Le Chevalier - One
Note: This takes place some months after the end of DA:O and so there will be spoilers. Please do not post this elsewhere. Bioware owns most of these characters, I own the rest.
I've made the leap that the Tower would be up and running, if badly, by the time the Archdemon is slain. I'm not sure yet how long this piece will be – it may decide it wants to be a full-length story or it might just be a bit of fluff. The main thing I wanted to do is give Cullen some depth and explore realistically how you would go about courting in such a strict, paranoid atmosphere. I know Cullen comes off as sort of a religious nutball, but I think that's appropriate at this stage. Please R&R if you can find the time!
The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.
Cullen thought of leaving. At least once a day, usually in the small hours just before sleep, he considered fleeing. Not that he had anywhere to go or any idea of what he would do, but it was just so tempting. Tempting. Temptation. Things that were tempting were to be avoided. Staunchly. Religiously. And so leaving - being just one of many temptations he had faced in his life - was out of the question.
Besides, Knight Commander Greagoir needed him. Cullen was the last of the original Templars, all that remained of the old guard, and if he too were to abandon the Tower, then the Knight-Commander would be practically swimming in Orlesians. Not that they weren't already up to their ears in foreigners, but Cullen knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that his presence helped tip the balance in favor of Fereldans.
Which was why he hated – loathed - these daily meetings in Greagoir's office. Surely there were more important things to do than dwell on their tentative majority? The meetings were always impossibly early - before morning prayer and breakfast, putting them right around the five o'clock mark - and they only served to remind the newer Templars that Cullen was Different with a capital D. Cullen didn't want to be different. He wanted them all to be the same. Soldiers. Brothers. They wore the same uniform, served the same purpose… They were to stand as one united force against the mages, foreboding and faceless, a symbol of the Maker's divine protection. But that wasn't happening, because Knight-Commander Greagoir decided daily updates on their seemingly endless string of problems were necessary for… what? Certainly not morale. Self-flagellation, perhaps.
And so at five in the morning, Cullen stood freezing in his armor in Greagoir's stuffy office. The Knight-Commander was still in the process of replacing his tapestries and furniture. Everything that had been touched by demons or smeared with Templar blood was systematically burned and removed from the Tower. Better to suffer an empty office than perform your daily duties on a desk tainted with the blood of your fallen brothers. Greagoir's office resembled a closet more than anything else. Shelves, simple desk, brown, brown, brown everywhere… Sort of appropriate, Cullen mused, given the Templars' monastic lifestyle.
"Are you paying attention, Cullen?"
"Of course, Commander."
"Good. As senior officer, I want you present for the meeting ceremony today," Greagoir continued, his quill scratching across the top of a letter. He rarely did just one thing at a time. Cullen stared at the top of his wiry gray head. "Irving feels it's time to bring on another senior mage. And I would have to agree. The balance between apprentices and teachers makes me… anxious. Too many little ones… Too many variables. Not enough discipline."
Cullen dreaded every mage that swelled their number, but Greagoir – and Irving – had a point. Senior mages were more powerful, yes, but they also had greater control over their skills. They had a calming effect on the apprentices and simply by being older and more mature, generally made a Templar's life easier. It was better to have multiple pairs of watchful eyes in the room, even if some of those eyes, regrettably, belonged to a mage. In general, senior mages shared a Templar's desire to rein in the apprentices and keep the peace.
"They'll be here by midmorning," Greagoir added, "I will be there, as will Irving and the other senior mages."
"Is that all, Commander?" Cullen asked, sensing it was not.
Greagoir stiffened behind his desk, putting down his quill. He looked up at Cullen finally, his eyes wrinkled at the edges, with worry perhaps, or fear. "They're Orlesians, Cullen. It's… I appreciate that our numbers were decimated and Irving is eager to pick up where he left off, but this seems… unwise."
"The First Enchanter arranged this?"
"No, this order comes from higher up, I'm afraid, from Denerim. Just… be watchful, please. The other Templars are green, they do not yet understand what it may… Well, what it may come to." Greagoir shifted his eyes down to his hands and then to the sword at Cullen's belt. Cullen clenched his teeth together. He would not punish himself by remembering the horrors the blood mages had unleashed. Not now. Not in front of Greagoir. He would not crack in front of the Knight-Commander. "It could be nothing," Greagoir said quietly, "Only two more mages. But one here and one there… You see what I mean, don't you? The Orlesians do things differently. Just be mindful of their behavior and report anything you deem suspicious."
Cullen gave a sharp bow from the waist. "I will, Knight-Commander, as my duty demands."
He turned to go, recognizing Greagoir's unspoken dismissal. His hand was on the door when Greagoir said, in a voice so quiet Cullen had to strain to hear, "You are not alone, Cullen. We are not alone. Irving is with us."
Cullen gave a nod by way of understanding and stepped out into the corridor. Irving. Irving. The blood in Cullen's veins threatened to boil. So what if Irving was with them? He had done fuck all – Maker forgive his temper – the last time the Tower erupted with demons. The Templars had been overrun, the mages corrupted and only the help of a Grey Warden set the Circle to rights again. As far as Cullen was concerned, First Enchanter Irving was about as trustworthy as a blunt sword. Sure, a blunt sword was still a weapon, but it in the end it was useless.
As Cullen stormed out and down the hall, the Templars stationed at intervals and doorways straightened at his approach. He couldn't help but grimace at this. How amusing that these boys showed him deference and respect, when not a year ago he was being bullied and harassed by the senior Templars. Other men might have taken pleasure in this reversal of fortunes – from bottom of the pile to the very tiptop – but it only served as a reminder of his brothers' gruesome downfall. It was far too high a price, and one Cullen wished he had never paid.
Cullen returned to the Templar dormitories, passing several senior mages in the hall. The apprentices were still abed at this hour, but some of the older mages liked to get an early start to organize lessons or meet with Irving. He also shouldered by a few Orlesian mages, two men and one woman and just a glimpse of that one woman was enough to speed his step. Whoever let these women get away with robes like that (Irving) should be throttled. Was there some kind of rule somewhere that said Orlesians not only had to speak funny but dress funny, too?
No, Cullen decided, because there was nothing funny about it. No man, especially no man who had taken strict vows, should be privy to that much cleavage that early in the morning. It was hardly breakfast time, but already he felt as if he were living in a brothel and not a place of study. There are children here, for the Maker's sake. Put some clothes on. If that's how they dressed during the day, he didn't even want to think about what they wore to bed. But of course he did, and felt his cheeks burn with shame as he ran the last few steps to the chapel.
Nothing. I bet they wear nothing.
"Maker," he whispered, falling to his knees in the glow of candlelight. Through his grieves, his knees ached to be pressed against the unforgiving metal. He took that pain in stride, knowing he deserved it. He prayed, hard, surrounded by the familiar scents and sounds of the little chapel – the honeyed smell of beeswax, the warmth of the flames on his face, the slight echo to the arching stones. Other Templars had already come by to light their red candles and leave their sins and prayers for the Maker to sort out. Usually, Cullen didn't have anything to confess so early in the morning, but he whispered his unclean thoughts to the carved statue, his hands clasped tightly together, and asked for guidance and forgiveness, and the strength to endure these painted Orlesian women with unshakeable discipline.
"I've taken vows," he whispered to his fingertips, "Not just for my body, but for my soul."
Cullen thanked the Maker for His patience and stood, sighing with relief. As he left the chapel and wound through the halls toward the dining hall, he wondered – not for the first time – if he had been spared for a reason. The other Templars had fallen to their pride or hatred or lust, but Cullen had survived, determined to thwart the demons that tempted and teased him. Was it pure coincidence that he, who prayed more than the others, managed to come out the other side? It seemed prideful and wrong to assume that he was somehow better than the others, but what other conclusion could be drawn?
No, he corrected himself, it was chance, only chance. A humble man would not place himself above others.
His heart and mind equally heavy, he entered the dining hall to a familiar tension. The Templars sat at one table, the Orlesians at another and the Fereldan mages at yet another. The air of "us against them against them" was palpable and suffocating, like the pungent stench from an infected and festering wound. Cullen, of course, took his place at the Templar table. His stomach growled, unsettled from having taken his lyrium without a crumb of food in his belly. A meager meal of fruits, soft cheese, gruel and herbal tea had been prepared. Mages, having taken no vows of purity, were allowed coffee and sugary things like jam and chestnut spread. The Orlesians had complained until a special cook was brought in from Val Royeaux. They ate things that smelled like the Golden City itself – piping hot and fragrant with steam. Cullen thought he smelled grilled onions, but forced his eyes down to his own plate. Not five minutes out of the chapel and already you are coveting that which you cannot have.
He forked down his slices of melon and tried to justify a good mood. Weaker people needed sugar and coffee to be alert. Templars found strength through sacrifice. He didn't need a fancy meal to start his day. He fed off of the zealous fire of temperance and abstinence. Indulgences weakened the soul, creating appetites instead of stamping them out. Cullen smiled around his mug of tea. Yes, he was strong in the Maker, and it made him whole. The Maker may have turned away from His children, but Cullen would be the sort to prove humanity worthy of His light.
Finishing his toast, he glimpsed Irving walking among the tables. The First Enchanter was doing his best to bridge the noticeable gap between the Fereldan mages and the Orlesians. Not that it was working very well, but Cullen appreciated that he was trying. A rustling of armor and the slap of a tray informed Cullen that Bryce had joined him at table. Bryce was one of the new recruits, but seemed to have a good head on his shoulders… When that head wasn't spewing rubbish.
"Morning," Bryce said cheerfully, tearing into his bread. "Sleep well?"
"Very." Cullen never did. Bryce didn't need to know that. "And you?"
"Not at all," Bryce replied, his voice muddled with chewing. "It's so bloody drafty in here. I can't bloody well sleep if I'm just trying not to freeze to death."
Don't snap at him. Be a positive influence.
"You may request blankets from the supply stores," Cullen replied evenly, "Or ask to have your room inspected for cracks."
"It's gonna take a lot more than blankets to knock the icicles of my nuts," Bryce muttered. He stirred a few dried apple pieces into his gruel. "That might help though."
Cullen followed the man's gaze to the Orlesian table, where the pretty female mage Cullen had noticed earlier had sat down to eat. Her petite frame put her at an awkward angle with the table, and she was forced to sit up very straight and thrust her breasts out to keep from having to rest them on the table ledge. Cullen flushed and stared resolutely down at his bowl.
"Maker bless those robes," Bryce whispered dreamily.
Cullen flinched. "Trust me. He most certainly doesn't."
He elbowed Bryce under the armpit, a silent prompt that it wasn't polite to stare, nor was it becoming of a Templar. What were they teaching these recruits at the Chantry? Were they so desperate to garrison the Tower that they sent children? Cullen almost wished they could see a possession, just to strike home what they were dealing with, what they were surrounded by. But then he chastised himself for even entertaining such a reckless idea. He wanted Bryce to rethink his faith, not die at the hands of a blood mage.
Irving drifted over to the Templar's table. He was the only mage bold enough to dare. His quiet smile made Cullen feel strange, sad, as if harboring a grudge against this tired old man was pointless and ungenerous. Irving had lost just as much, if not more, when the Tower fell. The Right of Annulment had nearly been invoked, and while Cullen still believed it should have been, he couldn't deny Irving was truly devoted to rebuilding the Circle. There had been no signs of demons since the Grey Wardens came. Perhaps this was a sign that Irving was the rightful First Enchanter after all.
"First Enchanter," Cullen said quietly, both greeting the man and raising a question.
"Yes, lad?" Irving asked, clasping his hands lightly in front of his robe. Bryce was suddenly most taken with his gruel, eyes trained on his spoon and not the mage hovering over them.
"Is there… Could you do something about…" How to explain? "That." Cullen nodded his head toward the pretty Orlesian girl. It took Irving a moment of silent contemplation to take Cullen's meaning. Bryce's head jerked up at this and he unleashed a furious glare on Cullen, willing to brave Irving's presence if it meant making his feelings known. The young Templar had gone red to the roots of his bright blonde hair. Clearly, Bryce did not share Cullen's concerns.
"Won't it distract the students?" Cullen hurried on. This was about maintaining order, and not anything else.
Irving's eyes sparkled with something like mischief. "Allow me to give you some advice, Cullen, and I hope it serves you well: Pick your battles."
"But, First Enchanter - "
"Please, my boy, by all means. Ask the Orlesians to change. If you have any luck, please let me know."
Irving drifted way, Cullen staring after him. Bryce sulked into his porridge. Cullen felt a coil of dread unwind in his gut. He was not looking forward to the rest of the day.
* * *
A tower. How quaint. And in the middle of a lake? Even quainter.
Lisette followed her master's trailing robes up the winding stares, grateful, at least, for the exercise. In all other ways she was decidedly ungrateful. The journey from her home, her real Tower, had been nightmarish, plagued with bandits and inns that smelled of unnamable horrors. Did people really dress like this? Eat like this? Didier had warned her it would be bad, strange, horrifically foreign. But nothing could have prepared her. Nothing. All the warning words in the world couldn't ready a soul for this kind of shock. She began to huff a little as the stairs continued, merciless, a never ending march upward. If only it were never ending, then she wouldn't have to actually accept the fact that she was officially a transplant.
At last, the stairs stopped, evening out on a landing that overlooked the way they had come and the sprawling lake below. A pretty view… for a visit. She picked up the hem of her robe, determined not to tear one of the few things she still had from home. What if they forced her to wear Fereldan clothing? No, she decided, they would pry these robes from her cold dead fingers. Which they probably would, too, considering how brutish the men seemed. She hoped with all her aching heart the charm on her books would hold. It was taking all her concentration to keep them cloaked in her bag, invisible to the naked eye. She was growing dizzy from having to keep half of her brain focused on that task and the other half focused on not tripping up the stairs. If Didier noticed her constant casting, he said nothing.
"Et voila," Didier murmured as he stopped to catch his breath. "How are you feeling?" he asked in their native tongue. Lisette scowled.
"I'm feeling like I want to go home."
Didier laughed and then frowned, trying very hard to look serious. "This is home now, Lizzy. Do try to smile."
She would not. Or maybe just for him. He was like her books, something from the real Tower, the better Tower. They could try to steal her books away but they wouldn't steal Didier. He was a senior mage, after all, someone to be respected and feared. Perhaps he could inject a bit of manners and style to this place. Lisette could tell just from the sober, gothic architecture it was going to be an abattoir of blah.
Two heavily armored men waited outside the doors. Templars. They had those too in Orlais, though the outfits were slightly different. These men certainly looked unhappy, or at least their helmets did. That was familiar, too. Didier swept a bow. The Templars were unmoving. Pigs.
"I am Didier Edgard," he said, straightening up, "The First Enchanter expects me."
This seemed to jolt the statue-men into action. They leaned over in unison and knocked on the door. There was a series of ominous whirs and clicking, no doubt the complicated locking mechanism. Lisette smiled. Also quaint. As if she couldn't slam down the doors with a simple spell. She weaved a little, weak and dizzy from keeping her books cloaked. Didier steadied her with one big, warm hand on her shoulder.
"Do you need to sit down?" he asked.
"No, no," Lisette touched her forehead, forcing a smile, "Just winded from the climb."
Didier nodded and escorted her inside. Unintentionally, and feeling like a mouse, Lisette hung back behind him. Her master was tall and broad, perhaps his back would hide her from the gazes of all these… strangers. This was probably not the way to make a good first impression, but Lisette was pretty sure these Fereldans had no manners to offend. And besides, they would all be staring at Didier anyway, since he was so magnetic and charming and powerful.
She heard voices, murmuring voices, the kind that implied rampant curiosity. She also heard a few familiar accents in the crowd. Orlesians! Her heart leapt at the sound. What music! Perhaps there would even be a few from her own Tower. This bolstered her heart and Lisette decided that she could stand straight and tall; she would not embarrass her countrymen.
"Monsieur Edgard," someone said, Lisette couldn't see him over Didier's shoulder. "You are most welcome."
"First Enchanter Irving, I presume?"
"Indeed. But… But where is your apprentice?"
Apprentice. Ha! Not for long. Didier was anxious to have Lisette undergo her Harrowing. She was ready. More than ready. Didier, the traitor, took a step to the side and ushered her forward. She could no longer rely on the red velvet barricade of his body. Lisette raised her chin and took a step into the shimmering yellow light of the overhead chandelier. Another round of murmurings. Yes, that's right, get a good long look.
Lisette stifled a gasp. The First Enchanter was dressed like a homeless man. No, Lisette corrected herself, even homeless men knew not to wear such drab, unflattering colors. But she shook his hand anyway, because it was the right thing to do. At least he smelled alright, a bit like dried herbs, thyme perhaps. His face was lined and blotchy with age spots and his hair looked like it could use a good wash, but his hand was gentle and Lisette grudgingly admitted that he was kind of charming, if dim, in a doddering old grandpapa way.
"I've heard much about you," Irving said. That was kind of him. "Your master informs me that you are quite the prodigy. And you wish to undergo your Harrowing soon, I understand."
"Oui," Lisette said primly, "I mean y-yes." She blushed. Fool.
"Do not worry, my dear," Irving said, patting her hand. His fingers were very dry, like parchment. "It will take some time to adjust to your new home. But it will be a smooth adjustment, I hope."
"Lisette is my finest student," Didier said proudly, his chest expanding. Lisette looked around at the faces staring back. The strangers stood in a half-circle, senior mages and Templars in two rows. There were no apprentices present, but perhaps they were in class. Lisette kept her face very still, so as not to betray her fear or disgust. She could smell the Templars. They were sweating like hogs under their armor. The whole hall reeked of it. Men. Putrid. Her eyes drifted to one Templar in particular, a man in his early thirties with intriguing brown eyes. Strangely, he was not wearing the ugly bucket hat like the others. He looked as if he were about to vomit on his grieves, his face tinged green. Admittedly, he was the most handsome man she had seen since leaving Orlais – excluding Didier, of course, who was the finest looking man wherever he went. But that wasn't saying much, was it? Fereldans were a motley bunch. It was a bit like being the handsomest leaper in the colony. The Templar refused to meet her eye, instead staring wild-eyed at the wall over her shoulder. His hair was sort of nice, she decided, curly and golden, but probably smelly considering it was currently sweat-plastered to his neck.
And why did he look so ill?
Lisette felt suddenly exhausted. It had been a long journey and she was eager for a bath and a clean bed. She communicated as much to Didier in Orlesian when he was finished talking to someone called Knight-Commander Greagoir.
"No more Orlesian," Didier corrected her. And then in an undertone, "It's rude."
"Fine," Lisette replied stubbornly, "I'd like a bath, please."
Irving chuckled generously at this. Apparently her discomfort was terribly amusing. Quelle surprise. The First Enchanter gestured one of the Templars forward, the cute-sweaty-sick one. The Templar made an awkward, stiff little bow and when his head bobbed back up he only looked more unhinged. Lovely. Not one hour in this infernal place and someone was going to vomit on her. What overwhelming hospitality.
"Mademoiselle," Irving said, with a rather acceptable accent, "This is Cullen. One of our Templars."
Yes, thank you, I noticed that bit.
"How do you do?" Lisette replied, dropping a curtsey. Just a small one, since his precise rank was not given. If he were a true chevalier, Lisette would have dropped to the floor. Or tried to kiss him. Or dropped to the floor and tried to kiss him. One of the three.
"I-I'm quite w-well," he stammered. Oh really? You certainly don't look it.
Lisette found this tremendously funny. Did anyone in the room really believe for a moment that he was okay? Somebody ought to take him to the infirmary. He looked paler than a Chantry initiate at a whore house. Didier touched her back, prodding her toward the domed archway ahead. Excellent. More stairs.
"Senior Enchanter Alice," Irving said suddenly, perhaps recognizing the Templar's unsteadiness. "Why don't you go with them?"
A tall, spindly mage emerged out of the crowd. She was Fereldan. How did Lisette know? The mousy hair and grubby robes were a dead giveaway. An Orlesian wouldn't allow themselves to be found strangled in a ditch in that outfit. Lisette repositioned her bag and threw one entreating glance over her shoulder at Didier. He smile warmly, encouragingly, and winked. The sweaty Templar, Colton or whatever, noticed this and swallowed noisily. Mind your own business, tinhead.
The Alice woman took the stairs much too quickly for Lisette's liking. Apparently they all bounced around like gazelles in this Tower. Even the Templar, wearing at least thirty pounds of gear, was light on his feet. Perhaps stair-climbing was a competitive sport here. It wouldn't have surprised her, since they didn't seem to play any proper games. Lisette followed them at her own pace, taking her time to tip her head back and soak in the architecture. Some of the stonework was impressive, even artful, but the walls were suspiciously barren of tapestries. Then she recalled that they had suffered an upheaval, and kept her opinions to herself.
Lisette said nothing as they walked, while Alice prattled on about what statue represented who and so forth and so on. Voices trickled down the hall, seemingly out of the walls. They walked by Templars as still as statues, their eyes hidden behind the glinting steel of their helms. Lisette wondered if they watched her, if they were adding her to some mental list. She found it odd that a Templar was escorting her. At the Verchiel Tower, their guards never spoke to mages unless it was to discipline them. The lines between Templar and mage were drawn even more severely. So she was understandably uncomfortable to have a Templar walking so close beside her, his shoulder easily in reach. Just having one near and so casually attired made her stomach clench with fear. An old wound on her back throbbed, but she pushed it out of her thoughts.
They brought her to a long, thin hall cluttered with bunk beds. Lisette wondered vaguely if these were the servants' quarters.
"Here we are," Alice said a little coldly. Apparently she didn't appreciate Lisette's complete silence. "There are plenty of empty bunks still. Feel free to choose one."
"I beg your pardon?" Lisette thought maybe her jaw would break from hitting the floor at such speed. The Templar shifted, his armor creaking. "This is…" She squinted skeptically at the Templar. "Is this your idea of a joke?"
"J-joke?" he paled, more so than before, if that was even possible.
"These are the apprentice dormitories," Alice informed her. One brown eyebrow twitched. "Did you… Are you not accustomed to bunks?"
Lisette stared around her, torn between melting into a puddle and setting these two imbeciles on fire for the insult. "I…" Don't be rude, don't be rude… "What if I fall off?"
The Templar, disgusting man, coughed to cover up a barking laugh.
"Are you laughing at me?" she asked, incredulous. "It's a serious question."
"Take a lower bunk, then," Alice said mildly. "If it eases your fears."
Ease her… Lisette fumed. It did not ease her fears. Maker, what were the chances of contracting fleas in this place? Very high, Lisette guessed. She wandered down the aisle between the bunks, disappointment and despair battling for control of her heart. This was unbelievable. The apprentices here were treated like common animals. This wasn't a dormitory, it was a stable. She kept her back to the other two, certain she would break down and cry at any moment. How could Didier do this to her? Lisette walked to the end of the row and set down her bag, with a quivering pout, on the very last bed.
It was cold and ugly and she would be surrounded by breathing and snoring and… smells.
There was a commotion out in the hall, footsteps pounding by. Alice ran to the door, skirts rustling. "What's going on?" she called. A Templar crashed by.
"Matthew's set his robes on fire," the soldier called in passing.
"Again?" Alice sighed. "Can you do the rest, Cullen?"
Oh, right, Cullen. That was his name. The Templar nodded once and Alice fled down the hall, presumably to help poor, stupid little Matthew. Run for your life, Matthew, and don't stop until you reach Denerim. Lisette stood very still, wondering what "the rest" might entail. A lecture? A list of rules? Strip search? She smirked at that last part and then bit her lip to keep from giggling. The Templar Cullen clanked over to her and stared at her bag. Then he looked at her and frowned.
"What?" she asked, icy. "What did she mean, 'the rest' - What is that?"
"I, um, w-well, I have to s-search your bag… M-madem… Mademoi… Miss."
Lisette had been waiting for this. She wasn't foolish enough to believe they'd let her just waltz in with whatever contraband she had dragged from Orlais. It was also why her brain still buzzed and ached. There were several books of a... delicate kind that she did not want them to find. She had successfully hidden them at Verchiel Tower for years. She wasn't going to let one silly, sweaty Templar take them now. And so she shoved her bag toward him, smiling cooperatively.
"But of course," she added sweetly.
The Templar separated the ties of her bag and peered inside. Lisette felt the Veil shudder as she poured all of her concentration into keeping those books hidden by her spell. Her right hand curled into a fist. It was much harder to continue the charm with someone giving such close scrutiny. She watched him carefully as he pulled out other, totally innocuous books and flipped through them. Satisfied, he put those back. Right, as if you can even read them. He sifted through clothing – those would need a wash later then – and slippers and, finally, her unmentionables. What? Did he expect she ran around totally bare beneath her robes? The Templar turned fuchsia and stuffed the lacy drawers into the bag as if they might bite him. Then he muttered something under his breath, discovering that the lace had caught on his gauntlet. Lisette would have reached over to help him salvage his waning dignity, but she couldn't risk letting the spell drop.
The Templar grunted and took a step away, his fawn-colored eyebrows knit with confusion. He seemed to be considering something, his mouth quirked to the side in thoughtfulness. It was a lovely mouth, perhaps soft and kissable. No it isn't, he just fumbled all over your panties. He's a clumsy, graceless dullard. An enemy.
His mouth opened and closed. He peered inside the bag again and then at her. Somewhere along the line, his eyes had darkened.
"A-are you… Casting?"
"No," she said, smiling prettily. "Why would I be casting?" She threw in a casual laugh for good measure. See? We're just friends here, nothing unusual going on at all… No spells or anything ridiculous like that…
Lisette didn't see his hand fly out, but she felt it. He grasped her right wrist, squeezing tightly. She gasped, hurt, and her concentration dropped. There was a quiet, tell-tale shifting in her bag. She wanted to snap his neck. No, better yet, start a little fire down in his metal underpants. Just try and get that one out in time.
The Templar whirled back to her things, keeping one eye on her at all times. Great, she was already on his shit list. Life was going to be miserable with one cranky Templar constantly breathing down her neck. And he hadn't even found the books yet. What would he say when he did?
At that moment, he pulled out one such book. Grimacing, he opened the pages. He must have flipped to a good one and it must have had an illustration because the text was not in his language. Lisette wondered which picture it was. Perhaps it was the one where Leduc is ravishing Colette in the rose garden. That was a very good one. His mouth dropped open, wide enough to comfortably catch an albatross. Then he slammed his jaw shut and gestured at her with the book. Lisette stared at the cover forlornly – the familiar scrolling script, the faded illustration…
Colette Et Leduc
It was her favorite, and now he had his mean hands all over it. So long, my beauties.
"W-what… Is this?"
Lisette smirked, shrugging, knowing she had been caught. It was no use arguing. He would confiscate the books and burn them. Stupid Templars. No taste and no sense of humor. And certainly no appetite for raunchy romances. "It's a book," Lisette replied flatly.
"I can see that."
"Oh? And what else did you see?" she teased. His face flamed.
"I'm taking these," he said, pulling out book after book. She glanced inside the bag. He had left the boring ones. Of course. It was easy to pick out which were about history and religion and which were not. The pink, flourishing rows of text and kissing lovers on the cover were a fairly reliable indicator of content.
"Y-you can't have this sort of…"
Smut? Distraction? Inspiration?
The Templar gathered up the books, looking scandalized just to be holding them against his chest. Lisette said a silent goodbye. She had expected to depend upon those stories to keep her sane and happy. But now she was going to live in a horrid stable with a bunch of scabby children and have nothing to make her smile or dream or wish. The Templar fixed her with a weird, disappointed look, as if he were her father or something, and began to shuffle away. Lisette was furious, feeling a fire grow within her, a desire to destroy. She could cast if she wanted to… If she was stupid enough.
Instead, she flicked her hand at the Templar dismissively. "Yes. Leave. Go stutter at someone else."
The Templar reeled, as if struck in the face, and then turned and marched out of the dormitories. Lisette sank down onto her bed and, though she fought it, cried bitterly. This was a terrible place, a cold, unfeeling place. She wouldn't leave her bed until it was time for meal. Then at least she could see Didier and he would make her smile. Lisette grabbed her bag and flung it onto the floor. Something skittered out and glided over the stones. She hopped up, gasping with elation, and retrieved the fallen treasure.
Lisette ran her palm over the cover lovingly: Le Chevalier. Yes! This one had a plain, unassuming cover and he could not read the Orlesian! She grinned, her heart fluttering with sudden hope. Praise the Maker; he had missed one.