Moment of Everything
Easing down the stairs, I peered across the scattered remains of a half eaten meal abandoned in a hurry; plates stacked on one end were shoved aside to fit in a crate of empty bottles. My lips twisted from the mess, but I wasn't surprised. Our little home bulged with guests, the mage and templar forced to room their squabble together or spend their nights out in my treehouse in the back woods. No one ever took me up on the offer. It was probably the lack of a roof.
Plans were scribbled across whatever parchment the duo could find; old letters, missives covered in raven droppings, and huh...I turned over my gilded invitation from another lifetime to the Winter Palace now coated in a formula for a healing draught theory. Why did we hold onto this?
Piling up as much of the mess as I could towards the wash basin, I glanced over at the cabinet hissing beside the door. A wedding gift from Madame de Fer, it loomed over anyone who crossed our threshold - the carvings upon the door twisting themselves into a face biting through flesh by tricky candle light. It also whispered at night. I don't know if Vivienne sent us the cursed thing to be cruel or because she assumed only we could handle it. With her, the answer could be both.
Over time I grew used to the evil emanations and intelligible whispers - the kitchen almost felt empty without them. Rather than un-curse it, Cullen and I used it to hold our cleaning supplies and frighten away any unwanted guests. It succeeded at both. What drew my attention were the blankets piled below the cabinet, twisted and bare. Hm...
Yanking my cloak off the peg by the door, I rolled it around my shoulders, pinning it tight with the old eye brooch. Few people recognized it as the symbol of the Inquisition these days. My crossbow dangled off the peg beside it, but I hadn't touched it in months, and even then it was just to keep myself sharp. Honnleath had a way of not dulling the senses, but easing me to an unexpected serenity - like throwing on a blanket and curling up by the fire, preferably while someone rubbed my feet and whispered in my ear.
Rather than exit out the front door, partially ajar from a mage staff lobbed in the way while the two bickered on the front stoop, I twisted around the hearth to head out the back. Summer winds tumbled the smell of honeysuckle and fresh cut hay across the remaining grass. In the distance I heard a noise that was not an axe meeting against wood - as I'd suspected. Stepping off the stairs, my bare feet slipped through the grass, barely noticing the occasional rock and jut of tree root. After a few years of playing Inquisitor, I finally got my dalish sole back.
Before pursuing the sound, I stopped to inspect my garden. Rows of beans curled up the trellis I bowed out of wood recovered from my trips through the woods. They came in nicely, more than a handful ready to be twisted off the stems. The greater problem were the squash, their prickly vines crawling out of the small patch of dirt and into the next plot over. It was supposed to hold winter wheat in the coming change, but the invading zucchini were having none of that. I'd never planted a seed before, not one that didn't have a dozen other gardeners at Skyhold watching over it like a hawk. Even then, all it produced was another tuft of elfroot to dump into a healing elixir. But, when we moved in, Mia gifted me a small box filled with some of her best seeds. More curious than anything, I planted one in a patch of dirt beside the steps and waited.
It nearly drew Cullen mad waking every morning alone only to find me squatting out in the dirt tending to the little thing, weeding it, feeding it, and - on occasion - talking to it. When it sprouted a leaf I glowed proud, almost as proud as when I'd closed the breach. It was another two weeks before I returned from the market to find my husband hoeing up a patch of weeds, sweat pouring off his naked and still pale white back, gifting me my first true garden.
That first year of harvest anyone who visited had to try every single vegetable I raised from a tiny seed. Cassandra was polite about it, her requisite guards less so as they moaned through a third round of barley soup. The rare time the Chargers passed by, Krem kindly passed out the piles of fresh fall harvest to the others. It was Bull who grunted, sniffing the vegetable, "What's this?"
"It's a squash, chief."
"So you squash it then?" Bull laughed, then proceeded to do just that. Yellow flesh and seeds dripping down his face he asked where the hell the meat was.
Thom surprised me the most, lapping up every bean we had and asking if he could take a few dried bags with him. Apparently, vegetables were hard to come by on the road and he missed it. To think, the once proud dalish hunter turned Herald, then Inquisitor, found peace in the dirt, in settling down and tending to the land. It's the last thing I'd have ever expected, but everything I wanted.
A yelp echoed from deeper down the hill, drawing my attention. I rose from my tomato plants, dusting off the dirt on my knees and spotted the wood axe sitting forlornly beside the empty pile someone claimed he was filling. Hefting it up in my hand, I leaned the head against my shoulder - the warm metal burning through my light shift - and began the walk down the slope.
More yelping punctuated the air and, after a few careful sliding steps, I spotted the source. Cullen lay stretched out upon the grass, one arm thrown over his face to shield his eyes while four of the pups squirmed on top. Little nails dug into his shirt, their entire backsides wagging in joy, as they tried to climb onto him. Silently, he'd drop a hand down and lift one up until it sat upon his chest, the tiny, pink tongue lapping across his chin. But the joy was too much, the little body unable to adjust for the wag's force, and the pup would slide off Cullen's chest, plopping onto the ground to give another one a chance.
At his shoes, the two tan pups wrestled for dominance over a loose shoestring. Snarling and yipping as if facing down their own archdemon, the runt snatched the lace up in her jaws and tried to run for it - only to have the slack catch, yanking her back into Cullen's shoes. She was dazed for a moment before one of her brothers rolled on top, the game begun anew.
The last pup sat in the grass, facing down a mighty butterfly demon. She squared up her tiny shoulders, twisted her legs to face it, and barked out a pathetic squeak. Her prey only flitted to the next flower, giving her a chance to try again.
"So," I said, wiping the smile off my face, "this is chopping wood."
Cullen struggled to sit up, catching one of the pups in his hand as he rose. His hair was a complete mess, flayed at the edges and wadded with grass, his shirt pocked with tiny muddy paw prints, while a ruddiness from the sun or being caught burned his cheeks. I'd never seen him so handsome.
Hauling the axe off my shoulder, the head smashed to the ground, "You forgot this."
"Ah, we were doing a little training exercise on this fine morning," Cullen said, rising off the ground. Having lost their toy, the pups took to chewing on each other - their newly grown knife-like teeth shredding through their siblings.
"They're only five weeks old," I said, watching limbs that just mastered walking a week ago forget that fact and splay out. Our runt picked up speed, chasing after her kin, but misjudged the distance and splattered against him, both tumbling in the grass.
"You can teach a mabarai as young as four weeks," Cullen said. He clapped his hands once, gaining the curious stare of a few sloe back eyes. Mastering the power he once wielded across armies of men, he commanded the puppies attention. "Sit!"
Four butts slapped to the ground, their heads tilting from concentrating so hard. Cullen shifted to the holdouts, his amber eyes narrowing until they too stopped playing, their own backsides plopping to the dirt. He turned to me, a grin stretching his cheeks as if he'd once again commanded our forces to save Thedas. The proud papa of the puppy army wandered out of the creek, the fur streaked in mud and clay - a stick jammed in his mouth. For a moment, he paused beside his master, the tongue lolling below his stick. "Don't..." Cullen started, but it was too late. The dog twisted his skin, splattering Cullen and all the pups with the dredges of the river.
I cracked up at my husband trying to escape the spray, some very un-Andrastian cursing escaping his lips. Pointing to the dog, I said, "And some you can never teach." Cullen wiped at the mud splattered onto his nose, but sighed, chuckling softly from the rescued mabari who loved life and didn't care much for that learning bit.
One of the pups disentangled from the rest and toddled towards me, her ears flopping in the stumbling run. Her fur was the same dark, almost blue of her father's save a lone tan point upon her back. "Da'assan," I cooed, scooping up the puppy in my hand. Her entire lower half wiggled in excitement as I held her to my chest, her paws trying to scrabble up my shirt.
Cullen smiled, his own fingers scritching behind his dog's head. "I received another request for a pup," he said.
"Who is it now?" I sighed.
"The teryn of Highever," he said, tipping his head as if that must be someone important.
"I'm going to gut whoever told the nobility we had a litter," I muttered, then bit down a giggle from my little arrow's sandpaper tongue lapping across my stump.
"A war hound from the Inquisitor, it's bragging rights across the court now. Both of them." We'd been getting messages, ravens, even one strange man in bright green tights who sang his lord's request for over two weeks. They came not only from across Ferelden, but Orlais and even beyond. One Antivan Crow claimed if we gave him enough time he could train a pup to become an assassin. It was getting pathetic.
"Nope," I shook my head, "too bad. They're all spoken for. Isn't that right, da'assan?" My little arrow yelped from the name, a small knot of pink rope around her neck to mark her - not that I needed it. I knew all the pups from their paw prints by now. "How's Cassandra's coming along?"
Cullen turned back to the only pup with almost all black fur, regally sitting apart from his siblings until one got too close. He'd bark once, chasing the rascal away, to return to his vigil over the countryside. "Certain to terrify the chantry," he smiled, nodding at the puppy.
"I imagine a lot of grand clerics will light candles until he's house trained," I chuckled. The pups were reaching the age where keeping them outdoors as long as possible was preferable to dealing with the constant mess, which was normally something I'd do while in the garden or taking a trip around Honnleath. The children in town adored the painted elf with the puppies in tow.
Da'assan wiggled in my hands, wanting to be free to run. I leaned down, dropping her to the grass. Her legs were already dancing in my hand, and once they made contact she plowed through her father's legs. Smiling, I reached out, running my fingers up my husband's arm.
Cullen held onto my hand, then dipped down so I could slide it along his shoulder. I gripped tight to him finding a softness below his shirt that over time replaced the twisted muscle no longer wound up in worry. Not as worried, at least. If he didn't find something to concern himself over, he'd worry about that. Growing old, if this was what the creation of the veil doomed us to, didn't seem so bad. I could get used to retired life.
His lips pressed against my forehead, the touch cooler than the rising heat of day. So many battles, so many nights gripping tight to the last thread of life, watching as people sacrificed themselves for my sake, for my name, my cause. I didn't walk away from it unscathed, none of us did, but to come out from the Temple of Sacred Ashes, a prisoner and criminal to this...
"Ar lath ma," I muttered, kissing his cheek and savoring the return of the stubble after an unfortunate lost bet to shave it all off.
Cullen blinked, "Elvish? You haven't used that in awhile."
"I'm feeling nostalgic, I suppose," I said.
He twisted me around, wrapping his hands behind the small of my back. How easily his arms fit where my hips dipped in to meet my ribcage. Human and elf were supposed to be ever at odds, but we slipped together in a strange harmony, his strong arms binding over my bony body.
"Well," Cullen pivoted his head behind us, "Our house is full of researchers..."
I grumbled, not really upset but wishing they didn't have to be there at the moment. It seemed like every chance we were alone, some other crisis arouse begging for the retired Inquisitor and her commander to solve. Apparently, all the rest of the heroes in Thedas called in sick.
"Someone needs to teach them how to clear their dishes," I said, remembering the mess waiting back there on the table.
He grimaced, "That was probably my doing."
"Dish fairies aren't real, you know," I said, even as I kissed his lips, feeling them pucker below me into a chuckle.
"I was thinking..." my husband said, his fingers circling around my back, "if you're really in a nostalgic mood - we do have a treehouse back in the woods where no one else bothers to go."
"Why, Mr. Lavellan, are you implying we do something untoward in the forest by late morning's light?"
"There was little implying," he whispered, his breath dancing near my ear. A sigh rumbled from deep in my throat and I turned, catching his lips in surprise. The light peck shifted deeper, more pronounced, as he pulled me ever tighter to him. My lips wrapped around his bottom one, softly sucking on it, "I take it you're intrigued by my proposition?" he asked, breaking away.
"Maker, yes!" I cried, running my fingers through his hair, ruffling it worse than the pups ever could. He dipped down, and -- in a surprise move -- caught my legs up in his arms. With my own gripping to his shoulders, he carried me like I needed rescuing, my head slipping back in laughter.
"What about the puppies?" I asked, waving my head towards our little charges.
Cullen twisted towards his dog and ordered, "You, watch your children." The mabari stood at attention, his tongue lolling, but I'd swear that dog could salute sometimes. Having given his command, Cullen turned to head towards the pocket of woods I obsessively tended.
"You can't be serious?" I giggled. The researchers were here at his whim, he couldn't be planning on abandoning them now.
Cullen growled in my ear, "I'm always serious." His voice dropped so low, goosepimples broke through my skin. Leaning forward in his arms, I managed a quick peck on his lips, his hands tightening the grip upon me. My serious ex-Templar turned towards the copse of trees leeching out from the forest into our little grassland.
Above our heads, a lone black dot circled in the air. I tried to point to it, but had to grip back onto his shoulder. He twisted around, watching the bird swoop down out of the sky towards the front of our home.
"A raven," he sighed.
"It could just be a black bird," I said, snuggling tighter to him. "One that got lost or is avoiding a hawk, or that mage is feeding. Certainly not something that needs our immediate attention."
Even as his eyes traced the path of the raven more than likely landing upon our perch, he smiled, bringing his forehead to mine, our noses softly bouncing off each other. All the cares of Thedas washed away as he turned us back towards the woods when a shadow blotted out the sun.
Together we both craned our necks up to watch fifteen to twenty ravens flying in an unnatural formation towards our house. They flapped with such ferocity ebony feathers tumbled from the sky, one landing beside the puppies who had to fight over it. Speckles of color dotted the bird's legs; reds, greens, blues, yellows - bands given to our allies raised wherever would could find them.
Dread washed up my legs, raising every alarm I thought I'd managed to forget over the years. "They found him," I whispered.
Cullen dropped my legs to the ground, the stern countenance returning with the ravens of war. Some nights I could almost forget, pretend that I was free to whittle away the rest of my days as a part time farmer and nurse with my husband. But then I'd twist over and see my stump, a gift from Solas and a warning from Fen'Harel.
Live well in the years remaining. Those were his parting words, and - with help from my friends, family, and the man I couldn't imagine living without - I'd done just that. That was Lavellan, the silly painted elf with one hand who told wild tales, made a mean venison stew, and kept the woods around Honnleath surprisingly bandit and darkspawn free. But the world didn't need her anymore. There were just as many others eking out their days in comfort and happiness, about to have all they knew come crashing down in another end of days unless someone intervened.
Heroes are made, not born, I can't remember who told me that, but it doesn't feel right. Heroes aren't crafted, they aren't honed in blood and war, rising to the ranks to command armies of the faithful. They're people - elves, humans, dwarves, qunari - who stand up one day to fight for what's right, no matter the cost.
Cullen squeezed my shoulders, tighter than he had in years. Maker only knew what awaited us within those raven's messages, but we couldn't turn our backs on it either. Rising to my toes, I steadied my fingers upon his cheek and kissed his lips with a promise no matter what happened I'd do all I could to return to him. It was one I'd made times un-counting. He closed his eyes, his forehead meeting mine in one final moment. When he rose back up, the sheen of command glinted off him - invisible armor in place.
I may not have created Solas, in some ways my stopping Corypheus stopped his plans - or stunted them at least. And it almost seemed unfair to throw away what I had just to chase down the man who didn't want to be a god yet had to change the world, but that's the thing about heroes - they don't worry about what's fair. They just worry about what's right.
That day, the Inquisitor was reborn.
I need to take this space to thank LadyGoat, without her request for some good Lavellan/Cullen fic these 90K+ words wouldn't exist. And to TheGwenninator who cheered me on as well as all the little reviews and kudos here and there from my awesome readers. All of that kept me going through the dark places and into the light. But screw the Deep Roads, you can't make me go back in there!
Thank you all!
See you in Tevinter.
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