You're the One with the Blight
The fact that Herald’s Rest was an honest-to-goodness tavern shouldn’t have surprised Eleanor, but it did. Aside from the distinct lack of flat-screen televisions and neon signs -which she did not lament in the least - Herald’s Rest could have been any number of small local bars she’d been to.
Except for the dwarf behind the counter.
And the elves.
“Ah, so you must be Eleanor!”
Whatever it - he? - was, it was huge. It walked upright like a man, in fact, looked mostly like a man, if a giant one, but it had horns like a beast and its skin was a periwinkle sort of blue. But its - his - face was friendly, despite the eyepatch. “I’ve wanted to come down and visit,” he said, as though they were old friends, “but the Inquisitor here tells me I wouldn’t exactly fit in.” He laughed a boisterous laugh and offered Eleanor a giant hand. She took it, absolutely baffled.
“Eleanor, this is the Iron Bull.”
“P-pleased to meet you,” Eleanor sputtered. She oofed softly as the large man-creature slapped her on the back.
“I hear you’ve been taking care of some of our people. Let me buy you a drink. Shit, let me buy everyone a drink. Bar keep!” the beast howled and stalked away, immediately distracted by his own mission.
“What…” Eleanor managed.
“Bull’s a Qunari. They’re normally not that… raucous, but Bull is our special exception. He fits in here.”
Eleanor doubted the Qunari could fit in much of anywhere, but no one else in the inn seemed to even take notice of him - in fact, some even seemed bored with the giant’s antics - so Eleanor made a concerted effort to suspend her disbelief. After all, this Iron Bull was buying her a drink. That was further than you got in a lot of bars in rural Indiana.
“Come on,” said the Inquisitor, showing Eleanor to the bar. “Let’s have a seat.”
As soon as her butt hit the wood, the Qunari thunked a large stein in front of her and said, “Drink up!”
Eleanor, blinking furiously, wrapped her hand around the mug, and smiled a thanks. She felt a bit silly, sitting there in her borrowed clothes, hair still elaborately braided from the night before, only slightly out of place thanks to the sheer skill of the woman who’d artfully plaited it, but she took a quick look around and saw so many people wearing so many different things - some much more elaborate than her own garb, some mages yet in their full robes, which Eleanor didn’t even have back yet - that she figured she must fit in about as well as the Iron Bull here, which was to say, pretty well after all. Even the Inquisitor herself sat beside her in what could only be described as winter weather finery; all browns and reds today, a vest and leather pants, a warm shirt and scarf, but all carefully crafted.
Well, alright then, she figured, might as well drink up. She brought the stein to her lips and took a languorous swig of the ale. It went down more smoothly than she at first would have expected - had no idea what to expect, truthfully - but as she swallowed the large gulp, her entire throat began to burn. Eleanor slammed down the mug and brought one hand to her face, the other to her chest as she futilely tried to stop herself from choking.
“Holy shit,” she gasped as soon as she had enough air, though she coughed for a few seconds more.
“Ah!” Iron Bull said, something between encouragement and a growl, and he smacked her back again. “Good stuff, right?”
“Bull,” chided the Inquisitor. “That’s mean.”
Iron Bull took the seat next to Eleanor, so that she was now flanked on either side. “Aw, come on, Boss,” he said, clear over top of Eleanor. “Just trying to introduce her to the local flavor.”
“It’s - it’s fine,” Eleanor gasped. “It’s good. That’s, um, that’s one you drink slow.” Eleanor looked to her right and saw Evelyn agree, though Bull disagreed with a firm, “Bah!” draining his own drink in one go as though to show them how it was done.
“So,” the Qunari began as the bartender brought him another round - the bartender was more than obviously used to this - “You and the Commander, eh?”
“Oh mother of god,” Eleanor groaned.
“She doesn’t mean it, Bull,” Evelyn said, leaning in front of Eleanor. “Cassandra… was being Cassandra. Long story.”
“The Seeker’s got a temper worse than mine!” Bull laughed. “Now look, I don’t know you, but what you’ve done for this Inquisition? It’s good. Shit, you’re more of an outsider here than me and it seems like you threw yourself head first into this. I commend your recklessness,” he said with a loud chortle. “It’s good, you and the Commander. He seems… Well, some people… Ah, fuck. I don’t know what I’m saying. I don’t have enough drink in me yet.”
“I’m not certain…” said Evelyn slowly, but Iron Bull downed his ale with gusto. The Inquisitor only turned to Eleanor with a smile. “Well, I didn’t have anything pressing to talk with you about, but if you’d like to go somewhere more private, there are tables upstairs,” she offered.
“Nonsense!” insisted Bull. “Neither of you have even finished your drinks!”
Eleanor considered pointing out that they’d only been sitting for five minutes and that she and the Inquisitor were not the largest of people by any measure, but the Inquisitor simply lifted her drink to her mouth and drained it down.
“That’s the spirit!” cheered Bull, and he shouted across the bar, “Another round for the Inquisitor!”
Eleanor drank slowly but steadily of her own drink, taking long sips instead of big gulps. Before she knew it, she too had an empty stein before her, and an incredibly full stomach. She swallowed hard, but a loud belch escaped before she could stop it, and Eleanor clapped her hands over her mouth, suddenly mortified. But Evelyn seemed not to notice, and Bull took Eleanor by the shoulder - his hand almost as wide as her back - and gave her a playful shake.
Another drink was set before her and Eleanor wrapped her hand around it as though it were something to hold on to, to stabilize her. The irony was not lost on her even as she wrapped her fingers tighter.
“I wonder what Cullen and Cassandra decided to do instead?” she asked herself mostly, but figured the Inquisitor might have input; she felt bad for hurting the Seeker’s feelings, even if Cassandra had hurt hers first, but the woman hadn’t known that Eleanor was there, may have been using it more as a jab at Cullen than at Eleanor herself, and that was really none of Eleanor’s business.
A voice that was not the Inquisitor’s answered.
“Eh, they’re probably off somewhere, bein’ all serious, yeah? Too much serious for me, those two. Hello, Shiny,” a ponderously tiny elfin woman with crooked blonde hair and garish clothes came up from behind Evelyn and reached up to wrap her arms around the Inquisitor’s shoulders, pressing her face against Evelyn’s neck.
“Hello, Sera,” said Evelyn with a little purr. “Sera, this is Eleanor. Eleanor, Sera.”
“Hey, I know you,” said Sera, as she pulled away from the Inquisitor, hands on hips. “Or about you, at least. You’re the one with the Blight! Or the one with the land with the Blight. Sorry about that, yeah? Not that I had anything to do with it, personally, like.” She laughed in a way that reminded Eleanor of bubbles escaping from the bottom of a glass of water. “Ah, sorry. That’s as maybe not funny. Anyway, nice to meet you,” said the elven woman in one rush of words.
“You look like you’re heading out,” said Evelyn, swiveling away from the bar to look Sera in the eyes. The blonde woman had a bow on her back and sturdy boots on her feet.
“Yeah, never a dull moment for the frigging friends of Red Jenny,” said Sera, seeming a bit displeased. “Not that I mind gettin’ one over on some stuck-up nobles, you know me, Shiny, but Orlais can shove it right about now. Gettin’ real sick of this,” and she hoisted her bow a little more steadily onto her shoulders.
“Well, be safe,” Evelyn said, reaching out to take the elven woman’s slender hand.
“Me? Safe? Never,” she chuckled, and brought the Inquisitor’s hands to her lips, giving her knuckles a little kiss before she waved and offered, “Bye-bye!”
Evelyn looked at Eleanor and blushed.
“She’s cute,” Eleanor said honestly, with a wildly crooked smile.
“Yeah… Yeah, she is.”
Eleanor smiled and reached into her pocket for her cell phone, like she would anytime she was at the bar by herself, or with friends, before she realized these were not her pockets and she did not have her cell phone. Would it even work here? Of course there would be no reception, certainly no WiFi - even the word WiFi seemed wrong to her now - but would it turn on? If she brought it here, fully charged, brought anything here that ran on batteries, electric power, would it work at all? Or would the strangeness of this place render all of these devices useless? Was this a more primitive place or a more advanced one? They didn’t have computers, but did they need them? Thedas seemed to lack for nothing. And had all of the same problems her own home had.
Eleanor licked her lips. “Can I ask you something, Inquisitor? I apologize in advance if you don’t want answer.”
Evelyn nodded her assent. “Of course, Eleanor.”
“You and Sera - is all of Thedas so ...tolerant?” It came out sounding all wrong, like maybe Eleanor wasn’t, like maybe Eleanor had a problem with it, but the pink color in her cheeks as she stammered to correct herself made Evelyn laugh.
“I’m to understand you don’t mean because she’s an elf.”
“It’s okay. But let me ask you first - what about your home?”
Eleanor’s heart sunk. “It… could be worse. It’s better. Better than it’s ever been. But far from perfect.”
Evelyn took a long drink and nodded. “Here too. Ferelden might be the best place. Orlesians really only raise a fuss when it affects a political marriage, and only even then when it’s a secret made public. The Free Marches,” she only shrugged. “Kirkwall’s a big city. Everyone’s weird in one way or another in a big city. And I’m sure Dorian’s told you about Tevinter.”
“N-no…” Eleanor stammered, suddenly feeling so far removed from the man who had shared her home for so many months.
Evelyn shook her head, indicating that Eleanor had nothing to be embarrassed about. “Dorian was ostracised by - alright, maybe he ostracised himself from, but I can’t say I blame him - his family because he refused to marry a woman just to have children and continue his family’s line. Any other relationship he would have had outside of his marriage with whatever gender would have been fine, but if there’s one thing that Pavus has got, it’s principles.”
“Now that I do know,” she said with a chuckle and turned to her own drink.
“But Dorian and Bull… now I’m not one to judge, but I don’t get that.”
Eleanor sputtered. Dorian and Bull? But the Inquisitor continued without giving Eleanor time to speak.
“Honestly, people do have more problem with the fact that Sera is an elf. Briala too. Oh -” she amended, seeing the confusion on Eleanor’s face. “Briala was Empress Celene’s mistress before Celene was killed. Briala is Dalish - an elf.”
“And… Briala now rules?”
Evelyn let her head droop deeply. “It’s… complicated.”
Eleanor could sense that the topic was giving the Inquisitor some grief, so she dropped it.
Bull had wandered away and was sitting on a chair with a group of people who were all laughing and singing around him, drunk as you please. It looked like fun, and she was sure that Bull would have allowed her not only to join in, but would have then forced her to have a drink for each person who shook her hand. Dorian and Bull, huh? But Eleanor was feeling more like Evelyn looked. She was tired. She was confused. And, unlike Evelyn, she was far away from home.
She missed it.
She thought about Evelyn and Sera, how from a two minute conversation she could see how much each woman loved the other, and suddenly she felt incredibly alone in this friendly, boisterous place. Eleanor hadn’t really expected Cullen to follow after Evelyn’s rebuke of Cassandra - he’d probably been on his way to do something else when the Seeker had stopped him. But now she missed him fiercely. How could that be, after only knowing him for months, only being with him for little more than a week? They hadn’t even talked about what was between them - did they have to? He had said a lot by telling the Inquisitor that Eleanor would be staying in his quarters, sharing his bed, but what did he mean for this to be? Something small while he was distracted by his duty on the other side of the Fade? Or would he mean for it to continue if and when the Blight was ended? Would asking be too forward? Would the commander even be able to give her answers? If he had asked her those same things, she would not be able to. She was going with her gut, acting on her feelings. She was holding nothing back.
Eleanor decided that if those were the only things that Cullen could give her in return, then she at least wanted to know that much.
She looked down into her drink, and then brought it to her mouth, allowing it to swallow her as she swallowed it whole.