Inquisitor Variya Lavellan awoke bathed in the warm glow of the morning light shining through the fluttering curtains on the east side of the tower. The elven Inquisitors mind hummed with a dull rhythm born of the previous night's jollity on the lash with Bull and the Chargers in the Heralds Rest. Variya rolled over in the bed, keen to feel the warm press of her Antivan lovers bronze skin against her-
Variyas outstretched hand found the far side of the bed empty and cold. This was an occasional occurrence, Josephine being a meticulously early riser. By comparison, Variya's sense of time had become somewhat more fluid after taking up a more permanent residence in Skyhold in the wake of Corepheyus's defeat. Variya pulled herself up on the bed, feeling the cascade of the sheets across her bare skin. As her sunblind eyes began to clear she found the Inquisitorial quarters empty and a note awaiting her on her bedside table.
Reaching for the neatly folded note Variya recognised the elegant script as belonging to the Inquisitions Antivan Ambassador.
There have been moments since we have been together when I have felt I could not even begin to comprehend what motivates you to do the kinds of things you do. Last night I believe you finally revealed your true colours to me after all this time. The things you said resolved any lingering thoughts I may have had as to the future of our relationship.
I will be away at Redcliffe for a summit; we will talk more when I return this evening.
Variya noticed a note hastily scrawled at the bottom.
I told Alicia to prepare my things; I suggest you do the same.
Variya read and re-read the note in her hands, clearly overlooking something in the words. While they may have had disagreements, like any other couple, they had always resolved them together. Even with the weight of the world resting upon their shoulders their relationship remained resolute, the thought that Variya could have done anything to upset Josie they could not resolve together was heartrending.
Variya racked her brain thinking what may have transpired the night before but nothing returned to her no matter how hard she tried to recall it. Variya could not stand the idea of sitting idle in anticipation of Josie's return, the thought only drove her to find the cause before-
"Good morning" a familiar voice drew her back to reality.
The voice belonged to Alicia, a human attendant from Haven, who had served the Inquisition almost since its inception. The young woman, entering into her early twenties, had a soft round face dotted with a varied constellation of red freckles. Despite her attempts to constrain it in an Orlesian braid some strands of her curly red hair rebelliously escaped to cascade across her shoulders. Alicia was wearing the practical attire with just a hint of class as befit her position with the Inquisition.
Variya was still coming to terms with the concept of having attendants at her service. While the Inquisition was embattled with Corepheyus things had been simple. Variya would go out long operations and upon her return to Skyhold she would always find fresh clothes prepared, baths drawn and a fluffy bed for her to fall into. With Corepheyus defeated and engagements away from Skyhold few and far between Variya was forced to confront the reality of having someone dedicated to her service. Alicia, to her credit, undertook her duties with a large degree of autonomy, ensuring the bed was always freshly made and the quarters were thoroughly cleaned.
Alicia threw open the curtains with an elegant flourish, temporarily blinding the Inquisitor as she shifted beneath the covers. "How are you feeling today, Variya?" Alicia was unique among the Inquisitions staff among the few who referred to the Inquisitor by name rather than by rank, some continuing to do so from habit and others from reverence.
"Alicia" Variya said, clearing her voice hoarse of the lingering remains of the night before. "Have you seen Josephine today?"
"Lady Josephine left Skyhold early this morning" Alicia said. "The attendants mentioned something Redcliffe, and that they'd be back by nightfall" Alicia rounded the edge of the bed, placing a water bowl and fresh towel down on the bedside table. "If I may say so, you don't look quite right this morning"
That was putting it diplomatically; still it was more than anyone else would have ever said. With the whole world placing her atop a pedestal Variya felt it was important she had people close to her who could keep her grounded.
"I have the strangest feeling I may have done something incredibly stupid last night" Variya replaced the note on the bedside table. "And I intend to find out what" Variya cast the bed covers away with a dramatic flourish. "Come Alicia, the hunt is afoot"
And with that Variya stormed out of the quarters with renewed fervour determined to uncover exactly what it was she could have ever done to dishonour-
Variya returned to her quarters as swiftly as she had left. "Right after I put some clothes on"
Variya decided to begin her investigation in the one place she was certain she had been last night. With her faithful companion Alicia at her side she adjusted the rim of her Halla stalker and made best speed towards the tavern.
Entering the Heralds Rest they found the place bustling with activity, Inquisition soldiers, house staff and merchants. Moving deeper inside they found Iron Bull and his chargers in their regular spot in the back of the tavern, enjoying a late morning drink.
"Hey boss" Bull welcomed the Inquisitions Herald with her more down to earth moniker. Reaching down beside his chair he retrieved a fresh bottle, holding it aloft to his companion. "Care for an ale?"
"It's barely noon" Alicia interjected.
"Your point being?" Iron Bull asked.
"This isn't a social call, Bull" Politely declining the offer with a raised hand Variya took the vacant seat beside the Qunari mercenary, her lithe elven frame providing an almost comical juxtaposition to his muscled body. "I am currently working under the impression that I did something monumentally stupid last night"
"I'll say you did" Iron Bull could not resist breaking into a haughty laugh. "In honour of it being Tuesday I broke out the Taliskar Reserve for our closing round of drinks" replacing the offered drink by his side he reached down to retrieve an empty bottle. The jet black glass, illegible script and repeated dragon motifs suggested its Qunari origins. "It translates roughly as 'Serpents Fury', named for the trail of anguish it leaves in its wake as it slithers its way through your digestive system over the course of about 6 hours"
"Sounds like a fun time" Alicia interjected, a wry smile creasing her lips.
"Krem got tipsy just from sniffing the fumes" Iron Bull countered. "Dalish took a sip and made it about half way through the joke about the elven hunter before falling asleep at the table. You held on surprisingly well, you managed a whole glass before you started giving praise to the Inquisitor and challenged the whole table next to us to Wicked Grace"
"I mean something stupider than that, Bull" Variya interrupted. "I think I did something last night to make Josie really mad and for the life of me I can't remember what I did"
Bull took another swig of his drink. "Well it wasn't anything you did here. When you left here I thought you were heading back to your quarters. I was about to go with you, you know how your impenetrable fortress on top of a frozen mountain can turn rough after dark, when some wet nosed Mabari pup made some comment about my mother being a Bronto. I, of course, made sure to deliver a comprehensive lecture on the proper cohesion of multi-national armies by pinning him to the wall by his collar. I figured there was little damage you could do between here and the other end of the courtyard" Bull chuckled beneath his breath. "Perhaps you've managed to prove me otherwise"
Satisfied that they had learned all they could Variya rose from her seat and prepared to set off in search of their next lead. "Thanks Bull. Buy your Chargers another drink on me"
Bull replied with a coarse laugh, his voice trailing after Variya as she departed. "Who do you think has been paying so far?"
Varric Tethras sat basking in the warmth in the fireplace of the Great Hall, seemingly deeply engrossed in another volume of one of his latest series. "Lovely morning isn't it" Varrics gaze remained transfixed on the book as he gave his greeting.
"Varric" Variya said. "Were you here last night?"
"I was, Inquisitor, as I usually am" Varric replied.
"You didn't by chance see me pass through did you?" Variya asked.
"I wouldn't' say you passed through" Varric clarified, setting his book down on the table. "What I will say is you stumbled in here, sat across from me and immediately set about telling me what a great author I was for writing Hard in Hightown"
"Like you weren't already aware of that yourself" Variya joked.
"You told me how much you loved the book and gave me several recommendations for the next chapter" Varric clasped the tip of his stubby nose between his two gloved fingers as the memories of the previous evening swiftly returned to him. "Honestly, it was like the worst fan mail I've ever received but in person" shaking his head clear he returned his gaze to meet the Inquisitor. "So, what may I ask has brought on this sudden curiosity?"
"I think I did something last night which officially placed me top of Josie's list, the one she keeps in the little black book, and I can't remember why" Variya explained.
"You don't say" Varric replied. Variya saw it.
"What was that look?" the elven Inquisitor immediately pounced.
"What look?" Varric asked, his gaze awash with faux innocence.
"That look" Variya reaffirmed, unwilling to concede so easily.
"This is just my normal face, Inquisitor" Varric continued to feign ignorance with the same unassuming tone he used so you could never decipher if he was being sarcastic or not. "It's what I look like when I talk about the things I see"
"Which means you know something" Alicia interjected.
"Which means you think I know something" Varric clarified with a pointed finger. "However what I will say is that upon the conclusion of our conversation, rather than continuing to your quarters as one might expect, you made a sharp detour towards the library"
"Intriguing" Variya mused.
"Variya" Alicia asked. "Why are you suddenly holding a pipe?"
Variya took a long drag of the elegant pipe styled after the curved entwined horns of a bull Halla. "Elven herbal leaves. It helps keep my head clear in a crisis situation"
Variya exhaled a billow of clear smoke into the air, discarding the prop as swiftly as it had appeared. "It seems we need to have a talk with our Tevinter representative"
Variya and Alicia ascended the stairs leading to the Inquisitorial Library, among one of the finest repositories of knowledge and rare books in the known world. As usual Variya found their Tevinter representative lounging in a comfortable chair, surrounded by tomes and texts from all cultures and every nation.
"Nice to see you again, Inquisitor" Dorian placed his book aside, taking up his wine glass to inhale a snifter of the fine drink. "What pray tell may I assist you with today?"
"I'm looking for anyone I might have spoken to last night" Variya explained.
"I can confirm that I was partial to the pleasure of your company last night" Dorian said. "We shared an excellent drink provided by the latest trade delegation from Antiva and played some games of chess. I must admit that you played surprisingly well given your inebriated state" Dorian took another sip before continuing. "As the night went on the topic of conversation shifted to a discussion of who would win in a duel between a Tevinter Magister, a Ferelden Templar and an Elven Hunter"
"How is that even a debate?" Alicia asked.
"I know, right" Variya said. "The hunter clearly has the advantage in terms of speed and dexterity"
"Which can be easily annulled by a Magisters well-placed ice and fire mines" Dorian countered.
"Which are absolutely useless against the anti-magic abilities of the Templar" Variya said.
"And the Templar would be too encumbered by their armour to fight a fast moving hunter who could strike at any range" Dorian said.
"You see how this could have gone on for a while" Variya turned back to Alicia. "But it wasn't any of that. I'm looking for something I could do that would upset Josie"
Dorian swirled his wine glass in his hand as he pondered his reply. "I admit that as I remained here the entire rest of the evening, sequestered with my books, my knowledge of the outside world is rather limited. While I may count myself an expert on the subtleties of the female temperament, if anyone were to know the comings and goings within these walls would it not be our Spymaster herself?"
"The mystery deepens" Variya made a grand gesture into the air before her. "Come doctor, we must away"
"Did you just call me doctor?" Alicia asked.
"You applied that salve on me after I fell into that nest of stinging nettles" Variya replied. "If that doesn't make you worthy of a medical qualification I don't know what does"
Climbing further up Skyholds tower into the Rookery, they began to feel the sharp chill as they approached the Spymasters quarters. Variya could never tell whether the air was naturally chilly due to the altitude or deliberately invoked by the Spy Master herself to aid the ambience.
As they peaked the final step they found the Inquisitions Spymaster at her desk, her quilling tracing gracefully across the page before her. "Inquisitor" a final elegant flourish saw the report placed aside, her attention turning to her visitors. "Am I to understand, based your recent actions, that believe me either blind, deaf or hopelessly senseless"
"She's speaking calmly" Alicia said. "That's never a good sign"
"I take it that you already know why I'm here" Variya said.
"Normally I would leave your business to yourself" Leliana raised herself from her seat, stepping around her desk. "But when I heard that Josie was involved I must admit that my interest was suddenly piqued" a metallic flash of a dagger as it emerged in Lelianas hand from some place unknown. "You do remember what I said to you when you first courted Josie?" Leliana turned the point towards Variya.
"I believe the words 'ears', 'nailed' and 'grain cart' were involved" Variya said.
"Did she really say that?" Alicia asked.
"Say it?" Variya said. "She left some iron nails next to my bed after I complimented Cassandra on her flourish technique"
"You understand that was merely an Antivan marriage custom" Leliana countered. "A close relative is chosen to ensure the resolve and dedication of a potential suitor. In the absence of Josies parents I had to improvise"
"That" Alicia interjected. "That is what makes her terrifying"
"As for why you are here, I'm afraid I can offer little more than you already know" Leliana said.
"That seems like a surprising admittance for you" Alicia said.
"I'm afraid my eyes do not extend to maintaining a constant vigil over the Inquisitor. I suggested the use of a collar but I'll leave that between you and Josie" Leliana replied. "Although I have heard tell that the Inquisitor was spotted by one of the staff leaving the stables late in the evening" Leliana turned the point of her drawn dagger aside before returning it to its concealed sheath. "Do with that as you wish"
Stepping into the Stables they were immediately overcome by the looming smell of animals and hay, a scent alien to Alicia after having spent her tenure with the Inquisition as house staff. They found Blackwall at his workbench, indulging in what had evolved into something of a hobby of his, making simple toys out of raw materials for the children living in refugee camps administered by the Inquisition. Blackwall glanced up from placing the finishing touches on a carving of a Mabari. "Well, you look no worse for wear"
"I've been told that a lot today" Variya replied. "I assume that means I met you as well last night?"
"You could say that" Blackwall brushed his hands clean of dust. "Way I remember it I woke up in the middle of the night to find you standing next to my bunk. You told me you'd sheared the Hallas, milked the Nugs and would that be all sir?"
"Milked the nugs, really?" Alicia glanced quizzically towards Variya.
"Before I could get my head together you'd run outside and across the courtyard" Blackwall pointed a large finger back towards the tavern at the far side of the Citadel.
"So you're saying that after all of this we end up back at the pub" Variya said.
"Sounds like it was a fun night" Alicia said.
"It's not over yet, apparently" Variya said.
After hours of searching the route of their investigation brought them back to where they had first begun, the outside of the Heralds Rest.
As they approached they noticed the Inquisitions resident Chantry Seeker, Cassandra practice sparring with a training dummy outside of the armoury. It was in that moment it dawned upon her that Casandra was always training in the courtyard until late without fault. Variya and Alicia approached as Cassandra enacted a final flourish against her opponent.
"Cassandra" Variya said, Cassandra turning towards her. "I'm sure you've heard by now"
"I have. I had hoped it would remain undisclosed for the sake of the Inquisition." Cassandra sheathed her practice sword at her waist, a faint sigh escaping her lips. "I came out of the armoury after completing my training for the evening and found you sparring with the training dummy, and losing. I hefted you over my shoulder and carried you back to your quarters, I met Josie and she helped you back inside. I'm afraid that's all I know"
"That's it" Variya cast her hands up in defeat, succumbing to fatigue and allowing herself to collapse flat against the ground beneath her. The hope and adrenaline that had been sustaining her had vanished from her body. "We've searched up and down Skyhold and we still came up with nothing"
Alicia moved to crouch beside Variya. "As bad as things may seem they're never as bad as you expect"
Variya glanced up at her. "I enjoy your optimism. The truth is I'm not sure how I'm going to be able to face Josie when-"
A messenger approached, a young man barely into his twenties, dressed in weathered Inquisition armour snapped off a fine salute. "Inquisitor, Lady Josephine has returned"
Variya had been preparing herself for this moment since morning. Variya shuffled forlornly towards the main gate of Skyhold, the high shadow of the fortification cast over the main courtyard. The entourage, a few Inquisition soldiers and attendants guided a lumbering baggage cart towards the stables to finally rest the haggered beast that drove it. From amongst the crowd she saw the familiar golden plumes of her beloved Josephine's sleeves, looking as resplendent even after a day's long ride back from Redcliffe. Josephine noticed the Inquisitor through the crowd, greeting her with a reserved wave even as her face seemed to light up with happiness. Josie was a master of diplomacy, keeping a smile on her lips no matter what she may have been thinking to herself.
"Hello, love" Josie greeted Variya as she approached. "How was your-"
"Josie" Variya interrupted, uncharacteristically downcast. "I am so sorry. Whatever it is I did I am so sorry and I hope you can forgive me" Variya's hands clasped over her face, steadying herself for what she was about to say. "I have spent the entire day running around all of Skyhold speaking with everyone I could think of trying to decipher what I could have possibly done to upset you and I promise if you'll hear me out I'll-"
The press of Josie's lips to Variyas silenced any more flurried attempts at apologies. "Variya, my darling, I love you with all my heart" Josie held Variya's cheeks in her hands, feeling her warm blush beneath her fingertips. "But you truly can be a complete and utter clot" Josie's hands descended to clasp Variya's in hers. "Now what made you think I was upset with you?"
"You left a note and-" Variya said.
"Oh Andraste!" Josie clasped her hands over her mouth in a rare display of loss of composure. "I'm so sorry. This is all my fault; you should be mad at me"
"Ok" Variya said. "Why should I..."
"Don't you remember?" Josie teased. "What happened a year ago?"
The gears turned in Variyas head, finally clicking into place with a sudden jolt. In her panicked stupor it had completely passed her by. "Our anniver- Josie I am so sorry I forgot-"
Another impress of Josie's lips to hers stifled any more fervoured attempt at apologises. "I have been so consumed by work for the past few months that it completely slipped my mind. I fabricated the story about a meeting in Redcliffe so I could have the Castle Forgemaster make you a present. I left the note for you but I was in such a hurry I didn't consider how it would be interpreted"
Now that Variya repeated it in her mind the script did appear rather rushed, unusual for a woman who would tear up a 500-word report and begin again on the basis of a misplaced apostrophe.
Josie reached into her satchel mounted on her horses' saddle, retrieving a large piece of hardwood mounted with a golden plaque. Variya read the elegantly engraved inscription:
Inquisitor Variya Lavellan
Inquisition Antivan Fencing Champion
"We came together after you challenged Lord Ortanato to a duel, despite it being an incredibly stupid thing to attempt" Josie said.
"So, just to clarify, what was it I did last night?" Variya asked.
"Cassandra helped you back to our room last night" Josie recounted. "You were completely insensible; Cassandra even said you tried to kiss her"
"Cassandra really said that?" Variya asked.
"Well Varric said it and Cassandra immediately flared red and panically denied it" Josie said.
"Varric was there?" Variya asked.
"Of course, he was helping Cassandra carry you back" Josie said. "I asked him to tell you all of this when you woke up this morning"
"That sneaky dwarf" Variya fumed. "I knew he was involved!"
"The moment that we were alone together you whisked me into your arms and tearily told me how much you cared for me" Josie reached out to clasp Variyas hands. "It was in that moment I decided it was time you met my parents. So I have arranged a trip to Antiva to my families summer retreat, just you and me"
"Josie" Variya brought her lover tightly into a warm embrace.
"Now come" Josie took her elven lovers hand in hers and lead her towards their shared quarters. "You're going to tell me all about you running around Skyhold trying to make things right"