Leliana was no longer up in the rookery. Perplexed, Cassandra instead went to the spymaster's quarters above the Chantry garden, but there was no answer when she knocked on the door.
Turning from the heavy, age-darkened wood, Cassandra looked out on the garden. The roses were blooming - they were always blooming, the magic of this place keeping it in eternal spring even when blizzards raged out on the rest of the mountain. Right now it was summer, the snows melted and the animals out in full force. Evidence of this flitted around the garden in the form of birds and insects.
It was pleasant to look upon, but Cassandra's mind churned. She was not convinced that Leliana was her admirer, but she was becoming more and more convinced that she admired the spymaster. And it confused her. She always assumed she was only attracted to men. She wanted a dashing man who could take her as she was, who was strong and confident enough to not be intimidated by her own surety in herself. Someone who would not take her directness as an insult, who might even appreciate it. She was decisive and stoic, but underneath she still had a heart, one which longed to be courted like the women in her novels.
But… was a man required to fill this role? Assuming her suspicions were true, and it was Leliana who was leaving her these flowers, leading her on this strange scavenger hunt… Then the woman definitely knew what Cassandra's tenderest heart desired. And the fact she was a woman hadn't seemed to stop Cassandra this morning, when Leliana's proximity sent that tender heart's beat into double time. Was masculinity the only thing that could outbalance her strength? Regalyan had not been overly masculine. In some ways, he was like Dorian: he joked, he flirted, he was refined in his tastes - and his grooming. Some might describe him as a dandy. Perhaps overt masculinity was not required.
Could feminine, subtle Leliana court brash, blunt Cassandra in the way she needed?
It appeared she could. Roses, and a mystery parcel. Cassandra hadn't opened it yet, so bent on finding Leliana was she. She decided to do so now, right here outside Leliana's door, above the garden from where the roses had been cut. Placing the pale pink rose on the stone ledge in front of her, Cassandra took hold of the rough string with sure fingers and pulled.
Revealed beneath the crisp brown paper was a book. Leather bound, it had a very comfortable weight and smooth feel in her hands. The lettering, gold and delicate, spelled out the title of a lesser-known epic from Nevarra, written in contemporary Nevarran. Cassandra, of course, had read it more than once. She had read all the tales more than once, even the ones she did not prefer. But she did prefer this one.
Opening the book, Cassandra turned to a page at random, finding a conversation between the two lovers. They were friends first, for years. On this page, they spoke of memories they shared, known only by them. Such history they had, a rich tapestry to adorn the halls of the castle which was their romance.
If that wasn't confirmation of just who her admirer was, then Cassandra didn't know what would be.
"You wish to be wooed. With flowers, wine, and candles and poetry... If this person merely came out and told you how they felt… Well. I'm not sure you would take their desire seriously."
Leliana had been right; of course she had been right. If Leliana, friend and confidante of many years, had simply told Cassandra in the course of a normal conversation that she wished to start a romance, Cassandra would not have been receptive. Indeed, she might have thought Leliana had gone mad; the shift would have been too sudden.
But this… this was having an effect. The roses, leading her to Josephine, the slight deception. Cassandra was not obtuse. She could see what Leliana was doing. She was… warming Cassandra up to the idea, helping her realize that a close friendship could shift and change into a romance, and that she did not need a man to fill that role in her life. Leliana was giving her the time she needed to consider the spymaster differently in her mind. She was doing Cassandra the favor of not thrusting this upon her.
What Cassandra could not figure out was why Leliana's presence suddenly had such an effect on her, when it never had before. Her scent, her warmth, the vibrant color of her eyes: all newly noticed, yet also familiar, comfortable.
Cassandra rifled through the book a bit more, finally going to close it. As she did so, a small scrap of paper fell from the pages. Cassandra knelt to pick it up, seeing that it had a simple message scrawled upon it.
The answer to your questions can be found where you lay your head to rest. The handwriting was familiar.
Cassandra took her time walking back to her bedchamber, using the opportunity to think further on her conundrum. She was now convinced that her admirer was indeed Leliana. But that didn't entirely solve her problem. For what would Cassandra do about it? Did she want Leliana? Could she accept the former bard's courtship as it was being offered? Leliana was small, feminine. She liked shoes and beautiful dresses and many other things that held no importance for Cassandra. Could they truly work as a couple?
Regalyan and I were unlikely, to say the least. Especially at that time in my life. Why not Leliana?
Finally, the Seeker arrived outside the smithy. She looked up at the structure, her heart hammering. Would she find Leliana inside? If she did, what would she do? What would the both of them do?
Taking a deep breath, Cassandra walked inside.
The forge felt no different. The same orange glow, the same heat, the same sounds of hammer on metal on anvil. It was only Cassandra who was changed, who sat on the precipice of a major decision: did she continue on with the status quo, or did she surrender to the desire so newly discovered?
One, two, three steps, and Cassandra hesitated. Four, five, six steps, and she stumbled, nearly tripping and falling. The rest of the steps she did not count, but they felt interminable… until she came to the landing.
Her door was open, but there was no one inside. Cassandra could not decide if she was disappointed or relieved.
She moved inside her room, adding the pink rose to the vase with the orange one from earlier. She now had a collection of five.
She turned, examining the room in the late afternoon sun. It took a moment for her to notice, but once she saw it, she did not know how she had missed it.
Upon her pillow lay a rose, white in color, with a cream-colored parchment folded next to it. Coming closer, Cassandra picked it up, seeing it had a wax seal: the Nightingale.
Breath caught in her throat, Cassandra broke the seal. Her hands shook just slightly as she unfolded the paper. Inside, she found the familiar handwriting once more.
"The red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.
But I send you a cream-white rosebud
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips."
Cassandra's eyes drifted down to the rose, still lying upon her pillow: white petals, wrapped lovingly around each other in a tight bud. Upon the tips of the petals was the barest hint of pink. The central-most petals were tipped in red.
Love. Love, with a hint of passion. A kiss of desire. I… I should very much like that kiss, she thought, finding the conclusion she had been seeking.
There were more words beneath the poem:
"There is little more to say, my dear Cassandra. I love you. If you would like the last two roses, then meet me in the grove you shared with me a fortnight ago.
I shall be waiting with bated breath.
Yours most truly,
Cassandra looked up from the letter, up from the rose, up from her empty bed. She looked out the window, to the angle of the sun. She had spent a considerable time outside Leliana's room above the garden. She only had an hour before the sun began to set. How long had Leliana been waiting? Would she still be there when Cassandra arrived?
For Cassandra would go. How could she not? This was the romance she wanted. She knew she loved Leliana as a dear friend, and now she knew that she desired her, as well. The book was Leliana's assurance that their relationship, their love, could shift and change, transform into the romantic love for which her heart yearned.
Adding the rose to the vase, Cassandra made to leave, to hurry down to the grove and catch Leliana before she gave up on her fellow Hand. Only instead she found Josephine standing in the doorway. Tucked under an arm was a parcel.
Cassandra worked her jaw a few times, wanting to be angry, but not managing to muster anything more compelling than the letter still clutched in her hand. "I suppose you knew the whole time?" she asked instead.
The ambassador smiled, small and soft. "Yes, I have known. May I come in?"
Josephine continued. "You will go to her? You… you love her?"
"I think I have loved her for some time. Though… the attraction is new."
Josephine cocked her head to the side. "I do not think it is. That sort of thing does not develop with no warning. Leliana told me how you stiffened in her embrace today, how your breath hitched and your voice abandoned you. She has always been careful, you see."
"You have not noticed? Cassandra, she never touches you, never enters your space. Your hands might brush, but she keeps her distance otherwise."
Cassandra opened her mouth to dispute this – of course it was untrue! – but she hesitated. Yes, they were close, but theirs was a relationship of dialogue, of discourse. They were not friends who… embraced, or kissed each other's cheeks. Their words had always been how they related.
Perhaps Leliana had been keeping her at arm's length?
"Very well. So the feelings have been there, dormant. Did Leliana know I would respond this way?"
"I do not know," Josephine said. "I did not know she harbored such feelings until she told me of her plan yesterday. She asked me to play a few key parts, and to gently lead you to the idea that it might be her who left the flowers for you."
Cassandra furrowed her brows. "So why are you here now?"
"Ah, yes. I have something for you."
Josephine giggled. "No, no. For Leliana, not from."
Utterly confused, Cassandra watched Josephine place her parcel upon the bed. She unwrapped it, pulled the paper away, and held up the contents.
Inhaling sharply, Cassandra stepped forward. It was a gorgeous leather jerkin, dark red in color, with a black trim. Its quality would have been difficult to find in Skyhold. Either one would need to have this custom-made, or…
"This must have cost you a fortune," she breathed, meeting Josephine's eyes.
The ambassador's smile was warm, tender. "I love Leliana dearly, and yours is a friendship I am enjoying building. I want nothing but happiness for the two of you. I can't do much… but I can dress you up a bit for your meeting."
Taking this at face value – really, she needed to get going, and puzzling out Josephine's hidden meanings would only delay her – Cassandra began stripping off her clothes. She went to her wardrobe and pulled out her nicest shirt – linen, bleached white and embroidered along the collar. Her black leather trousers were pulled out next. The boots she had been wearing all day would have to do. They needed polishing, but Cassandra did not have the time.
Soon, she stood buttoning the jerkin as she considered herself in the mirror. Her appearance was not something she usually cared much about. But this… this was special. Leliana had taken such care to lead her here. It was important to Cassandra that she took this care. Not because it was important to Leliana or Cassandra that she look her best, but because it was one small way she could show Leliana she cared.
I am not sure you would take their desire seriously.
Cassandra would show Leliana just how seriously she took that desire.
"There. You are quite dashing, Cassandra," Josephine said, moving to stand before her, between herself and the mirror. The ambassador reached up, straightening Cassandra's collar beneath the jerkin. "There. We could do something with your hair, but there really isn't the time."
"I agree. I should be going. I…" She looked down into Josephine's amber eyes. "Thank you, Josephine. I will never forget this."
Josephine's smile was small, knowing. "I know." Then she was laughing. "Go, go! See to your love!"
Her heart skipping at the words, at the thought, Cassandra rushed out the door and into the late afternoon, grabbing up her sword and scabbard on the way.