The year is 9:34 of the Dragon Age.
The reports that come from Kirkwall are beginning to become more and more worrying, with varying accounts of the savagery of the Qunari bordering from the minor to the unbelievable. Bann Trevelyan keeps his eyes and ears on the events, but he knows he is not the Teyrn of Ostwick – his soldiers are few and far between, and even he does not get all of the information until later.
Bann Trevelyan grows nervous as the reports of violence escalates, and begins to seriously consider the consequences if Ostwick were to fall to a similar threat. He knows the city will be useless to save his home and his lands in the event that Ostwick falls, and the panic grows as the situation in Kirkwall escalates.
The Battle of Kirkwall begins not much later, and Bann Trevelyan prays his youngest child will forgive him for what he is about to do.
Evelyn sits in her mother’s parlour, tea and cake on the table before her, and ponders the decision that will change her life forever.
A small boy sits in the corner, playing quietly with her nephew: her stepson, if her father gets his way. Bann Errol Dubois of Markham sits across from her, sipping his tea politely as he watches her carefully. At thirty-one years old he is ten years her senior, but his eyes are kind (though there is no trace of affection, this she knows), and his security detail alone is half the size of her father’s soldiers.
Her stipulations are simple: Evelyn wishes to be able to continue her archery training, and to be allowed to remain her own person independent of the Bann. She will not change her surname, and she will not simply be a trophy wife to hang off his arm at parties.
Evelyn quietly marries him within the month. She is twenty-one years old.
The year is 9:35 Dragon.
She spends the night before her wedding sobbing in her bedroom, tears soaking the pillow as her mother strokes her hair and coos gently, wishing to ease the pain of an unwanted marriage and a sudden move out of her family home. Striking her only the night before the wedding, Evelyn realises that she does not want this, does not want to shackle herself to a man she does not love and does not even know all that well.
She walks to the altar willingly, but with the feeling that she is being dragged to it.
Nevertheless, her marriage is a kind one. Bann Dubois treats her well, and her terms are agreed to within the first day of her moving into his estate. She gets along well with his son, Edward, though the boy is young and often too much for her to handle on occasions.
The marriage is kind, but it is without love. They remain faithful to one another, but the small spark of what could have been is extinguished the day Evelyn births a sickly little boy who does not last through the night. Their grief pushes them apart, highlights their differences in ways that the shadows of the estate had hidden well in the early months of their marriage. Dubois remains kind to her, and they transition from potential lovers to simple acquaintances. It is sad, but Evelyn comforts herself with the knowledge that it is often the way things go in unwanted marriages.
Dubois has his heir, and Evelyn is at a loss as to why Dubois consented to the match. Nonetheless, she is content, and the potential lovers fade apart from each other as the year moves into 37 Dragon.
Evelyn forces herself to remain faithful in the estate where the shadow of her predecessor hangs in every room, refuses to become her own mother, to mirror the actions of the last Trevelyan woman to be trapped in a loveless marriage. She knows divorce is unattainable, but she will not trade the kindness in her household for one night with a pretty soldier. It is not worth it.
So Evelyn fights. She trains with and apart from her soldiers, hones her skills as well as she can against men and women who do not wish to harm their Lady. She learns the ins and outs of the political climate, follows the events after the destruction of Kirkwall’s chantry with the eagerness of an apprentice.
When the conclave is scheduled, Evelyn begs and pleads with her husband to let her go. An ugly side to him rears, a possessive side that refuses to let her go, refuses to let her safety be compromised. He warns that if she goes, his support for her father will disappear. His son is attached, he says, and if something were to happen to her along the roads the family would be torn apart.
Her response, of never belonging in the house in the first place, falls bitterly on deaf ears. She tells him how she feels, how lonely it is for her only company the last six years being a boy-turned-teenager and his dog. She tells of her craving for human love, her desperation for freedom from a marriage her father never gave her a choice in. She is ignored.
But Evelyn is the wife of the Bann, and her marriage stipulations mean that she is allowed a small contingent of soldiers to fall under her command. In the dark of the night she sneaks out like a common thief, thankful for the first time in years that her bedroom is in a separate wing to her husband’s.
Her soldiers follow her loyally to the conclave: only she survives.
Her first impression of Commander Cullen is not a good one, by her own fault. Evelyn looks at him carefully, nearly rolls her eyes at his sheer prettiness, but she appreciates the rugged edge to him as he speaks in a Ferelden accent, one of the first she has heard after being inexplicably surrounded by Orlesians and Nevarrans.
Of all things, however, Evelyn is a master at repressing desire, and so she pushes the line with each interaction with the commander. With no change in her last name they assume she is unwed, and Evelyn is content to let the illusion continue. Evelyn is certain that Leliana at least must know, but the woman keeps it to herself and watches her with sharp eyes, and Evelyn is almost sure she knows the reason behind the spymaster's silence: everyone knows about the mistress of the Queen of Ferelden, and it does not take much to realise Leliana is the woman whispered about. She swears to herself that if she directly asked a question she will answer it, but she allows herself to lose her loyalty to her husband and stepson.
It is a cold, breezy day when Evelyn stands next to Cullen at the training ground, watching his soldiers fight between lines of tents outside Haven, and notices again that the man is more than simply pretty. There is a handsomeness to him that she had refused to allow herself to see, in the sharpness of his jaw and the rough stubble along his cheeks. His humour is dry, something she can appreciate as she smiles her best smile and laughs in a way that makes him grin.
“How about you, my lady? Do you have any family left?”
If he notices her hesitation, Cullen has the grace to ignore it.
“No, Commander Cullen. I do not.”
It is the wrong answer.
There is something in the warm gaze of Cullen that resonates within her, the day that she tells the Inquisition to flee through the back of the Chantry and seal the doors behind them. It is a panicked, fearful gaze that begs to convey an emotion Cullen cannot name, and Evelyn is struck with the realisation that if she survives Corypheus’ attack, something will invariably change between them.
The instinct to reach out, to touch, is broken when the ground shakes with the force of another explosion, and Evelyn forces herself to leave the Chantry with her party behind her. Cullen barricades the door, and she smiles to him as it slams shut and bolts.
That change, the shift in the mood between them, is present when they first start to set up Skyhold. As she holds up the ridiculously heavy sword and the Inquisition names her their leader, she can feel his gaze burning into her back. It is getting dangerous; with her elevated to Inquisitor, it will not be long before the truth is out.
Cullen's jokes are more flirtatious, and when he grabs her arm in the yard something sparks between them that makes his grip tighten. Evelyn feels her heart opening up for the first time in years, and realises that she is falling hard and fast for a man she cannot be with whilst still married to her husband.
“Are you alright, Inquisitor?”
She is pulled from her thoughts at the nearness of his voice, inches from her ear as her head is turned away from him, staring at the ground in deep thought. Hand still wrapped around her bicep, Cullen looks at her as though wishing desperately to ease her burdens, and Evelyn smiles gently.
“Quite, Commander. I’m just… formulating a plan of action.”
“Oh? I’ll admit, now I’m curious.”
In that moment his words are harmless, but Evelyn feels her web of lies unravelling, and she pulls her arm from his grasp.
“You don’t want to be.”
Evelyn spends ridiculous amounts of time in his office. She goes after her daily bath, with her hair pulled back into a blonde braid and her best day dress on, and curls up in a chair by one of the doors and works.
She reads, she researches, and she signs off on many of the reports which then end up on Cullen’s own desk. Some evenings they talk for hours, others they sit in the gentle quiet with only the flickering of the candles and the blow of the wind past the window for company.
Evelyn is currently caught up in a vicious cycle with her husband. Each week she sends the same raven with the same message attached; a request for a divorce, quietly with no publicity. Each week he sends the same reply: no.
But there are rumours of a Free Marcher who claims to be the Inquisitor’s husband which are slowly making their way towards Skyhold, and Evelyn realises she cannot keep it hidden any longer.
In a desperate attempt to get out, to regain the freedom she so unwillingly gave up, Evelyn writes him a letter that contains the whole truth; she tells him that she no longer considers herself his wife, that she has fallen in love with another and does not feel it fair to remain married with her heart torn in another direction. The raven flies off to the horizon, and Evelyn prays.
It is, however, too late.
Evelyn turns up to her and Cullen’s weekly chess game to find the courtyard empty and the board unset.
It is Cassandra who appears, nearly an hour later, with a stride and look on her face that screams blue murder to Evelyn. She nearly gets up from her chair in fear, and instantly she knows. There is only one person in the Keep that Cassandra would protect with such vigour, and Evelyn knows the secret is out.
“You. Is it true?”
And Evelyn loves Cassandra; she gets along with the older woman so well she considers her one of her closest friends. But under the force of her anger and disappointment Evelyn can only freeze up, and Cassandra tears into her like her personal prosecutor.
“Do you know what this will do to him? I have never seen that man interact with anyone the way he does you. You lied to him, you lied to all of us, but you played with him.”
Evelyn crumples under Cassandra’s heavy gaze, aware that the romantic before her could understand her predicament if she pulled herself together enough to explain it. But Evelyn only remains silent in fear of being misunderstood, and Cassandra looks at her with disgust and disappointment before storming back off.
She stands there in the cold silence of the garden for a further hour, panicking and trying to formulate a plan. Evelyn looks down at the chessboard, at the empty chair where her much loved opponent usually sits, and makes a decision.
Her move, or she loses it all.
Her first move is, predictably, catastrophic.
Evelyn is young and inexperienced in matters of the heart, and her desperation drives her to misunderstand appropriate courses of action.
Panicking, watching her happiness and her future pulling away with each second she remains shackled, her fear takes over her common sense and she focuses on the core of the problem rather than the solution. Terrified and unwilling to lose it all, Evelyn decides on a course of action that makes everything worse. Evelyn frequently visits the soldiers in the valley, and so no one bats an eye when their Inquisitor, far too cheery and skittish, saddles her mount in the early hours and rides out of Skyhold as though Corypheus himself were chasing after her.
Leliana cottons on less than six hours later, and hunts down Solas with the graceful smile of a viper ready to attack.
“Solas, I wonder if we might have a chat.”
“Of course, Sister Leliana.”
Leliana leads him up to the rookery, her steps light on the stairs, and takes him out through the door at the top of the tower to ensure they are not overheard.
“Evelyn is gone.”
Solas straightens his posture, clasping his hands behind his back, and raises a brow.
“Ah, what an…unfortunate turn of events. Do we know why?”
Leliana chews her lip, unsure if it is her secret to tell, and shakes her head.
“I have an inkling. A scout spotted her heading north thirty minutes ago.”
“Towards the Waking Sea. She has told me about your ability to wander the fade: I hoped you could try to find her.”
Leliana’s eyes are sharp and all too observant, and Solas is careful not to change his facial expression as she asks him the question. He sighs at her, and nods.
“I could make the attempt, but there is no guarantee it would work. I have found her before, yes, but we were both in the same building. She is no mage, and I have little hope of finding her if she is not asleep.”
Leliana steps closer; it is by no means a threatening gesture, but Solas does not need to look at her properly to understand her clear message: try, and not a word to anyone.
“However, I will still attempt it.”
Her smile is all daggers and sharp edges, but on the surface it appears genuine enough, and Solas moves to leave. He is uncomfortable around a woman who can read his every movement, who can discover everything about him in twenty minutes of observation. He tries to avoid Leliana as much as he can, for even now he is uncomfortable with what the nightingale might be reading into his actions.
Only Bull and Cassandra are allowed to know Evelyn has fled, and Leliana sends them to check the two ports Evelyn has most likely fled to in order to cross the sea.
An hour after they’ve gone, Leliana changes her mind once more and sends them to Amaranthine, to lay low with her scouts there until Solas gives her confirmation.
To the rest of Skyhold Leliana refuses to tell them Evelyn is gone at all; few people saw her leave, and those who did have no reason not to believe Evelyn is staying late at the soldiers’ camp.
And so when Solas enters the rookery twelve hours later, at two in the morning, Leliana sends off the raven, the parchment already attached to its leg.
The Crown and Lion, Amaranthine.
Evelyn is awakened at six in the morning at the sound of the door to her room being kicked off its hinges. Due to the silence of their ascending the stairs, Evelyn does not wake up fully until Cassandra is already at her bedside and pulling the covers off.
“Out, now.” It is a command, not a request, and Evelyn finds herself pulled to her feet by the older woman.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“We might ask you the same, boss.”
Evelyn turns her attention to Bull standing in the doorway, narrowing her eyes at him as she fiddles with her gauntlet. She had gone to sleep fully clothed, as though she were expecting to flee.
“I don’t…quite know what I was planning.”
Something in Cassandra snaps.
“We are in the middle of a war. We are ready to march on Adamant any day now, and you decided to just up and leave? Have you no sense of responsibility?” Evelyn flinches at the words as they leave Cassandra, hard and sharp and pinning her into place. Iron Bull notices that she looks a lot like a child being scolded, with her shoulders hunched forward to make herself look smaller.
“I needed to get back, to speak to Errol, to… I don’t know. I needed to be free.”
“You need to keep your personal life personal. Push it to the side as you have been doing so well already, and deal with it when you have the time. You cannot just do whatever you fancy.”
Bull wants to point out how unfair that statement is from Cassandra, is almost about to point out that she is moving past trying to give advice and heading straight into insubordination, but something in that makes Evelyn snap like a tightly wound cord. She bares her teeth all the while looking like a rudely disturbed viper, and Iron Bull suddenly realises that this woman is quite tall when she stands up properly.
“Keep your judgements to yourself, Cassandra. You told me once you never wanted the life of frilly dresses and arranged marriages back in Nevarra: you had a choice. Don’t you dare judge me for trying to escape a situation I had no choice in being in!” Her words are full of anger and power, and Bull is suddenly very glad that this woman is not a mage. Her fists are clenched tightly, the gloves making a squeaking sound with every time she uncurls her fingers and clenches them again.
“There is always a choice, Inquisitor: learn to live with it.” The sardonic laugh that leaves Evelyn’s lips is not a sound that suits her.
“Oh, is that what you’ve been brought up to believe? I may as well have been dragged down that aisle for all I wanted to be there. Don’t you dare judge me for something I could not control, and you certainly have no right to judge me for anything I have done since the Inquisition. I cannot control my heart, when it has been covered in dust for six years!”
Cassandra opens her mouth to speak again, but Evelyn, perhaps childishly, stamps her foot hard and shakes her head.
“No, Cassandra, you don’t get an opinion. You got out, I did not. I got the life you didn’t want.” There’s a despair hanging in the last sentence that leaves Evelyn’s lips, and the woman sighs heavily before sitting back down on the edge of the bed. “I didn’t want it.” And those words contain a sob, held in with a sharp intake of breath, and Bull looks back and forth between the two women. He wants to say something, to alleviate the tension or get them moving, but he senses this is a conversation they need to have.
Oddly enough, Bull thinks that of all the people in the Inquisition most likely to understand what Evelyn is trying to say, Vivienne would get it the most.
“What would you have done if he said no, when you arrived?”
It is at this point that Bull pointedly picks up the two lethal looking daggers on the bedside table. Cassandra’s eyes widen, and she stares down at Evelyn.
“I- I wasn’t going to- just the threat of it-”
“And if you had gone through with it, did you think about what that would do to the Inquisition?”
Bull intercedes again, a mildy unimpressed look on his face.
“Nah Seeker, are you kidding? Red would have covered it up before she’d even finished it.”
Cassandra throws her hands up into the air and turns on her heel to look at Iron Bull.
“That is not the point! How would it look if the Herald of Andraste committed a murder?”
“You sound like Josephine.”
Bull is fairly certain Cassandra is going to punch him if he says another word, if the look on her face is anything to go by. She takes a deep breath, unwilling to be seen as unreasonable, and tries a different approach.
“Inquisitor…why did you let it drag on this long?” And Cassandra is genuinely struggling to understand, trying to figure out why her friend had lied to her about something so vital. They had talked often about their families: Evelyn had to have outright lied to her, and that is something that hurts. Evelyn shakes her head and wrings her hands together, genuinely remorseful. Cassandra is not good at displaying emotion, but it would be hard not to notice the hurt in her eyes.
“I… I hoped he thought me dead. There was no reason for him to think I survived, and I hoped that by the time he realised, he would have moved on and let me go.”
“But he did not.”
Evelyn’s head dropped to her chest, despondent.
“No, he did not.”
Cassandra relents then, the tension draining out of her in waves and her posture relaxing. Her hands fall from her hips, and she looks at Evelyn in pity.
“And at the end of it all? Your thing with Cullen, what would you have done if you wanted to go back at the end?”
Evelyn lifts her head once more and stares straight into Cassandra’s eyes, and there’s a well of despair and guilt and greed in those bright eyes, and a melancholy that cuts through to Cassandra’s bones.
“I don’t think you quite understand the depth of my regard for Cullen.”
But then Cassandra does, sees it in the way Evelyn holds herself when she mentions the man’s name, sees it in her eyes and the ache that seems to emanate from her. Cassandra only shakes her head in pity, the realisation that a painful mess lies ahead for both Evelyn and Cullen.
“You are in love with him.”
Cullen, despite what Leliana seems to think, is not actually an idiot. He is well aware of the rumours surrounding Evelyn Trevelyan when it comes to the political circle; his men have no problems repeating such rumours when they think he is out of earshot.
But Cullen is not a man who likes to listen to rumours anymore, not after Kirkwall and the constant whisperings in the shadows of the tower, and so when he asks Evelyn in the garden about her family, he chooses to trust her answer over the whispers of those who do not know her.
He knows now that it was the wrong decision, but at least, he thinks, he tried. He tried to let someone in, tried to lower his walls for someone to soothe the pain of solitude, but now he has learned a swift lesson.
He finds out when a rumour hits a bit too close to home, and Cullen demands Leliana give him the whole of the file she collected on Evelyn Trevelyan in the weeks after the blast at the Conclave. Leliana is oddly reluctant to hand it over, and when she does she levels him with a piercing stare.
“Political marriages are rarely made with love in the equation. Do not be quick to judge, Commander.”
Cullen ignores her warning: he is fairly certain that the arrangement between her and the Queen of Ferelden occurs with the full knowledge of King Alistair, and so he considers the advice moot.
Still, seeing the information there on the page before him is painful enough, and Cullen finds himself replaying those moments alone in his office, her laugh and her attitude towards him never giving away the secret she was hiding from him. The Evelyn Trevelyan he has come to know is not the woman on the page before him; stepmother and loyal wife, versus the carefree and flirtatious Evelyn who sits in his office filling out paperwork and leaving lingering touches on the back of his neck, his shoulders, his arms.
And so he does not believe for a second Leliana’s tale of the Inquisitor leaving to close a rift in the Deep Roads, not when he watched her leave alone in the dead of the night a few hours after he failed to turn up to their chess game. His nightmares had kept him awake, and the sound of the dracolisk’s feet clapping off the stone is a distinctive and unaccompanied one.
When Evelyn returns two days later, with Cassandra and Iron Bull in tow, Cullen knows she will head straight to his office. His stomach turns with nerves and dread and pain, remembering the lies above everything else, and he tries his best to seem nonchalant as he hears her voice in the courtyard.
When she opens the door ten minutes later to find he is alone, he looks up from where he stands by the bookshelf.
“Cullen, can we talk?”
He pulls a book out and places it on his desk without looking at her, and flips through the pages.
“Inquisitor, if you don’t mind I would really rather not: I am quite busy trying to prepare for our march on Adamant.”
Evelyn moves closer to his desk, wringing her hands nervously before her. He does not look up at her, but his hair is dishevelled and dark circles linger under his eyes that were not present when she bid him goodnight two days prior.
“Cullen please. Just let me explain.” Evelyn moves closer until he looks up at her, and Evelyn feels the burning of his gaze as he looks at her, scrutinises her carefully with his jaw set and his body tense. He is wound like a coil, a cornered animal ready to flee, but he nods his head towards the door to indicate she should follow him out.
It is cold and bitter outside, with the sun barely keeping them warm when they are out of the shade. Evelyn wraps her jacket tighter around her and spares a glance at Cullen, who is staring at her expectantly.
Her move, it seems.
“I married the Bann of a large estate, just outside of Markham, when I was twenty-one years old. I did not want the marriage, but it was made clear to me that it was marriage or the Chantry, and the Chantry would require me to give up almost everything I held dear. I chose the former, and found myself trapped in a loveless marriage that deteriorated as the years went on. He was kind to me, but I needed to be free, and that was why I went to the conclave. I never told anyone because I wanted to divorce my husband, but each week he responds that divorce is out of the question. Cullen, I did not want to fall in love with you, but I did not tell you I was married because I didn’t want to push you away.”
Cullen is leaning against the battlements as she speaks, his hands curling into fists as she speaks; she is certain his gauntlets must be hurting with how tightly he is tensed, but the man only turns to look at her painfully.
“And yet you lied to me instead. You’re the Inquisitor, I didn’t think it was possible for anything to happen between us, but it did. What would you have done, if I told you how I felt before I found out you were a married woman?"
Evelyn bites her lip and looks away, ashamed that even that reaction tells him everything he needs to know. She would have gone with him gladly, would have followed him to his bed and into his heart without a moment of regret.
“You would have let me break your marriage vows, your vows to The Maker –“ Cullen starts, his voice full of the hurt from her lies, but at those words Evelyn turns back to face him fully. Cullen is shocked enough at the look on her face that he remains quiet.
“The Maker? My vows to The Maker? I am sick of people judging me based on those vows to the Maker alone! Shall we look at what the Maker did for me? The Maker watched as I cried my heart out in dread the night before my wedding. The Maker watched as my father forced me down the aisle, he watched as I spent my days wandering an estate, trapped like a canary in a cage in a loveless marriage. The Maker allowed me to carry a child in my womb that I did not want, and when I grew to love it he snatched it from me in the middle of the night, and took with him the only possibility of actual love from my husband. The Maker watched as my husband left to me grieve the death of my son alone, he watched as I remained trapped in a household I did not belong in. The Maker allowed me freedom only to allow my soldiers to die in an explosion! So yes, Cullen, I would have quite happily broken my vows to The Maker if it meant that I was finally happy. I would have broken them again, and again, and again, because The Maker knows I did not want them in the first place.”
They stand in silence, Evelyn’s words ringing heavily in the silence between them. Cullen looks at her, his gaze hard and penetrating, and Evelyn wants to squirm under the weight of it. Like the time in Haven’s Chantry, the moment holds significance, the potential for things to go drastically wrong in either direction.
Whichever one of them instigates the kiss, Evelyn will not remember; one moment they are standing there, the tension thick and angry, and the next she is pulled towards Cullen and pushed against the battlements.
His kiss is harsh and angry, but his hand on her face is gentle despite the gauntlet. Her fingers fist in the fur of his mantle, and Evelyn feels herself melt into him. Cullen is warm in a way that sets off butterflies in her stomach, but the moment she feels herself moan at his fingers digging into her hips he lets go and steps back, disbelief on his own face.
“I- I’m sorry, that was…” He trails off and rubs the back of his neck nervously before shaking his head. In panic, Evelyn takes a step closer, but something in her expression kicks in Cullen’s common sense, and the man takes three steps back until she is a safe distance away.
“Cullen, please, listen to me.”
“No, I cannot… I will not do this. I will not risk our working relationship for a quick fling in your bed.” Before Evelyn can formulate a response to the utterly unexpected statement, he leaves, walking back towards his office with resolve and tension bleeding through his frame.
And Evelyn nearly explodes in rage as she watches him walk back to his office and close the door behind him with looking back at her. Is he stupid? Utterly blind to everything she had just confessed? She watches the door for thirty seconds, maybe more, before she clenches her fists and storms after him.
She is not done yet.
And now the words 'the Maker' don't look right anymore...
Evelyn follows Cullen back into his office, her stride purposeful, and when she nearly pulls the door off its hinges Cullen turns around and gives her a look of exasperation and irritation. The latter hurts, but she knows she has hurt him more.
“I have just one more thing to say to you. In six years of marriage I never once broke my vows. Never, and-“
‘Is that supposed to make this better?”
“If you let me finish Cullen, I’d get to my point. From the moment I met you, you were never going to just be a fling. If I never broke my vows in six years, why do you think I’d start now? I have been falling in love with you since the day we met, and you would never have been a conquest I’d throw to the side once I’d had you in my bed. I am trying desperately to get a divorce because I fell in love with another man, so think what you wish of me, but don’t ever say my feelings were a lie in order to string you along.”
When Evelyn finishes she feels her knees shaking, and there is a pit in her stomach that she knows is brought on by baring herself and confessing that her feelings for Cullen are so deep. But if there was anything she ever admired about Cullen it was his steadfast ability to stand by what he believed, and she sees the pain of his decision pass over his face before he looks at her. His jaw is tense and his hands clenched, but he is resolute.
“I believe you, I do. But this doesn’t change anything.”
Defeated, Evelyn nods in understanding, and does her best to leave quietly.
“Begging your pardon, my lady, but you look like you’ve been beat around the head by a despair demon.”
Evelyn is brushing down her horse, rescued from Haven by Dennet, when Blackwall approaches her. She turns to look at him, one hand resting in her horse’s mane, and gives a sigh.
“I’ve learned a very difficult lesson today.”
“Oh? I won’t pry, but if you need to talk, I’m all ears.” He stands next to her with his arms crossed, and Evelyn tangles her fingers in the mane.
“I’ve learned that I can’t escape who I am. Not to lie about it.”
Evelyn misses the tensing of his shoulders, the way he immediately tries to occupy his hands by running a gauntlet over the horse’s head. She only sees him showing her horse affection, and trying to not pry too much into the issue.
“I’m married. And I didn’t tell anyone. And now Cassandra doesn’t trust me, Bull is analysing my every move, and I’ll probably never be able to have a friendly conversation with Cullen again. Maker knows what the others will think, once they find out.”
Blackwall’s mouth twitches as she speaks, and Evelyn lets go of her horse and throws the brush into a nearby bucket. Her horse whickers softly at the sound, and Blackwall soothes her as Evelyn runs her fingers through the mane.
“And why did you lie? You’re the Herald, how do you think it will look to them all that you lied?”
There is no heat behind his words, and Evelyn gives him a curious look.
“Because I was trying to escape. I didn’t want to be associated with the woman I was in the Free Marches.”
“I can understand that.”
Evelyn gives him an incredulous look.
“Can you though? Once you become a Grey Warden you shake off your past, or so I thought. You’re hardly lying to us all.”
“Well, no. But I do understand trying to get away from what you were before. All Grey Wardens understand something of it.”
Evelyn sighs and walks her horse back to the stall, and when she returns Blackwall is still looking at her expectantly. Evelyn sits on the stump of a tree and looks up him.
“What should I do?”
And Blackwall feels guilty and hypocritical when he looks down at her, full of despair and guilt over her own tiny lie in comparison to the one he is hiding, and he refuses to judge her. It is not his place, when one day their positions could be reversed.
“You don’t need to justify hiding a marriage you didn’t want, my Lady. But you should tell your friends, at least. Cassandra’s reaction alone should be a reminder of why they need to hear it from you.”
Evelyn looks up at him from between her fingers, not remembering when she placed her head in her hands in the first place. She nods, feeling sick.
“You’re right, I guess. Thank you, Blackwall. For not judging me for this.”
Evelyn tells them all. Dorian is hurt at first, but ultimately forgiving. Varric laughs and comments that she is providing him with the perfect material for a new book about star-crossed lovers pulled apart in war, and Sera quite honestly does not care.
Vivienne both cares and does not, for her personal life in her position as Madame de Fer is known to almost all of Orlais, and she is the last person able to cast judgement. Solas empathises but ultimately does not hold it against her, and Cole of course already knows. She cannot face Bull, and Cassandra is holding her at arm’s length when she tries to explain her actions again.
At the end of her conversations with her companions, Evelyn comes to the realisation that there was never any reason to lie in the first place.
When she finds the little library near the kitchens, at the very bottom of her tower, she makes it her own.
She cleans it out herself, spending hours one morning forcing herself to pull the spiders off their webs and depositing them all into a lidded box. It is horrifying, and it makes her skin crawl, but she is tired of having no place to be herself, and she can no longer consider Cullen’s office a safe refuge.
Dorian walks in at some point during the day, just as she is standing on the desk attempting to reach a particularly large tarantula wedged in the gap between two tall bookcases.
“I thought I wanted to speak to you about something, but now I find I’ve changed my mind.”
“Did you not see the giant sign on the door reading ‘danger’?”
“I put it there.”
Dorian looks offended.
“What? Do you mean you actually thought you were allowed a moment of peace and quiet?”
“Ugh, shush. Help me get this spider, will you?”
As she looks back at him, she notes that his face looks as though she has just bared her breasts to him.
“I will not. You can get that on your own.”
Evelyn gives a groan of annoyance, losing her patience and kneeling down to pick up a book on the desk. She throws it haphazardly to the top of the book shelf, and the vibration startles the spider into running down the wall.
Moving faster than Dorian has ever seen, she takes a serving cloche from the chair and slams it on top of the tarantula, trapping it below the big silver dome. Neither of them move for a moment, and Evelyn feels her knees tremble beneath her.
“May I ask, where do you plan on putting it now that you’ve caught it?”
Evelyn looks up from her crouch on the floor, her breathing heavy.
“In that box next to your right leg, with the six others.”
She almost pisses herself laughing at the sound that escapes Dorian as he all but leaps away from the box. She takes a long skinny book from its place on the desk and slowly transfers the lid on top of it, before steeling herself and picking it up to place in the box. She dumps it in quickly, and then scratches at her arms to make the crawling sensation go away.
Dorian moves to sit in the chair, languidly leaning back and crossing one of his legs over his knee. Evelyn looks at him for a moment in disbelief, before she rolls her eyes and continues to get rid of the last of the dust and the cobwebs. It is nearly finished, clean and tidy and quiet, just what she needs.
“Are you really going to just sit there whilst I do this?”
“Of course. Sorry, my dear, I just don’t deal with spiders.”
“Yeah, there’s a lot you don’t deal with, Pavus.” She smirks at him, knowing her use of his surname irks him, and then continues. “What was it you wanted to speak to me about?”
Dorian is silent for a moment, his fingers steepled beneath his chin. The look on his face tells her she should not tease now, and so she dusts as she waits for him to speak.
“I was thinking, on the way to Crestwood, might we go to the Gull and Lantern? I thought about what you said, and there really is no reason not to see what this retainer wants.”
Evelyn turns from where she is placing clean books back onto the cleaner bookshelf, the dark mahogany of the wood dust free for the first time in decades.
“If it’s what you want, then I have no problem with it. It’s not like we’d be going out of the way, and whilst we’re there I can deliver the bear pelts to the Crossroads.”
The look on his face conveys the gratitude he will not speak, and Evelyn smiles.
When they leave for Crestwood the next morning, Evelyn locks the door to her little library and stores the key in her room, hopeful that when she returns it will be undisturbed. She stores in there the letter from her husband that had arrived the night before, bearing the same words as always, the refusal to separate and the reminder of the life she has left behind.
With Crestwood liberated from the undead, and Caer Bronach taken for the Inquisition, they head back to Skyhold with the intention of a quick resupply before continuing on to the Western Approach. Dorian leaves them at Skyhold, needing time to himself after the showdown with his father, and Evelyn switches the party around.
She keeps Cassandra, needing the woman and her steadfastness, in spite of the awkwardness between them. Dorian she swaps for Solas, and Blackwall she swaps for Bull.
The first day after they find Scout Harding in the Approach is a nightmare for them all. Cassandra burns her cheekbones, and the woman walks around with a scowl far more intimidating than usual. Evelyn burns her arms and her chest, and Solas burns so badly that she cannot look at his head without laughing. Bull burns all over, but only lightly, and Evelyn finds herself envious of his upbringing in a warmer climate.
They spend the first night ripping up netting and cloth to make protective gear, and Bull does not appreciate the toga-like tunic she makes to cover his broad chest. Too Tevinter, he claims, but he quietens down when Evelyn asks him if he’d rather burn and peel.
All too quickly their business in the Approach is finished, far too much to do but not enough time: they will have to return, when the threat of the Grey Warden army is no more.
Evelyn decides on not heading back to Skyhold: she communicates with Leliana and Cullen via raven, for they need to act quickly, and heading back to Skyhold to plan a battle she knows she will have little input in is pointless when time is scarce. They can debrief her when they arrive with their army and siege engines.
None of them know that Adamant is where everything will change.