No one in Skyhold had ever dreamed of a meeting like this. Who would ever imagine the three greatest figures in recent Thedas history to come together under one roof? And yet here they were; the Hero of Ferelden, the Champion of Kirkwall, and the Herald of Andraste, huddled over a table covered with paper and parchment in the Herald’s chambers, their voices low as they discussed a mysterious matter among themselves. It was important enough that the other two had voluntarily made their way to Skyhold to assist the Inquisition, that was to be sure, but it was a matter so secretive and sensitive that none of the Herald’s advisors had even an inkling as to what they might be discussing.
Leliana recalled the day the Hero of Ferelden arrived in Skyhold; it was a long and hard day and Leliana had been exhausted when she finally retired to her chambers, only to be ambushed by assassins sent by some Orlesian noble. She had tried to fight back, but the weariness in her bones made her easy prey to the assassins’ grenades that exploded in a cloud of gas that only exacerbated her weak physical state, and she fell to her knees as the assassins descended upon her. It was in the midst of the chaos that she heard muffled screams and the sound of bodies falling to the floor, and the metallic taste of blood scented the air. It took some time before the screams subsided, and longer still for the smoke to dissipate. Fresh air wafted in from the open window, and when she finally had the strength to look up, she saw Grisia Tabris sitting on her bed, smiling at her as she wiped her daggers clean.
“You’ve lost your touch, my dear.” The elf’s cheerful, teasing voice was just how Leliana remembered it. “Being Spymaster must have taken a lot out of you. Can you stand?”
Leliana stammered, still shocked by her old friend’s sudden appearance, “H- how did you get here?”
“To Skyhold? Carriage ride. I didn’t want to pay so I sat on top of it. It was a bumpy ride, to say the least. It only went so far up the path, so I had to scale the mountains myself.” Grisia peered at a speck on her dagger and wiped it vigorously.
“No, I meant into my room.” Leliana cursed silently to herself. How could she have forgotten? There was never a straight answer to be had from this woman; not from the woman who had waded through the murky waters of dwarven politics and came out unscathed.
Grisia sheathed her daggers, finally satisfied that they were clean from blood and guts and splattered brain matter. “The same way the assassins did – through that.” She gestured to the wide open window. “Mind you, you’re lucky it was me who’d spotted them lurking outside the walls; if it had been anyone else the Inquisition would have lost their Spymaster by now, and I would have lost a dear friend.”
The Spymaster smiled at that. “It has been ten years since we last fought together, and you still consider me a friend? I am truly blessed by the Maker.” She shakily got to her feet, and Grisia bounded forward to lend her a hand.
“Maker or not, you know I’m just saying this so a bard somewhere can sing about how the Hero of Ferelden never forgets her allies, right?”
“Since when did you care about what the bards sing about you?” Leliana giggled, then winced as she put her arm around Grisia’s shoulder and leaned on the elf.
Grisia gave a small shrug, careful not to jolt Leliana too much. “What can I say, I have a reputation to maintain,” she said drily. She looked around the room, disregarding the dead assassins by their feet.
“Now then. Shall I take you to the infirmary, if there even is one here?”
It had been nearly ten years since Leliana last saw her dear old friend, and time had weathered the Hero of Ferelden. Her deep, dark red hair had gotten longer and thicker, and there was an almost indistinguishable burn scar on her left temple. There were lines on her face that marked the passing of the years, and there was a weight to her gaze and words; Grisia had changed, for she was no longer the young Grey Warden Leliana once knew, so courageous and optimistic, ready to set out and save the world. But there were things about Grisia that remained the same: the way she laughed, her rare but often surprising frankness, the way she twisted her words and others’ to suit her purposes, that uncanny ability to pick the winning cards every time they played Wicked Grace, her charm that endeared her to everyone she met – and yet, and yet… her laughter often faded far too quickly, her smile at times a little too forced, and Leliana couldn’t help but worry for her. She had taken the burdens of the world upon her shoulders, and nothing anyone could say would make her do otherwise. That was the reason why she came to Skyhold – Corypheus was becoming a more dangerous enemy by the second, and as a Grey Warden she felt it her responsibility to assist the Inquisition as much as she possibly could. Was it her way of atoning for the Wardens’ mistake? Leliana would never know. She reminded her of Cullen in a way, how they were both burdened by the sins of their respective orders. The only difference was that Cullen had abandoned his, while Grisia took it upon herself to right the wrongs of the Grey that had cast her aside.
Noise erupted from the Herald’s chambers, and after a split second’s surprise Leliana recognised the Hero’s voice making a witty remark that caused the Champion and the Herald to howl with laughter. She smiled despite herself and closed her eyes, making a silent prayer to the Maker to let them laugh for just a moment longer, and to find solace among good companions in this world about to end.
Varric was just glad Hawke was laughing at all. It had only been three years since they parted ways, and already the Champion of Kirkwall looked as if he had aged by ten. The aftermath of the Kirkwall Rebellion had all but ruined him. Gone was that easygoing manner, that sarcastic wit that had defined him; Hawke had become a shell of his former self, and Varric felt an ache inside him every time he looked at his best friend.
When he first reunited with Hawke in Skyhold, Varric was stunned to see how gaunt the man’s face was. Varric had been through some rough shit himself, what with being interrogated by the Seekers and being so close to the Breach when it first appeared and all, but it seemed that Hawke had been through worse. Not for the first time, the dwarf cursed the mage who had started this whole mess in the first place, and wondered resentfully why Hawke would continue to remain by his side. He’d never understood why Hawke would do so much for him, even after being repaid with betrayal. But that was a thing of the past now; Hawke was alive and doing relatively well, well meaning he hadn’t be torn up by templars or demons and was still somewhat sane, and that was all that mattered.
After the Herald had banished the Grey Wardens from Orlais, Hawke had quietly confided in Varric that he had originally intended to remain behind in the Fade with the Nightmare Demon, for he had felt himself responsible for unleashing Corypheus from his prison. He would have done exactly that had Stroud not insisted on doing so himself. Varric had clenched his fists and said nothing, even though blood seeped through his fingers and the urge to strike Hawke was overwhelming. He wanted to grab Hawke by the collar and shake him, to make him see that there would be people devastated if he were to die; Hawke was a good friend to many and an irreplaceable one to him, so why couldn’t he see that his death would destroy them? Why would he so callously disregard their feelings for him, their prayers that he would return to them alive and well, and try to sacrifice himself for something that was never entirely his fault? Aveline cared for him like a brother and still does, while Merrill never stopped writing about him in her letters to Varric, and the dwarf knew Fenris always looked up to the night sky and prayed for Hawke to be safe. Isabela often mentioned how much she wanted to apologise to him during those few times Varric saw her, and Carver? He may have seemed like an ungrateful little brother but Varric knew it was all talk; if Hawke were to die for real, there would be no saving him from the despair.
And no matter how much Varric despised him, he knew Hawke’s death would hurt Anders the most. It would kill him. Anders would die without Hawke in his world.
But Varric kept quiet, and neither of them raised the matter again afterwards.
Then the Hero of Ferelden showed up. He had met her briefly in Kirkwall, where she was searching for clues about Hawke’s whereabouts (and by extension Anders’), and at first Varric thought the elf to be somewhat trustworthy. The Grey Wardens and their role in Divine Justinia V’s death had made the Inquisition wary of her, however, and in time Varric found himself unable to fully trust her as well. Surprisingly it was the Spymaster who convinced them all to give the Hero a chance, and she showed her worth when she stopped a group of renegade Wardens from ambushing the Herald and her group in the Hinterlands. She lived up to her name and showed them no mercy, destroying the renegade Wardens to the last man. She cooperated with the Inquisition completely, divulging secrets that should have been kept to the Wardens and the Wardens alone. Varric, ever the curious one, had asked her why she would go to such lengths for the Inquisition, and she had responded as thus:
“It’s because at the end of the day, it’s the Wardens who are at fault. At the very least, one of us should be doing all they can to make it right again.”
Hawke was with them during this exchange and had a question of his own. “You don’t blame me for setting Corypheus free?”
The Hero’s face darkened then. “Anyone who thinks it’s your fault Corypheus was let loose should have their skulls bashed in,” she scowled, in an unusual display of honest emotion. “Who in their right minds would think imprisoning a magister that had tried to claim the Golden City to be a good idea in the first place? No one! And yet that’s exactly what the blighted Wardens have done.” She shook her head, disgusted. “It’s like suggesting we keep the Archdemon as a pet dragon instead of killing it outright. No, it was our mistake to begin with. No one else is to blame for that.”
The conversation was cut short when the Commander called her name, and she left them, wondering what he wanted with her (it turned out that Cullen was persuading her to help train the soldiers in how to deal with rogues effectively, seeing as she was extremely skilled in nearly all manners of roguish combat talents herself; she agreed and took up the mantle of master trainer for the Inquisition forces afterwards). It was only later that Varric would realise it, but that short conversation had changed Hawke forever. Bit by bit, he began to return to the charming and near-invincible Hawke whom Varric once knew. He began to laugh more often. His sarcastic wit returned, and he spoke more instead of keeping quiet all the time. He no longer held himself completely responsible for setting Corypheus loose, for the Hero had made it clear that there was nothing else he could have done in that situation; in fact, she reckoned she probably would have done the same had she been in his shoes. Instead of holding himself accountable and moping about all the time, Hawke began to focus his energy on helping the Inquisition instead, which was how the three of them came to be in deep discussion in the Herald’s chambers tonight. Hawke had become himself again, and it was all thanks to the Hero. Varric reminded himself to buy her a drink before she left Skyhold.
For his part, Cullen took comfort in the Herald’s laughter as the Champion made his trademark snarky comment on something or other. Probably about his helmet, which Hawke had been laughing over ever since he first saw it, but Cullen didn’t mind. They were good for her, the Hero and the Champion; they supported her when others could not. It was far too easy to forget that Olivier never had anything to do with the Inquisition in the first place. She never intended to bring the Inquisition back to life, nor did she volunteer to become its leader. It was all simply fate stringing her along for the ride. She had the mark, therefore she was the only person who could close the Rifts. It was the logical thing to do, making her leader of the Inquisition, but no matter how much she claimed she was doing it for the better good, Cullen knew she had no choice. She was a Circle mage, for Maker’s sake! The Circle was everything she’d ever known, or at least until the Mage-Templar War broke out. All she’d wanted was for things to go back the way it was, and look at her now: Olivier Trevelyan, Herald of Andraste and leader of the Inquisition, forced to make decisions that even the greatest kings would falter over.
The first time he saw her cry, it was after a war council meeting in Haven. He had been looking for her at Cassandra’s request and came across her sitting in one of the empty rooms in the Chantry, crying her heart out. Startled and not a little flustered, he tried to sneak away but the sound of his boots echoed loudly in the room, and she immediately looked up and saw him. The sight of her tear-streaked face sent him into further panic. “S- sorry about that, ah… I’ll just get going now-”
“Wait!” she cried out. Cullen stopped in his tracks. Olivier wiped her tears on her sleeve and said brokenly, “If you have the time, could you listen to me for a moment? Just a few minutes?” Cullen hesitated, and her face began to crumple. “I’m sorry if you can’t, it’s just that it’s all too much and I have no one to talk to…”
“No, no, it’s alright,” Cullen said quickly. He walked over to her and sat down on a crate by her side. “I’ll listen to you.”
Olivier spoke then, and for the next ten minutes she poured out her woes to him. She spoke about losing everyone she knew in the explosion at the Conclave, and how she never got to say goodbye to any of them. She spoke about the mark on her hand and how it terrified her that she would have such power. She spoke about people calling her the Herald of Andraste, and how she was meant to lead an Inquisition and make decisions that would affect the lives of so many. She’d only agreed to help Cassandra find a way to close the Breach, so how did it end up like this? Her words punctuated by sobs, she told him that she appreciated having him and Josephine and Leliana as her advisors and she greatly appreciated their advice when dealing with things, but at the same time she resented her own lack of experience as a leader, and bitterly wondered if they would ever despise her for being so weak and inexperienced when she was supposed to lead something as important as the Inquisition. It was all so difficult and complicated and tiring, and she wasn’t sure she could go on.
Cullen listened to her in silence, and when she was reduced to sobbing again, he slowly and awkwardly put his arm around her shoulders. “It’ll be fine,” he said quietly. “We’ll work together to get through this, alright? You’re not alone in this. The work is hard for all of us, it’s true, but none of us advisors blame you for it. You know how Leliana is, she would have thrown in the towel and left us all to rot if she hadn’t approved of you.” That made her smile a little. Secretly pleased, he went on, “Cassandra believes that you were the one capable of leading us, and it’s not just because of the mark. You have the qualities of a good leader within you, and Cassandra knows that. I know that. We all do. Even if things do get too much to handle, you’ll still have us by your side, so don’t worry about that. Alright?”
The Herald nodded, no longer sobbing. As she wiped the tears from her eyes, Cullen stood up and dusted his coat. “Cassandra was looking for you, by the way. She’s by the stables outside the gate. Anything else you need me for, Herald?”
“No, Commander. Thank you.” She looked up at him and smiled, seemingly back to her normal, energetic self. “If you could, would you tell Cassandra that I’ll be along shortly?”
“As you wish.” Cullen bowed slightly and left the room. It had never struck him to even consider how the Herald felt about the entire matter, and her emotional outburst earlier made him realise how vulnerable their leader truly was. It was then that he decided to become her pillar of strength within the Inquisition; he would support her in her decisions, and come to her aid whenever she needed him. And yet there were still some things that he would never be able to help her with, and he had never felt more frustrated about it. He was a templar; he was a born soldier. The military was all he’d ever be good for. How could he assist her should she feel lost and uncertain about her path again?
When the Champion and then the Hero arrived at Skyhold, Cullen initially viewed them both with suspicion; Hawke for his history in Kirkwall, and the Hero for her past actions during the Fifth Blight, particularly concerning the events at the Fereldan Circle of Magi at Lake Calenhad. When both Hawke and the Hero proved themselves to be staunch allies of the Inquisition however, he relaxed a little but still couldn’t completely rid himself of his distrust of the Hero of Ferelden. He called out to her one day, as the soldiers were sparring in the training grounds.
“What do you need, Cullen?” That was another thing about the elf; she never called anyone by their title here. The Hero called everyone by their first names and encouraged them to do the same with her; the only exception Cullen knew was Varric – he called the Hero “Two Hands”, while the Hero called him “Sharpshot”. It was slightly irritating, if he were to be honest, but he brushed the thought away.
“That time during the Fifth Blight,” Cullen said, taking care not to sound too aggressive, “what were your reasons for siding with the mages?”
The Hero looked surprised. “That was ten years ago. Why would you ask about that now?”
He shrugged. “Nothing important. I just never had the chance to ask.”
“Hmm.” The Hero watched the training soldiers in silence for a moment. After a while, she spoke, “If you really want to know, I guess I’ll tell you.” She turned to look at him in the eye. “At that moment, it seemed to be the only way I could minimise the loss of lives for both templars and mages.”
Stunned, Cullen asked the obvious. “How on earth did that come to be?”
“Do you remember what happened in the tower? What am I asking, of course you do. You were there. You wanted to have the Circle of Magi annulled completely.” Cullen fell silent at this. “I disagreed, and convinced Knight-Commander Greagoir that there was nothing wrong with the mages. That’s why the templars refused to help. Am I right so far?”
The Commander nodded silently, remembering the events of that day.
“To put it another way, there was really only one way for me to side with the templars back then, and that would be to agree with you and convince Knight-Commander Greagoir not to call off the Right of Annulment. What happens during the Right of Annulment?”
“All the mages in the tower are killed.”
“Exactly. Not only would we have suffered losses from templars killed or injured during the chaos in the tower, but we’d also lose all the mages in the Circle. On the other hand, if I stopped the Right of Annulment from being carried out, the only lives lost would have been those who died in the tower. The templars can take their time to regroup and heal instead of heading off into war and subsequently losing more of their numbers, while the mages are given a chance to redeem themselves and aren’t all slaughtered senselessly. Do you see where I’m going here? Compared to siding with the templars, a lot more lives could have been saved if I sided with the mages instead, so that’s what I did,” she explained.
Cullen stared at her, at a loss for words. After a while, he said, “I never would’ve thought your reasons were so… pragmatic.”
The elf laughed. “What, did you think I had a grudge against the templars?”
“Something like that,” Cullen admitted shamefacedly. She laughed again without malice.
“You give me too little credit, Cullen. I wouldn’t have made an important decision like that based on mere petty reasons. We were at the brink of war. Lives were at stake.” She looked up at the clear sky, reminiscing about the past. “Besides, there would be a new king to lead the country into battle. I had to make sure he was popular among his subjects, and I doubt having the Circle purged would endear him to the general public.”
Cullen shook his head in amazement. “So it was all calculated, is that it? Taking into account King Alistair’s future reign as well as keeping the loss of lives to a minimum?”
She smiled slyly. “That, and I figured the coalition army could probably use more long-ranged combatants. We already had dwarven warriors and soldiers from Redcliffe, and having templars added into the mix would be too much muscle power. Better to have mages alongside the Dalish and have them take out darkspawn from afar. Not to mention buffs and support for the regular troops as well; I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’m usually pretty glad to have a mage by my side in a fight.”
He thought about Olivier and smiled himself. “I think I know what you mean,” he said, willfully ignoring the look of surprise on the Hero’s face. She stared at him for a while, the surprised look on her face gradually turning into a look of understanding before becoming a gleeful grin. “What?” he demanded, unable to take her scrutiny in silence.
“Nothing at all,” she said, still grinning, and whistled to herself. “Oh, I think I just spotted Varric over there. I’ll see you later, Cullen. Good luck.” With that, she left the training ground, still whistling a suspiciously merry song.
It was that exchange that convinced him of her sincerity in helping the Inquisition; ever since the days of the Fifth Blight a decade ago, the Hero’s priority had always been the safety of the nation, if not the entire world. She cared little for politics or favours or noble positions. All that mattered was maintaining peace in the world, and striving to achieve peace where there were none. Cullen finally understood. The title Hero of Ferelden was not for show; she was indeed the Hero that Ferelden had sorely needed. She was a woman suited to helm the forces of war; she was not only a soldier, but a conqueror. She had firsthand experience in gaining allies and forming an army to take down ancient evils, and he knew if there was ever anyone capable of guiding the Herald of Andraste, it was her.
And what of the Champion of Kirkwall? If anything Hawke could advise Olivier with, it would be how to cope with being the right person at the wrong place at the right time; Hawke would know, Cullen mused, given his involvement in nearly all major events in Kirkwall since his arrival in the City of Chains. None of the incidents, from the Qunari attack on Kirkwall to the destruction of the Chantry to the Kirkwall Rebellion, had been directly his fault, and yet he still found himself involved deeply with all of them. The more Cullen thought about it, the more he felt sorry for the man, and the hand the Maker dealt him. How Hawke’s sanity still managed to remain intact after going through all that was beyond him, and he found the Champion’s strength of will to be almost inspiring, even. He only hoped the Champion would be able to inspire Olivier with his strength the same way.
Listening to their quiet voices occasionally erupt into loud and cheerful bantering, Cullen thanked the Maker with all his heart for bringing the Hero and the Champion into the Inquisition, and prayed for strength to keep them all going, and see this through to the end.
In the Herald’s chambers, Grisia whistled and commented on a sketch of Corypheus, “He sure is a handsome bastard, isn’t he? A shame he turned into darkspawn. Magister or not, I’ll bet he must’ve been quite a looker when he was human.”
Hawke surpressed his laughter and joked, “Aren’t you supposed to remain loyal to your king, being the Hero of Ferelden and all?”
“Ehh, I’m allowed to fool around every once in a while. It’s not like he doesn’t do the same.” She suddenly looked around at them. “Did I say that out loud? Forget what I said,” she corrected herself quickly to their raucous laughter. Changing the subject, she spoke to Olivier instead, “So how’s it going with you and the Commander?”
The Herald blushed deeply. “Whatever could you mean?” she said, feigning ignorance.
“What, what’re you talking about?” Hawke asked curiously.
“You didn’t notice? Olivier here’s got a pretty obvious crush on Cullen– oww!” Grisia’s words were cut short as Olivier began to flail at her with her arms.
“Keep it down, or someone’ll hear!” Olivier cried.
“Oooh, looks like someone’s getting flustered,” Grisia said in a sing-song voice.
Completely straight-faced, Hawke asked, “Grisia, how old are you again?”
The elf pretended to count on her fingers. “I’m at least seventy-five percent sure I’m thirty-three years old this year.”
“Thirty-three years old, and you’re bullying me like a little girl. Shame on you!” Olivier stuck out her tongue at Grisia. She raised an eyebrow and looked at Hawke as if saying, as if this girl isn’t the same. Hawke shook his head and smiled to himself. Looking at the mess of papers and parchments that littered the table, Hawke couldn’t help but feel a sense of peace. Sure, an ancient darkspawn was out in the world and wreaking havoc, but he now had a sense of purpose. He was helping the Inquisition fight this war against Corypheus. He was making a change.
And despite these turbulent and trying times, what with Corypheus’ threat to the world and the Mage-Templar War still going on strong, he was glad to have found new companions by his side, and that they would still be able to laugh together despite everything was a blessing that Hawke vowed to never take lightly. If anyone could bring peace to Thedas, it would be them. The Hero, the Champion, and the Herald, together against evil.
The broken ones have gathered, and together they will prevail.