Ten minutes later, she crested the steps leading up to the rookery. Few ventured up here aside from Leliana's agents, and the Inquisitor himself. Cassandra stopped by every few days, as well, but she was not afraid of the former Left Hand. They were colleagues, complementary Hands to the former Divine, extending her reach beyond the walls of the Grand Cathedral. They were also friends, often traveling together on the Divine's business, whether accompanying Most Holy or venturing on their own to find the information they needed. They spoke of more than just business when out on the road alone together, and by now knew each other quite well.
"Cassandra," Leliana said in greeting. She stood on tiptoe, her arms reaching up toward a raven perched just out of her reach. The bird appeared to not care that she needed its message, just staring down at the short woman with beady eyes.
Cassandra strode forward, ignoring the crunch of dried bird dung under her boots, and reached above her shorter friend's hands to take the message from the bird. Anyone else and the bird would have thrown a fit, but these animals knew Cassandra. She had been around them since they were born.
"Thank you," Leliana said, her voice soft. She smiled up into Cassandra's face, and Cassandra was struck silent with the look the former bard gave her: blue eyes wide open, looking up into Cassandra's face, her lips pulled into a small smile. Red wisps of hair escaped her cowl, framing her face just so. Her lips seemed to pout, and her blue eyes were very dark in the gloom of the room. She was very beautiful. How had Cassandra not noticed just how captivating the redhead could be? She was suddenly - absurdly - overcome, wanting to step closer, to touch, perhaps to hold...
Cassandra murmured, "You're welcome," as she handed Leliana the strip of paper she had pulled from the raven's leg.
Leliana's hand alighted briefly on Cassandra's bicep, squeezing for a moment as the woman smiled up into her face. Cassandra smelled a delicate scent: light, floral, as though she stood near a stream in a clearing in the woods in spring, the sun shining upon her. Leliana exuded warmth, contrary to what she might seem from a distance, and Cassandra felt it now, enveloping her. She felt almost too hot, in fact.
But then Leliana was gone, her hand no longer touching Cassandra, her warmth no longer trying to pull Cassandra in. Just as the scent disappeared, Cassandra identified it: Andraste's Grace. She remembered something about Leliana's mother, but the details would not come.
It was as if a spell lifted, one caused by Leliana's presence. Cassandra was finally able to breathe, to move, and when she did, she felt lighter than air.
"What can I do for you?" the spymaster said, tucking the parchment - now read - into a box and snapping the lock closed.
Cassandra blinked a moment. What did she need? "I… wanted your help with something, if you have the time."
"I can certainly look into something small," Leliana said. "What did you need?"
Suddenly Cassandra felt foolish. They were just roses. But she was here, and she couldn't very well leave with a "nevermind", so she soldiered on. "I think someone is playing a prank on me. I suspect Varric, with a possible accomplice in Sera. I wanted to know if you could prove it."
"I see. And what is the prank?"
Cassandra's face flamed. "Roses. I keep finding them. They are clearly left for me. Two outside my room at different times. One where I usually store my things when bathing. One on my breakfast platter."
Leliana cocked her head to the side. "Roses… as a prank? It sounds more like you have an admirer."
Cassandra pursed her lips. "Now that I voice it aloud, it seems foolish. I should not have bothered you." She turned to go.
"Have you any idea who it might be, this admirer?"
Cassandra stopped, turning on her heel, her face still aflame. "I had considered it, but I can think of no one who has shown any true interest. Fanciful flirting from Dorian, perhaps, but nothing sincere. So I considered other possibilities."
"Like a prank. I see." Leliana clasped her hands in front of her. "I'm sorry, but I just don't think it's a prank. It's not Sera's style." The redhead rolled her eyes. "She is more likely to fling a jar full of bees into a crowded room than to make subtle jibes at your interest in romance novels."
Cassandra nodded. "I see your point."
"And Varric is not in Skyhold at the moment."
That surprised Cassandra. "He is not?" How had she missed that?
Leliana shook her head. "No. He is meeting with a possible dwarven publisher outside Orzammar. He should be back in a week or so."
Cassandra shook her head in wonder. "There is nothing in Skyhold you do not know, is there?"
Leliana's giggle was like the first birdsong of the morning. That is a foolish comparison, Cassandra told herself. Nevertheless, it made her heart flutter. These were very new reactions to be having to an old friend and colleague. It was strange, to say the least. What had changed?
"And much of what goes on outside Skyhold, as well. Though in this case I know not because of my agents, but because I provided the name of the publisher at his request. Orzammar is an untapped market, you see. And perhaps he can convince some Casteless that life on the surface is a wonderful opportunity. I hope so, anyway."
Cassandra blinked, bemused by the explanation, and by the effect Leliana's giggle, of all things, was having on her. "I see. Well. I will not take up any more of your time."
"You might speak with Josie," Leliana suggested.
Again, the giggle sounded. "No, silly! To ferret out your admirer!"
"Oh." Cassandra blinked a few times. She and the ambassador weren't close, not like herself and Leliana, but they got on together well enough. They had shared tea a time or two. Cassandra enjoyed her colorful descriptions of Antiva City. "Perhaps I will. She would not mind?"
"I think she would kill me if I denied her the chance to puzzle this out. And best of all, she is quite discreet."
Cassandra pursed her lips, but nodded. "All right. I may seek her out. This is puzzling, and distracting. Whoever it is should just tell me, or stop. I have things to do."
Leliana smiled a knowing smile. "Ah, but where is the fun in that? Besides, I know you, Cassandra. You wish to be wooed. With flowers, wine, and candles and poetry, and all the other things you never allow yourself. If this person merely came out and told you how they felt… Well. I'm not sure you would take their desire seriously."
Cassandra had no answer for that. She merely grunted, turned, and marched down the stairs. It wasn't until she reached the great hall that she realized that she had never actually told Leliana of her proclivity for reading romance novels, or of her desire to be courted like in the stories.
Chalking it up to the spymaster knowing everything, Cassandra continued on her way.
In the end, Cassandra decided to go to Josephine afterall, if not for advice, then at least for a distraction. Her mind could work on the problem in the background for a while. Perhaps she would leave the ambassador's office with more insight than she had now?
Cassandra found a servant about to enter the ambassador's office with a lunch tray, laden with meat and vegetable pastries and cut fruit. "I will take it," she said, strong-arming the thing away from the servant, giving the young man no choice but to accept. "Bring us a decanter of wine and two glasses, as well, please."
"Yes, Seeker," he said, and hurried away. Cassandra entered Josephine's office.
"Oh!" Josephine said upon looking up from her desk. "When I ordered my meal, I did not expect you to deliver it!" She got to her feet and hurried to take the tray from Cassandra. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"I… needed some company. I thought perhaps you could use some, as well."
"Oh! I see. Well, I suppose I can take a break while I eat. Nothing on my desk is so pressing I cannot sit with a friend. But, tell me," Josephine said, cocking her head to the side as she considered Cassandra. "Was there anything in particular you wished to discuss? You seem troubled."
Cassandra huffed, her brows knit as she took a pastry. "It is foolish. But Leliana suggested you might be able to help me."
"I would love to help you, if I can. But what did you need help with?"
"I… seem to have an admirer."
"Oh!" Josephine's excitement was immediate, her hands clapping and everything. "A secret admirer?! You do not know who it is? Tell me everything!"
Taking a deep breath, Cassandra related the events of the morning, hesitating when she reached Leliana. She decided against sharing her reactions while in Leliana's presence just yet. She needed time to think on them. They bore a striking resemblance to attraction, and that in addition to a secret admirer was just too much for Cassandra to unpack at the moment.
Taking a sip of her wine, which had arrived in the middle of her tale, Cassandra finished. "Leliana said you might be able to help me sort out who in Skyhold might harbor feelings for me."
"They would also need to be someone who thinks you feel similarly. And no one faint of heart, either," Josephine added. "You are a formidable woman, Lady Pentaghast. It would not be some poncy man who could not stand his ground around you."
"As you say," Cassandra said. "I have been told I am intimidating."
Josephine fixed her with a sardonic look. "Come, Cassandra. You know you are intimidating. You have used it to your advantage as a Seeker and as the Right Hand as often as necessary, I am told."
"True," Cassandra conceded. "I do not approach romance in the same way, however."
"No, I would hope not. But this man - or woman, perhaps? - would need to know you would not bully your paramore in the same way that you do your adversaries. An adversarial love can be a thrill, of course. But you do not appear to desire such a thrill."
"I have enough adversaries on the battlefield."
"So what do you want, then?"
Cassandra hesitated. Should she tell all? Leliana says she is discreet. "I… I want a romance like in the tales. I wish to be courted."
"You desire candies and fine dresses and to be told you are beautiful?"
"No!" Cassandra scowled. "I do not care for such things. Perhaps to be told I am beautiful, but not the rest. No, I wish…" Pushing herself to her feet, Cassandra walked over to the window. "I want a man who will bring me flowers, who will read me poetry by candlelight, who-" She turned to Josephine. "I want a man who will sweep me off my feet!"
Josephine regarded her with a small smile. "Don't we all." The ambassador's expression changed, her brows gathering, forming an indentation between them. "A man specifically? Do you have someone in mind?"
"I…" Cassandra wilted. "No. There is no one who flirts, no one who speaks casually with me."
Cassandra frowned. "No man…"
"But you have friends with whom you speak easily enough, yes? Myself, The Iron Bull, Dorian, Leliana…"
"Are you suggesting Bull is sneaking into the smithy and leaving roses for me?!"
Josephine giggled. "Of course not!" She took a sip of wine. "Is there no one who might stoke the fire in your blood? No one whose company you enjoy for any amount of time? Who knows you well enough to leave you roses and read you poetry by candlelight? With whom you are perhaps close, to whom you might also be attracted."
Cassandra pursed her lips. There was someone. She tried not to think of her confusing feelings about Leliana from earlier. A fluke, no doubt. Cassandra had known the woman for years and never considered her… romantically. But she did enjoy Leliana's company. They could talk of anything, for hours, and not grow bored. They could also enjoy silence without trouble. Leliana had made it clear earlier that she knew what kind of romance Cassandra would want.
It… No. It couldn't be.
"You look like you have an idea," Josephine observed.
"Perhaps… but it bears further thought." Cassandra looked out the window a moment. "Private thought."
"Well. I look forward to hearing the outcome of your private thoughts," Josephine said, getting to her feet and gathering the detritus of their lunch together on the tray. "And the outcome of this scavenger hunt of roses."
"Yes. I… thank you, Josephine. I have a direction in which to look, now. I do not think I would have arrived there without your gentle guidance. Even my own thoughts can be… blunt."
Josephine bowed her head, a smile pulling at her lips. "You are quite welcome, Lady Seeker. Now go. Seek this admirer of yours. I'm sure she is waiting."
Cassandra nodded. She had her hand on the door handle when she realized the pronoun Josephine had used. Did she know Cassandra's thoughts? She was about to say something, when there, just outside the door, was something upon the ground. She bent to pick it up.
"What is it?" Josephine asked.
Cassandra held it out for the ambassador to see: a parcel, wrapped in plain brown paper and tied with a rough string. Tucked into the string was another rose, this one pink.
"It seems your admirer has struck again," Josephine said. "You should go open it. In private," she added as Cassandra made to slip a finger under the paper.
Nodding, Cassandra shut the door. She could think of only one thing.
"Leliana," she murmured aloud, and then she was moving once more.