Moment of Blushing
The water glittered like polished chainmail under the welcoming sunlight. For once, the Hinterlands rested after we'd dispatched what felt like a few dozen bandits, a pack of demons, and one fennic caught in the crossfire. My body was coated in a crispy shield of blood and muck, thicker than the barrier Solas could throw up. I rolled off my helmet and tried to comb out my hair. Midway down, my fingers snagged upon a clot of blood, which I shook off my hand to splat upon the ground below.
"Right, enough of this," Sera said. She chucked her bow and quiver to the ground.
"What are you doing?" I asked. We hadn't known each other long, though that was true of everyone around me now, but she didn't strike me as the type to give up that easily.
Her mischievous eyes bounced up to me and the grin that sent nobles racing to the privy snapped into place. "Need a wash, got a lake. Seems an easy one there, oh Herald lady." And still staring into my eyes, she unknotted the catch upon her shoulder, working off her mud slathered clothes.
I sighed, tipping my head. She squealed for a moment, as if she won a hand at cards, but the climbing grin froze as I -- with more care -- lowered my weapons to the ground and tried to find the snaps on this new armor. "You make a good point," I said, wiggling off the first layer. It splattered across the ground, flattening the grass and a half picked embrium plant.
"Wha?" Sera said, pausing as she tried to extract out of her pants.
"The Inquisition's got this place well secured, why not take a swim to clean off?"
"You'd do that, all naked as a slapped baby?"
I'd gotten down to those strange leathers I woke up in after trying to close the breach. It should only take half a day to undo all the buttons. "How else do you bathe?"
Sera snorted, "Shit, figured you elfy elves made woodland fuzz butts fan palm fronds in front of your fun bits."
That drew a chuckle from me, "Nope, this is stage one of our dancing naked under the moonlight retinue."
"Riiight," Sera said, uncertain if I was joking or not. She cracked off her last boot and ran towards the edge. Jumping high, she tucked her legs to her chest and smashed into the pond. She splattered far more water than her body should be capable of dispersing.
I turned to the last of our party staring in any direction but ours, "Anyone else coming along?"
"Dwarfs and swimming don't get on. It's more wading and then drowning than swimming. But you enjoy yourself, say hi to the leeches for me," Varric said. He kept his gaze fixed upon the sky, but another massive splash from Sera caught him. She chased after a bird ruffling upon the water, smacking her hands against the glassy surface and splashing back upon her own face instead of the bird.
"Solas?" I offered.
His disquieting gaze met mine, burning deep and unwavering through my soul. He shook his head, "It seems unwise." I twisted back to Sera now tumbling in the water, literally rolling ass over end before forming a handstand, the breeze ruffling through her exposed hair. I understood his hesitation. He shrugged, "I spotted a curious ruin down the hill and shall visit there instead. But thank you for the offer."
Varric twisted away, "I'll join you, Chuckles."
"I intended to enter the fade," Solas said as uncertain as he got, even as the pair distended down the hill not quite arm in arm.
"Somehow that seems safer right now," Varric answered, their heads vanishing from view. The wafting weeds and grasses provided a small refuge for us from anyone climbing up the hill.
"Are you coming in or not?!" Sera shouted at me.
The boots were the worst part to come undone. It took me nearly an hour to learn how to tie them, only to be told that I'd have to do it again every time I put a pair on. It seemed a fruitless endeavor, but the advisors insisted. Apparently bare feet was a mockery to the Orlesian people, or so Josephine insisted while trying to not stare at my toes. I kept the white, thumbless mittens wadded up in my pocket, uncertain what they had to do with feet. My fumbling knotted the laces, but I wiggled out using my heel and tossed the pair beside the rest of my clothes. Rolling all the armor together into a giant ball of mud, I secured them beneath a tree's roots.
Rather than run head first into the water, I stepped in slowly. The chill nipped at my ankles, unsurprising this far south yet still bracing, but with each step as I immersed deeper, my body adjusted to the biting cold until I stood shoulder deep. Unprepared to dip my face below the frigid surface, I cupped water in my hands to splatter across the mud. A few fancy dabs wasn't going to be enough, so I scrubbed across my cheeks, trying to work it all off.
Sera paddled further to the middle of the lake, her swimming a mix of bear clawing and smacking at the water like it owed her money. "Do all you elfy elves really do this?"
"Yes," I said. Dipping my head back, I tried to dunk my hair without going under. Fully immersing was going to take more courage than facing down the breach or an angry Seeker. "Why is that surprising?"
"Dunno, just never thought about a bunch of naked women splashing about in the woods. Oh wait, now I have," she chuckled, then drew her face like tasting something bitter. "Ugh!"
"What?" I snapped up, my muscles tensing. Danger could be lurking anywhere, even below the lake. Demon fish seemed as likely as anything else these days.
"Elves are too scrawny, like gripping a leather bag stuffed with matchsticks. You want to feel some meat, not bone."
"Oh..." I muttered, swirling the water below my fingers.
She twisted around to face me, the sparkling light shadowing her form, "Wha'? Do you care? Why?"
"I, it's just..."
"You want to be panting on top of me? Knocking around my nobbies?" she asked point blank.
"No, not particularly..." I glanced away. This felt like a trap I paddled into, and one I wasn't going to find an easy way to free myself from.
But Sera snorted, unsurprised by my answer. "So who gives a shit? Way I see it, you should only care if the one whose fun bits you want to touch wants to do the same. Otherwise, it's just a headache."
"That makes a disturbing amount of sense," I stuttered.
"I know," Sera said, smug from my approval. "For what it's worth you're pretty and your tits are nice. Better?"
I chuckled at her acquiescing, "Yes, it is."
"Still got a scrawny ass though," she said before submerging into the lake. I paddled closer towards her, curious to see what she was up to. Despite a clear top to the lake, murkiness lurked below, obscuring Sera. Mud bloomed a few feet below the surface, as if someone was digging into the lake's bottom. Beside me, the water erupted, launching the naked elf high into the air, her arm extended in triumph. Clutched inside it was a rotted log, which she then twirled around still holding aloft. I was about to ask her why, when she paused and pointed towards the shore.
Flipping around I spotted one of the Inquisition soldiers standing close to the edge. He held his hand above his nose, obscuring us from his sight. "Herald, Ma'am, um..."
"What is it?" I shouted so he'd hear. Knowing my luck, a fade rift plopped open above the crossroads and I needed to close it.
"Ma'am, um, Herald."
"You said that bit already," Sera called. I was still mostly submerged so only my face and a bit of shoulder were exposed but she was bouncing around, not a care in Thedas.
"Right, I was sent to see you- to tell you, that someone is looking for you."
"They sent someone to tell me someone's coming to talk to me?" I tried to parse his awkward rambling. "Why didn't they just tell you whatever it is I need to hear?"
"Don't know Ma'am, Ser, Herald! Maker, I am banished to the void for this." He uttered that last bit to himself, but across the pristine surface of the lake it carried like a bell.
I took pity on him and waved my hand, "Send them up here, it'll be fine."
"Yes, your worship!" he cried, saluted, and spun on his heels running down the slope towards the camp.
Sera slopped an arm across my shoulder, using me as leverage to watch the man chasing for his dignity. "You scared the green right off 'im. Almost think he'd never seen a naked worship before."
I shook my head at her amusement, and kicked away. Rising my legs level with the surface, I leaned back into a soothing float across the surface of the pond. I was certain to get another lecture back at Skyhold for that one, but at the moment all I cared about was the sun baking across my exposed 'nice tits' and down my stomach. Paddling lightly with my fingers, I drifted away from Sera who was back to her digging in the muck.
After she resurfaced, chucking the rescued log onto the further shore, I spoke up, "You didn't secure your clothing before jumping in."
With my eyes screwed tight against the blinding sun, my mind drifted back to the clan so far away it crushed my heart to think about it. "When I was younger, some of us spotted a clearing in the middle of a dense thicket. Bluest pond I've ever seen, more glass than glass. Of course we all strip down and jump in, ecstatic to find this after the pulverizing height of summer."
"Is this one of those 'Dear Randy Dowager, You're never going to believe this, but...' stories?" Sera interrupted.
"I have no idea what that means," I said.
Sera didn't think she needed to explain, and instead responded, "They never printed mine, but it was totally true."
"Anyway," I tried to return to my little parable, "after cooling off, we all climb out and get dressed. Except I couldn't find my tunic anywhere. I've got on my pants, gauntlets, even a belt, but no shirt. Then one of clan members spots a flutter of familiar fabric bouncing against the ground far in the distance." I twisted from my form to try and catch her eye, my legs sliding out of the float, "A family of gophers nabbed my tunic and made off with it. By the time we caught up, they'd stuffed most of it down a hole, what bits they didn't chew off snagged on a branch outside. I had to march all through the woods to face down my- the Keeper bare breasted. And not one to let that moment go, she berated me for losing my clothing and wasting clan resources while I was still shirtless."
Sera twisted away, either thinking on my words or having spotted something shiny. I returned to my float, savoring the sun beating down upon my brow. "Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yeah," she said, "don't have a shite Keeper."
"That's --" my words faded away as I rethought hers. Sometimes the depth of her bobbing wisdom frightened me. I suspect it did for her as well; it was hard to skate through life above everything when your rudder jammed itself into the occasional reef of truth.
"So, are you gonna call me it now?" her words, once light and airy, darkened the water. She banged the rotted log against her hand. It'd be intimidating if it didn't shatter with every hit.
"Call you what?" my words were flippant, lost in her meaning.
She glared at me, "You know what. That thing that means I'm not right. Not good enough. Your kind are always throwing it around like, like this!" With an impressive arm, she hurled the rotted log against the shore. It erupted into bark shrapnel.
I blinked for a moment, trying to summon my brain to track where this conversation went. "I don't...oh," I realized what she referred to now. It wasn't one of my favorite of names, but I wasn't without guilt either. "I hadn't intended to call you it."
"Yeah right, it's what they all say when there's an audience. Can't have the Herald thingie being all mean to the little people. Wouldn't sell well on plates."
"Sera, I swear it never crossed my mind," I dipped out of my float to try and face her, but she was staring across the horizon.
"What, what if I called you pointy ears? Huh? How do you like that?! Pointy ears? It's stupid, I know. Hate it. Ain't got nothing against it, not even arrows work."
"I'm sorry. For what's it worth, I don't think of you like that."
She snorted at that, smashing her hands against the water. "I get it, you fall off that high Dalish horse and suddenly come face to face with some of us 'not of the people' people. Now it's a different tune, we're all kissy kiss faces and you'd never had a stray bad thought."
"I..." sinking deeper into the lake, I shrugged, "you're right."
"Meeting elves, other elves that aren't Dalish has altered my perspective. I, I promise I won't ever call you that word."
Her eyes widened, "Never expected you to say that. Figured it'd be all 'Oh no, I'm above such petty squabbles because the old ones knew how to blow farts that smelled like strawberries.'"
I chuckled at that, "Spend a night trapped in an aravel after a supper of lentils and you'll know that's not true."
Sera smiled, "A'right, you're okay for now. Just okay." She dipped back under the surface, hunting for more logs to unearth from their watery graves. Whatever came over her, vanished as quickly as a puff of smoke. I slipped back into my float, trying to not mentally collate every time I used the phrase 'flat ears.'
Still, it was a beautiful day, and I had accumulated enough demon ichor to keep alchemists employed for weeks yet to scrub free. Parting my arms wider, I reached towards the separate shores, savoring the stretch of my muscles and the minor pop of a vertebra slipping back into place. Blessed creators, I was going to need a run-up to crack the rest of them.
"Herald, Cutter said you were up here and...oh shi- Maker's breath! I, um, I...this is-"
Oh, gods no. A blush streamed up from my ankles to circle across my abdomen. My still very exposed, very naked abdomen. For a moment I thought I could maintain my balance, perhaps even pretend I didn't hear him, but the shock yanked my arm out of position. Like the sinking of a ship, my ass plummeted out of my float, dragging my head with it. Water gushed into my still opened nostrils, but I had the good sense to close my mouth as I went under.
Blinking against the murk of the lake, I focused on getting my limbs under control and paddled to surface. But sweet creators not too high! Somehow I only broke my face and a few inch of shoulders, gasping for the breath I forgot to take before sliding under. Fire burned through my nose and down my throat, vengeful at its mistreatment. I tried to as dignified as possible cough out the lake water and a, "Commander?"
"I wasn't told, he didn't mention..." Cullen stammered in terror, before anger wrung his words, "I'm going to strangle that man." It growled out in such a terrifying fashion, I almost feared for the scout.
Wiping my waterlogged hair out of my face, I could finally see the commander standing at the edge of the lake. He stared off in the distance towards a not naked speck on the horizon, but the crimson blush was evident even at this distance. I began to speak, but coughed a bit, trying to drag my voice down from a squeak.
"What did you need?" I dropped lower into the water until only my mouth gurgled above, hoping the shifting mud of the lake would camouflage my body.
Cullen still kept his focus out towards the mountains, his fingers twiddling with that sword upon his hip. "I was inspecting the new watchtowers. They finished the third and I thought you could inform the horsemaster about it. Dennet's got peculiar ideas, but is a pious man. You're most likely to convince him." He shouted that part sort of towards me, but then his voice trembled in a whisper, "Andraste, preserve me." But thanks to those lake acoustics I heard it as if I stood beside him. Which I was grateful at the moment I didn't! Far away from the commander was best.
"Good, good, good," I said, stuck on a loop. "Um," that wasn't enough. I needed to tell him something Heraldy. "It would be wise to double patrols around the one overlooking Witchwood until we're certain all apostates have been swept up."
A clatter broke from the grass as Cullen's sword tipped over from his terrified fumbling and plopped on the ground. His eyes still screwed upon a horizon without a naked Herald, he dipped down, blind fingers trying to scoop up the sword. "A good idea, your worship," he said, then shuddered while trying to sheathe his lost sword. I'm not certain if it was the use of worship or the blatant metaphor that got him.
Neither missed Sera who whooped and smacked into the water, trying to draw his attention. I whipped my head to her and glared, but Cullen didn't take the bait.
"If that's- you have no more, I'll be getting back to, doing what you suggested. Herald." He bowed again, then inched back down the incline, his mind wanting to run but his body to terrified to try.
"Fenheedis," I cursed under my breath, slipping back under the water. Counting to thirty, I surfaced to watch the shore.
"He's gone," Sera said, "ain't seen no one else."
More than likely, he'd have thrown up a barricade to keep any other wayward scouts from stumbling across us. Or strapping commanders with sunset colored eyes...and I really shouldn't be thinking that, for a whole host of reasons. Shaking my head at the foolish notion, I walked towards the shore, keeping everything below my chin submerged. Even as I hit the sandbar, I dropped to my knees rather than risk anyone else running out of the brush and spotting me.
Sera watched me, for once silent, as I jumped onto the shore and fished for my discarded armor. Sliding into it sopping wet wasn't wise, but sitting around to dry seemed the greater risk. It wasn't until I buttoned on the pants, fumbling with those blasted shoes, that she cracked into a massive laugh. Continuing for over a minute, she doubled into the water, bubbles bursting from her lips willowing against the surface.
"What?" I asked. A small part of my mind noted I was once again facing down accusations while shirtless. Was I cursed as a child?
Wiping off her face, and digging lake water from her nose, she sang song, "You've got a giggling girly full mack on for him."
"I...have no idea what you're talking about," I stuttered, willing away that cursed blush now covered in wet leather.
But Sera only snorted at my obfuscation, not about to let her lead go so easily. "Cullen is..." I wiped at the back of my neck, trying to summon words that would appease her without damning me. "A kind man. I appreciate the concern he's shown me."
"And how he looks in that tight armor," she said, snickering.
"There is that," I sighed, then clawed back to catch myself. "I mean, that wasn't what I tried to imply. Only that he wears armor. And I noticed that."
Sera's bullhorn of a laugh scattered birds from the trees. She clutched tightly to her ribs, and twisted in the water. Wiping away a tear, she said, "I's all right. So you like 'em big and muscley. So do I, funny enough. Just prefer an innie to an outtie. No chicken necks for us."
"Sera," I sighed, sagging from the taunts dangling in the air.
She half swam, half ran through the water and plopped down in the grass beside me. "Don't worry. It's all good. Well, might want to inspect his sword to make certain things'll fit right." Sera sneered at the thought, at first I hoped uncomfortable with the topic herself, but she shuddered and said, "Not sure why it's fun having stuff shoved up in there anyway."
"Please," I reached out, prepared to make whatever bargain necessary to keep this quiet, "don't tell anyone. Everything's all, with the breach and, just please."
She patted my hand and said, "Your moon eyes with Marchy Boots is zipped tight, unless you need a Jenny to pick it."
Sighing, I slid my hand away, accepting her jumbled and confusing words as a promise. Wiggling into the shirt, I scooped up my armor. It'd need a chisel to hack it apart at this point. While I leaned over to scoop up my bow, I heard a tsk behind me.
Sera tapped her finger against her lips and said, "Might have to ask Cullen his thoughts on a scrawny arse though."