"A year ago, the only living thing that kept me company was my wolf, who I raised from a scraggly bag of bones to be my dearest friend. That my life would come to this… This journey through fire, bedlam and nightmare. That my destiny would intertwine with yours, to carry me through it all. It seems like a dream, a phantasm, a mirage I have yet to believe. And yet I live it each day, so for heaven's sake, don't let me wake."
Welcome to Resolution!
No-Frills-Summary: Lore-Rich, mostly Canon-Compliant Slow-Burn Romance story with much feels, suspense and tension and a few select sexy times. About one third relationship development "build-up", the rest is an elaborate Mystery/Adventure-Plot.
This story follows the romantic relationship between Cullen and Inquisitor Shenlira Lavellan as they form a growing bond and face the dangers fate puts into their path. The story is supposed to be mostly canon and lore-conform. I say mostly, because some small things that are of my own invention are in there, for example elven words, legends or the custom of Alaslin, which doesn't exist in the original game. I also take liberties with magic in the world of Thedas, but since the game's lore itself isn't terribly explicit about several things, it should tie in nicely. Even though I read up on lore elements while writing, some things might not be completely accurate. Character experience differs too, so some characters might seem a little different to how you saw them in the game. Still, I try to stay true to the "real thing" and weave the story in a way that falls in line with the original game. Of course, I do not simply retell the events of the game, but rather write an original plot that happens in parallel to it.
Please be aware that Resolution contains many possible spoilers to both the main game and Trespasser.
As with all of my stories, this is a romance. Fluffy, full of great emotions and longing looks and moments of suspense. I describe the character's feelings closely and take my time with it, often to the dramatic. Hehe, that's just the way I like it! So if that's your thing too, then this might be for you.
I write for fun and as it says on my profile, English is not my native language. Any mistakes or strange choice of words or grammar... I apologize for that.
Characters who feature strongly are: [Cullen, female elf archer Inquisitor], Varric, Solas, Leliana, Cassandra. Several appearances are made by Dorian, the Bull and Josephine, although all companions are mentioned throughout the story.
Resolution is rated M for mature content in several chapters and many suggestive things before. Also a few (not too graphic, but still) descriptions of violence. Mind the M!
Another thing: Resolution is quite a long story with an elaborate plot. It takes some time to get going and the first few chapters might seem slow paced, but please keep reading, for (in my opinion) the story grows with each chapter. I am going to upload chapters in a steady rhythm, so don't worry that you will be left hanging!
Update: I finished editing! 19/19 Chapters done, and yes I did (metaphorical) cartwheels! I am stunned how long this story has become. Updates will be coming about once a week. Story will hopefully soon be available at AO3, and I did some polishing here and there... Damn this is a neverending thing. PUT IT DOWN MINSTREL. Maybe one of these days I will. I'm not ready yet.
Enjoy and if you liked it, please review/favorite, or post me your favorite scenes, anything! Those are the things that keep me going. :)
I. Dawning Dance
A dance is nothing more, and nothing less, than unity. Two parts that push and pull, sense the other's edges, feel their way towards equilibrium, then settle into the same rhythm. It always thrives to escape control, to resume human chaos, to lose itself in entropy. What it needs is harmony to grant it balance, like a scale, like a tightrope-walker, a constant effort. And every bond, every relationship, begins with such a dance.
The Merry Minstrel
The dream started as it always did. On a vast battlefield that spread out all around, as far as the eye could see. Smouldering ruins were sending up smoke into a darkened sky like funeral pyres, and the sky spit an endless rain of ashes back down on them. Bodies were everywhere, littering the ground, bloodied and beyond help, broken dolls never to be whole again. She walked through the carnage left behind by her folly, by every wrong decision made. It felt like a walk of endless shame and guilt, looking into the faces of the dead, knowing the weight of their lives was on her conscience. Each step seemed to weigh a thousand pounds. But she walked on. Every night the dream came, and every night she searched for survivors. There had to be something left. Someone, anyone, alive. After a long time – of maybe no time at all – a silhouette rose before her from the fog of war. The great statue of a Halla, an antlered deer revered by the elves, loomed in the middle of the battlefield. It was made from stone so black, her gaze seemed to bounce off of it. The sight of a halla should have felt comforting, hadn't there been something utterly wrong about it. At the base of the statue, people were chained against its legs. She broke into a run, realizing they were her closest companions, her inner circle, agony on their faces as the chains choked them to a slow, painful demise. Closer, closer, I can still save them! I can-
But just before she reached the statue, hands stretched out, the Halla turned its head. A burning, blood-curdling gaze of malice stunned her. Unearthly vines broke from the ground and wrapped around her legs. Tripped and immobilized, she fell to her knees and was forced to look into the abysmal eyes of the statue. A voice roared inside her head, so terrifying and sinister that she cried out, but it could not drown the words.
"I see you. I see your fears." Throat sealed shut, windpipe squeezed by the vines, bound and shackled, she had to watch as the chains around the ones she held dear pulled tighter and tighter. Breaking. Killing. "By the end, you will eat fear and drink grief. There will be nothing left of you but despair." Still the torment continued without mercy, until the agonized cries turned into death screams. Their voices mingled with her own into a rising cacophony. Helpless, unable to do anything to prevent it. Despair, like a great tidal wave crashing down on her. Then it was silent.
Shenlira realized that she had screamed herself awake from the nightmare. She shivered uncontrollably, her breath coming in short, panicked gasps as she sat bolt upright in the wide four-poster bed. The fire in her quarters had burned down sometime in the night, leaving behind a chill that made her bones ache and old scars pull tight. The dim grey light before dawn softened all edges of the room, blurring the silhouettes of furniture so they seemed not quite real. She wrapped her arms around her body and curled up, a desperate, childish gesture one resorted to when seeking comfort. Be as small as possible, unnoticed, so evil spirits would pass by. It took a few minutes to calm herself. The nightmare was the same every single night since Haven, but the people chained to the statue became more, more defined, their faces clearer the more attached she was becoming to them. Cullen had been there, and Leliana and Josephine, Dorian and Cassandra… And others she was growing fond of since she'd become Inquisitor.
Inquisitor, she thought, scoffing inwardly. A Dalish Inquisitor, an elf Herald of Andraste. There was a peculiar irony in that, which would have made her smile on a happier day. Shenlira rose from the bed and poured water into a small washing basin. She wiped the cold sweat of fear from her face and neck, sighing. From the mirror, a tired woman with pale, translucent skin gazed back at her critically. An unruly mane of dark red hair, ruffled even further from sleep, framed her heart-shaped face and fell defiantly over expressive grey eyes settled above high cheek-bones. Absent-mindedly, she brushed the strands from her smooth brow. Bare-face. A mocking name the other aspirants had dubbed her, for lacking the Vallaslin. The keeper had put an end to their juvenile cruelty at some point. Although those times were now long past, her reflection still sometimes managed to startle Shenlira.
Turning away from the mirror and observing the grey in grey haze outside her great balcony doors, she surmised morosely that it might be too early to get up. But going back to sleep didn't seem like an option either. That never worked. She'd tried enough times to know. The nightmares were too disturbing, went to deep and had buried roots there in such a way that she dreaded laying down her head each night. Ruefully she remembered a distant past when sleep had been a sanctuary, an escape from the harsh, sharp contours of reality, blissful oblivion. But not anymore. Haven had shown her that the task as Inquisition leader was a colossal thing, a thing that tied thousands of lives together and put them into her hands. The responsibility felt like carrying an anvil around on one's back, from sunrise to sundown, without reprieve. Distractedly, she looked down at her hands. Unmarred, scarless hands with slender fingers. She had learned to fight with daggers and swords, although differently than most humans did. But her weapon had always been the bow.
Years before they had sent her to the Conclave to spy on the outcome, Shenlira had been named Alaslin of the Lavellan clan. The word meant Huntsmaster, or First Hunter in the elven tongue, but hunting only made up one part of the occupation. These nimble fighters went forward with a small party, or often on their own, to scout the lands where the caravans would move. They were supposed to gather information about human activity, hunting possibilities, the lay of the land, everything. Alaslin were chosen for their expertise in scouting and survival, skills they honed and widened during many journeys into different lands. She'd been supposed to watch the Conclave from afar and bring back as much information as she could to clan Lavellan.
But everything had turned out differently. The Anchor, the permanent mark on her left palm, had changed the course of her destiny forever. There were still days when she would wake and be overcome by a claustrophobic, disoriented sort of panic. Where had the forest gone? The pure wilderness, the sheltering company of creatures that knew no contempt, treachery or war. Shenlira was not used to the scrutiny of the whole world and responsibility over countless people. She'd always gotten her orders from the clan leaders and had carried most of them out alone. Now she was giving the orders, and her mind shied away from the number of lives depending on those orders. You have so much to lose now. So staggeringly much.
A shudder went through her as she got dressed in finely tailored outdoor clothes. The tinted grey leather jerkin was high quality and lined with fur at the neck and wrists. Even the boots had fur lining. The luxury of it still baffled her. She could just requisition anything she wanted and it would be delivered after a few days. Well, of course she didn't. It would be wasteful and unnecessary. Her clan hadn't lacked in anything, but she'd usually made her own clothes, with leather from her own kills. The only thing she had not crafted herself was the bow, propped on its stand next to the writing desk.
Few weapons were granted names, but this was old enough to receive one. Made with such exquisite craftsmanship that it had endured a hundred years, Heartwood's limbs were carved from white yew and curved to resemble a Halla's horns. Great Dalish artists had perpetuated their mastery by engraving the wood with symbols of the hunt: the mountain lion, Sajnalin, and the great stag, Faleran, on either side. Fine white velour leather was bound around the grip in slim strips. Heartwood had been given to Shenlira when she'd become Alaslin of clan Lavellan. It wasn't exactly hers – it belonged to the clan and would pass to the next Alaslin once she retired from the position or… She didn't finish that thought.
The elves believed that the white yew's wood could be imbued with the memories of those holding and using it, and as such it would remember the experiences of all Alaslin who'd let loose their arrows from it. A small smile curved her lips as she ran her fingers along the polished, seamless limb. Even if those stories were true, she still had to study and practice for hours every day since the age of five to reach the expertise she now had. For a moment, she flirted with the notion of grabbing the bow and just sneak out. Hunt for the whole day. Or at least a few hours. But there was a war council meeting scheduled early in the morning, and those could not be delayed.
Shenlira sighed and left her quarters without Heartwood. The throne room stood empty, except for the few people who cleaned out the last day's signs of use and scrubbed every surface each morning. Silence greeted her in the courtyard, bereft of the sounds of clanging swords or witty banter between soldiers. She made her way to the stables, where the soft snorting and huffing of animals told her that she wasn't the only one awake in the keep. At least for an hour or two she would train the wild hart that had been delivered to Skyhold a few weeks before. She'd encountered the beautiful animal in the Hinterlands after Master Dennet had told her where to find them. These creatures could not be broken in like horses or other mounts, they stayed wild at heart for all of their lives. Through much cajoling and meticulous discipline, Shenlira had tamed it and won its trust. She loved her horse, a nimble blue roan named Ash, but the challenge to train a hart was an exciting new experience. On her way through the stables, several horses came to their stall doors and greeted her with enthusiasm. A great black stallion leaned his head over to bump her shoulder, snorting playfully. Shenlira stopped for a moment to stroke over the single white patch of fur on the beast's brow. This was Cullen's mount. She knew that because she'd seen her Commander ride out with the troops more than once, and he somehow always managed to look taller than everyone else. Probably because his horse was a tenacious battle mount whose shoulders were as high as man was tall. Or maybe just because he struck such an imposing figure all on his own. Her thoughts seemed to scatter as they went into a confusing direction and Shenlira was momentarily at a loss to gather them again. Commander Cullen… A templar no more, and yet everything about him resonated the virtues those strange human warriors prided themselves with. Honour, fortitude, protection. Watch yourself about those naïve fancies, some rational part of her brain warned. And yet… Wouldn't the sight of his leadership be a great comfort to the humans who have lost their faith in their champions of justice? How should she help herself, anyway? She had yet to glimpse a crack in his composure, a fault in that single-minded purpose, if there were any to find. Except maybe the way he stubbornly occupied her thoughts right now.
Sighing, she went to Nimhue's stall. The hart trumpeted to her softly while Shenlira brushed her down and put on the saddle. She answered by humming the melody of an elven children's song. The soldiers at the back gate knew her habit of training mounts in the wide, circular pen behind the keep well by now. None of them questioned her as she led Nimhue by the reins, still humming. As soon as she'd closed the fence, Shenlira leapt into the saddle. A lightness came over her the second Nimhue trotted forward, breaking into a joyful stride. The anxiety after waking from the nightmare slid off her shoulders, the shedding of a heavy coat. She gave herself to the hart's keenness to run together. The quiet hum from before now swelled to a song full of verve as she took it up again, and Nimhue moved in unison with the rhythm of her voice. They rode in wide circles, sometimes slowing to turn and canter around themselves. After a while, Shenlira closed her eyes and let the hart run its course, emptying her mind of all worries. The trees whispered to each other, swaying in the wind. The sounds of the waking keep carried over like a muffled story. There was such a simple comfort in the beginning of a new day, in this small measure of freedom. Nimhue never tired of their dance. Shenlira had no idea how much time had passed when the shushed whispering of voices brought her out of her reverie. The song came to an abrupt end and she looked around the pen to find the keep's children watching her with big, avid eyes. There were five or six, all somewhere between seven and twelve winters old. Most of them sons or daughters of keep residents, although one boy in their midst was dressed in noble's clothes. A little girl had half climbed the fence to get a better look at the spectacle. Shenlira spotted a soldier not far behind, flashing her an apologetic grin.
"Good morning, iliethen.", she called out to them, stopping Nimhue at a safe distance. She needn't have been concerned, though. The hart stayed perfectly calm beneath her. It even trumpeted in welcome, making the children squeak.
"How do you make it dance?", the noble boy asked, but then blushed as Shenlira smiled at him. As soon as he'd broken the silence, all the others seemed to lose their shyness and began questioning her about all sorts of things. Where did the stag come from? Was she really the Inquisitor? Could they ride the hart? What was its name?
"One after the other, please. How do I make it dance? Well, just like you make people dance. I sing.", she explained, her eyes roaming over their rapt faces. "Do you know the song Apples of Ferelden?" The children nodded vigorously. "Good. If we sing to Nimhue, she will dance for us. Come here, little one." The girl who'd climbed the fence was immediately the centre of much squealing and cries of envy as Shenlira lifted her straight up and into the saddle in front of her. Nimhue did not even shift, enduring it smoothly. With a little force from her legs, Shenlira coaxed the hart into a slow step while she struck up the first lines of Apples of Ferelden. It didn't take long before the children all joined in – and she could not suppress a smile at their enthusiasm.
Cullen had been looking for the Inquisitor for some time without much luck. The morning meeting was due soon and it was his turn to brief her about the issues that would be addressed. He didn't know why he felt awkward searching for her around the keep, or why he grew restless when none of the soldiers seemed to have seen her. In general, he could say that he felt awkward and restless around her, period. When they had first met, he'd almost exclaimed his doubt on how the Herald of Andraste could be a Dalish elf, but that remark had gotten stuck in his throat when her eyes had met his. Light grey framed by a dark ring of blue, like some strange crystal with an inner glow. Finding his voice had been difficult then, for it felt as if the rug had been effectively pulled out from under his feet. Most of the time, Cullen made an effort to keep up an air of military precision and professionality. But sometimes he would wonder about the strange creature who had become the leader of the Inquisition. The Dalish kept to themselves mostly, so little was known about their customs and culture, which shrouded them in mystery for most people. But the Inquisitor managed to be an enigma on her own, and he suspected that had nothing to do with her being and elf. Could anything be said about her with a degree of certainty? Cullen wasn't sure that he knew her at all, even after weeks of counselling and working together. She seemed a very private kind of person, despite the fact that her every breath was under constant scrutiny. At the war table, she stayed calm and focused on the task, considering the opinions of her advisors carefully. But whenever he saw her around the keep, she looked as though deeply in thought, her gaze often seeking something distant, unfathomable. He didn't even know if she liked or despised him. It could have been either, because the Inquisitor made an effort to be polite to everyone, at the same time taking care to keep her true opinion well concealed. The thought that she might dislike him for some reason nagged Cullen with irrational intensity. He stepped into the stables and – as absent-minded as he was – almost ran over Master Dennet, who was carrying a sack of grain for the horses. The man promptly dropped the sack and stood straight.
"Commander! I did not expect you to visit me this early – did we have an inspection scheduled?", the stablemaster asked, picking the grain back up. Cullen looked around the stables. His horse had come to the front of its stall to greet him, but he noticed that the great wild hart's stall stood empty. Had the Inquisitor ridden out without a word?
"No, no, Master, it's nothing like that. I am looking for the Inquisitor. Have you seen her?", he asked while rubbing his stallion's nose for good measure. Master Dennet bit back a smile. He'd seen the Inquisitor doing exactly that, although he'd been half-asleep on his cot at that time.
"She has taken the hart out for a ride at the pen, I think.", the man answered and turned back to feeding the horses, leaving Cullen wondering what there was to smirk about. When he left the keep by the small back gate that led to a wide, open space sheltered by the high mountainsides, the watch soldiers looked uneasy. They knew they would get chewed out for not reporting that the Inquisitor had left the walls of Skyhold, even if just for a ride at the pen. Cullen thought it best to let them fret and contemplate that for a while, but threw a stern look their way even so. He was momentarily baffled when the sound of singing voices reached him. A soldier stood under a tree near the pen, humming to himself. Cullen saw then what was going on. The Inquisitor sat astride the great wild hart, a small girl held securely in front of her in the saddle, a clutter of children outside the fence. They were all singing in merry discord – he recognized the melody, an old children's song from Ferelden. There was something peculiar about the way the Inquisitor seemed to guide her mount, in complete unison to the rhythm of her voice. The hart stepped and cantered elegantly, like a dancer. But what truly captured Cullen was the wide smile on the woman's face as she sang. The morning sun turned her dark red hair into shining copper, her features alight with joy and a levity he had never seen in her before. His usually steady heart picked up a pace and a strange longing came over him, twisting and swooping something around inside his stomach. To ride with complete freedom and feel the wind on his face, hearing her laugh at his side. Her voice was light and rhythmic, charmingly captivating, almost magical. Against his will, the oddest words leapt into his thoughts, attempting to describe this woman who could revel in such simple enjoyment. Fleeting. Vivid. Fey. Mercurial. Forgotten were the many duties that weighed on him, and he would have been content standing there, watching the dance for hours without tiring of it…
"Commander, I – I didn't hear you coming, sir.", the humming watch soldier stammered, breaking Cullen from his dangerous train of thought. The Commander sighed. People clamped up as soon as they noticed his presence, as if his gaze turned them to stone.
"Be at ease. It's fine.", he told the man, who shuddered involuntarily. Likely with relief that he hadn't been reprimanded. It was important that the soldiers respected and showed him discipline as a Commander, but sometimes Cullen felt like they would never relax around him. Why was that, he wondered? The Inquisitor had just settled the girl back on solid ground as he strode up to the pen.
"I would be honoured if I could ride with you the next time, your ladyship.", a boy in noble's clothes remarked shyly to her, his cheeks turning bright red in the process. The Inquisitor smiled at him.
"Your ladyship, am I now? I'd love that, Sir Markan. You'll teach me a song from Orleis?", she answered playfully. The wild hart had stood beside her in perfect peace, but as Cullen neared the fence the animal noticed his presence and trumpeted nervously. All eyes turned to him. The children immediately fell silent and looked at his towering figure with anxious expressions. The Inquisitor straightened as if he'd shaken her awake from a dream. A slight blush crept onto her face, chased by something that looked like embarrassment.
"Inquisitor.", he greeted her, bowing respectfully.
"Commander Cullen. I was just –", she began, but then had to soothe the nervous hart, who'd started to pace on the spot restlessly, pulling at the reins. She cleared her throat once before speaking to the children. "Run along, iliethen. But visit me again soon." The little ones threw her pitying looks and eyed Cullen nervously once before they ran past him, glad to be out of his presence. He watched them chase each other back to the keep gates and signalled the soldier to go with them.
"You intimidate them.", the Inquisitor's voice was low, but it brought his attention to her immediately. She hadn't meant it like that – the remark had just slipped out and now Cullen was looking at her with knitted brows. She tried desperately to salvage the situation. "I meant – soldiers in general intimidate children. Or rather… Because you command all the soldiers, you're the most… towering, probably." What on earth are you doing, Shenlira groaned inwardly. He'd thrown her completely off balance, walking up to her like that in the morning sun, like some great warrior statue come alive, hair golden as the mountain lion's pelt, light glinting off his armour. The fur and feather cloak he always wore made him look even taller. She liked that cloak and chose to focus on it now instead of his deep brown eyes surveying her.
"But then again, you command me. By your logic, you would have to be the most towering and intimidating figure of all.", Cullen pondered. When Shenlira dared to look at his face, she was surprised that he almost smiled. It left her strangely flustered.
"I don't command you.", she corrected him quietly, making him actually smile. It was a small one, but she'd seen so few from him that she was momentarily dazzled and had to wonder how many swooning girls she'd find in the keep if Cullen walked around smiling all day.
"No, you do not.", he conceded, his rich voice reassuring but courteous at the same time. He looked up at the wild hart. It had calmed down somewhat, but now eyed him accusingly, as though he'd spoiled its fun by interrupting the song and dance merriment. "You seem to have hand with children.", he pointed out, although even to his own ears he came across as too stiff. What was the matter with him? You're nervous, that's what. Stop acting like an imbecile. Say something that will make her smile, came the answer from somewhere in the back of his head. Fleetingly, he noted that he had never spoken to her alone before. There had always been people around, or at least somewhere close by.
"Children and animals, I've somehow always known how to earn their trust.", the Inquisitor's tone carried a hint of wistfulness. "People… Not so much.", she ended the thought, regretting almost immediately the juvenile ring to her remark. But Cullen's features softened a strange warmth bloomed in his gaze that made her heart do funny things.
"How do you do it? I watched you… just now. It was as if you didn't even need the reins, the mount… danced with you.", Cullen wondered. The hart flicked its ears towards him as though knowing it was the topic of the conversation. The Inquisitor looked baffled by his question. She shifted her weight nervously and he suspected that she was embarrassed about being caught playing with children while the world was ending somewhere else.
"I thought I'd missed the morning meeting and you came to fetch me…", she began, but her words trailed away. Cullen searched for a way to explain that he wasn't about to scold her for having a little fun, but he had a very hard time with it. He didn't know her well enough to comfort her, and besides, she probably thought he had a stick up his behind and slept in full plate every night.
"There is still time until the meeting. Show me again. Please?", he made his voice deliberately mild, almost gentle at the end. That succeeded in thawing her. A small smile came to her lips, which distracted him for a long moment.
"I can't refuse that, can I, Nimhue?", she asked the hart, who nosed her shoulder as an answer and pushed her towards the stirrups. "But there is one condition.", she said after she'd leapt into the saddle gracefully. "Do you know the March to Winter Palace?" Cullen looked suddenly confused by her question.
"It's a soldier's song. You want me to sing for you?", he asked anxiously. The Inquisitor seemed amused by it.
"No. I'd like you to sing it with me.", she corrected. Before he could answer, she struck up the song, her voice much higher and clearer than those of the soldiers that usually sang it. But she gave the song a merry, whimsical tune that drew him to join in. It was the strangest and most light-hearted thing he'd done since a long time, yet singing with her melted the tension in his shoulders and relaxed him while he watched her closely, fascinated. She guided the hart with subtle tension in her legs, almost never pulling the reins. Truly, he witnessed a dance to the rhythm of the song, a unity achieved by moving together as one. Cullen's mind was invaded by the thought what it would feel like to run his hands along those legs, bare skin beneath his fingers, strands of fire-kissed hair brushing against his face. His voice caught and faltered like a drunk man tripping over himself, but he managed to make it look like he'd just forgotten a verse. Maker help him if she knew what had been inside his head. When the song ended and the Inquisitor dismounted, he'd regained his composure, more or less. No easy feat when she smiled at him with her heart-shaped face flushed from the exertion.
"That was… fun.", he grasped at some straw of conversation to distract himself. She tilted her head curiously and led the mount from the pen by the reins. "Although we should probably go back to the keep, the meeting will start soon." A look of disappointment flashed across her features, but it fled quickly as her expression grew serious.
"I'll just stable her, it won't take long.", her voice was a little rueful.
"As you wish, Inquisitor.", Cullen answered while they walked up to the keep gates together. At the entrance to the stables, the Inquisitor halted and regarded him with a look he could not quite place. It was some strange mixture of reproach and amusement. Her grey eyes searched his face for something, and he felt anxious under her scrutiny.
"I wish you wouldn't call me that. At least not…" She'd wanted to say 'when we are alone', but that somehow seemed way too incriminating. Not to mention embarrassing. "… not outside of formal occasions.", she reasserted. Cullen let out a breath. Unconsciously, he'd leaned forward a bit, now realizing that he might be crowding her, but neither she nor the hart seemed to mind. Still, he pulled back a little.
"You mean 'Inquisitor'? I… What would you wish me to call you, then?", he asked. She averted her gaze for a moment before meeting his again. It was hard when he was standing this close. His presence felt almost disturbingly… tangible, as though things around him solidified by his mere vicinity. The sensation left her both unsettled and curiously comforted. The top of her head came up to his shoulders at the most, and behind the severe façade, his expressive eyes seemed to dance with some emotion she found hard to read. Was it delight? Whimsy? The silence lengthened awkwardly.
"Maybe by my given name.", Shenlira finally managed – and could have slapped herself for acting like some dolt. But as she watched, Cullen paled and his face went slack for a moment. That expression could only mean one thing.
"You don't know my first name, do you?", she inquired, but to Cullen's infinite relief, she sounded distinctly playful. He had to clear his throat once before he could reply.
"Is it not Alaslin?" He wished the ground would open and swallow him up as he was making an utter fool of himself. The Inquisitor's eyes widened a little and he saw the corner of her mouth twitch, but the woman had great mercy on him. She did not laugh, only coughed once and hid whatever expression she wore behind a gloved hand. When she spoke again, the words held no spite or scorn.
"Alaslin is my Dalish title. Like Commander is yours, I am Alaslin of clan Lavellan. It means 'First Huntress'. Many people address me with that title, so it's easily confused sometimes. My given name is Shenlira." Her lips curved slightly, cheeks rosy with a blush he didn't want to read too much into. "Please call me that, when we are like this, Cullen." She spoke his name with a lilt that sent a small shiver down his spine. Then, as if time's wheel had just started turning again, she took a step back and gave him a nod that told him he was dismissed. Cullen watched her lead the mount into the stables.
"Shenlira.", he said, too softly for anyone to hear. It felt like she had given him something very personal. A small voice in his mind tried to convince him that this had not been a simple exchange between Commander and Inquisitor, or even companions. But he did not dare to trust that voice. There were all kinds of reasons why he should not feel something beyond duty and loyalty for her. Then again, reason was the first thing to take a leap out the window when it came to matters of the heart.