The rookery echoed with the sharp cries of ravens as the Inquisitor’s ascending steps disturbed their rest. The spymaster remained hunched over her parchment as he approached, but a small smirk tugged at her lips.
“Are you simply here to harass my birds, Inquisitor?” Leliana asked, setting her quill down and turning her gaze up at the elven man who, despite much turmoil, she now considered a friend. “With the defeat of Corypheus, I’d thought you’d have more pressing matters to attend to.”
Caden snorted and took a seat across from her. “And with being appointed Divine, I thought you’d be out of my hair by now,” he retorted playfully.
Leliana gave a surprised chuckle at that, removing the purple hood that usually shielded her face. “Touché. So, what is it you are actually here for?”
Caden tensed so slightly that if Leliana were not as skilled at her craft she would have missed it. Their relationship had not always been a friendly one—with Leliana threatening his life on more than one occasion—and despite their newfound friendship, Caden found himself hesitant to divulge the thoughts swirling around his mind.
“Well, I—I have something important to ask you. I value your opinion very highly as it is, but as Josephine’s dearest friend, I know I can only trust you with this question.” Leliana’s eyebrows raised at this, suddenly very interested in what Caden was going to ask her. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small wooden box. Leliana felt her breath catch.
“As you know, Josephine and I have been together for over a year now… despite your initial protests,” Caden began. Leliana smiled. “I don’t know much about the tradition of marriage as you do it—humans, I mean. I’m not sure if this would be considered too early, or too late, or whatever else; all I know is that I love Josephine and I want to spend my life with her and if that means asking her to marry me, then that’s what I want to do.”
Caden looked at Leliana with a soft and desperate, yet determined gaze. “I want your opinion of whether I’m doing this the right way, if you think Josie will like it.” He opened the small wooden box to reveal a stunning ring, not inlaid with jewels as are most engagement rings, but glittering and glowing in the evening light nonetheless. Its surface was smooth and polished, consisting of three distinct bands; two outer bands made of a silvery substance, glinting brightly against the fading sun, and an inner band made of stone, a swirling amber and gold, speckled with touches of soft greens, not unlike Josephine’s eyes.
“Maker’s breath…” Leliana gasped, unable to look away from the beautiful ring.
“I know it’s not very traditional,” Caden started again, clearly nervous, “but I wanted to give Josie something nice while also incorporating some of my own heritage into it. The outer bands are ironbark, a very precious crafting material for the Dalish. The inner band is stone, because I wanted to add some color… I had my clan’s craftsman make it, but I don’t know, maybe I should have just bought something in Orlais…” he was just about to close the box, anxiety’s creeping grip nearly getting the better of him, when Leliana interrupted.
“This is gorgeous. Absolutely stunning,” she said almost breathlessly, reaching for the ring. “May I?” Caden nodded and passed her the box. Leliana gently loosened the ring from where it rested within its velvet cushion and held it up against the light edging through the rookery window. She smiled, a full and eager smile that Caden had only seen her wear once before, when the Hero of Ferelden visited Skyhold. “Josephine is going to love this.”
“You think so? Truly?” he asked, his voice a mix of excitement and nerves.
“I know so. But of course, I have to ask, how do you plan to propose?”
Caden smiled back at her then, excitement overcoming the nerves. “I’ve got it all planned out. I’m going to suggest we take some time off from our work here—not easy to convince her of, I know, but with Corypheus gone I’m hoping she’ll agree—to go to Val Royeaux for a day of shopping and relaxation. We’ll go spend the day together, explore the city I know she adores. At the end of the day, as the sun sets, I’ll bring her to the waterfront and propose. We’ve shared some personal moments there, and I thought it would be a nice touch.”
Leliana looked at Caden thoughtfully as he explained his plan. When he finished, she had to take a moment before replying. How had she ever doubted this man? She could never find anyone better for Josephine. “That is a lovely plan, Caden. You’ve clearly put a great deal of thought into this; I have no doubts that Josie will be absolutely beside herself when you ask for her hand.” Leliana paused for a moment, passing Caden a scrap piece of parchment and her quill. “Although I’m sure Josie will drag you there on her own, there are a few shops you should be sure to treat her to, as I know she favors them quite highly…”
She spent the next few minutes dictating to the Inquisitor a rather lengthy list of Josephine’s favorite shops. As Caden wrote down each name, Leliana watched the quill. He pushed and pulled it across the parchment carefully, the letters slightly shaky yet accurate. She felt herself smile, recalling how he had been unable to read or write the common tongue when he first joined the Inquisition. Josephine had immediately taken it upon herself to teach him, certain that the Herald of Andraste—though he rejected that title—needed to have such skills. Over time those lessons brought the ambassador and Inquisitor closer, undoubtedly sparking the romance between them that Leliana had initially been so adamantly opposed to.
She brought her eyes up to Caden’s face, observing his concentration on his writing and dedication to marking down every shop name she gave him. Warmth filled her chest, knowing that he was the right person for her dear friend. It takes a great deal of love for Josephine for someone to willingly follow her as she shops, Leliana thought, and chuckled to herself.
Caden finished writing down the last shop name he was given and placed the quill carefully back in the inkwell. “Looks like I’ll have to empty out the Inquisition’s supply of gold for this trip!”
Leliana laughed, nodding. “Yes, it would certainly seem so.” She placed her hand over his and met his gaze. “She will love this, Caden, every part of it.”
Caden grinned broadly back at her, his shoulders easing with relief. “Thank you, Leliana. Hopefully when we return we’ll have good news to share.” He left the rookery with a bounce in his step.
Leliana watched him leave, excited to hear all about the trip and proposal from Josephine upon their return. Not long after the Inquisitor’s warm presence left the rookery, however, did Leliana feel a familiar lonely chill settle in her chest. She reached to the windowsill, where she kept a small wooden nightingale figurine that Erathan, her love and the Hero of Fereldan, hand carved for her. She held it as she returned to the missive she had been writing, slowly stroking her thumb over its head as she worked.
* * *
“Have you slept at all?” she asked as she took the seat across the table.
“Of course,” Leliana replied. “I always get a full night’s rest.”
Josephine rolled her eyes and Leliana smirked. “You need to sleep, Leliana. I can’t believe I’m still scolding you for this.”
“Don’t ask if you don’t want to know the answer, Josie.” Leliana put down the letter and turned her attention to her friend. “I’m surprised to see you up here so early; I’m usually the only one foolish enough to be awake before the birds.”
Josephine’s attitude shifted immediately, an excited grin spreading across her face. “I suppose I haven’t slept as much as I should have either; I’m leaving shortly for Val Royeaux and I’ve been too excited to rest.”
“Oh? You’re taking a trip?” Leliana inquired, feigning surprise as easily as she breathed.
“Yes! Caden asked me last night if I’d leave my work for a couple of days to travel with him; you know I can’t say no to shopping in Orlais’ greatest city. I wonder if Pierre’s Chocolate Emporium will have those delightful little clusters we had the last time we went.”
Leliana sighed at the thought of those chocolate clusters, truly the best part of Val Royeaux.
“It’ll be so nice to get away, even just for a day or two. Even with Corypheus gone, Caden and I have been finding it difficult to spend time together.”
Leliana gave an empathetic smile but felt the same lonely chill settle across her at the thought of missing a lover. Josephine noticed her friend’s demeanor fall and realized how her words must have sounded; Leliana had only recently seen her love for the first time in two years. Erathan visited Skyhold briefly after a long, but amazingly successful search for a cure for the Blight. She was now gone again, off to deliver the news to Thedas’ other Grey Wardens. Josephine felt ungrateful, fortunate enough to have her lover so close and still complaining about their lack of time together. Suddenly, an idea crept into her mind.
“Why don’t you come with us?”
Leliana looked at Josephine, an eyebrow quirked. “What?”
“Come with us!” Josephine repeated, now smiling eagerly. “You deserve a break more than anyone, and I would love one more day in Val Royeaux with you before you leave to fulfill your duties as the Divine. It’ll be like old times.”
“Except your lover will be there as well; this trip was his idea for the two of you,” Leliana said hastily, afraid to ruin Caden’s plan.
“Oh, he’ll be okay with you coming along, you know he adores you now that you no longer threaten his life every time he so much as looks at me,” Josephine replied confidently.
“But—” Leliana tried.
“No, no, you’re coming with us! It’ll be lovely; a day in one of my favorite cities with my love and my dearest friend.” Josephine grabbed Leliana’s hand and brought them both to a standing position. “Come with me, we’ll go tell Caden and pack your things.”
Before Leliana could try to argue anymore, Josephine led her down the tower steps and into the quarters that she and the Inquisitor shared. He was there when they arrived, packing some shirts into a sturdy leather bag. His smile at Josephine swiftly shifted to confusion when he noticed Leliana trailing behind her into the room.
“I’ve invited Leliana to come along with us; she needs this break before she goes off to fulfill her role as Divine,” Josephine explained.
Caden’s eyes grew wide for a moment before he collected himself and gave a smile. “Oh! Are you sure you can take the time away from your work, Leliana?” he asked, giving her a pleading look that Josephine couldn’t see when she turned to look at Leliana.
“Truly I don’t think I can, I appreciate the offer, Josie, but—” she began.
“Leliana, please; you’ll be gone soon and we both know we won’t be able to see each other often once you’re fulfilling your duties. Come with us, I promise we’ll all have a wonderful time.” She turned to Caden, “Is that alright with you, my love?” She looked eagerly between the two, waiting for an answer.
Caden looked to Leliana, who shrugged helplessly behind Josephine, then nodded, only slightly stiffer than usual, and said, “Of course, it’s an excellent idea!”
Josephine turned to Leliana with a broad smile. Leliana sighed and smiled back. “Okay, I’ll go, Josie. We can search for those chocolate clusters.”
Josephine gave a delighted cheer and pulled Leliana into a hug. “Oh I’m so glad! I can’t wait to explore the city like we used to.” She turned to Caden and gave him a quick kiss. “Thank you, darling. I need to go grab some books from my office, I’ll be right back.” With that, Josephine descended the steps from the Inquisitor’s bedroom.
As soon as they heard the door close, Leliana and Caden both whipped around to face each other, panic written on their faces.
“What just happened?!” Caden asked, his hands flying up to grip his hair.
“She visited me in the rookery and I must have seemed lonely, because she invited me along! You know how she is, always worried about how I’m doing.”
“Why didn’t you say no?”
“I tried! She wouldn’t let me; and you saw how excited she was about the idea of me going. How could I fight that? Why didn’t you say no?” Leliana countered.
“I would look awful if I said you couldn’t go! She doesn’t know why this trip needs to be just the two of us; if I said you couldn’t go, I’d be terrible.” Caden began pacing and fidgeting with the small ring box where it rested in his pocket. “What are we going to do?”
“I’ll just slip away when we get there, make an excuse about needing to meet with a scout or something,” Leliana suggested.
“No, you can’t leave right away, she’d be upset if you did.”
“Well when do you suggest—”
Just then, the door opened and the sound of Josephine’s steps drifted softly into the room. Caden looked at Leliana meaningfully and she huffed in annoyance.
“Come on Leliana, let’s go pack your things,” Josephine said as she placed some books into a small bag. As they left the room, Leliana threw Caden an apologetic look.
When he was alone, Caden pulled the box from his pocket and hopelessly examined the ring. “Well, shit.”
* * *
Josephine walked beside him, her arm wrapped around his, and leaned in. “Thank you again, my love. I promise this trip will still have plenty of time for us.” She kissed his cheek, eliciting a small blush that he could never control.
They reached the dock and found Leliana instructing some young men from the inn that they would be staying in on where to take their luggage. When she rejoined them shortly after, a flash of sunlight caught the intense red of her hair, captivating both of her friends for a brief moment. It had become a rare sight to see Leliana without her purple hood pulled over her head, shielding her face from the world. Josephine was delighted to see her without it, looking younger and more carefree; she resembled the young woman she had befriended in Val Royeaux a decade earlier.
As they made their way into the center of the city, Josephine and Leliana chatted excitedly, pointing out pubs and old locations where underground parties would take place. Caden had heard some stories of their days in Val Royeaux, but was surprised to see how many adventures they had apparently gone on together. He and Josephine held hands as they walked, and she tugged him along as she rushed ahead, eager to reach her favorite shops. He saw Leliana smirk, remembering the lengthy list she had given him.
Just as Caden was about to suggest the first store on the list, Josephine let out an excited squeak and rushed ahead towards a small shop donning a large sign—PIERRE’S CHOCOLATE EMPORIUM: BEST SWEETS IN ORLAIS.
Leliana, upon seeing which shop it was, caught up quickly and slipped inside behind Josephine. By the time Caden reached the doorway, the two women were already filling a bag each with small chocolate clusters, giggling happily. Knowing that there would already be an obscene amount of chocolate between them, he didn’t bother filling his own bag. Although, he thought to himself, he also knew not to expect either woman to share their sweet treats.
As soon as he reached Josephine, she turned to him and asked, “Doyewhafteoinper?”
“What?” Caden replied, suppressing a laugh.
“Sorry,” Josephine said, swallowing some chocolate clusters, “do you have the coin purse, dear?”
Caden nodded and approached the clerk, passing them the necessary amount.
“Are you not getting anything? The Emporium is home to the most delightful treats in Orlais, surely they have something you want?” Josephine asked Caden as they turned to leave the shop.
“I figured I’d steal some of yours when you weren’t looking,” Caden teased, laughing when Josephine tucked away her sweets in response. “Where to next? I was thinking Queen’s Closet, perhaps?”
Josephine nearly squeaked with excitement. “Oh, yes! How did you know that was a favorite of mine?”
Caden shrugged. “Lucky guess?” Leliana rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out at him behind Josephine’s back. Caden had to turn away to stifle his laughter.
* * *
Caden caught up to her, placing a hand on the small of her back. “You should try it on,” he suggested softly.
“You wouldn’t mind?” she asked.
“Of course not, I can’t wait to see you in it,” he assured her. Needing no more encouragement, Josephine rushed into the shop.
“You’ll be penniless by the end of the evening,” Leliana murmured behind him, thick with amusement.
“Oh absolutely,” Caden agreed.
“Careful; you can’t host a wedding on nothing but elfroot,” Leliana said as she opened the door to the shop.
“You underestimate the power of elfroot.”
They each took a seat in front of a curtained-off corner of the shop, waiting for Josephine to model the dress for them. Leliana eyed a flowing translucent emerald dress hanging beside them and amused herself with the thought of how Erathan would react if she wore it. She made a mental note to try it on before they left.
A few minutes later, the curtain was pulled aside and Josephine stepped out onto the open floor before them. Caden felt his heart instantly stutter as his eyes locked onto her.
“Oh, Josie…” Leliana whispered, her own eyes focused on her friend.
The soft fabric—something close to silk that Caden couldn’t place—flowed freely down Josephine’s body, hugging her figure just slightly before lightly skirting above the floor around her feet. The pale blue contrasted enticingly against her dark skin, making it seem as though she glowed softly.
“What do you think?” Josephine asked before twirling to better showcase the dress.
“You look stunning!” Leliana gushed, standing up to get a closer look. Caden remained where he sat, his mouth slightly agape as he continued to take in the sight.
“Looks like someone’s at a loss for words,” Leliana teased.
Josephine giggled at her lover’s awestruck expression. “Do you like it, darling?”
Caden managed to pull his gaze up to Josephine’s eyes and said, “I love it. I love you. You are… there are no words.”
Josephine blushed profusely and laughed again. She walked over to where he sat and bent down to kiss him. “Thank you, my love. I can’t wait to wear it for you next time we’re alone,” she whispered.
It was now Caden’s turn to blush; a deep scarlet reached the tips of his long ears.
“Alright, lovebirds,” Leliana chuckled, “there are plenty more shops for us to stop at before the day is over; just let me try on this dress and we can leave.”
* * *
Josephine noticed Caden looking at the archway curiously and moved beside where he stood examining a letter written in Antivan.
“I see the Arcade de dévotion has grabbed your attention,” she said softly.
Caden smiled bashfully and tucked the letter he’d been reading back into its spot between two braided bands of wood. “If only I could read what it said. Arcade de dévotion?”
“Archway of Devotion; it’s a well-known spot for lovers to stop by during their visits to Val Royeaux. The idea is that if you and your lover leave a letter here, with your names and a reason why you each love each other, you’ll be connected no matter what.”
As they talked, Leliana approached the archway, her eyes scanning through the flowers and countless letters tucked in beside them. Her eyes landed on one written in Orlesian and Dalish. She reached for it, her hand shaking slightly. Gently, she pulled it from its place and began to read. Both an overwhelming chill and wave of heat crashed through her all at once.
Erathan & Leliana
She’s my songbird in a lonely forest.
She’s the one who has always trusted me.
Caden found an unmarked piece of parchment on the archway, along with a charcoal piece tucked in beside it for whatever love-struck couples found themselves there. As carefully and clearly as he could—his penmanship was still nowhere near as clean as Josephine’s—he wrote Josephine & Caden across the top of the parchment. Beneath their names, he wrote She sees me for who I am.
Josephine, upon reading Caden’s note, turned his face towards her own and gave him a sweet kiss. She then took the parchment and followed his words with her own: He keeps the darkness at bay.
Josephine tucked the parchment into its own spot on the archway, careful not to entirely block or cover any of the other letters with their own. She turned back to Caden and smiled before taking his hand in her own.
Caden returned the smile before stealing a glance at the lowering sun. Almost sunset; they’d better continue walking to ensure they would reach the waterfront by then. “Shall we keep walking? There may be some more shops up ahead,” he suggested.
Josephine turned to find her friend. “Are you alright to continue, Leliana?”
As discreetly and quickly as she could, the spymaster wiped away a stray tear that had slipped free as she broke her concentration on the echo of ocean waves. “Yes, let’s keep going,” she agreed quietly. She strode ahead and called back in a clearer voice, “I believe there’s a fun, little market ahead with quite the selection of jewelry.”
* * *
Leliana caught sight of Caden anxiously checking how close the sun was to setting and she noticed that it was just about at the perfect height to cast warm shadows across the cobblestone walkways. Realizing that this was the time to make herself scarce, Leliana acted quickly.
“Is that Scout Arthurs up ahead? I should check in with him, I’ll only be a moment,” she said, excusing herself.
“Oh, Leliana wait—” Josephine began, but her friend was already gone. “Maker, I wish she’d leave work alone for once. This is supposed to be a break… and that’s coming from me!” she huffed.
Caden chuckled and linked their arms. “Don’t worry about it my love, I’m sure she’ll be back soon enough. Would you like to walk to the water with me? It seems rather beautiful this time of day,” he suggested. Josephine agreed and as he led her to the location he’d been longing to reach all day, Caden silently sent his thanks to Leliana.
When they reached the water’s edge, the smell of salt water and resounding calls of seagulls washed over them. Josephine seemed to bask in it. She was now leading Caden, and leaned with her back against the solid marble railing that kept them from the ocean she loved so dearly. He didn’t hesitate to follow, gripping the railing on either side of Josephine and kissing her. She grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him closer, deepening the kiss. Caden moved his hands to grip Josephine’s waist and she smiled against his lips. They stayed like that, lost in each other, until Caden remembered what he had brought her there for and willed himself to pull away.
“Josephine,” he whispered.
“Mmm?” she hummed in reply, pressing their lips together again.
“I have something to ask you,” Caden managed to say between kisses.
Josephine pulled back and looked at him, tilting her head in question. “What is it, darling?”
Caden paused and took a deep breath, forcing his body not to lock up with nerves. “Isn’t the sunset beautiful?”
Josephine turned to look behind her at the horizon, where the sun was now half set and sending bright orange and yellow streaks across the water. “It’s simply stunning,” she agreed.
When she turned back to face Caden, he was on one knee with the small wooden box raised before her. The ironbark ring glowed in the sunset’s golden light. Josephine gasped, her hand quickly covering her mouth.
“Josephine,” Caden quickly began, determined to get it all out before his courage failed him, “I know I’ve probably said it a million times, but it never feels like enough. I love you. You are, without a doubt, the most wonderful and important person in my life. From the very beginning of this wild adventure we’ve been on together, you’ve been there for me—even when… especially when no one else was. Time after time, you’ve helped bring me back out of the darkest, scariest places I’ve found myself, both physical and mental. I’d be so lost without you.”
Josephine’s eyes were glistening and her hand was pressed over her heart as she listened. She looked completely surprised and absolutely delighted. Caden felt more confident now, and readied himself for the question he still had to ask.
“After everything we’ve been through, I want to have a very long and happy life with you. I just hope you want the same.” Finally, Caden took one last steadying breath and said, “Josephine Montilyet, voglio per sempre essere con voi. Mi sposerete?”
Josephine gasped again and nearly had to brace herself on the railing. She took a shuddering breath before crying out, “Yes! Yes, I will marry you!”
Caden quickly rose to his feet and wrapped her in an embrace, an overwhelming surge of relief and joy coursing through him. Josephine cupped his face and pulled him into an eager kiss, her hands shaking all the while.
“Oh my love, yes! I cannot believe—I didn’t expect—Maker’s breath. Yes,” she whispered again, dabbing away a tear from her cheek.
“I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful that word sounds right now,” Caden murmured.
Josephine suddenly looked shocked again. “I did not know you spoke Antivan! How did you…?”
Caden laughed. “Oh, I still wouldn’t say I speak Antivan. I only know a little bit right now; I’ve been practicing that phrase for a while. Had to make sure I got it right.”
Josephine looked as though she would burst into tears again and promptly gave her fiancé another kiss. “Oh, the ring!” She pulled away enough to refocus on the small box Caden still held in his hand. The ironbark ring still sat within it, glowing and glittering in the remains of the sunlight. Caden removed the ring and tucked the box back into his pocket. Josephine held out her hand for him and he gently slid it onto her finger. She was enthralled by its shimmering silver in contrast to the colorful stone.
“I know it’s not exactly traditional, but I had my clan’s craftsman make it and I hope that you like it… if you don’t I can replace it—” Caden began but was cut off when he saw Josephine’s dazzling smile at the Dalish ring.
“Oh, my love, it is perfect. I absolutely adore it. To know that it has a touch of yourself in it makes it even more wonderful,” Josephine assured him. A playfully girlish look came across her face. “I must show Leliana, she’ll be—” suddenly, a look of realization replaced the playfulness. “Oh Maker, this was your plan all along and I insisted on inviting Leliana. I am such a fool!”
Caden laughed, perhaps a bit harder than he should have. The whole situation, now that it had worked out, was more amusing than he had anticipated. “Josie don’t worry; you were being a good friend. It all worked out anyways,” he said and pressed a kiss to her forehead. Josephine laughed as well and pulled him into another embrace.
“I love you,” she whispered against his neck.
“I love you, too” he whispered back, tightening his arms around her. “I suppose we should go find Leliana so you can show her your ring?”
The girlish delight returned to Josephine’s features and she nearly dragged him back towards the market in search of her best friend. They found her standing outside a tavern, snacking on one of the many sweets she’d acquired that day. Josephine ran over to her and wasted no time in sharing the news.
“Leliana, look!” She held up her hand bearing the new ring. “He proposed!”
Leliana gazed at the ring for a moment and asked, “Who did?”
“What? Caden!” Josephine replied, shocked.
Leliana gave her a large grin. “I’m only pulling your leg, Josie.” She pulled her friend into a hug. “That’s wonderful news!” She held up Josephine’s hand and admired the ring. Although she’d seen it before, she was still awestruck. “It’s beautiful. Congratulations, Josie.”
She turned to Caden, a playful grin toying at her lips. “Shall I give you another stern talk, or just stick to congratulations?”
“Leliana!” Josephine said warningly.
Leliana laughed. “He knows I’m kidding, Josie. I’m happy for you both, truly.”
Caden smiled and opened his arms for a hug. Leliana raised her eyebrows in surprise for a moment, then rolled her eyes and smiled back. To both Caden and Josephine’s surprise, she returned the hug. “I’m just happy this has finally happened; I was worried that the Inquisitor would die from nerves before we even got to the waterfront.”
“Wait, you knew?” Josephine asked, looking between her best friend and fiancé.
“Oh, come on, Josie. Who do you think he went to for approval on the ring? We all know he’s too nervous to do such a thing without reassurance.”
“Hey!” Caden protested, but knew it was true.
Josephine stifled a giggle and squeezed Caden’s hand. “Good point.”
The three of them made their way back through the market towards the center of the city, exhausted from their day but elated as well.