The Commander's Quandary
Prof. Silmarien Szilagyi
Cullen Rutherford, commander of the Inquisition's forces, considered himself to be a rational man. He worked hard, valued discipline, and exuded self-control. Raw recruits looked up to him, striving to emulate him, while seasoned veterans respected him. He was proud of the man he'd become.
But Cullen Rutherford had a problem. And that problem was the Inquisitor. Standing atop Skyhold's battlements, in a rare moment of peace, he watched avidly as Vespera Trevelyan put Ember, her Anderfel Courser, through his paces. Of all the mounts that Master Dennet had acquired, she had chosen the skewbald horse, because he was, in her opinion, the most striking. To Cullen, he looked like a cow--a very pretty cow, but a cow nonetheless. The Anderfel Courser may have been the traditional mount of Grey Wardens, but Ember lacked the ferocity Cullen associated with war horses. Ember was calm and rather sweet--a favorite of the children in the villages Vespera passed through. In fact, Cullen suspected that she had chosen him specifically for his even temperament. She was a mage, after all, not a warrior.
Although the horse certainly drew the eye, Cullen's attention was on the rider. The breeze whipped her red hair as she eased Ember from a trot into a canter, the change from a two-beat to a three-beat gait forcing her to adjust her posting. Even from the battlements, Cullen could see the graceful line of her back and the effortless way in which she moved with the horse. He was enraptured by her, had been since she first fell out of the Breach. Initially that interest had been due to her miraculous (or suspicious, as some had said) survival, but, as he interacted with her, it had morphed into attraction. The fact that she was a mage had caused no small internal battle, but now it hardly mattered.
"The view from up here is quite exquisite."
Cullen was startled from his thoughts. He glanced at Leliana, a guilty blush creeping into his cheeks at the knowledge that he had been caught ogling the Inquisitor. Then again, as the Inquisition's spymaster, Leliana likely already knew about Cullen's weekly ritual.
"Well, y-yes, it is," he replied and silently cursed. His much-lauded self-control had chosen a fine time to abandon him.
"I meant the mountains, of course," Leliana remarked. Although her tone remained neutral, Cullen nevertheless had the sense that she was laughing at him.
"Yes, of course," he said and felt inordinately proud that he had managed not to stammer. "I often come up here to watch the...mountains. I find it helps to clear my head, particularly after being stuck at my desk all day." Well, that, at least, wasn't a lie.
Leliana nodded. "I know the feeling."
Her gaze settled on Vespera, who had finished her exercises with Ember and was now grooming him. The skewbald gelding affectionately nuzzled her cheek as she brushed him down. Vespera's answering laughter, rich and loud and joyful, floated up towards the battlements. Cullen's heart swelled, and Leliana smiled.
"She shines, does she not?"
The spymaster was still looking at Vespera, but Cullen knew she was observing him from the corner of her eye. He tried to maintain his composure.
"Does she? I had not noticed."
"Oh, come now, Commander," chided Leliana, with a knowing smirk. "You could have thought of a less incriminating response than that."
He sighed, feeling the telltale headache of lyrium withdrawal settle in.
"Such as commenting on the mark on her hand, using it to explain why she appears to shine."
Cullen threw Leliana an exasperated glare, before returning his attention to Vespera, or, more specifically, to her hand. The mark was dormant, its eerie, green glow muted in the absence of Fade rifts. So much for that explanation.
"You don't actually believe I haven't noticed your admiration for her?" Leliana asked.
He sighed again, his headache growing worse by the second. "She is the Inquisitor," he replied. "Many admire her."
"They do," Leliana agreed. "They admire her as a symbol, a herald, a religious icon, a savior. But you admire her as a person. As a woman." Cullen pressed his fingers into his temples, silently willing the throbbing to go away. "Am I wrong, Commander?"
He dropped his hand to the back of his neck, rubbing the skin beneath the fur mantle of his cloak. Someone had pointed out to him long ago, seemingly in another lifetime, that the gesture was an indication of agitation. Well, he certainly felt agitated now.
"Maker's breath, Leliana," he groaned, "what do you want me to say? Yes, I admire the Inquisitor, and, yes, I come up here sometimes to watch her train with Ember. You already knew that, though, so why interrogate me?"
To Cullen's mortification, Leliana flashed him a disconcertingly self-satisfied grin.
"Because I wanted to hear you admit it--not to me, but to yourself," she explained. "After everything we have been through, Cullen, we deserve a little happiness."
He gaped at the spymaster. "Are you encouraging me to...court the Inquisitor?"
"Perhaps I am," said Leliana, her eyes twinkling in amusement. "It would not be an unwelcome gesture. Don't forget, I see all, Commander."
Cullen was sure she'd intended for that to sound reassuring, but it merely added to his fluster. Where did Leliana not have eyes? The implications of romancing the Inquisitor were significant enough on their own, but to do so within the all-seeing gaze of their spymaster? That was downright alarming.
He cleared his throat and said, "Thank you. I shall consider it."
"Enjoy the view, Commander," Leliana teased him, and, with a final smile, left him to the mountains and to his quandary.