The first time Scout Lace Harding saw the Herald of Andraste, a despair demon was attacking the camp. Harding thought the Inquisition had sent her to an area relatively out of the way from most of the rifts that had sprung up around the Hinterlands, but this demon seemed to have developed a taste for preying on whatever it could find on remote farms. Harding’s brand new team of recruits was exhausted after half an hour of what had become a deadly cross between keepaway and tag.
They’d tried a direct assault—well, Harding had yelled at Cooper not to, but he had gone rushing in anyway and gotten a faceful of frost for his efforts. After that, he had settled down and listened to her directions to stay behind it and only use projectiles when it came too close to her. She, heart in her throat, danced away from the camp while motioning wildly for someone else to grab a log from the fire, or to make a torch. The soldiers eventually got the idea and were closing in on the demon’s blind spot when Harding felt the air around her still and harden into a light blue barrier. A crossbow bolt seemed to appear in the demon’s side, and then there was a chorus of battle cries as two warriors barreled past her, already swinging their weapons.
At first, Harding didn’t recognize the Herald. Well, how could she, when her knees had buckled under her and she spent the next few minutes shivering and gulping down as much air as she could take in? But once everything had quieted, she felt a nervous hand tap her shoulder and knew she had to get up. She nodded to Cooper, who wasn’t even looking at her, and followed his gaze to the faint green glow emanating from the shield hand of the warrior who had just sheathed her sword.
“That wasn’t so bad,” said the Qunari, shaking out her mane of dark red hair.
“It was on its own,” said Seeker Cassandra shortly. Harding had never talked to her in person, but she was easy to recognize.
“Whose idea was that, by the way? To get it by itself?” A dwarf, scruffy and clearly native topsider, looked around the clearing until his eyes fell on Harding. He grinned and held out a hand. “Varric Tethras. Nice job.”
Harding took it. “Thanks. Inquisition Scout Harding.” She tried not to stare at the giant, silver-skinned Herald of Andraste. “And we didn’t isolate it by ourselves. I think it just wandered from a nearby rift or something.”
The Herald frowned in worry. “Does that happen often?”
“Even if it was the first, it will not be the last,” said the elf mage who had made the barrier. “We must hurry.”
“Right,” said the Herald with a little shake of her head. She turned to go.
“Wait,” said Harding, shocked. Did they know what was waiting for them at the Crossroads? Or who to talk to once they figured out what to do about it? Harding had been sent to find a way to Horsemaster Dennet, but she was having trouble finding a safe path through the mage-Templar fighting, and she had grown up on a farm just over the next hill! Surely someone here had a better plan than just rushing in blind and hoping for the best. She began to brief them, hoping one of them would stop her with news that they’d already heard any of the information she was giving them.
“Oh, wow. Thanks! That’s really helpful,” said the Herald earnestly, once she’d finished.
Harding gaped at her.
“I’m, um, Reth Adaar,” she said, misreading Harding’s expression. “Pleased to meet you?”
“That’s not… That’s…” Harding sighed. “The pleasure’s all mine. You’d best get going.”
Varric Tethras chuckled as the Herald and her group moved away. “She grows on you,” he said, patting her shoulder. “And honestly? Barreling in seems to work for her.”
“If you say so,” said Harding, pinching the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger.
He was right, though. Within the month, Reth Adaar had routed all settlements of mages and Templars, cleared the area of rifts from Redcliffe Farms to Winterwatch Tower, and left for Val Royeaux to deal with the political leaders who had let this happen in the first place. News of Adaar’s exploits rose from a steady trickle to an overwhelming flood, from feeding and clothing practically every refugee from the crossroads, to returning belongings thought lost or stolen in the chaos, to placing flowers on a grave too far away for an old elf to reach by himself. Harding would not have believed that last one if she had not questioned the man in person after hearing him vehemently defend the Inquisition to a group of Carta-looking dwarves. Harding had been questioning her decision to join the Inquisition ever since they had placed her in her own backyard following her request to go somewhere interesting. But now, seeing hundreds of people safe after all the madness, she was convinced she had made the right choice.
It had been storming for days. Harding couldn’t remember a time when there hadn’t been rain. Or mud. Or corpses. The Fallow Mire was misery personified. But news that the Herald was coming had lifted her spirits considerably.
Perhaps that was a poor choice of words.
“Herald!” Harding grinned as Adaar shook out her hair. “It’s good to see you. Maybe you can solve this mess.”
“I can’t control the weather,” said Adaar apologetically.
“Oh, don’t worry. I know some people who think they can.” Harding launched into an explanation of the Avvar and the official reason they had given for attacking the Inquisition.
“That seems like a roundabout way of saying they wanted a fight and now they’re going to get one,” said Adaar drily.
“My thoughts exactly, Herald,” grinned Harding.
Adaar cocked her head. “You know, you can just call me Adaar. Or Reth. I’m not sure I like being called Herald all the time, especially when all it does is get me into fights.”
“I thought you liked fights, Boss,” said The Iron Bull, a Qunari mercenary even taller than the Herald. Harding had met him when Adaar brought him back one afternoon when they were on the Storm Coast. He was hard to forget. “Otherwise, why am I even here?”
“I like fights I choose ,” said Adaar. “This Herald business seems to do the choosing for me. It’d be nice to step into a place and not immediately have everyone want to kill me.”
“Oh, that reminds me,” said Harding suddenly. “Don’t step into the water.”
“Why? What’s wrong with the water?” Adaar asked questions eagerly enough, but the way she looked toward the nearest puddle made Harding think that no matter what she said, Adaar would wind up jumping in with both feet just to see what would happen.
“There’s undead. They come out if you disturb it.” Was this the correct way to talk to the Herald of Andraste? There was a Chantry mother in Redcliffe who used to say that sarcasm was too flat a tone to be allowed in any measure of the Chant.
It didn’t seem to bother Adaar, though. “Hear that, Bull? Don’t make any waves.” She chuckled at her own joke as Bull guffawed appreciatively.
Harding, on the other hand, let out a loud, sinus-shaking snort. She froze, mortified.
Adaar’s eyes lit up, and she began laughing in earnest.
“Reth, if I may make a small request,” said Dorian Pavus, in a tone drier than even Harding’s had been. “We walk in absolute silence for the next ten miles, and I don’t commit petty necromancy just to keep my soul from ascending from my body every five Maker-damned seconds.”
“You like it,” said Adaar, not even looking at him. Instead, she was smiling delightedly at Harding.
Harding told herself that her blush was purely because of the snort.
Dorian made sounds of indignant disagreement. “We should go. The longer I’m stuck here the less inclined I am to save my fellow man from untimely death.”
Adaar’s smile turned apologetic and she started moving away. “A pleasure as always, Scout Harding.”
Harding waved them on. “As always, it’s been all mine. Be careful!”
Varric was the last to leave. “I could be inside writing,” he grumbled as he moved past.
As the camp gathered news of the party’s doings, Harding wondered if this was the type of story Varric would write about. It had plenty of monsters and mayhem, and Harding thought that if Varric Tethras, author of such titles as “The Tale of the Champion” couldn’t make a heroic story out of a warrior almost single-handedly saving a group of Inquisition soldiers from an overzealous warmonger, then he didn’t deserve to be on the bestseller list. But as Adaar squelched her way out of the bog, she had a conversation with Harding that seemed less than heroic.
“How long have they been… here?” she asked as she saddled her horse, nodding to the group of soldiers she’d rescued. They wouldn’t be leaving immediately, but Adaar had business in Redcliffe.
Harding paused for thought. “A few weeks, maybe. At most.”
Adaar looked less than reassured. “I didn’t know.”
“You still came,” said Harding. “They knew you would.”
“Why? Who told them that?” Adaar’s jaw clenched.
Harding shrugged. “They heard what you did in the Hinterlands. You helped there, so they knew you’d help them.”
“I almost didn’t come out here. The Hinterlands made sense. Val Royeaux…” Adaar’s spoke calmly, but her eyes burned.
“I heard what happened,” said Harding. “The Templars…”
“They had no right!” snapped Adaar. “They had a duty , they had—” She glanced down at Harding. “Sorry.”
“They had a duty to their people,” said Harding, understanding. “It was their Maker-given task.”
Adaar shook her head. “I’m not the Herald of Andraste,” she said, shoulders sagging.
“I’ll admit, the thought had crossed my mind. That you’ve spoken directly to Andraste Herself and are carrying her message throughout Thedas,” Harding smiled.
“Maker preserve us,” breathed Adaar.
“But then I actually met you.”
Adaar let out a bark of laughter. “That’s all it took?”
“So I guess if everyone has to go off hearsay, they’re going to get a… well, an inaccurate version of you.” Harding hoped what she was saying was comforting. It didn’t sound particularly comforting to her.
“They have to judge me by that version, though. They have to judge the whole Inquisition by that version.” Adaar ran a hand through her hair.
“Well, they don’t have to…” Harding tried a smile.
“But they will,” said Adaar. “What happens when I make a bad decision? What happens if they don’t like what I do?”
Harding paused. “Are you planning on making bad decisions?” It was hard enough imagining Adaar planning anything.
“Well, no. Maybe. Not ‘bad,’ per se. Just an unpopular one.” Adaar looked down at her saddlebags and started readjusting them distractedly.
“I think you’re getting bad and unpopular mixed up. If it’s bad, then you have the rest of the Inquisition—Leliana and Josephine, and even Cullen…” Harding trailed off as she tried to imagine a situation in which Cullen’s version of diplomacy would make a bad situation better. “Well, I’m sure he can do something. But Leliana and Josephine can definitely help. That’s what they’re there for.”
“I mean, again, talk to Leliana and Josephine. But if an unpopular decision really is the right one, then the rest of us will come around. Isn’t that how the Inquisition got started?”
Adaar nodded slowly. “I guess so.”
Harding patted her on the arm and then stared at her hand before snatching it away. “Um. Well, good! Glad I could help! Any other questions?” She winced. Any other— was she a professor? Was she going to test Adaar on this later? Maker, what was she thinking?
Adaar’s mouth quirked up and she shot a sidelong glance at Harding. “No, I, um… I think I’m all set. Thank you.” She motioned to the rest of her party and mounted up. “It’s, uh, been a pleasure.”
“It’s been all mine,” said Harding faintly as Adaar rode away. She rubbed her hand and blushed.
Harding was coming back with intelligence scouted from Crestwood when she heard the news.
Haven had fallen. The Inquisition was over.
She’d tried to assure the travelling merchant that this was impossible, that the Inquisition was more than just a few people in the mountains, but her stuttering had boiled down to three words: “Where is Adaar?”
“Don’t know,” replied the merchant. “Some say she died facing down an archdemon on her own. Don’t think too much of that story, myself. Others say she died in an avalanche, which doesn’t sound as fancy but up in the mountains? It’s more likely than an archdemon.”
“Are there any stories that say she’s alive?” wailed Harding before she could stop herself.
The merchant looked at her pityingly. “Can’t say I’ve heard any.”
“And you got this news from…?”
“A soldier, ex-Templar, I think. Not one of the crazy ones. Said he’d been down near the camps outside the village, saw the whole battle. Escaped by the skin of his teeth, he said. Talked to a few of them now, all with the same ending. Haven’s gone.”
Harding thanked him and let him go on his way. She sat by the side of the road, considering her options. She needed a plan—but plans were for people who knew what they were doing. The Maker didn’t have plans, that was for sure, so why should she? She should just lay on her back in the middle of the road and scream at the sky at the unfairness of it all. That’s what she wanted to do.
In the end, scream swallowed, tears unshed, she decided that the best course of action was to go back to Redcliffe. The castle was the nearest stronghold she could think of, now that the Venatori had been cleared out. Most of the rifts had been sealed for months. If any stragglers of the Inquisition, like the soldiers who had escaped, wanted to regroup, it would probably be in the village. Messages would probably be sent there, too. And, if she were being completely honest, if everything had ended and the Inquisition was just another footnote in the strange history of Thedas, the only place she really wanted to be now was with her family.
With a deep breath and heavy heart, she rose to her feet and started back to the farm she had once called home.
“Lace! Darling! Don’t drift off just yet, you have to get the water to boil.”
Harding started and poked at the fire she was supposed to be tending as her mother prepared dinner. “Sorry, Mom.”
“Where were you this time?” Dimity Harding looked up from her cutting board and smiled sadly at her daughter.
“The Storm Coast,” murmured Harding, sighing.
“Sounds cheery,” said Dimity. “Can’t say I know where it is, though.”
“Oh, it’s up north, on the Waking Sea,” said Harding, and began to tell her mother about the way the waves constantly crashed on the shore, and how the nugs squeaked and rustled in the underbrush and tried to steal your provisions, and why on a day that had started with avoiding a dragon fighting a giant and had ended with instigating a fight between a bandit leader and the Herald of Andraste, she had realized that she was truly happy.
“I don’t know, Mom. The Blades of Hessarian had been raiding our camp almost nightly and then she just… showed up and fixed it. Did some scouting of her own and came back with a way to make it stop. All we had to do was get a few bits of serpentstone and, well…” Harding stopped, remembering the afternoon spent figuring out what the diagrams on the schematic had meant. “I guess it was more complicated than that, but she just… made it look simple. Like anyone could do it. Like I could do it.”
Her mother looked at her curiously. “Well, you helped, didn’t you?”
“You know, that’s exactly what she said. She said she couldn’t have done it without me. She said… She said it was a—a pleasure to work. With me.” Harding cleared her throat.
“I’m not sure I ever realized how close you were with the Herald of Andraste. You never said in any of your letters,” said Dimity, reproach barely hinted at in her voice.
“Oh, we’re not—We didn’t—It wasn’t often, it was just… Every once in a while we’d meet up and spend a week or two clearing the area. I’d tell her what needed fixing, she’d go fix it. She’s unstoppable, Mom, she… she…” And suddenly Lace was crying, wiping her eyes in the palm of her hand like a child.
Her mother put down her knife and sat beside her daughter in one swift movement, putting her arm around her shoulders and rubbing her back. “Oh, dear,” she said. “Oh, darling.”
“It’s not fair,” sobbed Lace. “It’s not fair. She worked so hard and cared so much. She faced down a dragon, all by herself, just so the rest of Haven could escape.” Her mother had heard the stories by now, but even if she didn’t believe them, Lace did. Every one of them. “She got so angry whenever anyone tried to hurt the Inquisition—people she didn’t even know! She’d never met them before! But she’d risk her life to save theirs, over and over and over again.”
“She sounds like quite the hero,” said Dimity after a while.
“She’s not,” said Lace, her breathing calm but her tears still running hot down her cheeks. “She’d make the dumbest jokes just to watch you roll your eyes, and sing so off key it’d make your ears rattle, and she would use her Mark to read at night when the fire got too low. Solas almost killed her for that. Said she’d open a rift in our tents if she wasn’t careful.”
Harding scoffed. “No. I could never tell if it was luck or she just made it look easy.”
“Maybe it was a little bit of both.” Dimity found a handkerchief and started dabbing at her daughter’s face.
“No, Mom, stop. Please. I’m okay, really. I just miss her—them! ...Her.” Harding took the handkerchief and wiped her tears herself.
“I know, darling. I know.” Dimity got up and went back to her vegetables. “Tell me, what’d she look like? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a real Qunari before.”
“She’s Vashoth, actually. She was never part of the Qun. It’s an important distinction, apparently.” Harding went back to stoking the fire. “She was… tall. Strong. Liked wearing red. She says it brings out her hair.”
“What, did she have trouble growing it?”
“No,” said Harding, “she just didn’t like wearing brown. Which was the color of her eyes. Golden brown, like the stream out back after a hard rainfall.”
“Oh,” breathed her mother.
“And silver-tipped horns that curled like a ram’s, and a smile quick as lightning and just as brilliant. And jawline,” she sighed. “The most beautiful chin.”
“What?” said Harding, straightening.
“You’re sure you’re all right?” Dimity frowned.
Harding checked the pot. “Yes,” she said.
“Drink some water,” said Dimity, eyeing her daughter. “You sound a—a little dehydrated.”
Harding obediently drank some water and helped her mother cook dinner. Her father came home and they ate together as a family, as they had for the last week. As they had for most of Harding’s life. But the house seemed smaller now, or more empty. It was both quieter than she remembered and louder than ever. The timber made strange noises as it settled, and the crickets outside the window chirped endlessly. She could hear her parents talking in low voices, now, when she lay in her old bed in her old room, and every word of her mother relaying all the stories she’d told during the day.
“They must have been close,” said her father, echoing her mother unknowingly.
“She doesn’t think so,” said her mother.
“Well, she’s wrong,” said her father with finality, rolling over as the bed groaned.
“Yes. I agree,” said her mother.
The days passed slowly at first, but sped up once Harding found something to do. She couldn’t stand the idea of taking back her old shepherding job, but neither could she abide doing nothing. She had the information she had gathered in Crestwood, but no one to give it to. As far as she could tell, that made her in charge. She found as many of her fellow operatives in Redcliffe as she could and began rebuilding a network.
It wasn’t easy. Not many people shared her belief that the Inquisition was more than some members of the old Chantry and a Herald. It was an idea, a dream that took real work to make a reality. Harding eventually made a small team who could pick up where the Inquisition had left off of bringing relief to and information out of Crestwood. It wasn’t much, but it was better than sitting around and assuming someone else would do it.
And then, one morning, Harding walked through the gates of Redcliffe and was greeted with a new rumor: the Inquisition had survived! And not only survived, but found a new stronghold in the Frostback Mountains!
“And the Herald?” The question was the first on everyone’s lips, and Harding was no exception.
“Alive,” came the answer. Alive, against an avalanche and an army of lyrium-mad Templar and an archdemon. Alive, and leading the Inquisition from the wilderness to its new home in a fortress out of a storybook.
The crowd breathed out in collective appreciation of the messenger’s obvious embellishment, but Harding’s heart began to race. She had believed the first stories she had heard of the Herald’s demise, and they had all turned out to be more true than anyone had anticipated: mountain, dragon, and Templars each made an appearance in this continued and revised version of events. Harding was willing to hold out hope—just this once—that maybe all the stories this time were true, too.
“Where’s the fortress?” she asked the messenger when the crowd had dissipated.
He gave brief but comprehensive directions. “But you’re not walking up there alone,” said the messenger, startled into bluntness by the look on her face.
“Watch me,” said Harding, already running through the gates.
Her mother opened her mouth to protest, of course, as soon as Harding told her what she wanted to do. Harding could hardly blame her. But instead of weeping as she had the first time Harding had left home to join the Inquisition, her mother cupped Harding’s face in her hands and said, “The Frostbacks are cruel and cold. I won’t send my darling girl up there unprepared.”
There followed much packing and provisioning, in a whirlwind Harding had never expected to see upon her announcement that she was leaving again. The pack was so patched that Harding couldn’t tell its original color, but it was sturdy. The boots were old, but well-soled and worn in all the right places. The only thing Harding wasn’t happy about was her hood.
“Lace, please. This won’t keep your ears warm,” her mother frowned, rolling the hood between her fingers. “Your father and I had been meaning to get you a new one, but just never…”
“I know, Mom. I’ll just have to wrap my scarf around my head, like this. See? And then the hood can fit over.” It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it would have to do. Daylight was fading, and she wanted to be in Rainsfere by tomorrow afternoon.
Just then the door opened, and Harding’s father stepped through.
“Garin! Shouldn’t you be at the shop?” Dimity put Harding’s hood down and closed the front door.
Garin barely surveyed the scene of open-drawered chaos that comes with packing in a hurry. His eyes never left his daughter’s as he held up a brand new ramskin trapper hat, white and embroidered with tiny green elfroot leaves. “I heard the news. Yours wore out a few winters ago.”
Dimity eyed it as it passed from father to daughter. “That’s old lady Helena’s work, isn’t it? Her stitches are always so fine.”
“How did you afford…” Harding hated to ask, but the words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. Her fingers closed tightly around the soft fur, though.
Garin shrugged one shoulder. “You’d been sending coin back for weeks. I’ve been saving it.”
Harding’s brow furrowed. “For what?”
“I don’t know…” Garin, who saved all his words for his sales and rarely talked at home, seemed even more loath than usual to say what was on his mind. “You said you wanted a pony.”
Harding stared at him. “When I was four,” she giggled. “I said that when I was four. Please, Dad, don’t get me a pony. This is good.”
Garin watched the way her fingers ran through the fur on the inside, and smiled. “Good.”
Harding put the hat in her pack and closed it. This was it. She hugged her parents, said goodbye, hugged her mother again because she was crying again, and stepped out the front door. It was time to find home.
Harding met up with Charter, her immediate superior, in a small hamlet clinging to the base of the Frostback Mountains. It was a lucky coincidence, because Harding was having trouble finding the pass she needed. Charter was returning from an assignment, which Harding guessed was in Crestwood based on the way she greeted Harding. She knew an awful lot about the relief efforts Harding had been organizing for someone who claimed to have been traveling the Frostbacks for the last month.
“That’s some good work, Scout Harding,” she said over a tankard of beer. “Damn good work for a kid fresh out of the Hinterlands.”
“Thank you,” said Harding, too surprised to reply more eloquently.
“And you’re returning to the Inquisition?”
“I think there are one or two ways we can use that network you kept up. Are you prepared to write a full report for the last few weeks?” Charter took another drink.
“Good. Good, we’ll want that as soon as you have it. You made all our lives a lot easier, you know that? I was sure I’d have to start from scratch after we got things up and running at Skyhold, but now…” She gave Harding an appraising look. “You’re not… overly attached to Ferelden, are you?”
Harding smiled. “I joined up because I wanted to see the world before it got destroyed. Didn’t think you’d actually go around and save it. Guess I’m stuck now.”
Charter snorted. “Excellent. You write that report, Harding, and come see me when you’re done. I think we have some assignments right up your alley.”
Skyhold was huge. Massive. More than Harding had ever thought to dream. Haven had been their headquarters because it was what was available at the time, and it felt temporary even as their numbers swelled and camps sprang up around the town limits. But Skyhold welcomed them all within its thick stone walls, half manufactured fortress, half living rock. Harding wondered if this was how dwarves who grew up in the Deep Roads felt about the Stone.
She was wandering the main courtyard after meeting with Charter and—to her surprise—Leliana, thinking that there ought to be a way to the gardens from here and considering putting a request in to make that happen, when she heard a familiar voice calling her name.
“Harding! Scout Harding!” It was Adaar, striding toward her with only a hint of the limp she’d been sporting since Haven. “Oh, are you a sight for sore eyes. How are you? You look good. What have you been up to? You weren’t at Haven. Are you all right? It’s good to see you!”
Harding looked up into Adaar’s big, smiling face, and started laughing. “Do you want those answers in a specific order, or…?”
Adaar’s cheeks flushed and she chuckled along with Harding. “I suppose not. Here, how about—Have you seen the battlements yet? Can I show you around?”
“Sure! You caught me at a good moment, actually.” Harding found the stairs and went ahead at Adaar’s “after you” gesture.
“Oh? Don’t tell me you’re leaving soon. We’re still… we’re still figuring things out.” Adaar looked troubled.
“I’ve heard it’s settling down. We’re getting steady supply trains now, even if they’re a little slow. Messages in and out every day. You’ve got patrols figured out and construction details planned for the next two months. I think we’ve got to spread out, or else risk the rest of Thedas forgetting we exist.” Harding reached the top of the steps and paused to let Adaar lead her to the right. “Unless… you weren’t talking about the Inquisition.”
Adaar shot her a glance. “You’re sharper than you let on, Scout Harding.”
“I hear things. If it’s any consolation, you’ve got my vote.”
“Inquisitor isn’t a title that people vote on, apparently. I’ve already asked.” Adaar sighed.
“I think you could do it. You’ve been leading us pretty well so far.” Harding looked out over the mountains. They were turning pink in the evening light.
“You sound like Leliana.”
“Leliana’s a smart woman. I may also have just been talking to her. She rubs off on you.”
Adaar’s mouth twitched. “Well, thank you for that terrifying thought.”
There was a long pause while they stopped and leaned against the parapet. Noises from the rest of Skyhold filtered up past the stone to be swirled away by the mountain winds: the clanking of armor, horse hooves on cobblestone, the constant murmur of hundreds of voices speaking to each other. Harding tucked her arms against each other on the wall as she watched the snows turn to deep purple in the mountain shadows. Adaar faced the other way, shoulders hunched, hands in her pockets.
“You’re really worried about this, aren’t you?” Harding realized.
Adaar didn’t answer.
“I don’t mean to—If you don’t want—You don’t have to say anything,” said Harding, horrified that she’d overstepped her bounds. “I just got back from my Mom, and I tell her everything, so I just… Forgot, I guess. I told her about you,” she added, hoping to change the subject.
“About me?” Adaar gave her head a little shake and looked down at Harding.
Harding laughed nervously and turned to face Adaar more fully. “Yeah, I, um… Couldn’t shut up about you, apparently. I think Mom thinks we’re best friends now or something.”
“Now there’s a title I wouldn’t mind having. Forget this stupid Herald or Inquisitor stuff. Scout Harding’s Best Friend is where it’s at.” Adaar’s shoulders relaxed and she shifted to lean her shoulder against the wall.
“I’ll get you a plaque,” Harding grinned.
“I was thinking sash, actually. So I could show off to all my other not-best friends.” Adaar mimed a sash around her torso.
Harding let out a small giggle. “Mom’d probably be happy to make you one. She’s a seamstress,” she explained.
“Ah,” said Adaar. “But if you tell her everything, maybe she thinks she’s your best friend. What if she keeps it for herself? She could wear it in front of me just to put me in my place.”
“Aww, poor Herald of Andraste,” said Harding, rolling her eyes.
Adaar snorted. “Fine. But I want a sash, too.”
“Maker, that’s even worse. The leader of the Inquisition matching her outfits with my mother? My soul would literally exit my body through sheer mortification.”
“Hey. I’m not the leader yet.”
“Don’t tell me you’d put off the ceremony just for a sash,” said Harding.
“It completes my ensemble,” said Adaar primly.
Harding giggled. Adaar broke down after a moment and giggled with her. They straightened as a guard passed, and started walking the battlements again.
“When is it, anyway?” Harding asked.
Adaar took a deep breath. “Tomorrow afternoon. Outside if it’s nice, in the main hall if it’s raining. We’re hoping it’s nice. The main hall was cleared first just for this, but Josephine doesn’t think we can fit everyone inside.”
“I’ll be there,” promised Harding.
“I’ll look for you.” Adaar took a few more steps, then asked suddenly, “You really think I can do this?”
“Absolutely,” said Harding.
Adaar’s shoulders sagged. “Why?” she asked desperately. “Everyone else thinks I’m… holy, or whatever. That this is a gift from Andraste.” She waved her hand with the Mark. “Mother Giselle painted this picture of a—a god-touched hero rising from certain death to save the masses, and people—People bought it. They believe it! The people who were at Haven are the worst—I mean, not the worst…”
Harding had seen the difference between the people who lived through the attack and those who had only heard about it. There was an emptiness in their eyes that not even Skyhold could fill. “Most fervent?” she suggested.
“Sure,” said Adaar. “But you weren’t at Haven. You could have left the Inquisition altogether, but you didn’t. And now you say you absolutely think I can do this. Why?”
Harding wasn’t sure how to explain herself. “You care,” she said finally.
“Cassandra cares,” muttered Adaar. “Everyone cares. That’s why they joined!”
“We all joined for different reasons. And the Seeker cares, too, but she… A lot of the time, I feel like she’s looking for someone to blame. Which isn’t always bad,” she added quickly, “but it’s not always helpful. You remember when everyone was trying to tell you to join the Templars? But instead you went to the mages and found out there was a huge conspiracy in Redcliffe?”
“You mean the decision that let the Templars fall to Corypheus, which led to the destruction of Haven?” said Adaar. “Yeah, I remember that.”
“You couldn’t possibly have known that was going to happen,” said Harding.
“Cassandra said that Lord Seeker Lucius was acting strange. I should have investigated. Instead, I… I was so angry at them. I said that… I yelled, right in Cullen’s face, that if the Templars had chosen exile, I wasn’t going to argue with it. If they could abandon their duties, I could abandon them.” Adaar shook her head. “It was wrong of me. I shouldn’t have gotten so angry. I had a duty to them, too.”
“What is it with you and duty?” asked Harding wonderingly. “What makes you think you have a duty to any of them?”
“It’s… I don’t know, a Qun thing.”
“You’re not Qunari. You said you were Vashoth.”
Adaar made a noise of frustration. “It’s complicated. My parents broke from the Qun, sure, but they didn’t… They kept a lot of it with them. Like, more than usual.”
Harding frowned. “So?”
“Well, they had this thing, where it was like… You had to do what was best for people. You had to care for them. You had to make them strong. It was your duty.” Adaar waved a hand inarticulately.
“Your duty to who?” said Harding.
“The… Well, my parents said ‘the community,’ but I think how they learned it was ‘the Qun.’ Your duty to the Qun was to do what was best for everyone… under… the Qun…” Adaar shrugged the bewildered shrug of someone who only half understands a cultural cornerstone.
“So your duty to the community is to do what’s best for the community? How do you know who’s in your community? How do you know what’s best?” Harding wondered.
Adaar chuckled. “You know, I’m pretty sure those are the exact questions that made my parents Tal Vashoth in the first place. My mother was a saarebas. Manifested real late. There were… strong disagreements.”
“Oh,” said Harding.
“Yeah.” Adaar sighed.
“That’s a lot to put on a kid, though. Duty to everyone in the community. Everyone in the human community.” Harding grimaced at some of the rougher moments in her childhood.
Adaar saw it. “They are very insular, aren’t they?”
“That’s putting it mildly. I had to fight off every bully who thought he could pick on the littlest girl in the group. Made a name for myself for not taking any shit. How’d you break in?”
Adaar grinned. “By finding the littlest girl in the group and fighting off bullies for them.”
Harding felt her ears start to turn red. “No wonder I like having you around,” she said, rubbing a lobe distractedly.
Adaar’s look turned from impish to surprised delight. “I—That’s good to hear, Scout Harding.”
“Call me Lace.”
“Lace?” Adaar’s brows furrowed.
“It’s my name. My mother’s a seamstress?” Harding prompted. “She thought it sounded pretty and delicate. Like how she wanted me to be.”
“Well, I mean… You’re definitely… You’re not delicate,” said Adaar awkwardly.
Harding shot her a suspicious glance. “Thanks. I think.”
“Oh, Maker. That’s not—It—I’m surprised they didn’t bully you for the name, honestly.” Adaar ran a hand down her face.
“I’ve been ‘Harding’ for a long time, believe me. Only my friends call me Lace.” She smiled up at Adaar.
Adaar ran her foot into a riser and cursed as she stumbled. “Sorry, that, uh, step. It caught me. Just… right there.”
Harding looked down. “Maybe put a special request in? Get this fixed up?” she suggested sympathetically.
“Ha! Sure, why not?” She brushed herself off and jogged to the top of the steps. “Get this whole place fixed up,” she said. “It’s going to be beautiful.”
Harding stared up at her, evening sunlight glinting off her horns like a golden halo, and echoed, “Beautiful…”
“What was that?”
Harding shook herself and caught up. She asked about the plans for reconstruction; Adaar answered. She asked a more technical question; Adaar launched into a blow-by-blow account of the conversation she had with Gatsi. The conversation moved to gardening, to Ferelden cooking, to life as a mercenary versus life as a shepherd. Harding found the lands and cultures Adaar had encountered fascinating, and hoped that she, too, could see them one day. They walked every inch of the battlements well into the night, talking about everything and nothing. Harding only noticed the time when Adaar stopped them.
“You’re shivering. Are you cold?” She put a hand on Harding’s shoulder.
“No,” Harding answered automatically. “Well, maybe.”
Adaar glanced at the sky. “It’s— Maker, I have to— Damn it.”
Adaar gave Harding’s shoulder a small squeeze before putting her hand back in her pocket. “Yeah, it’s fine. I just have an early start tomorrow, which means I probably shouldn’t stay out too late. The ceremony’s not… officially a ceremony, you understand. Josephine says it ought to happen ‘organically,’ which means everything has to go exactly as planned.”
“That makes no sense,” said Harding.
“Tell me about it. I think I’ve boiled it down to ‘make sure I’m in the courtyard sometime in the afternoon,’ but the amount of work Vivienne’s putting into my outfit to get that exact look of ‘this is definitely spontaneous, but my natural state is five thousand times better than yours’ means I’m going to be spending my whole morning getting my hair right.” Adaar sighed. “It’s just hair! But it’s also… I see why it needs to be done. I can’t just wander up in my pajamas.”
“You could try,” grinned Harding.
Adaar laughed. “I’d sooner face down another dragon than ruin all the plans everyone’s made.” Her face sobered. “Really.”
Harding nodded. “Look, you said earlier…”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Adaar, waving a hand. “I’ll do it, I just… I’m nervous. It’s just nerves.”
“I know,” rushed Harding. “But hear me out. You said you failed in your duty, or whatever, when you ignored the Templars. But your duty as Inquisitor will be to ask questions. If you’d gone to Therinfal Redoubt, you’d’ve found out what was happening there and put a stop to it. But instead, you investigated Redcliffe.”
“And stopped Alexius from helping Corypheus…” said Adaar. “But… but it…”
“You didn’t know about the Templars because you didn’t take the time to find out. But that’s my point. Your best work is when you have all the information. Like the Blades of Hessarian, when you found a way to only kill their leader instead of the whole camp. You even got them on our side! It was perfect.”
“I didn’t find that schematic, though. Our men did. It was practically their dying wish that I use it.” Adaar frowned. “I felt like I was just following orders.”
“I didn’t give you any orders when you came. I told you we had missing men, likely killed by bandits. You decided to go looking for them. You used the information they found to help the whole Inquisition, and saved us a lot of bloodshed. This isn’t a job you do alone, Reth.”
Using her name was electric. Reth spun to face her, lips parted in surprise. “No?”
Lace swallowed. “No. We work together. I go out and get the information, and you figure out what to do with it. Just don’t stop asking questions.”
Reth nodded, as clumsy and hesitant as a child, and headed down the steps. She cleared her throat when she reached the landing. “We should… We should do this more often. Lace.”
Lace was glad of the shadows. No one should see her blush this hard just because someone said her name. “This? Just walking and talking?”
“Yes.” Reth held out a hand so that Lace could jump the last two crumbling steps.
“I’d like that.” Lace took it, and looked up into Reth’s liquid brown eyes shining in the starlight as soon as her feet were on the ground. The skies whirled. “I’d like that a lot.”
There was a pause, and in that moment Lace felt sure Reth was about to raise her hand to her lips, but instead Reth just gave it a little squeeze, her thumb barely brushing Lace’s knuckles. “Good. I’m glad.”
And then she let go, and Lace remembered how to breathe, and Reth was backing away. “I’ll see you tomorrow?” Lace called, then cursed inwardly. Everyone was going to see Inquisitor Adaar tomorrow.
Reth’s mouth quirked up. “Afternoon, probably. In the courtyard. Oh, and Lace?”
“Thank you for tonight. It’s been my genuine pleasure.”
Lace watched her go. “All mine,” she breathed. “All mine.”