Actions

Work Header

Paramour Lace Harding

Chapter Text

“They found her! The Herald—she's alive!”

With the silence broken whispers soon turn to murmurs until everybody's voices form an unintelligible mess of words. Suddenly the whole camp is alive and on their feet.

Everybody is eager to witness the return of the great saviour first hand.

Lace Harding stands, too, pushing forward through the crowd. Even the cold is forgotten. The Herald is alive, and perhaps this means that even though Haven is gone, they're not doomed to die out here, either.

She manages to dodge most elbows and inches towards where she hears the Seeker shout:

“She needs rest! I understand your excitement, but please keep a distance!”

Not many seem to listen, however, as Lace feels herself pushed forward with the flow of people and their demanding voices. Just one glimpse of the Herald of Andraste who faced an Archdemon to ensure her people are safe! The second coming is a miracle too important to miss.

They're stretching their necks and pull at each other's clothes. From where Lace stands she can mostly make out people's backs and bottoms, but she is curious as well. So she finally ducks and side steps until she stumbles and falls between the tents of the chantry sisters. Even in all this chaos the faithful servants of the Maker occupy a privileged position.

And granted, their prayers are more needed now than ever.

Lace's manoeuvre came not a second too soon. The crowd gasps and freezes and when Lace looks up she can just make out Cassandra Pentaghast drawing her sword. Her voice roars like that of a lioness protecting her cubs:

“Stay. Back!”

“You are from Redcliffe, are you not?”

A familiar, warm voice makes Lace turn her attention away from the scene.

Mother Giselle was there when the attacks in the Hinterlands started. She helped when the Chantry turned its back on the people of Thedas in order to squabble among their own; she cared for the injured even though it meant facing criticism from her own kind and putting her life at risk.

It seems fitting that her calm eyes watch over Lace now as well. She's towering over the dwarf, her dark skin wrinkled only around her eyes and in small lines at the corners of her mouth.

“Mother Giselle.” Lace says, surprised to be remembered. “It's good to see you're still with us.”

Mother Giselle eyes her up with an unreadable expression. Then she bends down, picks up a blanket and hands it to Lace.

“You're doing good work.” she says. “I'm sure everybody back home is very proud of you.”

Accepting the blanket Lace stares uncertain what to respond. Finally, Mother Giselle smiles.

“The Herald has fought a tough battle, perhaps her most difficult yet. And she journeyed through the cold night with no one to accompany, to guide her. Bring her this blanket and tell the Seeker I sent you.”

Now Lace is smiling as well and she's fairly certain the blush on her cheeks easily gives away that she'd been hoping for such an opportunity.

She ducks her head and with a “Thank you.” hurries to Seeker Pentaghast, who has obviously made an impression on the crowd. When Lace approaches her, the blanket clutched to her chest, only a few people are still waiting for their chance to catch a glimpse of the Herald, and even those stand in a wide half-circle around the camp site of the Inquisition leaders.

“Scout Harding.” the Seeker acknowledges Lace. Her face is stone, her jaw is working—only the rings around her eyes tell that she's actually worn out.

No wonder. She was the one who brought everyone together. Lace only heard what other people said and what Chantry sisters are whispering under their breath: The Right Hand of the Divine has turned into a heretic. She left her own order, broke her vows, defied the Lord Seeker himself—all because her faith told her to follow some elf. The Inquisition was supposed to bring the peace the people of Thedas longed for.

Only that now said Inquisition is little more than a failed idea; the people the Seeker rallied find themselves huddled together around small camp fires in the mountains, uncertain if they'll even survive the night. With nowhere to go and no hope in their hearts and with growling stomachs they lick their wounds and turn to blame the one who told them to dare.

Cassandra Pentaghast clenches her teeth and wipes her brow.

“If you wish to speak to Leliana I suggest you wait for the morning.”

Lace steels herself. “Actually, Mother Giselle asked me to give this to the Herald.”

As soon as the words are out Lace realizes just what a dumb excuse they present.

But the Seeker only sighs and gestures to her left before turning to join Cullen and Lady Montilyet, who have the same exhausted expression on their faces.

They will continue to argue later—over past mistakes and future plans—once they've gathered enough strength to do so.

As Lace approaches the Herald's resting place she remembers their brief encounter in the Hinterlands—so far the only chance she had to see the famous hero up close.

The elf stood tall and proud, her olive skin seemed to glow in the sun, her amber eyes piercing Lace, but the lop-sided grin on her face erased all signs of arrogance. Lace recalls how her heart beat picked up speed at the sight. She also recalls a clumsy remark she made about the Dalish and makes a mental note to apologize.

The scene before her now looks quite differently: The great saviour sits on the edge of her bed, shoulders sagged, face grey, eyes dark. Her short black hair is wet and groomed back—a few drops of water trickle down where her tattoos (what do the Dalish call them again?) frame her face. The tip of her nose glistens as well.

“I have tried changing out of my armour” she says without looking up. Lace remains hovering awkwardly by the entrance.

“But I can't reach around to open the buckles. Everybody is so shaken, I didn't want to bother them by asking for help.”

She's still not asking, Lace notes.

Something in her shifts, however. Wordlessly Lace places the blanket next to the Herald and gestures for her to turn around. When she opens the buckles and the chestplate comes off she hears a sigh of a relief and then a restrained moan.

“You're hurt.” she says.

The Herald grins. “Turns out I'm not as invincible as they claim.”

The sarcasm in her voice causes a pang of guilt in Lace's chest. Before she has time to process, however, the Herald speaks again:

“What I meant to say is thank you—for checking up on me, and for the blanket, and for the help.” She's breathing heavily which is undoubtedly due to pain, though her linen shirt hides all potential wounds, if not much else.

“Harding, was it? We only met briefly but Leliana speaks highly of you.”

Lace swallows and turns her gaze towards the Herald's face.

“They only say good things about you as well.” she says.

“I bet.” the Herald all but sneers. Through the thin wall of the tent Cullen's voice booms, making angry accusations. Perfect timing.

“Look”, Lace tries again. “You saved a lot of lives when you closed the breach, and then you saved us again when that dragon showed up. We're cold and hungry and desperate right now; that's enough to make anybody angry... but nobody blames you—not truly.”

The sarcastic grin on the Herald's face is replaced by something else, something warm. For a moment there is silence between them, then the Herald says:

“They need to blame someone, but I appreciate that you're not among those pointing fingers at me. Right now you might be the only one.”

Lace wants to object but the shouting outside discourages her.

“You've done plenty already”, the Herald says, finally picking up the blanket and wrapping it around herself. “can I ask you for one more favour? It's nothing big.” She's still breathing hard and her dark eyes seem to bore right through Lace now.

Suddenly feeling warm in her scout armour Lace pulls at her own collar.

“Of course.” she says carefully.

“Would you call me by my name? Tarin. It would mean a lot.”

'Nothing big', she said. Lace can feel her heart pound in her temples. She's sure that this is not how 'nothing big' feels like. Who casually calls Andraste's Herald by her first name?

“Of course.... Tarin.”

Well, one lucky scout named Lace Harding, apparently.

For the first time Tarin's smile reaches her eyes, clear amber once more. She pulls the blanket closer around herself and opens her mouth as if to say more, but instead she only sighs and gazes past Lace towards the exit.

“I should probably get out there and help plan.” It sounds more like a suggestion than a decision, but Lace takes it as a hint.

“And I should probably get back to the other scouts.” Lace notes lamely. Of course there's no scouting to be done right now, and sleep is out of the question. Most likely she will spend the rest of the night trying her best to stay warm and keeping the others from drowning in self-pity.

She gives Tarin a friendly nod and turns around, then back again.

“I do have one more question, if you don't mind.”

Tarin simply nods. Tersly.

“If you can't reach around to open some buckles, then how did you wash your hair?”

The laughter Lace receives as a reward will echo through her mind, hours later as they travel through the mountains towards a yet unknown destination.

“Very. Slowly.”

Chapter Text

Lace is there in the crowd when the Herald of Andraste becomes the Inquisitor. She feels a shift in the air, desperation dissolves and is replaced by hope.

Tarin stands with her sword raised high above her head, a confident smile adorning her face. Everybody cheers and yells. There's laughter, too. Even the injured stumble forward, eyes glistening, and are aided by the soldiers so they can join in the celebration.

Apostates and loyal mages and dwarfs and elves and the ex-Templars Commander Cullen brought, all unite in the courtyard, ready to serve and fight under one banner. Animosities, grudges, and rivalries seem forgotten, even if it's only for a moment.

It is a miracle.

Lace's heart sings with joy that day.

Skyhold, even in its decrepit current state, offers a protection Lace has been missing since long before she left the Hinterlands to join the Inquisition.

News about wars and rebellions don't spread as quickly on the country side, so when the rebel Templars came to Lace's village they found the people unprepared. Lace had been out herding sheep, but her mother told her every cruel detail.

Like madmen the Templars raided every house, took random people they suspected of blood magic, took their belongings and destroyed what they couldn't use. Lace's family got lucky. When one of the soldiers kicked down the Hardings' door and found an elderly dwarf couple clutching at each other's chest they laughed. They kept laughing for several minutes. Then they left. A humiliation, but preferable to the alternative.

Lace still feels a knot in her throat when she thinks about what might have happened.

And then came the Herald of Andraste, and she drove the Templars away. And she drove the mages away. And she closed the rifts and killed the demons, paved the way for Lace's company and Cullen's soldiers. And now Lace's mother writes regularly how happy and grateful she is to the Inquisition, and that she couldn't be prouder of her daughter for joining such a good cause.

Even with her pragmatic view on religion and faith Lace cannot deny that a lot of what happened in the past few months seems like divine intervention. It's hard to explain how things can get so bad so quickly, and then be turned around by just one person in the blink of an eye. 'Andraste did it' is an easy conclusion to reach.

Right now Lace enjoys her one day off before being sent to some far away and probably dangerous location again. She looks forward to the fighting, too. It is a welcome safety valve—something to channel her anger and frustration at the face of so much injustice. Still, being able to kick back for a while with some of Cabot's ale and a book is nice as well.

People haven't fully settled in at Skyhold, yet, and even the Inquisitor's closest companions are still waiting to be assigned proper quarters. Lace recognizes Sera, the elf girl who looks as sly as she's tall. She's squatting in a make-shift storage across the courtyard, biting her nails.
Seeker Pentaghast is busy hitting dummies, an activity as good or dull as any other to pass time between the missions.

Then Tarin walks out of the main entrance, her armour replaced by beige cotton pants and a simple blue bottom up shirt. Perhaps it is the sun caught in her raven hair, or the light attire, or her wide smile, or perhaps Lace is blatantly projecting, but the Inquisitor seems relaxed, comfortable.

They say she has been in her quarters for three days after she was named Inquisitor, presumably to recover from her injuries. Some of the mage healers were apparently called up to lend their services.

Now she's walking from one person to the next, shaking hands and making small-talk. A lot of people are eager to express their gratitude. Quartermaster Threnn bows. Adaan clutches Tarin's right hand with both his own and doesn't stop shaking it for several minutes. A few other people Lace doesn't recognize seem to line up. They stand in a respectful distance but always keeping an eye on the Inquisitor, hoping the next conversation will be theirs.

Lace sits on her bench, sipping her ale, pretending to read her book. There is a part of her that remembers their conversation in the mountains, where it was just the two of them and a blanket, and they talked like they could be friends. But the Inquisitor was vulnerable then, didn't feel important, didn't feel loved, and Lace was the only one available to talk. Lace does her best to convince herself she'll be content with being no one. It has always been enough so far.

“Scout Harding.” a familiar voice says close to her.

When Lace looks up Tarin is hovering over her.

“Good book?”

Snapping the book shut Lace jumps to her feet, and out of reflex says:

“Your worship.”

For a moment there is silence. Then Tarin says, in a tone not quite as kind as before:

“Shouldn't you be out there, scouting?”

She seems genuinely hurt, and here's the thing: Lace Harding copes well with a slingshot or a bow and arrows in hand. She can do humour, easily. She can do straight forward anger. When a twelve year old Martin wouldn't stop pulling her hair, Lace threw rocks at him until he ran home crying. When Frederic from two houses over sent her flowers she simply brought them back. When Mary confessed her feelings... well, that was different, because she actually liked Mary.

Passive-aggressive undertones, though? That's almost as bad as subtle flirting.

Helplessly Lace scrambles for a fitting response.

“In a bit. Just here for a change of personnel. Not me, though. In-dis-pensable.”

Her light hearted chuckle doesn't fall on deaf ears. To her relief Tarin's expression softens slightly. So she quickly adds:

“And I do remember what you asked of me.... Inquisitor, but I wasn't sure.... There are a lot of people around. Everybody should see that your scouts show their utmost respect.”

Tarin chews on her lower lip.

“You sound just like Josephine.” she says. “I just wish not everyone would be all business around me all the time. I'm still just a hunter.”

Lace laughs, at least partly to cover the fact that she has not the slightest clue who Josephine is.

“With all due respect, but when you're hunting a darkspawn magister who claims he cracked the Golden City and also has an Archdemon at his disposal, maybe the word 'just' isn't cutting it anymore.”

Now Tarin is laughing as well.

“Fair point.” she finally says. “Still, perhaps at least when it's only the two of us you could call me Tarin again?”

“Of course.... your worship.” Lace tries a smug grin to emphasize her joke, and just when she thinks she has offended the Herald of Andraste for the second time on one day, Tarin roles her eyes dramatically and says:

“All this worshipping and not a single person has sent me offerings. No gold. No food. No virgins. Does your Maker hate gifts? My clan used to make regular offerings to our gods, to keep us in their good graces. Does no one here want to be in my good graces?”

“Oh, you're a god now?” Lace chuckles. “Andrastians don't usually make offerings, no. Comes with the whole 'the maker has abandoned us until we've proven ourselves' concept. If He's not here there's not much use to waste food on Him.”

“You people are weird.” Tarin comments.

“Says the person who spent her life frolicking through the woods.” Lace deadpans.

“Touché.” Tarin says. Passive-aggressive undertone. Again. Lace is almost ready to pull her own hair.

“So, who's Scout Harding really? You obviously know all about my frolicking and about my megalomaniac tendencies.” She winks. “Tell me about yourself.”

“Oh”, Lace was always content with her simple life, and she's happy to travel and work until she'll eventually return to her village, but in comparison to the Inquisitor?

“I'm no one. I lived near Redcliffe all my life. Herded sheep for my neighbour. When the Inquisition scouts came through my village I told them everything I knew about the area. Then I signed on. I wanted to see the world before it was swallowed up by... that thing.”

Tarin nods thoughtfully.

“It is an adventure being away from everybody you knew.” she agrees. “Though you're wrong about one thing.”

Lace thinks hard.

“About what?”

Tarin bends forward ever so slightly and with a mischievous gleam in her eyes says:

“You're not no one.”

Lace watches her walk away. The book and ale are long forgotten. Two thoughts whirl around in her head:

First, Tarin winked at her.

And second, she suggested they'd be spending more time alone.

Chapter Text

Clutching her mother's letter to her chest Lace paces up and down the hallway to Tarin's quarters.

After the events at Haven Lace had pushed her family to move to Denerim. Months later her parents finally agreed to trade their farm for a small house in the city where guards could protect them should yet another evil attack. She felt guilty for insisting they leave their life behind, but feeling guilt over this was preferable to feeling guilt over losing her parents, to Red Templars or bandits or cursed wolves or who knows what.

The letter in Lace's hand was supposed to confirm that her parents were on their way to Denerim. Instead her mother wrote that Mary had gone missing. Then one day later someone broke into their home, but didn't steal anything or hurt anybody. Their trusted mabari Contessa had been drugged, and was still sleeping the next day. Now they were too afraid to stay, but they also didn't want to leave their neighbours and friends behind in a possibly dangerous situation. And knowing about Lace's history with Mary they also felt obliged to inform their daughter.

Taking a deep breath Lace finally knocks on Tarin's door. For a while nothing happens, and just as she thinks maybe Tarin didn't hear the door opens. Tarin greets her clad in a simple cotton shirt, dark brown leather pants, and a wide smile. She's barefoot, too.

“Scout Harding.” Tarin states as if she had been waiting for her.

“Your worsh.... Tarin.” Lace stutters. Is she supposed to use her first name even though she's asking for an official Inquisitor favour?

“Come in.”

She walks up the final few steps to Tarin's quarters, and even though she has an urgent request to make she allows herself a quick look around. It's a large, square room with huge windows on three sides—the ornaments in the glass show Dalish heraldry. To her right there's a fireplace and an Inquisition banner hanging from the ceiling. She recognizes a wooden halla statue standing on the mantelshelf.

An atrium to her left has two golden griffons watching over the room from the balustrade.

Lace avoids making eye contact with them or with the bed and it's white silk sheets also in her line of vision, and turns her attention back to Tarin instead. The Inquisitor sits on the edge of her desk at the far end of her room, arms crossed. She's watching Lace take in the room.

“Do you like my quarters?” she asks.

Searching for some self-composure Lace approaches her carefully.

“They're.....”

She's still searching for a word somewhere between impressive and pompous when Tarin interrupts:

“Yep. Josephine picked the decorations, and the desk I'm never using, and the books I'll never read, and the creepy griffons, and the bed. The only thing here that's actually mine is that halla statue on the mantelshelf.”

“It is pretty, though.” Lace tries.

Tarin looks at her for a long moment. Then she says:

“My people make them from Ironbark. It's a very rare wood that only a few craftsmen know how to handle properly. Master Kehlan made this for me when my clan heard of my obligations here, so I have something from home.”

“It must be difficult for you to be away from them.” Lace says. “Most of us chose to be here. Not you, though.”

“Sometimes it is.” Tarin agrees. “I still wake up early and want to go fishing or hunting, do my own laundry, prepare my own meals. I miss my friends, the community. The Dalish are not perfect, but I could trust everyone in my clan with my life. We'd always have each other's backs.”

“You don't feel like that here?”

Tarin swallows hard and turns towards the fireplace, crossing her arms behind her back. There is a pause in which Lace contemplates taking her question back.

“It's different. We don't have much use for money or large scale trade in general. Instead we make everything we need ourselves. Sometimes we trade with other clans—knowledge, mostly. There's no exploitation. The halla show us the way. The Creators show us the way. The Keeper watches over us and we all contribute to the best of our abilities to sustain our people. Here people care, too, but it's like everybody mostly watches out for themselves. Every kind word is a good that needs to be paid for.”

Finally she turns around again. Her smile is tinged with bitterness.

“I suppose it doesn't help that as the appointed leader of this institution and deity of a religion I don't believe in, I'm usually the person people expect to pay. They're friendly, too, but in the end everybody wants something.”

She's eyeing Lace up, expression soft, lips slightly apart. The light from the fire behind her makes her skin glow a pleasant warm bronze. She gestures towards Lace's letter.

“What's that?”

The slightly crumpled paper in Lace's hand suddenly seems to weigh a ton.

“I...uh...” Lace stutters.

“You came to ask me for something, didn't you.”

Lace can all but nod.

Tarin approaches her with a swift step. “It's all right.” she says, but Lace isn't sure. “Just tell me.”

Tarin listens silently as Lace explains her family's situation, her worries for them and Mary, of course. Lace fumbles with her own fingers and feels Tarin's eyes piercing her the entire time. She doesn't dare look up, however, because thinking of her family in danger is hard enough—telling Tarin about it to her face, though? Too much.

She finishes her hasty speech with “I would go myself, but I'm leading the scouting team to the Western Approach tomorrow. It would really mean a lot if you could do this. Please.”

“Of course.” Tarin says without missing a beat. “Whatever you need.”

Lace sighs. “Thank you. That's a relief.”

“I'll instruct Leliana to gather information on any other strange activity in the region. Then I'll head out myself as soon as possible.”

“Tarin?”

“Yes.”

“I really appreciate it.”

.

Two weeks pass in the hot desert of the Western Approach before Lace sees the Inquisitor again.

Wildlife and Venatori and bandits and Red Templars; rifts and demons, giants and poison hot springs and sandstorms; undead, darkspawn, and dragons—everything in Thedas seems to have murder plans lately. There's one woman who stands against it, who emerges from every battle alive and with good news for the people. Whenever Tarin arrives with her team it's like everyone and everything around her lets out sighs of relief. It is impossible not to be in awe of her.

Or perhaps Lace is blatantly projecting again.

She gives Tarin a brief report on the general situation and what she knows of the whereabouts of Ser Hawke, all while her heart is pounding wild in her chest. She doesn't want to pry, but Lace hasn't heard from her family for over two weeks and dangerous missions offer only so much distraction. That's a lot of time for things to get a lot worse.

With the Inquisitor is Sera, who looks equally miserable and angry in the heat. She keeps wiping her mouth in a futile attempt to get rid of the sand on her lips. There's Seeker Pentaghast whose facial expression says she's ready to challenge the sky itself to a duel, and Madame de Fer, whom Lace doesn't dare to have an opinion about. Her clothes look expensive, though, and clean as if to spite the dirt everywhere around her.

They're not the kind of team Lace would have imagined as the last great hope of Thedas, but then many much stranger things have happened in the past months and they were all terrible beyond reason. A thief, a Dalish elf, the Right Hand of the Divine, and a loyal circle mage fighting together as equals can hardly be considered something to complain about in comparison.

“Just give it to her.” Sera shouts from behind Tarin. “You've been fumbling with your pocket all the way here.”

Cassandra and Vivienne both roll their eyes. Tarin blushes. Sera frowns. Lace looks back up to Tarin.

“Inquisitor?”

“I didn't mean to hold out on you.” Tarin says, pulling a letter out of her pocket. “We've been investigating your village and you were right and wrong to be worried.”

“Right and wrong?”

“Your parents were the target of some people who are unhappy about the Inquisition gaining influence. Nobles hired...”

“The Jennies dealt with that.” Sera states. “Your folks are safe now.”

Patiently Tarin continues: “Nobles hired someone to scare you, because they knew you work for me.”

Lace gulps. “Well, mission accomplished. It's hard to believe what length people will go to hurt you, Inquisitor.”

“No.” Tarin says earnestly. “Not me, you.”

“Me? But I'm...”

Tarin takes one step towards Lace, looks her directly in the eyes, and says:

“You're underestimating yourself. You're doing good work. If you're not up to speed it weakens the whole Inquisition. I told you, you're somebody—to me, and to everyone.”

Suddenly Lace's mouth is dry.

“Is this really happening?” Cassandra's tone is hard to place. Lace guesses it's somewhere between annoyed and honestly curious, but the former could also just be her regular voice.

Vivienne clears her throat.

“Sera had some ideas, however, and your parents have safely arrived in Denerim. I made sure of that personally.” Tarin continues, ignoring her companions' remarks with ostentation.

“That letter is from your lover Mary, whose disappearance had actually nothing to do with the break-in at you're parents' house. There were a few misplaced notes that were meant to reach your parents, but she actually left for Kirkwall. I think the letter will explain more.”

Uncertain what to say Lace settles for a “Thank you.” and stares at the letter before her. It's a plain envelope, sealed, and addressed to her personally. All she can think now is to rip it open and find out why Mary would write to her.

“See you at Skyhold.” Lace hears Tarin say, though it takes a few moments before she catches on.

“Inquisitor.” she manages.

Tarin turns around once more and raises her chin. “Go read your letter.” she says with a grin. “We can talk later.”

Lace can barely hold herself back from waving at her. “Be careful out there.” she says instead.

Tarin chuckles. “You're worried about me?”

Worried about the Inquisitor? The Herald of Andraste? Dragon-slayer, and hero of all of Thedas? No. Regardless of what the Wardens have in store for her she'll come through, bruised perhaps but never beaten.

Worried about Tarin?

“Someone has to be.” Lace responds a little more seriously than she was aiming for. She quickly tries to deflect:

“Try not to die. I don't want to deliver that report back to Skyhold.”

Tarin chuckles again and finally turns to leave.

The scouting team will remain camped in the Western Approach and wait for the Inquisitor's return. Until they get new orders, however, there won't be much to do other than to sit around.

Lace climbs in her tent and eagerly breaks the seal of her letter.

“Dear Lace,

I apologize for leaving without saying goodbye. You know I was never content with the farm life and with everything going on around Redcliffe these days.... I suppose it was a sign by the Maker that it's time to go.

Remember how we used to talk about going on adventures one day?

Well, you found yours, so now I'm seeking mine.

I think it'll also make it a little easier for us to remain friends, or it'll be easier for me, at least. When you said it wasn't working out between us you broke my heart. And then you broke it again by leaving for the Inquisition. I cannot be stuck here alone forever.

I also cannot continue to hope for you to come back to me one day.

Please tell your parents I'm grateful for their support after my own parents had died. I fled more than I left, and I will visit them in Denerim as soon as possible. But if I hadn't gone now I don't know if I would ever have.

You'll be in my prayers.

Mary”

How very dramatic of you, Mary, Lace thinks to herself as she puts the letter aside.

At least she's alive. And obviously hasn't changed a bit.

They had had a good run, Lace and Mary. Herded sheep together. Went to church together (Mary prayed, Lace napped on the bench). Imagined going away together. But while Lace preferred planning ahead, Mary had always followed her impulses. Lace enjoyed adventure, but she also enjoyed having a schedule. Mary enjoyed staying up all night and spontaneously skipping obligations. It drove Lace insane, and after the rush of first love was over, it was over.

“Eat with us?” one of the scouts calls from the outside. “I made a stew.”

As Lace makes her way out her thoughts drift back to Tarin, to their little chats, and she smiles to herself. If caring for one another and being responsible is a Dalish thing then maybe a lot of stories about the Dalish will have to be revalued.

Then another thought crosses her mind:

“Lover” Mary?

Oh, pants!

Chapter Text

For the second time in a little over a month Lace finds herself in front of Tarin's door, and again she's hesitating—partly because her hands are shaking and partly because her hands aren't free.

It seemed like a good idea, doing something nice for the person who went out of her way to help Lace personally. Now she worries that she may be overstepping her bounds. Perhaps all the banter and the winking and smiling is just part of the Inquisitor role Tarin takes on to remain on people's good side, keep morale up, or...

The door opens and Lace can barely keep herself from shrieking.

“I thought I heard footsteps.” Tarin says. “It's good to see you.” Then her eyes wander to the tray in Lace's hands. “What's that?”

Lace searches herself for some kind of self-composure. Squaring her shoulders she finally says:

“Food.”

Tarin furrows her brows but gestures for Lace to come in nonetheless.

“I meant to thank you for looking after my family, and then I remembered one of our conversations and you mentioned people offering you food... I know it was a joke, but.... oh well, this is my mother's recipe.”

“You cooked? For me?” Tarin sounds genuinely shocked. She looks like it, as well.

Lace's cheeks are on fire, but at least her hands have stopped trembling.

“You know how sometimes ideas sound better in your head than they look like in reality?”

And there it is again: That smile which reaches Tarin's eyes, lights up her whole face. Lace wishes she could see it more often.

With enthusiasm Tarin takes the tray from her and places it on her desk. Then she bends down to a cupboard next to her. “This is a great idea. In fact, I was hoping for an opportunity to spend some time with you.” Her head and half her torso are buried in the cupboard and Lace thinks that maybe she didn't hear correctly. In any event she's uncertain how to respond, so she continues to silently hover by the stairs instead.

When Tarin emerges with two plates and a blanket she says: “You are going to eat with me, aren't you?” With a lopsided grin she adds: “I mean, you weren't going to let me dine all by myself?”

“Of course not.” Lace lies. “But I don't mean to impose...”

“Nonsense.” Tarin's already spreading out the blanket on the carpet. Then she sprints back to the cupboard and pulls out a wine jug. “You're not getting out of this one, Scout Harding.”

Finally some of the tension in Lace's chest dissolves and she dares to leave her spot by the exit to join Tarin, who has used the three seconds in which Lace must have blanked out entirely to arrange the tray, plates, and pillows to a perfect little picnic spot. She lifts the wine jug and fills two wooden cups.
.

Approximately four hundred parsnip fritters and thirty-five filled mushrooms later, Lace lifts the cloche from a second plate.

“We haven't touched the apple tart.” she says holding her belly.

Tarin snorts. “How does so much food fit into such a small person?” She's stretching her legs out, leaning back and resting on her elbows.

“Hey.” Lace says, trying her best to sound offended. In hindsight perhaps she did subconsciously cook for two... or three by the looks of the left-overs.

Tarin sips from her cup. “Well, you're definitely hired.”

To Lace's obvious confusion she responds: “As my personal chef, of course. I know I said I miss doing things on my own but now that I'm thinking about it, maybe it wouldn't be so bad having you deliver me food to my door every day.”

Chuckling Lace retorts: “Oh, I absolutely would, but Sister Leliana would never let me. Indispensable, remember?”

“Ah, damn.” Tarin laughs. She takes another sip.

“So, how's your family doing? Have you heard from them since we last spoke?”

Lace nods. “I have. They're good. Luckily you pay me enough so I can cover their expenses until they have found work in Denerim. But they're safe. That's what matters.”

“Good.” Tarin says, sitting up with a quiet groan, and crossing her legs. “That's good.” She chews on her lower lip and idly traces the edge of her plate with her index finger before looking back up to Lace. “...and Mary?”

Mary. Right! “She's well, I think. She said she wanted to contact my parents, so I believe I will be hearing about her then.”

“Good.” Tarin repeats a little less enthusiastically.

An awkward silence settles between the two, but Lace is nothing if not blunt.

“We're not together.” she blurts out. “We were, but that was three years ago. That's long over.”

She picks up her own cup to take a big gulp before more words can fall out of her mouth, but finds it empty. Tarin lifts the jug from the blanket, tilts it apologetically.

“All out.” she says. “I'll get you some water.” She stands to fetch the carafe still resting on her desk, giving Lace some room to breathe.

It's a sunny afternoon, warm for Skyhold. With the light breeze coming through one open window Lace almost feels like she's back home, having a picnic on the meadow behind her parents' farm. How long has it been? A year? With the world falling apart every other day, she's barely had time to think, let alone sit down with someone and enjoy a meal. Turns out some ideas are even better realized.

“You look content.” Tarin notes as she fills Lace's cup and sits back down. “I don't think I've seen you smile so much. It's like we're finally getting to know each other.”

“We are, aren't we?” Lace nods. “Such a shame our encounters are usually so brief. But, you know, saving the world and all that. Busy, busy!”

Tarin looks at her for a long moment, something she seems to do quite often—long moments in which Lace has just enough time to wonder but never enough to finish a thought.

“Excuse me.” Tarin clears her throat. “I'm so used to having my guard up all the time, but with you it's like.... I'm getting carried away easily. It's so tempting to forget what we're up against, that I need to be bigger than myself.”

Lace thinks back to their first conversation in the mountains. The image of Tarin standing tall on the top of that flight of stairs in Skyhold with her sword raised heavenward flashes through her mind. Tarin was still injured that day, but the crowd cheered. Lace cheered.

“I admit that when I came to your tent after the attack on Haven”, she starts. “I wanted to see more as well.”

Tarin mischievously raises her eyebrows, but Lace waves her off. “I meant that I wanted to see the Herald of Andraste. I was curious.”

“So you came to stare. I know.”

There is no hint of disappointment or hurt or anger in Tarin's voice, and when Lace looks up Tarin is looking her directly in the eyes and oh! She should either quit doing that or never stop again.

“...but then you saw I was smaller than you had imagined and you helped me, not the Herald but me. And you've been looking at me differently since. I understand the curiosity. I cannot even say I would behave any differently were the roles reversed. What's important is that you snapped out of it when it mattered.”

Lace mirrors Tarin's warm smile.

“For what it's worth, I'm glad I didn't find what I was looking for.” she says.

“So am I.” Tarin says. “It feels good to have someone who genuinely cares. A friend.”

She raises her cup and looks so happy that Lace can almost ignore the sting in her chest.

“To friendship.” she declares.

When they say goodbye it's already dark. Tarin bends down and pulls Lace into a hug—brief but with both her arms around Lace's shoulders. The tingle of her breath will linger on Lace's neck even as she changes out of her clothes and slips under the covers of her bed.

Chapter Text

Wardens. Blood magic. Thunder. Chaos. Screams. Death.

Lace sends arrows flying at the enemy but it's like shooting at raindrops. They blend into each other, form an undistinguishable mess of bodies. Soldiers turn into demons before Lace can hit them. They twist and turn and then they're gone, replaced by unspeakable monstrosities. Even with the Inquisition's soldiers forming a living shield the heat of the battle burns on Lace's face.

She tries not to think about the soldiers and scouts that have died and will die tonight. Faces of people she knows flash before eyes but she pushes them away each time she draws her bow. She focuses on the buzz of her string to drown out familiar voices.

“Clarel! Clarel!”

It's the only name that seems to ring clearly through the night. Different people are shouting it from different directions with different intentions no doubt.

She had heard about the possibility of the Wardens being corrupted. Until now, however it was a tale hard to believe.

Lace saw ten years ago what one Warden could accomplish. She was only a girl then and it was the first time she saw the undead rise. They said only Redcliffe itself had been under siege but for the villagers in the area this was terrifying news regardless. For weeks her mother would lock her in her room every night. Lace would push her chest in front of the door and cower in her wardrobe until her mother knocked their signal on the wall. Three. Pause. Two. Pause. One.

She only learned years later that the person who ended Redcliffe's curse and cured Arl Eamon was in fact the Warden, the same Warden who came back and defeated the darkspawn, too. The same Warden who'd later be known as the Hero of Ferelden.

Every now and then Lace makes out a griffon on a shield or a piece of armour and a shudder runs down her spine. They're supposed to be heroes. They're supposed to fight...

“A dragon!”

A roar. Then the sky opens and a blast of fire burns through the crowd. Lace jumps backwards behind a corner, shields her eyes, and dodges the attack just so.

When she looks up a rift has ripped the castle in two. The walls around Lace tremble, the earth is shaking as if of anger. Rocks fall. The remaining soldiers lift their shields. Chaos. Screams. The taste of blood.

Darkness.

.

When she comes to it's day. The light blinds her and adds to an already bad headache. She's lying down and there are voices around her talking but it's hard to focus on anyone in particular. Then she realizes she's moving, being dragged.

With a groan she opens her eyes and finds herself on a stretcher behind a horse. Slowly she tilts her head and recognizes Commander Cullen on foot next to her. She cracks open her lips and tries to speak, but her tongue lies too heavy in her mouth. Then her vision blurs.

.

The next time Lace wakes up it's dark around her with the exception of a single candle on a night stand to her right. She's dressed in a cotton nightgown that she recognizes as one of her own. And she's in in her own bed at Skyhold—the small chambers she was assigned to for the few nights she actually stays here. The rest of the time it's a room to store her belongings in.

Lace still aches, her body feels bruised all over, but at least her head is clear. She rolls on her side with a groan and a sharp pain shoots through her midriff. For a moment it's hard to breathe and she bites her lip and cries a few silent tears. Then she feels like a child, helpless like that time when she had raced Cortessa through the hills near her village. Cortessa jumped over a trench that Lace saw too late. She fell and broke her arm. It took hours for her parents to find her.

What was it her mother used to say? 'Breathe through the pain.'

She closes her mouth and tries to inhale through her nose, but the pain in her midriff stops her.

Breathe through it.

She does it again with more determination. And again. And each time she tries she can feel her lungs blow up a little larger, until finally Lace manages to take an actual full breath.

There's a soft knock on the door but even before she can answer Tarin pushes through a crack with swift, soundless steps. Lace is too exhausted to be surprised and truth be told, there's no one else she'd rather see right now.

“Do you want to sit up?” Tarin asks and it's only now that Lace notices she brought an extra pillow.

“All right.”

Carefully Tarin helps her on her back and into a sitting position. She rearranges the pillows so Lace can lean back and oh! That's better!

Tarin sits down on a stool next to the bed.

“You were injured badly when the eastern tower of Adamant Fortress fell.” she explains. “It's only scratches and bruises but it's going to take a while to heal because of your resistance to magic.”

Breathing. All right.

“It's been two days. You've mostly been sleeping.”

“What happened?”

Tarin chews on her lip for a few moments, contemplating.

“What didn't happen?” she jokes but her voice trembles.

“The Wardens were mislead, frightened. They were being manipulated by a magister who served Corypheus. I could convince the surviving Wardens and Commander Clarel to turn on their master. And then...” She swallows hard. “...and then he summoned Corypheus's dragon and opened a rift. I closed it but the walls of the castle were breaking. Everything happened so fast. I fell into the Fade.”

“Wait, what?” Lace grabs her blanket and pulls it a little higher.

“Clarel sacrificed herself to ward off the dragon. My mark.... I opened a way into the Fade and fell through.” She sighs. “Out loud it sounds even more unbelievable than it does in my head. I met, I think it was a spirit? And now I remember what happened at the conclave.”

Suddenly Lace's pain is forgotten.

“Are you all right?” she asks, but Tarin grins awkwardly.

“I don't know.” she says. “I guess I haven't been all right for a while. At least now I know where the mark comes from—Corypheus meant to use it himself but when I touched the orb at the conclave I stole it from him.”

“Wow.” Lace manages.

“Yeah. And that's not even all of it. A lot of people died that day. Ser Loghain was among them. He stayed in the Fade so Hawke and I could leave.”

“Wow.” Lace repeats.

“It is a lot. I'm still trying to wrap my head around everything as well.” Tarin admits. “I will give you more details in time. You should know, however that the remaining Wardens are with us now.”

“You gave them another chance?”

The last moments before she lost consciousness flash before Lace's eyes. Fear. Pain. Screaming. She saw friends fall that day, people she had been working with since her first day with the Inquisition. And the smell! Burning bodies everywhere. She wonders if that is why Tarin couldn't wait to wash her hair after Haven. Her stomach churns.

“They used blood magic and sacrificed their brothers and sisters. They took an oath!”

“And they believed they were doing their duty.” Tarin says, patiently. “They would never intentionally serve the Blight, and the moment they realized they were being misled they did what was necessary. I mourn our people as well, Lace.”

She wipes her eyes and some of Lace's anger dissipates.

“And I almost lost you. I don't want to lose anybody.”

Hesitantly Lace reaches out, touches Tarin's knee. Tarin takes her hand in both of her own and when she looks up the light of the candle reveals that Tarin's injured, too. There's a gash across her nose and a large bruise below her right eye.

“Just how many chances are you willing to give?” Lace asks.

Tarin shrugs. “Chances aren't given—chances are created. The Inquisition was meant to unite as many people as possible against a larger threat. I cannot sit on my cloud of judgement and banish potential allies just because I don't like them. If we don't create chances for the desperate people of Thedas, then who will?”

“I apologize.” Lace says. “You don't need to justify your actions to me.”

Tarin nods thoughtfully. “I think I want to, though. I think I'm still trying to justify them to myself.”

Herald of Andraste. Inquisitor. Dragon-slayer.

It's like something washes over Lace, and she lets go. She was never meant to be a devout disciple, a follower of the hero of Thedas. Her role was never meant to be that of a no one among the scouts. She couldn't have been, anyway.

She gives Tarin, her friend, a squeeze.

“You never called me Lace before.” she says.

Tarin smiles tiredly. “I didn't know whether.... you never offered.”

“I'm offering now, but only because you had the decency not to mock me.”

“Yeah, about that. Lace. Harding? Really?” Tarin chuckles, but Lace can only think about Tarin's hands around her own.

“My mother is a seamstress. Blame her!” she insists, and admittedly, that doesn't make it sound any better. “And don't look at me like that!” When Tarin only laughs she adds: “And don't tell anyone.”

Tarin winks. “It's a promise.”

Chapter Text

A couple of days pass and Lace's injuries still hurt, but are healing nicely. Her mother used to joke about Lace being too stubborn to succumb to wounds, that she could force cuts and bruises away with the sheer power of her will. The scar forming a thick line from her left ear towards the corner of her mouth disproves this theory, as do the small scar on her chin (a result of a squabble with a mean chicken), the one to the side of her nose (a Templar had punched her with his metal gloves on), the one on her shoulder blade where an arrow hit her, the scars on her knees (she was a lively child), as well as the scars to her midriff and chest that will surely be starting to form soon.

Nonetheless, it could have ended a lot worse and Lace is nothing if not grateful that she's now able to make her way to the Skyhold gardens, even though she has to walk slowly; even though she is frustrated that Leliana refuses to assign her to any missions, yet; even though she probably still looks like the eastern tower of Adamant Fortress fell on top of her.

Lady Montilyet sent Lace flowers to her bedroom and a couple of Lace's scouts came by to cheer her up. When Mother Giselle entered the room for a moment Lace thought it was to tell her she was going to die after all. Thankfully, though the Revered Mother only came to offer her prayers and well wishes.

Lace has never felt quite so popular and useless before. With nothing to do her bed soon felt like a prison, as well, so she decided to take a break from resting and go for a walk.

As she walks up the stairs to Skyhold's main hall, however, she regrets her decision bitterly. The muscles in her legs still ache and she's not breathing as freely as she would like to. She coughs and curses and dares a look back. She's come too far to turn around and too far down to make the rest.

It's the Sera girl who comes to her aid.

“Slow down or you'll fall on your face.” she says, putting her palm on Lace's back for support. “Where are you going?” Then she looks up to the entrance and grins mischievously, though that might really just be her face. “Inquisitor's chambers?”

“No.” Lace responds a little too quickly. “Why would you think that?”

“Oh please.” Sera dismisses her. “Like you haven't been making eyes at each other for months now. I mean, I get it. She's pretty in places, and you're really cute. Just don't be stupid about it.”

Lace opens and closes her mouth a couple of times, but the only thing she can manage is an odd stutter: “Stu... uh... what?”

“Some people get stupid when they like someone.” Sera explains bringing her arm further around Lace's back to gently push her upstairs. “They keep talking about things but never about what's important. That way they never get to do things. With each other. That's time wasted.”

Lace can think of at least eleven very good deflections, but Sera won't hear them:

“Look, you can lie about it. To me, to you. Keep pretending like it's not there. But that would be stupid.” She stretches the last word for emphasis. “And you'd both be moping around sooner or later. You're unhappy. Inquisitor's unhappy. Then people get unhappy, too. Would you really want that?”

Every one of Lace's muscles aches. She's exhausted and frustrated, and frankly, no, what Sera describes sounds terrible. She sighs in defeat.

“She's the Inquisitor.” she says.

Sera giggle- snorts. “So what? Because she's supposed to be authority? I'm sorry, but last time I saw her she was following you, not the other way around.”

“Following me?”

“Like a stray puppy.” Sera bats her eyelashes and purses her lips in mockery.

“Up to you, though.” she says as they reach the top of the stairs. “I already got my Widdle.”

She waves a quick 'bye' and runs further into the hall, leaving Lace where she stands with her heart hammering in her chest, only partly due to the fact that after a week in bed climbing these stairs was a little too much.

Her thoughts are racing, too when she reaches the garden. After Mary Lace hadn't exactly planned on starting a new relationship anytime soon. In fact, signing on with the Inquisition at the time seemed like a way of clearing her head—getting away from the familiar, breaking loose from all ties for a bit. Lace enjoys the freedom scouting gives her. With the Inquisition she has a home to come back to but room to explore, to venture, discover. Lace travels further than she knew she could, fights harder than she thought possible, sees more than she had imagined. Even the bruises in a way feel like an accomplishment, like she's growing, coming back stronger from the experience.

And Tarin? She's.... always more than she's supposed to be.

Perhaps.

Lace wasn't consciously searching, but she finds Tarin in the small chapel, staring up at Andraste's statue. Her arms crossed behind her back. The room glows golden from the candles that the devout have placed around Andraste.

“Lace.” Tarin says when she turns around. She smiles encouragingly.

“It's good to see you up. How are you?”

Reaching out with one arm she gestures for Lace to join her by the alter.

“I've been better.” Lace admits. Her breath hitches when Tarin's palm finds the small of her back.

“You're in good hands.” Tarin says. Lace couldn't agree more. “You'll be all right in no time, you'll see.”

Lace closes her eyes. Now's a good a time as any.

“I've been thinking about Andraste a lot lately.” Tarin muses and Lace bites her lip. “Everything they say about her—do you ever wonder what she'd think about the Chant as it is practised now? And the Chantry as it is? She stood up against slavers, against oppression. That's a worthy goal. But what about everything else they say about her? That she fought with the Maker's support? That she became his bride? I wonder what she'd feel. Honor? Or shame, because essentially the credit for her work now goes to yet another questionable institution?”

“You mean that she's become a symbol more than a person?”

“Yeah.”

“And that who she truly was doesn't seem to matter much?”

“Yeah.”

“And that while many people look up to her maybe not a lot of people knew about that single token from home on her mantelshelf and that she needed to remind friends to call her by her first name?”

“Hey!”

Lace searches Tarin's face. The healers have done good work. All bruises are already gone. Her eyes are shining in the candle light. She gently pulls Lace closer to her side.

“The comparison to Andraste scares me.” Tarin admits. “I'm a hunter and I don't believe in the Maker. I can fight but I can never be what people want me to be: a disciple of their god. One day they will realize this and then I will be the target of their disappointment.”

Hesitantly Lace reaches up and places her own palm on Tarin's back.

“You're a lot more than we could have hoped for already.” she says.

Tarin huffs. “That depends on people's expectations.” Lace steals a quick glance up and catches Tarin do the same.

“What are your expectations?” Tarin asks and Lace feels like she's about to have a stroke.

“It would be nice if you could make it so we don't all die.” she jokes nervously. Tarin smiles but it's obvious her thoughts are elsewhere entirely.

“Yes, but apart from that, Lace. Who am I to you?”

For the second time today Lace sighs in defeat. She came here to say it anyway. Cornered and trapped between Tarin's hand on her back and Andraste's gaze upon her there's no room to dodge any longer.

“I don't expect... I meant to ask....” Breathe through it. “You're my friend and I like being your friend. I like spending time with you, the little time that we have, that is. But I was also.... you know that thing we do when we're out there? The....the playful banter? And the looks and the....”

Tarin's hand seems to be burning on her back.

“I mean that's just for fun... right?”

Standing still Lace counts her breaths. One. Her head feels like it's bursting. Two. How far exactly is it to Denerim? Perhaps if she took off now she could make it to her parents' house just in time to watch the earth open up and swallow the remains of her dignity.
Three. She's definitely going to kill Sera.

“That's.... not what I meant.” Tarin says quietly and perhaps Lace is lucky enough to die even before Sera. Lace closes her eyes as if that could make the embarrassment go away.

“Me and my big mouth.” she all but whispers. Her throat feels tight, her chest feels tighter. She squares her shoulders and shuffles backwards. She opens her mouth in the hopeless hope that her words will make sense but her true focus is on the exit behind her.

Only when Tarin gently pulls her back by the hip does she realize she never let go off Lace.

“It is fun.” Tarin says. “The banter... and everything. I would like it to continue.” She slides her other hand down Lace's arm, takes her hand and holds it tight. “I like being your friend, as well. Very much so. We don't have to stop being friends, right?”

“I would never ask more than you can give.” Lace says, even though disappointment is pulling at her.

“That's not what I meant.” Tarin says again. “There's so much...” She gulps and her eyes seem to be searching for something in Lace's face. “There's so much of everything. All the time.”

“I'll always be your friend.”

Lace's words seem to dissipate some of the tension in Tarin's jaw. She says:

“And maybe after some things have calmed down we could.... talk.”

It's not quite what Lace was hoping for, but it's enough to release some of the hurt that had been building in her chest. Tarin pulls her close and they stand entwined until neither of them feels like crying any longer.

Chapter Text

From the bruises on her shins Lace can tell the Inquisitor has never taken a dancing lesson before. She wonders if she should have brought her sturdy hunting boots. She also wishes Tarin hadn't.

Lace has seen Tarin fight. She's small, even for an elf. A low to the ground storm of blades she sprints from the shadows, and strikes fast, just to disappear faster, leaving her foes no time to react.

Of course Lace is always aware of Tarin's presence on the battlefield. She used to tell herself it's because her duties as lead scout demand she's aware of everyone's position. From a few meters away, perhaps on an elevated spot where it's easier to snipe with her bow she keeps an overview. That much is true. She'll command her scouts when Leliana isn't there—and she rarely is—to attack or to retreat or to switch places.

The other truth is that as she scans the area her eyes will always seek out and find Tarin. Oftentimes she doesn't even need to look anymore (though she always wants to). It's like she can feel the Inquisitor, like a thread pulling at her into Tarin's direction. After their conversation in the chapel three weeks ago this pull has only grown stronger.

“Ouch!”

Some of that swiftness Tarin shows in combat might be useful now, too.

“I'm sorry.” Tarin says and ducks her head. Her cheeks are coloured bright red, and she clenches her jaw. Her palms are sweaty, and she rubs them together before shaking them out.

When Lace watches Tarin fight she also watches Tarin observe. So much of her fighting depends on timing. She'll stalk like the hunter she was trained to be in her clan, and wait for an opening. Sometimes she'll wait longer than all the other rogues, so long that at first Lace wondered if Tarin might be shy, if the skirmish might seem daunting.

Herding sheep Lace had never seen a hunter work before, even though hunting parties occasionally passed through her village. Sometimes they stopped to trade meat for gold and drink. Sometimes one of the huntresses would even talk to Lace. She fondly remembers one of the women who sat down with her over a keg of beer one evening. Her hair had the colour of autumn leaves, a little darker than Lace's own locks, and her unabashed laughter filled the room like Lace had never heard a woman laugh before. She was assertive. Tall. Bold. She didn't make Lace think about the finesse it would take for a successful hunt.

Seeing Tarin in action is different, and Lace knows now that she was mistaken. There's no shyness in Tarin's actions. She's not passive, just careful. And the waiting always pays off.

“At this rate I'll make a fool out of myself at Halamshiral, offend someone important, and cause serious injuries to an innocent.”

Tarin sighs, defeated, and takes a step back.

“Innocent? I'm not so sure you'll find a lot of those in the Winter Palace.”

It's a lame attempt to cheer up the both of them, but if Lace is being honest, she's worried, too.

“Everybody will be asking why the Inquisition is led by an incompetent jester.” Tarin is almost shrieking now, tears undoubtedly pressing on her voice.

“We still have time.” Lace lies, but Tarin continues:

“And then nobody will listen to my warning. The empress will be murdered. Corypheus will wreak havoc upon Thedas. Everybody will be killed. And just because I can't dance!”

There's a brief silence in which the mental image of Tarin's suggestion speeds through Lace's mind. She snorts. Thankfully, Tarin grins, too, now.

“Who thought it'd be my dancing that would bring about the apocalypse?” she says. Then she sighs again.

“You've been very patient, Lace. But I can't do it. Remembering the steps is easy, but the music?” She's almost whispering now so Maryden downstairs won't hear. “What is this?”

“Ah.” Lace says “That is a traditional Orlesian waltz. No way around that I'm afraid.”

“It's atrocious.”

“It's just a different pacing than what you're accustomed to, I think.”

Tarin looks positively offended now. “No. What's the flute doing there? Do you hear that?”

Lace laughs. “It's not exactly Fereldan folk, either.” She rubs her eyes. They've been practising for several hours, and even though the ball is still two weeks off the lack of progress feels discouraging. If they had more time Lace wouldn't feel the need to push, but Tarin's other duties unfortunately have kept her and Lace apart. There was barely time to talk. There was never time to dance.

Secretly she resents the Inquisition's advisors for this. Especially Josephine should have had the foresight to schedule lessons ahead of time. Of course, accusations won't help anyone now.

This time it's Lace who sighs.

“Come here.” she says, stretching out her hand.

“You seriously want to try again?” Tarin sounds hopeless, but does as she's told.

Then Lace begins to untie her shoes and gestures for Tarin to do the same. “You've never had to attend school or church, have you?” she asks, an idea growing in the back of her mind.

“No.” Tarin confirms.

“Then you've never had the pleasure of someone trying to beat knowledge into you by mindless repetition. You're an observer. You copy. You feel.”

With a dull thud their boots land in the corner of the room. Lace reaches for Tarin once more and this time Tarin steps closer without hesitation.

“Well, we do learn about Dalish history. I'm no savage. I can read.” The words are murmured and there is neither hurt nor anger in Tarin's voice. Lace pulls her close, puts her arms around her waist.

“I'm sure you've enjoyed those lessons tremendously.” she says and slowly starts swaying, and like she suspected, Tarin follows effortlessly.

“I was a model pupil.” Tarin says, and Lace is relieved to hear humour through the words. “Master Shanowen would often let me go early, because I was doing so well.”

Lace can't help but snort again, though her breath hitches when Tarin moves her hands from Lace's shoulders to her neck.

“...because I was doing so well.” she insists, but Lace is barely listening. They're so close now, she can almost feel Tarin's heartbeat. And Tarin is pulling her closer still. She gulps, then gives in, places her cheek on Tarin's chest, and tightens her own embrace.

“Ouch.” Tarin says, but when Lace attempts a step back in surprise, Tarin holds her close.

“You stepped on my foot.” she laughs, and her hands move up Lace's neck. Her fingertips brush Lace's hairline, then one arm moves back down to rest firmly around her shoulders.

Lace's own heart is beating out of control now, out of embarrassment and because of those darn feelings she's trying to control. There's no doubt in her mind that Tarin can feel it, too.

“This is nice.” Tarin says. “It's been forever since we were able to spend time together.”

Lace doesn't know what to say so she says nothing.

“And maybe I won't bring about the apocalypse, either. Provided we can do this more often in the days before Halamshiral.”

“You're getting better already.” Lace says, smiling to herself. “I'll ask Josephine if she can arrange for all flutes to be banned from the Winter Palace. We'll be fine.”

“Thank you.” Tarin says and Lace thinks that she doesn't mean the flutes. Or the dancing.

“I'll be there with you in the Winter Palace.” she says. “Leliana wants me and a selected handful of scouts there. No matter what happens. I've got you.”

Tarin doesn't respond. Not with words. She hugs Lace tightly, but her fingertips remain soft on Lace's neck.

And they sway in unison, perfectly to Maryden's tune.