 

The distant snickering was the first clue that he wasn’t alone. Next came the realization that there was a very warm body breathing next to him. A warm furry body. 

He cracked up one of his eyes and briefly wondered if he was still dreaming. There could be no other explanation for the fact that there was a halla cuddled up with him on top of his furs. Or that one of his arms was draped loosely across the back of the beast as though to pull it closer. He quickly pulled away in embarrassed horror, his face turning crimson as the low snickers from the front of the tent evolved into outright mocking laughter. 

“Commander, if I’d known you had a thing for horns I would have volunteered my services,” The Iron Bull laughed heartily. 

Cullen groaned and turned to face the front of his tent where Bull and The Herald were both sticking their heads into with unapologetic grins. Of all the people to find him in such an embarrassing situation, the loudmouthed Qunari mercenary and the proclaimed Herald of Andraste were not his first choice. 

He sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes, snorting as Hana slept on unbothered by their guests. 

“Is there something I can do for you?” 

“We heard about Loranil making it here and bringing the Halla with him. We wanted to see her again, make sure she was doing alright. She wasn’t in her stall though and Cole told us to find you. I was confused about why the Commander of this little party would know where a lone halla was - wasn’t expecting to see you two so cozy,” Kaaras Adaar shrugged with a teasing grin. Bull stood there cackling close enough to the other that their horns were surely clanging against each other. 

“Yes, she’s proven to be rather...friendly. She must have snuck in during the night. I’ll have to speak with the stable boys.” 

“There’s no shame in wanting a warm body during cold winter nights,” Bull drawled, doing what Cullen interpreted as a wink with his single eye. 

“Maker’s breath…” he grumbled, standing up and waving them away. 

“Unless there is pressing business, I’d appreciate some privacy so I might get ready. I’ll walk her over as soon as I’m done and you may visit to your heart’s content.” 

Kaaras nodded, “Alright. We’ll leave you be, Commander. We’ve all been summoned to the war room in three hours’ time for a debriefing of my experience in Redcliffe, however. Cassandra’s getting generous and actually giving me a couple of hours to recuperate from my travels before interrogating me.” 

Cullen actually grunts in amusement and waves as the two Qunari take their leave. It isn’t until he could no longer hear their stomping that the halla decides to wake up, actually yawning and looking up at him drowsily as though to ask, ‘What’s with all the racket?’ 

“This is all your fault, you know? What are you doing bursting into my tent in the middle of the night? How did you even undo the ties?” Cullen grumbles as he quickly throws on his armor and splashes his face with water he kept in a pitcher for such purposes. 

Still, as embarrassing as this whole situation was, at least he’d slept fairly well after the nightmares left him. He actually felt refreshed and starving for a full meal for the second day in a row. Perhaps the worst of his symptoms were over? He’d never heard of them leaving so quickly. Perhaps the Maker saw fit to help him in his efforts to assist with closing the breach. 

Cullen snapped at Hana to get her to follow along, which it seemed like she did reluctantly. Cullen chuckled quietly as she shook her head and blinked at him blearily when she stood up to walk towards him. It seemed even halla could not be morning risers. In a moment of weakness, he reached out and scratched behind her ear, which she seemed to love since she nickered softly and rubbed her head into the touch. 

“Alright, you’ve been spoiled enough from me for today. Back to your post, Miss Hana.” 

He led her back to the stables swiftly, waving her into her stall. As he locked her in, he could swear she was staring up at him in the halla equivalent of puppy dog eyes. 

“You’ve had free reign enough, for now. Perhaps when I take Grace out later you may come. Until then, be a good girl.” 

Hana propped her snout on the top of the gate and huffed at him. He actually cracked a smile and tossed both her and Grace an apple before he left, heading towards the war room to look over reports and discuss some things with the other advisors until the meeting. 

***

“As allies? Are you sure that’s wise?” 

Cullen stared incredulously at The Herald as he explained the horrifying events from Redcliffe. 

“Would you rather us all locked up like your mabari? Give us a sip of lyrium from time to time if we’ve been good little mages?” 

The Tevene mage that the Herald had dragged here with him from Redcliffe like a heavily perfumed stray was not helping his already shot nerves. He glared right back. 

“No. I know very well the horrors of the circles, but I know just as well the dangers that unchecked magic can bring. There are not nearly enough templars here to contain them all.” 

“They are not here to be contained, Commander,” Kaaras answered softly. “Kindly remember that Haven is just that - a haven for all. Including those that are born with something that they often never asked for in the first place.” 

As the old familiar fear receded, he felt ashamed. 

“You are right, of course. Please forgive me. I let my fear cloud my reason.” 

The Tevene mage looked at him strangely then, as though he’d found a puzzle to solve, but went silent. The Herald nodded, understanding shining in his eyes. 

“I’ve heard some of your story, so I understand your concerns. However, let us give them the benefit of the doubt for now. Many are simply happy for a chance to find the families they were taken from, so I imagine they will be much too busy for staging a takeover.” 

“Understood, Herald.” 

The Qunari nodded, adding a soft smile of reassurance that Cullen felt he didn’t deserve. He fell silent and let the others run the meeting as he lost himself in memories. 

He shook his head, forcing himself to stop thinking about such maudlin things. He had better things to worry about now. Accommodations and supplies for an extra hundred people, at least. He’d need to ask about for a more accurate tally. Increased lyrium supplies. Andraste’s ass, there was going to be lyrium everywhere. 

Cullen gulped at the realization, practically tasting the song on his tongue. But no, he could handle it. He’d tell Cassandra to increase her vigilance...and to be on the lookout for a replacement, just in case. Perhaps Rylan. 

When the meeting was over, he strode quickly from the room thinking he’d stop for a bite then take Grace out for another ride. He was halfway to the door when somewhere cleared their throat behind him. 

Turning, he found the Tevene mage eyeing him sheepishly, though he maintained his proud stance. 

“I wanted to...apoligize. That was unfair of me to start our acquaintance in such a way. I’m afraid I was being as judgemental of templars as others are of me.” 

Cullen rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. 

“That’s quite alright. I can’t say there wasn’t a time I would have deserved every word and more. Pray accept my apologies as well Magi...err...Lord...Pavus, was it?” 

The mage chuckled lowly, waving his hand with an affected flourish like many nobles were wont to do. 

“Just call me Dorian, Commander. The scary magister is my father.” 

“Alright, Dorian.” 

The mage’s smile is friendly - and perhaps a bit flirtatious. 

“I was wondering where I might bed down around here, Commander. I know many are in tents, so if you would be so kind as to point me in - Venhedis! What is that awful sound?” 

The awful sound was a horrible screeching bray coming from the stables. But it wasn’t normal. It sounded...terrified

“Hana!”

Cullen sprinted towards the stables, unmindful of the fact that the mage ran with him. He burst through the door and towards Hana’s stall. She was spooked horribly - her eyes wide and watching everyone fearfully as she reared back, kicking her hooves towards some unseen thing. 

“Shhh, easy girl. It’s just me. It’s alright.” 

Like it was he was her lighthouse in a storm, she latched her frightened gaze on him, letting him lead her back to calm. Once she stopped kicking he finally walked into her stall, taking a moment to note that it was unlatched already. He slowly reached out and stroked her neck, ignoring the ear-piercing screaming as it died down. She finally went quiet beyond a slight nicker, her body shaking under his hand. 

“There we go. Good girl, Hana. I’m here.” 

She stuck her head under his arm, seemingly trying to hide under his coat. 

“Friend of yours?” 

Cullen startled, meeting Dorian’s amused gaze. The mage nodded towards Hana, visibly softening in sympathy for the creature. 

“Of a sorts, I suppose. She was a gift from the Dalish for the Inquisition, but according to another elf around here she’s chosen me or something. I’ve never seen her like this before, though. She’s normally so calm. I don’t see anything that could have spooked her.” 

Dorian looks around the stables thoughtfully, humming as he holds his hand up that soon emits a slight glow. His eyes narrow as he follows some invisible thread leading towards Hana’s stall. He frowns and closes his hand before meeting Cullen’s questioning look. 

“There’s a trace of magic in here. It’s not...evil, but it’s hardly something innocent. It feels ancient.” 

Cullen strokes Hana, as she continues to use him as a shield from the world. 

“They didn’t hurt her though?” 

“No. She appears healthy, although…”

Cullen’s brow furrows as the mage stares thoughtfully at the halla. 

“Dorian, what’s wrong with her?!” 

Dorian shakes his head, “It’s not something wrong, it’s just something strange. She doesn’t feel like your average beast. She has immense power, for one thing. Immense magical power.” 

“She’s some sort of sacred halla for the Dalish...could that be it?” 

“No,” the mage shook his head, pulling on his mustache thoughtfully. “She feels like a mage. Which seems strange given the hooves and rather furry appearance, yes?” 

Cullen pried Hana’s head out from under his coat, holding her snout in his hands. For the first time, he really looked into the halla’s eyes and realized they were a warm amber ringed in black...just like the Hana from his dream. 

His breathing became unsteady as his mind struggled to understand what it was piecing together...or rather had been trying to piece together for a couple of days now. It was impossible, wasn’t it? But...he supposed nothing was truly impossible when it came to magic. 

“Dorian, this is going to sound strange, but is there a way to find out if she’s...really a halla?”

The mage quirked an eyebrow at him, “My dear Commander, I was merely theorizing. It’s always a good idea to throw out the most impossible things to narrow down the possible ones.” 

Cullen stared into Hana’s eyes, which were looking at him with such soft understanding that there was no way what he’d figured out couldn’t be true. 

“Please?” he looked at the mage, plea in his eyes. Dorian straightened and nodded firmly. 

“I’ll do some research.” 

“Thank you. And Cassandra is nearby, next to the training yard. Please inform her of what is happening - quietly, if you please - and that I’d like two men stationed outside of the stables.” 

Cullen smiled warmly at the mage as he took his leave, then turned and settled onto the bottom of Hana’s stall. 

“I’m going to feel awfully stupid if you turn out to be some sort of demon or possessed halla,” Cullen sighed, settling his hand onto her head to pet her once she plopped her head into his lap. “I’m sure everyone is going to think I’m going mad and that I’m going overboard for something they’d all rather cover in spices and serve for dinner.” 

“If someone’s done this to you though, I’ll do what I can to help.” 

Cullen sighs and settles in to keep watch over a single halla, uncaring of the troubles that lay outside the stable doors for the moment.