I Think We'd Best Be Off
They went back to the War Room, and burst through the doors. “We’re not severing the link.” It was Eleanor who spoke, and she walked with powerful strides, encouraged by the Inquisitor and the fact that she was not the only one who had expressed her own concerns.
“And just what gives you the right -” began the Seeker.
“I do,” Evelyn spoke firmly from just a few steps behind Eleanor. “You two,” she pointed to Eleanor and Cullen, “will be going back through the Breach tomorrow morning. You will have dozen troops with you, to be rotated weekly, and a full platoon will join you when Stroud’s Wardens begin their descent into the Deep Roads from this side, however long that takes.”
“From this side?” said Cassandra. It was not argumentative now, only confused.
“Yes. Cassandra, you will join them, and take as many Inquisitor soldiers as we can spare. Orlais be damned. We will aid Briala with spies and politics but we cannot fight her wars for her, not right now.
“The description of the cliff face and the proximity of the road to it should make the cave you exited relatively easy to find again. You will enter from Thedas and travel to Indiana not through the Breach but through the Deep Roads. The Grey Wardens will focus on the Archdemon, of course; they will attempt to kill it in the Deep Roads if at all possible. Cullen’s platoon will be waiting at the mouth of the ravine and will take out the darkspawn before they can spread.”
“You make it sound so easy, Inquisitor,” said Stroud. “We will need more Wardens than we have had in centuries.”
“Easy is the one thing this will not be. You have as much time as you need to gather your Wardens, Stroud. But do keep in mind that we are fighting for this woman’s home, a home which is more deeply connected to Thedas than we could have ever known.”
He nodded reverently.
“I…” answered Cassandra slowly. “You know my objection, Inquisitor. But your word is my command.”
Evelyn’s face softened, and she went to the Seeker, clapped a hand to the tall woman’s arm. “Thank you, Cassandra. Please know I understand your concerns.”
“Yes, Inquisitor.” And Eleanor almost thought she saw Cassandra’s hard shell slip slightly.
“Inquisitor,” he said, standing straight, clasping his hands behind back.
“Be good to this one.” She smiled at Eleanor. “She reminds me a lot of myself.”
Dorian was summoned from Iron Bull’s chambers. So it was true. The thought of it, of those two entirely dissimilar characters together made her smile. Laugh, even. Dorian didn’t seem to mind. He didn’t seem to mind any criticism that was not straight-up offense. He played it off like a sad puppy but Eleanor could tell that he was glad that she accepted him for what he was, all prodding aside. Varric was already ready in the keep’s main all, and they went out to the far courtyard, near the stables, to where the Inquisitor had summoned them. A Breach very much like the one that was not far from Eleanor’s home lingered in the air above them, open but inactive.
Cullen stood with his arm around Eleanor, dressed once again in her blue robes, all of her accoutrements at her sides and on her back. Everything had been tidily washed, and felt softer and cleaner than when she had first tried it on, though it may simply have been that she couldn’t remember what it felt like to be in her own robes and clean. She only remembered being in them, in the Deep Roads, for what felt like an eternity; sweaty, claustrophobic, covered in blood. She liked the clean feeling, like the clean, cold air here, despite the season. Thedas was a nice place. It was a shallow thought and she knew it, a judgement above all else. It was a world different from her own and “nice” or “not nice” were meaningless, but from what she had seen - which was not much - she liked it. She like the Inquisitor. She liked everyone. Even Cassandra, despite the woman’s stern nature. She was strong, and stood up for what she believed in. Eleanor didn’t think she was a truly hurtful person, just that she had been doing this for a very long time and that she was frustrated. Eleanor might be wrong, but something in the scarred woman’s eyes told her she wasn’t. Eleanor hoped she had an opportunity to find out.
The Inquisitor greeted them with a wave.
“Ready to head back?”
She and Cullen nodded, Dorian and Varric gave small verbal assents.
“Alright. We’ll keep in touch as much as we can. Hopefully the Wardens won’t take too long to assemble, but I can’t make any promises. You know that much already.” Evelyn flexed her hands. “Your own troops will meet you there as soon as they’re ready. Look for them later today. Early tomorrow at the very worst. If we had had more notice I would just send them along with you, but…” she showed them the palms of her hands as though to say, “what can you do.” And what could you do, indeed. The Inquisitor was fighting a war on three fronts, now - Orlais, for Briala; Ferelden and all of Thedas with the Deep Roads that might bring them their own Blight; and Eleanor’s own home, with its existing trouble. Eleanor was constantly surprised, even for the short duration that she had know the Inquisitor, that Evelyn was not perpetually on the verge of losing it. Or that she had not already lost it. Eight years of this. Certainly this was the worst, except, from what Eleanor had heard, the first year or so of the woman wearing the title of Inquisitor. But Evelyn remained calm, remained in good humor. Eleanor admired that.
She tightened the arm around Cullen’s waist, giving the commander, her commander, a gentle squeeze. “Okay, then, Inquisitor. I think we’d best be off.”
“Too true,” Evelyn agreed. “Promise me this won’t be the last time we see each other?”
Eleanor smiled and gave the red-haired woman a definitive nod. She promised.
And then the sky seemed to open above them and swallowed the four up, and then they were gone.
It was the smell she noticed first: cold, but not like Thedas, not like the snow. Cold like rain and heavy clouds, cold like heavy sweaters and hot coffee. Then the world seemed to take shape around her and she could see the field, still dead, covered in frozen droplets of dew or possibly the lingering moisture from an early-morning storm. The air cut into her when the wind blew and she hugged her cloak tighter. The sky above was dark and thick with clouds, so different from the blue sky they had looked upon only moments before. And in the distance was the house. The barn. The shed. Home.
It all looked so quiet, so lonely, having just come from such a bustling place, so small and empty. But it was home. It was here.
Eleanor had half believed that, after having seen what she had in the Deep Roads, she would come back to a smoldering ruin. That the fields would not be fallow but burned. That the beehives, the barn, would have been smashed to timber. But here it all was still.
She almost dropped to her knees, almost hiked up her robes and ran. Instead, she uttered a small “yes” under her breath and clapped her hands together, and began a slow trudge over the field, the lawn, to home.
As soon as she opened the door, Swiffer flung herself at the four pairs of legs on the porch, winding between Eleanor and Cullen, pawing viciously at Dorian, and even showing Varric affection, something she had only begun to do in the weeks previous. The dwarf reached down to pat the cat on the head, and said to her, “I bet you thought the world had ended.”
“To be fair, it’s on it’s way,” Dorian mused.
Cullen shot the mage a surly glance.
“Come on, you lot. Let’s get something to eat. And something else to wear. I don’t know about you but I’m not changing out of pajamas for days.”