howtoactfereldan: (judge me whole)
Cullen ([personal profile] howtoactfereldan) wrote2015-12-11 02:25 am

(no subject)

Starkhaven sends a good third of their templar garrison to assist with clearing rubble, peacekeeping, and serving the displaced people of Kirkwall.

The guests will stay in the Viscount's Keep. It's not even a tight fit; there's room, still, in the barracks. Cullen, in plate, turns around and tells the visiting knight-captain and his lieutenants that once they're settled, he'd appreciate it if they'd meet him in Guard-Captain Aveline's office to discuss how to proceed.

Knight-Captain Rylen shows up with his second, Knight-Lieutenant Merial, shortly thereafter.

As meetings go, Cullen's been in worse. The very first thing he says is that under the circumstances, while the templars and the guard are working together and he and Aveline are sharing burdens as equally as they can, it's important that everyone is clear that the templars support the guard, and not the other way around.

Aveline's expression never changes.

The knight-captain -- Rylen, a cheerful man, with a thick burr -- says, "That's the most sensible thing I've heard anyone say in months. Now, we've got a few engineers with us, and my own father's a stonemason, so I know a thing or two -- what say we make assignments to clear some streets tomorrow?"

Cullen and Aveline glance at each other.

Slowly, Aveline opens her desk drawer, and pulls out a bottle of whiskey. This is followed by four glasses.

One corner of Cullen's mouth curls upward.

"I'll fetch a map and paper," he says, rising, "while the guard-captain pours."

"Fine place you have here," Rylen says, stretching. "And fine company. Merial, you've got our rosters?"

***


Three nights later, Cullen looks left, looks right, and unlocks the door to the empty viscount's office. Other than Bran the seneschal coming in to obtain records, and someone giving it a cursory dusting every month or two, no one's spent any time in there.

This fact, combined with the comfortable chairs, makes it an excellent place to meet after hours with Rylen and Merial. They play a few hands of cards, talk about their lives before the Order, and -- when their exhaustion sets in -- trade worried rumors about what's to come.

"I was in Val Royeaux two months ago," Merial says, "staying in the White Spire, and I can't help but think something bad's coming. It's not just the looks I got -- those are nothing. It's the looks they were giving each other. The fraternities are fighting, I hear. And rumors of murders to boot."

Cullen lets his eyes close.

Rylen: "They might call a vote, I hear. To declare their independence from the Chantry."

Merial: "The Divine would never allow it."

Rylen: "I wouldn't be so sure."

They bat rumors back and forth like a cat with a twist of paper, and then, after a few moments, fall silent. Without moving, Cullen says, "This is the first time I've thought at all about what must be going on outside."

Into the further silence, he says: "They transferred knights from the Ferelden Circle to Ostwick, not so long ago. Nothing here. No more help is coming, save for what you've brought us, and even then... you'll have to go home some time."

He doesn't mean to sound quite that tired. Really.

***


A week later they've secured a perimeter, with the help of Aveline's guard, and it's safe enough (with guard backing) to bring in a few mages further out in Hightown to begin moving some of the larger pieces of rubble.

Rylen is fiddling with a windlass when he's supposed to be supervising, but Cullen figures there's no harm -- the mages know what they're doing, and correctly calibrating the windlass will save them time and energy in the long run.

"You know," Rylen says, running rope through some complicated-looking crevice, "a thing we haven't mentioned, and it's a question that's been on my mind -- hand me those pliers, will you? -- say... I don't know, say all the mages take a vote, decide to move to Tevinter. What becomes of us then? If there's no mages, nobody needs templars any more."

"It was always going to be a thankless job," Cullen says after a long moment. He's watching two of his charges raise what used to be a stone gable from the ground and move it to the corner designated for large, potentially salvageable rubble. "We didn't take vows to be thanked."

"No," Rylen says. "Pull on this rope, we need to test it. I've been thinking about what you said, is all -- that no help's coming. Makes you feel a little extraneous, doesn't it. Least it did me, after the Circle burned in Starkhaven."

Cullen pulls on the rope with all his weight, picking his feet from the ground, and concentrates very hard on the burn in his arms when he says it. "You can't serve what isn't there. No Circle there, no Chantry here. I suppose I serve Kirkwall."

And then Cullen remembers:

He hates Kirkwall.

"Good enough," Rylen says, looking at the windlass -- and Cullen swinging from the rope. "Look at you, a living advertisement for that ghastly public house in Lowtown. Do you know, I made the mistake of drinking the ale?"

***


Cullen leans against the wall in Aveline's office, arms folded. She's waiting on her husband to return from patrol so that they might walk home together. Cullen is... at loose ends. Might as well manufacture a meeting.

"The Starkhaven group's good," Aveline says. "I'm... surprised, frankly."

He looks up. "Because they haven't had mages to look after for the last few years?"

"They remind me of Wesley." Aveline is shuffling through some papers. "Driven. Kind. Faithful."

"What the Order's supposed to be," Cullen murmurs, and he doesn't mean it to sound quite that bitter.

Aveline gives him a sharp look. "If there's blame to lay, it's with Knight-Commander Meredith. You know that, Cullen."

"I -- yes." He shifts, rubs his neck, averts his gaze. "I should go. Give my best to Donnic."

"We're expecting you for dinner and cards tomorrow," Aveline says, with an air of I know what you're doing and it's pretty stupid but it's not worth fighting about.

"Looking forward to it," Cullen says, and scurries out as fast as is remotely dignified.

***


It's not out of the ordinary for someone to knock softly at his door late at night. Rare, but not out of the ordinary. Cullen hopes it won't require him to put all his armor back on.

Apparently not. Merial is waiting for him, a few pieces of parchment in hand. "Knight-Captain. We made some changes to next week's rotations."

"I -- thank you," Cullen says, bemused, running a hand through his hair. "Is it due to... any kind of incident?"

Merial says smoothly, brown eyes merry, "Oh, no, nothing of the sort. As a matter of fact, this could likely have waited until the morning, but I know you like to stay apprised of any changes. Perhaps I could come in to discuss them?"

Cullen immediately glances over his shoulder -- though what he's expecting to find in a room that used to be a storage closet he is sure he doesn't know. "I -- I mean, if you'd -- "

Oh.

Oh.

...he's not misreading this, is he?

Judging by the way she's smiling at him, he's pretty sure he's not. So he says, hesitantly, "If you're quite sure. Only then."

In response, Merial slips past him -- she smells of verbena -- and closes the door.

***


They never do get around to discussing next week's rotations.

***


A few months in, Rylen hasn't made any mention of the Starkhaven crew departing. Cullen tentatively brings it up one morning at breakfast.

"Well," Rylen says, "we like being useful, and frankly, Cullen, we're more use in Kirkwall than we are in Starkhaven. I hope that's not a problem."

"On the contrary," Cullen says, a little alarmed. "Consider this an official invitation to stay as long as you like. It's... good for everyone -- "

For him, he means.

" -- to remember what templars are like, who didn't have a commander like our last one. You get on well with Aveline and the guard, and..." He can feel himself pinking. "Please. Stay."

"One condition," Rylen says, holding up a finger (while the rest of his hand is holding a piece of toast). "You teach me your secrets, so I can finally beat Merial."

"...you want my chess secrets?" Cullen finds himself smiling. "Knight-Captain Rylen, I believe we've struck a bargain."

"Excellent," Rylen says, cheerful. "Now, where's that board?"