Chapter 23: Marching of a Great Host
Wren grumbled sleepily, nuzzling into the warmth of her pillow and ignoring the soft voice.
"Inquisitor. It's time to get up."
Growling softly, she pulled the blanket over her head, muttering half-formed words, hoping that whoever was bothering her would get the hint and go away.
A different voice this time, a little further away, spoke softly, "Perhaps you should simply carry her. Rest is important at this stage of healing."
A sigh from the first person, then her pillow moved and she felt arms slide under her, pulling her up against a hard surface. Frowning, she cracked an eye and glared blearily from under the blanket. Fur? A cloak. This wasn't her bed. Opening the other, she examined the chest that she was apparently being held against, noting the broad shoulders, the golden stubble on the chin, and- oh. "Cullen?"
The Commander smiled down at her, carefully sliding out of the carriage, "Good evening, my Lady."
Oh. Right. Her mind caught up to everything, and she found her cheeks heating in a slow blush, "You don't have to carry me."
A gentle laugh rumbled through his chest, "You would not wake up."
"I can walk."
A third voice, the smirk evident in the tone, piped up from just behind her, "Come now! You wouldn't deny our Commander the chance to cart you around like a treasured doll, would you?"
Wren craned her head a little to look over Cullen's shoulder, glaring playfully at Dorian, "Not when the whole of the Inquisition can see it."
Solas appeared beside the Tevinter, his face unreadable, "The soldiers only see that you insisted on being at their side for the coming battle, Da'ean'ma, despite your grievous wounds."
Hiding her head in Cullen's shoulder, she groaned, "Oh great. Yet another thing they are sure to worship me for."
The commander spoke, shifting his arms to hold her more securely now that she was squirming a little, "Some might worship you, but most of these men and women have nothing but respect for you. While we might object to you being out of Skyhold so soon, they see it as a sign of favor from the Maker that you healed enough, and in time, to join them. They are grateful that you do not send them into battle alone, directing the action from a place of safety."
Huffing from the safety of her hiding place, she grumped at him, "I would much prefer if their Maker hadn't let me be injured in the first place. Then I could have ridden beside them instead of being carted around like an old bitty."
She could swear she heard Solas choke on a suppressed laugh, and Dorian definitely laughed. Cullen only sighed, and ran his thumb across her ribs as he spoke, "I don't think the Maker is to blame for your injuries, my Lady, but I at least am grateful that you are healing."
The sincerity of his tone made her pause in her grumbling, and she looked up at him again. Eyes facing forward, lips tugging down into a frown, brow creased with the memory of worry and fear. Wren wanted nothing more than to erase that expression. Her hand slid out from under the cloak, fingers brushing across his chin and up to his cheek, cupping it a moment until he looked down at her. "Thank you, Cullen."
Before he could ask the question that was obviously forming, Dorian began grousing from behind them, "So she gets a full tent to herself, while the rest of us peasants are relegated to the field tents again? How is that fair?"
Solas voice came from beside her this time, "I am sure Dinall would leave your tent, if you are so determined for the privacy our Inquisitor has earned."
Dorian sputtered and Wren perked up, her head snapping to the Tevinter behind her, "Dinall is sharing your tent?"
The mage huffed and tugged at his tunic with indignation, "I don't know what that hobo apostate is talking about, but if this is the kind of treatment I'm going to get here tonight, then I shall bid you a good evening now, Inquisitor." Stomping off like a petulant child, Wren watched with a growing smile as the man in question intercepted Dorian on his way through camp.
Cullen ducked through the entrance of the tent, shifting her carefully to put her down on her feet. Scrambling to keep the cloak about her, she wobbled uncertainly for a moment before finding her footing. Unlike Dorian's claim, Wren's tent was occupied by two cots, not just one, as well as a large trunk and a small basin of steaming water. Tipping her head, she raised a curious eyebrow at the ex-Templar, who smiled and indicated Solas with a lifted hand, "Your healer is to stay close by for these next few nights, particularly since you have bandages that still need to be changed and tended."
Wren's eyes flicked over to the elf, still full of questions. He gave a slight bow of his head, "When we are satisfied that you have healed enough, you may return to your own tent."
Smirking, she shuffled over to the nearest cot and sat down, "And if I refuse to downgrade?"
Cullen laughed, "Then you may find you have to share this with the rest of your merry band. I fear they would revolt otherwise."
Without thinking, her mouth voiced the question that came to her sleepy mind, "Where are you sleeping, Commander?"
"Ah." Shuffling a little, he rubbed the back of his neck nervously, "I have a field tent set up just down the way."
Solas cut in, the corner of his lip pulling up just slightly, "What the Commander is meaning to say, is that he does not plan to sleep."
Wren turned back to the warrior, a deep frown marring her features, "Cullen! You cannot tell me to stay rested while depriving yourself of the same!"
"Inquisitor, I have an army to run and a battle to plan for-"
"And you cannot do so if you are not well rested!"
He gaped at her a little, and she upped the frown a few degrees to ensure that he understood how serious she was. Finally, with a put-upon sigh and the hint of a smile, he shook his head and bowed, "As you wish, my Lady."
Feeling a little more accomplished, Wren stood carefully brushed a kiss across his cheek, "Thank you, Cullen. The Inquisition needs its Commander to be in top shape, but I also want you to take care of yourself for your own sake." Satisfied with the blush creeping up his neck, she sat back down before her legs could collapse from under her.
At a loss for only a moment, Cullen gave her his little half smile before bowing to her, "As you wish, my Lady. Goodnight. I will see you in the morning."
The warrior turned to Solas, and gave him a slightly stiffer bow, "Goodnight, Solas. If you need my assistance, you know where to find me."
Solas returned it with a nod of his head, "Of course, Commander."
Wren watched the man leave, closing the tent flaps behind him. She could just see two guards fall in before the entrance, weapons ready and armor shined, before the world outside was cut off by the heavy canvas.
"Come, Da'ean'ma, we need to have your bandages changed." Feeling a bit nervous, she slid the leather armor off her shoulders while Solas was turned away, pulling herbs and clean wrappings out. Boots came next, but then she paused, feeling unsure of herself. When Solas turned, she was playing with the hem of her linen shirt, chewing her lip nervously. He tipped his head to the side, watching her curiously, "Is there something the matter?"
Mouth opening and closing a few times with false starts, she tried to hide it behind some semblance of confidence, "I can take care of them Solas. Why don't you get something to eat?"
Not to be put off so easily, he set the supplies beside her on the cot, "The bandage on your thigh and ribs, perhaps, but you cannot reach the one on your back. Besides, I need to look them over and ensure they are healing properly."
She cast about for something else to say, but couldn't think of anything. Fingers found her chin and tipped it up to look at him, "What is the matter, vhenan?" A blush creeped up her cheeks and ears, and realization washed over his features, "Ah. I helped tend your wounds and bathed you while you were unconscious. This is not the first time I will have seen you."
Pulling her chin from his hand, she frowned and glowered at him from under her eyelashes, "One, that's not something a woman wants to hear- that you saw her at her worst. Two, it's different now. I'm… I'm awake."
His fingers brushed up her jaw and ran through her hair, "I cannot say I understand the difference, but if it would make you feel more comfortable, I can send for Dinall."
Feeling a little ridiculous for her embarrassment, she jumped on the opportunity anyways, "Would you, Solas?"
He laughed softly, his face softening, "Of course, vhenan. I will get us something to eat as well."
Sighing in relief as the elf left, Wren turned her attention to the pile of supplies beside her, sorting through them to see what they were using. Elfroot potion, of course, though it smelled watered down, spindleweed, she assumed for a cleanser, a thick paste that smelled of Elfroot and moss, though she couldn't otherwise identify it, and the linen bandages.
The tent flap opened and her Circle brother walked in, smiling at her playfully, "I was told that you have become shy, Sidas?"
Huffing dramatically, she stood carefully and stripped off her shirt and breeches, "Not around you, Fratrem." She threw the clothes at him for good measure, before picking at the cloth wrapped around her chest that acted both as a breastband and as a hold for the bandage on her back.
"I would hope not!" He laughed good naturedly, setting her clothes outside of the tent to be washed and turning back to help her unwrap.
They spent the next half hour talking amiably and cleaning her wounds. The stitching on her thigh was holding well, and could probably be removed the next day. Her back was slow to heal, and despite his pleasantly distracting conversation, she could hear the strain in her brother's voice as he examined and cleaned it. The bandages that he tossed onto the floor were thick with blood and pus- infection then.
"Dinall?" Wren asked tentatively.
"Mm?" She could visualize him working on her back, tongue poking out between his teeth, brow dropped down in concentration as he cleaned it.
"To what, Sidas?"
Craning her head over her shoulder, she tried to catch his eye, "You know what I'm asking about, brother."
His fingers paused, and he sighed, glancing up at her for a moment before returning to his work. "You must understand, I did not get there until a bit later." Though he stopped, she simply waited, knowing he would continue eventually. The spindleweed burned, even through the pain numbing spell he'd cast, making her flinch and him mutter an apology before speaking again, "By the time I arrived, the infection had already set in. It was slowing the Elfroot's ability to heal you, and burning through your bodies reserves like a wildfire. I think, though Solas disagrees, that if they had prevented the infection, you would have healed much faster and been on your feet in a week or two- or at least conscious." Linen pressed against the wound, and he helped her re-wrap the band carefully- tight enough to hold everything in place, but not so tight that it would compress a wound that needed air. "You should leave it open tomorrow. I think the sweat is making it worse."
Rolling her shoulders a little to relieve the pull of what little new skin was forming, she nodded and pulled on a new shirt- lighter weight than the one from earlier. "I will try. I'm sure a bath will be needed in a few days as well." Her eyes lingered on the basin of hot water, some of which they had already been ladling out to clean the wounds, "More than with a cloth, that is."
With a deft hand, he guided her to sit down again, moving on to the next bandage, "I am sure the Commander and a certain elf would agree with you, though perhaps for different reasons."
"Dinall!" She bopped his shoulder while he laughed at her, both of them settling into pleasant gossip again. It was easier to ignore the extent of her injuries, and the worry that was so deeply settled on everyone's face when they looked at her, when she could speak with her Circle brother as if it was old times. The noise of the camp around them was done with a soldier's silence, making it not much louder than the camps the runaway mages would set up together. The only thing that was missing was music.
When Solas returned later with food for three, Wren was cleanly bandaged, washed, and dressed in light sleeping attire. The three of them ate companionably, and when Dinall left for the night, Wren found that her nervousness from earlier was gone. Solas had been nothing but a gentleman the whole night, and she did not need to fear him trying anything when she was injured. That gave her time to sort her brain out a little more, and maybe be more comfortable with the idea of his eyes seeing all of her in the future.
Sitting upside down in a rumbling carriage was not exactly comfortable, but boredom will make you try strange things. Six days into their trip, and Wren was about to pull her hair out (not that it was really long enough to get a grip on anymore). While those first few days had been spent mostly sleeping and in the company of various amusing friends, today was different. The morning had started out with a particularly nasty argument with a certain ex-Templar, leading to Solas and Dinall both warding her carriage shut while the soldiers marched on. Lunch had been handed to her through the carriage window by a solemn looking Blackwall, and she had only been allowed out to stretch and relive her bodily needs under the strict guard of Cassandra. There was only one book that had been left in her 'prison', and it was a very dry history on the Marches. Despite struggling through a large portion of it, she still couldn't fall asleep or find any relief from the long dreary ride.
From her odd position, she could see that someone had carved some rather explicit stick figures into the underside of the seats. Whoever it was had a vivid imagination, but no real idea of how the human body could actually bend. Giggling at it entertained her for a few minutes, and she even used a little spark of fire at her fingertip to add some details and a bit of a narrative, but even that childish amusement did not last for long, and once again, she found boredom creeping in like a damned demon. Was this actually how Sloth possessed people? Utter boredom until they forget about anything else? Maybe she could use that on Cassandra! A little guilt trip to get them to let her out? Seriously, did they think she was going to go traipsing back there after a nearly full day's ride? Alright, maybe she would have a few hours ago, but now, she just wanted to get out of this ridiculous thing!
As if in answer to her prayers, the carriage creaked to a stop, and she felt the wards dissipate from the door. Not waiting to be released, she scrambled gracelessly to her feet and sprang out into the open, immediately going into a full body stretch- arms reaching high above her, feet rising until she was on her toes. The gratifying pops that came from her back made her groan in pleasure and go almost bonelessly limp.
A soft curse startled her and she turned to see Cullen blushing furiously, "I-Inquisitor. We are stopping early tonight so that we can resupply at a nearby town. If you wish to accompany us, I would, ah, recommend changing into something more appropriate."
Dorian meandered over, grinning at Wren, "What the illustrious Commander means to say is that if you are going to stretch like that, wear a longer shirt." The man in question sputtered and huffed, but the two mages just laughed and Dorian offered her a change of clothes, Wren noting that they were along the 'appropriate' lines that the Commander had mentioned- a little formal, well made, with hints of armor to their form.
Scrambling back into the carriage, she stripped off her dusty clothes to don the new ones, speaking loudly enough to be heard outside, "And who is the 'us' that is going into town, Commander?"
She heard him shuffle closer and could just see the side of him from the window as he gamely kept his eyes elsewhere, "Myself, Cassandra, Dorian, and Vivienne, as well as a number of soldiers."
"Of course." Wren managed to just barely keep the eyeroll she made out of her voice. The Inquisition could not be seen traipsing into town without a column of soldiers after all. "And what are we resupplying? I thought the soldiers we were meeting from Orlais tomorrow were going to bring additional supplies."
"They are, but there are a few things that the others wished to add that were not on the original requisition forms."
Finally decent, she slid out of the hot-box again and brushed herself off, grinning up at Cullen, "Oh! Like some apples? Or anything fresh really."
He chuckled, his fingers brushing a few flyaway hairs out of her face, "I'm sure they could be convinced to add those to the list." That hand stiffened though, gripping her chin as his face became serious, "I need your promise, first, that you will not go back to that Maker-forsaken place."
The light, giddy feeling that had been fluttering in her chest a moment ago turned into a hot clawing. Pulling out of his grasp, she glowered at him, "I don't need to make any such ridiculous promise."
Trying to step close to her as she stepped back, the Commander growled, "You do, and you will, or I'm having you put back in that carriage!"
"I'm not some child or prisoner to be locked up! I'm an adult, damnit!"
"Then act like one!"
Why did they always do this? One moment they were smiling and happy, the next they were at each other's throats. They were just starting to get over the whole mage/Templar thing, and now he was being over protective and treating her like some kind of unruly urchin that needed to be reined in. Shaking her head, she backed away from him again, disgust plastered across her face, "If you can't trust me not to go running off to a Rift that is a full day's ride behind us, then I won't bother to give you any kind of promise."
Turning on her heel, she marched off to find those of her friends who were staying behind. Once the mother hen was out of the camp, maybe she could convince them to go with her hunting. She needed to get out of camp and do something constructive. Hunting was easy enough and didn't run any real risks. Sera was the first one she spotted, and with a feral grin, she made her way over to the one person she knew was always up for a bit of rebellion.
Solas found the two troublemakers an hour later, pulling burs out of their legs and hair, laughing good naturedly as a deer drained from a nearby tree. The disapproving frown on his face only made their amusement turn form each other to him, and it wasn't until he turned to leave that Wren jumped up and called out for him, "Solas! Come back. We can't carry this thing back into camp by ourselves."
"Ya!" Sera called from her log, "Miss Inquisy-britches here might throw a stitch! Then who are you gonna go all elvhen glory on?"
Wren watched his shoulder's tense even as she stifled a giggle and a deep blush at the rogue's crass comments. Never the less, he turned back to them with a passive mask and a hint of disapproval still hanging about him, "If you had thought about that earlier, I could have accompanied you." His eyes drifted to the carcass, "It seems you managed to get it this far."
Sera stood, brushing off the dirt that still clung to her clothes, "Pfft. Ya, but we almost died getting it here!"
Solas eyes snapped to Wren and the younger mage barked at Sera in turn, "Sera! We did not. You'll give him a heart attack." Pleadingly, she offered a small smile to him, "We really didn't. I just didn't have the strength to go any further."
"Hehe, heart attack. He is old. Surprised he don't keel over every time he-"
"SERA!" Wren shouted, face going dark red.
By the time the three of them trudged back into camp, Wren was shaking from exhaustion and suppressed laughter. While she felt bad that Sera was continuously picking on Solas, she couldn't help but laugh at the quips and Solas' reaction to them. Soldiers quickly relieved them of their burden, eager to have some fresh meat, and a stew was started to ensure that as many people could eat off of it as possible. At some point, the party going into town must have returned, because fresh vegetables were added to the giant stew pots and summer fruits were being distributed. Wren smiled as she watched the soldiers go from quiet and nervous, to relaxed and jovial. They all knew that a fierce battle was waiting for them at the end of this road, but a night to let that go for a little bit and just relax would go a long way to raising moral. She made a mental note to ensure that over the next few weeks of travel, at least one day like this was planned.
After the meal had been finished and everyone was winding down, Wren found her way to the large field tent she still shared with Solas and whatever injured men were under Dinall's care. There, beside her pack and the supplies to change her bandages, was a small pile of apples, and a rolled bit of parchment. As she read it, the last bit of stress fled her and she couldn't help but sigh. What kind of complicated thing was she getting herself into?
I hope that these help make up for my behavior earlier. I find myself, once again, begging for your forgiveness. As Cassandra has so kindly reminded me, you are perfectly capable of doing what needs to be done, and I should trust you to do so.
We have reports of a Rift on tomorrows road, and I would appreciate your help in dispatching the demons it has spawned as well as closing it.
AN: This will probably be the last chapter I post on FF. Due to issues with formatting, I'm considering switching this story completely over to Archive of Our Own. You can find this story under the same title on there. I am sorry for doing this, but I just can't stand the way FF destroys my formatting on everything. I hope to see you all there, and please, feel free to check out my other stories posted exclusively on AO3!